Tuesday, May 31, 2011

10 minutes to Wapner

Apparently, Sarah Palin's Bus Tour (aka Ringling Bros. Traveling Circus) is making a stop in New York City so she can meet with Donald Trump. Can you imagine the conversation between these two? It will be like "Rain Man" and Charlie Sheen discussing the finer points of quantum physics. Only dumber. And if I can crack wise about this so easily off the top of my head, you can imagine what the late night pros (Stewart, Leno, Conan, etc) will do with this material. For comedians everywhere, Palin is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

An interesting point

A Daily Beast reader's plea to the political press: "Please stop comparing Palin now to Obama in 2007. Voters didn't know Obama, but the more they got to know, the more they liked. Palin has been the opposite; the more voters have gotten to know her the more they dislike. That's a fact you can't seem to accept."

Junk mail

Ever wonder why you are bombarded with so much junk snail mail? According to Business Week, the US Postal Service "relies on first-class mail to fund most of its operations, but first-class mail volume is steadily declining—in 2005 it fell below junk mail for the first time. This was a significant milestone. The USPS needs three pieces of junk mail to replace the profit of a vanished stamp-bearing letter." Now you know.

Obscure words

Aumatolatry: Worship of miracles or wonders (or what the press is currently doing following Sarah Palin's bus around on her aimless, magical mystery tour).

Politics At First Bite

Mitt Romney on NBC's "Today" show this morning: "I mean, I like the Twilight series. I thought it was fun. I don't like vampires personally, I don't know any, but you know my granddaughter was reading it and I thought, 'Well this looks like fun,' so I read that." Yes, this was Romney's dorky attempt at being congenial. And anyone watching Romney trying to act normal would see it as just that. No big deal. The political press, on the other hand, seized on the statement like vultures picking over fresh road kill. Steve Benen: "Let's put aside the notion of a 64-year-old presidential hopeful enjoying the Twilight series. What stood out for me in this little quote was Romney feeling the need to mention he doesn't "like vampires personally," followed in the next breath by a reminder that he doesn't "know any" vampires. [...] It's understandable that Romney and his campaign team want to make the candidate seem more likable and less animatronic. But is it me, or do these efforts usually end up making Romney look kind of ridiculous?" Long story short, Benen suggests Romney is trying too hard to appear normal. Sure - technically, Benen and the other pundits who have opined on this "issue" are probably right. But that doesn't make these observations any less trivial.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What Memorial Day is

"I hope civilians find more solace in Memorial Day than I do. Many seem to forget why it exists in the first place, and spend the time looking for good sales or drinking beers on the back porch. It’s a long weekend, not a period of personal reflection. At the same time, many incorrectly thank Vets or active duty folks for their service. While appreciated, it’s misdirected. That’s what Veterans Day is for. Instead, they should take some time and remember the spirit of the country and the dedication of those men and women who chose to pick up arms. They never came home to be thanked, and only their memory remains." (Alex Horton, Iraq War veteran)

The Longest Goodbye

"Some 16 million Americans served in the military during World War II. On the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 2001, about 5.5 million were still living. This year, as we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary, the number is closer to 1.5 million, and it drops by almost a thousand a day." (Adam Kirsch, New York Times, "Is World War II Still ‘the Good War?")

WWII reconsidered

Adam Kirsch: "Americans who learn about the war in Europe from a book like Stephen Ambrose’s 'Band of Brothers' (1992), for instance, could be forgiven for thinking of the defeat of Germany as the work of doughty G.I.’s. Yet in 'No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945' (2007), the British historian Norman Davies begins from the premise that 'the war effort of the Western powers' was 'something of a sideshow.' America lost 143,000 soldiers in the fight against Germany, Davies points out, while the Soviet Union lost 11 million. And if the main show was a war between Hitler and Stalin, he wonders, wasn’t World War II a clash of nearly equivalent evils?"

Just for the record

John Dickerson: "[Sarah] Palin ... has hurdles on the question of fitness for office. Some 67 percent of the country does not think she is qualified to be president, according to a Washington Post poll from last year. Seventy percent of independent voters hold that view. Even among Republicans, 46 percent hold that view. Those findings are consistent with a Gallup poll from a year ago." Those numbers are not likely to change between now and Election Day 2012 -- except, perhaps, get worst.

A tale of two cities

"People have a good time in London. They drink. They laugh. They don’t spend dinners talking about money and real estate and which school 3-year-old Caleb has tested and tested his way into. Conversation lives. There’s little of that soul-shriveling New York intrusiveness and competitiveness. ... London still cares at some level where you came from — its charm and curse. While there is a lot of power in London, there is more across the water in a nation still youthful. ... [Yet] the Channel is still much wider than the Atlantic." (Roger Cohen, New York Times, "Too Special for Words")

Here’s mud in your eye (hic!)

