Friday, October 17, 2008

GOP Pushing Total Lies About Partial Birth: Obama **Supports** Late-Term Abortion Bans

This is a long post, so let me give you the gist of it up front: Barack Obama is not pro-abortion, he is not pro-partial-birth abortion, and he is not pro-infanticide. Barack Obama supports bans on post-viability abortions, unless those abortions are required to protect the woman’s life and health.

To see why this is the truth, keep reading.

I have mentioned that Republicans are claiming and will continue to claim, falsely, that Barack Obama supports infanticide, that is, the killing of babies born alive in botched abortions. It should come as no surprise, then, that if Republicans will lie to say Obama supports killing live babies, they’ll also lie to say he supports partial-birth abortion. You hear this even from mainstream Republicans and conservatives, let alone all the extreme wack-jobs.

Sen. Obama has “endorsed partial-birth abortion,” writes columnist Michael Gerson of The Washington Post. He’s “the most pro-abortion candidate ever,” writes the super-sleazy Terence Jeffrey of, a cry that has been echoed by the equally sleazy, the Christian Coalition, and the truth-stretching National Right to Life Committee.

Jesus wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama, claims kookie World Net Daily. (This, by the way, is a line of attack that Obama’s opponent for the Senate seat, Alan Keyes, used against him in 2004 to no avail. In fact, it was to less than no avail, as Obama garnered seven out of every 10 votes cast in the State.)

Republican robocalls going on right now under the radar in battleground states are regurgitating the babykiller charges and suggesting that Obama supports partial-birth abortion and is “pro-abortion.” McCain even – finally – signaled that he was willing to enter the fray by charging that Obama’s insistence on providing exceptions for women’s health emergencies was a ruse of the “pro-abortion movement.”

This is the last best hope of the McCain/Palin campaign, to force upon voters the false dilemma between solving their economic problems on one hand and stopping terrorist babykillers on the other hand. What the Republicans are saying is, “Sure, you don’t like President Bush and you’re terrified that you won’t be able to retire, send your kids to college, pay your mortgage, or keep your job. But what kind of a sick, unpatriotic excuse for an American are you if you vote for a black terrorist babykiller??? How can you sleep at night???”

This would be an unsettling moral dilemma if it weren’t based on false premises. Thankfully for those of us who love our jobs, our country, and our souls, the Republicans are lying again.

Sen. Obama’s position on late-term abortions couldn’t be clearer: “I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.”

Guess what, Republicans? We Democrats love babies, too, and we’re tired of the dirty lie that we don’t.

How do we know he means it? Because since 1975, the State of Illinois has had in place a ban on ALL late-term abortions, regardless of the method, except in cases where the mother’s life or health demands it. And not once in his seven years in the Illinois Senate did Barack Obama try to change that law, to roll back the consensus of moderate people that late-term abortions should be curbed.

Per 720 ILCS 510/5, which is part of the Illinois Criminal Code:

“(1) When the fetus is viable no abortion shall be performed unless in the medical judgment of the attending or referring physician, based on the particular facts of the case before him, it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. Intentional, knowing, or reckless failure to conform to the requirements of subsection (1) of Section 5 is a Class 2 felony.

“(2) When the fetus is viable the physician shall certify in writing, on a form prescribed by the Department under Section 10 of this Law, the medical indications which, in his medical judgment based on the particular facts of the case before him, warrant performance of the abortion to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

Just so you know, a Class 2 felony is very serious, punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison.

Republicans make a big deal about a ban on one kind of procedure – “partial-birth abortion.” Obama’s position is even broader than the Republicans’, and says, “I don’t care how the abortion is done, partial-birth or otherwise, because if the fetus is viable, we’re not going to do it.”

So why is this such a big deal? Why do Republicans persistently paint not just Barack Obama, but all Democrats as extremist? Because Republicans always refuse to include exceptions to the bans for a mother’s health. According to them, “pro-abortion” doctors will lie and claim that late-term abortions are necessary for the mother’s health, and they’ll just be ripping babies out of wombs willy-nilly at eight-and-three-fourths months.

That’s ridiculous, for three reasons. One, as you can see in the Illinois law above, those medical judgments have to be written down, verified, and turned into the State Health Department for review. The whole system would have to be corrupt and derelict in its duties in order for doctors to be able to skirt this law.

Two, as Sen. Obama and the Democrats have said repeatedly, the “health exception” is not meant to entail mental distress or some kind of airy-fairy imagined complaint. It’s meant to be a strict but necessary exception. How do we know that it’ll come out that way? Because courts and regulatory agencies are bound by law to consider Congress’ intent in construing statutes.

But third and most importantly, if the Republicans seriously think that doctors would lie about an abortion being necessary to preserve a mother’s health, what makes them think the same doctors wouldn’t lie about an abortion being necessary to protect a mother’s life? Why are the Republicans presuming that doctors are going to defy the law? Aren’t these the same doctors – OB/GYNs – whom Republicans love to describe as good, hardworking, innocent professionals who are the victims of too many frivolous lawsuits? Where did their faith go?

So which is it? Good, honest doctors, or nefarious babykillers looking for technicalities and loopholes to keep aborting full-term fetuses? Republicans can’t have it both ways.
I believe that the real reason Republicans for years have refused to include exceptions for health emergencies in partial-birth abortion bans is that they know Democrats won’t support the measures without such exceptions.

So, Republicans push a bill the Democrats can’t support, Dems oppose it, and Republicans get to paint the Democrats as extremist, when the reality is exactly the opposite: Republicans would rather kill good, moderate legislation to reduce or eliminate late-term abortions than to give up the political advantage of the “health of the mother” straw man. After all, if they compromised and actually passed good laws on which everyone could agree, what would they have to robocall and debate about two weeks before Election Day?

I remember as a boy during the Clinton Administration, sitting in my living room with my family and some of our fellow church members one stormy afternoon. We were listening to James Dobson’s program on Christian radio as there was a live report from Congress.

The Republican-led Congress was trying to get together enough votes to override President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban Congress had passed with no mother’s-health exception. The override failed, and it was a dark time for our family. I remember all the tearful prayers in the room, all of the bitterness and feeling of failure.

I still look back on that time as a tragedy, but for a different reason. If Republicans who purported to be pro-life had merely admitted, to themselves and to the American people, that doctors were not going to sneak around and kill babies on the sly, then those Republicans could have included a reasonable exception for the mother’s health in the ban. Most Democrats would have supported it, President Clinton would have signed it, and it would have passed constitutional muster. They could've saved hundreds of thousands of babies over the past 15 years. Instead, they decided they’d rather win elections.

They’re still at it today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It Ain't Over Yet: Before V(ictory in the) E(lection) Day Comes The Bulge

The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that “campaign” comes from the Old French “champagne,” meaning “open country that is particularly suited to military maneuvers.” At its root, the word derives from the Latin “campus,” which means “a field.” Old armies spent winters in quarters and took to the open field or “campus” to seek battle in summer.

