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Ayers and Kissinger

[ 0 ] October 8, 2008 |

I only allude to the point in this column, but what makes people like Ayers and Kissinger similar is that, if your socio-economic status is high enough, it’s very difficult not to remain “respectable” in the eyes of at least a good piece of the Establishment, no matter what you’ve done.

Nickel Summary

[ 11 ] October 8, 2008 |

Obama did his job (very well if you go by the instapolls.) Even if the numbers soften, in the big picture it’s a major victory. If you’ll forgive the analogy that I became fond of after being in the host city for the 1988 Olympics, he needed a Katarina Witt performance. That is, given his position if he didn’t make any major mistakes he’s the winner. And he didn’t. And to amplify what I said in the debate thread, Brokaw’s performance was poor-too-awful, but with one key caveat: the (generally poorly worded or poorly chosen) questions were about important substantive matters. He didn’t launder any questions about Ayers or other trivia in the manner of Stephanopolous. The standards for such things is so debased I can live with a moderator who doesn’t produce many interesting answers but at least doesn’t drag the debate into silly mudslinging.

Finally, kos makes a good point here; the snap polls combined with the blogosphere make it much more difficult for situations like 2000 — where a contemporaneous Gore victory among actual debate viewers was turned into a retrospective loss by the media (and not just the right-wing media) — much more difficult.

The Freepers have pretty much run up the white flag

[ 0 ] October 8, 2008 |

And I do mean white.

In case you’re not interested in doing a header into a cyber-sewer, here are some highlights:

“I have 14 grandchildren . I do not want them growing up for the next four years, in a society ran by a banana republic would be president. And a wife who has an attitude and a true dislike for the white race.Folks this is getting down right ridiculous!”

“I dread seeing that horsey militant Michelle Obama descreting the White House.”

Another commentator puzzles over what the possibility of one side winning a coin toss three times in a row is, and wonders if such an extraordinarily unlikely occurance might signal yet more media bias.

But the dominant attitude seems to be that God has decided to punish America by making Obama president.


[ 0 ] October 7, 2008 |

Discuss away if you’re so inclined…

[from davenoon]: I, for one, am glad to know that John McCain won’t be appointing Tom Brokaw as Treasury Secretary. And that he might be thinking of Meg Whitman, who described Sarah Palin as underqualified to run eBay.

[from scott] Shorter John McCain: My friends, I will not articulate any policies, my friends. I will talk about other politicians making other agreements, my friends. I will then lie about my tax policies and my opponent’s “that one’s” tax policies, my friends. Tip O’Neill was from Massachusetts, my friends…I also seem to be confusing the other Democratic candidate’s health care plan with that one’s, my friends.

[djw] Two things: 1. Brokaw is passive-agressive and whiny. 2. This health care discussion is boring, but if people actually manage to pay attention, this shouldn’t be any good for McCain.
Obama: McCain will destroy employer-based health care. McCain: Obama will try to make your employers give you health care.

[from davenoon] Eighty minutes in, and not a single question about Obama’s terrorist pals. Is this because Tom Brokaw is a useful idiot for the terrorist-loving left, or because no one gives a fuck?

[from scott] As bad as he’s been Brokaw has at least avoided meta-questions about tactics. But that “Evil Empire” question has to be one of the dumbest in history…

[from davenoon] Obama missed the last question badly: the correct response was “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

[from scott] What the hell — did McCain refuse to shake Obama’s hand? I rewinded it on TiVo and it looks like he just told Obama to shake his wife’s hand…did I miss something?…Josh has video. That’s still what it looks like to me…

…as a commenter noted, they apparently shook hands after the debate; it was only visible live on C-SPAN (which, if I had been thinking, I would have been watching.)


[ 15 ] October 7, 2008 |

A commenter protests in re: my assumption that the media will, as it always does, forgive John McCain his appalling campaign:

The media loved McCain for certain traits, traits that he’s abandoned in his pursuit of the Presidency. He’s never getting that back.

