Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Country Without White Liberals?

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has a useful post on the way in which Sarah Palin is holding political events in areas where there are disproportionate majorities of white people.

But Palin doesn't just refer to small towns as the "pro-America" part of American because they don't have many black people and hispanics.

She thinks of small towns as not having many white liberals either.

The same is the case with the McCain flack who referred to Southwestern Virginia as the real Virginia in opposition to the Northern suburbs.

Sure, Southwestern Virginia is overwhelmingly white.

But the white population in Southwestern Virginia also does without many of those good government, politically correct whites who are easily disgusted by racism, bigotry, disdain evangelical Protestantism, and aren't very much attached to patriotic symbols.

The McCain people wish liberals would go away as well as minorities.

John McCain's Slime Trail

I may have used this image before but I think of the presidential election as a race between a turtle and a snail. Contrary to Obama's image of Obama, I think of him as a "slow" candidate who is able to stake a slim lead and nurse it to the end. He never got far ahead of Hillary Clinton and he's never gotten that far in front of McCain but he's stayed in front the whole time.

If Obama is a turtle, McCain is a snail and the slime trail behind McCain is getting bigger and bigger.

TPM sums it up well:
McCain's entire campaign is now comprised of innuendo and lies meant to tie Obama to various stereotypes of African-Americans and of course Arab terrorism. His purported foreign policy experience hasn't been part of the campaign's message in weeks. Just black, black, black, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.

The Election Enters the "Archie Bell Phase"

Hi everybody! I'm not Archie Bell. I'm not the Drells and I don't have a new dance either.

And I could really stand a new dance right now.

That's because the 2008 presidential election is starting to remind me of the old Archie Bell and the Drells hit "Tighten Up."

Archie Bell didn't sing much on "Tighten Up." But he had very cool way of talking over the music.

"Tighten up on that bass now/ Tighten it up/ Ha, ha, yeah"

As late as Tuesday, the polls had Barack Obama ahead by 8 points with several polls showing 13 or 14 point leads. "Feeling Stronger Every Day" was my song and I was feeling it. I felt it even more on Wednesday when Barack Obama won the debate and my friend Matthew Kerbel from Villanova told me that he thought the election was in the bag for Obama.

But today, the TPM poll composite has Obama up by only 5.3 with a range from 2 (Gallup traditional) to 7 (Research 2000, IBD/TIPP, Hotline/FD).

As Archie would say, "Now let that guitar fall in/ Oh, yeah/ Tighten up on that organ now."

Actually, there's reason to expect the tightening to continue. The debates are over. McCain doesn't have any more chances to look like a bully, blink 100 miles an hour, pop out with his Uncle Fester eyes, or do that tongue thing. He won't have to worry about explaining his unpopular policies to sceptical audiences of swing voters either.

If McCain doesn't do anything stupid (a big "if"), he can look forward to another solid two weeks of sliming Obama.

Or as Republicans call it, "raising questions."

So, whether liberal bloggers like it or not (and I don't), "Tighten Up" might be the song for the really ugly part of this election.

"Come on and tighten up/ Let's tighten it up now/ Let's tighten it up now/ Tighten it up."

Sing it, baby. Actually, Mrs. RSI says I can't sing.

But neither could Archie Bell.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Palin: Macaca Moment Sans Macaca

One of the things that conservatives have been trying to do is to promote rural or small town life as a symbol of traditional America along with the military, the flag, and the Pledge.

Everybody knows the rural mythology. The myth of rural people is that they are more oriented toward family and religion, closer to the land, and more traditional. People who live in rural areas therefore represent something more honest, less corrupt, and less manipulative than the cities and suburbs. Rural people are also less subject to popular culture than people in cities and represent something that stands apart from, and superior to, the American norm.

This is a relatively small part of what Sarah Palin is referring to when she talks about small towns and rural areas as "the pro-American" part of America, or the "real America."

But here's the rub.

The right isn't attracted to the "ideal" rural America at all. Otherwise, they wouldn't be such big supporters of corporate agriculture against family farms and mountaintop removal against local property owners. If they valued rural life, conservatives wouldn't be so eager to waste the lives of the guys who join the military either.

Conservatives are more attracted to the underside of the rural life--the suspicion of outsiders, the almost palpable sense of cultural inferiority to the urban world, and the traditions of male predominance in households, white elites running the towns and counties, and evangelical religion as an adjunct of the local elites.

They also work overtime to cultivate the resentments that many in small towns and rural areas have for the "liberals" who have undermined the legitimacy of the traditional hierarchies.

And it's largely worked.

