The New GOP: Party of Blockheads

| Sun Oct. 12, 2008 12:00 PM EDT

If you missed it the first time, David Brooks offers a poignantly sad piece in NYT about the GOP's warm embrace of mediocrity and class warfare. It's counterintuitive (being smart and accomplished is now a no-no on the right) and so devastating in its insight. It deserves a very close reading:

...over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.

George W. Bush restrained some of the populist excesses of his party — the anti-immigration fervor, the isolationism — but stylistically he fit right in. As Fred Barnes wrote in his book, "Rebel-in-Chief," Bush "reflects the political views and cultural tastes of the vast majority of Americans who don't live along the East or West Coast. He's not a sophisticate and doesn't spend his discretionary time with sophisticates. As First Lady Laura Bush once said, she and the president didn't come to Washington to make new friends. And they haven't."

The political effects of this trend have been obvious. Republicans have alienated the highly educated regions — Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the Northeast are mostly gone.

The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it's 2-to-1. With tech executives, it's 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it's 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community.

If it remains on its present course, the GOP may well self-immolate. It's bad enough that we only have two viable parties in this country. Getting down to only one is not something even Democrats should cheer.

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Troopergate Finale

| Sat Oct. 11, 2008 8:58 PM EDT

TROOPERGATE FINALE....I read most of the Branchflower report on Troopergate last night, but the MSM seemed to be doing a fine job of reporting the results all its own so I never got around to posting about it. The basic story, of course, revolves around Todd and Sarah Palin's crusade to get their ex-brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, fired from his job as a state trooper, and their efforts to get Alaska's Commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan, to do the firing. Most of this story is pretty well known already. However, Time's Nathan Thornburgh points out the aspect of the report that struck me as the most remarkable:

The result is not a mortal wound to Palin....But the Branchflower report still makes for good reading, if only because it convincingly answers a question nobody had even thought to ask: Is the Palin administration shockingly amateurish? Yes, it is. Disturbingly so.

The 263 pages of the report show a co-ordinated application of pressure on Monegan so transparent and ham-handed that it was almost certain to end in public embarrassment for the governor.

....Monegan and his peers constantly warned these Palin disciples that the contact was inappropriate and probably unlawful. Still, the emails and calls continued — in at least one instance on recorded state trooper phone lines.

The state's head of personnel, Annette Kreitzer, called Monegan and had to be warned that personnel issues were confidential. The state's attorney general, Talis Colberg, called Monegan and had to be reminded that the call was putting both men in legal jeopardy, should Wooten decide to sue. The governor's chief of staff met with Monegan and had to be reminded by Monegan that, "This conversation is discoverable ... You don't want Wooten to own your house, do you?"

Monegan pointed out to a steady stream of people that (a) Wooten was protected by civil service and there was nothing more that could be done since he'd already gone through a formal disciplinary procedure, and (b) any conversation about Wooten was discoverable in court if Wooten ever got tired of being hounded and decided to file a civil suit. And yet the contacts kept coming and coming and coming — and coming and coming. And Branchflower documents them in painful detail. It's all quite remarkable.

In fact, here's the part that really puzzles me: what exactly did Todd and Sarah Palin hope to accomplish? Surely they knew perfectly well that Monegan was right: he couldn't have fired Wooten even if he wanted to. And they must also have known that even if Monegan were replaced, any replacement would quickly check into the situation and report back the same thing. Wooten had already been disciplined, and unless something new cropped up there was simply nothing that anyone could do to force him out of his job. In fact, the Palins' efforts probably made it nearly impossible even to reassign Wooten since it would so obviously have been politically motivated. It was a completely futile crusade they were on.

So what were they thinking? Or were they?


| Sat Oct. 11, 2008 1:20 PM EDT

BANKS....Justin Fox on the "shadow banking system":

And another thing: If you borrow short and lend long, you're effectively a bank. It's becoming ever less clear to me what justification there is for nonbank borrow-short-lend-long-institutions other than regulatory arbitrage.

