Monday, June 30, 2008

Guess It Won't Be Wes 

It seems to me that the key point about the whole Wes Clark debacle is that the McCain campaign and their media enablers have now neutralized Clark as a spokesman for the Obama campaign and assured that he won't be Obama's choice for V.P.

Surely this was part of the purpose to the bleating on the right (repeated so readily by the talking heads) about Clark's supposedly mean, nasty, vicious attack on McCain?

The Republicans knew Clark could be effective in neutralizing McCain's so-called advantage based on military experience (how many stars did Clark have? kinda trumps whatever McCain did... even if Daddy was an admiral), so they had to take him down quickly as soon after he endorsed Obama as possible. Clark had been saying these things about McCain for a while, so doesn't it seem interesting that it's only now that the very same statements suddenly become so very objectionable?

Now maybe Clark as V.P. was never in the stars, and therefore it doesn't matter... And maybe the fact that Obama's gang threw Clark overboard so fast, rather than defending him (and pointing out how absurd and untrue the complaints from the Republicans have been), is a sign that they were never all that interested in him for V.P. in the first place. But I read this as a very well-carried-out maneuver by the bad guys, and not a very savvy response by our guy.

But feel free to tell me why I'm wrong.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The View From the Top 

Obama's acceptance of the FISA "compromise" is deeply disappointing.

I've long had a nagging worry that Clinton took a much more tolerant view of Bush's aggressive expansion of executive power than the other Democratic candidates because they only hoped to be President, while she expected to. I am afraid that distinction may now explain Obama's sudden embrace of this terrible bill.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vacation, or Don't Do Anything Stupid While We're Gone 

Mary and I will be on vacation in Sweden and environs through June 21, so the VP series and other posting will have to wait until then.

In the meantime, don't go picking any Republicans, generals who may be Republicans, Senators whose "strength" is foreign policy but somehow voted against the first Gulf War and for the second, or against the first and against lifting the ban on gays in the military while we're away. And please, no losers, losers, or losers.



Monday, June 09, 2008


The third most likely VP pick, according to Intrade (8.9%), doesn't want the job. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner tried to shoot down this rumor in March:
In terms of the VP, you know, I think I effectively took myself out of that one when I decided to run for the Senate.
Not exactly Sherman's "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve", but given that he declined to run for President, even though he would have had a realistic shot at winning, I am inclined to believe him. And I'm fine with leaving it at that.

Warner has plenty of pluses. He's clearly a very smart, very savvy politician. After Harvard Law, he went to the Hill to do policy work for Senator Chris Dodd, and later made a fortune in telecommunications and ran Douglas Wilder's successful, and ground-breaking, campaign for Governor of Virginia. He himself became governor in 2002 and left office extremely popular. He's widely credited with turning red Virginia purple again (though, obviously, George Bush gets a lot of credit as well). Virginia is a prime pickup target for Obama in '08. There's no doubt that he would be a solid addition to the ticket -- although at a large cost, as he is almost certain to win the Senate seat being vacated by Republic John Warner, while a replacement Dem. would have a tough race against Republican Jim Gilmore, another former governor, although far less popular than Warner.

From a policy perspective, Warner says he wants "to build a bipartisan, radical centrist coalition". Whatever. I guess that could be read as similar to the Obama message, but I take Obama as a bit different. Obama's approach is to say if I really listen to you and you really listen to me, we'll realize both sides have some good points. But -- and this is important -- Obama also believes that the result of that dialogue is that he will adjust this or that, but mostly you (Republicans) will realize just how right he is. Warner really seems to be talking about meeting in the middle -- as reflected by his overall positions. Sure, he came out for withdrawal from Iraq after it was clear things were going badly, but I can't find any evidence he spoke out in 2002. He's (mostly) pro-choice, but also seems to define his pro-choice position as somehow distinct from that of actual pro-choice leaders:
INSKEEP: You've said previously that you would rather be talking when it comes to abortion in terms of women's health-care choices. What does that mean and how is it any different from what the debate has been?