The obvious problem here is that the presence of traits such as “honor” in John McCain was always entirely imaginary. Since the idea that he was an honorable campaigner was always a media myth made up out of whole cloth, there’s absolutely no reason the media won’t re-attribute these traits to McCain after the campaign. “Look at that hang-dog expression! He’s learned his lesson!”

Spackerman reminds us of the most obvious precedent — his celebration of the Confederate flag during his (run-by-racists) 2000 primary campaign in South Carolina:

Remember in 2000 when McCain refused to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse? It was a blatant play to the ugliest aspects of American politics, an unsubtly coded attempt to identify himself with white resentment. But what was even more astonishing was what happened after he lost the GOP primary. Here’s CNN from April 19, 2000:

“Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop the South Carolina Statehouse on Wednesday, acknowledging that his refusal to take such a stance during his primary battle for the Palmetto State was a “sacrifice of principle for personal ambition.”

This was pretty widely hailed as a triumph of straight talk. McCain admitted such transparent cynicism! What a breath of fresh air! Now, there’s another way of looking at this moment. One that a less, frankly, white group of trail reporters might have picked up on: despite finding the flag personally offensive — because it is a symbol of racial subjugation; and treason in the interest of white supremacy — McCain didn’t mind exploiting it. He didn’t mind aggravating the most noxious division in America if it served his ambition.

To state the obvious, if you know that the Confederate flag is a symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid and just go ahead an exploit it anyway, this is much, much worse than someone who at least sincerely believes that it’s a symbol of “heritage” or some such. And yet, countless journalists took his self-promoting apology seriously. So why should another round of lying and race-baiting present a problem for his immediate reputation?

Silly Atrios

[ 17 ] October 7, 2008 |

I regret that I must disagree with Atrios when he said that “conservatives can’t whine that their hilarious vision [in An American Carol] was censored by the evil liberals.” Sadly, this underestimates the ability of modern conservatives to ride the waaaabmulance. I particularly treasure the idea that it’s likely evidence of “fraud” if there are “image or focus problems.” That would certainly be compelling to anyone who hasn’t seen a movie in an American theater since the Carter administration. The rest of us would be suspicious of a vast right-wing conspiracy if screenings of the movie generally involved decent prints shown in focus…

I hope the eight or nine people who go to see the movie also report it if theaters are serving cold, grossly overpriced popcorn.  You’d better believe that’s a liberal conspiracy!

The Viaduct

[ 48 ] October 7, 2008 |

Erik Loomis makes a stalwart defense of Seattle’s Alaska Way Viaduct, recently named the Worst Freeway in America:

The road sucks in a lot of ways. A big earthquake would remind us all of the Bay Bridge in 1989. It is pretty unattractive. It reminds us of a time when the United States made an awful lot of mistakes in its cities, leading to the urban crisis of the 1960s-1980s. We all want to save historic structures. Shouldn’t we save some of our poor decisions too, especially when they define a city as much as the Viaduct? Despite its many problems, the road is a democratic structure and a monument to the role of the car in reshaping Seattle. For that alone, it should be saved.

Meh. It’s ugly, dangerous, and not terribly convenient. To the extent that we’re going to preserve structures for historical and aesthetic purposes, I’d prefer they not be ugly and dangerous. Not every city, after all, can be Detroit…

The Pie is High

[ 21 ] October 7, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Assrocket:

The fundamentals of the economy are indeed strong, and John McCain shouldn’t hesitate to say so.

I agree! Never mind that GDP is a more or less meaningless indicator of national economic health and can be inflated by, say, terribly conceived wars or speculative bubbles urged on by shortsighted deregulatory ideologues. It’s a winning strategy!

If we let the other team score, then The Terrorists will have won

[ 22 ] October 7, 2008 |

That’s apparently as good an explanation as any for the strange behavior of NFL coaches at the end of games. For instance, tonight Minnesota gets to the New Orleans 14-yard-line in a tie game with 1:10 to go. The Saints have two time outs left, which means that if the Vikings run the ball three times Ryan Longwell will attempt a chip shot field goal with about fifteen seconds left. Longwell has made his last 43 attempts from under 45 yards. Plus this game is inside, so weather is no factor. So unless Minnesota fumbles or commits a dumb penalty New Orleans is looking at close to a 100% probability of fielding a kickoff down by three points with about ten seconds to go — a situation in which the trailing team’s chances of winning are nearly zero.

