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[ 0 ] January 9, 2008 |

I probably should have reverted to my prior skepticism about how much bounce Obama would get out of new Hampshire. I still expect Obama to win narrowly, but…

New Hampshire Open Thread

[ 14 ] January 8, 2008 |

At the time, I wasn’t as convinced by Jon Chait’s declaration of Hillary Clinton’s electoral morbidity as I would have liked to have been, largely because I wasn’t sure how high is post-Iowa bounce would be in a state where Clinton had a significant lead. But especially with the high turnout portending a blowout Obama win and a similar victory likely in S.C., I think it’s pretty close to over. On the Republican side, I agree that the pending McCain win doesn’t necessarily end the race given the opposition Huckabee and McCain face within the Republican establishment, but I admit that I’m also hard-pressed to identify the states than Romney is going to win.

The Racism Of Ron Paul

[ 17 ] January 8, 2008 |

Color me less than shocked. Nor do I find Paul’s response very convincing.

The Coming Non-Collapse

[ 14 ] January 8, 2008 |

Jack Balkin has an interesting post about the possibility of 2008 being a watershed election, and I agree with several of his points. Certainly, there was always an obvious contradiction between the Rove/Bush strategy to create a dominant Republican coalition and their base-mobilizing, 50%+1 government strategy, and it’s now clear that the chance of long-term national GOP dominance (which, like Rove’s reputation for being a political genius, was always overblown in any case) has vanished. And, just as certainly, Bush’s failures in office have titled the balance in favor of the Democratic coalition.

But with respect to Balkin’s implication that Bush has fundamentally “destroyed” the current GOP coalition, though, I just don’t see it. The current geographical and ideological makeup of the GOP coalition hasn’t become inherently non-viable, and outside the margins the components aren’t ripe to be permanently picked off by the Democrats. And while it’s true that the Republican primary seems to have opened up major divisions between cultural reactionaries and fiscal reactionaries, I think this is largely illusory. Essentially, it’s just the product of peculiar circumstances: the plain-vanilla Southern conservative who seemed like the frontrunner lost a Senate election with a racial slur thrown in, and the plain-vanilla Southern conservative who contested the primary seems to be using Weekend at Bernie’s as a campaign manual. Hence, the primary is being seriously fought between a recent convert to Reaganism and other candidates with little crossover appeal between the party’s factions. But I seem little reason to believe — especially if there’s Democratic administration with its likely unifying effect — that a better P.-V. S.C. couldn’t unite the party and present a strong challenge in 2012. While the Democrats may make some geographic inroads — especially in the Mountain West — I think that the current general geographic and ideological structure of the party system is likely to persist for a while.

Today in Racist Pandering

[ 3 ] January 8, 2008 |

Mike Huckabee advocates a return to Dred Scott-era citizenship rules for American-born children of illegal aliens. What’s even more pathetic is that he wants to join in crank litigation to claim that the 14th Amendment doesn’t actually say what it says:

Mr. Huckabee, who won last week’s Republican Iowa caucuses, promised Minuteman Project founder James Gilchrist that he would force a test case to the Supreme Court to challenge birthright citizenship, and would push Congress to pass a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to remove any doubt.

The last line is rich; crazily enough, I must admit to harboring “doubts” about whether the constitutional command that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” in fact permits the United States to deny citizenship to people born in the United States. What’s the argument — that illegal aliens aren’t “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States? I don’t think that a complete exemption from the laws for millions of people is a good idea, but call me crazy…

That’s Some Catch

[ 19 ] January 8, 2008 |

Kerry Howley gets it right in responding to John Edwards affecting Manliness in response to Clinton briefly crying:

Add to this useful list of the worst jobs in the world: consultant to any candidate with breasts. Show emotion and you’re weak; show strength and you’re a collection of servos. Respond to attacks with emotion and you’re “angry.” Respond with equanimity and you’re cold and distant. Shy from war and you’re too feminine to lead; embrace it and you’re the establishment’s whore. And the worst thing you can do? Acknowledge, in any way, shape, or form, the existence of sexism in these United States.


