Kevin Drum

A Prediction

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 2:07 PM EDT

A PREDICTION....Two weeks from right now we will all be desperately waiting for someone to leak the early exit polls even though we know perfectly well that early exit polls don't mean a thing.

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John McCain's Problem

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

JOHN McCAIN'S PROBLEM....Today's New York Times poll graphically illustrates the biggest problem John McCain had going into this election. Normally, a Republican would run right in the primary and then tack to the center during the general election. But McCain, who has always been distrusted by the hardcore conservative wing of the party — the social conservatives especially — couldn't do that. In order to consolidate their support, he had to tack to the right for the general election, most spectacularly with his choice of Sarah Palin as VP.

But this has been disastrous. McCain's biggest electoral advantage was always his appeal to independents, and as he's moved to the right independents have abandoned him in droves. In the last month, his favorable rating among independents has gone down 3 points and his unfavorable rating has skyrocketed an astonishing 20 points. In other words, nearly every single independent who didn't already have an opinion about McCain has decided in the last month that they don't like him. The New John McCain has been the biggest flop imaginable.

I honestly don't know what he could have done differently to avoid this. One argument, I suppose, is that conservatives would have ended up voting for him regardless, so he should have ignored them and gone after the independent bloc like a laser. But I'll bet that wouldn't have worked either. Conservatives were genuinely uncomfortable with McCain, and if he had aggressively courted the independent vote Rush Limbaugh would have been skinning him alive 24/7 and James Dobson would still be telling his followers to stay home this year.

Was there an answer to this dilemma? I can't think of one. McCain's rock this year was very, very hard, and his hard place was very, very rocky. He was just plain screwed.

He Said, She Said

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 1:04 PM EDT

HE SAID, SHE SAID....Ezra Klein provides an example of news media "faux objectivity" outside its normal haunts of political reporting:

Take, for instance, this (very good) New York Times review of two books on meat. In the first paragraph, we're told, "Raising and processing cattle on an industrial scale is an environmental catastrophe (among other things, the United Nations has accused the world's livestock industry of being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transportation fleet)." Emphasis mine.

The UN didn't "accuse" the livestock industry of anything. They published research showing that livestock production is a more significant contributor to carbon emissions than transportation is. If the author has methodological problems with the research, he should say so. If he accepts the research, then he shouldn't suggest it's an accusation — it's an empirical conclusion.

This view has become so widely accepted among blogosphere press critics that I feel like it deserves at least a little pushback. The problem here is obvious: the impact of livestock on GHG emissions is a complex subject, and for reviewer Michael Shae to take a firm position on the methodological precision of this UN study might well require weeks of research. Maybe more. And in the end, it might turn out that no firm conclusion is even possible. But for present purposes he's just writing a book review, and the UN report only takes up one sentence of his review. So unless he's already very well versed in this topic, he only has two choices: (a) leave out the anecdote entirely, or (b) tell his editor he needs a few weeks to check out a fact. Since (a) poorly serves his audience and (b) just isn't feasible, his only real choice is to note the report and its provenance without taking an authorial stand beyond that.

This kind of thing happens all the time in news stories. Maybe the word "accused" was a bad choice in this piece, but any replacement would only be marginally better and still wouldn't provide a firm take on the issue — because that's the one thing Shae really can't do. Quite often, the best you can do is to simply report various takes on an issue and leave it at that.

More Conservatives for Obama

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 11:59 AM EDT

MORE CONSERVATIVES FOR OBAMA....James Joyner on Ken Adelman's endorsement of Barack Obama:

While Colin Powell, Lincoln Chaffee, Susan Eisenhower, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Jim Leach, Richard Riordan, Bill Ruckelshaus, and others can be dismissed as outside the conservative movement, Adelman can not. Perhaps, at some point, people will take these complaints about McCain and the direction of the party seriously rather than as an excuse for character assassination.

Hey, even BoJo agrees! Unfortunately, he sort of ruins his endorsement at the end by suggesting that if Obama wins maybe this will finally put an end to all that incessant complaining by blacks about how they're treated in America. But that's BoJo for you. Londoners sure do have odd taste in mayors, don't they?

