Mojo - September 2008

Palin's Instant Foreign Policy Brain Trust Is Assembled

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 12:40 PM EDT

Republican presumptive vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is being prepped for her Republican convention debut tonight, and a team of policy advisors has descended on the Alaskan governor's Hilton hotel room to educate her on John McCain's national security positions, soon presumably to become her own. Among her new advisory brain trust, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff notes, Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign's top national security advisor and Steve Beigun, a former Jesse Helms and Condi Rice aide, as well as a striking number of Bushies:

Matt Scully, a former Bush White House speechwriter who helped draft some of the major foreign-policy addresses during the president's first term, is working on Palin's acceptance speech to the convention Wednesday night.
Mark Wallace, a former lawyer for the Bush 2000 campaign who served in a variety of administration jobs including chief counsel at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and deputy ambassador to the United Nations, has been put in charge of "prep" for the debate against Biden.

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Absent from the RNC: Any Solutions for the Economy

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 12:09 PM EDT

Why? Because Republicans apparently don't think the economy needs solving. Here's Harold Meyerson:

I have combed the schedule of events here without finding a single forum, workshop or kaffeeklatsch devoted to what John McCain and the Republican Party propose to do about America's short- and long-term economic challenges. I've found four panels on what to do about the Middle East, but not one on what to do about the Middle West.
Some events deal with aspects of economic policy, to be sure: The Consumer Electronics Association is sponsoring a salute to free trade. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Vote for Business Bandwagon. The American Petroleum Institute, in conjunction with the American Gas Association and the National Mining Association, is throwing a wingding for Republican governors. And I count two forums on tax issues....
Then again, the Republicans here plainly don't believe that the economy needs fixing. On Monday, a New York Times poll of Republican convention delegates showed that 57 percent believe the American economy is in very good or fairly good shape.

This is in keeping with yesterday's speeches. And it shouldn't be a surprise. This is the campaign run by a guy who said just yesterday, "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

Oh, and somebody tell Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam that they're being ignored.

Sad and Ironic: Palin Vetoed Funding for Teen Moms

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 11:49 AM EDT

Yet another example of how the religious right insists babies be born, but then fails to support the babies, their mothers, and their families afterward. This is a classic story with a newly relevant twist. The WaPo:

After the legislature passed a spending bill in April, [Alaska Governor Sarah] Palin went through the measure reducing and eliminating funds for programs she opposed. Inking her initials on the legislation -- "SP" -- Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million. Covenant House is a mix of programs and shelters for troubled youths, including Passage House, which is a transitional home for teenage mothers.
According to Passage House's web site, its purpose is to provide "young mothers a place to live with their babies for up to eighteen months while they gain the necessary skills and resources to change their lives" and help teen moms "become productive, successful, independent adults who create and provide a stable environment for themselves and their families."

As Michelle Cottle notes at TNR, "A politician who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and who opposes comprehensive sex education should be at the forefront of championing support systems that make it easier for young mothers to keep their babies."

GOP Convention Opens: Did You Know McCain Was a POW?

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 11:30 PM EDT

The first night of the Republican's hurricane-delayed convention didn't matter--thanks to John McCain's decision to place Sarah Palin on his ticket. By choosing the little-known Alaska governor, who a short while ago was mayor of a small town and who has come to the national stage with soap opera in tow, McCain made Palin the story of this shortened week. There's more anticipation for her acceptance speech (on Wednesday night) than for his (Thursday night). George W. Bush, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani—forget about 'em, only Palin truly counts.

But the first night did reveal what McCain's strategists are thinking—or worrying—about. The speakers focused over and over on McCain's experience as a Vietnam prisoner of war and devoted little time to his 21 years in the Senate. It was almost as if McCain's two-and-a-half decades in Congress were a dirty secret. And one of the main speeches of the night—delivered by former Senator Fred Thompson—was full of 1980s-styled Republican red meat. (Democrats support abortion rights and will raise YOUR taxes.) It seemed as if the convention planners were so concerned about the Republican base that they had to go back to the future and plagiarize the Reagan playbook. And throughout the night, there was practically no acknowledgment there's any economic pain in the world outside the Xcel Energy Center. The McCain people say, this election is about character, not issues. Tonight really proved that: McCain doesn't need to feel voters' pain; they need to feel his.