I grew up in small town upstate New York and now live in small town Eastern Kentucky. But I've also lived among liberal urban elites in Philly (the academic history circles around the University of Pennsylvania) and college towns like Chapel Hill and Ann Arbor. Urban elites have their weaknesses. My liberal/left friends tend to measure people by the quality of their work and self-control in their manners. They also have a warped view of the United States as a nation because they don't get out of the urban belts very much. But my urban friends are also curious about Kentucky and other rural areas and generally eager to find out more. They like all things exotic and count rural America as having a kind of "friendly strangeness" that they're interested in.

That's not so much the case with rural folks. In upstate New York and Eastern Kentucky, the resentment of urban culture is often very intense. An unhealthy percentage of rural self-identification is bound up in "sticking it" to the liberal opinion they associate with the urban world. That's one of the reasons (although not the only reason) why Confederate flags, nooses, and casual racism and misogyny are so pervasive in rural areas.

It's also one of the reasons why people in rural areas are so emphatic about patriotic symbols like the flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the military.

That's why being "pro-American" in Sarah Palin's sense is often a way to express hostility to the "outsider Americans" that rural people view as judging them.

Actually, it's too bad that cultural bitterness has such a hold over rural white areas.

My town of Morehead, KY is a college town in the Appalachian foothills where there's a healthy mix of rural people, people who've moved here from urban areas, and academic types like myself. Given the general poverty of Eastern Kentucky, there's not much here that's very stable. But the lack of stability is also a constant prod to the ingenuity of people around here and Morehead is thus a very creative place.

It's also very friendly.

From the Morehead perspective, it's easy to see a fruitful amalgamation between American urban and American rural, easy to imagine us all as living in one country.

But then the Sarah Palin's of the world get busy stirring up the bitterness to further their own ambitions.

And then you find that the same battles need to be fought over again.

Pre-Emptive Attacks on the Obama Administration

The Wall Street Journal's has started attacking the Obama administration well before the Nov. 4 election.

Today, it was Matthew Kaminski predicting that the David Axelrod approach to inspirational "hope" and "change" didn't work after Duval Patrick was elected in Massachusetts and wouldn't work if Barack Obama is elected president.

According to Kaminski, Patrick's "inspirational outsider" approach didn't work because Massachusetts Democrats didn't want to go along. They were also still holding a grudge over Patrick beating an insider in the primary.

But it isn't the same.

If Obama is elected, he's going to have a very Democratic Congressional leadership. He may have started with outsider rhetoric, but Obama was also a Democratic Party "golden boy" who landed a gig as the keynote speaker for the 2004 convention. The leadership might have thought that Obama was running four years too early, but they were also suffering from a long-standing case of "Clinton fatigue" and weren't looking forward to eight years of a Hillary presidency.

As a result, there hasn't been even a whisper of unhappiness with Obama's nomination from the Democratic Congressional leadership.

But the bottom line is that Barack Obama has added a foundation of good policy ideas to his "hope" and "change" themes. During his debates with John McCain, Obama looked like a steady, seasoned, and practical politician while McCain was playing an immature version of a maverick.

If Obama's elected president, he'll get a tough ride. But it will be because the country is going through tough times more than anything else.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

He's Got Uncle Fester Eyes

What John McCain reminded me most of last night was Uncle Fester on the Addams Family.

The problem was McCain's blinking.

McCain started the debate blinking more than a hundred times a minute. But at some point McCain seems to have realized or been informed that he was blinking like a maniac.

At that point, McCain started fighting so hard to keep his eyes open that it looked like he was in pain.

Here's a video of McCain's Uncle Fester eyes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Greetings from the Socialist Republic of America

Maybe the Bush administration should consider changing the name of our country.

After all, it could be argued that the Bush people have fundamentally changed the relation between government and business in the United States by taking over the gigantic mortgage guaranteeing operations in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taking over the nation's biggest insurance company in IAG, and now partially nationalizing the eight biggest banks.

Perhaps we're not the United States of America in the same capitalist sense we used to be.

Personally, I kind of like the Socialist Republic of North America with it's nod toward our Hispanic heritage,

But Socialist Republic of America is shorter.

Maybe we should go with that instead

Looking at the Tuesday Polls

Well, it certainly looks good for Obama.

Yesterday, CBS/NYTimes came out with a poll that had Obama 52, McCain 39. That's the biggest Obama lead but could be even bigger than it looks if the 3 point margin of error is taken into account. Counting margin of error, the CBS poll ranges from Obama 55-36 to Obama 49-42.

What's interesting about the CBS poll is that it has McCain tracking down around the minimum Republican vote of 38% that was established by George H. W. Bush in the 1992 election where Ross Perot ran.

If the CBS poll is right, McCain is scraping the Republican bottom.

My own initial prediction was Obama 57, McCain 43 and the CBS poll is on track for that kind of landslide. GW/Battleground, ABC, and one of the Gallup estimates also have Obama out front by ten or more.

But I'm not going to be distracted by either self-interest or good news. At this point, I tend to agree with Nate Silver at that CBS is likely a bit of an outlier and that Obama's actual lead is somewhere around 8%.