Obama and Prop 8

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 12:10 AM EDT

OBAMA AND PROP 8....Several months ago Barack Obama came out against Proposition 8, an initiative that would ban same-sex marriage in California, but since then he hasn't exactly been very vocal about his opposition. Since African-Americans support Prop 8 by a wider margin than any other ethnic group, Andrew Sullivan thinks Obama should use his bully pulpit to help turn the tide:

If he does not stand up for gay couples now, why should we believe he will when he is in office? And if black Americans are the critical bloc that helps kill civil rights for gays, that will not help deepen Obama's governing coalition. It could tear it apart.

Memo to Obama: make an ad. Speak loudly. Defend equality. Defend it when it might actually lose you some votes. Show us you are not another Clinton.

The argument against following Andrew's advice is obvious and compelling: Obama looks like he has the election in the bag right now, so why take even a tiny chance of blowing it? It's easy for bloggers and other amateurs to sit on the sidelines and tell Obama to take risky, principled stands on whatever their pet issue happens to be, but bloggers and amateurs don't have to take the heat if it doesn't work out, do they?

In other words, I get it. But I agree with Andrew anyway. My biggest concern about Obama all along has been his almost preternatural caution, and while this has obviously served him well during the financial crisis of the past few weeks, it's hard not to wonder when, if ever, he's going to show a little more, um, audacity on selling a progressive agenda to the country. Right now, California progressives need some help on Prop 8, and he's supposed to be our champion. So when are we going to see some leadership on this?

Plenty of people disagree with me about this. Better to play it safe for now, get elected, and then let big congressional majorities work their magic. Good things will follow. But I'm not so sure. I've got a broader piece on this topic coming up in the November issue of the magazine, but my main point is easy to summarize: in the end, congressional majorities aren't enough. You need public opinion behind you too, and the only way to get that is by actively trying to mold public opinion. So far Obama hasn't really tried to do that, and that's troubling for the progressive movement. If he's unwilling to take a few minor risks now, how likely is it that he's going to be willing to take a few bigger risks if and when he's elected?

So throw us a bone, Barack. Take a small risk on behalf of a core progressive principle. Make an ad.

Economic Update

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 4:30 PM EDT

ECONOMIC UPDATE....The latest economic news might not quite qualify as "good," but it's slightly encouraging at least. (1) Germany, the Netherlands, and South Korea are implementing some stunningly large bank rescue operations. (Relative to GDP, all are as large or larger than the U.S. rescue.) (2) Iceland is nearing an IMF rescue plan. (3) Ben Bernanke says a fiscal stimulus plan "seems appropriate." (4) After a price drop of 33% since their peak last year, home sales in Southern California shot up 65% in September. (5) And Calculated Risk tots up the evidence and says it looks like the credit crisis is finally easing a bit.

Don't go getting too excited or anything. More bailouts and a long recession are still ahead. But there might finally be a few tiny rays of sunshine on the horizon.

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McCain vs. Bush

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

McCAIN vs. BUSH....Atrios sez:

I've never been a fan of John McCain. I never had a mancrush on him as most of the "liberals" in the media once did. But there was a time not all that long ago when I thought that a McCain presidency would at least be a marginal improvement over the Bush presidency. Now I believe it would be much, much worse.

This pretty much describes me too. I was never a fan of McCain, even in his 2004 semi-liberal incarnation, but I did have at least some respect for his positions and his character. As Republicans went, especially compared to the sad sack crew they put up for the presidency this year, he wasn't too bad.

But now? If you put a gun to my head and forced me to pull the lever for either McCain or Bush, I'm not sure who I'd choose. Getting the Cheney/Addington crew out of the White House might be worth it no matter what, especially if I could convince myself that McCain is hale and hearty and Sarah Palin would never have any duty more important than attending foreign funerals. But then again, compared to McCain's barely suppressed rage and erratic, free-form bellicosity, the 2008 model George Bush almost seems like a statesman. It takes a very special talent to make people like Atrios and me come to that conclusion. John McCain is obviously a very special talent.

Sleaze

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 2:13 PM EDT

SLEAZE....Josh Marshall says John McCain's campaign is the sleaziest we've seen for a very long time:

You may say, wait, Willie Horton? The Swift-boat smears? What about those?

But here's the key point, one that is getting too little attention. President Bush's father didn't run the Willie Horton ad. And this President Bush, however much they may have been funded by his supporters and run with Karl Rove's tacit approval, didn't run the Swift Boat ads. These were run by independent groups. Just how 'independent' we think they really are is a decent question. But even the sleaziest campaigns usually draw the line at the kind of sleaze they are wiling to run themselves under their own name.

