30 September 2008

- Suspend Again -

McCain is floating yet another suspension of his campaign. I suppose that is one way to cancel Palin's debate—though at this point the bar has been set so low I don't see how she can't succeed.

- The Market and the Bailout -

Seems to me that the uptick on the stock market today has pretty much doomed any chance of passing the bailout. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It's hard to say—though I still think the risk of doing nothing vastly outweighs doing something and the window for doing something before the election is rapidly closing.

28 September 2008

- Earmarks -

I'm glad someone put the data into pie chart form. Cutting earmarks will get you roughly nowhere in terms of cutting the deficit. The basic problem is that we can't hope to cut substantively into the deficit from the spending side without cutting into what most consider core programs.

Maybe someday we can have a responsible debate about our priorities with respect to spending and taxes. But not yet.

And I don't blame the politicians on this. No I blame us, We the People, who for more than two decades have been convinced that we can get something for nothing. Yes, politicians have been telling us that we can get by simply through cutting "waste." But we are the ones who have believed them and voted for them. If we didn't vote for politicians who say such silly stuff, the politicians would quit saying. So, no, it's our fault: we've preferred make-believe to acting like responsible adults.

One of the disappointments of this campaign has been that neither McCain nor Obama believes that We, the People are responsible enough to weigh hard choices. That's why both of them were so painful in handling the economic portion of the debate on Friday. Neither wanted to say what both knew to be true—this bailout is going to limit radically what they can do as President and it's almost certainly going to mean a higher deficit, painful spending cuts and higher taxes. The trifecta. Woohoo.

- Strategy and Tactics -

The comment by McCain that Obama doesn't understand the difference between strategy and tactics struck me at the time as odd. It was, I think, a revealing comment, particularly given that McCain is a military man. Because one thing that has been abundantly clear about McCain's campaign for the past week is that it has been almost exclusively tactical. This seems to be partly constitutional—McCain's belief in himself as a maverick and his need to display that leads toward an emphasis on tactics. But it is partly situational as well—the fundamentals of the campaign do not really favor him, so he has constantly been fighting from a defensive position and he's been trying to find the tactics that will break himself out.

If we compare the two campaigns, we would have to grant that McCain has had a tactical advantage in terms of initiative if nothing else. The Obama campaign has not proved particularly deft reacting tactically. I would say they have been very pedestrian, in fact. Fortunately, this has not (yet) proved a liability, and in some respects it may well have saved them from overreacting to some of McCain's stranger tactical moves.

Obama's tactics, though pedestrian, are reinforced—indeed leveraged—by an excellent strategic command. In fact, the Obama campaign's control of the strategic level has generally allowed them easily absorb any tactical loss to McCain.

It is also worth mentioning logistics; if campaign workers, local headquarters, voter registrations, etc. are any guide, this is another level at which Obama seems to enjoy something of an advantage.

With the strategic and logistic advantage, the Obama campaign seems to be content to slowly grind away. It's not particularly pretty; it's certainly not dashing; but at the moment at least it does seem to be working.

27 September 2008

- Today's Ads -

ok, I don't get this one.

To me this almost seems to do Obama a favor, the "no" at the end coming almost as a non-sequitur—Obama is not ready to lead because he agrees with John McCain?

Obama's new ad today is innocuous, B-level work:


Here's another new ad by McCain. This one attempts to use Biden against Obama. Generally, I think it works though it's not clear to me how well people will be able to fill in the gaps of Biden's comments.

- Why McCain Won the Debate -

Or did he?

In any case, the MSM and blog consensus seems to be that McCain won narrowly but that Obama held his own, giving each a measure of victory. Of course, this is exactly what anyone who thought about it would have written as the most likely scenario before the debate—that is, presuming that neither candidate made a significant error. The point is that as soon as you step away from the spin zone of those who are going to declare their candidate the winner no matter what happened in the actual debate, the tendency is to not make any assessment that runs counter to the consensus that McCain is the master of foreign policy. What we are seeing in the reax is a lot of such riskless assessment that might as well have been written up before the debate.

