Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger, George W. Bush, Keith Richards, Al Gore, Ron Wood, John Kerry, Charlie Watts, Joe Biden, Brian Jones and Dick Cheney were all born within a seven-year period: from 1941 to 1948 (Do you know which three were all born in 1943? Can you guess which two were both born in 1942? Charlie Watts and Dick Cheney are the oldest, Al Gore is the youngest). They represent the senior phalanx of the generation known as the baby boomers, born in post-WWII prosperity, roughly from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. And they are, or at least until recently have been, in charge of everything.
But this election, a generational change is occurring, and the torch will be passed to a different generation, with a different outlook, to move in another direction... Obama, you say? Well true enough (1961), but actually I was thinking of McCain. He was born in the middle of the Great Depression, 1936, before the war. Passing the presidency off to him would be moving the country back to before the boomers.
(Answers to quiz: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and John Kerry were all born in 1943. Joe Biden and Brian Jones were both born in 1942. Clinton and Bush were both born in 1946: remember that Sartre play, No Exit?)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Let Obama Be Dean

After all the ballyhoo about Obama being mugged by the Civic Forum people last Saturday, people are saying let Obama be Obama. The problem is that Obama is being Obama, a communicator and conciliator by inclination and talent. These qualities could well make him an able executive, but as a campaigner the Democrats need someone who can put the Republicans on the defensive and keep them there. That can't be done by charming people but it can be done by presenting a real alternative. Obama needs to get a little less Clinton, a little more Dean. For example even at a Christian venue such as Civic Forum, when asked about abortion the Democrat should say, "Safe, legal and rare," which is still a sugared-up version of what ought to be "Safe, legal and available to all." "Safe and legal, that's my position, vote accordingly." Having such a clear position helps in argument, and helps to avoid arguments. On taxes the Democrat has a harder job of communicating just how lavish the Republican tax breaks have been for large businesses and the rich. But that's the place to stick, even if it means squaring off against some big shots and making enemies. The debt, the deficit, the budget. That was the theme doing a lot of work for the Democrats in 1992 when Clinton won. Where is the national debt clock? It's possible that even anti-militarism vs. militarism might work for the Democrats. We'll never know until we try. But don't put Howard on the ticket. Put Hillary on the ticket.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Late Veepstakes

Time grows short for Senators McCain and Obama to announce their respective running mates. As of this writing we still really don't know in either case. For both, it is a choice that could (not necessarily will) make or break the campaign. One would think that they are both close to a final decision, but my sofa kremlinology does not see traction anywhere. McCain's present trajectory is taking him in the direction of Huckabee, not that McCain will choose him (he won't), but the Republican campaign is turning out to be much more traditional than we might have expected. More war and oil rigs are required. Vice-President Romney will attend to the oil rigs. Meanwhile there is an opportunity to burnish the national reputations of some younger conservatives through the medium of the Veep list and all its attendant theatrics.
By the way, what is with the ritualistic "Would you comment about your being on the veep list?" question that every TV journalist must ask it of every politician rumored to be so? It's like the very traditional, very ritualistic sports interviews before and after games: "Well we're hoping to do well and we feel good, but they're a tough team, so let's hope for the best." "Well the nominee has to be free to make a decision in the best interests of the campaign, so I wouldn't interfere by promoting myself." And that's it. So the behavior is wholly ritualistic. Can some anthropologist explain this to me?
Meanwhile as to the Democrats, I like it that Obama has this kind of cagey streak to him where we don't know what he's going to do. I started out not liking Jim Webb, but I was won over finally by his interest in prison reform, a major issue that is too much off the radar screen. As to Joe Biden, I've liked him as a senator for a long time, but how could Obama justify the choice of Biden (or Dodd) if he weren't going to choose Clinton (or even Richardson for that matter)? I think I was wrong that Obama could nominate a woman-not-Hillary, in any event we're not seeing much of the other prospective nominees (ie Kathleen Sebelius). Rachel Maddow has made the point a few times that there's no particular reason why Hillary Clinton has to be the only woman whom the party could nominate, which is true enough except that Hillary Clinton happens to be an actual politician who is a woman candidate for national office, and not an abstract woman candidate for national office like we're used to thinking about. If Obama had a bigger lead in the polls he might want to play it safe with Evan Bayh or some other white-bread young midwesterner, but something more daring is called for I think. The continuing uncertainty of the role of the Clintons at the convention kind of jumps out at me. Obama had to make it clear to the world that he could and would decide on his running mate based entirely on his own considerations: he had to prove that he was in control of the process. He couldn't have it appear that the Clintons had shot their way on to the ticket. And I think now he has accomplished that, so now's the time to...nominate Clinton. Which is the obvious choice from the most basic of political considerations. Maybe Obama's known that he was going to pick Clinton in the end all along.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