This also reminds me that I forgot to link to Howley’s NYT op-ed this weekend, which was also good. Yes, sure, in ideal world it would be nice if all candidates for public office had accomplishments entirely innocent of social conditions, but this is nothing like the actual world about American politics. Leaving aside even the most obvious examples like Bush, I don’t recall anyone saying that John McCain shouldn’t be considered for public office because he owes his place in office to his military service, and hos service (and subsequent visibility of his heroism) were partially a product of the fact that his father was an admiral and his grandfather was an admiral. It’s not surprising that women have often taken advantage of dynasties to gain political power; it’s exactly the same way in that men have exploited social connections, except that many of the networks available to politicians have historically been closed to women.

The Dilemma of the Irresponsible Media

[ 40 ] January 7, 2008 |

Dana is right, of course, that there was a considerable amount of sexism inherent in characterizations of Clinton’s debate performance on Saturday. (“Medusa look,” ugh.) This presents Democratic primary voters with a dilemma, for reasons that Matt’s point should make clear:

Getting good press is part of being an effective candidate and part of being an effective president. Will Obama continue to get this kind of worshipful coverage in the general election campaign? Probably not, especially if he has to run against Saint John of Arizona. But will he get better coverage than Clinton or Edwards would? Almost certainly. And I don’t think it makes sense to let resentment be the governing consideration here.

I’m a little ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I agree that since any major Dem would be vastly preferable to any major GOP candidate, it would be irresponsible to just ignore the fact that Obama is likely to receive much more favorable coverage than Clinton or Edwards. On the other hand, it’s important to be careful not to fall into a “blame the victim” trap here. While maybe some of the problems that Gore and Hillary Clinton have had with the media may be failures of management, I suspect most of the problem is caused by the fact that a lot of elite media figures don’t like them and there’s nothing they can do about it. (In Gore’s case, the evidence is pretty clear.) And in Clinton’s case, where some of the bad coverage reflects grossly sexist assumptions, there’s the additional risk that placing too much weight on media coverage will make this sexism become a self-sustaining dynamic that excludes women from political office.

For me, the dilemma is resolvable because while I would be extremely reluctant to let the prospect of unfavorable media coverage dissuade me from supporting a candidate I thought was clearly superior on the merits, I don’t think that Clinton has made this case. (YMMV.) But even if Clinton isn’t your first choice, it’s still important to be vigilant about sexist smears of her in the media — whatever its effect on the primary it’s unacceptable.

Escaping the Penn

[ 9 ] January 7, 2008 |

One does indeed hope that should Clinton go on to lose the primary it would have the salutary effect of permanently discrediting Mark Penn. (Although, alas, always losing competitive campaigns hasn’t been much of a bar to cashing checks from Democratic candidates in every cycle in the past.) And I also agree that choosing Penn has to be seen in itself as a significant strike against Clinton, especially since her shrewd political intrinsics are supposed to be a major selling point. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fully trust someone willing to put her primary fate in the hands of the architect of Joementum! to win the general election.

Speaking of prescient Mark Schmitt posts, this critique of Penn’s largely worthless polling contains a passage that seems especially relevant:

Penn also makes a particular use of his political typology, which is to declare that a certain voter category of his own devising is “the key” to the election because it could go either way: soccer moms, office park dads, wired workers, etc., or in his corporate work, “Mom-fluentials.” Even if the category is firmly defined, and even if it is a “swing” category, that form of analysis rests on two other assumptions: That almost all other demographic categories are not swingable, and that the electorate cannot be expanded — that is, that non-voters cannot be made voters. But neither assumption is justified: As I argued last fall, Karl Rove showed that the Republican base could be expanded, and so can the Democratic base, and in 2006, virtually every demographic category increased its Democratic vote significantly. To define a particular group as key is to deny those other possibilities, and in doing so, leads to a particular narrowing brand of politics focused exclusively on the concerns of the group defined as “key,” which in Penn’s case is reliably the upper half of the middle class.

