Friday, February 29, 2008
New Hillary TV ad in Texas promises that in the New Clinton White House, she won't be sleeping with Bill
Sort of, anyway. Maybe it just implies that she won't be sleeping at all.
Meanwhile, the famously nocturnal Bill must be off-camera, in the next room playing Hearts or maybe having phone sex.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Highly specific Texas primary exit-poll datum (one voter)
I took advantage of one of Harris County's many, convenient early voting locations tonight about 6:15 p.m. There was about a 15-minute line, but there were probably two dozen electronic voting machines up and running, with a full complement of four volunteers doing the check-ins, so the line moved quickly.
I was struck by how very much the folks both waiting in line and voting looked like a typical modern Harris County jury pool. I'd venture a decent wager that there's a strong positive correlation (not to be confused with causation) between bothering to vote early and bothering to show up for jury duty.
Virtually everyone I saw checking in, moreover, had brought with them their voter registration cards, which certainly made the check-in process a snap. I'll bet there's a strong positive correlation between being an early voter and remembering to bring your voter registration card, too.
Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Heck, to my genuine surprise, I found that I was in a good mood too — perhaps because it'd been a beautiful crisp and sunny spring day in Houston; perhaps because I figured I was avoiding a longer line next week; perhaps my fellow voters' good moods were contagious; or perhaps I was just feeling the simple satisfaction that comes from simultaneously performing a civic duty and enjoying a civic privilege.
The same polling places and voting machines serve for both the Republican and Democratic primaries. One simply tells the check-in volunteers which primary one wishes to vote in. They offer to stamp your voter registration card with the party name if you want. One such stamp (at least as I understand it, at a distance) is the required entry ticket to one of this year's Democratic Party caucus on election day. Those, in turn, will award a good-sized slug of additional delegates to one or the other Democratic nominee based on caucus turnout and participation, to go along with the delegates awarded (proportionally, according to formulae that mystify me) based on the primary voting. And the first page of the electronic ballot warned that by voting in one party's primary, you made yourself ineligible for this year to vote in the other party's primary.
I already know, with a high degree of certainty, to whom my votes will go in the general election. And despite Huckabee's weird flirtation, bordering on a sort of stalker's fixation, with the possibility that he might ace McCain out by a few percentage points here in Texas, the GOP nomination, on a national basis, is not in doubt. There are a few down-ballot contested races on the GOP slate that I care about, particularly those involving state trial and appellate judges and county government officials. But I was still mightily tempted — and I've been engaged in a raging internal debate about it for a couple of weeks now — to cast a "strategic" vote in the Democratic Primary instead this year.
A synonym for the term "strategic vote" is "spoiling vote."
For much of my adult life, when Texas was a one-party state and that party was the Democratic Party, I routinely voted in the Democratic Primary, even though I intended to vote Republican in the general election. That was absolutely commonplace in Texas politics for decades — and it was a practice not only understood and tolerated by the Democrats of that era, but something they considered in their primary campaigns in much the same way both parties' national organizations now talk about courting "cross-over voters" in the general election. The more conservative Democrats were going to get the sprinkling of GOP voters' primary votes — and thus did candidates like Lloyd Bentsen knock the stuffing out of incumbents like Ralph Yarborough when the latter tended, upon spending too much time outside Texas, to fall prey to those radical/librul notions from them Northeastern Commie-fied Democrats. By the late 1990s, to some extent (especially in Dallas and Harris Counties and chunks of the Panhandle), turn-about had become fair play, and Democrats were voting in the GOP primary so they could have an impact on those contested races.
In neither instance I've just mentioned were these cross-voters making "strategic" or "spoiling" votes, though: If the outcome of the general election is considered a foregone conclusion in favor of the other side, then voting in the other side's primary is essentially equivalent to casting a general election vote. You only cast a spoiling primary vote when (a) your vote in your own party's primary wouldn't much matter, but when (b) your vote might matter in the opposing primary, and when (c) the general election looks like it might be close.
The practice doesn't offend me on its face. Indeed, even in general elections, a goodly percentage of the time I view the vote I'm casting as much or more in terms of who I'm voting against, so the notion of picking which primary I choose to vote in mainly for the purpose of casting an "against" vote is no stretch at all. The law just requires that I (or anyone) not vote in both primaries, but it doesn't, and can't, and mustn't, ever require that a voter believe in and adhere to either party or its candidates or nominees. Hey, it's a free country! And that means my own damned reasons for why I vote the way I vote, or which primary I choose to vote in, are entirely satisfactory by definition; and they may be either entirely personal or (in the case of a blogger, or a pundit even from pre-internet days giving advice about "strategic voting") even entirely public.
This year, the general election might be close even in Texas, depending on who the Dems nominate (and, to a vastly lesser degree, on who McCain picks as a running mate). So my theory this year, in considering the possibility of casting a strategic votes, was that if I was going to vote in my disfavored party's primary, I'd cast my vote for the weakest candidate — i.e., the one who I think my favored party and its nominee have the best chance to beat in the general election.
