Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Palin Around

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Her work is widely credited with forcing BP and ConocoPhillips to start work on another pipeline project, called Denali. The companies spent $40 million this summer on preliminary field work and hope to have a working pipeline built by 2013. Many industry observers believe the two projects will ultimately be combined.

The companies say their interest in building a gas pipeline predates Gov. Palin’s administration.

Les Gara, a Democratic state representative from Anchorage, says credit for the revived company interest in building the pipeline should go to market forces. "More than anyone’s work, it’s the price of gas that is making this pipeline go ahead," he says.

Others believe Ms. Palin is the main reason the pipeline is moving forward. "The gas pipeline was such a muddle when she arrived that I thought to myself that this will never be built," says Steve Cowper, Alaska’s Democratic governor from 1986 to 1990. . . .

Gov. Palin showed an independent streak in the first weeks of her term by appointing Tom Irwin to be the natural resources commissioner. Mr. Irwin was fired in 2005 after he wrote a memo saying Gov. Murkowski was going too easy on oil companies in earlier pipeline negotiations. Six top staff members resigned in protest, an incident called the "Thursday Afternoon Massacre."

"She is not pro- or con-big companies," says Mr. Irwin. "Gov. Palin didn’t submit to the force and control of the large companies. She forced [them] into a fair, open competitive process."

Mr. Irwin says he has been impressed with Gov. Palin’s integrity since 2004. She resigned from her job as chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in protest against Randy Ruedrich, a fellow commissioner and state Republican Party chairman.

"She was unsettled and unhappy that he was conducting party business on state time," says Joe Balash, Gov. Palin’s special assistant. Mr. Reudrich was later fined $12,000 for violating state ethics laws.

Beware Palin-Drones

William Kristol’s take on Sarah Palin. To the degree that the real source of frustration about our government is that the Megastate liberals created in the 20th century is simply too big to be managed without great inefficiencies and much corruption and that much of our cultural frustration grows from the refusal of our elites to recognize that traditional sex roles can be reconciled with equal rewards for equal talent, Palin represents an alternative theme of hope and change. Governor Palin represents a threat to their worldview, and will be attacked for that reason. So says Kristol:

There she is: a working woman who’s a proud wife and mother; a traditionalist in important matters who’s broken through all kinds of barriers; a reformer who’s a Republican; a challenger of a corrupt good-old-boy establishment who’s a conservative; a successful woman whose life is unapologetically grounded in religious belief; a lady who’s a leader.

So what we will see in the next days and weeks--what we have already seen in the hours after her nomination--is an effort by all the powers of the old liberalism, both in the Democratic party and the mainstream media, to exorcise this spectre. They will ridicule her and patronize her. They will distort her words and caricature her biography. They will appeal, sometimes explicitly, to anti-small town and anti-religious prejudice. All of this will be in the cause of trying to prevent the American people from arriving at their own judgment of Sarah Palin.

Update: more thoughts

in a similar vein about what Palin represents. It’s not just social conservatives. She also excites those who think that the government is too much with us:

Unlike many liberals, I believe that women are capable of surviving and prospering on their own — and Palin is proof of that. And unlike some female politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Palin made it herself without the help of a career politician husband to give her an added advantage. Palin strikes me as someone who is fair to both men and women and who does not give women special rights and privileges just for the sake of being female.

Random Observations--Mainly about Our Sarah

1. Greetings from Boston. There’s a LOT of interest here in the alternative AMERICAN Political Science Association Meeting next year.

2. On our Sarah: She was a very realistic choice. It wasn’t made from desperation, but from a sober calculation about how to win the election. I said here on Thurs. that McCain’s main challenge is to bring back from Republicans who now call themselves Democrats and indpendents. She meets the challenge of bringing back some and energizing the turnout of "faith and family" voters. She gets the job does not by anything she says, but by WHO she is, just as McCain gets (some, at least) of the job done with the more nationalistic or national security voters by simply being WHO he is.