This tells me that the MSM and the blogs don't really have a clue as to how to score a close debate.

25 September 2008

- Palin Speaks! -

Palin actually responded to reporters questions today. Finally. Maybe now we can get around to duly ignoring her just like Biden.

- Obama's New Ad -

The simplicity of this one is a nice change. The mise-en-scène is a bit odd, though—the open doors in the background, the out of focus books on the left edge, the slow dolly into the room that occurs over the span of the commericial. I guess I wasn't certain what "feel" they were going for.

- Youth Soccer -

JON STEWART: . . . The press is 6-year-olds playing soccer; nobody has a position, it's just ''Where's the ball? Where's the ball? Sarah Palin has the ball!'' [Mimes a mob running after her.] Because they can only cover one thing.

That made me giggle. The full story.

- When Columnists Are Idiots, What Should Readers Do? -

I'm just asking.

24 September 2008

- Are the Numbers Real? -

Does McCain know something we don't? Otherwise, why is he acting like someone who is 15 points behind in the polls?

These are increasingly desperate measures he's trying, and not at all the sort of thing you'd expect of someone who is down only a couple of points at this point in the race. So either the polling numbers he is seeing are a lot worse than the ones we are seeing or Obama has gotten seriously inside of McCain's head.

- Drama Queen -

I just can't imagine what kind of president this man will make. Talk about high maintenance. I'm just saying.

23 September 2008

- Solution to the Meltdown -

A tax cut of course. The only question is what took the GOP so long to get here. I mean there was a time when a tax cut was the solution to every problem. Clearly, the GOP is off its game.

- Choose Your Poison -

I found this amusing. Even more amusing: there seems to be little difference to the site depending on what you check. So there you go: you have the appearance of self-identification, but it's really meaningless.

It's just so maverick.

- When a Lapel Pin Is Just Not Enough -

Or maybe McCain is just compensating for not wearing a flag on his lapel. Really, why doesn't the press cover the issues that matter!

- Understanding the Deal -

What I don't get is why Paulson and Bernanke think having the government overpaying for the bad debt is a good idea. (Krugman's latest bit here.) That is, why are they resisting the idea of an equity stake?

Of course, an equity stake would mean that we have in essence nationalized the financial sector, and nationalization seems a boogey man to the right (but also to the libertarians). At some level, I understand the alarm. But really is nationalizing the financial sector to the tune of a trillion bucks give or take so much worse than sticking the public sector with the bad debt? (Which will prove once again that the government only knows how to lose money, right?)

In any case, I'm not seeing the downside of the equity stake spelled out, and if Paulson and Bernanke want this blank check they need to do some serious explaining.

- Obama Ad -

Not sure what the point of this ad is. If I were the McCain campaign, I certainly wouldn't mind having my candidate associated with upbeat music and a sunny locale. IMHO, the only effective thing about the ad was the pair of sunglasses, and that because they underscore a deceitful character. Unfortunately, the ad seems even incoherent on that count.

This is definitely C team work.

- Headlines -

Ok, if you are going to go with this headline, you need a more appropriate picture. Something that shows McCain, like, losing his head.

- Joe's Got a Message Problem -

Really, Biden ought to know better. Sometimes, I swear he seems to channel his inner McCain.

- Stupid Politics -

Not sure what the point of this article is. The logic of the argument seems to be that, because racism exists, democrats would be in better position had they NOT selected an African American as their presidential candidate. Assigning blame makes for really stupid politics; it's an even stupider basis for a political column, especially in the midst of a campaign.

22 September 2008

- How to Vote -

Andrew Sullivan writes:

I can still see Obama's flaws and where I disagree with him. But my political judgment, honestly held, proudly expressed, is that destroying this Republican party is essential if this country and the world are going to recover from our current morass.

I hope that Andrew also believes that Obama would do a better job governing than McCain. Otherwise he has no business voting for Obama. That, I take, is Larison's point.