The chattering class has expended a prodigious amount of digital ink on President Obama’s muffed toast during the state dinner with the Queen. The miscue, a truly minor affair, isn’t worth any more words. But it is a perfect metaphor for far out of touch the media often is with its audience. This dawned on me when, the other day, I mentioned the faux pas to a friend in casual conversation. She returned bemused silence. My friend is smart and reasonably well-informed. Like most normal Americans, she puts living life ahead of following politics or diplomacy closely. And she had no idea Obama was even out of the country, let alone in London. Anecdotally, I suspect that’s the case for 4 out of 5 Americans (who are rightly focused on the NBA Finals or the Memorial Day weekend). Translation: Nobody gives a damn about Obama’s toast. Yet, the way the media drones on about this, you’d think our president had turned to the Queen and, like Quint in Jaws, raised a pint and said: “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women, guv’nor!” It’s time to put a sock in it. Cheers.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Slipping the noose

File this one under "gossip," courtesy of POLITICO. Apparently, Jack McCain, the 25-year-old son of Sen. John McCain, is breaking off his six-month romance with some hot babe named Julia Allison. Rest assured, there’s no scandal here: Jack, a naval officer, is single and Julia (also single) is – or was – his girlfriend. Politico describes Ms. Allison, 30, as a “media personality.” Yep, I have no idea what that means either, but it doesn’t sound promising. For example: Given Jack’s high profile (thanks to his lineage), one would think Julia would keep this matter private and go quietly into that good night. Instead, she penned a 1,209-word post on her blog with all of the syrupy details about the break-up (“I am heartbroken … because I loved him”). Written in the prose of a bad romance novel, women will weep and savor every word of it. Guys (and especially Jack) will simultaneously guffaw and cringe. I only got as far as the fourth paragraph before I did. I can only imagine the merciless ribbing Jack is getting as his ship steams west toward Guam, his new post. Another tip-off about Julia is her blog’s slogan: “I wish I had a British accent so everything I said would sound smart. Instead I was born in Chicago.” Okey-dokey. Clearly, it’s all about her. It may have taken young McCain six months to connect the dots, but his “command decision” to bail before things got out of hand appears sound. Bro, you just dodged a bullet. Well played.

What losing Oprah really means

"When we lose a powerful black female presence from a landscape that, however much progress has been made, is still far too white (see: Congress, the Supreme Court, the Oscars, the news media, law firms and science departments, etc.) and too male (see: Congress, the Supreme Court, the Oscars, the news media, law firms and science departments, etc.) it’s not like we get 20 more — or even two more, or, uh, one more — to take her place. ... But we forget how standard a white male media universe is, and we forget how extraordinary it was to have had one ruled by Oprah Winfrey. ... Oprah has made blackness more visible, has helped familiarize a country’s daytime audiences — not always the most politically progressive — with people they might otherwise not have known." (Rebecca Traister, Los Angeles Times)

The Darth Vader embrace

"Dick Cheney wants folks to know, 'I worship the ground the Paul Ryan walks on.' That's deeply creepy, but then again, so are Dick Cheney and Paul Ryan." (Steve Benen, Washington Monthly)

When pigs fly

Polling and statistics whiz Nate Silver (NY Times) is very, very good at what he does. But today, I'm afraid he has taken leave of his senses (though I'm sure it's a temporary short-circuit). Silver expressed surprise at Herman Cain's rise in the latest Gallup poll measuring popular support for GOP presidential contenders. Cain polled at 8% compared to Newt's 9%, Palin's 15% and Romney's 17%. Silver believes that's a good showing for someone with nearly zero name recognition. Cain is the former head of Godfather's Pizza and famed for not being well-versed on policy, foreign or domestic. Yeah, that guy. Granted, Silver has an interesting point. But then he skips blissfully into Alice's Wonderland with this: "[Cain] has good chance of having some influence on the race — perhaps like Mike Huckabee in 2008, a candidate with whom he shares some similarities. And I don’t think the possibility that he could actually win the nomination can so easily be dismissed. The argument that you’re likely to hear elsewhere is that candidates without an electoral track record haven’t won the nomination in the modern (post-1972) primary era. But it’s a small sample size, and some or another precedent is broken in nearly every election cycle." In other words, Silver thinks we should take the self-proclaimed "Herman-ator" seriously. Okay, Nate, repeat after me: Cain, a black dude from Atlanta with a gift for quips, will be the GOP nominee when pigs learn to fly.

Living is bad for you

The headline on Slate read: "YOUR COMMUTE IS KILLING YOU." Citing an obscure university study in Sweden (in Sweden?!), the two-page, 500-word+ article written by Annie Lowrey can be reduced to this: "Long commutes cause obesity, neck pain, loneliness, divorce, stress, and insomnia." Needless to say, if this was a legal case, Lowrey and her editors would be laughed out of the courtroom. That's how flimsy this piece is. You might as well write about how the mere fact of living is bad for your health. So why publish such obvious dreck? Because it's all about the page views and tv/blog mentions, baby. Hey, I was dumb enough to click on it, read the first couple of paragraphs, shake my head in astonishment (I'm shocked, shocked!), and then write about the story's silliness. So the scheme is obviously working. You're welcome.

