Saturday, August 02, 2008

The McCain Attack Ads: What Effect?

Seeking to get a measure response to the latest barrage of McCain attack ads, the McClatchey newspaper organization collected responses from a large focus group of 316 Americans.

The two main findings were interesting and so ambivalent that they seemed contradictory.

The strongest finding was that the group as a whole had negative reactions to the ads.

"We are not sure whether the negative emotions expressed by viewers were related to their feelings about either candidate or about the way in which the message was delivered," said Glenn Kessler, president and CEO of HCD Research. "However, we do know that the ad did not move voters and they expressed negative emotions after viewing the ad."

The emotions most felt by Republicans while watching the ad were "disturbing" (35 percent), "skepticism" (16 percent) and "sadness" (10 percent); Democrats reported "skepticism" (44 percent), "anger" (24 percent) and "disturbing" (14 percent); Independents reported "skepticism" (41 percent), "disturbing" (18 percent) and "anger" (18 percent).

It's best to read these numbers against the background of measures concerning how much voters like the candidates--i.e., their favorability ratings. John McCain has a strong favorability average of 52.3 in the latest RealClearPolitics "poll of polls" and that favorability rating would be resilient because McCain has been a prominent Senator for the last decade.

I've argued in other posts for Red State Impressions and WEKU that McCain's favorability rating is the strongest element in his candidacy and is what allows McCain to be doing as well as he's doing in a rough environment for Republicans. Given the extent of the negative feelings about McCain's recent ads, it appears that McCain is putting his own favorability ratings at a great deal of risk in order to make voters more skeptical of Obama. In other words, McCain may be playing with fire with these negative ads.

The next question is whether McCain is getting any results from his risky ads. The McClatchey study claims that the answer is a "yes," but that claim is highly questionable.
. . . the results that may have been most telling were the changes in whom the participants would vote for and suggested that such advertising could have an impact, especially among independents. Before viewing the ad, 75 percent of the Democrats said they would vote for Obama. After viewing the ad, that percentage was 72, while undecideds rose from 13 to 15 percent and those favoring other candidates rose from 3 to 4 percent. The number who said they would vote for McCain, however, remained unchanged at 9 percent. Similar results were recorded for Republicans and Independents. Republican support for Obama dropped from 8 to 6 percent, while McCain's percentage remained unchanged at 74 percent. Undecideds rose from 16 to 18 percent, however. Only among independents did the drop in Obama's percentage, from 44 to 43 percent, accrue to McCain, whose support went from 33 to 34 percent.
But these numbers are not significant enough to say that there was a change of opinion away from Obama. The survey appears to have a roughly equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents at 106-107, meaning that a swing of 1% pretty much represents one person changing their mind. Of the 320 group members then, only 1 switched their preference from Obama to McCain while 6 switched from Obama to undecided. Given that the survey was not random and that the 2.1% change falls within the margin of error for even the best polls, it is best to say that there was no change in opinion.

Obviously, if McCain's current wave of negative advertising is able to move public opinion by 2%, that will be significant in a close election. But the McClatchey study does not justify that conclusion.

It's somewhat more significant that McCain's ad did not provoke any members of the group into switching away from McCain himself. However, given that large majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans had negative feelings about the ads themselves, McCain is running the risk that negative feelings about McCain's ads will ultimately translate into negative feelings about McCain.

McCain: Cynical or Dishonorable?

Today, Barack Obama refers to the latest McCain smears as cynical rather than racist:
"In no way do I think John McCain's campaign was racist. I think they are cynical," Obama said Saturday. "Their team is good at creating distractions and engaging in negative attacks."
If Obama isn't going to use the term "racist," he should call McCain's latest tactics "dishonorable" rather than "cynical."

If he's going to hit McCain, he should hit him in a way that hurts.

Miss Teen Turns 14

Yesterday was Miss Teen RSI's 14th birthday. It brings a tear to my eye.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Racist Turn in the McCain Campaign?

The Controversy. Last week, as part of the more intensified attacks that the McCain campaign has launched since Obama's wildly successful overseas trip, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis accused Obama of "playing the race card."