Obama’s upset win in Iowa is probably in some measure a result of his understanding things about American politics that Clinton’s team doesn’t. And the fact that Penn’s strategy is always focused on the upper-middle-class may explain why Obama’s apparent status as the “wine track” candidate hasn’t held up.

Is RFK Liberalism’s Best Hope? This Week In Parade!

[ 6 ] January 7, 2008 |

When I was in D.C. I was reminded about Parade, the Sunday insert for readers who find In Style a little too highbrow. This seems about right

Speaking of Berube, I wonder if he has the influence to pull this off:

The Flyers’ president, Peter Luukko, has had “informal conversations” about staging a game between the Flyers and the Penguins at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, a Flyers spokesman said.

Dr. Pepper And Port

[ 0 ] January 7, 2008 |

That sounds like a good bad drink, if you know what I mean. And Dr. Pepper (alcoholic or not) made with actual sugar would be fantastic, although it’s probably for the best that such a thing isn’t available and I’m stuck with the Diet Cherry Vanilla instead…

"Imagine getting stuck on a ski lift with Dr. Phil for nearly two hours. "

[ 4 ] January 6, 2008 |

Clicking through Orr’s top-10 list I saw his review of Guy Ritchie’s Revolver. I didn’t really investigate it other than skimming what seems to be the charitably lukewarm NYT review; even knowing nothing about it having been on the shelf for two years, seeing the horrifying credit “written by Luc Besson” was enough to keep me well away from the theater. And hence, I had no idea that it turns out to be a pretentiously-cut gangster movie overlaid extensively with…reams of pretentious New Age horseshit. Without meaning it as a joke. It seems to fall into the category of “almost but not quite bad enough to warrant Netflixing”:

Gradually, one begins to suspect that this movie thinks it has Something Important to Say and, unfortunately, it does. (A spoiler follows, though trust me, this is something you’ll want to know before deciding to shell out your eight bucks.) As the film progresses, Green’s homily-spouting voiceover becomes ever more intrusive before ultimately blossoming into a full-blown attack of schizophrenia in which he bickers, Gollum-like, with his own dark side in a stopped elevator. The lesson, you see, is that his only real enemy is his ego, and not the fellow with the gun waiting outside the elevator to kill him.

And, indeed, when the doors open the anticipated showdown is less climax than coda, as the newly enlightened Green strolls right past his would-be assailant, who is paralyzed by his own insecurities. For viewers thick (or incredulous) enough not to get the message, Ritchie helpfully provides, as the credits roll, a series of brief psycho-spiritual testimonials in which luminaries such as Leonard Jacobson and Deepak Chopra explain, “The ego is the worst confidence trickster, because we don’t see it.”

Wow–so it’s sort of Smoking Aces meets Johnathan Livingston Seagull, in dead earnest. And the sad thing is, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was pretty entertaining, although certainly one can see many signs of potential for unimaginable wankery in it.

The Ending

[ 0 ] January 6, 2008 |

The first two hours of There Will Be Blood are unassailably outstanding; if you don’t think it’s one of the best American pictures of recent years I don’t know what to say other than that tastes differ (i.e. mine is good.) Not only is Day-Lewis exceptional as always, he has a director with an eye to match. The ending will be much more divisive even among people who otherwise admire the film; see, for example Christopher Orr. But, granting that I loved the pretentious-on-paper Raging Bull homage that concluded Boogie Nights and don’t even dislike the plague-of-frogs ending of Magnolia, like Yglesias I didn’t find it particularly objectionable. There is a powerful internal logic to the last sequence; more than anything, Plainview can’t accept abjection, and his revenge makes sense (although I need to see it again before being sure about the bowling-alley sequence.) I did think that the penultimate scene was by far the weakest in the picture; it went on to long and the twist is an overused one. But it’s a trivial weakness given the overall virtues of the film. And it’s a nice recovery for Anderson; although both Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love had significant virtues (the latter actually holds up better for me) he hasn’t been this fully in command of his exceptional talent since Boogie Nights. I can’t wait for his next one.

UPDATE: Interesting thoughts from Glenn Kenny.

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