Kevin Drum - August 2008

Bill Clinton

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 9:56 PM EDT

BILL CLINTON....Ezra has his choice for the best passage in Bill Clinton's speech here, but my favorite was this bit:

On the two great questions of this election — how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world — [John McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy that has defined his party for more than 25 years.

And it is, to be fair to all the Americans who aren't as hard-core Democrats as we, it's a philosophy the American people never actually had a chance to see in action fully until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and the Congress.

Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades actually were implemented. And look what happened.

They took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt; from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million; from increasing working families' incomes to nearly $7,500 a year to a decline of more than $2,000 a year; from almost 8 million Americans lifted out of poverty to more than 5.5 million driven into poverty; and millions more losing their health insurance.

Now, in spite of all this evidence, their candidate is actually promising more of the same.

Think about it: more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy; more Band-Aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families, and increase the number of uninsured; more going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our security and restore our influence.

They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more.

Italics mine. Overall it was, of course, a great speech. The guy's a natural. And that line about people the world over being "more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power"? Pure Bill.

UPDATE: Jeez, I stepped out for a few minutes and missed John Kerry's speech, but everyone says it was great too. I'll try to catch it online later.

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The Pit of My Stomach

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 8:53 PM EDT

THE PIT OF MY STOMACH....Democrats sure are a bunch of nervous nellies, aren't they? And hey — I admit that I've gotten up a couple of times this week with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach too. Obama's poll lead is shrinking. The convention has been sort of a fizzle so far. The media is obsessed with the hundred or so PUMA dead enders screaming in the streets of Denver. And John McCain's campaign of junior high school character assassination seems to be working pretty well.

But look. There's a reason I blog with my fingers, not with the pit of my stomach, and the fundamentals of the race really haven't changed that much. After four weeks of nonstop attacks from the McCain machine Obama is still a couple of points ahead in the polls with plenty of time left until election day. He hasn't raised as much money as he'd hoped, but he's still outraising McCain by a sizeable margin. Over the course of the campaign I think Joe Biden is going to be a surprisingly strong asset. In order to avoid a complete implosion in Congress the GOP is going to be forced to spend a ton of money it doesn't have on Senate and House races. I continue to believe that Obama will start running a much tougher and more focused campaign after Labor Day. His ground operation is going to be superlative (something that doesn't show up in the polls). And Obama is still, regardless of how McCain's troupe of gleeful attack poodles spins it, a charismatic and appealing candidate almost oozing with good sense and good judgment.

And call me a goggle-eyed optimist (no, really, go ahead), but I still think that at some point the press is going to tire of McCain's schtick. His slime is so patent, his pandering is so obvious, his lack of seriousness is so palpable, and his attacks are so transparent, that it just has to eventually get through to them. I'm well aware that history isn't on my side here, but still I hope. These folks have to have a little pride, don't they?

The Vicious Cycle

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 5:28 PM EDT

THE VICIOUS CYCLE....Matt Yglesias on how we deal with the rest of the world:

Part of the perverse logic of conservative foreign policy founded on a bizarre combination of hysteria and hubris is that there's this kind of quicksand phenomenon where the worse things get, the more you need to keep flailing.

Boy howdy, ain't that the truth. Over and over, we see years of bad foreign policy meander along fitfully and then, suddenly, explode into a crisis of some kind that was probably avoidable. But by then, it's too late. Once the crisis erupts, national honor is at stake and it's too late to do the right thing because nobody (including me!) likes to back down under pressure. So the only acceptable option is to stand tough and ratchet up the tension.

The Bush administration is certainly the acknowledged master of this vicious cycle: we've seen it with North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and now Russia. We could have engaged earlier with North Korea; we could have avoided war with Iraq; we could have accepted Iranian overtures to talk in 2003; we could have kept up diplomatic relations with Syria; we could have accepted democratic reforms in Pakistan; and we could have treated Russia as a serious negotiating partner. This would hardly have avoided all the problems in the world, but it would have helped avoid some of them.