Not surprisingly, the extension of meaning from military to political is distinctly American, and it’s still the best way to describe what it is we do in politics. We wear buttons and t-shirts, just as warriors put on their insignia to identify with their side. We display yard signs and bumper stickers the way ensigns used to fly the colors as they marched forth with armies from their respective pavilions to battle.

In that spirit, I think the Democrats are in for a long, bloody campaign these next three weeks.

Over and over again in American history, people looking for quick and easy victory have been discouraged. (See Bull Run,* Shiloh,** and D-Day.***) Overconfident armies have missed opportunities to strike final, decisive blows. (See Gettysburg.****) Prematurely triumphal leaders have emboldened their enemies by talking about how land would be divided and armies dismantled after surrender.***** In the famous Yogiism, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

On Monday, we had just a 10-point lead among registered voters in the Gallup poll. That number dropped to seven points among likely voters. Though we seem to be ahead in states for 343 electoral votes right now, 79 of those votes are in states where Obama leads six points or less. Take those away, we have 264 votes and a John McCain presidency.

Commentators and pundits like new Nobel laureate Paul Krugman are starting to presume an Obama presidency. As early as July, Frank Rich of the New York Times, whom I admire, wrote a column headlined, “How Obama Became Acting President.” There’s talk of Obama’s Cabinet. Particularly among former supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton – Lanny Davis, Howard Wolfson, and President Clinton himself – the tone is stridently jubilant.

As to Congress, there’s talk of Democrats reaching a filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority. People are rubbing their hands together, speculating how little time it will take for the Democrats to throw Joe Lieberman under the bus once they don’t need him to have a majority anymore. And on the House side, partisan pundits with tons of hope and no perspective toss around giddy numbers like bean bags.

But predicting any win is foolish, let alone predicting a landslide. Overconfidence only emboldens the other side and makes our side less likely to vote or work hard leading up to the election.

There’s a reason Woody Allen is my favorite director: I perceive the world through anxiety. But just because I always imagine all the terrible things that could happen in life doesn’t mean that kids don’t trip and impale themselves on the spires of wrought-iron fences, that people don’t accidentally step on their pets in the night and crush them to death, or that John McCain can’t whittle away at Barack Obama’s lead for the next three weeks and win this election.

Remember 2004? After two wars, the Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and everything else, I just knew that there was no way the American people could let Bush have another term. On Election Day, Gallup had the race tied. As late as November 1 – the day before the election – John Kerry led in the Electoral College 298 to 247. And while things were, as Dan Rather might say, tight as a tick, we were assured that Kerry’s ground game, and all the young and first-time voters, would surge to the polls and push the Democrats over the top.

I spent Thursday, October 28 through Tuesday, November 2 in Cincinnati, Ohio, doing get-out-the-vote operations for the Kerry Campaign. I had bet my Dad a steak dinner that Kerry would win, and the night before the election, I was so sure Kerry had it in the bag, I boasted to Dad, “Somewhere in America, the cow from which my steak is coming is already dead.” In my journal, I wrote, “Bush is done. Over and done. The election is ours for the taking.”

On Election Day, turn-out was up, all our voters were getting to the polls, and there was a prevailing spirit of cooperation and we-shall-overcome-ness. I left Cincinnati about 5 p.m. to drive back to Bloomington, Indiana, where I arrived just in time for my friends and me to watch Kerry lose the election. Instead of steak, I ate crow.

This past spring, after the Iowa caucuses, I predicted that if Sen. Obama could win the New Hampshire primary, he’d be unstoppable. But we’ll never know, because Clinton won New Hampshire, and the two of them went on to engage in the longest, most expensive primary campaign in U.S. history, one that felt every bit like the Siege of Petersburg. Those six months were a nightmare.

I love Barack Obama. I have believed in him and his politics ever since I first met him in 2004. But this battle is no longer about the people who love Sen. Obama versus the people who love Sen. McCain. It’s about people in the middle, who want what’s best for their families, their homes, their towns, their jobs, their paychecks, and their country, but who still don’t know which way to turn.

Several factors cut in Obama’s favor. It’s hard for any party to control the White House for more than two terms; it’s been done once since 1952. The economy’s in shambles. The war is unpopular, and so is the president. Democrats now significantly outnumber Republicans, and for once, their campaign coffers are much fuller.

But Obama is relatively new, and he’s black, and his name sounds foreign. People are constantly reminded that he’s got that crazy preacher in his past, and he’s from Chicago, where all those shady characters live. McCain’s a war hero. Many folks still believe that all Democrats are good for is raising taxes, losing wars, killing babies, and confiscating guns. And there is still a genuine terrorist threat in this world, one that the Republicans are trying every day to hang around Obama’s neck. Particularly if our stock market and those around the world continue to rally, people might stop worrying about Hoovervilles and bread lines and some of McCain’s nasty lies might start to filter through.

A Billboard in southeastern Missouri that just about sums up the Republican line on Obama.

No election is ever easy, even for the best leaders. Lincoln almost lost in 1864, FDR almost lost in 1940, and Truman almost lost in 1948. Churchill was replaced in the United Kingdom by Clement Atlee before World War II was even over.

I pray that we wake up on November 5 with 350 electoral votes for president-elect Obama, 60 Senate seats, and 250 House seats. But I will thank Almighty God if we wake up with 270 electoral votes, 50 Senate seats plus a tie-breaking Joe Biden, and 218 House seats.

Happily, for those of us who support the Democrats, we can do more than hope. We can go to right now and see how to get involved. Using phone lists there, we can make calls to encourage people to vote and to ask them to volunteer election weekend. We can give money. We can find out where our nearest Obama office is so we can show up to help knock on doors or stuff envelopes. This election is in our hands!

But let’s just please, please hush up this malarkey about a Democratic landslide and how screwed McCain is. Noses to the grindstone, let’s do everything we can to work for 1932, but let’s not count on anything but 1948. Otherwise, rather than being our new Roosevelt, Obama could be our new Dewey, and we Democrats could be banished to another four years in the wilderness.

I hope no Democrat who sees this picture can sleep soundly until he or she has done everything possible -- giving money, time, cell phone minutes, door-to-door volunteerism, and prayer, to make sure this nightmare doesn't come true.

* July 1861: Bull Run. The Union Army marches southwest out of Washington, D.C. to Manassas Junction, hoping to crush the Confederate forces decisively to end the rebellion as quickly and painlessly as possible. Many Congressmen and the upper crust of Washington society pack picnics and bring their families to the battle, expecting free entertainment and an easy victory. And guess what? The Confederates win the day, sending both the Union Army and all the prematurely gloating spectators flying back to the safety of the capital.

** April 1862: Shiloh. The Confederates take Grant’s army by surprise and attack in what becomes the deadliest battle of the war up to that time. For the very first time – sixteen months into the Rebellion – the North understands this will be a war to the bitter end, with nothing quick or easy about it.

*** June 1944: D-Day. American and British forces land in Normandy and imagine that they’ll be able to roll through France and into Germany like a wave to end the war by Christmas. But the Germans dig in and fight fiercely, and in December, they begin the counteroffensive known to history as The Bulge (in which my Grandpa Harris and Sen. Obama’s Grandpa fought). The Bulge kills more Americans than any other battle ever, and the war lasts another five months.