On the other hand, if they let Minnesota score on the first play of the series, they get the ball back with a minute to go and two time outs down by seven. Not a good situation, of course, but not nearly as bad as what they’ll get if they play it straight up.

And it’s not as if this is an unusual thing — similar situations come up almost every week in the NFL. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an NFL coach decide to just let the other team score.

A more general problem here is that NFL kickers have gotten too good. As Longwell’s streak illustrates, it’s now to the point where anything under 45 yards is almost an extra point for a lot of these guys. Nate Kaeding has made 49 of 50 career attempts at home from under *50* yards. It’s much, much easier for an offense to get inside the 30 than it is to score a TD, yet getting inside the 30 is now practically equivalent to half a touchdown.

Reputational Hits

[ 0 ] October 7, 2008 |

Ezra presents an optimistic perspective about whether McCain’s “dishonor before death” campaign will damage his reputation, at least if he loses. I’m not as sure.

In the long-term, I’m inclined to agree that (especially if Obama’s presidency is generally regarded as successful) McCain’s disgraceful campaign will be seen as the last gasp of Nixon’s Southern Strategy as a successful tool for the GOP. (I also think that it would eventually come to be seen that way even if he won, especially if he proved to be an unpopular one-termer.) In the short-term, though, I’m not sure. Given that even writers appalled by McCain seem to see his behavior as some sort of betrayal of McCain’s fundamental nature, my guess is that most of them will forgive him just as they’ve done so many times before. McCain will apologize, claim that Obama made him do it, serve some BBQ, and journalists will start swooning again.

The New Supreme Court Term

[ 4 ] October 6, 2008 |

Adam Liptak has a useful roundup, noting that the Court does not have any “blockbusters” comparable to last year’s Second Amendment, death penalty, and war powers decisions. There are, however, some cases that indicate the likely direction of the Roberts Court and why many of his holdings will matter more than you might think. In particular, it’s important not to focus excessively on whether the Court explicitly announces the overturning of precedents. There are two examples that are instructive:

  • Standing. “In Summers v. Earth Island Institute, the court will consider who has standing to challenge environmental regulations.” As we’ve already seen with respect to church and state issues, by narrowing standing rules the Court can nominally keep important precdents on the books but make it exceptionally difficult to actually enforce them by declaring that most people don’t have standing to challenge potentially unconstitutional state actions. Moreover, this narrowing of standing rules is likely to be a one-way ratchet; plaintiffs advancing claims that conservatives find sympathetic are unlikely to see their ability to bring suits affected. These cases seem technical, but substantially affect the substantive rights of individuals as well as areas like environmental policy.
  • Pre-emption. Wyeth v. Levine, concerns only implied pre-emption and is perhaps the most important business case of the term. Wyeth, a drug company, seeks to overturn a Vermont jury award of more than $6 million to Diana Levine, a musician who lost much of her right arm in a medical disaster caused by the injection of a Wyeth anti-nausea drug. Wyeth argues that it cannot be sued because it had complied with federal safety standards.” Again, business cases of this sort tend to attract less attention, but making it more difficult for states to punish corporate malfeasance in the courts is a potentially very important outcome. For several of the court’s conservatives, their alleged commitment to “federalism” will clash with business interests, and (especially for Roberts, Alito and Kennedy) I know how I’m betting. Also look for Breyer, at a minimum, to vote with Wyeth.