The Republicans were somewhat fortunate they only have three evenings to program, due to Hurricane Gustav. How many times can McCain's "service" be praised before a well-behaved, not-very-excited crowd of well-dressed, older and predominantly white Americans who sit in neat rows beneath an electronic billboard bearing the phrase "Country First" and who hold on their laps placards that proclaim, "Service"? And how many Teddy Roosevelt references?

McCain may be the top of the ticket, but Palin has been the main attraction. After the news of her teenage daughter's pregnancy emerged—and smothered rumors that Palin had faked a pregnancy to cover up a supposed earlier pregnancy—the convention seemed to freeze. At receptions, during panel discussions, and in hotel lobbies, there was no talk of Bush's speech, which was first canceled and then rescheduled (as a video address on Tuesday). And no talk of what would be in McCain's speech. The one question is, how will she do?

Bush Addresses the RNC, Insults the "Angry Left," Himself

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 10:09 PM EDT

Two "really?" moments from Bush's address via satellite to the Party tonight:

1. Describing McCain's five and a half years as a POW: "If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve, you can be sure the Angry Left never will."

Wow, not nice.

2. Describing McCain's support of the surge during his presidential bid, risking unpopularity with the voters: "John McCain said he cared more about the United States not losing a war than he did about losing an election."

Well, duh. Oh yeah, if only you'd felt that way in 2004...

Key Source for Palin's Connection to Alaskan Independence Party Backs Off Account

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 6:58 PM EDT

In the past few days, during Sarah Palin's rough introduction to the American public, it has been reported (first by ABC News) that Palin, the governor of Alaska tapped by John McCain to be his running mate, was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP). This minor third party advocates for the secession of Alaska from the United States. It is affiliated with the Constitution Party, which supports the reign of Biblical common law. If Palin has indeed been an AIP true-believer, it would be rather curious: she would be a vice presidential candidate who favored reducing the size of the United States.

But it is getting harder to make that case. The McCain-Palin campaign on Tuesday released voter registration to show she was never registered to vote in Alaska as a member of the party. And a key source for the stories about Palin and the AIP backed off his account in an interview with Mother Jones. Palin's husband has been a long-time AIP member, but ascertaining her true association with the party has been difficult.

In recent press reports, Lynette Clark, the AIP's chairman, has been quoted as saying Palin was at an AIP convention in 1994 and was an official party member at the time. Other sources within the party tell Mother Jones that the only way to become a member of the AIP is to register to vote with the AIP. Yet the state of Alaska released records confirming what the McCain-Palin campaign had maintained: Palin never registered as an AIP member.

What explains the contradiction between Clark's claim and the records? Dexter Clark, husband of Lynette and a vice chairman of the Alaska Independence Party, said that when his wife told reporters that Palin had been an AIP member she was "acting on information from Mark Chryson," the party's regional chair for Wasilla, Palin's hometown. The 1994 convention was held in Wasilla, where Palin was a city councilmember at the time. Chryson "has repeatedly said to me personally and my wife, Lynette, and groups of party members at large, that at that 1994 convention, Sarah and Todd Palin attended and registered as members," Dexter Clark told Mother Jones.

Asked how Palin could have been a member, when state records did not indicate Palin ever registered as an AIP member, Chyrson, in an interview with Mother Jones, backed off his account. "What could have been the confusion—her husband was a member of the party. He was at the convention. She could have been considered—it might have been thought she was a member then." Talking Points Memo has reported that Todd Palin was a member of the AIP from 1995 to 2002, with the exception of a short period in 2000 when he was undeclared.

