Saturday, June 14, 2008

Interesting Video on Creativity

The Atlantic has some interesting video from David Lynch on creativity.

Obama Gets Out of the Wimp Box

One of the interesting little questions about the presidential election is how difficult it's going to be for Barack Obama to get away from stereotypical expectations concerning Democratic presidential candidates.

To put the matter succinctly, Democratic candidates are expected to be kind of wimpy.

The Republicans are expected to be the tough-guy party of barrel-chested guys, big macho gestures, invading small foreign countries, vicious smear campaigns, and exuberant lying. Americans expect the Republicans to be arrogant, vicious, and dishonest.

Expectatations for the GOP smear campaign against the Democratic nominee for president have been building for at least two years. And people will be disappointed if the Republicans don't deliver. It's almost as if voters now want the Republicans to be the party of taboo-breaking nastiness and expect them to play that role.

To the contrary, the Democrats are expected to be the good-guy party--the party that acts reasonably, follows the rules, cares about diversity, shows good will toward everyone, and works for "peace, justice and the American way."

And that's what Barack Obama is supposed to be.

And Obama knows it.

At the beginning of the Democratic primaries, he was extremely effective at painting himself as the really "good" guy. It was Obama who was eloquent, inspirational, reaching out across all the lines that divide American society while Hillary was tainted by the "baggage" of the 90's.

Did Hillary get that baggage by engaging in the same kind of attack-dog partisanship as DeLay and Gingrich.


She got it by defending the Clinton administration, affirmative action, and abortion rights against the extremely aggressive partisanship of the Republicans.

But now it's Obama's turn to try breaking out of the Democratic "good guy," wimp box.

Today at a fund-raiser in my favorite city of Philadelphia, Obama vowed not to back down from the Republican smear machine:

"If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun," Obama said at a fundraiser in Philadelphia Friday, according to pool reports.

"We don't have a choice but to win," Obama said, joking that he has heard "folks in Philly like a good brawl. I've seen Eagles games."

What's interesting about this comment is that the "knife/gun" dichotomy has gang connotations that go all the way back to the "West Side Story" days of the forties and fifties. Where the Republicans employ military analogies and refer to theorists like Von Klausewitz and Sun Tzu, Obama is flashing a little street aggression that's mostly associated with black and hispanics. Even though there are millions of white brawlers out there (like my dad come to think of it), Obama is posing his willingness to fight in a particularly "black" mode.

We'll see how it plays. Obama is committed to the politics of reaching out, but he's also shown that he's a tough counter-puncher when other people attack.

The question is whether the media and the electorate will accept that from a Democrat.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Too Bad About Tim Russert, but . . .

We at RSI would like to extend our sympathies to Tim Russert's family, friends, and co-workers. The sudden death of a loved one is an extremely hard thing.

But I wonder if Tim Russert really was quite the titan of American politics and society that the instant eulogies say, or if his death really is 'A Loss for the Entire Nation' as claimed by the MSNBC headline.

Obviously, Tim Russert was a leading figure in the mainstream news media and I understand the shock and grief among his media friends and co-workers.

But there is also broad agreement that the news media is an unsatisfactory institution in a state of permanent decline.

And in many ways, Tim Russert embodied the worst features of the contemporary media and there's a long list of worst features. Russert was a big part of the whole media coziness with political elites, relentless focus on process and horserace stories, and obsession with celebrity over the substance of political issues.

Russert had a reputation as a tough interviewer, but his whole technique was to spring little gotcha questions on the people he interviewed. What did any of those interrogations accomplish anyway?

Certainly, the Bush administration thought that Russert was easily gamed.

Likewise, Russert was NBC's lead political analyst, but I can't remember reading of him ever saying anything that was very thought-provoking, memorable, or significant. If anything Russert seemed to embrace the least thought-provoking of the conventional wisdom.

Because Tim Russert managed to become a celebrity himself, he came to embody television news media as a whole.

But was serving as a living embodiment of television news such a great thing?