Brad DeLong responds:

Not just "effectively" a bank. You are a bank. Not until the twentieth century did we have organizations that borrowed short and invested long that did not call themselves "banks." The emergence of non-bank banks has always been the result of attempts at regulatory arbitrage.

So what's the answer? What should our 21st century definition of "bank" be for regulatory purposes? Any entity that invests other people's money in any way? That can't be right, can it? Or can it?

Palin Report: The Mavericky Governor "Abused Her Power"

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 9:22 PM EDT

Were Sarah "I can see Russia" Palin not already having a tough time on the campaign trail, the report released on Friday by a special prosecutor in Alaska finding that she "abused her power" might be more of a blow to the McCain-Palin campaign. But even though she has already fallen in the polls, there is room for more of a drop. And now the mavericky reformer who is part of a campaign attacking Barack Obama as old-style Chicago pol looks like a lying, vengeful pol herself.

The report was commissioned by a bipartisan group of Alaskan legislators after Palin was accused of firing her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, after Monegan did not dismiss Mike Wooten, a state trooper who had gone through an ugly divorce with Palin's sister. Though Palin--pre-veep campaign--had pledged to cooperate fully, once she became part of the Republican ticket, she reneged on that promise, as the McCain camp tried to shut down the investigation. But the Alaskan courts refused to short-circuit the investigation, and Stephen Branchflower, a former prosecutor retained by the Alaskan legislators, managed to finish his inquiry, after getting reluctant witnesses--including Todd Palin, the governor's husband--to answer written questions.

The report is blunt:

I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety.

Dialing it Down

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 8:14 PM EDT

DIALING IT DOWN....OK, credit where it's due. After watching his campaign events turn into increasingly ugly free-for-alls, John McCain has apparently decided that enough's enough. Ana Marie Cox reports on his latest rally in Minnesota:

But then something weird happens: He acknowledges the "energy" people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, "I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments." People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: "I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are."

The very next questioner tried to push back on this request, noting that he needed to "tell the American the TRUTH about Barack Obama" — a not very subtle way, I think, to ask John McCain to NOT tell the truth about Barack Obama. McCain told her there's a "difference between record and rhetoric, and I plan to talk about his record, respectfully... I don't mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean it has to be respectful."

And then later, again, someone dangled a great big piece of low-hanging fruit in front of McCain: "I'm scared to bring up my child in a world where Barack Obama is president."

McCain replies, "Well, I don't want him to be president, either. I wouldn't be running if I did. But," and he pauses for emphasis, "you don't have to be scared to have him be President of the United States." A round of boos.

And he snaps back: "Well, obviously I think I'd be better. "

Of course, this is kind of the best of both world: Crazy base-world gets to bring up Ayers and whatever else, really, and he gets to say, "Be respectful." But I think he means it.

UPDATE: Indeed, he just snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, "I'm scared of Barack Obama... he's an Arab terrorist..."

"No, no ma'am," he interrupted. "He's a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements."

Good for him. Now I wonder if he can get the same message out to Sarah Palin?

How the Bailout Benefits the Environment

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 5:21 PM EDT

Everyone knows the $700 billion bailout package is a boon for Wall Street. But it turns out green consumers stand to benefit too. According to Fortune and the Environmental News Network, the legislation includes a number of perks for the eco-friendly, including:

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Alaska Judge Cracks Down on Palin's Emails

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 5:09 PM EDT

A judge in Alaska has ordered the state to preserve any business-related emails sent by Sarah Palin from her private email accounts. Palin's emails have generated a lot of attention, possibly because the situation mirrors the Bush Administration's own missing emails scandal.

We know that Palin is withholding 1,100 emails from open records requests on the grounds that they are protected by executive privilege, despite the fact that her husband was frequently a recipient of the emails.

