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Seeing Red

[ 21 ] February 6, 2008 |

Over at Slate, the XX factor team is dissecting the wardrobe choices of the candidates’ wives last night (what color tie was Bill Clinton wearing? Anyone? Bueller?). They’ve honed in on Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama’s choice of a red suit. Here’s what Dana Stevens had to say:

To wear [red] is to quote [Nancy Reagan] as unambiguously as McCain evoked the Reagan/Stallone ’80s by marching onstage to the Rocky theme for his victory speech. Michelle Obama’s donning of the hue is more complex. Obviously, this choice is supposed to recall the general optimism of the morning-in-America days. But is it also meant to reassure us that Michelle, who only last year left her high-powered job as an executive at the University of Chicago hospitals, will remain safely on the Nancy-esque sidelines when her husband becomes president, confining her role to charity work like the cleft-palate foundation whose board Cindy McCain serves on (and through which she adopted their now-16-year-old daughter from Bangladesh)? At any rate, the color-coded association of both women with the ultimate loyal-but-silent political spouse clearly serves to distance them from a certain prospective first husband who doesn’t need to wear loud colors to get himself noticed.

Uh. Color me confused (bad pun intended), but I didn’t think that Nancy Reagan had claimed ownership rights over the R in Roy G. Biv. I think Stevens is right that the red may be intended to bring to mind optimism. At least in the case of Mrs. Obama, I’m guessing it’s also supposed to evoke energy and excitement, rather than the staid same-ol’. But, seriously, since when are we relying on the “neighborhood astrologer’s” positive associations with red as the jumping off point for a discussion about presidential politics and PR? And why is it that we assume that Michelle Obama is invoking Nancy Reagan (whose politics she probably couldn’t disagree with more), while Hillary Clinton is evoking…something else unnamed…when she wears red?

Perhaps what got my blood boiling more than anything about this exchange was the assumption that Barack Obama wants his wife to take on a Nancy Reagan-esque role, or that she would be willing to. Sure, she cut her hours at her high-power hospital job last year, but my guess is that had more to do with the rigors of campaigning than with her desire to be perceived as a dutiful, even Stepford-like, wife. I usually really like XX factor, but this back and forth felt like just another “woman’s” blog playing into exactly the assumptions and stereotypes it should be challenging.

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Gang of 14: A Huge Win For the GOP

[ 35 ] February 6, 2008 |

Jack Balkin points us to this article in the WSJ defending John McCain on the question of judicial appointments. Part of the op-ed consists of the usual vacuous buzzwords like “judicial restraint” (although they at least avoid the usual procedure of decrying “judicial activism” and then proceeding directly to a claim that judges should strike down affirmative action programs or railing against Kelo.) But — as with many conservative defenses of McCain — their overall point that McCain will nominate reliably reactionary justices is certainly correct. This point is particularly important:

Others are concerned that Mr. McCain was a member of the “Gang of 14,” opposing the attempt to end filibusters of judicial nominations. We believe that Mr. McCain’s views about the institutional dynamics of the Senate are a poor guide to his performance as president. In any event, the agreement of the Gang of 14 had its costs, but it played an important role in ensuring that Samuel Alito faced no Senate filibuster. It also led to the confirmation of Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and Bill Pryor, three of President George W. Bush’s best judicial appointees to the lower federal courts.

Of all the attacks on McCain from the right, criticism for being part of the “Gang of 14″ is the most bizarre to me, given that the Democrats gained absolutely nothing from the compromise. The Democrats agreed to let several unacceptable judges on to the federal bench, and in return retained a theoretical ability to filibuster they didn’t use against either of Bush’s two very reactionary Supreme Court appointments. Moreover, if you’re willing to issue a farcical ruling to break a filibuster it’s hard to believe you wouldn’t go back on the Gang of 14 deal. And, of course, starting in 2009 maintaining the filibuster will directly help Republicans, and not creating a precedent where filibusters can be stopped by violating procedural rules is good for conservatives in the long run. What’s inexplicable about the Gang of 14 is why the Democrats agreed to it. Why a conservative would hold it against McCain is beyond me.

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Worst American Birthdays, Vol. 40

[ 24 ] February 6, 2008 |

Edward Geary Lansdale was born 100 years ago today.

Ed Lansdale was the sort of fellow for whom the term “blowback” was coined. During his long career with the Office of Strategic Services and its successor, the CIA, Lansdale is best known for his role as an adviser to the South Vietnamese government from 1954 to 1957. A specialist in counterinsurgency, Lansdale had previously enjoyed success in the Philippines, where he aided the former American colony in putting down the Huk rebellion during the early 1950s. Along with the 1953 Iranian coup and the toppling of Guatemala’s elected government in 1954, the Huk rebellion persuaded the Eisenhower administration that the United States could impose its will anywhere it chose, with minimal cost and at a volume that was barely audible to the American public.

