Kevin Drum

Rudy's Ego

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

RUDY'S EGO....Jonathan Martin confirms what I suspected while I was watching Rudy Giuliani's frequently off-script jeers last night:

These extemporaneous comments, many of which drew huge applause, made the former New York mayor's speech run much longer than planned. So much so, that a convention-planner confirms that they had to scrap a planned video ahead of Palin's speech.

If I were in charge of the convention I would be seriously pissed off at Giuliani for this. Sure, he brought the convention hall crowd to its feet, but I'll bet his over-the-top mockery didn't play very well with the home audience. Conversely, the folks at home love those biographical videos. They're really very effective. If they had to ditch Palin's video because Giuliani was busy milking the adulation of the crowd and boosting his future speaking fees, it might end up costing them a close state or two. You never know. And all to feed hizzoner's titanic ego.

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Pakistan Update

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

PAKISTAN UPDATE....Here's the latest news from the border regions of Pakistan:

Helicopter-borne American Special Operations forces attacked Qaeda militants in a Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan early Wednesday in the first publicly acknowledged case of United States forces conducting a ground raid on Pakistani soil, American officials said.

....The commando raid by the American forces signaled what top American officials said could be the opening salvo in a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces against the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, a secret plan that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been advocating for months within President Bush's war council.

This is, apparently, all that we know. None of the news reports I read gave even a tiny clue about what this raid was about, whether any high-value targets were killed or captured, or what instigated it.

But I wonder what the political fallout is going to be? In one of those weird inversions that you occasionally get in presidential campaigns, Barack Obama is semi-committed to supporting this kind of action and John McCain is semi-committed to opposing it. Both would probably prefer to stay quiet about this particular raid, but what if the Times is right and this is just the "opening salvo in a much broader campaign"? Then they have to say something. But what? McCain strongly criticized Obama earlier in the year when Obama suggested he might follow actionable intelligence over the border ("Pakistan is a sovereign nation," McCain said), but that's not a winning formula in these latter days of base-appeasing jingoism. So I imagine he'll change his mind on this. There's an election to win, after all.

Quote of the Day

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 1:08 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Dan Schnur, former campaign spokesman for John McCain, on his erstwhile boss:

"He is the best apologizer in politics."

Yeah, I've noticed that. Maybe McCain should spend a little more time actually living up to his vaunted code of honor instead of breaking it whenever it's convenient and then ostentatiously whipping himself for it later in order to burnish his political reputation.

City Mice

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 12:39 PM EDT

CITY MICE....Ezra Klein points to a small panel of Detroit voters who commented on Sarah Palin's speech last night and notes that, of all the groups, it was the independents who were least impressed. Here's a sampling:

It appears that once she makes up her mind, that is the end of it....She was a Republican novelty act with a sophomoric script....I still don't know anymore about this young lady tonight than I did last night....Her speech contained few statements about policy or the party platform....I found her barrage of snide remarks and distortions to be a major turn off....I thought she would appear more professional, more stateswomanly. She's no match for Joe Biden.

Obviously this is a tiny group of people and may or may not represent anything larger. We'll have to wait for next week's polls to find out more on that score. But it does suggest that the snide mockery and withering sarcasm that both Palin and Rudy Giuliani delivered last night might be more of a turnoff to apolitical voters than the GOP thinks. (And, conversely, that just as audiences liked Bill Clinton's policy-heavy laundry lists better than the jaded DC press did, it may be that voters prefer a little more substance and gravitas in settings like this too.)

And me? Well, on a purely personal note, the most grating part of Palin's speech (and Giuliani's) was their reliance — yet again — on the trope that the only true Americans are those from small towns in the heartland. As a native Californian, that stuff just drives me up the wall. This smoldering esthetic resentment, eagerly stoked by the GOP every fours years since at least Nixon, relies on the myth that us coastal urbanites spend all our time looking down our patrician noses at anyone who lives outside the city limits, and it's dangerous, divisive, and annoying as hell. What's more, as near as I can tell, it's completely backwards. Far from criticizing small town life, America celebrates it. Liberals celebrate it. Politicians celebrate it. Everyone celebrates it. I can hardly turn on the TV without hearing that, compared with the hardworking everymen and women who populate the prairies and put food on our tables, anyone who lives where I do is degenerate, suspiciously cosmopolitan, and one step away from turning the country over to the UN.