3. Palin didn’t "rock the house" in her introductory comments, but she didn’t shout, made good sense, and wonderfully displayed her character. She sold me that she’s an ordinary hockey mom who got involved in politics for the right reasons. Here’s the thing that unites Mac and her against Obama and Biden: They’re the anti-bobos (bourgeois bohemians). They have admirable lives, and so don’t need "lifestyles."

4. Mac does surrender the experience advantage against Obama, and he may have created some doubts about the authenticity of his judgments. He looked somewhat uncomfortable standing next to her. But my authentic view is that he picked better than he knew, and yesterday may well have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And Mac isn’t really about experience, he’s about character.

5. It’s impossible to overemphasize how happy the various kinds of social conservatives are here at the convention about the choice. I won’t name names, but I’m including famous professors at leading institutions. Many of them have never really liked or trusted McCain. Strangely enough, they trust her. And they now trust him more.

6. Biden--whom I’m on record as admiring--must be miserable. He can’t attack her, and he better not be condescending toward her. He better not say something "inappropriate" about Sarah or her family. His record on such matters is not encouraging.

7. I agreed with a distinguished professor of law at the election panel that it’s 80-90% likely that Obama would win the election. Paul Rahe (he won’t mind me using his name in a manly way) objected that McCain had already won the election because of Barack’s missteps. I think most in attendance wanted to be with Paul but actually agreed with me. The Sarah choice suggests that Mac actually would have tended to agree with me. Now I think the Sara choice--which, I admit, is pretty risky Berry--makes it about 70% likely that Obama prevails.

By the way, I met Pete at that panel; he’s as astute and witty in real life as he is in thread.

Gov. Palin Takes the Stage

Sarah Palin certainly had a better debut than Dan Quayle 20 years ago. I remember his speech at an outdoor rally in New Orleans at the start of the GOP convention right after being selected by George H.W. Bush. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and Quayle immediately displayed the eagerness – and gravitas – of a puppy. Gov. Palin, by contrast, struck me today as getting the tone just about right – neither too deferential nor assertive, enthusiastic yet serious and under control. She’s starting the longest 10 weeks of her public life, however, so Republicans need to hope that she’s either an incredibly quick study, or that she’s an exceptional talent who has been performing off-Broadway.

I am not happy to see the McCain campaign unilaterally defuse its best weapon against Obama: the argument about his callowness and lack of preparation. The claim that he is not ready for the Oval Office will resonate much less coming from a campaign that insists she is.

It’s tempting, then, to call the Palin selection an unforced error by the McCain campaign. That judgment, however, requires demonstrating persuasively that there was an alternative vice presidential selection that would have been decidedly better. The Palin nomination suggests that McCain and his closest advisors think that the unfavorable 2008 political terrain guarantees that, despite their successes over the summer, this is going to be a hard presidential election for the Republican to win. McCain is a boxing fan, so he knows about underdogs who have “a puncher’s chance” if they show enough aggression. If the McCain campaign believed that the November election was a 50/50 proposition a “first, do no harm” vice-presidential nominee like Tim Pawlenty would have had more appeal. If the presidential futures trading markets are right, however – they make Obama a 3-to-2 favorite - inoffensiveness is insufficient. In any competition, you reduce risks to protect a lead, and take chances to erase a deficit.

On the other hand, the enthusiasm for Palin on the conservative blogosphere today suggests, above all, huge relief that McCain found a way to make a bold, unexpected VP pick without selecting a pro-choice candidate, such as Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s a tactic suggesting McCain wants to win a base-mobilization election against Obama. That approach worked, barely, for the Republicans in 2004, when the circumstances were decidedly more favorable than today’s. Perhaps the calculation is that McCain has enough residual appeal to Independent voters and weak Democrats as “the original maverick” that he can “drill deep” with Republicans while simultaneously doing well – or at least well enough – with non-Republican voters who are up for grabs. That sounds hard and risky, like landing a fighter plane on an aircraft carrier during stormy weather – the sort of thing McCain used to do a lot of.

Palin v Obama

A couple of thoughts on the experience issue, and one or two others.