WARNER: I am pro-choice. I think a woman should have the ability to make that decision. I feel that unfortunately that debate has been waylaid a little bit as advocates and detractors in the debate spend more time focusing on late-term abortions or the so-called partial-birth abortions, which trouble me greatly. I wish we could find a way to prevent those in a constitutional manner. But my sense is, at times, is that the abortion debate, I think the vast majority of Americans are pro-choice but with appropriate restrictions. They don't want to see a third-trimester abortion. They want to make sure that a parent is notified and I supported, for example, a parental-notification bill in Virginia that had appropriate judicial bypass. My hope is that we can move beyond that debate to the real, more important issues of how do we actually look at a woman's health-care issues, how can we increase the use of contraceptive -- new, scientifically based -- contraceptive devices, so that the need for abortions actually decrease in this country? How we truly can make abortions safe, legal and rare?

INSKEEP: You just used a phrase that Bill Clinton made famous in the '90s.

WARNER: Unfortunately, there are some in the debate who I don't think want to get to a resolution where we actually… decrease the number of abortions. They want to continue to use this as a way to churn the political waters. And that's unfortunate to women across this country, it's unfortunate that it prevents us from, I think, moving forward not only on broader health-care issues but it prevents us from moving forward on a host of the issues that I believe are honestly just more important. (Emphasis added.)
Yeah, it's the pro-choice advocates who want to "focus[] on late-term abortions" (though at least he uses "so-called"). And he may be right about what most Americans "want to see", but that doesn't mean banning procedures that are necessary for women's lives and health is good policy.

In short, Warner strikes me as someone who's good at sensing where the political wind is blowing. Not a bad thing for winning elections, but not inspiring either.

In the unlikely event this one happens, I'll say, Meh. B.


Sunday, June 08, 2008


Teasers are common in TV news, and not necessarily wrong. But they are wrong when they become disinformation.

On CNN Politics right now, they are running a string of teasers about myths about Barack Obama. The most recent was (and I paraphrase), "Barack Obama, sworn in the U.S. Senate on the Koran. Is there any truth to it?" This followed other ones about his being a Muslim, refusing to salute the flag, etc.

Presumably, CNN will accurately debunk this nonsense when the report actually comes on, but it's already 10:30 and we haven't gotten to the report yet. People are going to bed, flipping channels, whatever, and getting a misleading impression. At the very least, CNN is conveying that these are serious rumors deserving serious consideration, and at most they are leading people to believe things that are not true.

Not responsible journalism.

UPDATE: OK, at 10:40 they do debunk the rumors, and even have David Sirota on to call out the "right wing spin machine". But. In debunking the claim that Obama was sworn in on the Koran, they say that that "dubious honor" goes to Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim. Why is that a dubious honor? Does CNN really believe Ellison was not rightly proud of being the first Muslim Congressman?


Friday, June 06, 2008

A League Not of Her Own, or I Did Not Know That, Part II 

Kudos to Major League Baseball, which at Dave Winfield's suggestion honored living Negro Leagues players in this week's amateur draft, and brought attention to athletes who were unfairly deprived of it in their time. Though all of the players drafted represent important stories, I was particularly interested in Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, who pitched (and played infield) successfully for three seasons:
... Mamie "Peanut'' Johnson of the Indianapolis Clowns, a rare female pitcher and utility second baseman for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953 to '55, where she played with a teen-aged Hank Aaron before he was signed by the Boston Braves.

"I did pretty good for a girl,'' recalled Johnson Goodman. She said she was 33-7 in those three years but always understood that she wasn't about to follow her teammate Aaron to the big leagues.

"I had two strikes against me,'' said Johnson Goodman without bitterness. "First, I was a girl. And second, I was black.''

Now, she'll finally have her day.

The quality of professional baseball was not the same in the 1950s as it is now, and (as Bill James has documented), despite having top-level stars, Negro Leagues baseball was not overall as competitive as Major League Baseball, and the Negro Leagues had certainly declined by the early 1950s, when black stars like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and Larry Doby were playing in the Majors. But still. You don't go 33-7 unless you can pitch. It's unfortunate that girls are pushed so much into softball, soccer, whatever, that we never really get a chance to see what they can do in baseball.

