Kevin Drum

Joe Mania

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 5:05 PM PST

JOE MANIA....A Norfolk station asked John McCain today why he wasn't doing better in Virginia. Here's his answer:

"We're doing much better actually, there's a poll out today that shows we're within about three so we're moving up and moving up fast. And look, Joe the Bomb — uh — Joe the Plumber turned the whole thing around."

The comical part of this is that McCain almost called him "Joe the Bomber." Ha ha. But the genuinely weird part of it is McCain's bizarre embrace of Joe. It's one thing to use the guy as a campaign prop, but to tell the world that it was Joe who "turned the whole thing around"? That Joe is his personal "role model"? You gotta be kidding. Those aren't things you'd want to admit even if they were true, are they?

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A Tax Cut Everyone Should Support

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:51 PM PST

A TAX CUT EVERYONE SHOULD SUPPORT....Riffing off a Rachel Maddow segment about stupendously long lines to vote, largely in poor urban precincts, Ezra Klein says:

The poll tax was a sly system of disenfranchisement used in the Jim Crow era to disenfranchise Southern blacks. Aware that the Constitution now assured everyone the "right" to vote, Southern states imposed a voting fee heavy enough that African-Americans would deem it a right too pricey to exercise. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, of course, did away will all that. But as Rachel Maddow says in the clip above, voting lines are just another form of poll tax. They are a time tax. How much is four hours worth to the average voter? How many voters can take four hours off from their job, or their family, to stand at a precinct? We tend to frame long voting lines as an inspiring vision of democracy, but they're quite the opposite: They are disenfranchisement in action. A longer line does not simply mean more people are voting. It means more people are not voting, as they could not afford the time tax.

Just for the record, the poll tax wasn't actually especially "sly." Everyone knew exactly what it was for. But point taken anyway. The flip side, of course, is neighborhoods like mine. I live in an upscale, white, suburban city, and you will be unsurprised to learn that I haven't had to wait more than five minutes to vote since the day I moved here. Quite a coincidence, eh?

Boo!

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 11:26 AM PST

BOO!....This is a few days old, but it just occurred to me to wonder who won the Halloween mask contest this year. Here's the answer:

Barack Obama will be the next president. At least that's what BuySeasons of New Berlin predicted last week based on the sales of its 99-cent paper presidential masks.

Sales of the masks as of Oct. 31 showed Obama with 55 percent of the sales and John McCain with 45 percent. The company, founded in 1999, has accurately predicted the last two presidential elections based on its mask sales.

Just sayin'.

Three Seconds

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 10:49 AM PST

THREE SECONDS....Megan McArdle suggests that you be very, very careful if you're driving in Virginia:

I don't know about other parts of the country, but around here governments are partially dealing with their revenue shortfall by upping their traffic enforcement to outrageously persnickety levels; my sister got a ticket the other day for stopping at a stop sign for three seconds instead of the apparently requisite five. There were no other cars around — except for the cop who handed her a gigantic ticket.

Five seconds? Seriously?

For that matter, where did this whole "three seconds at a stop sign" meme come from in the first place? As near as I can tell, both the Virginia and California vehicle codes require only a "complete stop," with no mention at all of having to wait a few seconds before you continue through the intersection. The law firm of Lawrynowicz and Associates agrees fervently ("Many people receive unfair and unjust Stop Sign tickets when they have obeyed the law completely. Why pay an unfair ticket and have your insurance rates raise when you can fight it and keep your record clean?") Is this whole thing a myth? A rule of thumb drilled into teenager by drivers ed teachers and never forgotten? Buried somewhere in the vehicle code where I couldn't find it? What's the deal?

Presidential Success

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 10:19 AM PST

PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESS....Matt Yglesias predicts a land office business after the election in op-eds warning Democrats not to get too full of themselves, but argues that analogies to Clinton's first couple of years are off base:

But that aside, I just think it's pretty blinkered to act as if the electorate has a deep commitment (or lack of commitment) to bipartisanship or some finely nuanced conception of moderation. Rather, voters tend to re-elect incumbents when things seem to be working out okay whereas they tend to punish incumbents — and those closely associated with incumbents — when things seem to be going poorly. What Democrats need to do if they want to prosper in 2010 and 2012 is deliver the goods. In other words, return the economy to prosperity, avoid terrible foreign affairs calamities, etc.

I think that's right. Obviously administrations need to pick their spots — in retrospect, leading off his first week in office with a proposal to allow gays in the military didn't do Clinton any good — but the key thing is to succeed, and then to get credit for succeeding. If the opposition is able to frame the terms of the debate, or if you allow the press to frame success with its usual idiotic "hundred days" narrative, you're behind the eight ball before you even start.

(Please, please, Senator Obama: make clear to the media that you aren't planning to change the shape of the country in your first hundred days. Please. It's long past time for this trope to be buried once and for all. Only one president in history has ever done this, and you won't be the second.)

So what would success look like? I've said this before, but I'd put my money on three things:

  • Withdrawal from Iraq. Sure, sure, Obama will leave a few "residual troops" in place. I get it. But it's time to get out.

  • Serious healthcare reform. Obviously I'd prefer reform even more serious than what Obama has proposed, but his plan is a good start if it doesn't get watered down too much.

  • Carbon pricing. Obama needs to pass a real energy plan that includes a version of cap-and-trade with teeth. (A carbon tax would also be fine, but I don't think that's politically feasible.) Price signals work, and increasing the price of carbon has to be the backbone of any attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. We're already too late on this, and getting the rest of the world on board may take decades, but we have to start. We're condemning hundreds of millions of people to an early death if we don't.