1. When Democrats and liberals raise the "experience" issue with regard to Governor Palin is it partly a class issue? Had Palin gone to Harvard would the liberal punditocracy feel the same way?

2. Is a similar snobbery at work in the dismissal of Governor Palin as a "small town" Mayer? Alaska is for fishing vacations, no one who is worth talking to actually lives there . . .

3. Is part of the difference between Palin and Obama, at least as perceived in certain circles, the belief that he’s an intellectualy serious person, or at least what often passes for one on the Left? I suppose that’s connected with point 1.

4. Might much of the excitement for Palin a case of conservatives doing what liberals often do, falling in love with a candidate?

5. It will be interesting to get to know Palin as the campaign progresses. I hope she lives up to her potential. At the very least, she has energized the conservative base of the GOP.

6. A coda. Part of the excitement for Palin, I suspect, grows from her being a classic conservative--she supports limited, constitutional government, and understands how that is connected with the inalienable right to life. Why are there so few such people in high office?

Random thoughts on a Friday

Apologies for my lengthy silence, doubtless appreciated by some.

My institution’s PR office asked me for a comment on John McCain’s VP choice. here’s what I offered:

"Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate is a bold move, effectively stealing a news cycle from Sen Barack Obama. With this choice, Sen McCain has changed the subject from Sen. Obama’s acceptance speech last night, a performance that would otherwise have occupied everyone’s attention. A safer, more predictable choice--of, say, former Gov. Mitt Romney or Gov. Tim Pawlenty--probably wouldn’t have done so.

"Gov. Palin is the only one on either ticket with executive experience, a point that will frequently be cited on her behalf.

"The fact that she carried a child with Down Syndrome to term is a practical demonstration of her pro-life credentials that will appeal to and galvanize social conservatives.

"While the choice of Gov. Palin for a place on the Republican ticket is not ’historic’ in the sense that Sen Obama’s place at the top of the Democratic ticket is, it nonetheless is a bold attempt to attract the attention of voters who aren’t accustomed to such moves from the GOP.

"Some might argue that Gov. Palin is inexperienced, as, of course, she is, when it comes to national political issues. But it is difficult to make a case against her that cannot also be made against Sen. Obama. Obivously, however, Sen. Obama’s relative inexperience at the top of the ticket will likely be more of a bone of contention than Gov. Palin’s in the vice presidential slot.

"Another important consideration is that Gov. Palin is untested on the national scene. But so was Sen. Obama at the outset of this nomination cycle. In some respects, he’s still untested, never having run against a serious Republican contender.

"Perhaps the most important consideration is that Gov. Palin has not yet been vetted by the national press. If the McCain campaign has not done its homework, Gov. Palin and Sen. McCain could be in for a very rough ride.

"This is a high-risk choice. The upside is potentially very great, but so is the downside."

I watched THE SPEECH last night with the knippkids. My daughter was bored, my son offered snarky adolescent commentary, I kept shushing them.

It was an excellent performance--a well-written, well-delivered speech. The harsh criticism of McCain grated and seemed inappropriate, but obviously not to the folks in the stadium. And by the end of the speech, it was lost in the warm fuzzy, post-partisanship.

For the most part, the ideas Sen. Obama has to offer are new only to people born the day before yesterday. His "substance" is the substance of traditional Democratic liberalism. And I almost wish he were a traditional Democratic liberal of the stamp of FDR and JFK when it comes to foreign policy, but I don’t believe him on that. In his heart of hearts, he’s a soft Euro-liberal

Two throwaway lines irritated me the most. The first had to do with government doing for folks things they couldn’t do for themselves. The example he used was parents educating their children--a gratuitous poke in the eye of homeschoolers. If he’d thought about it, he might not have said it, because he was trying to be as inclusive and inoffensive as possible (for the most part). But the reflex is there: at the core of parental responsibility, he can’t concede the possibility of self-reliance. We’re here to help teachers (as his mother did, by making him do his homework), but the teachers have the primary responsibility.

