Kevin Drum - August 2008

Friday Cat Blogging - 29 August 2008

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 3:09 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....I can't let Palin fever distract me from more important duties, can I? And what's more important than catblogging? On the left, Inkblot is cruising the fence, looking for a branch to scratch himself on. On the right (taken a few minutes before), Domino is napping on the garden bench while his majesty snoozes in the background.

By the way, one unanticipated benefit of the new blog is its sheer size. Those of you who have been begging for years for larger catblogging pictures finally have them. Maybe still not as grand and glorious as you (and the cats) would like, but bigger than they used to be. Enjoy!

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Nowhere to Go

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 2:39 PM EDT

NOWHERE TO GO....Sarah Palin is getting props in the media for her decision last year to cancel Alaska's notorious "bridge to nowhere," but it's worth pointing out that this was hardly a brave decision. Originally, while she was running for governor and stumping for votes, she thought the bridge was a fine idea:

As for the infamous "bridges to nowhere," [debate moderator Steve] MacDonald asked if the candidates would forge ahead with the proposed Knik Arm crossing between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie and Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge. Each has received more than $90 million in federal funding and drew nationwide attacks as being unnecessary and expensive. He also asked if they support building an access road from Juneau toward — but not completely connecting to — Skagway and Haines.

"I do support the infrastructure projects that are on tap here in the state of Alaska that our congressional delegations worked hard for," Palin said. She said the projects link communities and create jobs.

She later changed her tune, but only after Congress had already decided not to fully fund the Gravina bridge and it was clear that Alaska itself would have to put up most of the money for the project. What's more, it's not as if she was giving up anything: the funding that had been approved still went to Alaska. It just wasn't earmarked for the bridge. So this wasn't quite the profile in courage that the McCain campaign would have us believe.

McCain's Angle

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 2:01 PM EDT

McCAIN'S ANGLE....I should add, in case it wasn't clear from my previous posts, that I certainly understand the political calculation behind John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Their thinking is that she's a hard-right conservative who appeals to the base (David Brody was just on CNN telling us that Christian conservative leaders were high-fiving each other over the Palin pick), but not a famous hard-right conservative who's going to scare off independents. Soccer moms will like her. She's inexperienced, but no one can hold that against her this year — and anyway, her lack of a track record also means she doesn't bring a lot of baggage to the campaign. She's got great anti-corruption cred. She's young and vibrant and has an attractive family. Joe Biden will have a hard time going on the attack against a woman. She's unknown, but frankly, to most low-information voters (i.e., to most voters), all VP picks are unknown.

So sure, I get it. And who knows? Politically speaking, it could turn out to be an inspired choice. Frankly, I doubt it, and I suspect her weaknesses will become clearer as everyone gets over their initial shock and starts thinking this through a little harder. But you never know.

As for mooseburgers, I'll bet I'd like 'em too if I ever got a chance to try one. Anyone know where I can score one in Southern California?

Yet More Palin

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 12:41 PM EDT

YET MORE PALIN....Well, Palin just managed to get a crowd of 10,000 Republican die-hards to throw up a huge cheer for Hillary Clinton. That's a first.

This whole thing is crazy. Various conservatives and TV talking heads, now that they've gotten used to Palin, seem to be working hard to dig up reasons why she's the most brilliant choice ever. She's a reformer, her son is headed to Iraq, her husband is a union member, anybody with five kids knows how to handle pressure, she's popular with Alaska voters, women are going to love her, etc. etc.

Look, call me a partisan hack. Whatever. But I'm just stunned by the cynicism of the whole thing. I'm sure Palin is a fine person, loving mother, devoted wife, learning her way as governor, and so forth. But a heartbeat away from the presidency? Someone with virtually no serious political experience, and no serious experience of any other kind to make up for it? She's going to shake up Washington?

I don't know how she'll do on the stump or in the debates. Maybe she'll be great. Who knows? But a potential leader of the free world? You gotta be kidding.

News Flash

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 12:37 PM EDT

NEWS FLASH....MSNBC's crawl at the moment:

Palin: This is a moment when principals matter

Our nation's educators will be glad to hear it.

