Mojo - August 2008

Hurricane Gustav: Helping and Hurting Bush and McCain

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 2:19 PM EDT

Hurricane Gustav is threatening the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf coast. It is also threatening the Republican convention in St. Paul, where John McCain will be nominated this week. Or is it helping McCain?

On Sunday afternoon, President Bush announced that due to the hurricane he would skip the GOP convention, where he and Dick Cheney were scheduled to speak on Monday night, and the McCain campaign said it would cancel most of the convention program for that day. (Cheney, too, is taking a pass on St. Paul.) Instead, Bush will head to Houston to be near hurricane rescue efforts. As if his presence there is going to matter. Bush is wisely not going to New Orleans, for a presidential visit there would surely disrupt rescue operations.

But is Bush's absence from St. Paul a win or loss for McCain? Certainly, he could do hurricane-like damage to the McCain campaign if a split-screen television shot on Monday night showed Bush addressing the GOP delegates and Gustav slamming into New Orleans. Any junior image-manipulator would know that such a thing must be avoided at all costs. Even without a hurricane, Bush's appearance at the McCain-fest in St. Paul could have been dicey. The Obama campaign is doing all it can to tie McCain to the most unpopular president in decades. No doubt, some of convention planners would have liked from the start to have a Bush-less program. But had they not invited the president, they would have created a major issue that would have dominated the convention. Now they can say, Thank God for the weather. And Bush has a good excuse for staying clear.

There is a cost. Hurricane Gustav is damn powerful reminder of Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration's abject failure. So whether Bush is at the convention or not, the ghost of Katrina will hover over the proceedings--even if the convention planners get their thousands of delegates to eschew the parties and do volunteer work to help Gustav victims. Moreover, Gustav may rob media time and attention from the GOP effort to define--that is, delegitimize--Barack Obama. Fewer hours of convention equals fewer hours of Obama-bashing. And if there is a crisis under way, a hyper-partisan attack might seem untoward.

Gustav ought to be also a reminder of McCain's own failure to lead during the Katrina disaster. As Jonathan Stein noted in April (when McCain toured the hurricane-damaged areas of New Orleans):

But McCain's record on Hurricane Katrina suggests that he was part of the problem, not the solution. McCain was on Face the Nation on August 28, 2005, as Katrina gathered in the Gulf Coast. He said nothing about it. One day later, when Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, McCain was on a tarmac at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, greeting President Bush with a cake in celebration of McCain's 69th birthday. Three days later, with the levees already breached and New Orleans filling with water, McCain's office released a three-sentence statement urging Americans to support the victims of the hurricane.
Though McCain issued a statement the next week calling on Congress to make sacrifices in order to fund recovery efforts, he was quoted in The New Leader on September 1 cautioning against over-spending in support of Katrina's victims. "We also have to be concerned about future generations of Americans," he said. "We're going to end up with the highest deficit, probably, in the history of this country."

Here's a visual reminder:

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It's a shot that ought to be circulated widely this week--whether or not Bush is in St. Paul.

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Palin Polls

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 2:28 AM EDT

Editor and Publisher summarizes the first post-Palin polls:

Here's a finding from Gallup: Among Democratic women -- including those who may be disappointed that Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination -- 9% say Palin makes them more likely to support McCain, 15% less likely.
From Rasmussen: Some 38% of men said they were more likely to vote for McCain now, but only 32% of women. By a narrow 41% to 35% margin, men said she was not ready to be president -- but women soundly rejected her, 48% to 25%.
Only 9% of Obama supporters said they might be more likely to vote for McCain.
Overall, voters expressed a favorable impression of her by a 53/26 margin, but there was a severe gender gap on this: Men embraced her at 58% to 23%, while for women it was 48/30.
And by a 29/44 margin, men and women together, they do not believe that she is ready to be President.