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Palin Will Indeed Bring The Breast Pump

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 3:20 PM EDT

Lots of our commenters seem incensed that I questioned whether Sarah Palin will be campaigning with a breast pump in tow. But clearly she doesn't think that's a taboo subject herself. In an interview with People magazine last week, Palin said:

We don't sleep much. Too much to do. What I've had to do, though, is in the middle of the night, put down the BlackBerries and pick up the breast pump.

If Palin really wants to be a trailblazer she should truck that thing out in public, so that at least all TSA screeners will finally be able to distinguish them from bombs. And for those who think pumping breast milk is solely a private matter, you couldn't be more wrong. Legislation is pending in several states (as is litigation), to give women the right to pump on the job. Last year, New Mexico passed a bill that requires employers to give women breaks and a clean, private space in which they can pump breast milk. That bill was signed by Gov. Bill Richardson, a man who happens to be a Democrat, but who in one stroke of a pen seems to have done a lot more for the women and children in his state than Palin has done for hers.

Camouflaged Putin Shoots Tiger, Saves Companions

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 3:01 PM EDT

If pictures of a shirtless and muscled Vladimir Putin have you hungering for more, wait no longer. While having a gander at conservation efforts in Russia's Far East this week, the Russian president pulled the trigger on an escaped tiger with a tranquilizer gun, "saving" the frightened group of Russian scientists who'd accompanied him. Best of all, Putin's heroism was caught on film. Imagine that.... See Der Spiegel.

Forget the Baby. There's Too Much Else!

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

Look, let's put Bristol and the baby behind us. There are two new story lines about Sarah Palin currently gaining momentum that are more substantive and potentially more damaging. There is Palin as a ordinary, slimy politician, as articulated by First Read:

On Monday, the papers were full of stories about how Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. Also yesterday, we found out that Palin worked for a 527 group organized by Ted Stevens, who is now facing trial on corruption charges. Then came the news that she has retained an attorney for that Troopergate ethics investigation. And finally is today'sWashington Post story noting that Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure earmarks -- which are taboo in McCain World -- for Wasilla while she was its mayor. More than any new revelations about her daughter, the bigger drip-drip danger for the McCain campaign could be more signs that Palin begins to look like your average politician.

And then there's this insane secessionist story, which I hope you're familiar with. Reportedly, Sarah Palin and her husband were members of the Alaska Independence Party, which seeks a vote on making Alaska an independent nation, in the mid-1990s. Here's ABC:

And while John MCCain's motto -- as seen in a new TV add -- is "Country First," the AIP's motto is the exact opposite -- "Alaska First -- Alaska Always."

For the record, the McCain campaign denies Palin was ever a member of the AIP, though multiple AIP members say she was and she attended their 1994 convention.

I'm no high-priced political consultant, but I do have a guess as to how to avoid situations like this. Send your vetting team to the VP's home state more than one day before you announce him or her to the nation!

Investigative Reporters Head to Alaska...And When Will Sarah Palin Meet the Press?

| Tue Sep. 2, 2008 10:42 AM EDT

sarah-palin-vikings.jpg

Alaska's getting pretty crowded...with investigative reporters and scandal-chasers. Last night, at receptions, hotel bars, and restaurants, journalists covering the Gustav-delayed Republican convention were chewing on nothing but the Sarah Palin soap opera and discussing which reporters had been deployed to the northernmost state to dig for more dirt on John McCain's not-so-vetted running-mate. What might be most frightening for the McCain camp is that the National Enquirer reportedly has dispatched a scandal SWAT team to Alaska. Given the tabloid's success with the John Edwards scoop (and its ability to pay cash for tips and information), should Palin fans be biting their nails?

It is, of course, possible for Palin to rise above all the recent unpleasantness by wowing the convention--and the viewing public--with a heckuva speech on Wednesday night. It will probably be the most anticipated vice presidential acceptance speech in decades. But there will still be another ritual for Palin to go through: her first press conference with the national media.

In past elections, controversial veep picks have not fared well during these coming-out sessions. In 1992, Dan Quayle raised more doubts about himself after his first grilling by the national press. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro flopped during a press conference that focused on her husband's controversial business dealings.