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Manufactured Outrage

[ 0 ] August 21, 2008 |

Since it’s amazing how persistent the idea that Al Gore was an awful candidate is — with special focus on his allegedly bad debate performance — it’s worth returning to this simple fact:

But without question, “Al Gore’s [alleged] operatic sighs” played a key role in Campaign 2000. In the wake of that first Bush-Gore debate, TV journalists put Gore’s (infrequent) sighs on a tape; jacked the volume way, way up; and played them again and again, in a loop. And yes, this seemed to affect the election. In the immediate aftermath of that debate, five polls of viewers were taken; in all five polls, viewers said that Gore had won the debate, by an average margin of ten points. But so what? After “journalists” played that loop tape—and flogged some trivial errors by Gore—judgments about the debate began changing. Within a week, Gore lost his lead in the national polls. He was forced to fight from behind right through Election Day.

To be clear: it wasn’t “the public” that thought Gore’s sighing was more important that the substantive matters, or that Gore’s trivial errors about which particular FEMA official accompanied him on a particular visit were more important than George Bush’s baldfaced howlers about his fiscal proposals. It was the press. People who actually watched the debate thought Gore won; people who learned about it from press coverage didn’t. And it’s not clear what a candidate can do in the face of such skewed priorities. It is, however, crucial to be alert to the ways these narratives develop and to counteract them before the fact.



[ 2 ] August 21, 2008 |

This is indeed amazing:

McCain’s decision to leave the platform untouched follows a warning from a prominent social conservative.

“If he were to change the party platform,” to account for exceptions such as rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life, “I think that would be political suicide,” Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, told ABC News in May. “I think he would be aborting his own campaign because that is such a critical issue to so many Republican voters and the Republican brand is already in trouble.”

I wasn’t aware that this was even a significant point of controversy. Even the Texas law struck down in Roe had an exemption for a mother’s life. But the FRC can always surprise you!

It’s also worth remembering, though, that even McCain’s (former) position was only marginally less extreme. McCain supported (and still supports) a constitutional amendment that would make abortion a serious criminal offense in all 50 states. And in a sense, the party’s fanatic wing is providing a favor by not allowing McCain a false veneer of moderation by putting meaningless and essentially unenforceable rape and incest exemptions in the platform. Or, at least, would be providing a favor if Democratic politicians were more interested in putting Republican candidates on the defensive about their highly unpopular abortion policies.

Another Pro-Polluter Regulation Tossed

[ 0 ] August 20, 2008 |

Another Bush administration change in E.P.A. regulations — also reflective of the legendary Republican commitment to “federalism” — has been rejected by the courts as inconsistent with the Clean Air Act, almost as if that act was intended to require the executive to reduce pollution rather than to empower the executive to obstruct state efforts to reduce pollution:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out an Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting the ability of states to require monitoring of industrial emissions.

The 2-to-1 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the most recent in a series of judicial setbacks to the Bush administration’s efforts to reshape federal policies under the Clean Air Act.

Under 1990 amendments to the original Clean Air Act, states were allowed to issue permits limiting pollution emissions from industrial facilities, like refineries or utilities. To ensure compliance, Congress required states to set more stringent monitoring requirements if they deemed federal requirements inadequate.

The E.P.A. gave states this leeway until 2006, when it reversed course and prohibited the states from requiring new monitoring. Environmental groups challenged the agency, saying that the new rule kept public agencies from gathering and making available the best data about industrial contributions to air pollution.

In case you’re curious, the Trotskyite judicial activists in the majority were Bush II and Reagan appointees.

Please, Please, Please

[ 0 ] August 19, 2008 |

If only this were right. Ru9dy! Giul11ani would be an even better choice than Mittens! I especially like this logic:

– Might put NY in enough play to make Obama spend a lot of money there.

Oh, yes, absolutely, just like a gay marriage decision that would be unpopular in Alabama will definitely put California in play. I sincerely advise the GOP to not only pick Rudy! but to pour tons of money into New York. After all, this was Karl Rove’s idea in 2000, and he’s a genius!

On Biden

[ 90 ] August 18, 2008 |

I’m not going to put a lot of stock in markets that see Biden as the most likely nominee — they have Kerry at 9%, after all — but this does seem to be the consensus. And perhaps I’ve been buttered up by the fairly dismal alternatives being offered, but like Steve I find Biden a surprisingly decent option. At a minimum, he’s strongly preferable to Kaine or Bayh, infinitely preferable to Nunn or Hagel, and clearly behind (among vaguely viable candidates) only Sebelius and Reed.

Cohn has a good roundup of the strengths (most domestic policy, brains, legislative accomplishments, crucial role in the immensely important defeat of Bork) and weaknesses (gaffe prone, his botching of the Thomas hearings.) It is, I think, fair to note that a Delaware senator’s support for the bankruptcy bill is as inevitable as candidates in the Iowa caucuses supporting ethanol; I wouldn’t give Biden a pass, exactly, but Bayh cast the same vote with considerably less excuse. To the list of defects, though, I would add a lack of executive experience and his initial support for the Iraq (although, again, on the latter issue his problems are much less severe than Bayh’s.) On the other hand, while it might be a minor political liability, I think the old “plagiarism” charges are of little substantive significance — the idea of “plagiarism” in a context where nobody expects you to write your own words in the first place is nonsensical.

If I thought the VP choice should be determined by political considerations, I would pass; his penchant for saying silly things and hailing from a small, safe state would rule him out. Since I think the VP pick should be primarily substantive, however, I think he would be decent — he could play a constructive policy role comparable to Gore and is considerably more progressive than most of his assumed rivals for the job. He wouldn’t be at the top of my list, but of the InTrade top 3 he’s the best by a huge margin.