Sarah Palin and Pretty, Experience Talk

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 12:01 AM EDT

Stepping back from the "feminist for life," NRA-lifer, creationist, global-warming skeptic VP credentials for a sec, a few things are really annoying me about the Sarah Palin coverage. She's a woman, she's pretty, she's a mom with a gaggle of kids, and she's as green as DC politics gets. Though why do these descriptors get listed out as if they're stacked arguments toward the same end? Mitt Romney is pretty and has five kids, but if he had gotten the nom we wouldn't be referring to him as a looker with familial obligations, at least not when we're landing on his shortcomings. I know, people are doing so to point out the tokenism of McCain's pick, but it's frustrating how "beauty pageant good looks" and female are so often precursors to "don't know jack."

And the experience thing, sure, she's fresh out of Northern Exposure territory (Men in Trees for the millenial set), but slamming her lack of DC credentials is EXACTLY what the McCain team wants Dems to do. The first word out of the Obama camp yesterday? Palin has "zero foreign policy experience." Sorry, can't have it both ways. The counter-argument is, 'at least our presidential candidate does, and last time we checked the prez tops the ticket, meets with world leaders, and gets to hit the war button.' As we all know, the "zero foreign policy experience" phrase has been used for years now to describe Obama. Essentially the Republicans are putting experience back in play, and they're going to let the Dems keep it alive. As Palin's naivete is played up, rich material only beginning to be mined, it will, McCain hopes at least, make him the wise, experienced one, with Palin and Obama the pretty neophytes. Not a fair comparison by a longshot, but fair and nuance are not what the stretch run of presidential campaigns are known for. Palin's lack of fitness for the job will only help keep this dialogue in play. And the question McCain wants on people's minds when they enter the voting booth come November: Do you want experience in your president or your vice president?

Pretty ugly, I know.

McCain Strikes Blow for Womanhood (You Heard Me!)

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 3:06 AM EDT

I've been thinking all day about what Stephanie wrote on this blog earlier. And while I know she meant it in the best, most feminist possible way, the comments show the whole idea hits a nerve.
I have three kids, my youngest is three months older than Palin's, and that isn't stopping me from doing my job. Nor is it stopping Clara, my co-editor, who has a new baby; nor did it stop Stephanie; nor will it stop Palin. Of course I'm wondering how the hell she'll do it all--as, I'm sure, is she. And of course she will figure it out, as women do every day, often with far less support. But the point is, that's for each one of us to decide, and no one else.
Too many women have been patronized out of jobs they wanted with pseudo-considerate treacle like "I thought your priority right now was your family." It's happened to friends of mine; it's happened to me; if you have ovaries, chances are pretty good it has happened or will happen to you. That's the reality of living in post-women's lib America, and that's why one part of me is heartened by the Palin pick. People may find lots of reasons why she shouldn't be in the White House--but at least, having little kids didn't put her out of the running in the first place. And for that, I have to confess, I'm grateful to John McCain.

An Anti-Hillary, Pro-Life Feminist?

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 9:19 PM EDT

McCain's trophy Veep choice isn't just a pretty mother of five and not Mitt Romney. She's an outspoken pro-life feminist. Confusing concept, we know.

The anti-abortion group Feminists for Life's website is almost coy about Sarah Palin's exact involvement, but here's everything you need to learn—fast—about the group she's tangled up with. Apparently the tactical geniuses at Camp McCain are really counting on all four of America's undecided independent anti-abortion feminists to vote.

Aside: Does anyone but me think the phrase "feminist for life" reads a bit like a jail sentence?

The Palin Factor

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 3:27 PM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by economist and MoJo author Nomi Prins:

Election campaigning is about winning. Winning is about not underestimating your opponent or how their choices might impact voters outside the pundit-belt. So, perhaps Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wouldn't have been McCain's first choice for vice president if there weren't any lingering hard feelings about Hillary's campaign or lack of consideration for the VP slot. Or perhaps Palin would have been selected anyway.

Whatever the case, the Democrats are in a tough position after Obama's electrifying speech. It would be as hypocritical for them to attack Palin's experience level as it is for McCain to have selected her after dissing Obama's lack in that department.