A Card for My Abusive Father

Today, I once again had to address the annual problem of how to deal with my father in relation to Father's Day. What makes it a difficult issue is that he spent my formative years terrorizing, beating, and abusing me.

Not to mention that he did the same thing to my seven younger brothers and sisters.

Or that he brutalized my mother.

Ultimately, my sense of being abused was strong enough that I decided to change my name rather than have my children grow up with my father's name.

Thus was born the Caric family.

Likewise, even though I''ve spent a lot of time in therapy dealing with the consequences of my abusive childhood, I still have symptoms that are best described as PTS--Post-Traumatic Stress.

Yet, the majority of the abuse was also long ago and I haven't received any abusive letters in more than fifteen years. True, I still have psychological symptoms, but I feel a lot less psychological pressure than I used to.

Plus, it's been a long time since I had nightmares of him torturing me.

The abuse of the rest of my family is also long past. My parents have been divorced for twenty years and have almost nothing to do with each other now. Only one of my other brothers and sisters has any contact with him. So there's nothing on that front either.

And now that I'm in my fifties, I find that I have some affection for him and have bought him Father's Day cards and Christmas cards for the last three years or so.

But what kind of card to get?

Most Father's Day cards have a lot of gooey sentimentality about how the son or daughter loves their father, everything their father taught them, all the wisdom their father has, and how much they owe their father.

I'm not going to send anything like that. I know the extent to which most of these kinds of sentiments are fake or rooted in wishful thinking. But I'm a million miles from even being able to fake such a huge lie.

What's more, looking through the sentimental cards was annoying because it was beginning to remind me of the atmosphere of lovelessness that my father actually enforced while I was growing up.

What I was looking for was something that said "Hi Dad--Happy Father's Day. I'm thinking of you" without saying anything about exactly what kind of father he'd been.

And I found it--the perfect card for someone who I want to acknowledge as my father without getting into too much reality about what his being my father means. I think the card even said "Thinking of You."

Now I'm thinking of giving him a call too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Talk Radio, Fairness, and the Common Good

One of the moderate paranoias of the conservative movement is that a Democratic Congress will restore "the Fairness Doctrine" in relation to conservative talk radio.

And I'm actually sympathetic to them on this issue.

So what's the Fairness Doctrine?
The policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission that became known as the "Fairness Doctrine" is an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. The FCC took the view, in 1949, that station licensees were "public trustees," and as such had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. The Commission later held that stations were also obligated to actively seek out issues of importance to their community and air programming that addressed those issues.
The fairness doctine was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1969 but was abandoned during the deregulation frenzy of the Reagan years. Talk radio hosts like Laura Ingraham and Tammy Bruce have been panicking for years about the idea of Democrats re-establishing the Fairness Doctrine. Given that non-stop advocacy of right-wing positions is the raison de etre of conservative talk radio, enforcing the Fairness Doctrine would mean the end of talk radio as it's currently known. Dick Durbin, John Kerry, and a few other Democrats have talked about reviving the doctrine, but the initiative right now is with conservative attempts to pass legislation to ban the Fairness Doctrine altogether. According to

Several high-profile conservatives gathered on Capitol Hill to rally support for the Broadcaster Freedom Act, a measure to block the government from any future
attempts to chill political speech on the airwaves.

Specifically, the legislation would kill the Fairness Doctrine, an old Federal Communications Commission policy to require broadcasters must provide equal time to both sides of a debate. Although abolished in 1987, several congressional Democrats have recently expressed interest in renewing the Fairness Doctrine.

It's important to emphasize that I see no real point in conservative initiatives to ban the Fairness Doctrine. Given that the Fairness Doctrine has not been a policy of the FCC for twenty years, there is nothing to ban. There is no FCC monitoring, no mechanism to file complaints about "unfairness" and no mechanism to enforce "fairness." The right seems to be worried about Congressional efforts to override the FCC and the Courts. But a more liberal Congress could also act to override the act that conservatives are now trying to pass.

But I'm also sympathetic to the position of the right on the substance of the Fairness Doctrine.