**** July 1863: Gettysburg. After the deadliest battle of the Civil War, the victorious Union Army allows the Confederates to retreat unmolested, instead of rushing in on them and crushing them to end the war, which goes on to last nearly two more years.

***** Autumn 1944: Morganthau Plan. When the Axis learned in 1944 of the Allied plan to carve up Germany after the war, the news galvanized the Germans like “thirty fresh German divisions,” and made them hang on for another half a year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tiger by the Tail: McCain/Palin Campaign of Fear Works Too Well

I remember as a little boy hearing a missionary at my church tell a story about a political rally he’d witnessed in Romania, sometime in the years leading up to the revolution. As President Nicolae Ceau┼čescu spoke, one woman out of the masses had the courage to speak up. “Liar!” she shouted. “You’re a liar!” And she spat on the ground in disgust, before promptly being carried away, likely never to be heard from again.

The late Communist President of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, who had the good fortune not to have to call himself out on his own lies.
This week, confronted with the sobering fact that none of the attendees of McCain/Palin rallies had a similar courage to call the nominees out on their lies and demagoguery, John McCain finally had to step up to the plate and do it himself. Let me say that again: he repudiated himself.

I’d like to say I was happy to see “the old McCain” make a rare reappearance, peeking out like a little like a fleeting whack-a-mole before disappearing again beneath the tide of negativism that has overwhelmed his campaign.

But for at least two weeks now, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin, trailing in the polls, have been beating the drum that Sen. Obama is the candidate of false gods, palls around with terrorists, supports the killing of babies born alive in failed abortions, is funded by “foreigners,” doesn’t love his country, doesn’t support the troops, and condones the damnation of America by Rev. Wright. Their surrogates have been comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden, referring to Obama by including his loaded-word middle name – “Let’s leave Barack HUSSEIN Obama wondering what happened” – and calling him “a guy of the street.” Somehow I don’t think they mean Main Street.

After mentioning all these things, McCain’s been connecting the cognitive dots for his followers by asking over and over at rallies, “Who IS the real Barack Obama?”

Responding to these highly developed Rorsach inkblot tests, McCain/Palin followers and other GOP supporters have been heard screaming “terrorist,” “traitor,” and “treason” at the merest mention of Barack Obama. Some, in a violent fervor, have screamed racial epithets at the media crews. Others have yelled, “Off with his head!” Still others have dispensed with politeness altogether and apoplectically ejaculated, “Kill him!” and “Bomb him!”

When McCain has clearly heard the charges at his rallies before, he's not missed a beat. And they've clearly had tons of opportunities to condemn these things after learning about them later, even if they didn't hear them at the time. So McCain pretending to put “country first” and stick up for Obama now is a little like throwing a match on a gasoline spill in a garage, and then blowing on it and pretending you don’t know how it got there.

Now, don’t mistake me. I think it’s important to know everything we can about the candidates. The problem is that this territory has been gone over very thoroughly by the press and in umpteen debates. Most of us know more about Barack Obama’s life now than we do about our own cousins. This rehashing of old non-news is about nothing more than equivocation, circumlocution, innuendo, thinly veiled inflammation, and the overall trashing of Barack Obama.

Any person who’s ever sat through a Communications 101 class knows that for there to be a communication, you have to have a sender, a receiver, and a message. To be an effective communication, the message that the receiver hears must bear strong resemblance to the one the sender intended to relay.

In this best-case scenario, John McCain and Sarah Palin are dangerously inept at sending messages. At worst, they are brilliantly effective at communicating exactly the messages they intended to. Either way, their conduct is shockingly unbecoming at least someone of McCain’s stature, and it’s definitely an insult to the eternal dignity and the present distress of the American people.

I come from a long line of very sincere and credulous conservatives who love God and country, but who sadly put more faith in Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly than in verifiable facts. I have two sainted Grandmas, one of whom believes that doctors no longer give B-12 vitamin shots because “the immigrants took them,” the other of whom believes that Barack Obama may be the Antichrist. And my own Dad persists, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, in believing that Obama is a secret Muslim.

They are not senile, and they are not making things up. They believe it with all their hearts, just as surely as I believe that the atomic number of hydrogen is 1. I get frustrated with them, but I get angry at the people who feed them this misinformation in order to benefit from their belief – higher ratings, bigger paychecks, and victorious elections. To what I believe will be his eternal discredit, John McCain has decided to become one of those people.

With Michael Dukakis and the “Willie Horton ad,” the Republicans said he’d be weak on crime and played to people’s racial discomfort. With John Kerry, Republicans painted him as weak on national security and terrorism. Now, afraid to leave anything to the imagination, Republicans and the McCain/Palin campaign have all but stated that Barack Obama is a criminal, a terrorist, and a racist. What a sad day for a once-great party.

In criminal law, there are two doctrines that defendants often have a hard time wrapping their brains around. One, the felony murder doctrine, says that if someone dies during the commission of a felony like kidnapping or armed robbery, the kidnappers are on the hook for first-degree murder, regardless of intent. If you and your buddy rob a convenience store, and the store clerk pulls out a sawed-off shotgun and kills your buddy, guess who’s going to prison for murder? You. Why? Because when you play with fire like that, you ought to know that somebody could get killed.

The other doctrine is accountability, which says that you are responsible for the conduct of another when you solicit, aid, abet, agree or attempt to aid the other person’s commission of the offense. So for instance, if your buddy says to you, “Man, I’d like to rob a convenience store,” and you let him borrow your gun, you’re going to be accountable for that robbery. And if the clerk shoots your friend, guess what? Felony murder and accountability work together to make you guilty of murder, even if you’re sitting at home eating Doritos. The law makes you responsible not only for things that you know, but for things that you should know.

What’s my point? My point is that this country, in the midst of two wars and a hemorrhaging economy, is on edge. People are nervous about the present, let alone the future. And let’s be frank: even well-meaning people are nervous about the specter of the first black president, whose name has the bad fortune of sounding like BOTH of America’s arch-enemies. This is a time to tread very, very lightly on the tense tightrope of the American people’s fears.

And besides the fact that it’s doing nothing to resolve any of our several crises, the McCain/Palin rhetoric is fanning the flames of resentment, of hatred, and of abject terror, aiding and abetting some of the most extreme elements and violent tendencies in our populace. If they didn’t know about the volatility of those tendencies, they should have known, as any reasonable person familiar with American history undoubtedly does. (See, exempli gratia, Abraham, Martin, John, and Bobby. Not to mention James and William, and very nearly Franklin, Harry, Jerry, and Ronald.)

It’s simply not credible now for the McCain/Palin camp to try to wash its hands of this nastiness. This is a monster of their own creation, and they ought to own up to it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Obama: Competent Government, Sounder Economy, Affordable Healthcare, AND You Can Keep Your Guns!

Is the McCain/Palin Campaign Lying About Obama Being a "Terrorist?" You Betcha, Doggone It!

In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a terrorist. Or at least he’s been “palling around with terrorists,” if Gov. Sarah Palin can be believed. Unsurprisingly, she cannot.