The second was his attempt to be inclusive on abortion. Can we all agree that we should reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies? Perhaps. But the devil really is in the details there, and I’m not going to give up on promoting a culture of life in order to pass out more condoms in school. I’d have been happier if he had also said something about helping more women carry their children to term. But that kind of talk doesn’t go over well in a party that embraces NARAL and Planned Parenthood.


This election is shaping up in interesting ways. As has often been mentioned, senators fare poorly in presidential elections, with only Harding and JFK elected directly from the Senate over the last 100 years. But this year we are guaranteed our next President will come from the Senate. Not quite a first, but close enough. . .

Governors have done better in presidential contests because as executives they can claim a mantle of action, while senators only give (long) speeches and vote on messy compromises. McCain looks more like a man of action than Obama, and Palin can help a little more than Biden can in the reformist/executive action department.

The real first is obvious: Come January 20, we are either going to have our first black President, or our first woman Vice President. Now, that may be about the only change you can really believe in. . .

The Hot Librarian

...that is a great description of our Sarah. With all the shameless self-congratulation on this blog, let me add that I’ve been talking her up since my fact-finding mission to Alaska in February. I’m sure that was the key factor in Mac’s inspired choice.

More Palin Thoughts

Someone has described Palin as having the "hot librarian look." Works for me. Meanwhile, our compadre Paul Mirengoff over at Powerline says he is disappointed that McCain would pick someone with no foreign policy or national security experience, though I’m not sure that Paul isn’t being ironic here. And besides, isn’t being governor of Alaska, with its servitude to Washington DC, a bit like being a head of state? Alaska, after all, practically needs an Alaskan interests desk at the State Department, and its governors practically have a foreign policy with regard to DC.

As for foreign policy experience, or the lack thereof, two words: Harry. Truman. What foreign policy or executive experience did he have in 1945? And he did all right on foreign policy for the most part.

UPDATE: They’re not kidding about the "hot librarian" meme. Watch from about the 2:00 mark in this video.

Barnes on Palin

This Fred Barnes piece will tell you quite a bit about Gov. Palin, and why she is the right choice. I just had a (liberal) colleague call me to congratulate me for predicting that it would be Palin back in July. He said: "I knew you were well connected, but this is amazing!" Of course, that had nothing to do with it. I told him that this is what I would do if I were McCain, that�s all, ergo that�s what he will do. And he did. He also thinks that her anti-abortion position will be to McCain�s disadvantage. I disagree, of course. She is a conservative, a gun-wielding, pro-life, edgy, tough woman. McCain now has his base back and this will allow him to pick away at some Hillary supoorters, and independents. Great choice.


Here’s a shout-out, high-five, and fist-bump between me and Schramm for calling this one. (About time . . . our track record ain’t so good the last couple years.)


Our MAN has shown he wants to win by picking a tough and capable WORKING MOM!

Palin as VP

This is a guess: I think it will be Governor Palin of Alaska. Just a guess. Tried getting on her website. Couldn’t, overloaded.

Post-convention bounces

Someone asked about post-convention bounces. This AP quickly works through the history of the post-convention bounce (average is 10 points) from 1964 to the present. It is probably true that the bounce will mean less than normal because the two conventions.

By the way, I thought Obama’s speech last night was not his best. I think the combination of becoming more aggressive about McCain, giving his own bio again, and then a a recitation of programs turned a bit humdrum by the end. This surprised me, even though the media had been repeating the mantra all day that the Obama people were calling the speech workmanlike. They were right. Today’s two inch-bold headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "IT’S TIME TO CHANGE AMERICA", is not as useful to Obama as the generic word "change" might be, since that is easily associated with mere policy. As the fat guy at the gas station this morning said when he noticed the headline: "Sure hope he tells us what about America needs changing and maybe even tells us why." I bet this guy didn’t have a PhD!

The Artful Codger

As Senator McCain prepares to announce his VP pick, we should keep in mind that pundits across the political spectrum have questioned his political judgment many times in the past several years, and even pronounced his candidacy hopeless. And yet, next week he will become the Republican candidate for President. Perhaps his political judgment is more sound than many of us think.