- Catching Up -

Last week while I was doing the Grand Experiment, I missed reading the blogs, so I caught up over the weekend. It's odd how little you miss, when you check out the way I did. In any case, I agree with Mickey Kaus that whining is bad form. But I disagree completely that dwelling on McCain's lies is a losing strategy. Attacking the lies has been exactly the right approach; it's only misfired when discussion of the lies has taken the form of whining. In other words, it's the whining that is the problem, not the topic of lying.

19 September 2008

- Burying the Lede -

What does it say that a site that covers the Daily Show and this extraordinarily humble blog are the top hits on Google searches for "circular talk express"? By all rights, this search should be directed to the Daily Show site. But, no, the Show's site buried the lede. I know it was the punchline, but even so...

I don't know, somehow this all seems so representative of the state of the campaign coverage—the most incisive coverage is done through the "fake" news channels and late night monologues, but even those sources seem incapable of making the most of their own best insights.

- Grand Experiment, Day 5 -

More varied headlines in this morning's paper. The Wall Street meltdown continues to lead and there is a picture of the aftermath of Ike (but no story). The campaign is treated only with three very small stories inside. The longest of the three deals with McCain's call to fire the head of the SEC. It did not give a good impression of McCain since he seemed to be singling out Cox (the SEC chair) as a scapegoat. At least that's how it came across to me. Lord knows how We, the People respond to it. The two other articles were very short: two paragraphs on Todd Palin refusing to testify and suggesting that Troopergate will be inconclusive until after the election (duh) and another two paragraphs on Biden saying it is the patriotic duty of the rich to pay more taxes. Overall, I couldn't help but come away uneasy about the coverage today.

The op-ed page was full of campaign politics today. One essay argued that Obama's Spanish language campaign is very deceitful, another that the Obama campaign has been sexist in its treatment of Palin (including recycling the whole "Obama called Palin a pig" thing). No doubt this was "balance" for having run a somewhat positive assessment of Obama yesterday. (So you counter positive Obama with negative Obama rather than positive McCain? Whatever.) And a third column decried the number of false rumors circulating on the internet about both candidates. Overall, my general impression was that everyone is lying, and you can't really trust what anyone says about anything. If this is indeed the impression We, the People are getting, then we're going to see an awful lot more lying, because the costs of doing so are negligible.

18 September 2008

- Rally Image -

Another odd image of McCain on the stump. Here, it looks to me like he is attending a faith healing. Seems like it is illustrating a positive campaign story—though to me, it seems that both McCain and Palin are just reading scripts these days. Which is why both can say things, without blinking as Palin would put it, that flatly contradict both reality and themselves.

- Circular Talk Express -

From Tuesday night: the "Circular Talk Express." This has the potential to draw blood.

And a close-up:


Here is the clip itself: the Circular Talk Express is at the very end of the clip (c. 4:58):

- Grand Experiment, Day 4 -

The front page of the local paper was dominated by the Wall Street mess. There was also a small story on Ike and the attack on the US Embassy in Yemen. Inside there were two campaign articles, one on economics, the other immigration. According to the second article, the Spanish-language campaign is pretty nasty, with both campaigns freely stretching the truth. The other article spent a large amount of space discussing Obama's proposals and McCain came across as missing in action. Editorial page didn't mention the election, though three of the op-ed columns did. None of them made much of an impression, though the headlines seemed to favor Obama. Overall, my impression is that someone glancing over the paper would have come away with a slightly better impression of Obama than McCain.

17 September 2008

- See, they both lie -

At least that what's implied by the headline of Katharine Q. Seelye's column. I have no idea if that's what her article argues, since the whole point of the experiment is to feign distraction, but these sorts of titles and teasers suggest why the idea that the McCain campaign is lying is not gaining traction.

(It's not gaining traction, right?).