"There is a lot of interest, I guess, in what I read and what I’ve read lately,” Palin said Saturday. “Well, I was reading my copy of today’s New York Times and I was interested to read about Barack’s friends from Chicago."

“I get to bring this up not to pick a fight, but it was there in the New York Times, so we are gonna talk about it. Turns out one of Barack’s earliest supporters, (University of Illinois-Chicago Professor William Ayers), is a man who, according to the New York Times, and they are hardly ever wrong, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that quote launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol. Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes.

“This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for for all of us. Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?”

This is in keeping with the McCain/Palin campaign’s stated intention of attacking Sen. Obama’s character in the final month of the campaign. There are so many things wrong with this b.s. that leaves me livid, so we’d better get started.

1. Gov. Palin, you will refer to the Democratic nominee as “Sen. Obama.” You have not met him, you don’t play poker with him, and he is not your moose-hunting buddy. You may not refer to Sen. Biden as “Joe,” you may not refer to Sen. Obama as “Barack,” and no, you may not braid their hair or paint their toenails. We’ll extend you the same courtesy.

2. There is only one candidate in this race who is under investigation for a potentially impeachable abuse of power, and it isn’t “Barack from Chicago.” It’s Gov. Sarah Palin, from that whitewashed sepulchre of corruption that is Alaska.

3. When did the McCain campaign’s official take on the New York Times become that the paper is “hardly ever wrong?” What happened to “in the tank for Obama” and “pro-Obama advocacy organization”?

4. If Barack Obama were a terrorist, or were tied to terrorists, don’t you think that would’ve been all we had heard for months? There would’ve been none of this “aw, shucks,” “my friends,” “country first,” “hockey mom,” “lipstick on a pig,” “maverick maverick maverick” ridiculousness. Every time Obama’s name came up, McCain and Palin would’ve just looked exasperated straight into the camera, The Office-style, and said, “Um…HE’S A TERRORIST!”

Why weren’t we hearing about how Barack Obama is a terrorist when John McCain was ahead?

Instead of merely refusing to look at Sen. Obama during their debate, Sen. McCain could’ve just refused to debate altogether. “I have suffered and bled and nearly died for my country, so you’ll forgive me, my friends, if I won’t share a stage WITH A TERRORIST!"

John McCain refuses to look at Barack Obama during their recent debate at Ole Miss.

Imagine that I came to your house and said, “My friend, I’d like to take you out for ice cream. Come with me.” And then, if you should refuse, imagine that I start to sweat, and say, “My friend, there are termites eating your walls. We should really leave and call an exterminator.” And then, if you should still refuse, imagine that I turn beet-red and scream, “For heaven’s sake, my friend, the whole block is on fire, and it’s consumed five buildings already! You must come with me!”

Wouldn’t you probably look at me and ask, “Um…so why were we talking about ‘ice cream?’” Of course you would, and so should we all wonder why McCain has waited until now, a month before the election, to say that Obama is a terrorist.

From the looks of Palin’s quote, and similar quotes by spokesman Tucker Bounds and others, it appears they’re going to try to pretend that this “terrorist” stuff is new. It isn’t. Sen. Clinton brought it up in her debates with Obama in April. Conservative columnists were ranting about it in February. It’s never been a secret.

Less than a month ago, everyone was accusing Mayor Daley and the University of Illinois-Chicago of a cover-up, of hiding damning records linking Obama to Bill Ayers in a way that could sink his presidential bid. But then the records were opened up, and conservative media outlets from the Chicago Tribune on down were disappointed to learn they’d been chasing yet another mirage.

Anyone who reads the Chicago Tribune’s Op-Ed page on a regular basis knows that it is a Republican paper. This dates all the way back to the Republicanism of Joseph Medill before the Civil War, and to that of his grandson Colonel Robert McCormick, who hated New Deal Democrats in particular; this is what made Harry Truman’s smile so broad when he held up that most famous edition of the Tribune ever published. The Tribune has dug at Obama for four years, from Tony Rezko to Bill Ayers to Rev. Wright. If it hasn’t found anything digging here in Sen. Obama’s back yard, you can bet there’s nothing to be found.

One of America’s most underestimated presidents: Harry Truman on his proudest day.

5. If the McCain campaign were truthful (which it is not), it would tell folks that the New York Times story it cites actually says that Obama and Ayers “do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called ‘somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.’”

This is like taking a headline that says, “Fred Thompson is 100%, absolutely, positively not gay with Rudy Giuliani,” and saying, “Did you read the news story that talked about the possibility of secret homosexual liaisons between Thompson and Giuliani?”

Rudy Giuliani in drag. Nope, I’m not joking.

But I don’t know why anyone is surprised the McCain camp is going there. This is classic Karl Rove-style politics, turning day to night, right to wrong, strength to weakness. It’s what allowed Republicans to run against a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran, Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., as soft on terror in 2002.

It’s what allowed two chickenhawks to run against a decorated Vietnam war hero as a weak, liberal coward in 2004. It’s what’s allowed every Republican since 1980 to run as a “fiscal conservative,” despite ballooning deficits that have made our national debt ELEVEN TIMES what it was in 1980, even though 20 of those 28 years fell under Republicans.

The McCain/Palin crowd has taken a headline that said “no terrorism,” left out the “no,” and convinced itself that it’s still telling a half-truth and keeping half its honor intact.

6. Lastly, as anyone who’s ever served on a board knows, you don’t get to pick your fellow board members. Charities and civic organizations are always looking for professionals and community leaders to serve on governing and fundraising boards, some of which can have as many as 100 members.

Should Sen. Obama have refused to serve on any organization’s board whose members also included someone with a shady past, regardless of how important the organization’s mission was? Should he have turned down this donation from a man who, by all accounts, has given back a lot to the community and the society that he once so violently reviled?

I don’t know. Do Republicans return every donation from G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, and other unrepentant criminals who put their beliefs and values above the law? I doubt it.
As Sen. Obama has said, he was eight when all this Weather Underground stuff was going on. One of the beauties of his campaign to so many in my generation is that finally – finally – the divisive politics of the 1960s can be put behind us. No more draft dodging, no more draft deferments, no more bra burning, no more free-loving and pot-smoking and flag burning and all of it.

We can turn the page with Barack Obama, and it’s not surprising that someone like John McCain – a Vietnam-era guy by definition – is hoping we have one more election mired in the social conflicts that consumed the second half of the 20th Century.

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that McCain is just whistling Dixie. To me, it sounds an awful lot like a swan song.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More Babykilling Lies to Help McCain/Palin Win

According to Talking Points Memo, the National Right to Life Committee is about to release a slanderous ad to help McCain and Palin steal and election with outright lies.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. As a criminal appeals attorney in Illinois, I have to say that the "live-birth abortion" charges are flat-out lies.

Moreover, it is a mistake for Democrats and those on the Left to just ignore these charges because they seem unexplainable, thinking, "Oh crap, that's really bad. Let's just pretend we didn't hear that."

These charges are not hard to explain. But "The Swamp" has gotten it wrong, "" has gotten it wrong, and most of the non-legal analyses I've seen have gotten it wrong -- particularly from folks outside Illinois who might not be clear on how our legislature works.