"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck," said Rick Davis, in a statement issued from the McCain campaign. "It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."
What happened was that Obama made a routine reference to the likelihood of GOP racial smears, and warned an audience in Missouri that "what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me . . . You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." In fact, the Republicans had been known for engaging in racial smear tactics going back to the Willie Horton ads during the 1988 presidential campaigns and continuing through the Jesse Helms "black hands" ads of 1990, and the Republican Party's portrayal of a white woman cooing for (African-American candidate) Harold Ford during the Tennessee Senate race in 2006.

It isn't like GOP smear artists have been inactive for the 2008 campaign either.

The most active of the Republican Party's smear artists has been Karl Rove who has pictured Obama in terms of being "lazy," "trash-talking," and playing "basketball at Harvard Yard." The only item in that list that is not a racial stereotype is Harvard Yard. GOP spokespeople also have sought to portray Obama as an "angry black nationalist" and have spread rumors about Michelle Obama being a "white hater." Moreover, white and African-American bloggers both believe that the attempt by Republicans to characterize Obama as presumptuous is an attempt to stereotype him in traditional terms as an "uppity" black man. Commentators on the left also view the clips of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in McCain's "Celeb" ad as playing on white anxieties about black men and white women.

Thus, the Obama campaign, liberal and African-American bloggers, and several figures in the mainstream media believe that McCain is the one "playing the race card" here. Time magazine columnist and former McCain admirer Joe Klein was disgusted enough with McCain that he obliquely referred to McCain and the Republicans as "scum" in a blog posting today. Editors for the New York Times were less pungent, but made the same point when they referred to Davis' comments as "contemptible."

Has the McCain Campaign Taken a Racist Turn? White racism has always been much more complex than racial hostility or a belief that whites are "superior" to African-Americans. Racist statements contain three kinds of componens:

1. A Stereotype of African-Americans as ugly, lazy, irrational, over-sensitive, etc.;
2. An Expression of Contempt for an African-American or African-Americans based on racial stereotypes;
3. An Argument for the Domination of African-Americans by white people that, at least in principle, can extend back to justifying slavery.
Purposefulness. In this sense, a person making a statement would have to purposefully employ all three of these elements for the statement to be racist. Rick Davis' original statement about Obama was definitely purposeful. Obama had been talking about himself as a black person "not looking like" other presidential candidates or presidents for weeks if not months. Given that the McCain camp would have been aware of those statements, the decision to spring their complaint about Obama was purposeful in that they decided to attack Obama for "playing the race card" on Thursday as opposed to all the other days Obama had made similar statements. Bob Herbert observed that the McCain camp complained "with great glee bursting through their feigned outrage." Obama's statement gave them an opportunity they had been looking for.

Racial Stereotyping. But has the McCain campaign been relying on racial stereotypes? That appears to be the case. When Davis referred to Obama "playing the race card," David himself was playing on the white stereotype of African-Americans as "too sensitive" about race, "complaining all the time" about racial profiling or discrimination, and being unable to "take a joke." Like other racial sterotypes, the stereotype about African-Americans being "too sensitive" portrays African-Americans as not really "fitting in," not being "one of us," or as being strange or foreign. The African-American feminist bell hooks tells a story in "Killing Rage" about a white flight attendant who addressed one of her black friends as though the African-American woman didn't know English. Going along with that is the idea among whites (an idea I hear frequently from my students) that African-Americans need to "get over it" in relation to racism but aren't doing so.

The other racial stereotypes that the McCain camp has been relying on are black men having a special sexual interest in white women and Obama as an "uppity" black man. The stereotype of black men/white women appeared in the Celebrity ad which flashes pictures of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as it criticizes Obama for being a vapid celebrity. Bob Herbert asks:

Gee, I wonder why, if you have a black man running for high public office — say, Barack Obama or Harold Ford — the opposition feels compelled to run low-life political ads featuring tacky, sexually provocative white women who have no connection whatsoever to the black male candidates.
Calling Obama "presumptuous" is more complex, but relies on racial stereotyping as well. In many ways, Republican criticisms of Obama for being presumptuous have the "Heads I Win/Tails You Lose quality that is common to Republican attacks. The GOP criticized Obama for being "presumptuous" because he did his overseas trip in such a big way--having successful meetings with a long succession of foreign leaders, sinking a three-point shot with troops, and holding a huge rally in Berlin. But if Obama had not made much of a mark, the same observers would have been just as happy to criticize him for "not being ready for prime time" or "not meeting the commander-in-chief test."

The point is to criticize Obama whatever he does.