I've ordered Johnson's biography, A Strong Right Arm.

Related Post: I Did Not Know That


Thursday, June 05, 2008


Many Democrats had an unfavorable first impression of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Tasked with giving the Democratic response to the 2008 State of the Union, she turned in an incredibly weak effort that was poorly delivered (she was clearly reading and almost without affect) and, what's worse, despite responding to one of the most unpopular Presidents in modern history, acted as if it was she who needed to apologize for being a Democrat. (Her second sentence began, "I'm a Democrat, but...", and she later takes pains to distinguish a "partisan response" from an "American response", when the right message, especially with Republicans so out of favor, was that a Democratic response was an American response.) Contrast that with the powerful response given the year before by Jim Webb, who hammered the Republicans on their core weaknesses of Iraq and of caring only for the wealthy.

Despite Sebelius's terrible blown opportunity, it's worth giving her a chance to make a second impression. I've spent some time watching her speak on You Tube, and it's fair to say that the SOTU response was an outlier. She's not a great speaker, but she is an adequate one -- conveying competence, maturity, and a sense of humor -- someone, in short, whom one could imagine taking over in a time of crisis. And she's not afraid to sound partisan in the right context.

Sebelius is the highly popular Democratic Governor of deep red Kansas. While there have undoubtedly been political compromises, as for any red-state Democrat, the core of her popularity comes from her widely recognized competence, first as state insurance commissioner -- where she took progressive/feminist positions such as "advocat[ing] better coverage for childbirth issues, including mandated coverage for 48-hour hospital stays following childbirth, ... crack[ing] down on gender discrimination in insurance coverage ... [and] instituting a successful 'Babies to Work' program for new moms and dads in her own agency" -- and then as governor. In 2006, Time profiled her as one of the nation's five best governors.

At the same time that she's demonstrated competence and an ability to work with Republicans, she has not hesitated to take strong Democratic positions. She has provoked GOP ire for complaining that the Iraq War was draining resources for the National Guard and leaving Kansas unprepared for emergencies. Despite governing at Operation Rescue's ground zero, she is strongly pro-choice (though, like John Kerry (and Nancy Keenan), taking the standard position of many Catholic Dems that she considers abortion morally wrong but legally and constitutionally protected). She has repeatedly used her veto power to reject anti-choicers' efforts to incrementally restrict women's rights in this area. For example, she vetoed a bill that would have "order[ed] the state to set minimum standards for abortion clinics". Similarly, "[c]iting academic freedom, [she] struck a provision from a budget bill that would have cut off money for state university departments that buy or show videos deemed obscene for undergraduate classes on sexuality".

Her personal and family biography is also appealing. Her father, Jack Gilligan, was the Democratic governor of Ohio from 1971 to 1975, and remains politically active in the key swing state state, serving on the Cincinnati Board of Education through 2007 (when he was 86). She owns a vacation home in Michigan, another swing state. She and her husband Gary (a federal magistrate judge, who was appointed as a district judge by President Clinton but was not confirmed) come across as likeable, "regular folks" whom voters will have no trouble connecting with. Her husband, who self-depricatingly calls himself "first dude", is the son of a Kansas Republican Congressman. Sebelius jokes, "I'm converting Republicans one at a time. First my husband, Gary...." The one cloud on the horizon is her then 23-year-old son's creating and selling a game (possibly from his home at the governor's mansion) called "Don't Drop the Soap", which apparently makes light of homosexual rape in prison, which might just manage to offend both the right (because it deals with gay sex at all) and the left (because it pathologizes it). That said, I'm not sure that "you stood by your son when he did something stupid" is necessarily the strongest line of attack.

Finally, while I don't think it's essential that Obama select a woman, there's no doubt that given the context of the rancorous primary -- not to mention that women are by far the largest identifiable demographic group in the Democratic party (outnumbering men almost 3:2 if I recall) -- it would be a strong plus. Moreover, Sibelius was reportedly on Kerry's short list for VP, which would help defuse criticism that she was selected merely because she was a woman who was not Hillary. Being Catholic is also probably a net demographic plus.