Please go here, check my links, and see for yourself that the National Right to Life is engaging in a lying slander campaign rather than discussing genuine policy differences it may have with Sen. Obama.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Veep Debate Will Pit "Attaboy Joe" Against "Oh S--t Sarah"

Leading up to Thursday night's vice presidential debate, Republican operatives have been trying a new line of distraction against the Obama/Biden ticket. According to the whine of the day, the media have been treating Sarah Palin unfairly, running her through the ringer for her gaffes, awkward silences, errors, and outright ignorance, while they've been giving Joe Biden a pass.

According to Rudy Giuliani, “Sarah Palin is treated horribly different than Joe Biden." According to Fred Thompson, "Governor Palin’s every comment was scrutinized by the media and judged against what Jefferson or Lincoln might have said. Never mind that her counterpart, the 30-year-Washington-veteran Joe Biden, apparently is unaware that America relies upon coal for a lot of it’s electricity or that he recently referred to a top level U.S. official’s visit to Iran that never happened. That’s just Joe being Joe – protected by the sheer number of his gaffes and the fact that he is Barack Obama’s running mate."

And while the McCain campaign is pushing Biden's gaffes, it's insisting that Palin's shouldn't count. Today, McCain testily swiped at Biden's recent eroneous suggestion that FDR was president at the start of the depression and used the television to reassure the American people. "Some people allege that others may have spent too much time inside the Beltway," McCain said, "...and too much time not out in touch with the American people, some people that know that Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't adress the American people on television."

It is absolutely the case that Biden has gotten a lot less press generally than Sarah Palin has. And it's also absolutely true that his gaffes -- which have been more plentiful than I'd have hoped, God love him -- have caused a lot less alarm among voters and members of the pundit class on both sides of the aisle.

But that absolutely makes sense, and here's why: we know Joe Biden -- loquacious, folksy, windy, goofy, but competent. On this, even conservatives like David Brooks agree. Nobody wants to have a phone conversation with him necessarily, and nobody would want him to be his star witness at a murder trial, but I think that if, God forbid, Barack Obama dropped over dead on January 25, 2009, 95 percent of us could still sleep soundly at night knowing folksy, windy old Joe was at the helm.

Sens. Biden and Obama at their first joint campaign rally in Springfield, Illinois. I am at top right, behind the fellow in the green shirt stretching out his hand, who happens to be none other than Mr. Jacob Trimble.

He's been in the Senate for three decades. Not only does he know Supreme Court cases, but he's taught them. He's even crafted laws that have been the subject of them. He's on two of the most prestigious and important committees in the Senate -- the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. He's been to Afghanistan. He's been to Iraq. He's been on Meet the Press more than almost anyone. We trust him.

And who is Sarah Palin? She seems okay, even though she's stonewalling an abuse-of-power investigation in Alaska. But her roll-out has been one mistake, one wrong answer, one non-answer after another, to Charlie Gibson, to Katie Couric, and to her fellow cheesesteak eaters. All we know about her is an unsettling and desperate incompetence.

We have to ask her hard questions, not because she should be held to a higher standard, but because Joe Biden has already been tried in the refining fire of the public eye for 30 years. We're not intentionally leaving Biden out; we're just trying to bring Palin up to where Biden -- and generally all other VP nominees -- already are.

I'm reminded of the New Testament story about non-Christian exorcists in Ephesus who had heard about the miracles and exorcisms the Apostle Paul was performing. Without converting to the faith or giving much thought to the consequences, seven of these exorcists decided they'd get in on the action. When they came across a man possessed by a demon, some of these name-dropping coat-tailers yelled out, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches."

The demon replied, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know. But who are you?" Then the demon-possessed guy proceeded to beat the tar out of the posers.

I think a lot of Americans right now look at Sarah Palin and think to themselves, "Joe Biden we know, and John McCain we know, and heck, even Barack Obama we know. But who are you?" And when McCain repeats assertedly, as he did again today, that Palin's running for vice-president after just 20 months as a governor is the same as Reagan or Clinton running after considerably more experience, Americans scratch their heads and say, "Um...wait a sec. Reagan we know, and Bill Clinton we know. But who are YOU?"

"Ronald Reagan we know, and Bill Clinton we know, but who are YOU?"

Republicans always argue against affirmative action and taxes by saying that people should have to earn each opportunity and dime they get. Well, Joe Biden has earned a presumption of competence; Palin hasn't.

Before my Dad was a pastor, he was an oil field worker for Marathon, and his boss had a crude saying that explained his management style: "It takes about 20 'attaboys' to make up for one 'oh shit!'"

Biden's tenure as Obama's running mate has been peppered with a fair number of "oh shits" so far, but he's got the wind of a lifetime of "attaboys" at his back. Palin, on the other hand, was foisted on us all fully formed, like Athena from the mind of "Zeus" McCain, and she's done nothing but clumsily skip from "shit" to "shit" ever since.

The decent thing for the McCain/Palin campain to do is to start digging themselves out of this hole honestly and honorably, rather than bashing poor Joe Biden and the media over the head with the shovel.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Democrats Should Steer Clear of "Siren Sarah"

I think the McCain campaign is finally catching on that things aren't going well. Barack Obama has led in the daily Gallup poll for five days, and John McCain hasn't led for two weeks. Best guesses on electoral votes range from 255 to 227 Obama, to 286 to 225 Obama, to 301 to 237 Obama, to 331 to 207 Obama.

And there's no clear end in sight. The economy is in the ditch, and while neither candidate seems particularly expert in economics, Obama has some very competent people on his economic team, while McCain has the bad fortune of having surrounded himself with precisely the kind of people who have helped cause the problem, like former Sen. Phil Gramm, and the kind of people whom Americans are disgusted with, like lobbyist Rick Davis and golden-parachuted CEO Carly Fiorina.

Conservatives of the old school are in revolt over Gov. Sarah Palin, Republicans can't get their act together, and even the most superstitious/anxious/cynical Democrats are having to shake themselves to avoid visions of premature inauguration.

So what does the McCain camp do? It sends out Gov. Palin as the bait in two distinct traps, extremely attractive to Democrats and extremly, extremely deadly.

Discerning Democratic mice will resist the urge to pounce on this tasty morsel of Palin provolone.

First Trap: Red Meat

In case you haven't seen the latest installment of the gift that keeps on giving, watch the video above as Katie Couric unrolls a few more lengths of rope for Palin to use to hang herself.

Of course, I think much of what Palin has to say is ridiculous, but more than that, I think the way she says it illustrates just how unready she is even to be a part of this campaign, let alone to lead America, and thus the world.

But step back from this for a minute and think about the dangers this interview poses for Democrats. Here are big hunks of juicy tidbits that voters, columnists, bloggers, and pundits can't resist -- ABORTION!!! BIRTH CONTROL!!! HOMOSEXUALITY!!! RELIGION!!!

But I believe it would be an absolute mistake to take the bait, and here's why. For starters, these aren't far-out wacky views, or at least if they are, they're held by a substantial number of Americans. America's largest Protestant denomination -- the Southern Baptists, with 16.2 million members -- and the Roman Catholic Church in America accounts for one quarter of our population. Guess what these denominations teach? That abortion is murder, the morning-after pill is murder, and homosexuality is a choice. This is to say nothing of the Assemblies of God, Churches of God, Disciples of Christ, et alii.