But, as David Gergen observed yesterday on ABC's This Week, McCain's "Moses" ad lampooning Obama as "The One" and GOP attacks on Obama for being "presumptuous" all assert that Obama is an "uppity" black man who "doesn't know his place."
"There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, 'he's not one of us,'" said Gergen, who has worked with White Houses, both Republican and Democrat, from Nixon to Clinton. "I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it's the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, 'The One,' that's code for, 'he's uppity, he ought to stay in his place.' Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, 'I'm against quotas,' we get what that's about."

In this sense, McCain's messages have a surface message of saying that Obama is not ready to lead the country but a subtext that Obama is aiming for something that is not appropriate for a black man and that Obama doesn't know that his "place" as a black man in American society should be marginalized, at the bottom, in a band, or in jail. When the McCain campaign makes fun of Obama for being "presumptuous" or being a "celebrity," they're also saying that he's acting in ways that are inappropriate for a black man in American society.

The McCain campaign and Republican media figures like Karl Rove are relying on several kinds of racial stereotypes to make their criticisms of Barack Obama. Such reliance on stereotypes gives a powerful dimension of racism to the McCain campaign.

A Broad Circle of Contempt. In addition, Davis' statement expresses contempt for Obama. "It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong" is very much an expression of contempt. Given that Davis' contempt is articulated in relation to the stereotype of African-Americans as "complaining too much" or "being too sensitive," it is not unreasonable to conclude that Davis is also implying that other African-Americans who "play the race card" by "unfairly" complaining about racism are also "divisive, negative, shameful, and wrong." Because he is relying on a stereotype of Obama as an African-American, Rick Davis is also tarring African-Americans as a group. The New York Times also notices that Davis' formulation concerning dealing the race card "from the bottom of the deck" was also used in relation to the O. J. Simpson trial which is still a hot-button issue among whites.
It also — and we wish this were coincidence, but we doubt it — conjurs up another loaded racial image. The phrase dealing the race card “from the bottom of the deck” entered the national lexicon during the O.J. Simpson saga. Robert Shapiro, one of Mr. Simpson’s lawyers, famously declared of himself, Johnny Cochran and the rest of the Simpson defense team, “Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck.”
In fact, all of the stereotypes employed by the McCain campaign and Republicans express contempt for black people in general, especially for black men. For example, the McCain campaign's juxtaposing of Obama against images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton relies on the stereotypical idea of black sexual interest in white women as "unnatural" because black men are "less than fully human." In this context, the element of contempt is in the assumption that black men aren't really human.

When McCain and the Republicans who criticize Obama for being "presumptuous"or "uppity," they are expressing a similar kind of contempt. The stereotypical criticism of blacks as "uppity" relies on the assumption that blacks should "naturally" be at the bottom of society however one characterizes "the bottom." Indeed, like most stereotypes, the idea of blacks as "uppity" is ultimately goes back to slavery and is rooted in the conviction that blacks should really be slaves. In that context, it would be "arrogant," "presumptuous," or otherwise "unnatural" for a black person like Obama to assume that he could be president--i. e., be the man.

In this sense, the racial stereotypes employed by the McCain campaign are racist because they express enormous contempt for African-Americans as human beings.

Domination. Finally, the McCain campaign wants to dominate the Obama campaign in that they are seeking to silence the Obama campaign on issues of race. What McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt has to say is interesting in this regard:
"McCain aides say their goal is to pre-empt what they believe is Obama's effort to paint any conventional campaign attacks as race-based. Obama’s aim, in the view of the McCain camp: ‘to delegitimize any line of attack against him,’ said McCain aide Steve Schmidt… ‘I don't [care] whether it helps or hurts us,’ Schmidt said. ‘A lie unresponded to becomes the truth.’
If taken at face value, this is a ridiculous statement. The Obama camp hasn't criticized any of McCain's attacks as being racially motivated even though the McCain campaign has launched a dizzying array of attacks on Obama's Iraq policy proposals, inexperience, flip-flopping, rigidity, celebrity status, "presumptuousness," and supposed willingness to "lose the war to win the election. Nor has the Obama camp shown any inclination to criticize McCain on racial or other ground. In fact, most Obama ads don't even mention McCain.

So what is the McCain camp worried about?