Searching for fires where none exist

Richard Nixon, of course, had Watergate, the mother of all scandals. Jimmy Carter had "Billygate" (his brother became a paid lobbyist for Libya's Gadhafi). Ronald Reagan had "Iran-Contra-gate" (trading arms for hostages). Bill Clinton had "Travelgate," "Filegate," "Troopergate" and "Monica-gate" (just to name a few). George W. Bush had "Abu Ghraib-gate." Ergo, Professor Brendan Nyhan, a scholar at the University of Michigan, can't understand why there has not been an Obama-gate yet. It's downright flabbergasting. In Nyhan's view, "executive branch scandal has been an inescapable feature of the American presidency." Inescapable. Using charts, statistics and tortured logic, the good professor tries mightily to make the case that the "the first Obama scandal is likely to arrive sooner than most people think." Wow. Talk about epic navel-gazing. In fact, the Obama administration has not had a single scandal to date. Call me nutty, but could it be that Barack Obama is simply not corrupt?

The 'Godmother': Part III

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in," said Michael Corleone in Godfather III, glowering. That's a perfect description of my mood today.

Sarah Palin, it seems, has announced a multi-state bus tour to promote -- well, I'm not sure what. Anyway, this event surely means she's running for president, right? Wrong -- but the media, the pundits and countless political observers are filling the air waves and the blogosphere with mindless speculation like giddy kids in a feather-flying pillow fight. Crikey, here we go again.

Here's Larry Sabato (an eminent presidential historian) writing for the New York Times today:
"Sarah Palin can’t be underestimated; she could still grab the nomination since no one else has taken off. A lot would depend on whether, a year from now, Republicans see President Obama as ripe for the picking. If Obama can be beaten, then the G.O.P. may turn a bit cautious and try to choose someone who can capture swing voters. That isn’t Ms. Palin’s profile. In trial heats she fairly consistently loses to President Obama by the widest margin of all the better known G.O.P. candidates. Yet if the economy is much better and the president looks to be romping to a second term, Republicans may just go with their hearts and not their heads. They’ve done it before, with Barry Goldwater in 1964. The G.O.P. was wild about Goldwater, who garnered 38 percent and lost to President Lyndon Johnson in one of the biggest landslides in history."
Well, the Goldwater connection is at least a novel twist.

Yes, yes -- the economy could nose-dive between now and November 2012. Pigs might evolve wings and we could be invaded by aliens, too. However, none of these scenarios are even remotely likely. It's hard to knock off a popular sitting president, especially a historic one with enough raw charisma to power the national electrical grid. Election 2012 is Obama's to lose. Period. Full Stop. Unlike the rapture for Goldwater in 1964, the entire GOP is not "wild" about Palin. Most of it, like most of America, thinks Palin is certifiably nuts. Goldwater (a five-term US senator) was an extremist in some policy matters, but he wasn't crazy. That's just one crucial difference, as Professor Sabato well knows. Repeating history, this time with Palin at the top of the ticket, would be knowingly suicidal. That wasn't a foregone conclusion in 1964 when Goldwater ran against LBJ. Republicans have learned a thing or two since then. The notion that the GOP will just hand the election to Mr. Obama is plainly ridiculous.

Are we really doomed to have these pointless debates about Palin all summer long? That's a rhetorical question, of course. Think of Don Corleone as a proxy for the punditocracy. Just before giving him absolution in Godfather III, Cardinal Lamberto summed it up about right: "Your sins are terrible. It is just that you suffer. Your life could be redeemed, but I know you don't believe that. You will not change."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Palin: Joan of Arc?

Didja hear? "Palin: The Movie" is due out in several GOP primary states soon. Curiously called "The Undefeated," the documentary (read: hagiography) is already being described as a big-screen version of her "most tiresome, grating themes of victimization, resentment, and grievance politics." More than one film critic has noted the allusions to Joan of Arc in the movie. Take it away Daniel Larison (writer for The American Conservative): "The Joan of Arc comparisons are strange, and for some reason people have made these comparisons ever since the 2008 campaign, and if they are intentional they are even more odd in a documentary called The Undefeated. In terms of the contemporary politics of her time, Joan of Arc wasn’t just defeated. She was put on trial and executed for heresy, and it was only five centuries later that she was formally canonized. I can’t imagine that this is the image that Palin and her fans want to project." Larison, god bless him, could be over-thinking this one. It's highly unlikely that Palin and her flacks have any idea who Joan of Arc is, let alone her history. Ergo, they're blissfully unaware that they are shooting themselves in the head. Where's Katie Couric when you need her?

Wishing what she believes

Only a few things are certain in this life. That the sun will rise tomorrow is one such certainty. Likewise, Sarah Louise Palin will never be president of the United States. Ever. And yet there are signs that Palin is seriously weighing a 2012 presidential bid. But actually crossing that Rubicon would only certify that Ms. Palin really is delusional. For if she runs, she will be unceremoniously crushed. Ironically, Democrats (let alone Obama) will have no need to devise a Palin counteroffensive. In this special case, the GOP establishment will only be too happy to do their bidding. Make no mistake: Republicans privately know Palin is their worst nightmare. The scales have long since fallen from their eyes. They know Palin would be disastrous for the party and potentially the country. And they are simply not going let the Wasilla Wonder take them over the cliff with her. If Palin becomes a candidate, expect the GOP long knives to come out in force from every direction. It won’t be pretty. Indeed, I could easily imagine a late autumn scenario where a figuratively bleeding Palin would look up from the marble floor, Caesar-like, spy her modern-day Brutus, and say, “Et tu, McCain?”