The trouble this year has been that I'm not entirely sure who that would turn out to be. Most of the time, I've perceived Obama as, ultimately, the more dangerous (i.e., likely to win) general election candidate. I think his hype and sizzle will absolutely turn out the Dems' base — to a vastly better degree than Kerry did in 2004, and those were record general election turnouts for both parties throughout the country. As between him and Hillary, I also think she's more likely to triangulate in office. All the Clintons have ever cared about, ever, has been gaining and then retaining power; they couldn't give a rat's fart in a hurricane about anything or anyone else; and there's some comfort in knowing that, if you're opposing them, because it makes them more predictable, less extreme, and easier to beat when they do go to extremes (viz, HillaryCare ver. 1.0). As a dedicated conservative and lifelong Republican, I've been thinking (most of the time) that I'd rather see Hillary get the Democratic nomination, both because I think we'd have a better chance of beating her in November, and because if that fails I think we'll have a better chance of stalemating her in office.
And right now, there's no doubt that even here in Texas, Hillary is the underdog. I'd love to see her and Obama still circling each other, crouched, arms akimbo and switch-blades flashing in the moonlight, right through to the Democratic National
Rumble Convention. A vote for Hillary in Texas is a vote for Chaos in Denver!
But then again: There are days when I'm absolutely convinced that despite all of Obama's zeal and charisma — which I think would be catastrophic to underestimate, and easy to mishandle — I haven't seen a candidate with such an untested glass jaw in a national contest since George McGovern.
So: Vote for the empty suit? Or for the pants-suit? What would the smartest strategic vote be, I wondered? Talk about your Hobson's Choice!
Worst of all: If I really wanted to maximize the throw-weight of my spoiling vote, I'd have to show up for a local Democratic caucus. Even if I wore a stocking cap, really weird clothes, and wired my jaw shut, I'm pretty sure other people in that room would sense my lack of Democratic Party bona fides. (See above, re my comparison of voters and jurors, the latter of which, when they're working and interacting in groups, exhibit a vastly more powerful BS-detection capability than ordinary, solitary individuals do. You can fool some of the people all of the time, etc.) So I'd have to be prepared to endure, and maybe to fake, not just enthusiasm for a pair of candidates whose platforms and policies make me tend to gag and break out in hives, I'd have to be prepared to weather outright hostility.
Maybe I could have downloaded that "Hott 4 Hillary" music video to my cell-phone, and taken it and a set of headphones to the caucus. I liked that video a lot, even with the very weak ending. Okay, well, actually, I liked the aspiring young actress in that video a lot. I think I really connected with her in a way that I never managed with Obama Girl.
And my home water heater has a pretty large capacity. I could take as many showers as I needed, after the caucus. Maybe a little fasting, a little controlled purging between showers. Start with the Brillo pads and the Lava hand soap, then move to Dial or Irish Spring on the third or forth shower. Pine-Sol rinses in between. Maybe something antibiotic to deal with the brush lesions.
If I were braver, I guess, I could have gone through with it. I could have parachuted behind Democratic lines. I could have eaten their donuts and drank their coffee and raised a paw for the most-worse of the two.
But I'm too old, and not very brave, and my karma possibly would have never recovered from such a corrosive bath of deviousness.
So I voted in the GOP primary. Damn you and me both, John McCain, there's a greater leap of faith in the vote I cast for you tonight than in any presidential vote I've ever cast. I expect you to perform in this election with the same determination you showed at the Hanoi Hilton — not the good-time Johnny you played at Annapolis nor the self-righteous and too-flexible "political maverick" that charms those MSM reporters. You were my fourth choice out of a field of five serious GOP candidates. But you're the least-worst remaining national alternative in wartime. Don't let me down, because my vote tonight was probably typical of the majority of committed Republican votes you'll receive from here on out, all the way through to November. Straighten up and fly right, aviator! Your party, and more importantly, your country and the world, need you at your very best.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
If foreign citizens would cheer, swoon, and sing "Kumbaya" along with Pres. Obama, does that make him a fit commander-in-chief and head of state?
WaPo's David Ignatius opines today that Barack Obama is just so damned cool that the rest of the world outside America — allies and enemies alike — will join in the swoon for him that has caught up so many of Obama's American supporters. Thus, Ignatius argues, America will actually be better off having a president whose military, foreign policy, and national security experience can't fill half a matchbook cover:
To prepare for the next stage of the U.S. presidential campaign, try this thought experiment: Imagine the television footage of Barack Obama's first trip abroad as president — the crowds in the streets of Moscow, Cairo, Nairobi, Shanghai, Paris, Islamabad. Now try to imagine the first visit by President John McCain to those same cities. McCain is a great man, and he would be welcomed with respect, deference, perhaps a bit of fear.
Obama would generate different and more intense reactions — surprise and uncertainty, to be sure, but also idealism and hope. Now tell me which image would foster a stronger and safer America in the 21st century.
Obama has liabilities as a candidate, but his inexperience paradoxically may actually bolster one of his core arguments — that he would give America a fresh start.
This isn't just drinking the Kool-Aid. This is slitting your wrists and replacing all of your bodily fluids with the Kool-Aid. Images are important. But image alone can't "foster," much less accomplish, a stronger and safer America, and only a fool could pretend otherwise.
Comparisons between John F. Kennedy and Barack H. Obama are most vivid and valid with respect to their shared (a) charisma and (b) foreign policy inexperience. Kennedy, at least, was a war veteran, and he came from a Democratic Party that hadn't yet started reflexively doubting, then hating and apologizing for, all things American.