[ 11 ] August 18, 2008 |


Given the rank illegality of his attempts to stay in office, this would seem to be (at least in a narrow sense) a good thing. Spackerman, however, warns that “Just because Musharraf is out doesn’t mean things are going to get better. In fact, it’s a mistake to view any country, but specifically Pakistan, as the product of a single strongman.”

McCain’s Abortion Gambit

[ 5 ] August 15, 2008 |

I disagree with Steve Benen about the politics of John McCain not “ruling out” a pro-choice running mate; it’s a reasonably clever move by McCain. Obviously, there’s no chance of this actually happening, so the GOP’s anti-choice base won’t care about this once the pick is made. But it does help McCain accomplish a key goal — namely, to blur his extremely unpopular position that abortion should be banned in all 50 states. Given the number of pundits determined to believe that McCain is a moderate on abortion despite the mountain of evidence making it clear that this isn’t true, it could very well be effective. Hopefully Obama will do a better job of drawing attention to the GOP’s extremism on the issue than most past candidates have.

Don’t Do Them Any Favors

[ 32 ] August 14, 2008 |

Peter Beinart gets plenty of criticism for being wrong about the Iraq War, but in fairness he’s been wrong about other things too. For example, when the New York courts declined to rule that the state’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage rights was unconstitutional, Beinart asserted that the courts “actually did the gay marriage movement a favor.” Two years later, the staus quo in New York remains intact, and who knows when this will change. But, still, waiting until New York’s exceptionally top-down and unresponsive legislature acts is better then what happened in Massachusetts, where a judicial intervention created a massive backlash that made the prospects for same-sex marriage much worse. Right?

Nearly five years after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, the vitriolic battle that brought international attention and apocalyptic fears to Massachusetts is all but dead. Since the first marriages on May 17, 2004, more than 11,000 couples have tied the knot. They’re busy mowing lawns and hauling kids to soccer practice, and the sky has not fallen.

Polls have shown consistent public support for gay couples. And with overwhelming support for gay marriage in the state legislature — the last effort to put it on the ballot failed 151-45 — the opposition has, for the most part, packed its bags and gone home.

“The biggest surprise about the whole thing is that there really has been no surprise,” Republican state Rep. Paul Loscocco said. “It’s been fairly much a nonevent.”

Whoops! One would think that what happened in Massachusetts may cause people to rethink conventional non-wisdom about how the public evaluates judicial opinions, but given the reaction to the decision in California earlier this year I doubt it.

The Empirically Baseless Paternalism of Anthony M. Kennedy

[ 14 ] August 13, 2008 |

Anthony Kennedy, in his appalling opinion for the Court in Carhart II, asserted:

While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about manly medical treatment come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.

The APA, however, has found that to the extent that the claim is relevant it’s false:

…the American Psychological Association has determined (PDF) that “abortion hurts women” rhetoric is bunk. The APA, which was to have adopted the new standard this morning, says in its draft language “the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy.” In other words, forcing women to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy is just as risky for mental health as it is to have an abortion.

And when you combine this with the greater physical risks of pregnancy, the rationale for abortion regulation or criminalization based on protecting women’s health vanishes entirely. And despite some claims that Kennedy was somehow going off the reservation with his embrace of the new paternalism, without such assertions bans on “partial birth” abortion have no rational connection to any legitimate state interest whatsoever.

Class Warfare Atfter Shea

[ 10 ] August 13, 2008 |

I’ve neglected to mention that the great Roy Edroso is now blogging for the Voice. Today, he brings some of the bad news about Citi Field for those of us who like to go to the odd Mets game. What concerns me is not so much the prices of the high-end seats (which I’m never in anyway), but the much lower supply, which will make it difficult to make game-time decisions. I’m not saying I miss my Montreal days where you could buy a $7 seat at gametime and sit near home plate, exactly, but…

The "Authenticity" Catch-22

[ 0 ] August 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby makes what I would like to think is an obvious point about Michael Crowley’s complaint about Obama returning to his home state for vacation. It’s not just that Hawaii is, in fact, a perfectly middlebrow vacation spot. It’s that the whole premise is a trap; once you lend credence to claims to that Obama is an Elitist Other then any choice is a bad one from the standpoint of RNC smear ads. If Obama had gone to [insert whatever affluent D.C. journalists think mythical Real Americans consider a good vacation spot here], then Obama would be a big phony would who would obviously rather be on the Riveria with several nubile but unpopular young white actresses, so you know he’d do anything to be president! Digby makes a similar observation with respect to a similar argument from Cokie Roberts.

It’s very simple: once you start down this road (which, like it or not, implicitly validates silly Republican smears), you can’t win. The appropriate response of journalists is to ignore such trivia. And the appropriate response of liberal commentators is to ridicule the idea of someone with 8 houses calling someone else an “elitist” for anything, rather than dispensing inherently futile or counterproductive advice.

Mukasey: Hack

[ 0 ] August 12, 2008 |

Rule of law!

“But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.”

But I was informed by the highly serious priests of High Contrarianism that Mukasey’s need to work with Congress would provide powerful disincentives against this sort of thing! I’m shocked that this didn’t work.

In addition, Marcy Wheeler argues that while Mukasey is certainly a hack, the real problem is the toothless sanctions of the Hatch Act.


In general, I agree with Mukasey. Breaking the letter of the law shouldn’t always amount to a prosecutable crime. I guess my problem is that prosecutors seem much more likely to adopt Mukasey’s position when they’re looking at infractions committed by political allies, police officers, or other government employees than they are with the rest of us.

If anything, government employees should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us, not a lower one–especially the people charged with enforcing the laws in the first place.


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