Assuming some margin of error here, I think Obama's lead ranges from 5 to 11 points.

If that's the case, the Obama campaign should continue doing pretty much what it's doing--performing well in tonight's debate, using its financial advantage to blanket battleground states with television ads, and gearing up its massive ground game,.

What Obama's doing is working. So the Obama people should keep doing it.

What about the McCain campaign? The McCain campaign should assume that McCain's only down by 5 and that he needs to shave that lead down to 2 over the next two weeks.

If they can get a strong debate performance from the candidate, the McCain campaign could run a two level campaign and it looks like they've already started.

At the top and visible level, the McCain people could run a "nice" campaign in which they have McCain and his lead surrogates (Joe Lieberman, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham) emphasize McCain's sacrifices, experience, and general orientation toward low taxes and a strong military.

Such a Republican brand campaign has a lower value than it used to, but still might be good for a couple of points.

At the gutter level, the McCain people can count on Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the conservative media to engage in racist fear-mongering. Limbaugh came out with a racist rant just yesterday while Stanley Kurtz of NRO did his best to create another bridge from Obama to Jeremiah Wright.

It's ugly bigoted stuff, but it's not like Republicans haven't done it before.

It's still plausible that the combination of nice conservativism and gutter conservatism could move the poll numbers a modest 5% over the next three weeks and give McCain a squeaker win.

But I don't think the McCain people will be able to turn the tide. To boil it all down, nominating Sarah Palin poisoned the water for a traditional Republican campaign.

At this point, I'd say it's most likely that Obama's going to win.

And he deserves it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Worst Thing About the Sarah Palin Blunder

The French diplomat Talleyrand was famous for pooh poohing ethics in relation to Napoleon by claiming that one of the emperor's decision was "worse than a crime, it's a blunder."

Today, recovering Republican strategist Matthew Dowd argues that John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin was mostly a crime of putting politics before country:
Dowd proclaimed that, in his heart of hearts, McCain knew he put the country at risk with his VP choice and that he would "have to live" with that fact for the rest of his career.

Of course, nominating Sarah Palin to be vice-president would be a crime if McCain won. Given the report on the Troopergate scandal in Alaska, it looks less and less like Palin is fit to be the governor of a small state let alone have any national responsibility.

The Palin nomination is also a crime against the Republican Party's future. Palin is a singularly reckless and partisan right-winger whose showmanship makes her a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (whether McCain wins or loses). But Sarah-mania is also a trap. As long as she's involved in national politics, Palin will be a very attractive figure for conservatives. Palin is also highly unpopular with non-conservatives that she could never win a national election. As a result, any Palin candidacy would tend to keep conservatives trapped in an ideological ghetto of their own.

But nominating Sarah Palin was also a blunder. And it was a blunder for several reasons.

First, the Palin hurt McCain because it put him on the defensive. The problem emerged even when McCain was ahead of Obama and Palin was enjoying popularity. Because Palin lacked much experience beyond Wasilla, Alaska, the McCain campaign first had to answer a wave of questions about her lack of experience. Then, there were succeeding waves of questions, first about her knowledge from the Gibson and Couric interviews and then her abuse of power in the Troopergate investigation.

The McCain campaign was on the offenseive during June and July with their attacks on Obama's celebrity status. But they've been playing defense ever since the Palin nomination.

Second, the Palin nomination cemented the idea that John McCain was running a gimmicky presidential campaign. Of course, McCain had already pulled lots of gimmicks ranging from his poverty tour of Appalachia, the challenge for Obama to travel with him to Iraq, the follow-up challenge to Iraq to do ten townhall meetings, and the nasty, race-baiting "Celeb" ads.

But when John McCain tabbed Sarah Palin as his "stunt nomination," he set himself up for the "gimmicky candidate" narrative that bit him during the financial meltdown. The Wall Street crisis would have played against McCain as a Republican in any case. It played much worse against him because all of his manuevers have been seen as "gimmicks" and McCain was seen as a "gimmicky" candidate in a time of crisis. The idea of McCain as a gimmicky kind of guy began to take hold in the discussion over the Palin nomination and has been one of the cancers on his campaign ever since.

Good Idea from Pat Buchanan

Who says conservatives don't have good ideas. Here's a good idea from Pat Buchanan. Liquidate our empire.

Obama Surging in the States

Obama's surge in last week's national polls is being reflected in this week's state polls. The latest state polls cited at TPM have Obama "up 52%-43% in Colorado, 54%-38% in Michigan, 51%-40% in Minnesota, and 54%-37% in Wisconsin."

There's still very plausible scenarios by which McCain could stabilize his campaign and squeak out a win. What he would have to do is recapture Florida and Virginia and then pretty much run the toss-up states.

But Obama is looking strong right now.