Following the vicious counterinsurgency campaign in the Philippines, Lansdale and his advocates hoped their success might be duplicated in Vietnam, where the French had just finished a catastrophic effort to retain their imperial footprint in Asia. Employing “psychological warfare,” Lansdale headed the Saigon Military Mission, a classified group of about a dozen United States soldiers and intelligence agents who spread rumors, counterfeited documents, and organized a campaign of sabotage throughout the North, all of which was intended to disrupt a vote on the reunification of Vietnam, which the 1954 Geneva Accords required. (Although the United States had participated in the negotiations, Eisenhower administration had ultimately chosen not to sign the agreement.) As the northern regions of Vietnam were transitioning from French colonial rule to a communist-dominated government, Lansdale hoped to flood the South with anti-communist refugees who could bolster the government being created and supported by the US. Lansdale’s efforts bore fruit, as more than a million people fled the north. Millions more would flee the region over the next two decades.

During his years in Saigon, Lansdale also helped develop an army that would — he expected — be capable of defending itself without the need for direct American intervention. He boosted the political fortunes of Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt autocrat whom the United States regarded as the best hope for a politically independent South Vietnam. Although Lansdale had left Southeast Asia in 1957, he earned the trust and respect of the Kennedy administration, which in 1961 took his advice and accelerated its support for Diem. By the end of Kennedy’s first year in office, he had dedicated more than 15,000 American soldiers and military advisers to the cause.

By this time, Lansdale had moved on to other projects. Among other things, he oversaw the efforts — known as Operation Mongoose — to topple Fidel Castro, with whom the Kennedy brothers were especially obsessed. Over the next year, as the US began to take full custody of the war in Vietnam, Lansdale hired Cuban gangsters and drug-runners among various other unsavories to carry out raids against the Castro government. The Soviet Union responded by offering to place medium-range ballistic missiles on Cuban soil, a decision that helped bring the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war.

During the 1975 Church Committee hearings, which exposed intelligence abuses over the previous several decades, a colleague of Lansdale’s, Thomas Parrot, described one of the battier schemes put forward by Lansdale’s office during the Cuban project.

He had a wonderful plan for getting rid of Castro. This plan consisted of spreading the word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that Christ was against Castro [who] was anti-Christ. And you would spread this word around Cuba, and then on whatever date it was, there would be a manifestation of this thing. And at that time — this is absolutely true — and at that time just over the horizon there would be an American submarine which would surface off of Cuba and send up some star shells. And this would be the manifestation of the Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown . . . Well, some wag called this operation — and somebody dubbed this — Elimination by Illumination.

Lansdale was eliminated by natural causes in February 1987. John Kennedy and Ngo Dinh Diem were eliminated by assassins in November 1963. Fidel Castro has managed, albeit barely, to hang on for quite a bit longer.

(cross-posted at the Axis)
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[ 35 ] February 6, 2008 |

Brad Plumer reports that Karl Rove (and I sort of admire the spare elegance of Rove serving as an election analyst for Fox News; I mean, why not just skip the middleman) threw cold water on the idea of a McCain/Huckabee ticket. I have no idea who McCain will pick, and I understand the logic: McCain needs to shore up support among conservatives who don’t like him, but many of these people also hate Huckabee. But it does seem to me that there’s another side to it. Are the Limbaughs who hate McCain with an irrational frenzy likely to be assuaged by any VP pick? It seems unlikely. Huckabee, conversely, is well-liked by Southern evangelical voters and hence could be a real asset to voters who aren’t crazy about McCain but are open to persuasion.

If I were McCain, I would probably try to go with a plain vanilla southern conservative — like Fred Thompson, but alive. The bench seems pretty thin, though, and I think Huckabee would bring real advantages to the ticket.

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Marshmallow Suffrage

[ 0 ] February 6, 2008 |

For my part, I’m pretty committed to protecting the voting rights of “marshmallow shaped, middle-aged” people. And knowing more Ron Paul voters than Hillary Clinton voters is not something that one should brag about, or even mention in polite company…

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[ 0 ] February 6, 2008 |

I decided to watch the returns with the second-best commentariat in the blogosphere, which meant that I couldn’t hear the speeches, etc. I think Yglesias gets the bottom line about right. 10 days ago, an Obama supporter would certainly take a result that left him alive, and he did a little better than that. On the other hand, Clinton not only hung on to the states she needed, but won pretty substantially in the big ones (the delegate count in New York being especially important.) Ultimately, it’s tough to catch a good candidate from behind, and Clinton has to be considered a strong although not overwhelming favorite. There’s still a scenario for a Obama victory for sure, but a lot has to break right. Maybe he can use the time to take Ohio and Texas, but it’s hard to bet on it.