And it's true that when Kennedy traveled abroad, his youth and enthusiasm and charisma — his and his even younger wife's good looks, glamor, and sex appeal, and even (as silly as it now seems to us) his hatlessness — generated tons of adoration from the foreign masses. I don't mean to wholly dismiss the important role that an American president can and should fulfill in articulating and personifying our country's characteristic national values (e.g., liberty, self-reliance and -autonomy, democracy, the rule of law, justice) and personal values (e.g., confidence, optimism, piety, generosity, compassion, curiosity, steadfastness, loyalty, integrity). JFK did indeed hit all those notes abroad, as he generally had done at home too (if you ignore, as the press conspired to do, his reckless, uncontrollable, and serial marital infidelities).
The problem is that JFK's shiny image and soaring rhetoric became net disadvantages in America's non-superficial dealings with the world. At the geopolitical, governmental level, based on his youth and his lack of demonstrated experience, he was initially assessed by both our friends and our foes as a lightweight, a dilettante, and a weak-willed pretender. And he immediately proceeded to give the world proof of that initial assessment: From the Bay of Pigs, through a disastrous Vienna summit with Khrushchev, through his now-hot now-cold support for the Diem government in South Vietnam, right up to — most dangerously — the "Missiles of October," John F. Kennedy's foreign policy inexperience and inconsistencies brought us literally to the brink of thermo-nuclear war.
(When I made this same point in a post a few weeks ago, a commenter said, in effect, "So you would rather JFK have buckled under to the Soviets and allowed them to keep their nuclear missiles in Cuba?" Well, duh. Of course not. My point was, and is, that we should never have been faced with the threats resulting from the showdown in October 1962 because if we had had a capable and credible American commander-in-chief and head of state, the Soviets would never have dared place missiles there to begin with. Like JFK's getting his PT boat run over by a Japanese destroyer before he heroically rescued his crew, the Missiles of October episode was a profile in courage wholly predicated on a profile in incompetency.)
JFK's predecessor's foreign policy experience and gravitas, of course, was a given. Dwight Eisenhower had already defeated Hitler and saved the world, after all (and yes, that's something of an exaggeration, but thus was he perceived, and not without some considerable basis). But it's only now, decades later, that we're beginning to properly appreciate how much Ike's foreign policy genius as president was largely hidden to us (if not to world leaders) behind that sunny, bland smile and those calm rounds of golf. Ike was so good, he made it all look easy, even though it never was; and there was no danger that America's enemies would ever underestimate him. Jack Kennedy was so bad, he made it look nearly impossible, even while women fainted and crowds around the world chanted his name; and his election was the international signal for all would-be adventurers, tyrants, and revolutionaries to get wild and go crazy.
Objectively, the only worse-prepared and worse-performing American president than JFK on foreign affairs in the second half of the 20th Century was Jimmy Carter — whose pre-White House foreign policy and national security credentials also resemble (in their shallowness) Barack Obama's. From our enemies' point of view, Carter's election was JFK redux. And of course, the main enemy adventurisms enabled by Carter's perceived and actual spinelessness were (a) the Iranian revolution and seizure of the American embassy hostages and (b) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 — with meandering and unhappy consequences from both of those events continuing to play out even today.
Oh, I have no doubt that a President Obama would draw rock-star adulation from crowds in Moscow, Cairo, Nairobi, Shanghai, Paris, and Islamabad. But especially in a time of war, America can't afford a political rock-star instead of a statesman as commander-in-chief and head of state. To pretend — as Ignatius' op-ed does — that a political rock-star would actually make a superior commander-in-chief and head of state precisely because he's a political rock star with no relevant experience is an amazing, and amazingly dangerous, self-delusion. By contrast, Ignatius' admission that a President McCain would be "welcomed with respect, deference, perhaps a bit of fear" in all those foreign cities is actually one of the strongest and least disputable arguments for the McCain 2008 campaign that I've yet heard.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The short list; or, "How to solve the problem that neither Barack nor Hillary can be persuaded to take the #2 slot"
Scott Ott is always worth reading, but at his best he's simply brilliant.
Best advice (from a GOP perspective) so far in 2008 for the eventual Democratic nominee
Columnist E.J. Dionne, in today's WaPo, gives us an op-ed entitled "A 'Challenge' Worth Challenging," in which he writes:
[O]ne of John McCain's favorite lines — his declaration that "the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extremists," or, as he sometimes says, "extremism" — could define the 2008 election.
Whether McCain is right or wrong matters to everything the United States will do in the coming years. It is incumbent upon McCain to explain what he really means by "transcendent challenge."
Presumably, he's saying that Islamic extremism is more important than everything else — the rise of China and India as global powers, growing resistance to American influence in Europe, the weakening of America's global economic position, the disorder and poverty in large parts of Africa, the alienation of significant parts of Latin America from the United States. Is it in our national interest for all these issues to take a back seat to terrorism?
There, in three paragraphs, is abundant proof of the power of time and frantic Bush Derangement Syndrome to absolutely block out both the memory of 9/11/01 and the still-looming dangers that terrorists will obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Let's see here, to which of the following worries should I, as a voter in 2008, give a higher priority: That more of my Dell tech support calls in 2009 will be answered by someone in Bangalore instead of Austin? That the newly separated countries formerly known as Belgium may, in 2010, still fail to reliably back U.S.-preferred positions in every E.U. vote on agricultural tariffs? Or that Manhattan, and millions of Americans who live and work there, will suddenly and literally vanish under a radioactive mushroom cloud in 2011?