The only significant concern I have -- and it's more an unknown than a concern -- is that there's not enough in her record to judge her intellectual heft. She went to fine, but not elite universities, earning "a degree in political science from Trinity College in Washington, D.C. [and a] master's degree in public administration ... from the University of Kansas", and has no particular record of professional accomplishment prior to becoming a state legislator in 1987 (when she was almost 40). She is clearly a skilled politician, but between her selection and the VP debate, she will need to make herself enough of an expert in foreign policy (a subject that she has no particular experience with) that voters will feel comfortable with her taking over if need be. That's a challenging but doable task for someone with the intellect of, say, Bill or Hillary Clinton, but I honestly have no way of judging whether Sebelius is up to it. My hunch is that she is, but this is an area where the Obama team really needs to drill down and evaluate the quality of Sebelius's mind.

Despite that concern, it appears that Sebelius is a strong pick. And one that strikes me as quite likely to actually happen (despite the fact that, bizarrely, she's not trading on Intrade). I give her an A-.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008


"There are always alternatives." -- Spock

With all the attention focused on the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming Barack Obama's running mate, I think it's worth taking a step back to consider the other likely candidates for the VP slot. This is the first in an occasional series that seeks to do that.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has been getting the most non-Clinton buzz recently. Intrade has his as Obama's second most likely chocie (18.9%), trailing only Clinton (25%).

It's easy to see the appeal. Webb is a graduate of the Naval Academy and Georgetown Law, a Vietnam veteran who earned the Navy Cross for heroism as well as five other medals, a writer and intellectual, and was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Defense. Webb split with the Republican party over Iraq -- presciently predicting in September 2002 the terrible risk of invading Iraq ("The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay.") -- and is not just a Democrat on foreign policy but has showed himself to be a leading voice for economic equality and has been solidly pro-choice (which not all Virginia Dems are (see Kaine, Tim)). And in 2006 he managed to defeat incumbent Senator George Allen, then a frontrunner for the GOP Presidential nomination, in red Virginia. Virginia is a key, if not an essential, state in Obama's road to victory.

So, yes, the heart thrills.


There is an awful lot of baggage. On this, I am indebted to Kathy G, who has written a persuasive debunking of the Webb bubble. Bottom line: Webb has left a paper trail of extreme, right-wing statements going back until the 1970s and continuing into the 2000s. The worst include a 1979 article "called 'Women Can't Fight,' [in which] Webb argued that women were biologically unsuited to combat and didn't belong in the military academies [and] said that the mere presence of women was 'poisoning' the environment for male cadets", and continuing with calling the 1990s Tailhook investigation a "witch hunt". He'll clearly distance himself from that if he's nominated, and to some extent he already has, but it's surely not the way to bring the party together, and it raises serious questions about what he would do on feminist (and other) issues if he became President. He's an indifferent campaigner (or at least a poor fundraiser), he didn't actually do particularly well with the white male Virginians to whom he would allegedly appeal, he's not comfortable in a subordinate role, and he would have to vacate a Senate seat that could then easily flip back to the GOP.

So, while I'm quite pleased to have Webb in the Senate, the VP hype just doesn't -- and won't -- stand the scrutiny. Based on serious doubts as to his ability to help the ticket win and his fitness for the Presidency, as well as a preference not to choose a red-state Senator, the best I can give this choice would be a C+.



Candidates I've supported in contested primaries who've failed to win the nomination:
Hart,* Gore (1988), Tsongas, Dean
Candidates I've supported in contested primaries who've won the nomination:
Gore (2000), Obama
Candidates I've supported in contested primaries who've gone on to be President:
Barack Obama is not without his flaws, and Hillary Clinton is not without her virtues.

But this is exciting.

*I turned 18 after the primary, so while I voted in the general I was not able to vote in the primary.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Self-Hating Jew 

Joe Lieberman.


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