Saturday, June 07, 2008

Not Ready for Prime Time: A Self-Critique

Well, I saw the tape of my appearance on KET the other night. And let's put it this way. I'm not ready for the media big time.

Or a lot of media contact in general.

Problem No. 1--Stammering. I go "uhh, uhh, uhh" a lot when I talk. One of the RSI stalkers said something about counting 40 of them during my hour on KET. It was probably more like 200 or 250 for the whole hour. The stammering sounded so bad to me on KET that I'm surprised that I have a lot of success in the classroom. It must be my charm.

Problem No. 2--The Eyes. The first thing that came across on KET, even before I started talking was my moving eyes. I can move my eyes without moving the rest of my body. I also look up in the air when I'm talking as though I were looking for words. I know I do that in class as well. But it definitely looks disconcerting on television.

One of the things I found interesting about Sen. Robert Stivers and Sen. Gerald Neal was that they were able to speak fluidly with a minimum of eye movement, relatively little in the way of hand motions, and few uhhs or othe hesitation sounds. Of course, talking so much to the media helps.

Problem No. 3--The Look. I don't look at myself in the mirror a lot--mostly for shaving, brushing my teeth, and the ten seconds I spend a day combing my hair. I don't like getting my picture taken either. So, it was disconcerting to see myself for an hour straight on television. I have an odd kind of look. It's still easy to see the little boy in me even though I'm well into my fifties. I often say that preachers and priests look like "little boys in old men's bodies." Mrs. RSI points out that I was saying that about myself as well.

Problem No. 4--The Message. Some of the things I said were pretty effective. I made a good point about the ability of African-Americans like Barack Obama to work across both black and white communities. I also had a good response to the questions of "black racism" by pointing out that Hillary was initially ahead of Obama with the African-American vote. But it would have been better if I had been more consistent in my contrariness. I gave into some of the cliches of racial politics more than I should have.

It's kind of interesting. That's the first time I have participated so extensively in the kind of cultural interaction that I normally criticize in my historical writing.

It was an interesting experience.

Live Blogging Hillary's Concession Speech

12:29, My daughter Miss Teen RSI and I have dueling computers set up so we can watch the speech on one computer while I can blog on the other. I'm SUCH a good dad. Hillary's half an hour late. I just got off the phone with my mom. She's still bitter about Hillary losing to Obama, but her reasons for hating Obama have switched from Obama being "black" and "blacks taking over everything" to Obama being arrogant. Seeing my mother's racism is one of the saddest things I've had to deal with in an extemely sad year, but it is interesting that her racism switched from "open racism" to "colorblind" racism. She even said that there weren't any racists in my home town of Waverly, NY. Yeah, right.

Mrs. RSI has been mopping the floor. I've got to get back to putting away clothes.

12:40, This Hillary speech is the most highly anticipated surrender since Appomattox, but the top Democrats are taking a relaxed approach. Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea didn't even leave their house until after noon and the speech is only going to be 20 minutes long. According to CNN, Obama's playing golf in the Chicago area. I don't know why the politicians are acting so cool, but I feel the tingle of momentousness myself and I'm not mocking Chris Matthews at all here.

I asked my daughter how it felt to be "Miss Teen RSI." She said she without a hint of sarcasm that she was "deeply honored."

12:46, Hillary's on-stage by herself in a pantsuit of her very own getting a "Standing O" from 1500 people. No Bill, No Chelsea, No Mark Penn--Hillary's the big dog in the Clinton camp now.

12:49, Hillary's giving thanks to her supporters, people like me who took their daughters to Hillary events. She got almost 18,000,000 votes. That's a lot of people to thank and she's taking her time with stories of young women and old women. My mom, 73, is one of the older women who supported Hillary to the end.

12:52, Not exactly a soaring speech, but Hillary doesn't do soaring. What she's saying is heartfelt and it does does connect. Now, Hillary's promising to stay on the front line. She hits the transition line exactly right--taking the energy of her campaign and her supporters and helping elect Barack Obama as the next president.

And there's her endorsement.

Lots of cheers, but there is an echo of booing from the crowd as well.

12:55, Now the testimony to Obama. The goal is to put the country on the right path and supporting Barack Obama is the way to do that.

I think she would do better to say that "Obama won and I lost" as part of her testimony. American politics has a strong monarchical streak. She needs to kiss his ring.

12:58, An interesting development--Hillary is giving gay rights the same status as civil rights and labor rights. That's the second time she's mentioned gay rights. That's a new and very welcome departure.

12:59, Now the reference to Bill. She's married to him, but I'm not. Bill was a big negative to her campaign because he's so stuck in the 90's.

1:01, Much of Hillary's argument is that the only way to make progress is to elect a Democrat and that she shares his optimism about America. I forgot whether "Yes, We Can" is Hillary's or Obama's slogan.