Too many men

Christine Lagarde: “Gender-dominated environments are not good ... particularly in the financial sector, where there are too few women. Men have a tendency to ... show how hairy-chested they are, compared with the man who’s sitting next to them. I honestly think that there should never be too much testosterone in one room.” Lagarde, a French finance minister and international lawyer, is a leading contender for the top IMF job vacated by alleged rapist Dominque Strauss-Kahn. Known for her quick wit, the Washington Post noted that when asked during a radio program in 2008 what people could do about high gas prices, she said: “Ride a bike.” Now that's my kind of dame. Bonne chance.

Don't know much about aggregate market equilibriums

"POLL: MORE AMERICANS FEAR HIGHER NATIONAL DEBT THAN DEFAULT," read the Washington Post headline. Really? "The poll vividly illustrates the dilemma facing lawmakers as they approach an Aug. 2 deadline on the debt ceiling," the story opened ominously. Oh, dear me. Okay, time for a pop quiz. Quick, explain why not raising the US debt-ceiling will risk global economic Armageddon along with gigantic cuts to Medicare and Social Security? Are you staring at that last sentence slack-jawed with knitted brows? Count me among you. But that's just us college educated types. When the pollster calls, surely Joe and Jane Six-Pack will be, like, totally prepared to coherently answer questions about macro-economics, right? In other words, polling the public about the national debt is a meaningless exercise. Yet, pundits and politicians cite such polls to advance their narrow agendas (while the media concocts stories assuming public knowledge where there is none). Is it too much to ask that the media stick to educating the public, and that the Congress do its homework on these complex issues and, you know, start behaving like a body of leaders acting in the best interest of the nation?

The bumpkins on Capitol Hill

There's a reason the Founders invested the Executive Branch with the power to conduct the nation's diplomacy and foreign policy: Most presidents can see past their noses. Take the present brouhaha over Obama's stance on Israel. The president is being criticized for a diplomatic position he doesn't hold. Yes, you read that right. Congress is up in arms about Obama's suggestion that Israel should “return” to its 1967 borders. Except he suggested nothing of the sort. As the Washington Post correctly noted, "he supports a peace framework based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps, which is not the same thing at all." It's up to Israel and Palestine themselves to negotiate the actual border details. But as it has relentlessly reminded us in recent days, the bumpkins in Congress doesn't do nuance. Hence the misguided brouhaha. And yet, these are the same congressional bumpkins divining "solutions" for our complex economic woes. God help us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Best city slogan ever

Hooker, Oklahoma (pop. 1,918): "It's a location, not a vocation." (Hat tip: Daily Dish)

Too much information

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II likes President Obama a lot. "In a rare gesture, the queen has invited the Obamas to stay at Buckingham Palace while in London," reported the New York Times. The Queen even gave the First Couple a tour of the six-room suite where they will stay. Very gracious. The Times could have stopped there and simply noted that the gesture is intended to underline the "Special Relationship" we've had with England since WWII. But going all tabloid on us, the editors deemed it crucial that readers know the suite was used by Prince William and Kate Middleton -- on their recent wedding night. “It may not be the same bed; it is the same suite,” said a nameless palace aide. Blimey, as the commoners say along Piccadilly Circus. Talk about way too much information.

Deck chairs on the Titanic?

POLITICO's Roger Simon isn't impressed with the Republican presidential field for 2012. "Question: If Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney were on a sinking ship, who would be saved? Answer: America." Ouch! "It is said that Pawlenty once gave a fireside chat and the fire went out." Double ouch!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stuck with Romney and T-Paw

A few months back, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said: “Short of suicide, I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running. I’m not running.” Just yesterday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush issued a statement that read: "While I am flattered by everyone's encouragement, my decision has not changed. I will not be a candidate for president in 2012." So, what part of "fuhgeddaboudit" doesn't the GOP get? Both of these pols, like Mitch Daniels, are too smart to run in 2012. Sure, the eminently sane Jon Huntsman may jump in, but his campaign will only amount to a warm-up act for 2016. Ergo, there is no Republican "savior" in this election cycle. So sorry, my Republican friends, but you're stuck with the Sominex Twins - Romney and Pawlenty - as your best front-runners. And they, in theory at least, could be bumped off by Nutty Newt Gingrich, the Godfather's Pizza Guy (Herman Cain) or one of two unelectable Brides of Frankenstein: Bachmann and Palin. Just remember, GOP: You made the bed. Now it's time to lay in it. Lotsa luck.

Catch-22 politics

"Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana has decided not to enter his family into the freak show. This proves he may well be a sensible person. It is a paradox of the modern presidential campaign that we both demand our candidates to be likable yet also force them to submit to a process that bleaches all likable qualities out of them in order for them to be successful." (John Dickerson, Slate)

Diplomatic quandary

"A sailor throws a drowning man a life preserver. How dare you, screams the man. Because of you, people are going to think I can’t swim. That about sums up the relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu." (Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast, "Netanyahu's Bizarre Response to Obama's Palestinian Proposal")

Awaiting the Rapture

No, not the one in the Book of Revelation -- the one in GOP presidential politics. Slate's John Dickerson writes: "The Republican presidential narrative is taking shape, and it's the story of a child's birthday party when the magician doesn't show. The audience is glum. Now it's someone's frantic job to find entertainment from the limited resources at hand and then convince everyone they're having a good time."