So those are my big three: Iraq, healthcare, and carbon. Get something serous done on those issues, and Obama's administration will be a big success. Fail on them, and it's not clear to me that any combination of other new programs will be enough to salvage it.

Tomorrow

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 9:44 AM PST

TOMORROW....As near as I can tell, here's the state of the race. Obama is ahead by a lot, but (a) the Bradley effect might cost him a couple of points, (b) super-duper black turnout might help him by a point or so, (c) Palin-mania might help GOP turnout more than we expect, (d) Palin-phobia will increase Obama's share of the female vote, (e) independents are likely to break heavily for McCain, (f) a joyous Obama tsunami will add a point or two to the Dem column, (g) Joe the Plumber is making inroads among working class voters in swing states, but (h) Obama's ground game is awesome and adds hidden strength to his poll totals. Plus i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, and y.

Feh. This is a mug's game. None of the pundits know squat. The polls are what they are. Obama's ground operation has been in the planning stages for months and it's superb. As of today, pretty much everyone's mind is made up. Obama's going to win by 5-6 points (maybe more!), and tomorrow the most disastrous presidency in modern history will finally begin the shamefaced descent into the memory hole that it so richly deserves. I can't wait.

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Bankruptcy in China

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 9:26 AM PST

BANKRUPTCY IN CHINA....China's manufacturing decline has accelerated recently due to the global financial meltdown, but apparently China's provisions for corporate bankruptcy aren't quite as smooth as one might hope:

First, Tao Shoulong burned his company's financial books. He then sold his private golf club memberships and disposed of his Mercedes S-600 sedan.

And then he was gone. And just like that, China's biggest textile dye operation — with four factories, a campus the size of 31 football fields, 4,000 workers and debts of at least $200 million — was history.

....In recent weeks, there have been many fires, increasingly large-scale. In Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, Ye [Hang] counted at least six major bankruptcies, including Jianglong; Feiyue Group, China's biggest sewing machine maker; and Zhejiang Yixin Pharmaceutical Co., among the largest in that industry.

"Of these six, one [owner] committed suicide, one was detained by police, and the remaining four all escaped," he said. "I can imagine that in the future, there would be more such cases as a result of the chain reaction."

I don't especially want anyone committing suicide, but I confess that the thought of Wall Street executives in failed banks either being detained by the police or going to ground and hiding in terror holds a certain appeal. Is there any chance that the U.S. could import the Chinese method temporarily just for the financial industry?

Screwup in Syria

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 8:57 AM PST

SCREWUP IN SYRIA....The London Times reports that the American raid on Syria last week wasn't an encroachment of Syrian sovereignty after all. According to "sources in Washington," they say, the al-Qaeda commander targeted in the raid, Abu Ghadiya, "was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus." So they gave the go-ahead for the U.S operation. But things didn't go as planned:

In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet "snatch and grab" raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.

The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya's whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

....It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

As usual with these things, you can decide for yourself whether this report is believable. But it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out to be at least partially true.

The Future

| Sun Nov. 2, 2008 10:55 PM PST

THE FUTURE....So what does the political world look like on Wednesday if the gurus at ABC News are right? They all announced their guesses Sunday morning, and the average of their projections is 352 electoral votes for Obama plus a pickup for the Democrats of 24 seats in the House and 7 or 8 seats in the Senate.

If this happens, the upshot is that both parties get moved to the right. Most of the Democratic pickups will be in centrist states and districts, which will move the Democratic caucus moderately toward the center. At the same time, it will remove these centrist states and districts from the Republican side, which will make the GOP caucus not just smaller, but even more conservative than it is now. As a touchstone, the Republican Study Committee, the hardcore conservative wing of the House GOP contingent, currently represents a little over half of their total strength. After Tuesday they're likely to represent nearly two-thirds, which means that the rump of the House Republican caucus remaining after Tuesday is likely to be almost entirely in the hands of the most faithful of the movement conservative faithful. These true believers are not likely to give in quickly to the notion that hardcore conservative ideology needs a bit of freshening up if the party wants to regain its competitive edge. On the contrary, they'll probably double down, convinced that they lost only because John McCain and George Bush abandoned the true faith that America truly yearns for.

Will these folks rally around Sarah Palin as their conservative savior? I continue to see that as unlikely, but who knows? Desperate people do desperate things, and there's no telling if they'll somehow convince themselves that she represents their future.

Anyway, consider this an open thread. I'm not saying anything original here, just sort of noodling about how long it's going to take for the Republican Party to start making a comeback after their losses this year. My guess is that the business wing of the party will become (partly, reluctantly) reconciled to a Democratic majority, if for no other reason than self-preservation, which will leave the evangelical/Southern wing of the party in effective control. And if that turns out to be the case, the GOP is in for a very, very long stay in the wilderness.

Quote of the Day - 11.02.08

| Sun Nov. 2, 2008 12:04 PM PST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Syrian ambassador Imad Moustapha, in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine:

"I have reason to believe that even if McCain becomes president of the United States, he will also be inclined to sit and talk with Syria. I can tell you this on the record: Senator Joe Lieberman, who is supposed to be very close to McCain, has said this explicitly and very clearly to me personally."

That's good to hear. I wonder why McCain's supporters seem so reticent to say the same thing publicly?