Now, it's elect Barack Obama for health care, fiscal responsibility, a strong middle class, energy independence, solving global warming.

She's ending every policy issue by saying "that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our President."

And the crowd seems to be turning as well. I don't think the Hillary camp has any reason to be bitter about the Obama campaign. A lot of Obama supporters on the internet blogs were viciously sexist, but none of that came out of the Obama camp itself. The Obama side didn't fight any harder for advantage than the Hillary people. It really is time to move on.

1:05, Getting beyond the 3:00am ad, Hillary emphasizes that Obama has answered the question of whether an African-American can serve as president and the answer is yet.

1:06, Moving to gender--wanting an America that "embraces the potential of every last one of us." She wants women to enjoy "equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal respect." That's great! I wish she had done more of this early in the campaign.

The speech is getting better as she goes along.

"Never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on"

1:10, Now Hillary's putting herself in the line of progress for women's rights and civil rights from Seneca Falls to the suffragettes to MLK. Too bad she didn't mention Betty Friedan. I would have liked to see Hillary do a better job of putting the two things together and emphasizing progress for African-Americans. But very few if any white politicians have any competence when it comes to race and Hillary is taking a shot at it. She deserves credit.

1:12, Emphasizing that she's not going to look back to the wouldas and couldas and that she's going to work her heart out to elect Barack Obama for president.

1:13, And now she's moving to the end. Is there one more soaring line in her acknowledgements of friends, family, and staff? Let's see. Yes, there is something that is interesting. She's emphasizing that our imperfect humanness means that we need each other and need to help each other. Now there's a difference between Hillary and the Republicans, especially the activists of the right. For people like Ann Coulter, our imperfect humanness means that we get plenty of opportunities to kick people when they're down.

1:17, In the final analysis, this speech has to rate as pretty good. I would have liked to see a more explicit concession but I'm also pretty sure that the crowd would have booed an explicit acknowledgement that Obama won and that the boos would have been the lead story in the media. So, I'm okay with a less explicit concession as well.

1:19, Having come from a political family in NYC, Mrs. RSI relentlessly "works the crowd" everywhere she goes. As a result, our family has a vested interest in seeing how Hillary works the crowd. You've got to give her credit. She's out there circulating, shaking hands, and talking with people. It must be tough when you lose like that.

There it is. Hillary's concession. Onto more housework.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Signs That the Party's Over

I remember Chris Gatling of the Cleveland Cavs commenting in 2000 that he liked George Bush because Bush "knew how to party" or something like that.

Well, it looks like the party's over with the economy.

It wasn't exactly Black Friday but the economy got a triple whammy of bad news. The unemployment rate was up half a point for May with the trend looking to continue. It also looks like the era of three dollar gas is over with gas going up almost ten dollars a barrel.

And finally, stocks were down 400 points.

True, that can be interpreted as froth. But things don't look good underneath the froth either. Consumer confidence is scraping bottom. The mortgage crisis is still there and living standards look to sink even further below the levels current when George Bush was elected president.

The Bush presidency is like Bush's life. It's a story of squandered inheritance. Bush inherited a strong economy, a well-ordered government, and a considerable amount of international prestige.

And he wasted it.

The Distance From Yesterday

A couple of interesting items on cultural and political distance from the left-wing journalist Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, were circulating yesterday.

First, there is the distance traveled in Democratic Party nominating Obama for President. In 1966, however, whites in and around Chicago switched to the Republican Party in opposition to the Open Housing Act and civil rights for African-Americans. From Pearlstein's point of view, white resentment over civil rights, urban riots, the anti-war movement, and the counter-culture would form the core of the "Nixonland" phenomenon that has dominated American politics up to the present. Whites were also literally up in arms about the prospect of African-Americans moving into their neighborhoods. They were killing black kids who strayed onto "their territory" and responded to MLK's march on Cicero with violence. Pearlstein reproduces several hate-filled letters from whites to Sen. Paul Douglas to make the point even more poignant.

Given that Obama emerged from Chicago to become the first African-American nominated for President by a major political party, Pearlstein emphasizes that the moral progress between 1966 and today is unbelievable. Despite the political domination of Republicans and conservatives at the highest levels, American society has made remarkable progress.

And he's right.

But that's not the whole story. Pearlstein uses the venemous right-wing response to Ted Kennedy's brain cancer to illustrate the enormous and potentially murderous tension between right and left in contemporary America.

Pearlstein sees the right as weakening because they're still complaining about Ted Kennedy, Vietnam, and (if you're Ann Coulter) the rejection of McCarthyism, and not coming up with any fresh grievances.

Here I believe that Pearlstein's mistaken. The right is currently weak for three reasons in descending order of important.