The bottom line from my point of view is the rise of the right-wing media has been good for the country. Before the late 1970's, there was relative little outlet for popular conservatism in the national media which meant that the right-wing was left to stew on its own as a set of discourses and opinions that was "split-off" from the rest of American society.

This was a dangerous thing.

The United States has a relatively large conservative population for an advanced industrial country and the nation wasn't going to progress as long as people of right-wing disposition were left alone with their military fantasies, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and religious fundamentalism.

What talk-radio accomplished was to bring the right-wing into the mainstream. This meant that the right-wing was able to generate more pressure to push the Republican Party in a more conservative direction, develop more aggressive military policies, seek to dismantle social security and Medicare, fight environmental legislation, and restrict abortion rights.

But that's democracy and people on the right are exercising a much citizenship now than they were in the 60's and 70's.

And that's a good thing because the public emergence of the right-wing has meant that conservative views are now subject to contestation. When broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh come out with racist material like "Barack the Magic Negro," they've been subject to a great deal of examination and criticism from the left. More specifically, they've been forced to debate the relative merit of their racial and homophobic stereotyes and innuendo and ultimately to temper themselves, backtrack, and occasionally apologize. Despite their worst intentions, the right-wing media has responded to broader social intolerance of racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. by acknowledging the illegitimacy of these kinds of social bigotries.

This is not to say that the right isn't still racist, misogynist, and homophobic. But the fact that people like Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, the gang at Protein Wisdom, and others have had to testify to the appropriateness of civil rights ideals, deny and equivocate their social bigotries, and come up with non-bigoted rationales for conservative social initiatives has had a significant effect in bringing conservatives and conservative-leaning people into the American mainstream.

In other words, one of the "unintended consequences" of conservative talk radio has been their contribution to the liberalizing of American society.

Consequently, the Democrats should give up any effort to re-establish the Fairness Doctrine. The rise of conservative talk radio has ultimately been a real benefit to American society.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obama v McCain: A Five-Month Chokathon?

A REAL CHOKATHON? Another day, another round of misstatements, gaffes, blunders, confusion, and tongue-tied responses from the two wobbly presidential candidates. The "Q School" tournament to qualify for the PGA tour is often described as an "annual chokathon" of double bogies and last-second collapses. It's starting to look the general election campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain is going to be five-months of political choking as the candidates blunder from one embarrassing moment to another.

Today, John McCain takes the cake for another unbelievably stupid and self-defeating remark about Iraq. As everybody who pays attention to the news knows, McCain answered a Matt Lauer softball about when the troops were coming home by saying:

[Lauer] "If it's working Senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?"

McCain replied: "No, but that's not too important. What's important is the casualties in Iraq, Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine. American casualties and the ability to withdraw; we will be able to withdraw. General [David] Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are.

As TPM points out, McCain's actual opinion is that the United States needs to keep 100,000 plus troops in Iraq indefinitely to prop up the Iraqi government and intimidate Iran and other Islamic nations in the Middle East.

But McCain is still being monumentally stupid. McCain needs to convince voters to support him even though they disagree with him about the war. But he's acting as though he doesn't know that 2/3rds of the American public wants to bring the troops home within a year. More importantly, he's acting as though he doesn't care in a year when "Republicans Not Caring" isn't going to sell.

But it's not like Barack Obama's doing hugely better. Appointing a Democratic fixer like Jim Johnson to vet VP candidates was a bad idea even before it was compounded by the face that Johnson got shady loans from Countrywide Financial Corporation. That mini-scandal was itself compounded by Obama's halting and petulant reply to ABC News.
"Well, no," Obama said. "It becomes sort of a, um, I mean, this is a game that can be played - everybody, you know, who is tangentially related to our campaign, I think, is going to have a whole host of relationships -- I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters. I mean, at some point, you know, we just asked people to do their assignments . . .

"So this – you know, these aren’t folks who are working for me," Obama said. "They're not people you know who I have assigned to a job in a future administration and, you know, ultimately my assumption is that, you know, this is a discreet task that they're going to performing for me over the next two months."
And ABC was gracious enough to put every "um" and "you know" into the transcript.

