Kevin Drum

Meanwhile....

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

MEANWHILE....Over in Thailand, it's possible that a constitutional crisis will be averted because the prime minister also hosts a cooking program on state TV. From the Guardian's report, here's a sentence you don't see every day:

The cooking show, Tasting, Grumbling, a mix of tips on traditional Thai cooking and rants on subjects of his choosing, represents the most immediate threat to his power.

That's right. If a court rules that Samak Sundaravej's show violates the constitution, then he'll be out of office with no muss and no fuss. Perhaps we could import a similar system into our country?

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The Expectations Game

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

THE EXPECTATIONS GAME....Time's Karen Tumulty says that Sarah Palin was very good in her 2006 gubernatorial debate and offers this advice:

That's why Joe Biden should be wary, especially since she will have expectations very much in her favor.

I know this is a dumb question, but why exactly should expectations be in her favor? It's true that she's going to be relying on four weeks of intensive briefing rather than a lifetime of experience, but high school juniors do this in debate competitions all the time. There's really not much reason to think that's a big problem. And all the other critiques of Palin (Bridge to Nowhere, Troopergate, book banning, tax raising, lack of vetting, etc.) have nothing to do with whether she's likely to be effective in debate.

Conversely, it's almost universally acknowledged that (a) Palin is a natural politician and a good speaker, (b) she has a nice folksy manner, (c) Biden has a lifelong habit of running off at the mouth, and (d) he's going to have to walk on eggshells to keep from looking like a boor who's hammering away at a poor little housewife from Wasilla. Given all this, why is the press once again playing the game of insisting that the Republican candidate will be the de facto winner if she merely avoids catastrophe? I mean, I know that's the spin coming out of Steve Schmidt's shop, but it's not really true, is it? The fact is that, all things considered, Palin is the favorite in this contest — though perhaps also a bit of a wild card since catastrophe is always a possibility for someone so new to the national stage.

In any case, this game ought to cease. There's simply no reason that Palin's expectations should be low for October's debate. If anything, it probably ought to be the other way around.

The Bailout

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

THE BAILOUT....So what would have happened if we'd just let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fail? I mean, we've got to draw the line somewhere, right? Tyler Cowen provides the nightmare scenario:

But let's say that the Treasury did not support the debt of the mortgage agencies. The Chinese bought over $300 billion of that stuff and they were told that it is essentially riskless. The flow of capital from them and from other central banks, sovereign wealth funds, and plain old ordinary investors would shut down very quickly. The dollar would fall say 30-40 percent in a week, there would be payments system gridlock, margin calls at the clearinghouses would go unmet, and only a trading shutdown would stop the Dow from shedding half its value. Most of the U.S. banking system would be insolvent. Emergency Fed/Treasury action would recapitalize the FDIC but we would lose an independent central bank and setting the money supply would be a crapshoot. The rate of unemployment would climb into double digits and stay there. Many Americans would not have access to their savings. The future supply of foreign investment would be noticeably lower. The Federal government would lose its AAA rating and we would pay much more in borrowing costs. The deficit would skyrocket.

Well, um, OK then. I guess rescuing them was the right thing to do. I'm still a little taken aback by the apparent fact that American banks are now almost flatly unwilling to make mortgage loans unless they're backed by Fannie or Freddie, but that seems to be the case whether it takes me aback or not. So rescue them we must. I suppose my next question is whether it's worth thinking about how to restructure the American home mortgage industry so that it can operate efficiently even in the absence of massive levels of government backup. Or is Fannie/Freddie style backup just the way the world works these days and there's no point fussing over it?

Sebastian Mallaby Has Had Enough

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 2:54 AM EDT

SEBASTIAN MALLABY HAS HAD ENOUGH....Sebastian Mallaby, not exactly a raging liberal, on the transformation of John McCain from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde:

McCain used to be a real straight talker. On campaign finance, spending earmarks, Iraq and immigration, he has fought bravely for his principles; and that record might have been a trump against an opponent who has taken almost no such risks. But we are now witnessing what might be called McCain's Palinization. McCain once criticized Christian conservatives as agents of intolerance, but he has caved in to their intolerance of a pro-choice running mate. McCain claims to be devoted to his country, yet he would saddle it with a vice president who is unprepared to serve as commander in chief. In the same sad way, McCain has caved in to his party's anti-tax fanatics. The man of principle has become a panderer. The straight talker flip-flops.