First, the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans proved to be incompetent and corrupt. This made conservative claims to the value of the traditional, anti-intellectual masculinity represented by George Bush and Dick Cheney seem almost comical in their absurdity.

Second, white suburbanites have embraced racial integration, gay rights, and secularism while rejecting the religious right in the most visceral way possible. The disgust of white, college-educated suburbanites with the conduct of the right-wing during the Terry Schiavo case and evolution controversies was almost palpable and is now being attached to right-wing rejection of global warming.

Third, most of the country has rejected both the Goldwater small-government conservatism of rejecting the New Deal and the Gingrich big-government conservatism of putting Social Security, health care, and public education on a "market" basis. Conservatism isn't "intellectually exhausted" so much as the right hasn't come up with new conservative concepts to replace failed ideas like privatizing social security that were being energetically promoted just three years ago.

But that doesn't mean that the right-wing has lost inspiration for its resentments. At the root of those resentments is the bitterness that white conservatives feel over being subject to negative moral judgments of liberals, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, and other groups. That bitterness is almost palpable in conservative blogs like Protein Wisdom but it permeates right-wing communication in general. Conservatives are in a box. They often view stigmatizing blacks, gay people, and Hispanics as a fundamental element in their freedom as Americans but hate being stigmatized themselves as racists, homophobes, and bigots with all their bitter hearts.

Of course, there are other sources for conservative resentment. But I would like to suggest that bitterness over the moral judgments attaching to conservatism is the most powerful continuing source of conservative resentment in American society.

And it will continue to be so.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Obama Starts Taking Charge

ANOTHER CONSERVATIVE BEHIND THE TIMES. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote in yesterday's New York Post that the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama because Democrats had "fallen in love."

IN the end, the Democrats fell in love.

At least, half of them did - and the party establishment, as represented by the superdelegates, wasn't going to deny them their inamorata.

That's just so 2007. In fact, Obamamania has been over ever since the Jeremiah Wright story broke. If Lowry had been following the Democratic primaries at all, he would know that Barack Obama won because he had a better plan for contesting the primaries, out-organized Hillary in the post-Feb. 5 caucuses and primaries , and then fought tooth and nail to preserve his advantage through the rest of the nomination battle.

If Obama wanted to win the nomination, he had to outbattle a real heavyweight in Hillary Clinton. And he did. Barack Obama inspired a lot of initial enthusiasm among his natural high-income, white demographic at first, but he is the Democratic nominee as a result of his strong public presence, great planning, heavy spending, and dogged determination.

Obama the Leader. Now that he's won the nomination, Barack Obama is showing his leadership ability by quickly confronting Joe Lieberman over Lieberman's aggressive advocacy of John McCain, campaigning in the Appalachian areas of Virginia where he's weakest, and speaking out to damp down vice-presidential speculation.

Obama also met with Hillary Clinton tonight.

Obama's not only the nominee, but he's also moving quickly to exercise his authority as the new leader of the Democratic Party.

Score me as impressed. Now, I just need to make my first campaign contribution of the general election.

The Ultimate Sting: Was Bush Scammed into Invading Iraq?

THE STING. One of the my pet theories about the Iraq War is that the Bush administration was the target of a massive swindle by Iraqi exiles like Ahmed Chalabi. Just like a lot of scam victims are romantics about money, Bush and Cheney mooned over remaking the Middle East from an American power base in Iraq and were eager to hear anything, anything that would justify their little invasion. So, the Iraqi exiles provided specious claims about Saddam and nuclear weapons, Saddam and mobile bio-terror labs, and Saddam and al-Qaeda. They also fed the Bush administration specious "assessments" about how American troops would be welcomed as liberators and how easy it would be to create democracy.

As is the case with all successful frauds, the Iraqi exiles got what they wanted and their targets got stuck with the bill.

MULTIPLE DECEPTIONS. Two new items about the Bush administration's conduct before the war emerged today.

First, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report claiming that the Bush administration knew that their justifications for the Iraq invasion were false at the time.

Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., said the administration's actions went far beyond simply being misled by bad intelligence.

"There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence," Rockefeller said in a statement. "But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate."

The argument of the Intelligence Committee was that Bush knew that his claims about Saddam Hussein in relation to 9-11, al-Qaeda, mobile bio-terror labs, and nuclear weapons were either rejected by American intelligence or not confirmed by American intelligence. For Jay Rockefeller, that means that the Bush administration was acting deceptively.

But that doesn't get at the depth of Bush's deception.

To ferret out exactly what the Bush administration was doing, the Intelligence Committee needed to ask itself where the Bush administration was getting their false or unverifiable information from. Were they making it up? Engaging in right-wing fantasizing (and there was plenty of that going on after 9-11)? Or was the Bush administration getting their information from specific sources like Iraqi exiles?