The key word is "pre-empt." The leaders of the McCain campaign does not want the Obama to be able to criticize McCain attacks as "racially-tinged" in the future. So they're attacking Obama for playing the "race card" now with the expectation that the "controversy" will scare off Obama from criticizing the "racially-tinged" attacks that the McCain people expect to make.

Here, however, there is reason to question whether the McCain campaign and Republicans are trying to establish any form of "racial domination" over the Obama campaign. Republican presidential campaigns have been known for hitting Democratic presidential candidates with a barrage of innuendo, stereotyping, and ridicule since 1988 and the objective has always been for the Republican presidential candidate to keep the Democratic presidential candidate on the defensive. In other words, the Republican presidential campaign organizations can be seen as striving to dominate the Obama campaign in the same way they sought to dominate the Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry campaigns.

However, it is also possible to see the efforts of the McCain campaign and Republicans to attach racial stereotypes to Obama as raising the specter of a non-white, racial "outsider" like Obama taking over the summit of American society as something "unnatural," "unseemly," and "wrong" because it inverts the "natural order" of American society. In this sense, the McCain campaign's use of racial stereotyping could be seen as an appeal to whites to maintain the "natural" racial order of white domination.

At this point, I believe that the former option is more correct. Despite the McCain/Republican use of racial stereotypes, I have yet to see any evidence that the Republicans have directly or indirectly introduced "maintaining the natural racial order" as a campaign theme. Until they do so, it is impossible to view them in terms of pursuing racial domination.

Conclusion. Recent McCain ads and McCain strategist Rick Davis' comments have been racist because they employed racial stereotypes in a way that conveyed contempt for Barack Obama as an African-American. But they do not appear (at least at present) as seeking to establish or protect a relationship of racial domination. Thus, the racism has limits and I wouldn't claim that recent Republican attacks have been racist in the full sense of the word.

Does that make Rick Davis or John McCain a racist? Not necessarily. They may be worse. White racism is bad enough but there are many cases in which a person becomes a racist out of ignorance, family socialization, or some sort of cultural imperative. Such people are not exactly innocent, but they are not nearly as bad as those who seek to manipulate the racism in American society for financial or political gain. Given that the McCain campaign has embarked on an effort to manipulate the racism in American society for their political benefit, they strike me as being significantly more immoral than most racists.

And that's why it was appropriate for the New York Times to refer to what the McCain campaign is doing as "contemptible."

The Obama Bump is Really Over

Today, the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls have Obama and McCain tied and Obama up by 1 respectively.

That means that the Obama overseas bump from last weekend is officially over.

But it also means something else.

Given that the tracking polls are three night surveys, the fact that Obama and McCain are tied today means that McCain pulled ahead in Gallup for at least one night and the same might be the case for Rasmussen.

McCain hasn't been ahead in the tracking pollls for sometime. If he moves ahead tomorrow and stays ahead, that could shake up the expectation that Obama is going to win the election.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Ship of Race Has Landed

It appears that the Ship of Race has landed in the 2008 presidential campaign. The McCain campaign came out with both guns blazing as it accused Obama of playing "the race card" when he mentioned that the Republicans would try to make (white) people afraid of voting for someone who looked like him.

As if Obama wasn't speaking the most obvious truth in the world.

Given that we'll probably be staring race in the face for the rest of the campaign, I'll save my own comments for later. Here I'll just quote from one of the African-American blogs--The Field Negro--about the Republicans. After all, I'm pretty sure that conservative Shelby Steele will be the only African-American allowed to participate in the upcoming debate:
And another thing . . . [k]eep trying to paint his "O" ness as an uppity Negro. Here in A-merry-ca there is nothing we hate more than uppity Negroes. If you are going to be an uppity Negro you had better not be running for political office. You better have your own business and you damn sure better not depend on folks in the majority to keep your business afloat. A-merry-cans did not like the "O" man's European Vacation (boy what the hell do you mean you are a "world citizen"? You are an A-merry-can damn it, start acting like one) and the polls show that. Hell, even so called respected reporters over at the Washington Post are starting to cast the "O" man as an egomaniacal uppity Negro. (They took the quote out of context to fit their story, but that's a whole different issue) So keep playing on that, and watch how the polls tighten.