Oh yes, please. By all means, be it Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the Democratic standard-bearer ought to follow this advice from Dionne:
A majority of Americans are now prepared to hear (in a way they weren't in, say, 2003) an argument that allowing terrorists and terrorism to define American foreign policy is neither in our interest nor particularly useful in fighting terrorism itself.
From your pen, Dionne, to the Democratic nominee's lips! Yes, let it be so. Let said nominee define American foreign policy under his/her upcoming administration instead as "make everything not-Bush ASAP!" instead of "keep America safe."
Terrorism as the most important domestic security and foreign policy issue? Wow, just as E.J. tells us, that's, like, so 2002!
Surely the Democratic nominee and his/her followers can persuade America that terrorism and even the prospect of millions of us being annihilated really doesn't matter all that much, can't they? Say it with me now, all good Democrats: "Yes! Yes, we can!"
And anyone who argues that we actually need to be concerned that the terrorists will continue to do what they've been doing (making war on us) — or do it better and more effectively than even on 9/11/01, as they've continuously declared they intend to do — is just engaged in fascist fear-mongering!
Monger-monger-monger! Yes, that Beldar is one! A fear-monger! Say it with me now, all good Democrats: "Yes, yes he is!" He's a what? "A fear-monger!"
So's John McCain! "Yes! Yes, he is!" What is McCain? Say it with me slowly: "A fear ... MON-ger-r-r-r-r-r!" Non-Hispanic folks, go ahead and practice trilling that final "R" sound, because you'll enjoy it so much more if you do that during the responsive reading portion of the Dem nominee's acceptance speech. Every Spanish language class I've ever been in has dissolved into giggles whenever any of us non-Hispanics try to trill our Rs, and that laughter will help the Democratic Party re-bond and rejoin together, and remind the Latinos that the Democratic Party still
thinks it owns their votes relies upon and cherishes them! And yes! Laughter is a weapon against terrorism! And certainly we will be able to keep the nuclear mushroom clouds away from Manhattan if we are all united, not Red America or Blue America, but Oblivious America! Hopeful, oblivious Americans ... United for change — change from Day One, change you can believe in, change that gives you hope and real hope that's for a real change, not just words of change, but change just like we had in the 1990s! Change back to ... to the one thing about which all Democrats can all join hands and rejoice in together: Not-Bush!
(Standing ovation line. Cue the balloon drop! Music up and over ....)
Seriously, with this column, I think Dionne has actually gone all the way around the circle from being a mere "useful idiot" for the terrorists to become such an obvious and spectacular idiot that he might actually be more useful for the GOP.
But what genuinely terrifies me is that in a Democratic administration, particularly an Obama one, this sort of dreck, or similar dreck from the likes of Glenn Greenwald, would pass for intellectual leadership on foreign policy matters.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
McCain privately apologized to Cornyn shortly after May 2007 profane shouting
Back in May 2007, I made one of the bigger fusses of anyone in the right-of-center blogosphere over Sen. John McCain's rude behavior toward one of my home-state senators, John Cornyn. I'd previously written from time to time about my disapproval of McCain's positions on a variety of substantive issues, especially his leadership of the GOP renegades from the so-called Gang of Fourteen compromise over judicial nominations. But his shouting profane insults at Sen. Cornyn bespoke to me a fundamental lack of temperament that I described then as "a textbook example of immature and irresponsible pique — ill-fitting a U.S. senator, and incomprehensibly inappropriate for a would-be U.S. president."
Although at that point I had not endorsed any GOP candidate, the incident troubled me so much that I declared my formal opposition to McCain's bid for the GOP nomination. Prophetically (out of many more missed prophecies), I admitted that "I would still probably hold my nose and vote for him in November 2008 if he became the GOP's nominee, because I don't believe in self-immolatory politics and the Democratic alternative will inevitably be worse on the issues most important to me." But I insisted that "Sen. McCain owe[d] Sen. Cornyn — and frankly, Sen. Cornyn's constituents, and his own — an immediate and unstinting public apology."
As I followed the various GOP candidates' campaigns since then, I saw several more press references to the shouting incident. But there certainly was never any comparably public apology by Sen. McCain, and I was left wondering what might have been said between them in private.
Now, as part of this AP article entitled "McCain's Sharp Tongue: An Achilles Heel?" I read that McCain at least made a private apology, and that he did so promptly:
With Cornyn, he smoothed things over quickly. The two argued during a meeting on immigration legislation; Cornyn complained that McCain seemed to parachute in during the final stages of negotiations. "F--- you. I know more about this than anyone else in the room," McCain reportedly shouted.
Cornyn chuckled at the memory of what he called McCain's "aggressive expressions of differences." The Texan has endorsed McCain.
"He almost immediately apologized to me," Cornyn said last week. "I accepted his apology, and as far as I'm concerned, we've moved on down the road."
(Texas' other U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, has also endorsed McCain, and her name has been mentioned as a possible Veep nominee even though Texas remains a reliably red state even without a favorite son or daughter on the ticket.)