There's also some YouTube video of Obama stumbling over some numbers at a townhall meeting in Bristol, VA.

WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN? As if to illustrate the dictum that life is not fair, the gaffes and blunders are a serious problem for John McCain but might not be a problem at all for Obama.

Why is that?

Obama is riding the wave of public opinion on most issues, he's an appealing figure, and it looks like he's getting the benefit of the doubt from most voters.

The right accuses him of being a hypocrite when he appoints a fixer like Jim Johnson, but the right also wants to portray Obama as a radical and appointing Jim Johnson makes Obama look anything but radical.

Jim Johnson's a wash.

And so what if Obama gets tongue tied occasionally. Obama's reputation for being smart and eloquent is so well established that the stumbles might make him look more human. Maybe Gore should have stumbled on his numbers every once in a while as well.

MCCAIN'S HILLARY/RUDY MASK. But John McCain is stuck in a no man's land between the Hillary and Rudy problems. Because McCain's is trying to buck public opinion on big issues like the war, his age, and his reputation for being temperamental, he's not getting the benefit of the doubt.

As was the case with Hillary and license plates for illegal immigrants, every one of McCain's gaffes and mistatements stick to him because they reinforce the impression that McCain is out of sync with the public.

But it's worse with McCain than it was with Hillary. There's a real danger with McCain that one of his dumb statements is going to be seen as so inept and ridiculous by the public that big chunks of voters just dismiss him out of hand. That's what happened to Rudy. The steady drip of revelations concerning Rudy's arrogance, weirdness, and association with Bernie Kerik didn't cut much into his support originally. But the revelations did create a situation where the public could decisively turn on Giuliani and they did when it was revealed that New York cops were supplying security for his mistress.

That's what McCain's getting into now. His misstatements about Iraq, Iran, and Putin being the president of Germany are eating away at his credibility to such an extent that the next embarrassment might finish his reputation off for good.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dennis Prager's Identification of Freedom with Bigotry

"The Way We Were"

Like the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were . . .
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? could we?

Against Nostalgia. I'm not a big fan of nostalgia. Having grown up in an abusive household, I don't have a lot of warm memories of my childhood and I can't remember which I wanted to leave more--my family, my hometown, or my adolescence. I can't stand to hear nostalgia about the fifties and I'm not that positive on warm tales about how good things were in the sixties either.

And then there's the fact that the movie "The Way We Were" pretty much cost me my first marriage. Actually, things were going that well for my first wife and I when we were in London anyway. But "The Way We Were" made it much worse. My first wife was extremely eager to see "The Way We Were" because she saw the movie as combining the all-encompassing sentimentality she craved with the radical politics to which we were both committed.

So, the movie was a big event in the hostel where we were staying while working on our dissertations.

But the movie was so ridiculously bad that the whole crowd roared with derisive laughter from absurd beginning to extremely forgettable end.

Except my wife who blamed it all on me. And what I can I say. It was horribly bad and I laughed my fool head off and it drove another wedge between us.

Getting to the Point. The conservative columnist and radio host Dennis Prager reminded me of my distaste for nostalgia today by writing about how "When I was a boy, America was a better place."

Prager was born six years before me in 1948 and would have graduated from high school in 1964 or so. Given that the culture of the fifties really extended into the early sixties, Prager is pretty much a child of the fifties.

And what he's mostly nostalgic about is a time when people could enjoy harassing women, African-Americans, gay people, Jews, Hispanics, and other groups without feeling guilty or fearing consequences.

From Prager's point of view, the freedom of bigots is freedom per se.

Think I'm kidding. Consider this from the beginning of Prager's column:
When I was a boy, America was a freer society than it is today. If Americans had been told the extent and number of laws that would govern their speech and behavior within one generation, they would have been certain that they were being told about some dictatorship, not the Land of the Free. Today, people at work, to cite but one example, are far less free to speak naturally. Every word, gesture and look, even one's illustrated calendar, is now monitored lest a fellow employee feel offended and bring charges of sexual harassment or creating a "hostile work environment" or being racially, religiously or ethnically insensitive, or insensitive to another's sexual orientation.