The Barefoot/Pregnant Regulation

The Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a new regulation that would treat birth control pills as abortion devices.
A draft regulation, still being revised and debated, treats most birth-control pills and intrauterine devices as abortion because they can work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. The regulation considers that destroying "the life of a human being."
Maybe the Bush Administration and their supporters on the religious right should just call this the "Barefoot/Pregnant" regulation.

Because that's the way they want to keep American women.

The McCain Campaign--A Typical Scooby Villain

As the father of a typical American "tween," I've watched more episodes of Scooby Doo than any one person should be allowed to see. I've been with Scooby Doo in Egypt, Scooby Doo in cyber-space, Scooby Doo on mystery cruises, and Scooby Doo at Ghoul School. I've viewed so much Scooby Doo that I find myself craving Scooby Snacks at the weirdest times. I see the Scooby gang more often than I see my own brothers and sisters. Scooby Doo is a friend of mine and "Senator McCain, you're no Scooby Doo."

Oops, mixing metaphors there.

Anyway, I know better than most people that the monsters chasing Scooby and the gang almost always turn out to be all-too-human villains in "monster suits."

That's what I see in the John McCain campaign right now--a typical Scooby villain.

Over the last two weeks, McCain has unveiled not one, not two, not three, but four--count 'em, four--attack lines on Obama. McCain himself launched the idea that Obama was willing to "lose the war in order to win the election." The McCain campaign also came out with video ads about Obama supposedly canceling a visit with wounded American troops in order to "play basketball," and being a "celebrity" like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. Just as they put out the "celebrity" ad, the McCain campaign also sent out surrogates yesterday to talk about Obama's "presumptuousness."

All of this is supposed to come out of the "very scary" Karl Rove playbook of attacking opponents at their strongest point. In this case, the strongest points are Obama's charismatic presence and his opposition to the unpopular war. By going "negative" in this way, the McCain campaign is trying to "define" Barack Obama as someone who is too unprincipled, too strange, and too popular to be president. He hopes to drive up Obama's negatives and prevent Obama from getting above 50%.

And if the McCain campaign really were a scary monster, all of this would be working. But Shaggy is the only one who looks scared and Shaggy's always scared.

In the final analysis, McCain's campaign manager and Rove protege Steve Schmidt is much more of a "guy in monster suit" than a "scary monster." The McCain campaign is splattering attacks right and left, but every time they take up a new line of attack, they undercut their previous attacks. How can any of these attack lines have much impact if they're only pursued exclusively for two or three days at most and McCain is cluttering up the airwaves with other kinds of attacks? The assault on Obama's presumptuousness on the same day they released the "celebrity" ad was dumb in the extreme. I'm not sure the McCain people even knew which line of attack they wanted the media to feature?

Harvard sociologist and TPM blogger Theda Skocpol suggests that Obama create ads of ordinary people sitting at a table talking about the weaknesses of McCain's proposals on cutting corporate taxes, social security, contraception, and other domestic issues.

That's a great idea and much of the reason why it's a great idea is because it would provide such a strong contrast to the ineffectiveness of McCain's bumbling attempts to be a scary attack monster.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is Dog Whistling Just for Racists?

Popular liberal blogger Digby suspects that a lot of the recent McCain talk about Obama being presumptuous or ads portraying Obama with young white women like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton is a form of "dog whistling" to white racists.

This is what Digby means by dog whistling.
I think we need to have a little discussion of what "racist dogwhistle" means. It is a word or phrase that conjures up certain subliminal images in those who are predisposed to see things in racial terms. It doesn't mean that everyone who hears the word as a criticism sees it in that way --- only those who get "the code." So, when Karl Rove sends out McCain's minions to spread the word "presumptuous" all over the place, the idea is to signal to the racists among us that Obama is "uppity." It doesn't mean that if you think Obama is presumptuous that you are a racist. You might just think, "yeah, he's acting like it's in the bag already." But racists hear that Obama is an uppity black man. See, it works on two levels. That's why it's called a dogwhistle --- only the racists can hear the racism in it.

Digby writes that she gets complaints from liberals about focusing too much on racism. But the thing that strikes me about the idea of racial dogwhistling is that it's overly optimistic. I can see where talking about Obama being presumptuous would be more easily translated into Obama being "uppity" by an overt racist than the average moderate or independent voter. So, dogwhistling there is.

