October 30, 2008

election lost on a technicality

Godwin's Law

"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
John McCain, on the LA Times's refusal to release (per its promise to its source) a tape of Obama at a fellow professor's going away party from Chicago:
"I'm not in the business of talking about media bias but what if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet?"
According to internet tradition the first person to make such a comparison loses.

Can this election please just be over already?

October 23, 2008

"They spent 6 times my yearly income on her wardrobe"

Look, I want to be sympathetic to Sarah Palin spending $150,000 on new clothes. I buy that she needed new clothes, even though she wasn't "a beet farmer last week" (if you want to see how she dressed before, there's a set of photos on the Seattle PI website; a lot of what she wore in Alaska would have been savagely mocked if she wore it in front of a national audience). The demands of the national stage are intense, and much more so for women: no female political figure (and I include Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain) could follow the Obama strategy of wearing a rotating set of identical dark two-button suits, white shirts, and variably colored ties. I also buy that those clothes have to be not only varied, but high quality, expensive, and fashionable, and that people will notice and mock her if they are not. And she needs a lot of them, because she can't wear the same thing every day, or even twice in the same week - and even then she needs far more clothes than seems normal, because she doesn't stay in one place long enough to get everything cleaned and sent back to her before she leaves, so they probably have to get shipped by her post-event team.

But $150,000! That's a different $2000 outfit every day of a 2.5 month campaign. It's just, just.. it is just not reasonable. I have been to fancy department stores! There are very nice outfits available for much, much less than $2000, and her standard outfit of femme skirt with jacket is completely amenable to mixing and matching. (I'm not the only one who can't figure out where the money would go: the editor of Glamour magazine basically agrees.) If it had been some smaller, seemingly unreasonable amount of money, like $50,000 or $75,000, I could have seen defending Palin. But I just can't make the numbers make sense.

(post title from the Political Schmientist)

October 22, 2008

crazy pills

The whole scrap about Ayers and ACORN in the debate the other night (if you missed it, the short version is that McCain said he didn't care about some washed-up old terrorist and then talked about him ad nauseam, and Obama said this is ridiculous) reminded me of some of the more totally insane things about this election: namely, that people are willing to believe all kinds of terrible things about Obama and vote for him anyway. Ben Smith at Politico has the best examples: a canvasser in Fishtown, a Philadelphia neighborhood, finds people who are outright racist, but "they would call him a n----r and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy."

And then, well, this kind of speaks for itself, although you should click over and read the whole thing: after watching a no-holds-barred ad for a focus group, the kind that throws Wright and Ayers and everything at Obama, this happens.

The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."
She thinks he was a member of a terrorist group. She's voting for him anyway. Like other members of the focus group, she was willing to accept these racially motivated slurs, but she didn't think acting on them was in her own best interest.

The guy who organized the focus group said, "I felt like I was taking crazy pills."

This has a little to do with why I think having Obama as president would be amazing for race issues in this country. I mean yeah, the far-right crazies - the Patriot movement, the white supremacists, the kind of people David Neiwert at Orcinus keeps an eye on - will go nuts. Obama will need incredibly intense security. But most people will see a black man (biracial, yes, but in a lot of the country he just reads as black) being president, doing a pretty good job of it, and most importantly seeming like a smart decent guy, and it'll change their gut feelings about race the same way it happened for this guy:
"I’ve always been against the blacks," said Mr. Rowell, who is in his 70s, recalling how he was arrested for throwing firecrackers in the black section of town. But now that he has three biracial grandchildren — “it was really rough on me” — he said he had “found out they were human beings, too.”
It's not like anyone wakes up and suddenly things are fine, but it changes people's ideas of what's possible and what's normal.

October 8, 2008

McCain Watch '08: out of touch

Last night at the debate, McCain talked about his health care plan, explaining to the audience that it would let them shop around! Choose whatever insurance plan they wanted! He sounded like he thought people would appreciate the offer and be happy not to be locked into whatever plan their employer offers.

Which, frankly, is a nutty thing to think.

Buying individual health insurance is a painstaking, unpleasant process in which you are constantly trying to figure out exactly how screwed a particular plan will make you if you have a major health problem - this involves reading legalese in 4-point font - and exactly how restrictive the particular insurance company will be about the doctors you can see and conditions they'll cover. Not to mention that it's absurdly expensive - McCain's $5000 credit does essentially nothing for anyone with a major pre-existing condition. But even if it were free, getting health insurance for yourself sucks. I did it this year, and if it should be easy for anyone, that person is me: I am young, reasonably healthy, don't smoke, and have neither pre-existing conditions nor a family to worry about; I'm also over-educated and good with numbers. It still sucked. I was sure I was getting screwed, and I took a crappier plan than I would ideally like because at least I can afford the premiums.