What's especially weird about this is that Prager was a boy at the height of McCarthyism when the political proscription of everyone on the left was the order of the day.

But let's follow Prager's line of thought. He claims that America was a freer society during the fifties than it is today because of all the "laws" governing "speech and behavior." The laws to which Prager refers are the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the various anti-discrimination statutes passed by local and state governments. Prager isn't very precise here, but he believes at the very least that a significant part of freedom is the liberty to make deprecating comments about another person's gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity. He seems nostalgic for a time when nobody really seemed to mind "catcalls" to women, forcing blacks to respond to racial stereotypes, or using the n-word or various pejorative terms for blacks, Jews, women, and gay people. From Prager's point of view, the people who engaged in that kind of discourse were speaking "naturally" (perhaps out of a "natural" sense of group loyalty) and their ability to do so meant that they were "free."

I'll give Prager credit for thinking that the racial discrimination of the segregation was wrong.
"With the important exception of racial discrimination -- which was already dying a natural death when I was young -- it is difficult to come up with an important area in which America is significantly better than when I was a boy."

But I'm not sure why he would.

What ties together all of the pejorative talk that Praeger identifies with freedom is the treatment of the target as less than a human being. All the pejoratives mentioned above mark black people gays, Jews, Hispanics, and gay people as having traits of ignorance, stupidity, filthiness, disease or as engaging in immoral or abominable conduct that puts them as outside the circle of humanity. Because the pejoratives mark target groups like African-Americans or women as less than human, they also indicate that these groups don't deserve rights even if they have some or all of those rights and can be legitimately treated as though they're less than human. Or less than free beings.

For Praeger then, a large part of freedom is the ability to treat other people as though they're less than free and his idea of a dictatorship is a society in which he can't use the n-word.

This is where Praeger is horribly mistaken in two readily identifiable ways.

Most importantly, free beings are expected to be willing able to defend their freedom. Therefore, it is no surprise that blacks, women, gay people, Jews, and Hispanics are willing to defend their human dignity against pejorative speech and actions. In fact, they wouldn't deserve their freedoms is they weren't willing to protect them.

At the same time, Western philosophers since John Locke have identified the ability to recognize other humans as free beings as an integral part of human freedom. For Locke, criminals and tyrants are not fully human because they do not have the rationality and the self-control needed to treat other people as beings with rights to their personal freedom and their estates. In this sense, American society can be seen as making significant progress because bigots have been forced to at least publicly treat traditionally stigmatized groups as human beings.

Too bad that Praeger and a lot of other conservatives are incapable of recognizing this.

The NBA: Fixed?

Oops! The big news out of the NBA today isn't game three of the Boston/LA series, it's whether NBA officials are trying to fix the series.

Corrupt former referee Tim Donaghy just came out with two accusations that get at the integrity of the NBA game.

According to Donaghy, undisclosed persons in NBA league management have worked through referees to manipulate the outcome of a 2002 playoff series between LA and Sacramento.

Court documents filed by Donaghy's lawyer detailed the "inner-workings" of a plot in which top league executives used referees to manipulate the games. Donaghy claims two referees were "company men" whose job was to extend a playoff series in 2002 to a seventh game.

The documents did not name the series, but the Lakers-Kings Western Conference finals was the only series in 2002 that went to a seventh game, with the Lakers winning both Game 6 and 7 to reach the NBA Finals.

There's a somewhat analogous accusation that appears to be connected to a Dallas/Houston series.

Donaghy also claims that a 2005 playoff series was improperly influenced, saying that referees were instructed to call illegal screens more strictly on a particular player after an opposing owner called to complain after falling behind 2-0 in the series.

Though the document again does not name anyone specifically, Mark Cuban did complain to the league that year about the officiating after his Mavericks fell behind 2-0 in their series with Houston. Dallas went on to beat the Rockets in seven games.