But I think that the main racial effect of these kinds of dogwhistling manuevers would be to raise the anxiety level of moderate and independent whites concerning Obama as a black man. There may be less hard core, overt, racism in the United States than there was in the seventies, but American society is saturated with racial stereotyping of black people and one of those stereotypes is about the "arrogance" and "conceit" of black athletes like Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys vs the ideal of humility to which all athletes are expected to subscribe. The same kinds of stereotypes apply to black musicians, actors, and celebrities as well.

Thus, the efforts of the McCain campaign to portray Obama as "presumptuous" seek to induce racial anxieties about Obama by associating him with "T.O," Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals, or a variety of hip hop artists that I'm too uncool to be aware of. The idea isn't to stimulate racial hostility but to make white moderates nervous and uncertain enough about Obama that they would be susceptible to other forms of negative advertising.

The other non-dogwhistling aspect of McCain's tactics is that white moderates and independent are subject to cross-currents that hard-core racists ignore. White moderates may become nervous about Obama but they also might find Obama's positions, image, and advertising appealing in ways that counter-act their racial anxieties. In this sense, pushing the "presumptuous" meme either introduces or reinforces racial anxieties as an element that is "in play" for this election. But the working of the "presumptuous" theme on moderate voters would be much more fluid than racial dogwhistling is with hardcore racists.

Pushing Obama's "presumptuousness" does have a racist effect but it's more a matter of raising anxieties in moderate whites than dogwhistling the determined attitudes of marginal racists.

Joe Klein and Conservative Loyalties

Joe Klein of Time poses the possibility that Jewish neo-conservatives have divided loyalties between the United States and Israel.
The notion that we could just waltz in and inject democracy into an extremely complicated, devout and ancient culture smacked--still smacks--of neocolonialist legerdemain. The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives--people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary--plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.

Klein is implying that Jewish neo-conservatives might be trying to employ American power to benefit Israel because they're Jewish.

This strikes me as completely wrong.

Klein's comments would be more to the point if Jewish neo-conservatives were different from non-Jewish neo-conservatives. But I didn't detect any difference between the neo-conservatism of William Bennett, Francis Fukuyama, and Joe Lieberman over Iraq. They all wanted to establish American military hegemony in the Arab world and viewed that hegemony just as much in terms of eliminating Israel's enemies as advancing American interests.

Likewise, conservative blogs like RedState, Powerline, and Confederate Yankee all seem more concerned with Israeli security issues than American.

In other words, it's American conservatism and neo-conservatism in general rather than "Jewish neo-conservatism" in particular that has divided loyalties. The right loves Israel because they've viewed Israel as a "model imperialist" since the raid on Entebbe way back in the 70's. The right idolizes Israel's imperial aggressiveness--Isreal's willingness to maintain military occupation over the Palestinians for so long, the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the targeted assasination of Palestianian leaders, and so on. For the American right, Israel is the proper model of how the United States should conduct itself as a military power and supporting Israel is a matter of supporting the kind of country they would like America to be.

In other words, conservatives have divided loyalties between Israel and the United States because they think more highly of Israel than they think of America. If Israel was a bigger fish in the world pond, I don't doubt that a number of American conservatives would have moved there in the same way that Canadian conservatives like Charles Krauthammer and David Frum moved to the U. S.

Actually conservative loyalties toward Israel are narrowly gauged as well. They would be completely unconcerned if the Israeli Labor Party, leftists, and anti-war activists were driven into the sea. Just as they identify with conservative America rather than the whole of the country, the American right identifies with the Netanyahu faction of the Likud party, the settler movement, and the ultra-orthodox parties rather than the whole of Israel.

In other words, the American right is loyal to the Israeli right because they admire the militant imperialism of the Israeli right. That doesn't have anything to do with the Jewishness of the Israeli right or the Jewishness of some Jewish neo-cons.

The American right's romance with Israel is all about the ideal of an "aggressively imperialist state." It just happens that Israel is an aggressively imperialist Jewish state. If Australia were an aggressively imperialist state, American conservatives would admire them just as much.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Facing Up to a Friend's Death

Bed at one, awake at six--it's not a good idea if I want to get stuff done, be able to think, or stay health.

But because I have so much dread for today that I just couldn't sleep much.

Today is Nancy Peterson's memorial service (first Baptist Church of Morehead) and I know I'm going to have to face up to something I've been avoiding for the last five days--the fact that Nancy's gone and she's not coming back.