Gallup Daily, first bounce

Gallup Daily tracking average from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, shows that Obama leads Republican John McCain among registered voters by a 48% to 42% margin. This is the first bounce from the convention. Because it doesn’t include most of the night that included the Biden speech, the bounce will likely get higher; plus the addition of Obama’s speech tonight.

Statistics du Jour

From George Will’s column today:

Obama thinks government is not getting a "reasonable share" of oil companies’ profits, which in 2007 were, as a percentage of revenues (8.3 percent), below those of US manufacturing generally (8.9 percent). Exxon Mobil pays almost as much in corporate taxes to various governments as the bottom 50 percent of American earners pay in income taxes. Exxon Mobil does make $1,400 a second in profits - hear the sharp intakes of breath from liberals with pursed lips - but pays $4,000 a second in taxes and $15,000 a second in operating costs.

Good-Faith Advice For the Democratic Nominee

John Judis explains that "Change We Can Believe In" is a little more intricate than it appears. First you get people to believe what you need them to believe; then you make the changes you want: "Obama cannot run as a Huey Long-style red meat populist. That’s not who he is, anyway. And in making promises, he has to be careful to avoid endorsing programs that could be interpreted as irresponsible acts of tax-and-spend liberalism. He can propose a detailed plan for national health insurance once he is elected. For the moment, he should avoid anything that appears to require new taxes, or that appears to send a lot of money to inner-cities." There will be lots of time for irresponsible tax-and-spend liberalism after the election.


We gotta tell the truth: The Democratic convention has mostly been "inauthentic" and boring. Even Hillary’s talk was too coldly programmed and sort of shouted. Bill gave an excellent lawyer’s argument and nothing more. But then Beau Biden (who mentioned but didn’t dwell on the fact that other duties will keep him from campaigning this fall) gave an eloquently classy and genuinely affectionate tribute to his dad. And then Joe himself gave a hell of an old-fashioned, unbobo, pretty darn manly, sort of ethnic New Dealy, American Dream speech. He was really good at being personal, in giving the case for Obama the man, and the programmatic case against his good and courageous friend John McCain. (There was the occasional misstep to remind us he’s human.) For me, he put Obama himself (not to mention Kerry, the Clintons, etc.) to shame. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Bidens saved the convention, but only an exaggeration.

More VP Gossip: Safe (Female) Boldness

This source is one among many that suggests that Mac either will or has picked Hutchison of Texas. She certainly has lots of legislative experience. But I’m having trouble recalling anything she’s really done. Other persistent rumors are that Romney is out and Lieberman isn’t quite yet.

Fun for the Day

Beeker does Beethoven.

McCain’s Veep Choice

According to Byron, McCain and his peeps are meeting about veeps this afternoon. Robert Novak says it shouldn’t be Lieberman, but might still be anyway. I think Lieberman is a bad veepchoice, but it would have the virtue of not designating the GOP heir-apparent for the post McCain world, should McCain win and serve one term. More effective, as Novak suggests, is to announce that Joe will be Secretary of State or Defense in a McCain administration. One other possility: what if Lieberman, as a condition of his veep selection, agreed to caucus immediately with Senate Republicans this fall. Wouldn’t this return control of the Senate to the GOP? Confirming a few judges--or forcing a Dem filibuster--would go a long way to alleviating GOP anger toward a Lieberman pick.

I’m hoping for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. I think she’d match up with Biden quite well. He’ll come across as overbearing if he’s in his usual mode, and she could get in some good shots at him. He can’t really say she doesn’t have enough experience, given Obama’s thin resume and even thinner agenda. I think it would scoop up some Hillary voters. And it might hold the prospect of the first woman-against-woman presidential election in 2012. What will the feminists complain about then? (I know, I know, I lack imagination. . .)

The AMERICAN Political Science Association going to have its 2009 meeting in Toronto, Canada. Canada, of coure, is in the thrall of a creepy political correctness that is stifling free speech. So there’s a petition going around among APSA members demanding that the Canadian government guarantee that the political scientists be able to speak their minds on controversial issues without being arrested or otherwised hassled. I signed the petition.