The GOP race, of course, remains over, with McCain once again getting just enough help from Huckabee to hasten the inevitable. Ironically, the fractured GOP field was crucial to the quick coronation — McCain would have had a much harder time against any single challenger, but got the right opposition to clean up delegates with frequently unimpressive vote totals. The Democratic race could go to the convention precisely because you can’t split the vote and win a less favorable state.

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"Phoenix in August can’t be considered hot by any conventional standard."

[ 8 ] February 6, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Hugh Hewitt: “McCain can’t be considered a frontrunner by any conventional standard.”

Sure, keep telling yourself that and you’ll…oh, actually, even he couldn’t actually convince himself of that.

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Jesus Christ Pose

[ 11 ] February 6, 2008 |

Somehow, we’ve all forgotten that Alan Keyes is still in the race, and his supporters are characteristically humble in their assessment of the campaign’s stakes:

When I talk to people of like mind who I think would be supportive of the presidential aspirations of Alan Keyes, their invariable response is “I’m familiar with Alan Keyes, I agree with everything he says. But, he can’t win.” In response to these objections, Dr. Keyes asks the question, “Who would you have voted for on the day of our Lord’s crucifixion: Jesus or Barabbas?”

Barabbas was the favorite, since he had the approval of the most influential portion of the population. But, which person has received the approval of history and, most importantly, which one had the approval of God?

I dunno. Par Lagerkvist wrote a pretty great little novel about Barabbas. So that’s something. But I’ll bet Jesus didn’t get 4500 votes in California; 2100 in Illinois; 350 in Minnesota; 900 in Missouri; 42 in North Dakota; and two non-Barabbas-voting clairvoyants in Montana. By my count, then, Alan Keyes is much more popular than Christ would have been on the day of his crucifixion. Also, Keyes totally kicked Tom Tancredo’s ass in Tennessee, but he got spanked pretty hard by Giuliani and Fred Thompson. All things considered, though, I’d say this was a pretty Super Tuesday for Alan Keyes.

(The NY Times and most other sites I’m watching tend to lump Keyes in with “Others,” which is just no fun at all. Fortunately, you can survey the results and feel the Keyesmentum here. And if any of our Kerrsville, Texas readers are searching about for lunch plans tomorrow, Keyes will be hanging out at the Best Western, where a $10 Italian buffet is in the works.)

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New England Discombobulated By Patriots Defeat…

[ 0 ] February 6, 2008 |

How does it make sense that Clinton wins New York and Massachusetts handily, while Obama leads in Connecticut?

Open thread etc. etc.

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Obama Takes Georgia

[ 27 ] February 6, 2008 |

Obama wins the first state of the night...though by a smaller margin than the exit polls first predicted. This isn’t much of a surprise, but, damn, that was fast.

Thoughts on whether this means anything? And if so, what?

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How Far Antidiscrimination Policies?

[ 0 ] February 6, 2008 |

Anthony Infanti at Feminist Law Profs has got a great post up about the decision of the President of San Jose State University to ban blood drives on campus. Why? Because the FDA’s refusal to accept the blood of any man who has sex with a man since 1977 violates the school’s antidiscrimination policy.

In his post, Infanti picks apart the language of the FDA rule and finds it’s vague and that it traffics in stereotypes (obvs). What I find interesting, though, is how this decision meshes (or doesn’t) with the Supreme Court’s decision a couple of years ago holding that law schools that receive federal funds do not have a First Amendment right to exclude JAG recruiters even though JAG’s (and the rest of the military’s) Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy violates the schools’ antidiscrimination policies. Clearly, this is different since, among other reasons, the organizations running the blood drives are not, as far as I know, government entities.

And, well, blood drives are good. DADT is bad. I agree 100% with law schools that DADT is discriminatory and that law schools should not be forced to be complicit in it (given that virtually every American law school receives federal funds, virtually every law school is implicated). And I agree that it’s ridiculous to preclude gay men from donating blood based on assumptions that, especially with the rise of HIV among heterosexual women, are now shaky at best and baseless at worst. But I can’t help thinking that maybe this isn’t where we should be drawing the line in terms of antidiscrimination policies. Or maybe we should force blood drives just off campus, as law schools sought to do with JAG recruiters.

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The Lies That Sold A Fiasco

[ 4 ] February 5, 2008 |

More on the disgrace of Colin Powell.

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