Too Much Judgment?

Needless to say, we're still here. The world did not end Saturday. But here's a thoughtful take on the matter by TNR writer Tiffany Stanley:
"Do the end-timers seem ignorant? Yes. Are they insane? Possibly. But should our reaction to them be chuckling glee or something more like sadness? Pay attention to their individual stories—their willingness to sacrifice everything in anticipation that their earthly lives are over—and I dare you not to feel the latter. [...] Laughing at religious fanatics is nothing new. And, at some level, there’s nothing wrong with it. But this story didn’t just take off in popularity because people wanted a quick laugh or some insight into a quirky subset of our country. There’s a cruelty underlying our desire to laugh at this story-—a desire to see people humiliated and to revel in our own superiority and rationality—even though the people in question are pretty tragic characters, who either have serious problems themselves or perhaps are being taken advantage of, or both. [...] We might want to ask ourselves not what is wrong with this sad group of apocalyptic believers, but rather what is wrong with a society that takes such pleasure in their dysfunction."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mitch says fuggedaboutit

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) gracefully bowed out of the 2012 presidential race today. "In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, but that, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all. If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry,” Daniels said in a statement. Don't be, Mitch. It was the right decision given the current state of the GOP, a Looney Tunes place where there is no room at the inn for rational moderates. Besides, the media would have eaten Daniels (and his messy personal life) alive. Saying no was a gutsy decision in the face of great pressure from the remaining adults in the Republican establishment. Ironically, Daniels just demonstrated the kind of true grit and wisdom one desires in a president. Still, I'm relieved he opted not to drag himself and his family through what promises to be an ugly race to the bottom for the GOP nomination only to face an incumbent president who remains all but unbeatable. Good call, Mitch. Live to fight another day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

At the movies

"In Hollywood, gratuitous excess — not necessity — is the mother of invention." (A.O. Scott, New York Times film critic)

Saturday chuckle

In honor of President Obama's trip to Moneygall, Ireland on Monday: "Alcohol doesn’t cause hangovers, waking up does." (Irish saying)

Are Republicans losing their minds?

In a word, yes. Sadly. As Slate's Jacob Weisberg observes, before any GOP official utters a word in public,"he must constantly ask himself the question: Am I about to say something to which a white, evangelical, socially conservative, gun-owning, Obama-despising, pro-Tea Party, GOP primary voter in rural South Carolina might object? By this standard, simple acceptance of the theory of evolution becomes a risky stance. To lie or to duck?" The truth rarely enters the equation. "Conspiracy thinking is flourishing on the right like no time since the McCarthy era. The GOP rank and file is in desperate need of a cold shower, a slap in the face, a wake-up call. But instead of telling the base to get a grip on reality, the party's leaders are chasing after the delusional mob. To get to the front of the line in 2012, Republican candidates must pretend to believe a lot of nonsense than isn't so."

Friday, May 20, 2011

'Repent! and Thou shall be saved'

Speaking of Saturday's "Judgment Day," here's Pet Detective Ace Ventura's warning:

Kiss your ass goodbye?

Though I shouldn't be, I am amazed at the sheer volume of coverage the press is giving to "The Rapture" which, according to Christian radio nutcase personality Harold Camping (who has belonged to no identifiable church since 1988), is supposed to occur tomorrow. At precisely 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. (Have you planned your Last Supper yet?) Google alone has over 5,000 articles referencing Judgment Day 2011. By the way, Camping predicted the End Times once before in 1994. But he's absolutely, positively sure this time. Right. It's always best to counter nonsense with nonsense. Therefore, I give you screaming, neck-vein-bulging, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket: "If God would have wanted you up there he would have MIRACLED YOUR ASS up there by now, wouldn't he?" Amen, Gunny.

Obama vs. Black ancien regime

Chauncey DeVega correctly observes that "there are levels upon levels of complexity and nuance in the Cornel West vs. Barack Obama fracas." I side firmly with Princeton's Melissa Harris-Perry who noted that West ("in a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness") offered nothing more than "stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years."