Visitations, funerals, memorial services, and other kinds of death-related events are about many things. They're about warm memories, sharing one's grief with friends and acquaintances, helping the family, thinking about the many ways the deceased person made a difference, and the many ways they're going to live on as well.

But death-related events are also about accepting the fact that relatives, friends, loved ones, colleagues, and acquaintances are really gone. It's about accepting or beginning to accept that we're never going to hear their voice, feel the warmth of their physical presence, react to their touch or think about what they're going to be doing next year again. It's about really knowing the grief and loss even if it's the last thing in the world you want to do.

I don't want to face up to Nancy's death. It's hard and I'm miserable. But I know I have to start doing it today as I think about going to her memorial service.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Who's Going to Back Into the Presidency

There are 100 days to go to the election and neither Barack Obama nor John McCain are gaining any kind of decisive poll advantage in the current "phony war" phase of the presidential campaign.

Barack Obama got a boost when Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq agreed with his timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. He also looked effective in dealing with foreign leaders. But the fact that Obama only got a "little noodge" of 3% and 8% in the daily tracking polls revived questions about his ability to "close the deal." Novak suggests that McCain might be able to "back his way into the presidency" without doing anything to inspire enthusiasm among voters.

But Obama could "back into" the presidency as well.

Obama would still win if he stayed at 48-49% of the vote, John McCain got 47%, and the rest was split among Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, and the really minor candidates. It may be that all Obama has to do is continue to pursue successful campaign initiatives like his overseas trip, defend himself against McCain's attacks, and protect his lead. That's essentially what happened during the Democratic primaries. Obama never had a big lead after the Iowa caucuses but he made sure that his small lead over Hillary Clinton was decisive.

The conventional wisdom is that McCain might be able to back into the presidency if he runs a harshly negative campaign that depresses Obama's support.

But that hasn't worked so far.

McCain's campaign has been so unorganized, dispirited, and tone deaf that Republicans are just about ready to wave the white flag of surrender. Here's conservative writer Ben Stein:
"Mr. McCain is running the absolute most pathetic campaign I have ever seen in my whole life . . . His campaign is just heartbreakingly pathetic. He is a very impressive guy. He is a brave guy, but he is running the most lackluster campaign I have ever seen in my entire life. I would have thought Bob Dole's campaign would have set a record for poor campaigns, but this one is even worse. I mean it is shocking."

McCain's team was particularly inept while Obama was overseas and produced visuals of McCain riding in a golf cart with George Bush sr. and fumbling over spilled groceries while Obama was effectively posing as a world leader. Moreover, it often seems like McCain and his surrogates are competing with each other to see who can make the most damaging gaffes.

Obama still has to deal with the various questions that the media is raising about his relative youth, inexperience, appearance of arrogance, flip-flopping, and rigidity. The fact that Obama is questioned for both flip-flopping and rigidity is an indication of the self-contradictory character of many media criticisms.

But McCain is still behind. If he stays behind, McCain's going to have to provide reasons for undecided voters and weak Obama supporters to want John McCain to be president. He hasn't succeeded in doing so to date.

The Call of the Wild

Since we moved to the edge of the woods, I've seen possums, raccoons, turkeys, copperheads, foxes, and owls. Of course, deer are everywhere. We also caught a skunk in an trap meant for feral cats and have survived a monumental skunk attack on our house.

Now, I can add coyotes to my list of backyard wildlife. One of the critters appeared at the edge of the woods at about 1:00 this afternoon. It was relatively long-legged and rangy looking with gray and yellow fur and a Red Riding Hood snout. The coyote looked bigger than my 50 pound dog, but coyotes are supposed to have a thin bone structure that makes them weigh less than they look.

When the coyote saw me, it trotted off without looking particularly scared of human beings. But maybe it was just me.

I imagine it was looking for an easy lunchtime treat. One of our neighbors said that a coyote was carrying a pet cat in its mouth before it was forced to drop it.

Personally, I think the possums look better this time of year.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Visiting Schizophrenic

I remember seeing a cartoon in The New Yorker where a family saw a tweedy man sitting at their dining room table who described himself as "the visiting professor."

I used to think that was very funny.

But not anymore.

That's because a former colleague of mine who's been diagnosed with "schizo affective disorder" has started frequenting our house. Just like a "visiting professor," he likes to use the phone, hook up to the internet, and work on notes for his "book." One time, he was sitting in a chair working over his notes in a way that reminded me of the old New Yorker cartoon.