Given Donaghy's convictions for gambling on games and all around sliminess, it's hard to just take his word for anything.

But so many calls in college and professional basketball are just so obviously bad that any reasonable person would have to wonder if the refs are under instructions to rig the game.

Maybe the game is dirty.

Monday, June 09, 2008

McCain's Imperial Stupidity and Dumbo Boneheadedness. Plus, Is McCain Going to Nominate Karl Rove for Vice-President!?

John McCain's presidential campaign is starting to remind me of the George McGovern campaign in 1972.

In other words, McCain can't do anything right and can't catch a break.

Today's litany of gaffes and brain-dead manuevers includes referring to Vladimir Putin as the president of Germany and refusing to meet with Billy Graham.

I've seen blog comments about McCain being senile in getting Putin wrong right after goofing the al-Qaeda/Iran relation. That's nonsense and bigoted to boot. Sure McCain's 71 and kind of an old 71 because he's a physical wreck. But he was the sharpest guy in the room during the Republican debates. If McCain's senile, so are Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and hard-working Fred Thompson.

McCain's problem is more like "imperial stupidity"--not worrying about getting anything right because you think you rule the world.

It's been a common difficulty among neo-conservatives since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Blowing off Billy Graham is even worse. Billy Graham is exactly what McCain needs in an evangelical religious contact, someone who is both universally beloved and blandly generic in his religion and politics. Hell, I've even come to like Billy Graham. Compared to other evangelical religious leaders he's a tower of humanity, modesty, and decency.

Meeting with Billy Graham was exactly the kind of religious photo-op that McCain needs for his campaign. McCain's people should have jumped at the offer from Rev. Brian Jacobs to broker that kind of meeting. Instead, they basically sent Jacobs a form letter.

And then McCain's campaign topped off the disaster by lying about the whole. McCain's spokesperson claimed that the McCain campaign was trying to arrange a meeting with Billy Graham through the offices of Graham's son and evangelical heir Rev. Franklin Graham.

That would be a good story except that both Franklin Graham and Billy Graham deny that they've had any contact with the McCain campaign.

. . . Jacobs had also been in contact with senior members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, including persons close to Franklin Graham, and was told they had heard nothing from the McCain campaign about a possible meeting.

On Monday, Larry Ross, a spokesman for Graham, issued a statement to the press confirming that Billy Graham was unaware of any communication between the McCain campaign and his office or his son's.

Lying about Franklin and Billy Graham is just egregiously stupid. Who are people going to believe when the conflicting stories come to the surface--super-prestigious religious figures like the Grahams or the McCain campaign?

But if McCain really wants to make his campaign a rerun of McGovern 1972, he has to nominate a particularly inappropriate vice-presidential candidate. How about Karl Rove? Rove's arrogance and bluster are exactly the qualities that you don't want to see in a VP. Likewise, he's almost as unpopular with Republicans as he is with Democrats and there's still a decent chance that Rove will end up in jail as a result of the various scandals with which he's associated.

If McCain was a real maverick, he'd nominate Big Karl.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bay Buchanan Partly Nails It

While on KET last Monday, I argued that the presidential election is going to be about Barack Obama rather than John McCain.

Arch-conservative Bay Buchanan forcefully makes the same point.
In reality there is only one candidate. Barack Obama. In November he will win or he will lose. John McCain is relevant only in so far as he is not Barack Obama. The Senator from Arizona is incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls, and has a personality that is best kept under wraps.

Monday Update: Actually, I'd have to say that there are two ways that John McCain can make the campaign about him. First, he can pull various kinds of stunts like his trip to Baghdad, gas tax, and townhall proposals that have the potential to make him look clever. Second, McCain can make himself a negative spectacle by giving extremely poor speeches like his New Orleans speech last Tuesday, and committing little faux pas like refusing to meet with Billy Graham. Otherwise it's about Obama.

Is a Cranky McCain Suitable for the Presidency?