But the REAL problem is that we’re having OUR meeting in THEIR country. I’m all for not telling the Canadians what to do. Maybe we could invade them, but it’s not at all certain that we could give them freedom and democracy. Given that we’re meeting on their political turf, it’s reasonable for our political scientists to ask for the guarantee of good ol’ American free speech, and for the Canadians to be mighty insulted that we’re asking. There is a Canadian Political Science Association, and you don’t see them meeting in one of our cities.

So Dr. Pat Deneen has proposed an alternative political science meeting in our country next year--featuring "unexiled" American political scientists and of course anyone else who wants to come. We’re talking here, after all, about POLITICAL science, and so we should be alive to the features that distinguish various political communities or "states."


I’m not hanging on every word or speech occuring right now in Denver--neither are most other Americans, if ratings are any guide--but I get the sense that this convention is a letdown. Not a disaster, but a letdown. Having built up these enormous expectations, Obama and his supporting cast can’t deliver. I see hints of Obama trying to dampen expectations for his big stadium speech tomorrow. (See Byron York on this subject.) He may regret having eschewed the traditional convention hall speech.

The basic problem of Democrats is that it is committed to the idea that the Era of Big Government is Back, but when all of the constraints—fiscal and cognitive (see: Hayek)--cannot be overcome, and when the general program is not wildly popular with a majority of the public. (I have long thought that it was only a matter of time and gas prices before Americans swung rapidly to a pro-drilling opinion; that time has arrived, and Democrats will get run over if they really decide to stand with the Greens.) Hence the increasing reliance on shallow slogans and the philosophy of victimhood. Not that Republicans are much better in practice (see: Bush’s spending and regulatory record), but at least a presumption in favor of the private sector and individual initiative is a place that most of the public is more comfortable with.

In retrospect Obama’s European victory tour was a mistake. Suddenly the McCain campaign has its act together, and is hitting Obama daily. Obama’s counterpunches have been few and far between. McCain’s stumbles on the houses may actually work to his advantage if it keeps Romney off the ticket (a weak pick in my mind).

Forget Obama’s half-brother. (I know, I know, I brough it up. . .) The Ayers business is starting to look a lot more interesting to me.

Finally, Obama has been compared to Reagan, in that both emerged as national figures on account of a single speech given at a propitious moment. Both had some dubious alliances from their past to unwind (Reagan and the John Birch Society, for instance). Both faced doubts among voters; Reagan overcame his at the last moment to win decisively. But there is an obvious difference. Reagan at least had run a major state as an executive for two terms. He was actually relieved when his half-hearted run in 1968 ended; he told more than one person that he wasn’t ready to be president yet. I have long thought that had Reagan actually won the nomination and the election in 1968 after just two years as governor, he’d have made a poor president and had an unsuccessful administration. I doubt Obama has any such self-awareness or humble doubts about himself.

Finally, if you hook up the Clintons to a polygraph, I am sure it would reveal they hope for a McCain victory. Does anyone really think otherwise? (P.S. A comment on Peter’s thread below says Hillary’s speech was comparable to Reagan’s impromptu speech for Ford in 1976. Actually, Reagan never even mentioned Ford’s name in his brief remarks--a fact barely noted at the time.)

Bill Clinton & Obama

Given that Bill Clinton is speaking tonight, this thoughtful David Maraniss article is worth considering. And, reading a bit between the lines, it gets even better. These two guys, he says, "could be pals" (because of similar backgrounds, I guess) and both are "acute political animals", and yet there is a "complex dynamic" involved, especially on Bill’s part.