This isn't meant to justify bad behavior from other countries, no matter how hard conservatives try to paint it that way. It's just to point out that smart leaders, regardless of ideology, can't be naive; they need to understand the real world and conduct their foreign policy without closing their eyes to the likely consequences of their actions. But the American public, like a lot of other publics, never sees this. All they see is the eventual crisis, and when the crisis hits they want a leader who doesn't back down. One who's tough. "Toughness" may have been part of the very attitude that helped create the crisis in the first place, but few people make the connection. They just want a response.

John McCain, of course, shows every sign of wanting to take over exactly where the Bush administration leaves off: mishandling foreign affairs until crisis after crisis hits, and then insisting that national honor demands that we respond to each crisis as bellicosely as possible. And that sells. It sells for John McCain the same way that it sells for Vladimir Putin.

Is Barack Obama a guy who can sell the American public on a different vision of how to handle foreign affairs? I sure hope so. But I'm not holding my breath yet.

Lying

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 4:50 PM EDT

LYING....I swear, it's like watching Anakin Skywalker turn into Darth Vader in Star Wars. It's not as if McCain hasn't always been brazenly opportunistic, but the depth of his flat-out lying is becoming pathological. Jake Tapper calls him on it here. Will the rest of the press follow?

Likeability

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 1:31 PM EDT

LIKEABILITY....Dayo Olopade on Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's speech last night:

Not only was Schweitzer's delivery emphatic and simple — his mien was entirely genuine, a reality only enhanced by his bolo tie. The governor, an irrigation specialist and practicing catholic, got the meat of these two identities across without being pedantic, speaking of a crucifix in his home and the environmental battles he fights as an executive with fluency.

....A quick Google investigation of the governor reveals an appearance at an American Prospect event in which he lays out the very case for casting him as a major face of the party in future: "[People] like what we Democrats do when we're elected — we just have to be more likeable when we're doing the things they like." And oh, was he. Beyond his endearing tics — the A-OK hand gestures, his refrences to "industry" — he got off some great jabs at McCain, and his hokey but effective pep-rally techniques were straight from the heartland.

This is something of a problem, isn't it? Yes, successful politicians all have to be likeable in one way or another (Richard Nixon is the exception who proves the rule), but this a particular kind of likeability that Dayo is talking about. It's the rural, jeans-wearing, brush-clearing, aw-shucks likeability of John McCain and George Bush and Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. (And LBJ and Bill Clinton.) But if that's the only kind of genuinely acceptable likeability in presidential elections, then our list of electable candidates shrinks to about two or three per year.

I don't have any brilliant answer to this problem, and obviously a lot of people this year are hoping that Barack Obama's version of likeability turns out to be acceptable too. That said, I sort of wish liberals would stop buying into the Schweitzer-esque version of what's likeable and what's not. In the long run, it just kills us.

Norman Angell Lives

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:33 PM EDT

NORMAN ANGELL LIVES....Moscow's stock market is tanking, Poland is teaming up with the U.S. on missile defense, and Russia's neighbors are newly united in opposition to their erstwhile master. Dan Drezner comments:

So, in the end, the war has resulted in losers on all sides. Georgia has obviously lost through its aggressive behavior towards the breakaway provinces. The United States and Europe [have] lost because they clearly were not able to deter Russia in Georgia. Russia has gained the humiliation of Georgia, but is has lost in terms of its ability to raise capital and coordinate among its erstwhile allies, who seem to be juuuuust a bit nervous right now.

This is pretty much where I am too. On the surface, Russia looks newly resurgent and the West looks weak and divided. But these things don't play out in weeks, they play out in years: Abkhazia and South Ossetia will eventually be footnotes to history, but the long-term consequences of Russia's aggression are only starting to be felt. Russia flatly doesn't have the military power to handle more than one Georgia or Chechnya at a time, and as tempers cool and bluster fades, this is going to become increasingly clear. This in turn means that Russia's ability to intimidate its neighbors is going to fade too, and its economy, overly dependent as it is on oil and gas, is going to sputter. In the end, its invasion of Georgia, I suspect, will turn out to be either a wash or a net negative.