Feh. I know this is hardly new or uniquely American. And it's designed for specifically political reasons. And it works and it wins elections and that's all conservatives care about. And this is exactly the reaction they're trying to sucker me into. But it still annoys me, and for some reason everyone feels like they have to continue playing this game forever. It's time to stop it.

The Bridge

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 12:57 AM EDT

THE BRIDGE....Jeff Toobin on CNN: Sarah Palin's speech was better than Joe Biden's, but was also "smug, cutting, and sarcastic." That's better? Maybe, I guess, but does smug and cutting really sell outside the true believer base?

Also, Toobin reminded me of the speech's worst moment: that fact that Palin repeated her lie from Friday about standing up against the Bridge to Nowhere. There have been days and days of coverage thoroughly debunking this, showing beyond doubt that she was an enthusiastic supporter of the bridge and an enthusiastic supporter of the earmark, giving up only after the earmark was rescinded and Alaska was given the same amount of money to spend on other projects. She didn't turn down a thing. And yet she repeated the lie because she knows perfectly well that 30 million people will see the speech and only a couple million will read the fact check tomorrow. That's some straight talk for you.

Sarah Palin's Speech

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 12:10 AM EDT

SARAH PALIN'S SPEECH....As expected, she's doing a very good job. In a way, she's every bit the pit bull Giuliani is, all the way down to the withering scorn and sarcastic asides. But she brings it off better than Rudy: it's more straightforward, more earnest, and yes, more small town. I don't think this speech will stop the questions about her selection, but it's certainly going to have an impact. She's coming off very well in her appointed role, and making a tough, smart, and very appealing first impression.

But holy cow, can this woman pull off the culture war stuff, or what? I gather that she didn't, in fact, ever really support Pat Buchanan, but she's every bit his disciple and successor in spirit. Wow.

And maybe just one more comment: for all that both Giuliani and Palin attacked Obama for being too full of himself, I don't think I've ever heard two more adulatory speeches in my life. You'd think John McCain was the second coming of George Washington the way they sang their nonstop panegyrics to him.

But the crowd is definitely on its feet tonight. Quite a contrast from Tuesday.

UPDATE: From Matt Yglesias: "Give Sarah Palin this much — her understanding of the geopolitics of energy is every bit as daft as that of much more seasoned conservative pseudoexperts. She can spin out outlandish and ultimately nonsensical scenarios about Iran (or Venezuela) deploying the mythical 'oil weapon' and she, too, can ignore the fundamentally global nature of hydrocarbon markets by prattling about 'energy independence.'"

That's actually kind of an interesting point. On a substantive level, I'd say the most preposterous part of her speech was on precisely the one topic she's supposed to be already well versed on: energy. Nothing she said made any sense at all. The amount of new oil we can drill in the United States is tiny, not large. Nothing we do on that front will have the slightest impact on either foreign producers or the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Iran doesn't control a fifth of the world's energy supply. And clean coal doesn't exist. It was just a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end.

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Names, Please

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 10:27 PM EDT

NAMES, PLEASE....Some reactions from the right toward criticism of Sarah Palin:

Peggy Noonan: "Pro-woman Democrats are saying she must be a bad mother to be all ambitious with kids in the house."

Victor Davis Hanson: "Sarah Palin—self-made woman, and governor of Alaska—is being reducing by the left to a hickish, white trash mom of five."

Jay Nordlinger: "America has seemed a monumentally insensitive, cloddish, and vulgar nation in recent days. And who knew the Left could be so Puritanical — I mean, about sex?"

I'll pass lightly over the spectacle of a National Review conservative wondering why America is puritanical about sex. It certainly lends itself to parody, but that's not what I have on my mind at the moment. In fact, I even sympathize a little bit with the right's obvious anger toward the media feeding frenzy surrounding Palin. I happen to think their anger is misguided — the choice of Palin was bizarre enough, and her background questionable enough on perfectly legitimate grounds, that a massive media reaction was both inevitable and justified — but still, these kinds of rampages are almost always both scary and sort of inherently unfair in the way they unfold. Eventually Palin's past, for good or ill, will get sorted out, but in the meantime the process of figuring out who she is is bound to be messy.

That said, though, I want to join my fellow liberals in asking: just who are all these lefties who have supposedly criticized Palin on sex or gender grounds? I don't doubt that there are some, mind you. Trawl through enough comment threads or chatrooms or obscure blogs and you're bound to find something. But has there really been any serious thread of liberal conversation along these lines? (And no, Maureen Dowd doesn't count. She does this to everyone, and she's demented in any case.)