The first thing that struck me about it is that it is now becoming increasingly clear that the real problem between them (and therefore Hillary) is that (1) Obama doesn’t like Bill Clinton, and (2) Billy is offended because he wants to be liked, and then (3) I can’t help thinking that this is not over because the Clintons’ ambition is not yet fulfilled. On the third point: The Clintons are in this for the long haul, and because they will stay in politics (as will Obama) they mean to come out on top, eventually. If Obama gets elected, it will be a longer wait, and they plan to wait it out. I think they are betting that Obama will lose; hence the tepid support, and a lack of inclination to hide the mutual dislike from the public. The Clintons know that Obama can’t get elected without their support; Obama has not been persuaded of this until recently. I think Obama’s scrambling, for he may have realized that he lacks a serious base (liberals, academics, blacks, the younger voters, are not enough); you do need the women (white men you could lose, if you get the women, the so-called gender gap). Bill’s speech tonight will just be theater.

A hunch

My quick take on Hillary’s speech: It was a very good speech, perhaps the best she has ever given. Did it do much good for Obama? Will the speech persuade all of her supporters to go with Obama? I don’t think so. But, the speech may be very useful to her four years from now. Do note this Gallup Poll showing "conservative Democrats peeling away from Obama." If Senator Obama cannot hold the Democratic base, he cannot win. Only Hillary being on the ticket may have helped Obama hold the base.

Let me add, (especially for my friend Steve T. who disagrees with my perception of all this, see the threads) that I don’t know any more than you do about this business of politics. I’m a political scientist, so I’m guessing. This stuff isn’t science. And the kind of knowledge that is required has to do with some analysis, etc., but really is nothing more than an evaluation of public opinion; an attempt to sense (see, observe, hear) what folks in taverns think. You learn a lot by listening to people. Ordinary people, inclined to give you their opinion; it’s best if they do this when not asked, but rather, leting it come up quite naturally in conversation.

And if I say, for example, that Democratic operatives are in a panic, I mean--based on what I think I know--I would be in a panic if I were working for Obama because I wouldn’t know how to fix his problem. That is, they should be in a panic, if they aren’t.

Here is an example of a hunch based on three conversations during the last twenty-four hours, all Dems, with people I only know in passing (two in bars, one at Starbucks). All three said that Obama’s reply to the preacher’s question on what a human being is, or when is a human being a human being (abortion) pushed them away from him. They hated the "above my pay grade" (science and theology) response because they thought it was artificial, aloof, unnatural, and revealed something about Obama’s character, not just his views on abortion (one of the folks is pro-abortion.) One woman said: "This guy is like a teacher I had once. He always wanted to impress me with how difficult the subject was." Then she called him a name that clarified what she thought about that guy. My hunch is that that moment was a defining one. Perhaps picking Biden (in an attempt to place a "common" man on the ticket) was another. Both are revealing, neither helps Obama.

The Battle Over Scranton

It’s reasonable to assume the election will be won and lost in places more like "The Electric City" than places like Peoria (not that I really know what kind of place Peoria is). There we find the "anxious" voters--who worry about their country, their family, and their economic security. McCain can offfer them his fierce, honorable love of America (vs. the postmodern, post-American or a-American Obama), a fight against the bureaucratic and judicial experts contemptuous of the real lives of ordinary Americans (with the centerpiece being the fight against the unlimited judicial activism of a wholly and overwhelmingly Democratic government), and a health care plan that detaches insurance from employment, mandates and makes easy universal coverage, and gets coverage affordable, private, and competitive (avoiding a single-payer national bureaucracy). (It was smart, by the way, for Obama to a pick a man from Scranton, not that the election will literally turn on who carries Scranton.)

Marcus Aurelius

Parts of a giant, exquisitely carved marble sculpture depicting the Roman emperor

Marcus Aurelius have been found at an archaeological site in Turkey. Fragments of the statue were unearthed at the ancient city of Sagalassos. The statute was about 15 ft tall, said to be one of the finest depictions of the Roman ruler. Some photos.

Gallup Daily Tracking on Biden

Allow me to bring this to your attention, in case my use of the word "panic" among Democratic operatives may have been considered too strong a few days ago. The Gallup Poll Daily tracking says this (and note the useful graph):

"from Aug. 23-25, the first three-day period falling entirely after Obama’s Saturday morning vice presidential announcement, shows 46% of national registered voters backing John McCain and 44% supporting Obama, not appreciably different from the previous week’s standing for both candidates. This is the first time since Obama clinched the nomination in early June, though, that McCain has held any kind of advantage over Obama in Gallup Poll Daily tracking."