THREE MIGHT HAVES. I know this is speculative, but I'm going to try it anyway. The Bush administration might actually have given greater weight to the unverifiable claims of interested parties than it gave to American intelligence. Given that outside claims concerning the Iraqi government supported the Bush administration's objective of justifying an invasion, Bush might have favored those claims even though they knew that the claims were either unverifiable or false. In other words, the Bush administration might have been willing to be scammed itself in the service of deceiving the American public.

This is where the second item comes in. McClatchey News, which has done great reporting on Iraq since well before the invasion, has a story about how the Iranian government might have been involved in a scam to provide the Bush administration with false information.
Defense Department counterintelligence investigators suspected that Iranian exiles who provided dubious intelligence on Iraq and Iran to a small group of Pentagon officials might have "been used as agents of a foreign intelligence service ... to reach into and influence the highest levels of the U.S. government," a Senate Intelligence Committee report said Thursday. . . .

The revelation raises questions about whether Iran may have used a small cabal of officials in the Pentagon and in Vice President Dick Cheney's office to feed bogus intelligence on Iraq and Iran to senior policymakers in the Bush administration who were eager to oust the Iraqi dictator.
It appears that Iranian exile and notorious fabrication artist and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar was attempting to "penetrate" to the highest levels of American government to provide hostile (intelligence) claims about Iraq and promote a ridiculous scheme to overthrow the Iranian government. The McClatchey writer John Wolcott thinks that Ghorbanifar was actually a double agent working on behalf of the Iranian government trying to get the Bush administration to remove one of Iran's enemies by invading Iraq.

The upshot of Wolcott's article is that multiple parties in Iraq and Iran were targeting the Bush administration's prospective invasion of Iraq as the fulfillment of their own dreams and feeding the Bush people phony "raw intelligence" to bolster their case.

So where does that leave the Bush people. Bush, Cheney, and other top administration officials are well known to be arrogant and incompetent. They're liars and they're also war criminals.

Now it turns out that they were chumps as well.

Celtics in Seven

Right now, the Lakers are up by two in Game 1 of the NBA championship. I'm rooting for the Celtics--mostly because I've always liked Kevin Garnett.

I also think the Celtics are going to win in seven.

From my point of view, the Celtics look like a better team. The final isn't going to be about Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett. Bryant is the best player in the world, but he's not so much better than Paul Pierce that'll he'll be able to carry the Lakers all by himself. The same with Garnett in relation to Pau Gasol.

For the Celtics, it gets down to whether Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen are going to play winning basketball from the guard slots.

For the Laker, the x-factor is Lamar Odom.

The way I see it is that Rondo is going to be able to trigger Boston's offense in a way that more than offsets Odom.

That what makes it Boston.

Update. Boston won 98-88 and they did it by gaining a lot of little edges. Koby Bryant had an off night and only outscored Paul Pierce by 2. That was more than balanced off by Kevin Garnett outscoring Pau Gasol by 9 and Ray Allen getting 17. My key guy, Rajon Rondo, was . . . well, key. Turning the Big Three into a Big Four, Rondo had 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists with only 2 turnovers. Tubby probably could have made better use of him at UK.

The Concession Announcement from Hillary

I haven't looked at the news yet. But I did have this "personal" letter from Hillary Clinton in my e-mail this morning. It's official. She's going to announce her concession and kiss Obama's ring on Saturday. It's too bad, but that's the way it goes. All hail Barack Obama.

Here's the letter.

Dear Ric,

I wanted you to be one of the first to know: on Saturday, I will hold an event in Washington D.C. to thank everyone who has supported my campaign. Over the course of the last 16 months, I have been privileged and touched to witness the incredible dedication and sacrifice of so many people working for our campaign. Every minute you put into helping us win, every dollar you gave to keep up the fight meant more to me than I can ever possibly tell you.

On Saturday, I will extend my congratulations to Senator Obama and my support for his candidacy. This has been a long and hard-fought campaign, but as I have always said, my differences with Senator Obama are small compared to the differences we have with Senator McCain and the Republicans.

I have said throughout the campaign that I would strongly support Senator Obama if he were the Democratic Party's nominee, and I intend to deliver on that promise.

When I decided to run for president, I knew exactly why I was getting into this race: to work hard every day for the millions of Americans who need a voice in the White House.

I made you -- and everyone who supported me -- a promise: to stand up for our shared values and to never back down. I'm going to keep that promise today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life.

I will be speaking on Saturday about how together we can rally the party behind Senator Obama. The stakes are too high and the task before us too important to do otherwise.

I know as I continue my lifelong work for a stronger America and a better world, I will turn to you for the support, the strength, and the commitment that you have shown me in the past 16 months. And I will always keep faith with the issues and causes that are important to you.