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McCain and Ledbetter

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

McCAIN AND LEDBETTER....Listening to Hillary's speech last night, Marian turned to me and asked, "Does McCain really oppose equal pay for equal work?" It was a little complicated to try and answer that while the speech was still in progress, so I just mumbled something about his voting record and turned back to the TV. Ramesh Ponnuru, however, asks the question more precisely:

Hillary Clinton on McCain: "In 2008, he still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work." Right: Opposing the Lily Ledbetter Act means approving of unequal pay for women. What a disgusting comment.

John Holbo answers:

But what's disgusting about it, from a conservative perspective? She seems to be making a point of being scrupulously accurate. In this context, saying 'it's okay' amounts to saying that the thing in question is maybe a little bad, but it doesn't matter much, so you needn't — therefore shouldn't — do anything about it. As in: 'do you need a band-aid for that?' 'No, it's ok.' A sense that unequal pay for women 'is ok', in this sense, is precisely the reason one would oppose the Lily Ledbetter Act.

Right. Ledbetter worked at Goodyear Tire for years, eventually discovered that she had been the victim of persistent wage discrimination, sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and then lost her case when the Supreme Court ruled that you can only bring wage discrimination cases within 180 days of the discrimination happening. Since practically no one ever finds out about this kind of thing within 180 days, it effectively gutted Title VII completely.

Now, one of the arguments legal conservatives made at the time was that even if you thought this was a strained, absurdly narrow reading of the law, it was a reading of a law. Since Congress can change laws, it's reasonable for the court to make cautious, narrow readings in statutory cases in the knowledge that they aren't necessarily preserving ancient prejudices in amber forever. Just change the law!

Which, needless to say, the Democratic congress tried to do. But Republicans made it a cause celebre, insisted the Republic would fall if victims of wage discrimination actually had reasonable recourse in the courts, and filibustered the attempt. John McCain supported the filibuster, which means that for all practical purposes, the Title VII ban on wage discrimination is a dead letter. It might as well not be on the books.

So: does McCain think it's OK to oppose equal pay for equal work? He sure doesn't seem to mind it much. He didn't propose any changes to the Ledbetter Act or work to make it more palatable to conservatives. He just opposed it (though, as usual, he skipped the actual vote). So now, if you're the victim of wage discrimination, you essentially have no recourse. And John McCain thinks that's fine.

Quote of the Day

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:46 AM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....It's a new day (barely), so I get a new quote. This one is from Jared Bernstein, after reading the Census Bureau income report that I blogged about earlier:

Trickle-down economics died yesterday morning at 10AM. The cause of death was a data release from the US Census Bureau, but trickle-down had been ailing from lack of empirical support for decades. Also known as "supply-side economics," trickle-down was the love child of Ronald Reagan, Arthur Laffer, and Jude Wanniski. It is survived by Larry Kudlow and Co., and the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal.

My earlier post on the subject is here.

Quote of the Day

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:18 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Michael Dukakis, in an interview with Katie Couric where he described George Bush's tenure as "the worst national administration in my lifetime":

"Look, I owe the American people an apology. If I had beaten the old man you'd of never heard of the kid and you wouldn't be in this mess. So it's all my fault and I feel that very, very strongly. So this is an important election for us. Let me tell 'ya."

Hillary Clinton Followup

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:15 PM EDT

HILLARY CLINTON FOLLOWUP....Hillary, as we all know, isn't a naturally great speaker, but she did good tonight. She gave a great speech that pumped up the crowd, told her supporters in no uncertain terms to vote for Obama, and included an attack line that even my wife thought was pretty zingy (rough, from memory):

"It's fitting that John McCain and George Bush will be meeting in the Twin Cities next week, because it's getting pretty hard to tell them apart."

A pretty good job, I'd say. As usual, I have no idea how your average couch potato is going to react to it, but I liked it.