- Grand Experiment, Day 3 -

Again, no campaign news on page 1 of the local paper. Ike and the financial meltdown are covered instead. Inside, there is a short article on how the economy has become the dominant the concern of the campaigns. No mention of Obama "scoffing" here. The editorial page mentioned that Petraeus was leaving the Iraq command; it said the surge had worked for the most part, but didn't really mention the presidential campaign. I was a bit surprised about that. On the Op-ed side, there were reprints of two editorials on Palin's performance in the ABC interview, one (sort of) positive (Chicago Trib), the other negative (NY Times). In the context, the Times editorial came off as a bit shrill.

Unfortunately, McCain wins this round.

16 September 2008

- Headline Battle -

McCain “toughens talk,” whereas Obama “scoffs at McCain’s proposals” according to the online NY Times headline writers. I ask you: Who won that battle of words, the one who is tough or the one who scoffs?

- Colbert's Mad Libs -

Unlike Stewart, Colbert was hitting on all cylinders last night. "The Word" was particularly good:

From McCain campaign press-guidelines: "How dare you question John McCain on [noun that is bothering you], when he was a POW he didn't have [same noun]."

- Grand Experiment, Day 2 -

So, no politics on page 1 of the local paper today. It's all about Ike and Lehman Bros. There was a short article about how the economy is becoming the key issue of the election. (Who knew? I thought it was lipstick.) The editorial page mentioned the campaign only obliquely with respect to the Wall Street meltdown, and there was a confused op-ed on taxes that said the tax plans of Obama and McCain are both irresponsible, though Obama's is somewhat less so, and that McCain's ads have distorted Obama's position on taxes. But, as I said, the column came across as confusing, and the impression that it left me with is that we're in a heap of trouble no matter which of these two losers is elected, but we'll probably be just a little bit less bad off with Obama's plan. Now, don't get on me for not reading carefully—the whole point of this little experiment is to read casually and see what impression I'm left with.

Man, John Stewart was lame last night. Judging from the premise of the opening monologue, I think Stewart knew he was lame. He was reduced to faux-drooling over Palin.

In any case, this does not bode well, as it suggests he doesn't know really what to do about McCain's lying any more than does the MSM.

- Number Game -

This is a fun test. I first ran 100 trials and managed 85%, and then did another 25 trials and did 92%. I found I had the most success when I let my mind go completely and just went with feeling. But I also had to stay focused: when my attention wandered, I made some amazingly egregious errors. I also clearly learned how to perform better as I went along, so if the talent is indeed innate, accessing it and putting it to instrumental use is susceptible to some degree of training. I mention this only because I can see results from tests like this feeding into debates of gut vs. intellect.

15 September 2008

- Grand Experiment -

I'm checking out from the election coverage for a week—no NY Times, no WaPo, no NPR ... especially no blogs. My goal is to figure out what sort of information/message a reasonably distracted person might be getting about the election. I'll issue reports as they come.

Let's start with this mornings paper. A lot about the hurricane; the Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers situation is also on the front page along with a small campaign article. Inside, there is a big article about Obama's $66 million haul. None of the opinion pieces addressed the campaign directly, but there was an editorial about candidate fashion choices.

14 September 2008

- Lying All the Time -

McCain's lies should at this point be obvious to everyone, even those who are barely paying attention. The coverage of the matter by the MSM has been adequate, if not terrible brave. If people are nevertheless willing to support McCain for the presidency, then this means that they do so knowing full well that he is an inveterate liar. The question to ask is: why they would support such a character for presidency? Or to put it the other way around: what do they fear or at least distrust more than a liar?

While I believe along with Andrew Sullivan that the "actual truth matters in the world," I also think that all bets are off when you are talking about a 50 day campaign. So I hope that the American people do not want to live with four years under the leadership of lies, I can't say that I have his faith.

I still think this coming week will be decisive for determining the political success of McCain's gambit of lies. If next Sunday the polls continue in their current state and we have another week of political attention deficit disorder, then I'll be very pessimistic.