Oh, I forgot to mention something. He keeps asking if I'm an alien.

My old colleague, I'll call him Josh, characterizes his condition as "schizo affective disorder" which is a "mild form of schizophrenia." Basically, he believes he's become a medium for the aliens who want to communicate with the earth.

Josh has been in and out of mental hospitals for the last four or five years as the condition has gotten worse.

One time, he was institutionalized after walking naked into the surf off Santa Cruz and trying to part the waters like Moses. More recently, Josh was hospitalized after collapsing into Tourette's-type symptoms while I was driving him to a house where he was staying.

I've always been "friendly" with Josh but have never been one of his close friends. But after years of severe mental illness, he's gradually worn out his welcome with all his close friends in Morehead. As a result, Josh decided to make the RSI house his first option after his most recent stay in a mental hospital.

Let me tell you, one of the things you don't want to have in your home is a "visiting schizophrenic."

Red Sox: Back to Also-Rans?

My local high school, Rowan County High School, traditionally has a weak football team. But 8 or 9 years ago, a coach got the guys into winning territory behind a high-quality running back and took them to the Kentucky playoffs.

Then the coach was fired for some non-football related reason. I forget what. The coaches response: "I guess they want to go back to 2-7."

Actually, the team went way way back to 0-10 and got so bad that they were booted out of the local district.

This brings us to the Boston Red Sox. Before the arrival of Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox had been bridesmaids to the New York Yankees for more than eighty years. Bill Buckner let one World Series dribble between his legs. Ted Williams couldn't get them over the hump. Neither could Roger Clemens.

But Manny Ramirez helped them win championships with his big bat on the field and anxiety-free attitude in the clubhouse.

So much for the Curse of the Bambino.

The problem is that Ramirez is very tough on management. Manny has a habit of making public demands to be traded that he doesn't really mean. He also takes games off for no apparent reason and recently shoved the Red Sox traveling secretary.

Now, it looks like pressure's building up (again) for a trade. Sportswriters like Ken Rosenthal are demanding that Red Sox executives trade Ramirez for a couple of spare parts while Sox GM Theo Epstein claims that "we'd be open to (a trade) . . . We've called around. We've been open to it for 5 1/2 years now."

Of course, the Red Sox have won two World Series in those 5 1/2 years and Ramirez is a major reason why they can call themselves "The World Champion Boston Red Sox."

But I guess the Sox want to go back to being "The Tragic, Suffering, Also-Ran Red Sox."

Choose Your Poison: The Landstuhl Pseudo-Controversy

Apparently, the Obama campaign did not realize that its scheduled visit to Landstuhl Air Force Base to see wounded soldiers was going to be the stuff of new political pseudo-controversy.

But they should have seen it coming.

Nobody knows all the facts yet. But the issue boils down to this. The pro-Obama story is that "Pentagon officials" derailed Obama's visit because they didn't want Obama using stories of his "visit with wounded troops" as campaign fodder. The anti-Obama story is that the visit got scuttled in a petty dispute over whether Obama could bring in a couple of campaign aides.

In other words, the Obama visiting the troops story is a typical political "pseudo-controversy" in which McCain was able to get out an attack ad and there has been plenty of media blather about an "issue" of no consequence.

This was a "heads I win, tails you lose" moment for the McCain campaign and the conservative blogs. Either way, Obama was going to look bad. Either Obama was going to fall into Trap A and look like a "typical politician" eager to use wounded American troops as a prop for his presidential campaign or Trap B and look like a "cynical politician" who decided not to visit wounded American troops when he couldn't use them as a prop for his campaign.

What should Obama have done? Actually, he should have fallen into Trap A and let himself be accused of using the soldiers as props. That's because a visit to Landstuhl Air Force Base would uld have been a positive thing for the wounded soldiers. Obama and his campaign staff should have had enough of a sense of the soldiers' enthusiasm for Sen. Obama that they would have known that the wounded soldiers would have really wanted to meet him. A visit from a celebrity candidate like Obama would have been a big deal. It would have been a welcome break in the routines of convalescence and it would have been something soldiers could have bragged about to their families.

Sometimes politicians just have to choose which artificial "pseudo-controversy" they're going to be embroiled in. In this case, Obama should have visited the wounded troops.