GOP Playing Cards

I want to post today about a persistent bit of doublespeak from Republican rhetoricians. When Democrats point out that Republican policies favor the rich over the poor (which they do: check out the regressive tax code, attitudes towards enforcing regulations, resistance to campaign finance reform, and on and on), Republicans accuse the Democrats of "class warfare." This phrase not-so-subtly impugns Democrats as "pink," that is, as not truly supportive of economic and political freedom. That's a sleight-of-hand. In a secular democracy anyone can organize for whatever reason they want. Get enough people to vote for free chocolate milkshakes for all and that's what you'll get. The real erosion of our traditions in recent years has been the diminution of the middle class, both in terms of size and power, as Republicans have used the coercive power of the central government to artificially redistribute the wealth upwards, towards a tiny economic elite that now holds a dangerously large share of our commonwealth. "Supply-side economics" is a cover for graft, an excuse for politicians to divert lavish gifts to corporate allies (it was George H. W. Bush, it's useful to remember, who coined the term "voodoo economics" while running against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 Republican primaries). But according to contemporary Republican rhetoric, anyone who tries to rally the middle class, to organize workers, or to appeal to the interests of the poor is practicing "class warfare." A malevolent bit of political judo.
This week we've seen an equally offensive variation on this tactic from the McCain campaign. They have accused Obama of "playing the race card." Let's consider this suggestion. First of all, there is no contest over black voters. Forget about Obama: the Democrats have won 95+ percent of the African-American vote in the past two elections and will do so this election as well, regardless of who the candidate may be, the Full Employment Act for Black Conservative Commentators notwithstanding. Second, there is a history to the phrase "playing the race card," that is undoubtedly why the Republicans decided to obfuscate it. Traditionally it has referred to race-baiting tactics by the Republicans. Accusing Obama of "playing the race card" manages to throw up some dust for when the Republicans really do start race-baiting, which happens when: they accuse Obama of playing the race card! Positively diabolical. Third, as is borne out by the polls which consistently show the Democratic Party with a huge advantage, but Obama continuing in a tenuous position as he cannot open up a lead among white voters, the cost of a candidate being black continues to outweigh the benefit. The evidence suggests that Obama's race is currently costing him somewhere between five and ten points in the national polls, enough to potentially cost him the election. Fourth, as in the case of class interests, race interests (think of Irish and Italian Catholic urban politicians in the early 20th century) are a perfectly legitimate platform for political organizing, but Fifth, Obama isn't even doing that: he has no reason to work on rallying his African-American base and every reason to try to make himself acceptable to whites. The only even coherent version of "playing the race card" as applied to Obama's campaigning against McCain would be if Obama were accusing McCain of being a racist by sheer virtue of the fact that McCain is running against a black man, and it's true that the Clintons suffered that fate (quite unfairly) in the primaries, which is maybe what scared the McCain campaign into making this preemptive strike. But that backfires (at least I hope it does): there can be no doubt this week that it is the McCain campaign that has injected race into the rhetoric, something Obama has all this time scrupulously avoided doing, which is not surprising since it can only hurt him, something the McCain campaign understands only too well.