In the past few days, you have shown that support once again with hundreds of thousands of messages to the campaign, and again, I am touched by your thoughtfulness and kindness.

I can never possibly express my gratitude, so let me say simply, thank you.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

McCain: A "But" President?

On Tuesday night, RSI had some fun with John McCain's disastrous New Orleans speech. But today is a time for some serious reflection on some of the disadvantages of a John McCain presidency.

The "But" President . . . . A John McCain presidency would be a "but" presidency. To win the election, McCain has to get a lot of voters to have thoughts like this. McCain has to get conservatives to say "I don't like McCain but I like Obama and the Democrats even less." For moderates, it would be "I don't agree with John McCain on anything, but I'm going to vote for him anyway." McCain has no constituency outside the the mainstream media, Arizona, and perhaps the military. Everybody else will be a "but" vote.

That means that a McCain administration would command no loyalty, draw on no reservoir of good will, and have no honeymoon. And he'll get tested early because of the war. Congress is going to have to vote to re-authorize funding for the war in Iraq and the Democrats are going to have bigger majorities in both the House and the Senate. If the Democratic leadership decides to push to end the war, they'll still have public opinion behind them. What's McCain going to do? If McCain wins the presidential election, he'll win despite his support for the war, not because of it. What's he going to do if spending bills arrive without authorization to spend more money on combat operations in Iraq. Bush was eager to shut down the whole government to get more money for the war. I have a hard time seeing McCain as being willing to go for broke like that?

Likewise, what happens when things get rough? When gas hits 5$, unemployment climbs over 6%, or the war in Iraq heads south again. Who is McCain going to count on for support? Republicans? That not only unlikely, but it's easy to see conservatives as trying to sabotage a McCain presidency unless he is willing to toe the conservative line. McCain won't do much better with the Democrats. If the McCain ship starts to sink, Chris Matthews will be the only person manning a lifeline.

THE EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL PULPIT. It was well known that McCain is a terrible public speaker even before he made his pitiful New Orleans speech on Tuesday. In this regard, McCain is the opposite of President Bush. Never being committed to disciplining himself before strangers, Bush has always been clumsy and tongue-tied at informal events. However, Bush has had effective moments in his set speeches. McCain can be extremely effective in informal settings but doesn't have the most elementary skills in formal settings.

But guess what? Presidents of the United States have to give a wide variety of speeches in formal settings both here and abroad. In fact, the "bully pulpit" is one of the most important ways for a president to get out his or her message. How can McCain be anything like an effective president if he makes all his speeches excruciatingly painful? Bush was an embarrassment to the whole country. Wouldn't McCain be even more so?

THE CONSTITUTION OR THE WAR. John McCain has flip-flopped on a lot of issues lately, including comprehensive immigration reform, taxes cuts for the wealth, torture, and talking with Hamas. But his most disturbing change of mind concerns presidential power. Last December, McCain answered a question about Bush's claim to have "inherit" powers that allowed him to override the law by saying that
I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.

However, during the on-going debate over warrantless wiretapping/telecom amnesty legislation, the McCain campaign has come out fully in support of the Bush administration approach.
neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Glenn Greenwald thinks that McCain has now adopted the right-wing's most extreme views on executive power.
In order to satisfy the right-wing extremists he now needs, McCain . . . is now spouting theories of the Omnipotent President virtually equivalent to those used by John Yoo, David Addington and Dick Cheney over the last seven years to impose radical changes in how our Government functions.

However, since the 2006 election, extremists on the right have become even more extreme about presidential power than Greenwald acknowledges. Right after the election, Newt Gingrich called for curtailing the First Amendment. Other prominent conservative spokesmen than began to pick up the theme after the Democratic leadership began moving to cut off funding for the war. Harvard University conservative Harvey Mansfield discussed the virtues of one-man rule in times of war while columnist Thomas Sowell wrote about military dictatorship as the only solution to American "decadence. " Likewise, former Reagan defense official and long-time neo-con think tank warrior Frank Gaffney spoke warmly about imprisoning anti-war members of Congress like Carl Levin of Michigan. For a lot of conservatives, commitment to the war in Iraq trumps their commitment to the American constitution and American political institutions. If democratically-elected institutions aren't willing to support the war, then they are willing to overturn the Bill of Rights, Congress, the Courts, and democracy in general.

This is an issue for John McCain as well. Does McCain follow this extremist line of conservative thinking or would he be willing to oversee an American military withdrawal from Iraq if an elected Congress refused funding or would he rather overthrow the Congress and establish one-man rule in the name of pressing on with the war. I know this question seems fanciful, but I believe that this is a problem that John McCain will face if he's elected president. There's going to be larger and more confident Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate next year. If Obama is not elected, the chances are good that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could make an early decision on whether to pull the plug on the war anyway. At that point, "President" McCain would have to decide which he's more loyal too, the War or the Constitution.