Anyone who's ever had to deal with their own health insurance knows it sucks, and you're better off getting it through your employer, who by virtue of scale will be able to negotiate a better and less expensive plan (same argument holds for single-payer, not that I'm holding my breath). So when McCain talks about how great it's going to be to be able to find the best health care plan for yourself, all he's saying is he has no damn clue what getting health insurance is like. And he doesn't. He was in the Navy until April 1, 1981, and was elected to Congress in 1982, where he's been ever since. With the exception of one year of his life, he has had government health care immediately available; during that year, he worked for his father-in-law, a hundred-millionaire. Any guesses as to whether he was offered health insurance with that job? His insurance has always been taken care of. So he's trying to encourage the rest of the country to take on a complicated, onerous, confusing responsibility for managing their own health insurance - something he's never done himself, or showed any interest in doing, because it sucks. But he's fine with it sucking for the rest of us.

October 6, 2008

"But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."

I read Rolling Stone's profile of McCain out loud to the Gardener (yes, the whole thing; procrastination > gravity). My first reaction was something like, that poor guy. He sounded like a miserable, obstinately angry, misogynistic child, desperate to live up to a standard he could never meet, always trying to make up for being a screw-off by getting his way. We hear that McCain tried to pick up girls as a high school sophomore; when they laughed at him, "he cursed them so vilely that he was hauled into court on a profanity charge." In the story, McCain erupts in anger, crashes two planes, almost gets kicked out of school twice, acquires the nickname McNasty, and, constantly on the verge of failure, relentlessly returns to his family connections to bail him out. The man needs help.

By the time the article reached McCain's political career, all my sympathy had evaporated. He's a habitual liar, a corrupt, dishonest, dishonorable, deceitful politician. He needs help, but keep that man away from the presidency. "Seen in the sweep of his seven-decade personal history, his pandering to the right is consistent with the only constant in his life: doing what's best for himself."


October 3, 2008

the vp debate

I don't understand the reaction to the VP debate. Biden had a lot of great moments: reclaiming the 'ordinary guy' mantle by talking about raising kids alone after his wife died, saying that McCain was no maverick on the things that count, saying on climate change that "if you don't understand what the cause is, it's impossible to come up with a solution." Palin kept it to no more than about three total melt-downs into incoherence, each of which came when she neither answered the question asked nor shifted entirely to a different topic, but rather talked around the question. Her attempt at telling us her Achilles heel was a notable example of this. Gwen Ifill was unbelievably tame, not pushing either candidate to give a straight answer to any question - though Biden actually did answer every question, at least briefly, so she could only have pushed Palin much.

So far so good, and nothing the blogs and newspapers aren't talking about. But for my money, Biden's best moment was his closing statement, which I'm putting below. It starts at about 1:38, and it hits all the right notes - a story about his dad in Scranton, an appeal to America to 'get up together', and 'may God protect our troops,' which coming from an observant Catholic with a son in the military sounds utterly sincere.

The most extraordinary moment in the debate, though, goes not to any of the absurd things Palin said about Obama's record (for a partial list of things she lied about, check here) or Biden dismantling McCain or even Palin saying how wonderful it is that "We both love Israel!", but to the same-sex marriage question. Here's Biden's response, in print, to whether benefits should be extended to same-sex couples:

"Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

"The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.

"It's what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do."
Palin's response?
"Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.

"But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

"But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

"But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.

"But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage."
Despite Biden's slip - saying "same-sex marriage" when he meant to say unions or something like that - both candidates are basically arguing for same-sex couples to get approximately the benefits of marriage. Which, ok, why don't you just give everyone civil unions and get the government out of the business of marriage altogether? But the fact remains that five years ago, sodomy statutes could be enforced; now, both sides of the ticket support civil unions for gay couples, and it's essentially uncontroversial (at that level - obviously it remains tremendously controversial at the level of, say, referenda). That ain't peanuts.

October 1, 2008


The Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, a man in a position to do so, talks race and Obama. Got me all choked up. Ignore the video, basically - it's jerky and low-fi - but the audio is worth 7 minutes of your life.