DeVega helpfully puts the debate into context:
"The questions surrounding race, identity, group interests, loyalty, and the symbolic power of America's first Black President--and his obligations (if any) to the African American community--are not going away anytime soon. At times, it is necessary to state the obvious. President Obama is not perfect. He is a man who happens to be both black and the President of the United States. He is not a magical salve or a superhero. And as hard as this is for some to hear, Obama's blackness and his presidency are coincidental--and given America's history, almost mutually exclusive to one another. I have thought much on the following point and am surprised that more have not signaled to it: Obama as a "first" carries the burdens and dreams of so many on his shoulders. Sadly, realpolitik demands that he disappoint even as he blazes a trail forward. Obama is a consummate politician. His success in that milieu is a twisted sort of progress, for in a way he is just like all the others. That my friends is the unintended (or was it intentional?) consequence of the triumph of "colorblind" politics in the post-Civil Rights moment."
The black ancien regime has never understood Obama. (Recall that this is the same bunch - led by Jesse Jackson - who proclaimed Obama was not "black enough." Therefore, they deemed, he would never win over the black community. Yet by Election Day 2008, black support for candidate Obama was something like 90 percent. I predict it will be the same in 2012.) The old guard, like so many other detractors, continually underestimate Obama's long game and his ninja-like attributes in the political arena. Once he is unshackled from the realpolitik constraints of reelection, I suspect Obama will unveil a set of bold (if not historic) initiatives aimed at the poor and persons of color. He will be motivated by genuine concern, profound obligation and his historical legacy. It's always been a question of timing - and viewing the Obama presidency as a two-term enterprise.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pantsuit diplomacy

In his big Middle East speech today, President Obama opened by saying: "I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles. I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation's history." To which Esquire's Thomas P.M. Barnett retorted: "I personally would never use the words "go down" and "Hillary" in the same sentence, but you get the clear sense of her term winding down with — quite honestly — no signature accomplishments and no signature screwups. Not bad for a politician." Heh. But Barnett is right about Hillary's tenure: No hits, no runs, no errors.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Santorum: Stupid is as stupid does

The other day, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum criticized John McCain for opposing the torture of terrorists, saying McCain (a former POW who was tortured) doesn't understand how "enhanced interrogation" works. The denunciations of Santorum have been swift and unsparing. But McCain's long-time aide Mark Salter offered the best response: "For pure, blind stupidity, nobody beats Santorum. In my 20 years in the Senate, I never met a dumber member, which he reminded me of today," he wrote on Facebook. Click here if you doubt Salter's "truthiness."

Escape from Rikers (he hopes)

Apparently, alleged rapist Dominique Strauss-Kahn doesn't care much for the uncouth clientele at "Club Rikers Island." In a bid to get out of New York's notorious prison, DSK agreed to be confined to his daughter's Manhattan flat, wear an electronic ankle bracelet and post $1 million bail in cash, per the Washington Post. If the court allows him to upgrade his pre-trial accommodations, there presumably would be no, um, maid service. What? Too soon?

Birds of a feather

Newt Gingrich: "Any ad which quotes what I said on [Meet the Press] Sunday is a falsehood." Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin: "I just hope the lamestream media won’t twist my words by repeatin’ em verbatim’." (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Memo to Mitch

Mitch, dude, don't do it. It just ain't worth it, man. That's my advice to Mitch Daniels as he ponders a 2012 presidential bid.

Spooked by the shockingly weak Republican field, the GOP elite is pressuring the mild-mannered Indiana governor to save them from the political Frankensteins (Gingrich, Bachmann, Palin, etc.) they created. If Daniels bows to the desperate appeal, the clumsy, grubby hands of the media will wreck havoc with every piece of private clothing in his proverbial closet.

Here's the opening salvo from the Wall Street Journal by conservative columnist James Taranto:
"There's been a lot of talk recently about Daniels's marriage to First Lady Cheri Daniels--or rather, about his marriages to her. [She dumped him and their four children, ran off to marry a rich California lawyer, then dumped him 3 years later to re-marry Daniels. Go figure.] ... There has been no suggestion that Mr. Daniels behaved wrongfully in private, much less in public. ... Yet there's a curiosity around this story, which we suppose comes down to the question: What does it tell us about the character of a prospective president? Or, to put it more pointedly: If a man would take back a woman after such a betrayal, is he tough enough to lead the country?"
Mitch, they are already calling it the "Cuckold Factor." Disgusting, isn't it? And it's only the beginning, my decent friend. If the WSJ is questioning your manhood today, can you imagine what the rest of the media (not to mention the Democrats) will do with it on the campaign trail? And that's on top of the "nebbish" moniker you earned prior to our knowledge of Cheri's "Desperate Housewives" shtick. You don't believe me? Type in "bland + wonkish" on Google and note the name that pops up. It ain't "Barack Obama."

Sadly, presidential politics abhors a charisma-free candidate with the face and mannerism of a small-town accountant. And it doesn't matter if you're qualified for the job. If you opt to go one-on-one with that captivating guy with the thousand-megawatt smile and the bin Laden scalp on his belt, odds are good that you're gonna get smoked. And that's assuming you can get past the crazies in your own party to win the GOP nomination, a long shot at best. In short, Mitch, don't do it, bro. Life's too short. Consider yourself duly warned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What lack of experience?

Andrew Sullivan posted a brilliant piece of analysis by one of his readers (from whom I quoted in the previous post). The take on Obama: "I wish people would realize that we have a President that was born in the USA, raised in Asia and multi-cultural Hawaii, and who lived in Harlem, and went to uppity Harvard and then spent a lot of time in African-American ‘hoods. Oh, and he’s driven up and down the rural highways of Illinois hundreds of times. Furthermore, much of his life was spent in obscurity so he had to live amongst us normal people paying back student loans. Even as a Senator he lived in a run down apartment in D.C. This is why I never worried about Obama’s lack of experience. All he’s had is experience. ... Have we ever had a President that has lived in this many American worlds and cultures and succeeded in all of them?"