Obama on McCain's Favorite Table

"Pinball Wizard"

Even on my favorite table
He can beat my best
His disciples lead him in
And he just does the rest . . .

That deaf dumb and blind kind
Sure plays a mean pin ball.!!!!!

The Who

Barack Obama--pinball wizard?

In a way, the U. S. is going to see whether Barack Obama is so far ahead of John McCain as a presidential candidate that he can look better than McCain in McCain's best environment.

John McCain is a terrible public speaker, doesn't have huge amounts of money for campaign advertising, and is pretty clueless about organizing large scale political campaigns. But McCain does excels in townhall meetings. So McCain sought to minimize his disadvantages during the campaign by challenging Obama to hold a series of townhall meetings with him.

And Obama has at least provisionally accepted the challenge.

In townhall meetings, candidates usually take questions from the audience in a fairly informal atmosphere. The questions from the audience usually aren't that tough or pointed. But doing townhall meetings can still be difficult. Townhall audiences care a lot more about the substance of issues than the media. As a result, candidates have to be sure-footed on the issues in a way that they don't really have to be with the media.

Likewise, townhall audiences don't care about the things that obcess the media. They're not concerned so much about the horserace or electability. They also don't care about scoring "gotcha" questions like the Tim Russert query about licenses for illegal aliens that started Hillary Clinton's slide. In a certain way, this makes townhall meetings easier for candidates because they feel less of the obvious pressure generated by the media. But townhall audiences can also wrongfoot candidates who are used to fending off the standard media questions.

The main difficulty with townhall meetings for candidates is that members of the audience often frame their questions in terms intense personal feelings, tragic events, or genuinely insoluble problems. In this context, presidential candidates are expected to frame their answer in terms of three imperatives--demonstrating empathy for the questioner, providing a substantive answer, and manuevering for political advantage. Candidates need to do all of these things simultaneously and they need to make it look easy and sincere.

In other words, doing townhall meetings effectively requires a real gift for impromptu political theater.

That's why townhall meetings were Bill Clinton's natural environment. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton showed that he had a gift for projecting empathy through a television screen, was a master of policy detail, and was nimble on his feet. He looked great while George Bush I looked bored and detached while he was checking his watch.

John McCain has done his best in townhall environments during the Republican primaries has reason to believe that he could outshine Barack Obama in townhall settings because Obama hasn't exactly shined during debates.

But even on McCain's favorite table, Obama will probably beat his best. During the Republican primaries, McCain did townhall meetings that had three characteristics that will apply to his townhall meetings with Obama: 1. McCain was by himself and could therefore revel in the narcissism of the moment; 2. McCain was interacting with Republican audiences
3. McCain was getting questions about Republican issues.

That's not going to apply. During a townhall with Barack Obama, McCain isn't going to be the sole object of attention. Instead, he'll be at a disadvantage because he'll have to compete for attention with a formidable scene-stealer like Obama. The other thing is that McCain is going to be getting questions from Democrats and independents about health care, the economy, global warming and other issues that he's not particularly interested in. Unless McCain has a lot of new tricks up his sleeve, there's a good chance that his very stale version of the standard Republican applause lines isn't going to work very well.

Even on McCain's favorite table, Obama has to be a favorite to look better and that's probably why Obama was so eager to take McCain up on his challenge.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

McCain: Politics is Harder Than I Thought

Here's some video of John McCain's speech tonight in New Orleans. I'm not sure what's most painful about McCain's delivery. But there's a lot to choose from.

The whole speech is shot through with domestic policy lists in which McCain clearly has no interest.

His applause lines are flatter than four-month old Coke.

It's hard to find words to describe how the mechanical impression of McCain's arm movements and turns. Let's put it this way. His arm movements are not nearly as forced as his ghoulishly phony smile. Whatever you do, don't buy anything from this guy.

One snide characterization of George Bush I speech was "Memo: I care." With John McCain, it's more of a long-winded "Memo: I'd like to look like I care, but it's a lot harder than I thought."

Not exactly a winning message.


The big story today is that Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for the presidency and gave a great victory speech in St. Paul, MN.

Congratulations to the Obama campaign. Barack Obama has been an extremely attractive presidential candidate and he and his campaign organization have done a great job of playing on his personal appeal, plotting out a winning campaign strategy, and fencing attacks from Hillary Clinton and John McCain. As somebody who likes the rough and tumble of politics, I've been extremely impressed with Obama's ability as a political counter-puncher. Obama also did a great job of handling the Jeremiah Wright controversy. All of Obama's virtues as a speaker, thinker, and political performer were on display in his Philadelphia speech and he deserves a great deal of credit for dealing with Wright's comments head on like that.