More Sarah

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 11:34 AM EDT

MORE SARAH....As I was driving home from Panera (power is back on! yay!), I was thinking about this Sarah Palin thing. And what I was thinking about was what a bizarrely contrived and calculated choice it is. I mean, aside from six years as mayor of Wasilla (pop. 6,715) — about which I'm sure we'll be hearing much, much more — her political experience consists of 21 months as governor of the fourth smallest state in the union. That's it.

But she's a woman! And pro-life! And opposed to corruption! And maybe all those disaffected Hillary supporters will vote for her! And she won't upstage the old man!

It's hard to think of a more intensely cynical, focus-grouped, poll-driven, base-pandering VP choice in recent memory. Even Dan Quayle isn't in the running. This is ridiculous.

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Sarah Palin

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 11:02 AM EDT

SARAH PALIN....The New York Times is reporting that John McCain has chosen Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. That's a pretty pathetic attempt to look "bold," isn't it? I wonder how his campaign gurus are going to continue peddling the experience line after making this move?

But hey, she's pro-life and conservative evangelicals like her. And she's not Mitt Romney. I guess that must have been pretty much the entire checklist.

ADDED BONUS: Isn't Alaska a central front in the new Cold War? That's foreign policy experience right there!

No Power

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 10:48 AM EDT

NO POWER....The power is out in my neighborhood, so I'm breakfasting and blogging this morning at our local Panera Bakery. Anything going on in the world?

Obama's Game Plan

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:29 AM EDT

OBAMA'S GAME PLAN....The always perceptive Mark Schmitt notes that in his speech tonight, Barack Obama unveiled a campaign strategy that depends on attacking John McCain's politics, not his character. This is risky, considering the success that George Bush had with character assassination four years ago:

But there's another lesson in George W. Bush's 2004 victory over Kerry by demolishing Kerry's personal reputation: It left Kerry's agenda untouched. As Bush discovered from the day after his 2005 inauguration, he had no mandate for conservative policies such as Social Security privatization because he had not run on them.

But if it succeeds, it will have the effect of giving the next president exactly what George W. Bush didn't have: A mandate. The voters will have rejected not just McCain, but the entire economic and foreign policy agenda of conservatism. And that's as important as winning the election, perhaps more important.

Absolutely right. Tonight Obama made a start on a campaign that's based not just on talking points (though there will be plenty of those), but on a sustained assault on modern conservatism and a sustained defense of modern liberalism.

But it was only a start. He needs to keep pressing both halves of that game plan, even if it means occasionally saying some hard things. If he takes a few chances and does that, though, he'll not only win, he'll win with a public behind him that's actively sold on a genuinely liberal agenda. This is why conservatives have so far been apoplectic about his speech tonight: if he continues down this road, and wins, they know that he'll leave movement conservatism in tatters. He is, at least potentially, the most dangerous politician they've ever faced.

Obama's Speech

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 11:21 PM EDT

OBAMA'S SPEECH....That was a helluva speech, wasn't it? Damn. Here were my two favorite parts. First this:

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is — you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps — even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. Don't just tie McCain to George Bush, tie him to Republican policies. And then explain, in direct, simple terms, why those policies have been failures. More like this, please.

Then there was this:

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America — they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

This is an iron fist in a velvet glove. Or is it a velvet fist in an iron glove? Whichever it is, he's calling out McCain in plain language not just for running a nasty, Rovian campaign, but for running a fundamentally unserious campaign. By tackling this head on, Obama has put a serious dent in McCain's ability to continue campaigning with dumb soundbites and too-cute-by-half innuendo. This isn't a teenager's campaign for junior high school student council, he was saying, it's a campaign for president of the United States and you're old enough to know that you should damn well treat it that way.

And then, there was the conclusion. I've always been pretty immune to that kind of soaring, but relatively content-free, oratory, but I was just spellbound. I honestly can't remember the last time that's happened. And I don't care what the talking heads insisted on jabbering about all day, the setting was perfect, the stage was perfect, Obama's cadences were perfect, and it was just about as good a political rallying cry as I've ever heard. John McCain looks very, very small right about now.