The Nature of Existence

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

Passion Play

PASSION PLAY....I'm not generally a big fan of Tom Friedman, but his advice today to Barack Obama seems right on target:

Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama's coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats because Obama has gone from cool to cold.

....Forget trashing McCain's ideas. If Obama wants to rally his base, he has to be more passionate about his own ideas. I have long felt that what propelled Obama early was the fact that many Americans understand in their guts that we need a change, but the change we need is to focus on nation-building at home. We're in decline. We need to get back to work on our country. And that is going to require strong, smart government.

Who is bailing out Fannie Mae? Who is going to build a new energy system? Health care? More tax cuts are not going to do it. But I am just not sure that Obama is making the sale that he has the plan and passion to unite and mobilize the country for this task.

All politicians are sales people first and foremost, and the first thing they sell is themselves. But Obama, I think, has done a pretty good job of that already. His next step, then, is to sell the country not just on change, but on specifically liberal change. As Friedman says, "When you say Obama's name today and ask people for their first impression — a quick, flash, gut, first impression — no single word or phrase or policy comes to mind."

Obama needs to correct this, and quickly. He needs to sell the country on a few core liberal ideas the same way Ronald Reagan sold the country on a few core conservative ideas three decades ago. So far, though, he's been too cautious to really try this, and it's showing. He better start showing a little more liberal conviction, and soon, if he wants to sit in the Oval Office come next January.

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Republican strategist John Feehery, commenting on the McCain campaign's habit of lying about Sarah Palin's positions:

"The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there's a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she's new, she's popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent. As long as those are out there, these little facts don't really matter."

Indeed. Pesky little facts should never be allowed to get in the way of bigger truths.

Days ago, Mother Jones reported that Governor Sarah Palin's office withheld about 1100 emails in response to an open records act request filed in June and claimed that these emails to and from Palin aides and the governor herself covered confidential and official policy deliberations between Palin and her staffers. But the list (PDF) of the undisclosed emails indicates that many had subject lines suggesting they were not about policy matters. (A series of emails referred to one of Palin's political foes, another set to a well-known Alaskan journalist.) And many of the emails were CC'ed to Todd Palin, the governor's husband, who holds no official position in her administration. On Tuesday, Andrée McLeod, the independent watchdog who filed the original request, submitted an appeal (PDF), asking Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, to review the decision to keep these emails secret. Here is the statement McLeod issued afterward:

Ungovernable?

UNGOVERNABLE?....Via TPM, I see that the McCain campaign has pretty much decided to go all-in on the culture war front. Their latest ad, which Lee Atwater must be chuckling over from wherever he's warming his toes these days, basically says that Barack Obama wants to teach your five-year-old how to put on a condom. This is, the narrator warns ominously, "Wrong for your family."

Which it no doubt would be if it were true. It's not, of course, which certainly raises the pressing question of how Obama ought to respond to this kind of swill — since it's now plain that this is what the McCain campaign plans to spoon out for the next eight weeks. I don't know the answer to that, though, so instead I'll toss out another thought.

John McCain has obviously decided that he can't win a straight-up fight, so he's decided instead to wage a battle of character assassination, relentless lies, and culture war armageddon. So what happens on November 5th?

If McCain wins, he'll face a Democratic congress that's beyond furious. Losing is one thing, but after eight years of George Bush and Karl Rove, losing a vicious campaign like this one will cause Dems to go berserk. They won't even return McCain's phone calls, let alone work with him on legislation. It'll be four years of all-out war.

And what if Obama wins? The last time a Democrat won after a resurgence of the culture war right, we got eight years of madness, climaxing in an impeachment spectacle unlike anything we'd seen in a century. If it happens again, with the lunatic brigade newly empowered and shrieking for blood, Obama will be another Clinton and we'll be in for another eight years of near psychotic dementia.

Am I exaggerating? Sure. Am I exaggerating a lot? I don't think so. McCain, in his overwhelming desire for office, is unloosing forces that are likely to make the country only barely governable no matter who wins. This would be very bad juju at any time, but George Bush has so seriously weakened the country over the course of his administration that we don't have a lot of room for error left if we want to avoid losing the war on terror for good and turning America into a banana republic while we're at it. We need to start turning the ship around now.

McCain doesn't seem to care much about this anymore, but the rest of us ought to. Unfortunately, no one asked us. I'm afraid we have some rocky times ahead.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina and one of John McCain's chief surrogates, told CNN today, "I do believe [John McCain] and Governor Palin bring the most hope of changing this place, not Senator Obama and Senator Biden, who have never met a budget they didn't like."

Really? Because we've had record deficits under the Bush Administration and it was John McCain who voted for the budgets that created them. Here are the facts. Of the five "Bush budgets" — budgets submitted by President Bush to a Republican-controlled Congress, which he could have reasonable faith would pass them intact — John McCain voted for four of them.

Bush submitted budgets to a Republican Congress in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. John McCain voted yes for all except 2003. Joe Biden voted no for all, and Barack Obama voted no for 2005 and 2006, the budgets in question submitted after he took office.

So, to correct Lindsey Graham, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have met nothing but budgets they don't like under the Bush Administration. The same cannot be said for John McCain.