Unless people think that somehow Democrats can win with skeptics, atheists, and Unitarians, there's got to be a place at the table for people of all beliefs and traditions. These issues just aren't the most important ones in America.

That brings me to my second reason to avoid the culture-war bait. When the national conversation gets bogged down in the culture wars, Democrats lose. It's not necessarily because half the country agrees with Palin. It's that people who disagree with her can never be as forceful as those who agree with her. If you don't think that the morning-after pill is murder or that being gay is a chosen abomination, you'll never be able to match passions with people who do. (Unless, perhaps, you are gay without equal rights or unexpectedly pregnant without access to an early-term abortion, which certainly must account for a minority of Americans.)

To put it another way, most potential Democratic voters don't go to sleep at night thinking, "Man, I could really use an abortion," or, "Gosh, I wish I could have a gay marriage." For that matter, they don't go to sleep wondering just how stupid that Gov. Palin will look the next time she opens her mouth for a primetime interview or a cheesesteak sandwich.

They go to sleep wondering how they're going to pay for their health insurance, how they'll keep their jobs, what will happen to their folks when they get older and dont't have nursing home insurance, and whether their sons and daughters will ever come home safely from two wars that seem to have no end. So if the Democrats spend all their time talking to American voters about how they'll give them evolution education and the morning-after pill, voters will tune it out the way I tune out the infomercials for the Jack Lelane Juicer I don't need.

Polling shows this. Go back and look at where the McCain-Palin ticket stood in the polls when the national narrative was about "lipstick on a pig" and Obama killing babies. Those conversations miss the voters you can get and really really energize the voters you hope stay home.

Liberals like Unitarian Keith Olbermann (whom I generally like) and agnostic Bill Maher (whom I don't), if they really support Barack Obama, do themselves no favors deriding not the extreme policies of the McCain/Palin ticket but the personal convictions of the members of that ticket, which untold millions of Americans share.

Serious-minded Democrats should distance themselves from these criticisms of Palin's no-doubt genuine religious views and keep the focus on the economy, the war, and the disaster that was the last eight years. If someone says, "I think all the gays are going to hell," say, "Terrific. How does that help you feed your family?"

Second Trap: Wounded Animal

The other snare Palin is setting with her Siren song is one of low expectations. President Bush has famously spoken of the "soft bigotry of low expectations," but in this case, I think the Republicans in the short-term only stand to gain from how little the country has come to expect from Gov. Palin.

We've already seen the McCain camp exploit these expectations once before. When McCain first named Palin right before his convention, bloggers and partisans nationwide spent four solid days denouncing the decision simultaneously as a boneheaded blunder and a self-serving stunt, rapidly firing every possible criticism at Palin to see what stuck. She was a book-banner! Her daughter was knocked up! The First Dude had a 20-year-old DUI! She'd fired someone for political reasons! People were running pools to see how long she'd survive on the Republican ticket.

And then what happened? She stood up and read a great speech from a teleprompter at the convention, and Democrats looked stupid. They'd made her look like a victim, a martyr, a working-class hero. Meanwhile, Gov. Palin -- still unqualified, mind you, and still extremely dangerous to our nation -- was innoculated from criticism for weeks to come.

It took CBS's Katie Couric (someone else who's faced the soft bigotry of low expectations) to really pull back the curtain on the Wizard to let American voters sneak a peek to observe what Democrats had ham-handedly tried to pound into their heads a month before: Palin was clueless.

But rather than having learned their lesson, Democrats (and some Republicans, by the way) are piling on again, Democrats gloating at how abysmal Palin is, Republicans fretting and begging her to fall on her moose gun for the good of party and country. The result is that come this Thursday night, when she has to debate Sen. Joe Biden in the vice-presidential face-off, expectations are set so low for her that if she manages not to trip or swear, she'll be hailed for proving those snobby elitist critics wrong again.

Moreover, wounded animals are always 100 times fiercer than animals in good shape, so I reckon that the wound-ier the McCain campaign gets, the more ferocious its attacks on Obama/Biden will become.

What's the right approach? I say back off and let Palin continue to write her own epitaph. The American people are not stupid. Between the War on Terror and the Terrible Economy, folks know that times are tough and fraught with the potential for disaster. They also know that John McCain is old and more likely to die in office than any president we've had at least since Franklin Roosevelt's fourth term. The more they see of Palin, the more even her admirers are going to realize, "Darn the luck, she seems like a swell lady, but we just don't have the luxury of rolling the dice on her."

Don't make her a martyr. Don't waste breath and column inches pointing out what Palin daily makes painfully obvious. Let Palin be Palin -- in fact, just let Palin be -- and let's take our argument for real, lasting Change to the American people, reminding them at every turn that John McCain isn't it.

Is Anybody In Charge of the Republican Party Right Now?

Let's recap. Yesterday, John McCain took credit for passing this bill before it passed. THEN he blamed Barack Obama for its failure to pass.

THEN, this morning, after everyone in America knew the bill had failed, the Republican National Committee ran an ad blaming Obama FOR PASSING the bill, that of course failed to pass.

Forget whiplash, I've snapped my neck!

McCain, Palin Spin Katie Couric in the Twilight Zone

Watch CBS Videos Online

Somebody should remind McCain that Bill Clinton was governor for 12 years, Attorney General of Arkansas for two years, and a law professor. Moreover, Ronald Reagan, who had been active in Republican politics for a generation and who'd been governor of California for eight years, would probably be surprised to hear his old bosom buddy John McCain compare him to a small-town mayor and 20-month governor of Alaska.

Couric's caught in The Twilight Zone.

Meanwhile, Katie Couric, God love her, finds out what Rod Serling felt like all those years.

Monday, September 29, 2008

McCain Counts the Chickens While His Party Smashes the Eggs

As John McCain's folksy running-mate, Sarah Palin, could have told him, you don't count your chickens before they hatch. Only in this case, you don't count your Republicans before they vote.

This morning, Sen. McCain lambasted Barack Obama mercilessly for "sitting on the sidelines" instead of taking leadership the way he did to save the economy by building a coalition for the bail-out. Then, when it came time for McCain's party to put up or shut up, McCain's own party balked, bucking both their nominee and their president and killing the bill 228 to 205.

It's one thing to take credit for things you had no hand in creating, like when McCain's campaign said he helped create the BlackBerry, or when Al Gore claimed to have "taken the initiative" in creating the Internet. But where some men see things as they are and ask "why," John McCain dreams things that never were ... and takes credit for them.

Car-"Mac" the Lackluster

Nobody can predict the future, and that's why all but the mentally infirm and the fraudulent snake-oil salesmen among us don't even try. I'm not saying Sen. McCain is mentally infirm or a fraud, but gosh, he's really not doing much to convince us all he's not.

