Kevin Drum - September 2008

Troopergate

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 1:37 PM EDT

TROOPERGATE....The latest on the Troopergate investigation:

ABC News has exclusively learned that Alaska Senator Hollis French will announce today that he is moving up the release date of his investigation into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her office to get the Alaska public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, fired. The results of the investigation were originally scheduled for release Oct. 31 but will now come almost three weeks earlier, according to sources.

Hmmm. Obviously this could be bad for Palin if the final report is both negative and persuasive. On the other hand, if it looks like French, a Democrat, is moving up the date for purely political purposes, it could actually make things easier on her. Perhaps we'll have a better read on this later today after French makes his announcement and explains what's going on.

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McCain and the Surge

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 1:19 PM EDT

McCAIN AND THE SURGE....Jon Chait finally says something that I suspect everyone knows but that nobody has bothered to point out: when John McCain tells us endlessly about his bravery in supporting the surge, he's just making stuff up. There was nothing brave about it at all:

Back in 2006, McCain was still anathema to most of the party base and elite. He needed to find issues of agreement with the administration. The surge was perfectly suited for that end. Sure, it carried some risk of hurting McCain in a general election, but McCain's issue was finding a way to get nominated. After that, he could always finesse the surge if it wasn't working, or rely on his war hero/maverick image.

I'm not saying McCain took up the surge for political reasons. Surely he believed in it. But this wa a case where his beliefs dovetailed perfectly with his political interests. His persuasion of the political press corps is a triumph of spin.

I've never before bothered mentioning this myself, mainly because I guess I figured it didn't really matter much. But although the members of the Baker Commission counseled limited withdrawal from Iraq, the fact is that the surge was almost instantly popular among the Republican base and was supported by virtually every Republican politician. During the GOP primary, the major candidates practically held a competition to figure out who was really the biggest surge supporter. The political risk of supporting the surge was nil, and that would have been the case whether or not Bush had ordered it. It's just another bedtime story designed to stoke McCain's self-image of moral bravery and supposed service to a cause greater than his own political career.

Unemployment

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 1:01 PM EDT

UNEMPLOYMENT....The unemployment rate jumped to 6.1% last month. The chart on the right is courtesy of Brad DeLong, who says simply, "It's already as deep in the unemployment metric as the 1980 recession."

Which, of course, makes it all the more remarkable that the Republican Party just held a 4-day nationally televised convention with dozens of speakers and managed to only barely even mention the economy. John McCain finally got around to it last night, briefly mentioning "tough times" and then devoting a few sentences to the subject, but that was about it. And his heart pretty obviously wasn't in it even for those few sentences.

If McCain loses in November, that's going to be one of the biggest reasons why. Sarah Palin aside, he simply doesn't sound like he understands what's really going on out in the outside world, and when he's forced to talk about it he has nothing to say. Republican orthodoxy forbids any serious response — forbids, in fact, even the possibility of an effective response other than yet another round of tax cuts — so it's best to mutter a few bromides and move on. And that's what he does.

Palin and the Media

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 12:23 PM EDT

PALIN AND THE MEDIA....Howard Fineman, Ben Smith, and Chuck Todd are all reporting the same thing: the McCain campaign is going to whisk Sarah Palin back to Alaska and then have her hole up for a good long while until they think it's safe for her to talk to the press. The excuse will be that she needs to tie up loose ends and see off her son Track, who's deploying to Iraq on September 11th. Perhaps the supposedly horrible treatment she's received by the media will also be trotted out.

But I say: don't believe it. These guys are being suckered with misinformation so that the McCain campaign will have yet another excuse to pretend that the media is bent on making up egregious lies about Palin. I don't think she's going to be talking to a horde of serious national journalists, but they'll pick some spots and do a few remotes. Maybe Larry King, despite pulling out of his show a few days ago. One or more of the morning shows. Some simpatico outlets like Fox News or the New York Post or the Wall Street Journal edit page. That kind of thing.

But I'll bet it won't be radio silence.

Wage Insurance

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 12:56 AM EDT

WAGE INSURANCE....Here's an interesting passage from John McCain's speech tonight:

Government assistance for the unemployed workers was designed for the economy of the 1950s. That's going to change on my watch....For workers in industries that have been hard-hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one, while they receive re-training that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage.

McCain is talking here about "wage insurance," a proposal that's been bubbling around in neoliberal circles for over a decade and has considerable (though not unanimous) support among Democrats. McCain, I think, has mentioned wage insurance in passing a few times before, but as far as I know he's never really committed himself to it. And unless it's buried somewhere that I missed, it's not part of the economic plan on his website.

But tonight, in a speech with very few specific policy details, he committed himself firmly to supporting a wage insurance plan if he becomes president. Why? Was it just because he didn't really have much else in the way of economic proposals that he thought might appeal to ordinary families? Was it a throwaway line? Or is he serious about it?

McCain's Speech

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 12:11 AM EDT

McCAIN'S SPEECH....Like Hillary Clinton, John McCain isn't a naturally great speaker, and that showed tonight. Overall, his acceptance speech struck me as flat and pedestrian, full of boilerplate and talking points.

But that's not to say it wasn't effective. It might well have been. For one thing, McCain successfully dialed down the red meat, something he desperately needed to do after last night's culture war fest. He addressed substantive issues more than previous speakers. He was good on the bipartisan roots of corruption in Washington — which didn't go over so well on the convention floor but probably did at home. And he was very good, I thought, when he was talking about war and national security. He sounded like the farthest thing imaginable from a hawkish neocon, and his line about working to build good relations with Russia while not overlooking aggression was just what the doctor ordered. Nobody watching this speech would guess that this was a man who never met a war he didn't like.

And the peroration at the end? It seemed to me like he was trying to match Barack Obama's brand of soaring rhetoric, but it didn't work. It's just not something McCain can pull off, and it clearly didn't raise the house the way Obama's final few minutes at Invesco Field did.

Still: it was workmanlike and competent and he hit most of his marks — though some of those marks (e.g., his support for a culture of life) didn't get hit with much passion. But the base didn't need any more pumping up after yesterday, so that's probably not a problem. Bottom line: I have my doubts that this speech is going to sway a lot of votes, but it was OK.

On a slightly different note, though, are the convention planners idiots? Did they really have him standing in front of a green screen for minutes on end during the middle part of his speech? It looked terrible.

And I guess they decided that Heart's "Barraucda" would be Sarah Palin's theme song after all. They didn't play that last night, did they?

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Quote of the Day

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 10:50 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From George Bush, explaining why he settled on a surge strength of five brigades:

"Okay, I don't know this. I'm not in these meetings, you'll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do."

There's more interesting stuff at the link. I'll have more to say about it after the Republican convention is (blessedly, finally) over.

Calm Down

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 3:34 PM EDT

CALM DOWN....For what it's worth, can I once again plead with everyone to settle down? Since her initial introduction on the national stage last Friday, Sarah Palin has given two prepared speeches. That. Is. It. Two speeches.

Look: maybe she'll turn out to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Who knows? But can we at least wait maybe two or three weeks before we declare that liberals everywhere should be quaking in their boots over the resurgent power of culture war politics with a pretty face? Come on, folks.

Market Update

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 2:43 PM EDT

MARKET UPDATE....The stock market dropped 250 points this morning following last night's speech from Sarah Palin. Obviously Wall Street is terrified, even though the lying liberal media is doing its best to pretend the causes lie elsewhere. Just sayin'.

The Bering Strait

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 2:38 PM EDT

THE BERING STRAIT....Yes, this is possibly the dumbest political argument ever. And that's against some pretty stiff competition. The fact that Republicans have to keep making it tells you something.