It's a cliche that the Obama nomination is an historic event in the history of American society. But the historic character of the event is a cliche that I'm proud to repeat. Barack Obama is the first African-American to be nominated by a major party for the presidency. It's an enormous accomlishment for Obama as an individual. It's yet another major advance for African-Americans as a group and it's a major cultural accomplishment for white people as well.

As a white person who is often depressed by the racism of other white people, I want to focus on that thought for a second. Certainly, the Obama campaign is the first time that white people in the United States have really been ready for a big step in racial progress. Although African-Americans and their abolitionist supporters were ready for the end of slavery in 1863, neither Southern whites nor Northern whites were prepared to see the end of the slave system and neither were able to adjust. The same was the case with end of segregation during the 1970's and 1980's. Indeed, it pains me to say that I still don't think it's an exaggeration to say that tens of millions of white people are STILL not prepared to live gladly within a racially integrated society.

However, millions of white Americans were ready, willing, and eager to support Barack Obama's presidential campaign. That includes northern whites, southern whites, blue-state whites, red-state whites, liberals, moderates, independents, and a fair number of conservatives. Needless to say, the racist backlash has already begun. Nevertheless, Barack Obama's campaign has done a lot to make the United States the "one country" he says it is.

And that's a great thing.

McCain's Victoria Secret

Breaking news! Miss Teen RSI thinks that John McCain is wearing the same Victoria Secret "Bubble It Up" lip gloss that she wears. What do you think?

"The worst is death, and death will have his day"

This quote from Shakespeare's Richard II came to mind today as I was driving home from a visitation in Danville, KY for the infant son of one of the best of my former students.

It was tremendously sad. The poor little guy was born with a dwarfism condition that made it impossible for him to breathe on his own. Eventually, the parents agreed to take him off the ventilator to save him from further suffering and he died yesterday.

It all must have been tremendously painful.

As someone who survived a traumatic infant injury, I've always been impressed with the tenacity of life in all of its forms.

But yesterday, death did have his day.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Couple of Notes on KET

Not having been on a television interview show before, I was getting more and more nervous as Mrs. RSI and I were driving to Lexington.

But then I remembered that I couldn't possibly do worse than the interview show on politics I did just before the New Hampshire primary in 1992. Talk about blowing it. I blocked on Bill Clinton's name and then made a joke about how I had forgotten his name because he had no chance to win after the Gennifer Flowers fiasco.

Of course, it's not like my skills as a prognosticator have gotten any better.

Like everybody else, I had Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination and the battle with Barack Obama as helping the eventual winner shape up for the general election. To the contrary, it looks like Hillary might concede tomorrow and that the nomination fight has at least temporarily created more bitterness within the Democratic Party than it has between Dems and Republicans.

Moving on.

I had prepared for the show by reading in Obama's two books--Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Dreams of My Father is an excellent book about Obama's developing identity as an African-American and I would recommend it to anyone. I can't say the same about Audacity of Hope though. It's basically the Obama version of political boilerplate. If you want to find out what Obama's campaigning on, read Audacity of Hope or Obama's web site. If you want trenchant analysis of American politics and society from an African-American perspective, pick up a book by bell hooks or Patricia Williams.

But my preparation strategy was completely wrong. Most of the material the host of "Kentucky Tonight," Bill Goodman, wanted to discuss had been gathered in the last couple of days. In hindsight, that was no surprise. Given that we were discussing current affairs, it was natural that Goodman wanted to be really up to date. Ironically enough though, I wasn't as prepared as I would have been otherwise because I was so busy doing the wrong kind of preparing.

Still, I had a really good time with the show. I very much enjoyed the other panelists. Bill Goodman manuevered the discussion with genial skill. I'd met Saundra Ardrey of Western Kentucky University several times and knew already that she's a great person. Actually, Prof. Ardrey and I fenced around pretty well about the general election in the sitting room before the show. A view of the pervasiveness of white racism makes her a lot less optimistic about Obama's chances in the fall than I am and we both moved in and out of the rationales for our positions.

I also liked State Sen. Robert Stivers who got appropriately angry about Appalachian stereotyping and State Sen. Gerald Neal who seemed to be both very decent and very smart.

I think I did all right as well and was somewhat reassured that my 13 year old daughter thought I did ok as well. She's a tough critic.

Thinking back on the show, I believe nerves might have caught up to my by the end. As I remember, I was having a little more trouble holding my concentration on the last couple rounds of questions.

Next time I'll do better.

Ted Kennedy Joins Hole in the Head Club

RSI wishes Ted Kennedy well in his recovery from brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.