It's not that I'm worried that a President McCain might order an air strike on San Antonio if he gets cross-wise with Sen. Cornyn again. And if fate should ever put, say, Hugo Chavez on the same platform as McCain, the potential for clashing would probably be so obvious that McCain would have summoned up his very best behavior in advance; while his past explosions have sometimes been public, they haven't typically been while on camera or on stage. All things considered, I'd rather that the GOP nominee be of a naturally even temper rather than a hot one. But modest pluralities of GOP primary voters in a very small number of states have ensured that he hottest tempered, grumpiest, and most foul-mouthed of the major candidates will be at the top of the GOP ticket in November. I'm actively working at coming to grips with that, and little bits of information like this one help.
Sen. McCain is obviously aware of this particular set of character flaws. Even if he can't extirpate or suppress them, I'm at least glad for this confirmation that he has sufficient grace and presence to make necessary apologies. I suspect he'll have occasion to make more than a few of them during the rest of the 2008 campaign.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Is Hillary offering Barack the Veep slot via a press leak?
It's always amazed and amused me how many times, in negotiations over settling a lawsuit, my opponents will say something like this: "We'd consider paying something in the $200,000-$250,000 range" or "We'd probably take something in the $250,000-$300,000 range." When given either of these statements, I immediately discard the over or under (depending on who's to pay). In both of these instances, I probably wouldn't even bother repeating the "range" to my client, but would just say, "Their current number is $250,000."
So if I were Barack Obama today, if I were able to confirm that the "Clinton aides" referenced in this news report really were Clinton aids speaking with their candidate's knowledge and authorization, I would immediately conclude that the Veep spot on a Hillary Clinton-led ticket is now firmly on the table (at least for now; perhaps not irrevocably):
Clinton aides have privately admitted that Mr Obama would only consider such a move [i.e., "standing down" voluntarily in her favor] if offered the position of vice presidential running mate, something Mrs Clinton has always been reluctant to consider.
What an odd locution. "We admit that our opponent would only consider quitting if we gave him a guarantee on the second slot." But isn't saying that equivalent, for all practical purposes (except face-saving plausible deniability if the non-offer offer is rejected), to making the offer?
Should Obama seriously consider accepting such an offer? I think not, unless he's more substantially more risk-averse than I read him to be. His chances of winning the Democratic nomination outright seem better than ever. His chances of winning the general election must likewise seem very substantial. His downside risk in the former case is that he'd have to wait until 2012 or 2016 to run again — a pretty acceptable risk, it would seem, given his age. If, as the article claims, both the Clinton and Obama camps are "scared" of running against McCain, and if he believes that they could only beat McCain via a combined "dream team" Democratic ticket, then perhaps he would conclude that he's minimizing his risks by taking a second spot behind Hillary Clinton (which she could never do, since Bill could never consent to being only a shadow Vice President). But at a time when the GOP base has still certainly not made its peace with McCain or vice versa, could this "candidate of hope" be so cowed by such early polls? And could he view what would effectively be the #3 slot (behind Bill) in a Clinton administration to be worth even as much as the proverbial warm bucket of spit?
I don't think so. This strikes me as a fairly desperate move by the Clinton campaign. It's as if, after calling the $500 all-in bet of the other last player in a winner-take-all Texas Hold'em tournament, the holder of the $600 stack, knowing that she's got only two pair (10s and 3s, with the 10s both on the board), offers to split the $1000 tournament pot 60/40 before the show-down with the other player. Yeah, she has the current lead, and yeah, 60/40 would be a pretty good compromise if the other player is really risk-averse. But would he have gone all-in without at least another pair? And isn't it likely to beat her two 3s in the hole? If he wins, thereby doubling up and gaining a 10/1 chip advantage, isn't he likely to be able to wipe her out in a few more hands anyway? Now that she's already called, why should he let her off the hook? I'd read it as nothing but a signal that she's feeling weak — and not about beating McCain, but about beating Obama.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Don't kid yourself into thinking that the enthusiasm of Obama supporters can be dismissed as being a "personality cult"
Music. Rhythm and repetition. Striking visual images, especially of people and their faces. I can't imagine that the ancient Greek and Roman politicians two millennia ago failed to make good use of these in connection with their elections (or, failing that, their rabble-rousing) because they can inspire extremely powerful reactions.
I've watched this recruiting commercial for the U.S. Marines maybe 10 times. It's terrific. It quite literally brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.
I've watched this campaign music video only about three times. But it's also terrific, albeit in a pretty different way. It also quite literally brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.
James Taranto, in his Wall Street Journal "Best of the Web" column today, called the second video "creepy" and describes it as depicting
people who appear to be in some sort of trance as they mouth along with Obama's various rhetorical flourishes from his speeches, then repeat the mantra "Yes, we can." The whole thing has the feel of a cult of personality.
He quotes Democrat and self-described Obama voter Kathleen Geier from a TPM Cafe essay warning that "this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign," and warning that "he's not Jesus! [Obama]'s not going to magically enable us to transcend the bitter partisanship that is tearing this country apart."
They're both overstating their cases, and missing the point — and in Taranto's case, it's almost pure wishful thinking. There are a whole, whole lot of Americans who can react positively, emotionally, and patriotically to both of these videos.
"Oh my," some of you may be saying, "Beldar's gone around the bend and become an Obama supporter." Never fear that, gentle readers. Barack Obama will never have my vote, my endorsement, or my support, and if he's the Democratic Party's nominee, I will do my very best to ensure that he's not elected.