This is basically what's struck me about McCain's campaign too: his sleaze has been done in his own name, not kept at arm's length, as it was in 1972, 1988, and 2004.

But although that was my initial reaction to events of the summer and fall, I'm pretty sure it isn't right. Yes, the Willie Horton ad in 1988 was officially an independent expenditure, but the "Revolving Door" ad was very much a Bush-Quayle production. Lee Atwater promised to make Horton a household name, and he did just that. Bush Sr. spoke about him frequently in speeches. And Dukakis's patriotism was a major theme too, as the Bush campaign hit him over and over and over about his stand on the Pledge of Allegiance.

In fact, I'd say 2008 is a surprisingly faithful replay of 1988. On the Republican side it's been sleazy, it's been issue free, and its biggest feature has been a young, attractive, unqualified, base-pleasing conservative vice presidential choice. The big difference is that Obama is a better candidate than Dukakis and 2008 is a far more Democratic year than 1988. On the sleaze-o-meter, however, I think it's pretty much a draw. Anyone with sharp memories of 1988 is invited to agree or disagree in comments.

The Upcoming GOP Civil War

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 1:44 PM EDT

THE UPCOMING GOP CIVIL WAR.....After every election, the losing party conducts a civil war. Sometimes it's a big war, sometimes it's a small one, but the subject is usually the same: Did we lose because we failed to appeal to enough moderates? Or did we lose because we failed to uphold our heritage and give the voters a real choice? The arguments are so similar on both sides that even the terminology is often the same. Liberals refer to their party's centrists as DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) and Republicans refer to theirs as RINOs. Republican conservative stalwarts say, "If the choice is between a Democrat and a Democrat-lite, the public will choose the real thing every time." Switch the party affiliation and you get the same thing from liberal Democrats.

So what happens this time around? It's a little hard to keep this in mind at this point, but John McCain was widely considered the most electable Republican this year because of his mavericky politics and appeal to independents. He had moderate cred on immigration, campaign finance reform, and judicial nominees, and though he had a conservative voting record he had never been a committed culture warrior. If you thought that moving toward the center was the right strategy for the Republican Party after eight years of George Bush, McCain was your man.

So if he loses, what happens? Conservatives will have the upper hand, no? We tried a moderate, they'll say, and he crashed and burned. After all, if the choice is between a Democrat and a Democrat-lite etc. etc.

And that in turn suggests that instead of undergoing a long, slow moderation of their positions after this year's election, they'll go in the other direction. Their argument will be simple and compelling: the McCain strategy didn't work. The country is hungering for real conservatism, and that's the only way we can win. Hell, the only thing that even gave McCain a chance this year was his selection of Sarah Palin, the only real conservative on the ticket.

So this suggests an eye-popping state of affairs: after eight years of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove making them into the most unpopular party in recent history, the GOP will decide that the best response to this is to become even more conservative. I can hardly wait to see how this plays out.

Infrastructure

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 1:12 PM EDT

INFRASTRUCTURE....Time to rebuild our nation's infrastructure? Support for the idea is growing:

Public officials, engineers and policy experts have been warning for years that crumbling infrastructure is a ticking time bomb....A third of the nation's major highways are in poor shape, according to the Department of Transportation. The list of unsafe dams is growing. Mass-transit systems, water-treatment plants, hazardous-waste sites and more are falling apart.

The civil engineers association gave the country a "D" on its 2005 infrastructure Report Card. It called for a $1.6 trillion five-year improvement program.

Now, sure, you'd pretty much expect a civil engineers association to back a program of civil engineering projects. Still, the time is right. The usual argument against infrastructure projects as fiscal stimulus is that they take too long: you have to identify projects and draw up plans first, and only then do you put people to work building stuff. By the time the projects get started, the recession is over.

But not this time. The recession we're going into now promises to be deep and long, and a big slug of infrastructure improvements would not only be handy things to have, their timing is pretty good too. And politically it's doable too since there are plenty of projects available for all 50 states.

McCain hasn't bought into this because (I'd guess) he still doesn't really appreciate the scope of our financial problems. Plus he probably associates infrastructure projects with earmarks, so he has a Pavlovian reaction against them. Obama has done a little better, but only a little. It would be smart, both politically and substantively, for him to at least start making more aggressive noises on a big, bold infrastructure plan.