Another inconvenient truth

"You are indeed right regarding Cornel West. He is a an articulate, well-read, pseudo-intellectual who plays the part of the black Yoda well, but is ironically very provincial. His world is literally black and white which limits his analytic powers and makes him ineffective as a true intellectual and impotent as a true force for change. ... Cornel West and Sarah Palin have a lot in common. They speak the language of a time gone by and really get very little of what is going on." (A Daily Dish reader)

Measure of the man

On Oct. 26, 1967, future Republican senator Rick Santorum was a 9-year-old kid busy playing "Cowboys & Indians" in rural Pennsylvania. On that same date, future Republican senator John McCain ejected from his burning A-4E Skyhawk over North Vietnam. Santorum spent the next five years becoming a popular teenager. McCain spent the same period being beaten and tortured as a POW. His interrogation became so severe at one point that McCain attempted suicide to escape further injury and pain. Finally broken in body (but not spirit), McCain finally "confessed" and gave his captors the names of the pilots in his squadron. Strangely, they were identical to names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line. Today, McCain is a US senator who recently condemned torture of any sort for any reason. Santorum is an ex-senator running for president who supports torturing America's wartime enemies. "I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative," Santorum said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show yesterday. Yes, Rick, they sure do. Ask McCain. He could have stopped there. But Santorum - who never served in the military or faced physical adversity - continued with this appalling declaration: "[John McCain] doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works." So, the man who can no longer raise his arms above his shoulders due in part to torture doesn't know how torture works. McCain's politics makes me nauseous. His manhood in captivity made me proud. Santorum's politics also makes me nauseous. But his manhood is nonexistent. In my book, that makes Santorum nauseating in his entirety.

A late but unanimous decision

"Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does... " (On this day in 1954, the United States Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.)

Terminator: Judgment Day 2

Oh, c'mon. Pardon me for not being shocked, shocked! Is it really shocking that Arnold Schwarznegger had an extramarital affair ten years ago given his reputation for scruple-free womanizing? Are we truly surprised that there is an unlimited supply of scruple-free women willing to fling themselves at married megalomaniacs like Ah-nold? Does anyone honestly believe Arnold has been a saint since he fathered a child with his housekeeper? (If so, I've got some lovely swampland to sell you.) Does anyone blame poor Maria Shriver (who friends say has been unhappy for years) for finally terminating the Terminator? For me, the only surprising thing about this sordid affair is that Maria didn't leave the "Austrian Oak" sooner.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I've tried mightily not to judge Callista Gingrich, Newt's third wife. I've suppressed the urge to laugh (with only partial sucess) at her frozen smile and deeply empty stare. I've resisted labeling her as the stereotypical trophy wife. I should have known that, like The Borg, resistance was futile. The media are reporting that in 2006 she and hubby were in debt to Tiffany's for over a quarter million dollars. Sorry, but it doesn't take much imagination to imagine Callista echoing Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in Breakfast at Tiffany's: "That's right. I'm just CRAZY about Tiffany's!" It won't matter if the bill was ultimately settled. It still adds up to a lot of very expensive bling for the spouse of a self-declared fiscal conservative. And no matter how Newt tries to spin this shocking revelation, Republican folk in Peoria will never understand. In other words, presidential candidate Gingrich is done. The only remaining question is how long it will take him to drop out of the 2012 race.

Race man

Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show, stand-up comedian): "My race is a part of who I am. In one sense, it's very easy to get mired in that. At the same time, the reality is if you look at me, you see a black person, so in that way race will always be there no matter what. It's like, 'Oh it's the black correspondent.' Well, no, I'm just a correspondent, but regardless of how I present it, people will always attach a racial element to it. But this is my story: A kid who's black, who grew up in Texas, who is of West Indian descent. There are very specific aspects of my experience that are not the 'black experience' and to me, that's what transcendent is."


“The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.” (Adlai E. Stevenson)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Good riddance

ALTHOUGH it was as predictable as this morning's sunrise, it's now official: Donald Trump will not be a GOP candidate for president. Though there was nary a chance he would become a serious contender (let alone win), let's face it: Trump's brief rise to political prominence was only possible thanks to the press and its insistence on keeping the Obama birther nonsense alive. In the end, the president played his own trump cards by releasing his long-form birth certificate (which shut off the story's oxygen), and deftly turning Trump into a laughingstock. But the fact remains that Trump debased our political discourse, embarrassed America with his attacks on Obama, insulted African Americans and (as Jonathan Capeheart noted) "played Republican primary voters for fools." And all of it, I'm sorry to say, was abetted by a ethically rudderless media. As for The Donald's political departure: Good riddance.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Romney's 'Al Gore' problem

Mitt Romney is taking a beating over his health care speech yesterday, even from Fox News. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Granted, Romney's political woes are largely self-inflicted. But, as Jon Chait explains, he's also getting Al-Gored. "An Al Gore problem is what happens when the media forms an impression of your character and decides to cram every irrelevant detail of your appearance and behavior into that frame, regardless of whether or not it means anything. Thus Romney's hair and lack of tie are now evidence of a character flaw, as is his decision to give a detailed policy lecture in a university town without being officially sponsored by a University. An Al Gore problem results in the media ganging up on a candidate like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he's doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Second-guessing the SEALs