But I would be a poor excuse for a pundit, for a blogger who opines on matters political, if I could not watch that music video and recognize its artistry — or if I could not watch the Obama campaign and recognize that candidate's power to inspire hope among the discontented, the disaffected, and even just those who feel guilty that they aren't feeling more discontented and disaffected (like, I suspect, most of the Hollywood actors and music stars who actually appear on Obama's video).
Taranto's badly mistaken to mock or write off this video, or the enthusiasm for the Obama campaign of which it's representative, as "creepy" or a "personality cult." The plain and simple fact is that Obama's youth and charisma and passion, arriving on the American political scene when he has, are going to be powerfully attractive to far more than those at risk of infection by mere "cults." He's going to swell a lot of hearts on the campaign trail. If he becomes the Democratic nominee, Republicans are going to have to be prepared to combat that.They'll have to do so in two distinct ways, though.
First, they'll have to match Team Obama's artistic power. John McCain hasn't given the speech yet that can be put to music in this particular way. But that Marine commercial is a fine example of how powerful emotional chords can be crafted and plucked for patriotic themes, and unlike the limp-saluting pretend-hero John Kerry, McCain's history furnishes good material for use in this way. Those of you of a certain age will remember Reagan's "Morning in America" commercials. There's a tone that was in them, a hopeful and forward-looking tone, that the McCain campaign needs to reach for, not just in their paid advertisements but in all of their campaigning. If the public's sole take-away image of McCain is that of the smart-aleck, grumpy, spiteful old man that he sometimes reveals in public, then overcoming the emotional power of the Obama campaign will be extraordinarily difficult. And the bad news is that so far this campaign season, the most passion McCain has aroused has been from movement conservatives who've opposed him for the GOP nomination.
But while Team McCain can't ignore the electorate's hearts, it absolutely must engage the electorate's minds as well. It's got to engage the grown-up voter who can wipe a tear from his eye after watching that Obama music video, but who will then say, "Damn, that was powerful good stuff. It's too bad, with all that charisma, that Obama is a naive child on foreign policy and the most liberal big-government tax-and-spend Democrat in the Senate on domestic policy."
To win, we have to get votes from people who find Obama likable and inspiring, but who can also feel patriotic and justified in supporting a candidate who has more steak despite having less sizzle.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Are we at war? And what is the political consequence of that for conservatives in this election?
Are we a nation at war?
I ask you to ask yourself that question afresh. Most of my regular and even occasional readers, including some who are life-long Democrats, will be tempted to give a reflexive, automatic, and affirmative answer to that question. Certainly even Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's campaign stump speeches concede that we're "at war." I'm just asking that you think again, and do your best to re-weigh the evidence.
If we were to ask the ghosts of Ulysses S. Grant or Andrew Jackson, each of them might well answer in the negative. No foreign government or even potentate has declared war upon us. The Union is in no peril of being split asunder. No foreign army is likely to burn Washington; no army in the world can credibly challenge ours on the fields of battle. Our own territory is reasonably secure from all but infiltrated and covert attacks, as is that of our most important historic allies. Only criminals and brigands dare oppose us with force, and then they flee and hide.
"War" has always meant casualties, but the casualty rate in our all-volunteer armed forces — while (as always) catastrophic if it's your dad or your sister who's just been killed — is statistically trivial as compared to even to the numbers of military deaths from accident or disease during past wars. General Grant's ghost would gratefully note that our total KIA casualties since 9/11/01 have been smaller than his Army of the Potomac's on a single morning in Cold Harbor, Virginia, in an action that gained the Union not an inch of ground or an ounce of progress (even by attrition). And outside of our soldiers and their families, you will look long and absolutely in vain for even the slightest crimp in the domestic lives of our countrymen that can be directly attributed to the "Global War on Terror" (or its respective conspicuous incarnations in Afghanistan or Iraq).
If they found graves at all, the stockbrokers and firemen and receptionists and Pentagon functionaries and airline passengers who perished on 9/11/01 have rested in them for more than six years. Off American soil, in Europe, civilian casualties from follow-on terrorist attacks have measured in the dozens, not the thousands. To many of us, 9/11 now seems like a horrible anomaly, not the first major battle in a war.
And the two leading Democratic candidates continue to compete with one another over which can declare the war in Iraq "over" (some among their party already say "lost") and bring our troops home from there. They have yet to find some excuse to do the same for Afghanistan, but surely they'll have found one by the time they've disentangled our troops from Iraq. This causes them not a moment of shame.
And if Iran has The Bomb in three or a half dozen or ten years — well, Pakistan has The Bomb too. North Korea probably has a handful. And there's still no radiation in Central Park or on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
So maybe we've won, more or less. Or maybe it was never a "war" to begin with — just a Bush Administration excuse to grab power and trample civil liberties. Whatever.
Day to day, for almost all of use, it feels just like peacetime. It feels that way whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative or a liberal, male or female, young or old, white or black or brown or whatever.
So: Do you think we're at war?