The question is: how many other people are going to finally notice this? The second question is: how many will care? Tune in a couple of months from now for the answer.

Charlie and Sarah

| Sun Sep. 7, 2008 4:58 PM EDT

CHARLIE AND SARAH....I see that the McCain campaign has decided that two weeks is enough time for Sarah Palin to become plausibly knowledgable enough about national affairs to face an actual reporter. It's not official or anything — and presumably depends on the continuing good behavior of ABC News in the meantime — but AP is now reporting that an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson is scheduled for "later this week in Alaska."

I expect the interview to go fine. After all, two weeks is a lot of briefing time and Palin is, by all accounts, both a quick study and a good politician who knows how to change the subject, run out the clock, and provide vague answers whenever necessary. She should be OK.

Unfortunately, part of the reason she'll be OK is that I expect Gibson to screw the pooch. So here's a tip: there are several questions that Palin is obviously going to be prepared for. "What makes you prepared to be vice president" tops the list, so don't bother using up your time on that one. Ditto for questions about her daughter, her Christian faith, and moose hunting. Conversely, Troopergate, the Bridge to Nowhere, and earmarks are probably good subjects, but only if you really know your stuff. She's not exactly going to be surprised by those topics either. And I'm sure you know this already, but idiotic gotcha questions ("Can you name of the president-for-life of Berserkistan?") are also no-nos.

So: pick some serious topics. Pick some unexpected topics. Don't be an nitwit but don't go easy on her either. Mix it up a little. After all, this is probably your last chance to speak with her until after the election. You might as well make the most of it.

And now, back to the U.S. Open.

Drill, Baby, Drill

| Sun Sep. 7, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

DRILL, BABY, DRILL....Daniel Larison watches the Republicans in St. Paul:

When the theme of the convention seems to have been, "Drill, baby, drill," which is an energy policy in exactly the same way that, "Tax, baby, tax" is a fiscal policy (i.e., it isn't), slogans are obviously all that the party has left. Even if you think that increasing oil exploration and supply through more offshore drilling makes sense, you cannot really take these people seriously.

Unfortunately, yes you can. This, by the way, was the moment when I completely gave up on the convention. It wasn't Giuliani, it wasn't Palin, and it wasn't McCain. They were just the closing acts. It was when I realized that the most reliable applause line on the convention floor was "Drill, baby, drill." Even by the low standards of political campaigns, this is a slogan so imbecilic that it makes you fear for the future of the Republic.

Then again, you can hardly blame them, can you? Here is the LA Times doing one of those obligatory man-in-the-street pieces in Uniontown, Pennsylvania:

Waitress Judy Artice, "Miss Judy," as she is known at Glisan's roadside diner, declared Palin "the perfect candidate" after watching her Wednesday speech. That said, Artice had already decided that her vote would go to the first candidate who mentioned gasoline prices.

"And — I'll be danged — it was Obama," Artice, 46, said between servings of liver and onions during the lunch rush.

Needless to say, Obama will have the same short-term impact on gasoline prices as McCain: none whatsoever. But apparently he won a vote in Uniontown merely by the good fortune of holding his convention first and making sure to mention gasoline prices in his acceptance speech. If that's what you're up against, I suppose that "Drill, baby, drill" makes perfect sense.

In other words, we're all doomed. In the meantime, though, I have named my cat consul of the empire and plan to repair to the living room to watch the Hannah-delayed remnants of the U.S. Open. I might as well enjoy myself while I can, right?

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Torches and Pitchforks

| Sun Sep. 7, 2008 12:59 AM EDT

TORCHES AND PITCHFORKS....Joe Klein on the GOP's attempt to play that old time gospel one more time:

Maybe I'm getting old, maybe it's that I've seen this act so often before, maybe it's that the people I talk to when I go out on the road really are having a harder time paying for things like health care, gasoline and college tuition, but I'm finding the Republican attempts to derail the conversation from the actual state of the country really depressing and disgraceful this year. They practice Orwellian politics of the crudest sort. They are trying to sell a big lie — that the election is about the social issues of the 1960s, or Barack Obama's patriotism or his eloquence, or the "angry left," when it's really about turning toward a more moderate path after the ideological radicalism and malfeasance of the past eight years.