We know that Palin used private email accounts for public business, a tactic used by the Bush Administration to deter oversight. We also know that the Palin Administration has declared that making the emails in these accounts public will require so much work and time that it is impossible for them to be released before the election.

Finally, we know that as mayor of Wasilla, Palin used her official city account to campaign for higher office, a seeming violation of Alaskan state law that has gone unaddressed.

The action of the court may lead to greater oversight down the road, but it is unlikely anything Governor Palin is hiding will come to light before the all-important date of November 4th.

Friday Cat Blogging - 10 October 2008

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 3:24 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....I've still got a lot on my mind today, but I guess that's true for all of us, isn't it? So let's call it a week anyway and spend the rest of the day winding down and admiring our cats instead. They deserve it.

Today we have action shots. Sort of. On the left, what is Domino looking at? A bird? A plane? Superman? No: it was a bird after all. To be precise, a hummingbird flitting around the garden for her occasional amusement. On the right, you'll notice the extreme bushiness of Inkblot's tail. I'm not entirely sure what caused it, but circumstantial evidence suggests he took note of a neighborhood dog and came charging around the corner to run into the house. Thus the tail. He knows perfectly well that the back door is open, of course, but he'd rather have somebody open the front door for him instead.

We are currently suffering from a cat food liquidity crisis, and it's now time for resolute action to prevent it from turning into a cat food insolvency crisis and causing full blown feline panic. So I'm off to the store. Have a good weekend, everyone.

"William F. Buckley's Son Says He Is Pro-Obama."

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 3:03 PM EDT

"WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY'S SON SAYS HE IS PRO-OBAMA"....Christopher Buckley explains why he's not writing his endorsement of Barack Obama in his usual column at the back of National Review, the magazine his father founded:

My colleague, the superb and very dishy Kathleen Parker, recently wrote in National Review Online a column stating what John Cleese as Basil Fawlty would call "the bleeding obvious": namely, that Sarah Palin is an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that. She's not exactly alone. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who began his career at NR, just called Governor Palin "a cancer on the Republican Party."

As for Kathleen, she has to date received 12,000 (quite literally) foam-at-the-mouth hate-emails. One correspondent, if that's quite the right word, suggested that Kathleen's mother should have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a Dumpster. There's Socratic dialogue for you. Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who fancied himself a WFB protégé had said something transcendently and provocatively cretinous, "You know, I've spent my entire life time separating the Right from the kooks." Well, the dear man did his best. At any rate, I don't have the kidney at the moment for 12,000 emails saying how good it is he's no longer alive to see his Judas of a son endorse for the presidency a covert Muslim who pals around with the Weather Underground. So, you're reading it here first.

The modern GOP is the party of Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, George Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. It's not just off the rails. It doesn't even know where the rails are anymore.

"Off With His Head!"

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 2:28 PM EDT

"OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"....Steve Benen describes the ugliness of the Republican Party's recent rallies and campaign events:

The McCain campaign has deliberately been whipping the angry, far-right Republican base into a frenzy. That includes increasing frequency of "Hussein" references, but it also includes looking the other way while campaign supporters exclaim "treason!," "terrorist!," and "kill him!" during official rallies.

On Wednesday, during a McCain harangue against Obama, one man could be heard yelling, "Off with his head!" On Thursday, Republicans erupted when an unhinged McCain supporter ranted about "socialists taking over our country." Instead of calming them down, McCain said the lunatic was "right."....Slate's John Dickerson described the participants' "bloodthirsty" tone.

The danger here is not mobs of violent Republicans marching through the streets. The danger is that John McCain is setting us up for a repeat of the 90s, an era that conservatives to this day have never been willing to come to grips with. If the looney-bin right decides to treat President Obama as not just an opposition leader, but as a virtual enemy of the state, as they did with Bill Clinton, it's going to be a very, very long eight years. Whatever grownups are left in conservative-land really need to step up to the plate soon before their movement goes even further off the rails than it already is.