If you're convinced in your bones that your sensations are accurate, that your current experience is reliable, that what you don't know isn't likely to hurt you, and that it's safe for you to act in all important respects like our nation is at peace, then you've established an essential precondition, an essential premise, for a particular political decision:
If you're convinced we're not at war, then you're absolutely entitled to insist that it doesn't matter whether you vote in November 2008 for Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama or for John McCain. In particular, if you consider yourself to be a principled conservative, and you believe we're at peace, then you're absolutely entitled to withhold your presidential vote in its entirety, rather than cast it in favor of John McCain. Certainly he's insulted you enough in the past; certainly he's betrayed the principles you hold dear; certainly he's been disingenuous and sneaky and self-righteous and petty, and he's pretty damned unapologetic about all of that. He's an old dog now, and he'd rather snarl than even try to learn any new tricks. It would just feel delicious to cast a spite vote against him, wouldn't it?
If, by contrast, you understand in your bones that — despite all the indicia of peacetime I've summarized — we are at war; that our enemies are still alive and dangerous; that their lust for our blood is not only unabated but more inflamed by the events since 9/11/01; and that their entire existence is devoted to repeating and eclipsing the events of that day, then you don't have that luxury. Your "feel-good" vote against McCain, or even your non-vote, carries too high a price.
I fully understand the depth of your loathing for John McCain. My own is considerable, and other than for his record as a Navy pilot and POW, such respect as I am able to summon up for him could serve as a dictionary-precise example of the phrase "grudging respect."
But the immortal Winston Churchill had it right when, in response to a challenge over his wartime support of Joseph Stalin, he illustrated the need to prioritize one's villains: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."
McCain, if president, will continue to fight the Global War on Terror. Indeed, he will keep us on the offensive. This is the sole issue on which I have absolute confidence in John McCain. And I have equal confidence that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will, for all practical purposes, refuse to fight it.
And that is the transcendent difference among the remaining presidential candidates. That is the issue in this election that is more important than all of the others combined. There are other things that are important, and from a committed conservative's point of view, McCain is wrong, or unreliable, on many of them. Clinton and Obama, though, are wrong on most of them. And no matter how many of those issues they're all wrong together on, it doesn't change the fact that we're at war, or the fact that Obama or Clinton wouldn't fight it effectively.
Someone, in comments below, will argue that Clinton's really a moderate Democrat who won't actually surrender, that her anti-war rhetoric is just for the Democratic primaries, and that there wouldn't be that much difference between her and McCain on the war. One must be very skilled at self-deception, and eager to be deceived, to believe that. President Hillary Clinton would win the Global War on Terror in exactly the same way that President George McClellan would have won the Civil War.
Someone else, in comments below, will argue that their conservative principles are so important that it would be better to lose to the radical Islamic terrorists than to betray those principles. I respectfully reply that the luxury of standing on such principles to that degree is one which no patriot can indulge in during wartime. Your duty to help your country continue this fight trumps those principles. You need not abandon them or disclaim them, but you must set them aside long enough to ensure that we retain the freedom to pursue conservative principles — or any principles at all which come from elsewhere than the Wahabi-interpreted Koran.
"Daddy," asked one of my children recently, "What does 'existential' mean?" I answered that it depends on the context, but that one example is when you're in a fight to the death. "That," I said, "is an existential fight, because at the end of it, only one of you will still exist."
That is what we are in, friends and neighbors. Your Chevrolet Impala or Toyota 4Runner didn't get blown up in your driveway overnight, and your daughter wasn't stoned for showing a bit of ankle at the grocery store. But that's not for lack of trying by our enemies, who would change your world and mine to that world even at the cost of exploding their own children with remote-control bombs.
The GOP primary season is effectively over now. Gov. Romney will withdraw, gracefully and with some millions of his personal fortune still intact, before the week is out. Whether Huckabee has made himself into a viable Veep candidate probably won't be known for some time yet; I doubt it, and I hope not. But after last night's Super Tuesday results (particularly in Missouri and California, which could have been Romney's upset states), there is no plausible path to the GOP nomination for anyone but John McCain. That's just the reality, based on a plurality of voters in elections where the votes genuinely counted and must be respected. McCain got more of those votes, and the resulting delegates, than anyone else, and there's no way to pretend that didn't happen. The majority of McCain's party that dislikes him didn't unify themselves in favor of someone else, and it's too late now to do that.
It is a good thing, overall, that there is so much time left between now and November. John McCain has to actively campaign to win over the majority of his own party, along with enough others to get himself elected. He'll need that time. But there are many conservatives who will never accept him, who will never become comfortable with him, who will never be persuaded that he represents them, and who are genuinely, viscerally distressed at the notion of giving him their votes. Ten years would not be enough to change all of their minds.
But between now and November, many — I daresay most — of those will gradually return to the dissatisfying, distressing, but inescapable conclusion that no issue this election season is more important than the Global War on Terror, and that no difference among the candidates is as profound as on that exact issue. They'll hold their noses, they'll pray for the best, and they'll cast a vote based on patriotism over all other principles, because they're grown-ups, and because they'll remember that yes, indeed, we are still at war.
Nothing in this post is really shocking or profound. This isn't rocket science. It's about as subtle as a scimitar at your throat.
UPDATE (Wed Feb 6 @ wee-small-hours): You may think I'm being premature in counting Gov. Romney out and predicting that he'll end his campaign this week. I say that, actually, as an implied compliment to him and his practicality.