It sounds like John McCain isn't so happy about entering the "tunnel of unlove" of what's going to be an extremely tough 2008 election campaign. Jonathan Martin of the Politico has a story on how unhappy the McCain camp is getting over media coverage at the beginning of the general election campaign.
. . . [McCain's] campaign has spent the last several months finding ways to insert itself into a press narrative that’s been dominated by the just-ended Democratic fight. To that end, they picked up and extended the media-guilting campaign begun by Hillary Clinton and "Saturday Night Live" and sharpened their critique of Obama.

But in doing so, they’ve already raised the question of whether McCain can maintain his upbeat warrior image while running an uphill race against an opponent for whom the candidate can barely conceal his contempt, and covered by a press the campaign sees as biased.

The cranky edge in McCain's media demeanor can be seen in McCain's responses to questions about Obama in a Newsweek interview that's come up online. Concerning Obama's comments that he honored McCain's accomplishments even if McCain didn't honor his, McCain ended a long response by expressing resentment over Obama's treatment of him.

I think it's important to point these things out, and I will. And I don't believe it's disrespectful to do so. I think it's part of the evaluation process that the American people are doing.

By the way, do you think it's disrespectful for him to have distorted my comment about being in Iraq for a hundred years? Every objective organization in America said that's a false characterization of my remarks in the context of what's necessary to stop the casualties and have a victory, rather than saying we are going to be in a war for a hundred years. I have given other speeches saying we are going to win this
war, and we are winning it now, and he refuses to acknowledge that.

McCain could have stopped by arguing that he wasn't being disrespectful of Obama, but he just couldn't help express resentment over the pummeling he took for his "100 years in Iraq" remark. An underlying problem for McCain here is that the Newsweek interviewers were asking him a number of questions about his opinion of Obama. As spoiled as McCain has been by all the positive media attention he's received over the last ten years, it seemed like he was annoyed that the spotlight is now so much on Obama. Perhaps some of McCain's resentment is that "messiah" seems to outrank "maverick" with the media.

It isn't going to get any easier for McCain either.

Yesterday, the Mail had an online story about John McCain's first wife. Carol McCain was seriously injured by a car accident while McCain was a prisoner of war in Hanoi and ultimately needed 20 surgeries to address the problem. She was also permanently disfigured and it didn't take John McCain long to start sleeping around after he got back.

Ultimately, he traded up for his second wife Cindy.

In a lot of ways, I don't think the story of Carol McCain makes McCain look that bad. To me, the selfishness and immaturity is mostly just human. But the Mail story does take the glow off McCain's war hero image. and probably didn't do for his disposition.

To add insult to injury, Ross Perot (who helped Carol McCain financially while John was a prisoner of war) called up Newsweek to get some payback for old grudges by trashing McCain's character even more.

It makes you wonder how many other people have longstanding grudges against McCain.

In the final analysis, the question isn't about whether McCain can maintain his "upbeat warrior image." It's whether he has the emotional make-up needed to be president over the next four years. If he is elected, John McCain will have the shortest honeymoon since Lincoln's first inaugural. McCain would be facing enhanced Democratic majorities in Congress, an unpopular war and a potentially bad recession.

And he'll be responsible for all those problems from day one.

Aside from loyal supporters like Mark Salter, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham, John McCain will also be pretty much alone as president. Having never had political loyalty himself, McCain won't get any from either the Republicans who loathe him or the Democrats who would think he won because of racism.

The crankiness we see from McCain now will be ten times worse if he becomes president. The bottom line on McCain is that he just can't take the heat

Smearkrieg No. 14, Diet Smearing

Now that Obama has won the Democratic nomination, the Republican smear campaign is springing into life.

But how much life is there in the old smear machine? In terms of "smears and rumors of smears," the big item is a rumor. Right-wing bloggers are bragging that someone has dug up a video of Michell Obama using the term "whitey" in a public forum.

But so far no tape.

The Sean Hannity approach to smearing is to slime Obama as a "radical." Here are a couple of Hannity's comments from an article by Andy Ostoy in Huffington Post.

