Mojo - September 2008

What Should John McCain's Next Campaign Stunt Be?

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 12:34 PM EDT

Barney Frank said of John McCain's campaign (non-)suspension, "It's the longest Hail Mary pass in the history of either football or Marys." Should the suspension and these bailout shenanigans not lift his poll numbers — just like Sarah Palin, the ultimate campaign Hail Mary, ultimately failed to — what stunt does John McCain turn to next? Slate has 10 guesses, a couple I'll reproduce here:

- Returns to Vietnam and jails himself.
- Offers the post of "vice vice president" to Warren Buffett.
- Challenges Obama to suspend campaign so they both can go and personally drill for oil offshore.
- Learns to use computer.

Slate wants to know if you have any good ones to add. And speaking of play-along-at-home Slate features, they recently created a list of Bush Administration executive orders that need to go — they highlighted the worst nine out of Bush's 262 EOs and want to know if you can think of a tenth.

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Question re: Debate & Bailout

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 11:12 AM EDT

Question. Now that House Republicans, with the quasi-backing of John McCain, have derailed the bailout's progress, can't Democrats in both chambers intentionally stall a final solution until tomorrow, thereby forcing McCain into a corner with respect to the debate? He would have to decide if he is going to make good on his claim that he won't show if a deal isn't done. Consensus opinion says that Barack Obama on stage by himself tonight for 90 minutes (in primetime!) is a disaster for McCain. Do Democrats have the power to make that happen? Sure looks like it.

Bailout Blowup

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 9:58 AM EDT

More from my Hill friend about what happened last night:

Let's be clear about what happened. I heard David Wessel on NPR talking about typical "Congressional gridlock." That is not it at all. The most conservative faction of Republicans - the faction whose extreme ideology helped get us here and that dominates the party - blew up the deal at the last moment, with the help of their equally irresponsible presidential candidate. I thought House speaker Nancy Pelosi was in for a nasty surprise when she tried to take the plan to a vote with the Democratic caucus. But Democratic opponents had no seat at the table in crafting the plan, and have made their dissatisfaction well known. The conservatives have captured the Republican party and were represented in the negotiations. Yet they waited until the last moment and then blew it up. In the name of a ridiculous sketchy alternative that doubles down on their discredited "ideas." ... The Republican Study Group (Hensarling, Cantor, Ryan, the lot of em) are clowns. They had a seat at the table and they conducted themselves in the most irresponsible manner possible. Let their beloved market give them all the credit that is due them.

More along these lines from John Judis: "Putting Country Last."

Bush: "This Sucker Could Go Down"

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 1:59 AM EDT

Some things have to be read in the Gray Lady to be believed.

And by "this sucker," Mr. President, you mean... the economy? The country? The last smidgen of a remnant of a chance that someone who's been under a rock these past eight years might not consider this the Worst. Administration. Ever? But really, it's a measure of how cracked the world seems right now that I'm almost prepared to believe that the president has a point on this one. It sure would be a first.

So Here's What We Know About the Status of the Bailout...

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

The Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and House Democrats spent the week negotiating with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and the White House. Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans announced this morning that they had agreed on key principles. In a White House meeting this afternoon with all parties, including Barack Obama and John McCain, House Republicans hijacked the process by submitting an entirely new plan that no one had seen before. John McCain hasn't made his position clear, but has reportedly been huddling with House Republicans and places his sympathies with their plan, which can be found here.

It actually says, "Instead of injecting taxpayer capital into the market to produce liquidity, private capital can be drawn into the market by removing regulatory and tax barriers that are currently blocking private capital formation." That is, more deregulation.

While Democrats and Republicans are fighting about whether or not House Republicans stalled the bailout's progress so John McCain could be seen as a key player in a solution tomorrow or over the weekend, no one seems to be disputing that House Republicans are the reason a week's worth of work is in jeopardy. Here's an ABC report of a frantic Paulson after the unsuccessful White House meeting:

Paulson walked into the room where Democrats were caucusing after today's meeting at the White House and pleaded with them, "Please don't blow this up."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chair of the House Financial Services Committee was livid saying, "Don't say that to us after all we've been through!"
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "We're not the ones trying to blow this up; it's the House Republicans."
"I know, I know," Paulson replied.

Really interesting theorizing in Laura's post below, and you can get Kevin's take here.

Bailout Still in Trouble

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:27 PM EDT

As my Hill friend said yesterday, the bailout seems to be in more trouble than some earlier reports indicated. My two cent summary of his take, which is worth reading, was that there is a seriously underestimated gap between the White House and Congressional leadership on one side, and the Congressional rank and file on the other; and that the media reports suggesting a deal was imminent by and large were being informed by the former, who are more committed to a quick deal; while the Congressional rank and file is more informed by being overwhelmed with thousands of calls from screaming constituents who are truly outraged over the prospect of a bailout of Wall Street fat cats. Vulnerable incumbents may not feel they can vote for anything resembling a bailout until after the election.