Hey, when he's right, he's right. And he's right: it's very depressing indeed watching John McCain immolate both himself and the country in yet another raging round of the culture wars solely because he's decided that it's the only way to put John McCain in the Oval Office.

But I don't think it's going to work. The American public isn't going to buy it this time around, and in the end McCain will, once again, have dishonored himself and have nothing to show for it. It's the story of his life.

Quote of the Day

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 9:47 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Mark Allen, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, on the duties of state governors:

"The role of the governor is to use the Guard to help the citizens of a state, as opposed to declaring war on a neighboring state."

That's certainly good to hear.

A Prayer For Palin

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 8:24 PM EDT

A PRAYER FOR PALIN....Ross Douthat enthusiastically recommends John Podhoretz's review of an article in the NYT today about Sarah Palin's religious beliefs:

Today, the New York Times published an article that, should it receive wide circulation (and it might, on the web), will do a great deal to harden evangelical attitudes against the supposed leftward swing [of younger evangelicals] — because it is an act of secular aggression against a believing Christian.

Headlined "In Palin's Life and Politics, Goal to Follow God's Will," the article has about it the wide-eyed wonder that anyone might actually be crazy enough to believe in a Creator Who still plays a role in human affairs.

OK, I read it. I detected no wide-eyed wonder at all. In fact, it struck me as an almost painfully straightforward look at Palin's church and her religious beliefs. There were no value judgments, no subtle word choices to suggest a point of view, and the authors even took pains to point out that Palin had changed churches a few years ago in order to attend one that was lower key and more discreet than her previous church. You might object to the article if you think that merely describing Palin's beliefs will automatically damage her — an odd belief for a social conservative to hold — or if you believe that religion has no place in politics — which would be even odder — but it's hard to see what other grounds there might be for grumbling about it. After all, religion plays a major role in American political culture; the Christian right is a powerful segment of the Republican Party base; other presidential candidates (Obama, Huckabee, Romney) have been put under the same microscope; faith is plainly a significant part of Palin's life; and her particular brand of Christianity is equally plainly a huge factor in her popularity within the GOP. It would be journalistic malpractice not to write a profile of Palin's religious views.

So what's going on here? Answer: it's yet another attempt to rally the troops by making up a fictitious (but plausible sounding!) narrative about coastal elites looking down their noses at them. This is something I expect we're going see a lot more of over the next couple of months.

UPDATE: Ross reconsiders. That's what makes him worth reading.

McCain on McCain

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 2:32 PM EDT

McCAIN ON McCAIN....For a campaign that's tried to mock Barack Obama for being a little too full of himself, this week's GOP convention was remarkable for its virtual canonization of John McCain. That goes double for McCain himself, who seemingly spent an eternity Thursday night talking not about his vision for the country or his vision for the future, but about his vision of himself: his journey, his character, his life story, his selfless devotion to duty. John McCain's favorite subject, it turns out, is John McCain.

At least, that's how it seemed. But Hilzoy apparently has some friends with a little too much time on their hands, and one of them decided to quantify McCain's self-love for posterity. The results:

There were a total of 271 sentences in the speech [...] Of those 271 sentences, a remarkable 147 (54%) were devoted to telling us about John McCain himself: his past accomplishments ("I fought crooked deals in the Pentagon"), his qualifications for the job ("I know how the world works"), his family and childhood ("When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house..."), his time as a POW ("On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin..."), his patriotism ("My country saved me"), and so on. Another 8 sentences focused on Sarah Palin. This leaves only 116 sentences (43% of the speech) to discuss the topics that one might otherwise expect to constitute the majority of the speech: the state of the nation, his policy positions, future promises, differences between his positions and Obama's, and so on.

And Obama? A much more normal 15% about himself, with the rest about the country, his plans, comparisons with McCain, etc. Details at the link.