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What The Palin Pick Says About John McCain and the GOP

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:57 PM EDT

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John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate this morning was a bit of a shocker. After all, the vast majority of Americans have never heard of her. But that could be an advantage for the Republicans: suddenly, their convention next week isn't about John McCain or George W. Bush. It's about introducing Sarah Palin to America. That could be the best distraction imaginable from issues like Katrina, Iraq, and the economy.

On balance, though, Palin could be bad news for the Republicans. Unconventional running-mate choices (and a first term governor who until recently was the mayor of a town of about 9,000 people is certainly an unconventional pick) signal desperation. Confident candidates make safe picks. Candidates who are trailing and need to make big moves make unconventional ones. McCain is taking a big risk by picking Palin because he has to.

The selection of Palin smacks of tokenism. Every four years, the Republican party trots out its few non-white, non-male leaders for the Republican National Convention. Many get prime speaking spots. Apparently Sarah Palin gets the Vice-Presidential nomination. The pick is clearly partly directed at disaffected Hillary voters with the idea that simply putting a woman on the ticket will win their votes. This is obviously wrong, as Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro will tell you. But the GOP and their mouthpieces don't get it: on Fox this morning, an anchor said: "It looks like the glass ceiling hasn't been broken by Hillary Clinton, but by Senator McCain." There is just so much wrong with that sentence, but for starters: it's obvious that this pick is more about John McCain than Sarah Palin. It's not about women succeeding on their own; it's about them being given something by a man. Frankly, the comparison to Hillary Clinton is just insulting.

KBR Sued For Human Trafficking

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:32 PM EDT

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In August 2004, as the insurgency in Iraq gathered force and kidnappings and grisly killings became commonplace, a group of 12 Nepalese contractors were captured by Sunni militants on the road to an American base. Days later, insurgent cameras rolled while they were executed. The men had been employees of Daoud & Partners, a Jordanian subcontractor of Kellog Brown & Root, which specialized in funneling cheap Third World labor to Iraq to staff support positions at US bases.

On Wednesday, the contractors' families filed racketeering charges against Daoud and KBR in federal court, alleging that the men were drawn to Jordan under false pretenses, had their passports confiscated, and were then sent to Iraq, where 12 died. A thirteenth, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, survived the attack, as he was riding in a different vehicle at the time.

More on the suit from the Courthouse News Service:

Will Palin Bring A Breast Pump On The Campaign Trail?

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:15 PM EDT

John McCain may think that Alaska governor Sarah Palin will help him pick off the Hillary voters, but the fact that she went back to work in April three days after giving birth to a premature baby with Downs' Syndrome has already got women buzzing on the web with questions about her judgment and priorities. Obviously 2008 is a lot different from 1992, when Hillary, who wasn't even running for office, was heavily criticized for her decision to pursue a career after having a child. But even in these more enlightened times, women on both sides of the political spectrum may frown on Palin's decision to hit the national campaign trail at this particular time of her life. (And of course, we'll all be wondering: will she bring her breast pump?)

Besides, Palin certainly won't be much help to those women trying to nudge the country into embracing more family-friendly workplace policies. John McCain doesn't actually have any work-family policies to speak of anyway, but now, when women argue for the need for paid family leave, the Republicans will only have to trot out Palin to illustrate why women don't really need it.

The First Time Hillary Clinton is Mentioned at the Vice Presidential Debate...

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 12:49 PM EDT

...Joe Biden better have this clip memorized.

More analysis of Sarah Palin in a minute. For now, here's her resume:

1992-1996: City Councilwoman from Wasilla, AK (pop. 8,471).
1996-2002: Mayor of Wasilla, AK (pop. 8,471).
2003-2004: Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
2006-current: Governor of Alaska (pop. 683,478).

Population of Charlotte, North Carolina: 671,588. Somebody tell Mayor Pat McCrory he could have been the pick!