McCain is supported only by a plurality, and not a large one at that. However, to beat him, Romney had to either convince Huckabee to drop out, or convince Huckabee voters that a vote for Huckabee is effectively one for McCain. Super Tuesday's results showed that Romney could not achieve either of these goals, nor is there any likelihood that that will change in any of the upcoming primaries. As a result, his chances went from "unlikely" to "wildly improbable, and dependent on some cosmic confluence of a major screw-up by McCain and some principled, selfless act by Huckabee," the likelihood of either being something below 1%.
The sort of clear-eyed, unemotional analysis that permitted Romney to consistently make money at Bain Capital requires him to face reality here, and a reality check will tell him that now is the time to liquidate his position. He is a relatively young man, certainly a vigorous one. And in the event of a Democratic victory against McCain, he is well-positioned to use the intervening four years to further strengthen and deepen his ties, and perceived devotion, to movement conservatives for 2012 — when the unspoken motto of his campaign can be: "I told you so."
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Why is this young man's hair mussed?
This is my younger son, Adam, age 15, in a photo snapped earlier today. Adam's a freshman at Bellaire High School here in Houston. On Saturdays, it's not uncommon for his hair to be mussed. But the reason his hair is mussed in this particular way on this particular day is pretty cool, in my admittedly biased opinion.
The first picture in this series showed a particular species of "hat-hair" that may be called "wrestler's headgear hair." But below is a full-length photo of Adam taken in his headgear and his Cardinals-red and black singlet, just before his last bout today at the Butler Fieldhouse, site of the 2008 wrestling competition for District 23, which includes Bellaire High School.
My older daughter Sarah, a Bellaire High School junior, also lettered on the wrestling team last year, and although this year she's been concentrating on French and drama, Sarah (shown below) is still among the team's most devoted and enthusiastic fans:
Also present for the day to root for Adam and his teammates, pictured below during one of the many moments of downtime inherent in such competitions, were my older son, Kevin (now a sophomore at the University of Houston), and my younger daughter, Molly (someday to be part of the BHS Class of 2013, but for now a 7th grader at Johnston Middle School, where she plays soccer). My ex (not pictured) finished with her Saturday patients in time to join us in watching Adam's final match, so Adam's entire family was there for him today.
In the earlier photo of Sarah, the broad-shouldered young man shown from behind is Jonathan Eagleson, a sophomore who lettered as a freshman last year, and who is definitely one of the Bellaire team's most talented wrestlers this year.
Tragically, near the end of a very successful day at a preparatory meet a week ago, Jonathan injured his collarbone, and while we're hoping for a full recovery in time for next season, he couldn't compete for the Cardinals today. But Jonathan (who's also pictured below with Sarah and Adam today) is a natural leader among his teammates; so of course he and his dad Bary were there with the rest of the team at 6:45 a.m. for the weigh-ins, and the two of them, along with Jonathan's mom Guinn, were among the last folks out of the building at day's end. (Bary and his brothers were all wrestlers in their day, too, so he knows lots more about the sport than I or most parents do.) The Eaglesons have been treasured family friends for many years — Jonathan's older brother Christopher, now a sophomore at Rice University, graduated with Kevin from Bellaire in 2006, but they'd been classmates and close friends quite literally since their kindergarten days. Jonathan and Sarah are also great buddies. He's been a terrific role model and mentor for Adam in wrestling this year, and we're enormously proud of him, too!
The Eagleson family joined ours in a happy dinner tonight to celebrate Adam's best day so far as a wrestler, one that will win him a varsity letter jacket: Although several other competitors on Bellaire's very young and hungry team placed as high as fourth today at district, Adam was the only member of the team who'll be going on to the Region III competition.
The photo below shows the three top finishers in the men's 140-pound category: District Champion Joey Ducker of wrestling powerhouse and overall meet winner Westside High School (center); second-place finisher Luis Guzman of Sam Houston High School (right), who'd defeated Adam in an earlier match but injured his collarbone in the finals against Ducker; and third-place finisher Adam Dyer of Bellaire High School (left), who'll go to next weekend's regional contest as District 23's first alternate in the 140-pound category. We certainly wish young Mr. Guzman (who is a classy and talented athlete) a quick and full recovery, but if he's not able to compete, Adam will do his best in trying to represent our district along with young Mr. Ducker.
By then, with luck, I may be able to update this post with a video of Adam's thrilling final match, including his winning pin of a talented opponent. And if Adam does wrestle again next week, maybe I'll manage to get a decent action photo or two. (Which will definitely require a tripod: I was shaking too hard and yelling too loudly today to get anything remotely close to a publishable photo during any of the matches themselves!)
UPDATE (Mon Feb 4 @ 7:00pm): Here's a .pdf scan of the Houston Chronicle's report of the results (which also shows how thoroughly Westside High School dominated this meet; Westside's coaches have been good friends to the young Bellaire program). Here's a .wmv video clip (3:24 min.) of the match in which Adam pinned the wrestler from Davis High School, Alex Argulles, who ended up in fourth place. At the start of the clip, you see Adam getting some final words of encouragement from Bellaire assistant principal Marcellars Mason, who's been coaching this year's team along with Trey Herrmann. And here's another .wmv video clip (0:55 min.) of the awards ceremony. The videos were done by Adam's older brother, Kevin, and it's his voice you'll hear narrating. (The whoops at the end of the match were his mom, though, and the loud whistles were me.)