- SNL Routine -

This actually came off to me as more about Hillary Clinton's resentment than Sarah Palin's inexperience, and I was surprised that the portrayal of Palin did not insinuate dishonesty, but rather opted for provincial cluelessness (e.g., being able to see Russia from her house). The stereotype SNL seems to be playing with is the Rube, a characterization that heavily favors McCain imho. If the monologue jokes this week continue in this direction that will spell trouble, as it means that provincialism is trumping (and mitigating) the dishonesty as the dominant component in the Palin public character.

12 September 2008

- Stay the Course -

I'm with Andrew Sullivan on this one.

Obama tries to hit McCain for being out of touch. I really think he doesn't need to go there. The McCain campaign is imploding. Do nothing but stay calm and focused on the issues.

The happy warrier—that seems to me to be the effective image Obama has been striking, and it's beginning to pay dividends. So Obama needs to just take care of himself, play the humor perhaps, but spare the ridicule.

10 September 2008

- Get on Message, Joe! -

If you are going to say things like this, then undoubtedly you were the wrong pick.

Damn it. Get on message, Joe!

- In Fairfax -

A most peculiar picture.

Picture from here.

- Idea for an Ad -

(clip of Cindy McCain at convention)

Cindy McCain's Convention Attire:

Oscar de la Renta dress: $3,000
Chanel J12 White Ceramic Watch: $4,500
Three-carat diamond earrings: $280,000
Four-strand pearl necklace: $11,000–$25,000
Shoes, designer unknown: $600

Having American taxpayers fund her wardrobe:

(clip of McCain laughing)

Courtesy MissMudd

Actually, there are some other good ideas in the main post and comments to this article.

- Was Hillary the Ticket? -

Politico asks whether having Hillary Clinton on the ticket would have "Palin-proofed" the Democratic ticket. As with all counterfactuals, it's a rather silly question. My answer is that it obviously would have changed the dynamics, and it would have made it unlikely that McCain would have selected Palin. But McCain would probably have found another angle to play, probably something to do with the Clintons, and we'd all be blaming Obama for not having chosen somebody like Biden.

- Lipstick on Pigs -

You gotta figure this was premeditated. The question: what was it a teaser for?


Now we see:

Clearly, Obama wanted to talk about how easily distracted the media was and so he planted the pig comment yesterday to illustrate his point.

- Sullivan on McCain -

Strong stuff and very heartfelt.

09 September 2008

- From the Mouth of Babes -

"Senator Coleman, how do you feel about the last eight years of President Bush?"

via TPM. The full video is here.

- Damn Lies -

Today, with an assist from her good buddy, Sen. Earmark Ted Stevens, Palin continues to claim she opposed the bridge to nowhere. Obviously, the line must be still polling positively. Which means people either don't believe she is lying or (more likely) don't care. If people don't care, then we need to ask: why don't they?

At this point I think it's because the lie doesn't count as evidence of anything crucial yet. It's simply a piece of information people don't know what to do with. (My sense is that people right now are simply taking it as evidence that she is a politician.) The Obama ad that went up yesterday about lying has a chance of changing it into evidence that the maverick image is a con job, that both McCain and Palin are in fact normal political hacks engaged in business as usual. But until something like that happens where the lie becomes integrated into the story about McCain and Palin whether the MSM reports it or not is basically irrelevant.

- A week or so... -

That's what I figure we have before this election is decided. At the moment I'm feeling rather like 2004-2005, the depth of Bushworld, when up was down, black was white, the world basically took on the hue of whatever Bush-Cheney, Inc. said it was. Those were bad days for members of the "reality-based" community.

So what's happened? Maverick McCain has ridden into town with his posse of Bushies and they are rerunning the script. Yeah, I know, a maverick in reruns makes no sense, and reality will certainly take its bite at some point—the question is: will it be in time?

I figure that if the McCain gets away with lying for another week that will pretty much settle the campaign, because at that point the maverick image will be fixed and the media will then give him a complete pass on his campaign falsehoods.

So, don't watch the polls—at this point they still don't matter. But this does matter: if McCain is still recklessly lying, that means he's getting away with it and we're headed into an election that will be contested on the grounds of Bushworld. Even hope has little chance of winning there.