"I am telling you, Barack Obama will move this country in a direction that is so radical that it will shock your senses."

"He (Obama) has views that would probably shock the average American."

"He's a Radical left winger, to the left of George McGovern."

Hanity's even re-named his show The Stop Radical Obama Express. But we need to be careful in determining how calling Obama a radical is a smear. In many ways, it's logical for someone like Hannity to view Obama as "hardcore leftist." Hannity is so far to the right that he views Democratic proposals for national health insurance as "socialized medicine" and probably still believes that social security is part of the growth of "communism" in the United States. For Hannity, it takes a "radical left-winger" to contemplate NOT attacking Iran and Syria.

The smear lies in dredging up the names of "dangerously" left-wing or black nationalist "friends" of Obama, magnifying the significance of every direct or indirct connection Obama may have had with them--perhaps even fantasize some connections--and implying that their agendas have to be Obama's agenda. Here's the conservative blog Protein Wisdom flogging Obama's "radical connections" for all they're worth.
As to the only specific claim Ostroy raises, it is pretty easy to point toward Obama’s longtime personal and fundraising relationship with former PLO flack Rashid Khalidi, including the thousands Obama (and Ayers) helped funnel to the Arab American Action Network, run by Khalidi’s wife, which calls Israel’s founding a “catastrophe.” Indeed the evil Hannity covered this on television recently. Or one could point to to the high-level staffers who are Nation of Islam members, or to his past relationship with Palestinian activist and Islamist Ali Abunimah. Or to the longtime spiritual adviser who declared Israel a “dirty word,” gave Louis Farrakhan a Lifetime Achievement award, and reprinted a Hamas manifesto. Or to Obama’s coterie of advisers urging a more “even-handed” approach to the Israeli conflict, and his previously stated desire to unconditionally meet with with Iranian Pres. Ahmadinejad – who is known for denying the Holocaust and wanting to wipe Israel off the map. Indeed, Obama cannot help but echo Arab-Palestinian positions, even in trying to make himself appear pro-Israel.

If anyone can actually follow Protein Wisdom's tortured innuendo, the idea is that Obama's relationship with an unnamed spiritual adviser (Jeremiah Wright) implies that Obama approves of Louis Farrakhan. That is a smear. Obama doesn't approve of Jeremiah Wright's black nationalism let alone Farrakhan's. Protein Wisdom also implies in a smearing kind of way that Obama peddled a Hamas manifesto on the streets of Washington while he was a senator and wants to conspire with Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map.

But this stuff is so thin that it might as well be called "diet smearing." What happened to the big, fat play to racial fears in the Willie Horton ads or the blatant lies of the swiftboating campaign against John Kerry? Why can't the GOP attack dogs claim that Obama is gay, that he has gang connections, or that he murdered somebody in Chicago? Republican smear artists portrayed Bill Clinton as a serial killer responsible for half the deaths in Arkansas as well as Vince Foster. Why can't they accuse Barack Obama of killing one person out of all the murders in Chicago last year?

Ultimately, it's just as tough an environment for right-wing smear artists as it is for the Republican Party in general. Yesterday's smears just don't cut it anymore. On the one hand, tolerance for the blatant kinds of racial stereotyping of the Willie Horton ad has decreased dramatically since 1988. Tolerance for gay stereotypes isn't that high either. Another problem for Republican smear artists is that the rise of liberal blogging means that any attempt at smearing is going to be met with a combination of moral outrage and ridicule by the left.

It also means that smears are going to be fact checked. So it's going to be a lot tougher to lie about Obama being a gang member than it was about the Clintons killing Vince Foster.

Because of the tough environment for high-profile smearing, right-wing smearing smearing has gone underground with conservatives spreading e-mail rumors that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Clearly these efforts have had an effect. Some of my daughter's eighth-grade friend now assume that Obama's a Muslim.

But the effect is primarily with voters who already oppose Obama. The GOP attack artists have not been able to come up with an approach to smearing Obama that "moves numbers" in the sense of convincing a significatnt percentage of voters to support John McCain.

Perhaps they won't.