YOU'VE just fought your way into a dark room in Abbottabad. The most wanted man on the planet is glowing green in the cross-hairs of your rifle scope. Though he is apparently unarmed, he makes no gestures of surrender. Is he wired with explosives beneath his pajamas? Is he about to trigger an unseen bomb that could level the house? And you have a nanosecond to make the kill decision. What would you do? I'd pull the trigger. Yet, some folks (albeit a minority) are still wringing their hands over the conjecture that Osama bin Laden was "unarmed" when the SEAL Team Six shooter took him out. Ergo, killing him was illegal or immoral. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers retires this argument rather neatly:
"What drives me crazy in the rush to proclaim bin Laden "un-armed" is that there is no way the SEALs could have known whether he was armed. Bin Laden said repeatedly that he would rather be killed than captured, and Al Qaeda loves suicide bombing, favoring explosive vests and other clothing. Bin Laden not having a gun in his hand did not prove that he was not armed: planners had to assume that either he, his room, or the entire building was rigged to explode and that bin Laden only needed to activate a switch. Unless he actively surrendered (in which case international rules of war would kick in), operators had to assume that he was about to blow them all up."
Hence, the quick "double tap." None of us were in that dark room. We'll never know the exact decision-making processes that led to bin Laden's killing. Yes, taking human life is almost always morally ambiguous. But in this case, I can live with that fact.

Politics & Parallels

"There’s an obvious parallel between weddings and politics: Everyone wants to get married, fewer want to be married; everyone wants to win an election, fewer want to govern." (Alexandra Petri, Washington Post, "The Shriver-Schwarzenegger separation")

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oh, dear ...

From Shit My Students Write: "The rebel and onion armies showed grose negligence by having many of their battles right inside national parks, like Gettysburg."

On 2012

"Keep in mind one other thing: Incumbents don’t really run against their own records. Incumbents run against an opponent’s ability to exploit the incumbent’s record." (Roger Simon, Politico, "Obama Becomes the ‘Moxie President'")

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why O'Reilly is an idiot

In September 2008, two months before the presidential election, Bill O'Reilly told Barack Obama: "You're not gonna invade Pakistan, Senator, if you're president. You're not gonna send ground troops in there. You know it." (Hat tip: Political Wire)

Reaping the whirlwind

President Obama on 60 Minutes:
"As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined." Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A most fitting end

New York Times: "The world’s most-wanted terrorist lived his last five years imprisoned behind the barbed wire and high walls of his home in Abbottabad, his days consumed by dark arts and domesticity." And then he got a double-tap to the head and chest for his trouble, courtesy of Uncle Sam. What's not to like?

Another inconvenient truth

"We are an America in need of Adderall. We have a hard time focusing on heady issues for long stretches. We prefer little candy-coated news nuggets to issues of substance — picking Chiclets over chowder every time." (Charles Blow, New York Times, "The Bin Laden Bounce")

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pawlenty: I support torture

TORTURE means inflicting severe pain, agony or anguish (physical or mental) to force information or confession. "Waterboarding" is an interrogation technique designed to cause the sensation of drowning (a captive is immobilized and water is poured over his or her face). It was used by the Gestapo as a form of torture during WWII. President Bush authorized waterboarding after 9/11 as part of a suite of enhanced interrogation techniques for use against captured terrorists. President Obama outlawed it in Jan. 2009 citing US law and the Geneva Convention (Common Law 3, which bans "cruel treatment" and torture of any kind). Two years ago, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that waterboarding not only damages the victim "but to our values more broadly." However, during a Republican presidential candidate debate yesterday, Pawlenty said: “I support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in limited circumstances." TPaw's pandering is pathetic. But his stated support for the use of torture is frightening. Is this really what the GOP has come to?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

History turns a page

"For all Americans born in this century, there will be nothing unique or strange or interesting about having a black president. It will be normal." (Anonymous reader, The Daily Beast)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How Obama plays Poker

"Obama is said to be a strong player in the tight-aggressive style, which means that he doesn't play a lot of hands or bluff much; but that when the potential return justifies the risk, he isn't scared to push all his chips in." Killing bin Laden is but the latest example. (Matthew Norman, The Independent)

Manufactured controversies

DO YOU know anyone who is unhappy that bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes in the Arabian Sea? Me neither. Put another way, do you know anyone who is in the throes of religious or moral angst for feeling joy over his death? Me neither. Do you know anyone who really has a problem with the slogan “Bin Laden: Dead or Alive but Preferably Dead?” Me neither. Do you know anyone who gives a damn that bin Laden wasn’t armed when SEAL Team Six took him out? Me neither. Do you know anyone who has sunk into a deep depression over the fact that some Americans chose to celebrate bin Laden’s demise by boisterously chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” in the streets Sunday night? Me neither. Though we don’t have photographic “proof,” do you know anyone who doesn’t believe bin Laden is dead? Me neither. So, why have much of the media latched onto these narratives as if there is controversy? Answer: They can’t help themselves.