Another trend Liptak brings up: “The court will also return to an emerging theme of the Roberts court, which has repeatedly turned back general, or “facial,” challenges to laws in favor of more focused, or “as applied,” attacks.” Again, this seems tehcnical, but in any number of areas — including aboriton — it will make the enforcement of rights more difficult. Given the formal “minimalism” of the Court, many of its important decisions will fly under the radar — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

The Sub Prime Kristol Meltdown

[ 30 ] October 6, 2008 |

Bill Kristol continues to push Sarah Palin, and hints at his own responsibility for the pick. It’s columns like this that make me wonder whether there’ll be a reckoning in the circles of conservative punditry/journalism/activism after the election. Republicans aren’t the sort of people who are willing to forgive defeat; if the current situation holds, with McCain losing badly, Palin not helping, and the Republicans suffering severe Congressional defeats, will we see a Night of Long Knives on the other side? Is Bill Kristol ever going to be forced to (shudder) admit that Palin was a disaster?

My first thought is that the mask will never drop; Bill Kristol is not the sort of man who will ever allow us that kind of satisfaction. For one, he’s built a career out of pushing an ideology that equates admitting mistakes with appeasement. Second, his own pundit persona is dependent upon an almost preternatural confidence, and in particular the maintenance of the “Joker” smile even when the world is collapsing around him. While both of these are important, however, they’re also personal to Kristol. I suspect that there is a larger reason that any Night of Long Knives in conservative journalism is likely to be muted, at least in respect to Kristol; he plays a key role in undergirding the structure of conservative journalism as it now exists.

Right wing journalism/punditry is absurdly nepotistic, and not just in the sense that many of the major pundit/journalists are second generation. Everything depends on relationships; this is of course true in every community of this sort, but the importance of relationships is more pronounced in the world of conservative punditry than in liberal or mainstream. Every conservative writer of note has a portfolio of these relationships, which allows said writer to place articles, give talks, find jobs, get invited on junkets, and even find the best parties. Each writer or pundit also contributes to the portfolios of others, and the relationships stack; knowing somebody who knows Michael Goldfarb or John Podhoretz isn’t quite a good as having them in your portfolio directly, but it doesn’t hurt to have the second-order relationship. These relationships are the grease that makes the world of conservative journalism run; it’s mildly absurd that a community whose ideological focus rests so firmly on conceptions of “merit” depends almost entirely on relationships, but nevertheless.

In the modern configuration of the conservative media machine, Kristol occupies an unparalleled central position of power. It’s not that Kristol knows everyone (although he knows a lot of people), or that he controls all the levers of power (although he clearly has substantial influence over how the Weekly Standard and other institutions of conservative journalism and punditry offer grants, assign articles, and provide jobs); it’s that Kristol always seems to be one of the most important “stocks” in a conservative writer’s portfolio. This is often a second or third order relationship, such that the conservative writer depends on a set of contacts that depend on Kristol. But these “Kristol derivatives”, so to speak, play a critical role in where a conservative pundit falls in the journalistic food chain. There are other derivatives as well, depended on other “nodes” of power, but the Kristol derivatives have the farthest reach. A remarkable number of conservative journalists and pundits have got there start with institutions, grants, or fellowships that originate in institutions that have Kristol’s fingerprints on them.

And herein lies the rub. Relationships are the currency of conservative punditry, and that currency is essentially secured by Kristol. If the bedrock of this currency starts to founder (if Kristol drops the mask, or comes under sustained attack from conservatives), then the entire financial system is in trouble. It’s not that people think that the entire system will collapse; they just don’t know what exactly will happen if the Kristol derivatives turn toxic. At the very least, the system will undergo an earthquake, and the result of that earthquake could be unpleasant. As such, the entire system has a vested interest in making sure that the Kristol derivatives don’t turn toxic, and thus that the bedrock currency remains stable.

And so we see a happy convergence trends that will work to prevent a reckoning in conservative punditry after the election. I’m not saying that the reckoning won’t happen, just that pulling at the Kristol thread is likely to have wide-ranging consequences in conservative journalism. As such, even though Kristol played an important role in many of most disastrous elements of this administration/campaign, those who might gun for him are going to have to be careful.

…Harry Hopkins, promoted from comments:

I remember back in the late ’90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. It was a great lecture, made more so by the fact that the class was only about ten or twelve students and we got got ask all kinds of questions and got a lot of great, provocative answers. Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. “I oppose it”, Irving replied. “It subverts meritocracy.”

Glory be.