In the best case scenaio, McCain isn't crazy or lying, but trying his hardest to make things come true merely by saing them. He's done this with the economy, with Sarah Palin, and every other thing that's gone south, so it's no surprise he's doing it now. This morning, he was Sky Masterson, cooing "Luck Be a Lady" into the ears of House Republicans and rolling them like dice, hoping against hope that he'd roll a winner.

"Sometimes luck has a very unladylike way of running out."

Then, when ol' Maverick Masterson's luck ran out, who did he blame? Barack Obama.

To sum it up, McCain's either crazy, a liar, or an unlucky compulsive gambler. None of the three leaves him fit to lead this great nation, in my judgment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Palin Says, "Invade Pakistan? You betcha!"

Sen. John McCain raised quite a fuss at Friday night's debate that Sen. Barack Obama has taken the position that if we know where bin Laden is inside Pakistan, and the Pakistani government won't act, we will. (This, by the way, has been the policy of the United States government since the Clinton Administration.) "You don't say that out loud," McCain scolded grumpily.

Well, as it turns out, his running-mate didn't get the memo. Gov. Sarah Palin has gone Obama one better, by saying the United States would send a ground invasion into Pakistan "if that's what we have to do."

"Put 'em up! PUT 'EM UP! I'll fight ya with one hand tied behind my back! I'll fight ya with one eye closed!"

I'm starting to wonder if we ought to give her and McCain a map of the world and a marker and tell them to cross off the countries that are actually SAFE from invasion in a McCain/Palin Administration. Russia? Iran? Pakistan? North Korea? Venezuela? Spain?

McCain quickly took an opportunity to point out that what Palin said wasn't actualy what she meant. This is yet another dramatic reversal for the McCain campaign, which you'll recall felt very strongly that "words mean something" back in those halcyon lipstick-on-on-a-pig days of relatively recent vintage.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama Won the Debate By Showing Up Without Horns

After Friday night's presidential debate, I was initially very disappointed. "Well, we blew that one," I muttered, disgusted, much the way my Grandpa used to when the Cubs would give up a three-run homer in the top of the ninth.

I think my reaction was similar to Maureen Dowd's: why did Obama leave so much unsaid?

Why didn't Obama point out that McCain's campaign advisor's lobbying firm was still on the Freddie Mac Payroll until last month? Why didn't Obama get angry and fight back when McCain made those ridiculous allegations that Obama said he would just nance over to Iran to play footsie with Ahmadinejad?

When McCain bloviated for minutes and minutes about earmarks (to avoid having to talk about the economy), why didn't Obama remind McCain that his own running mate secured earmarks for Alaskans to study the mating habits of crabs? When McCain belittlingly scolded Obama that "the next president won't have to decide whether to go to war in Iraq," why in the world didn't Obama say, "No, Senator, but they might have to decide whether to bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran, and I don't think the American people can trust your judgment on that"?

Why, why why? Instead of doing what I thought he should do, Obama made his points firmly but respectfully, and then backed off to let McCain speak ad nauseum to "my friends" about Vietnam, being a maverick, earmarks, and any number of other things he loves to drone on about.

I was sure we had lost the debate, and that after two disastrous weeks for McCain, Obama had just allowed McCain to recapture the initiative.

Boy, was I mistaken!

Within minutes, the "insta-polls" showed that debate watchers preferred Obama's performance by a wide margin. (CNN. CBS.) So why had I been so wrong? Why had more voters found that my candidate Barack Obama did so much better than I thought he did?

As I thought about it, I came to three reasons. First, most Americans probably have better things to do with their time than to follow every single piece of election-related news from hour to hour each day. Thus, they don't know all the minor details; they just know the big picture. So while I was judging Sen. Obama on what he didn't say, most of America probably judged both candidates on what they did say, and they liked what Obama said better.

Second, McCain really lived up to his reputation for nastiness. Over and over again, he said things like, "My opponent just doesn't understand," "what Sen. Obama doesn't seem to understand," et cetera. He spoke about Obama's "naivete." In other words, it wasn't that he thought Obama was wrong, it's that he thought Obama was stupid, and that an argument with Obama was really beneath him.

Nobody likes to be talked to that way. A friend of mine recently began an argument with me by saying, "Let me see if I can break it down for you in a way you might comprehend." Of course, I tuned out everything after that, because that's not the way grown people speak to one another.

McCain partisans will be quick to point out that Obama's most enduring indictment of McCain from his Democratic Convention speech was, "It isn't that John McCain doesn't care. It's that he doesn't get it." The thing is, I think John McCain has demonstrated over the past two weeks that he absolutely doesn't get it when it comes to the economy and how it's affecting working families. So when Obama said it, it rang true.

When McCain said that Obama "doesn't understand," however, it directly conflicted with what people could see before their very eyes, which was that Sen. Obama certainly did get it. You might disagree with him about Iran, Pakistan, tax cuts, or whatever, but there's no mistaking that Obama knows what he's talking about. Thus, rather than really cutting Obama down, McCain undermined his own credibility by repeating over and over again something that was demonstrably false.

(With no disrespect towards fans of Sen. Clinton, I might make the comparison to the primary season. Clinton ran as the "invincible" candidate, the only Democrat who could win. Then she lost in Iowa to Obama, and her argument that nobody but her could win was out the window. It's the same now with McCain saying Obama "doesn't understand.")

Third, because each candidate needed something very different from the debate, Obama had an easier job. McCain's playing the role of the drunken abusive boyfriend who's begging to be taken back again, because, "I promise, things'll be different this time." Obama, meanwhile, is the new guy trying to convince us all that we really deserve better.

"Stella! I promise having a Republican president will be different this time!"

What do I mean? The economy stinks, and McCain doesn't get it. When he pulled his little stunt and promised to save the economy or else skip the debate, Obama called his bluff, and not only did McCain come to the debate without saving the economy, he made it worse. Palin is a joke -- a loveable joke, but a joke nonetheless.

The Afghanistan War is seven, the Iraq War is five and a half, the deficit is the largest in history, credit is freezing, unemployment is creeping, banks are failing, other countries are catching up, Russia is saber-rattling, Galveston is a rotting corpse, and Bush has cried wolf so many times that even his own caucus in the House of Representatives doesn't trust him. The American people are crying out for change, and in their minds, they are all screaming, "ENOUGH!"

They want to vote Democratic. They want to reject McCain, the last eight years, the turbulent 1960s culture wars and Vietnam turmoil, incompetence, mean-spiritedness, unnecessary wars and uncontrollable economic turbulence.

But they also want to know that the sky won't fall and their kids won't die and they won't burn in hell for voting for a black Democrat with a funny name. Exhausted with the status quo, they are waiting for permission from their anxieties, their consciences, and their dead ancestors to vote for a dramatically different kind of president. And every time Obama appears in public not burning a flag or performing an abortion on live television, they are given that permission, because they see he's really just a regular guy.

I grew up in a very conservative Republican household in very conservative downstate Illinois, so I was 11 years old before I ever met someone who admitted that he was a liberal. Mom had a new boss, and when she introduced him to me, she said, "Ron, this is my son Levi. He's never met a liberal before. He thinks you all have green horns and tails." Ron laughed pleasantly as he shook my hand, then he leaned forward and showed me the top of his head. "See? No horns. Pleased to meet you."