Here's his latest:

My take is that the politics are way more scrambled than anyone can get a handle on. Basically, Bush and the congressional Democratic leaders have a straightforward objective and agenda - getting a modified Paulson plan cobbled together and then, via consensus, passed and made law. Apart from that, though, there are many actors with many different objectives - both policy-wise and purely politically - and these cannot be arrayed along any single dimension, or even in any easy way at all. There are just many cross-cutting objectives, forces and circumstances, so the whole situation is probably too complex to strategize about, apart from the first group who have a strategy for achieving their objective. I don't think McCain has a clear sense of what his strategy is, and he is not trying to manipulate the situation - or not successfully - because he does not have any mastery of it (not because he doesn't want to). (Probably worth adding in that it is doubtful McCain has any policy convictions at all on this set of issues, at least in this context, since his historical positions are simply unacceptable in the current debate.).
Let me add that yet another peculiarity of the situation is that while, on the one hand, the House Republicans' alternative plan is laughable as a matter of policy - just laughable - they are alone in tapping into the widespread rage out there at the very idea of a gigantic bailout for Wall Street malefactors. Many House Democrats are feeling the same, but they have no representation at the table. So the House Republicans are, in some funny sense, sitting pretty politically.
And finally, watching the coverage remains quite weird, because there is this enduring assumption that a deal is going to be done, that it will be, fundamentally, Paulson's plan with modifications, and that that is the right thing. That may partly reflect the fact that everyone realizes we are at a dangerous moment. But I can't help but think it also reflects the fact that by and large the class of people in and driving the press coverage is completely disconnected from the perspective of people who are overwhelming, in a completely uncoordinated way, virtually every congressional office.
So it is a very very weird moment.

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Remember the S&L Bailout? John McCain Hopes You Don't

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 9:31 PM EDT

This afternoon, John McCain joined in a summit with his rival Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, after "suspending" his campaign and rushing back to Washington to help rescue the American economy. As pundits and the public argue over whether this is the patriotic act of a true statesman or the desperate stunt of a political operator, McCain hopes they will forget what it really is for him: pure deja vu. McCain has already been here and done this, back in the roaring eighties, when he was in the thick of another financial meltdown that yielded a huge government bailout—and the worst scandal of his own political career.

The savings and loan crisis developed along lines remarkably similar to the current sub-prime crisis: A flurry of deregulation gave S&Ls the capabilities of major commercial banks without the corresponding oversight and regulation. S&Ls proceeded to make high-risk investments, including thousands of unsound mortgages during a housing boom. The government looked away—until the bottom fell out and the S&Ls started to fall like dominoes. Then it stepped in with a bailout of then-unprecedented levels, which added to ballooning deficits and ushered in years of recession.

When the S&L scandal unfolded, Barack Obama was working as a community organizer in Chicago, and George W. Bush was busy running a series of failed oil ventures and managing his baseball team in Texas. But John McCain was already in Congress—and in the S&L mess up to his neck.

IAEA's Syrian Contact Assassinated, Stalling Nuclear Probe

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 6:44 PM EDT

At a closed door meeting in Vienna today, UN International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohamed ElBaradei revealed that the reason the group's investigation into whether Syria was pursuing a nuclear program has been delayed is that its main Syrian contact has turned up assassinated.

"The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board. A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.

ElBaradei apparently did not provide any details on the circumstances of the murder of the group's liaison, nor on his identity. But the AFP cites various Arab media reports noting the assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohammed Sleiman (or Mohamed Suleiman) in the northern port town of Tartus in early August, describing him as a military advisor to Syrian president Bashar al Assad and Syria's liaison to Hezbollah. The LAT says intelligence experts have long suspected Suleiman was in charge of Syria's alleged nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

Sarah Palin and the Russians

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 4:34 PM EDT

Andrew Sullivan posted this gem from CBS News regarding Palin's foreign policy credentials: Some things you just have to see to believe.

Is Bob Barr A Spoiler?

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 4:28 PM EDT

Chris Kromm over at Facing South thinks he might be. After looking at polling data in North Carolina, Kromm realized that that when the Libertarian candidate is included in polls, John McCain's double-digit lead in the state narrows to just six percent or even a dead heat with Obama, depending on the poll. Kromm thinks the Barr factor might explain why both candidates are now pouring money into a state not previously thought to be a close battleground. He writes:

"the fact that the Tarheel State is turning into a fierce battleground, with both sides investing precious time, energy and resources, is historic alone. And the result might be closer than any of us thought."