We also welcome Sen. Kennedy to the "Hole in the Head" club.

Generally speaking, brain surgery requires drilling through a person's skull. Given that the hole created by the drilling never heals, the brain surgery patient has a permanent hole in their head.

I know this might surprise some people, but I've had a hole in my head for almost 54 years. As a stripling of 7 months, I had brain surgery to remove two blood clots that had developed after a fall off a bed.

When my skull was x-rayed after a concussion more than 40 years later, it turned out that I still had the hole from the brain surgery.

Since then, it's practically been raining brain surgery in Morehead. First, it was Rosemary Johnson's husband Donnie getting brain surgery to correct some wiring problems in his blood vessels. In rapid succession, Jason Holcomb needed brain surgery after getting tangled up in a dog leash and falling EXACTLY the wrong way while another friend needed to have brain surgery for much the same reason as Teddy Kennedy.

So, the "Hole in the Head Club" was born.

Brain surgery is much more routine now than when RSI had his done in 1954. At that time, the curmudgeonly Dr. King practically bragged to my parents that ninety percent of his patients died.

Great bedside manner there.

And now Ted Kennedy's in the "Hole in the Head Club" as well.

Maybe I should send him a t-shirt.

Florida, Michigan, and the Bamboozled Democrats

Yesterday, the Rules and By-Laws Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) made decisions on Florida and Michigan which would not exactly have made Solomon proud.

DECISON ONE-FLORIDA. The Rules Committee decided to let the Florida results stand but only give the Florida delegates half a vote. Given that Hillary won Florida's outlaw Democratic primary, she would have received 38 more delegates than Obama if all the delegates had received their full votes. But Hillary's representatives caved and eventually agreed to the Solomonic decision to split the Florida vote in half.

The Democrats were bamboozled every step of the way in Florida. The Republican legislature and governor in Florida moved the Florida primary into January specifically in order to mess up the Democratic primary calendar.

And they succeeded.

First, the Dems made everybody in Florida angry by forbidding the candidates to campaign and nullifying the results of the primary. Then, they spent five months weaseling around the issue, and finally came up with an unsatisfactory compromise.

And I can't understand why the Hillary people caved here either. Her and Obama were both on the ballot even though they didn't campaign. Hillary won handily in January and still would have won handily today. She should have gotten the full share of convention votes for her victory.

DECISION TWO--MICHIGAN. Instead, the Hillary people decided to take a stand in relation to Michigan. Why, I'm not sure. The Michigan Democratic Party originally screwed up the Democrats by insisting on holding a primary in January after they had already agreed to a Feb. 5 primary. When the DNC retaliated by ordering the candidates not to campaign in Michigan, Obama and Edwards also took their name off the ballot while Hillary left hers. As a result, Hillary got 55% of the vote and Obama got nothing.

At least officially.

What the Hillary people wanted was the full delegation seated and for her to get 55% and Obama nothing. But back to the real world. In fact, Obama would have gotten a high percentage of the vote in Michigan. In fact, Obama's people campaigned to get Michigan Democrats to vote "uncommitted" if they wanted Obama and 40% of the Michigan vote went to "uncommitted." In relation to Michigan, Hillary's people seem to be bamboozling themselves as much as the Michigan Democrats. The best decision probably would have been to give Hillary about 10 more delegates than Obama. That's what the Michigan Democrats proposed. But the DNC only gave Michigan delegates half a vote. So, she only got five.

I'll admit that Hillary has half a beef with the Michigan decision, but getting all of the Michigan delegates would have been grossly unfair to Obama. Ultimately, the DNC decision was closer to fairness than what Hillary wanted.

THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM. The problem right now is with all the Hillary supporters who were so energetically protesting the DNC decisions. Where the Obama campaign had all the energy through Feb., Obama seemed to lose steam as a result of the Jeremiah Wright, bitter white people, and Michael Pfleger controversies. More of the mojo now seems to be with the Hillary campaign and Hillary partisans have all the passion that the Obama people had six months ago.

But it's too late for Hillary. Obama built up an early lead in the caucus states when the Hillary people didn't have their eye on the ball. Likewise, Obama did well enough on Super Tuesday to maintain his lead and was then able to beat Hillary decisively in North Carolina when he really had to. That makes Obama the winner and Hillary still behind at the end of the day. That's fine with me.

The Democratic partisan in me is quite willing to support Obama. But the political analyst in me finally sees where the Obama/Hillary split is going to cause trouble because the unsatisfactory DNC decision is very likely to be the prelude to a very unsatisfactory VP decision. If Obama nominates Hillary, a lot of Obama supporters are going to be very unhappy. If Obama nominates anybody except Hillary, a lot of Hillary supporters are going to be very unhappy. Nobody's going to be satisfied.