My hand didn't wither and drop off. I didn't turn to stone. Ron didn't kidnap me or curse God. All of a sudden, everything I'd ever heard about the evil baby-killing, atheistic, taxing-and-spending, military-cutting, sodomizing liberals rang false. Ron was just a normal American guy.

What Barack Obama needed to do last night wasn't to grit his teeth and fire again and again and again at John McCain like John Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder. He didn't need to get too many zingers in on McCain, or talk jnoisily over McCain to make sure he was the loudest debater. All Obama needed to do Friday night was lean forward to show the American people that he has no horns.

Because he did that, he won.

**Post script: the Gallup poll seems to confirm what I've said here. On Sunday, September 28 -- the first day following the debate -- the three-day average for the national poll of registered voters moved three points, with McCain dropping two points to 42 and Obama gaining a point to rise to 50. Obama leads by eight points.

You can watch the entire debate here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

With the Soft Touch of a Bull in a China Shop, McCain "Suspends Campaign," Dons Captain Maverick Suit to Save the Day

It's not surprising to me how devious and calculating the McCain campaign has become; after all, as they say, politics ain't bean bag. It's just surprising how poorly McCain pulls it off.

Surely you've heard by now that today, John McCain announced that the economic crisis was so big that it just couldn't be solved without him. So, saying he was putting his country ahead of politics, he suspended his campaign, tentatively called off this Friday's debate, and headed to Washington to fix everything.

Except, of course, none of that was true. The bail-out deal is nearing a consensus,and McCain is trying to swoop in at the last minute and take credit for something that the rest of Congress and the Bush Administration has sweated out for a week.

And McCain's campaign sent around a talking points memo to tell his surrogates how to exploit his "non-partisan" decision for nakedly partisan political gain. (Which, by the way, is to be expected 40 days before the election, but McCain shouldn't blow smoke up our wazoos by telling us that HE is completely above politics and is marching off to Washington self-sacrificingly. That's just patronizing and insultingly transparent -- maybe the first transparent thing about the McCain campaign since it chose Palin as McCain's running mate.)

Plus, if it's that important to McCain, why did he wait until today to bail out? Why not yesterday or the day before, when the Dow dropped much more precipitously than today and a bail-out seemed a lot more tentative?

And if it's such a terrible emergency, why did McCain ditch David Letterman, falsely claiming that he had to fly to Washington post-haste to save the world, when he (1) hadn't cast a roll call vote on ANY matter since April and (2) went over for a make-up job with Katie Couric rather than rushing to Congress like he said?

(Look for the make-up about 6:40 in the video.)

And if McCain is really just trying to put country first, if he isn't sneakily trying to cheat the American people out of 1/4 of their chances to hear from the two campaigns on the most important issues in debates, then why is he trying to get everyone to agree to scrap the vice-presidential debate altogether?

Maybe because Gov. Palin deals painful blows to the campaign every time she opens her mouth in public lately?

It kind of reminds me of high school, when some of the kids would drag in bleary-eyed on the Monday morning of a test and beg to postpone it, because something important came up over the weekend. (Nine times out of 10, the "something important" was a keg party rather than, say, a grandparent's death.) Surely the American people can sense that McCain is stalling, casting a grappling hook as far as he can and hoping that it catches on something he can use to stop his precipitous slippage.

Let me be clear. I do not believe for a second that John McCain really thinks that now, at the end of this bail-out negotiation, he needs to be in Washington. But I also don't believe that he's afraid to debate Barack Obama. After all, if the primary season is any indication, Obama usually doesn't shine in debates.

"There's no need to fear! Underdog is here!"

I think McCain is terrified at new polls showing his grasp on the race eroding. I think he is mortified that either his campaign manager Rick Davis has lied to him, or he has been caught in his own lie to the press, about Davis's lobbying firm receiving $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac until last month. I think he realizes what an absolute disaster last week was, as he flipped and flopped on his response to the economic crisis enough to make John Kerry look like the Rock of Gibraltar. And he figures, if I can just get people back to talking about how ambitious and selfish Obama-the-Celebrity is, instead of talking about how unscrupulous and clueless and volatile McCain is, then maybe he'll have a shot of winning.

I've got to hand it to McCain. He's not afraid to shake the snow globe and see where the flakes fall. If you gave him one of those choose-your-own-adventure books, I get the sense that he'd just pick the first option, every time, without batting an eye.

The problem, of course, is that the world isn't a snow globe, but an actual globe globe. And in the real world, the first option that comes to mind isn't always the best one, and sometimes it has disastrous consequences.

I say the Senators go to Washington, meet with Bush, put in their two cents' worth, and then get back to taking their cases to the American people. Putting aside politics for bipartisan cooperation is what brought us the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. Let's have the debates -- all of them -- so that folks can make an informed decision about how to cast their votes in just five short weeks.

Palin the Storm Trooper

Today, Governor Sarah Palin gave only her third news interview since becoming Sen. John McCain's running mate, to CBS News' Katie Couric.

Sen. Biden often sticks his foot in his mouth, but at least Sen. Obama trusts him enough as a person and competent leader that he gives him the opportunity to make mistakes. Everyone knows he's competent, even conservatives, so if he's not particularly well-spoken from time to time, he gets the benefit of the doubt, God love 'im.

But they've got Gov. Palin memorizing her answers.

The key to seeming like you haven't memorized answers is changing them a little bit if the question changes slightly.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite stories from middle school. The students in my grammar class traded their papers to grade, and I got the paper of a guy who, to put it kindly, wasn't known as a stellar student. But I was amazed: as the teacher read off the correct answers from the book, the guy was getting every single answer 100% correct. But his answer to the last question -- an essay question -- was a little curious: "Answers may vary."

I raised my hand and said, "Mrs. Kling? My paper says, 'Answers may vary.'" Well, it was immediately apparent to Mrs. Kling that my guy had cheated, copying the answers straight out of the book. He went to the principal's office, and that was that.

The crack-me-up funny part of Sarah Palin's rote memorization of stock lines of fluff is that her answers don't vary. It's the same thing over and over and over again. Maverick, hockey mom, shake up Washington, reform, thanks but no thanks, maverick, maverick, maverick. It's like John McCain is a Jedi, and she's a storm trooper.

I'll tell you what I want to know. Who the heck's going to be whispering the answers into her ear if John McCain dies?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Update on Rick Davis, John McCain's Favorite Pimp

Remember my post Monday about the Madam, the Pimp, and the Legislator?

The New York Times reports tonight that not only did John McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis lobby for failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac, but Freddie continued to pay $15,000 a month to Davis's firm until this August. As in, last month!

This despite the fact that McCain said Sunday that Davis had had no involvement with the company for the last several years.

The American people are entitled to know what was that $15,000 a month was for, aren't we? And even if it was for the pure heck of it, why has the McCain campaign insisted on distortion and out-and-out lying, as it has done with so many issues lately, on out-and-out lying. What's he hiding?

If the mortgage industry's payroll is the same as John McCain's, who do you think's going to have OUR back if John McCain gets in the White House?