I know, of course, that for the most part this is simply a narrative that conservatives are hoping to inject into the media bloodstream. But still: evidence, please. Let's name some names.

Cynical

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 6:51 PM EDT

CYNICAL....Via TPM, an off-mic conversation about Sarah Palin between NBC's Chuck Todd and conservative guests Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy:

Todd: Yeah, I mean is she really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?

Noonan: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this — excuse me — political bullshit about narratives —

Todd: Yeah they went to a narrative.

Murphy: I totally agree.

Noonan: Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.

Murphy: You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical.

Now you know what they're saying in private. What they're saying in public is a whole different thing, of course. Why? Todd and his colleagues get to the heart of things here:

Last night had the feel of a party that was still trying to find its groove. Tonight, that will change when the GOP rock star of St. Paul — Palin — takes the stage. And judging by the reception she gets, there could be a very real debate on the following question: Whose Republican Party is this — John McCain's or Sarah Palin's? Talk to the GOP delegates here and it's no contest. This is Palin's party; McCain's just the surprisingly cool guy who "got it" more than these folks thought.

The social conservative base is giddily in love with Palin. They want her to be the future of the party. And you cross the base in public at your peril.

Eating Your Own Dog Food

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 2:57 PM EDT

EATING YOUR OWN DOG FOOD....Question: who's the better actor? McCain strategist Steve Schmidt or all those soccer players who flop to the ground and pretend to be near death whenever a defender comes anywhere within a yard of their shins? You make the call:

In an extraordinary and emotional interview, Steve Schmidt said his campaign feels "under siege" by wave after wave of news inquiries that have questioned whether Palin is really the mother of a 4-month-old baby, whether her amniotic fluid had been tested and whether she would submit to a DNA test to establish the child's parentage.

Arguing that the media queries are being fueled by "every rumor and smear" posted on left-wing Web sites, Schmidt said mainstream journalists are giving "closer scrutiny" to McCain's little-known running mate than to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

I can't speak for the National Enquirer, but I've seen virtually no questions about Trig Palin's parentage in the mainstream press — and for that matter, almost nothing in the blogosphere either. There was a shouted-down diary on the subject at Kos, and a weekend of insanity from (non-liberal) Andrew Sullivan, but that was about it.

On the other hand, the mainstream press has been full of legitimate questions about Palin's experience, her lies about earmarks, how she ran Wasilla as mayor, whether she sympathizes with the Alaska Independence Party, her role in Troopergate, her daughter's unwed pregnancy (announced by Palin herself), her social conservatism, her fondness for raising taxes, and plenty of other perfectly legitimate questions about a vice presidential candidate who until a few days ago was a complete unknown to virtually the entire country.

So please. Spare us the tears. The McCain campaign, after months of counting on the media to report the most egregious BS with a straight face, has finally pushed them beyond the limits of their endurance. Steve Schmidt has been the driving force behind this strategy, and he has nothing to complain about now. It turns out there are limits to what Saint John can get away with after all.

My Sarah Palin Nightmare - And Yours

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 1:53 PM EDT

MY SARAH PALIN NIGHTMARE — AND YOURS....OK, it's time to tell you my Sarah Palin nightmare. It's not a real nightmare, mind you. It's more a nightmare scenario. Here it is.

The press keeps digging up fresh dirt on Palin. Pressure builds up from the Troopergate scandal. The tabloids and talk shows continue to go nuts over Bristol Palin's baby. Then something new and even more damaging pops up. Finally, after resisting as long as he can, McCain gives in and dumps Palin from the ticket. But when he does, he delivers a stemwinding screed about how the intolerant hordes of liberalism have forced a good woman off the national stage, aided and abetted by their sanctimonious friends in the liberal media — all because coastal pointy-headed elites loathe traditional heartland values and were determined to destroy Sarah Palin no matter what it took. The Christian right goes absolutely ballistic. There are torches and pitchforks in the streets. McCain replaces Palin with another social conservative and rides the bloody shirt of the culture wars to a thin victory in November. Pat Buchanan finally has his revenge.

Erk.

The good news is that I don't think this will happen. What I really think will happen is that McCain will keep Palin on the ticket no matter what and will go down to defeat in November. He will then write yet another book in which he admits that his conduct was less than honorable and he feels deeply ashamed about it. He seems to be pretty good at that after the fact. He will appear on a couple of Sunday chat shows to talk about it and will then be promptly forgotten.

So what's your current nightmare? Feel free to share in comments.