WHO Obama IS

Well, David Brooks thinks he knows, and that all Barack has to do to win is show us. He’s a 21th century man, multicultural and global, no experience (which means he’s not burdened by the past), but all promise and potential. He’ll lead us into a world where force and power and prejudice and partisanship and even competitive markets fade away. He’ll lead us with his beautiful words into the postpolitical fantasy already inhabited by Europe with our singular cyber-techno-iphone twist, a world in which soft power and bourgeois bohemian are no longer oxymorons. McCain, a good man, is also an old man, a 20th century man, a pre-cyber man way out of touch. There’s a real "culture wars" issue here that Mac could exploit, one that David actually may be setting up for him.

Am I My Half-Brother’s Keeper?

Is this the Willie Horton issue of 2008? This little subtext, and how it will be used and interpreted across the partisan spectrum, is disturbing on several levels for both sides. It could blow up in everyone’s face.

UPDATE/ELABORATION: I knew some commentors would want elaboration, but the spectrum of comments I think makes my point, as I fully expected. First, the Willie Horton ad in 1988 was wholly legitimate, but liberals still cry foul/racism. If this present item about Obama’s half-brother gets traction, the same thing will be said forever, though it raises some legitimate issues (as one comment noted, liberals always want to give away someone else’s money, and seldom their own). But the ad also raises in a delicate way Obama’s "exotic" (as it is called) background. While his intellectual and political background is certainly fair game, his family background, though unusual, is a different matter. We’ve always tended to keep family members off limits to some extent. Democrats never really went after Donald Nixon as they might have, or Ronald Reagan’s troubled kids. As usual, it may be the Clinton experience (Roger Clinton, Hugh Rodham, etc) that broke down some of this prior restraint. It may well be an effective tactic to try to arouse our "comfort factor" with this unusual man, but it would be another step removed from campaigning on large issues. At least Willie Horton was connected to a real issue and a question of executive judgment. This case is more ambiguous.

Real Change at the Democratic Convention?

Democrats questioning the Education Blob as Bill Bennett called it:

I went to the Ed Challenge for Change event mainly to schmooze. I almost didn’t stay for the panels, being in no mood for what I expected would, even among these reformers, be an hour of vague EdBlob talk about "change" and "accountability" and "resources" that would tactfully ignore the elephant in the room, namely the teachers’ unions. I was so wrong. One panelist--I think it was Peter Groff, president of the Colorado State Senate, got the ball rolling by complaining that when the children’s agenda meets the adult agenda, the "adult agenda wins too often." Then Cory Booker of Newark attacked teachers unions specifically--and there was applause. In a room of 500 people at the Democratic convention! "The politics are so vicious," Booker complained, remembering how he’d been told his political career would be over if he kept pushing school choice, how early on he’d gotten help from Republicans rather than from Democrats. The party would "have to admit as Democrats we have been wrong on education." Loud applause! Mayor Adrian Fenty of D.C. joined in, describing the AFT’s attempt to block the proposed pathbreaking D.C. teacher contract. Booker denounced "insane work rules," and Groff talked about doing the bidding of "those folks who are giving money [for campaigns], and you know who I’m talking about." Yes, they did!


Race and the Race

Further to my previous post about Jacob Weisberg's Slate article on race as the central factor in Obama's candidacy, see Matt Bai in today's NY Times saying this should not be overdone:

Mr. Obama faces genuine obstacles that are more salient than skin color. By any historical measure, he has remarkably little governing experience and almost none in foreign policy. And he represents not only a racial milestone in American life, but also a stark generational shift. It's hard to extricate these things from Obama's blackness. (If older white voters recoiled at Mr. Obama when he exchanged a fist-bump with his wife, were they reacting to his youth or to his race?) There are legitimate reasons that some older white voters might reserve judgment on Mr. Obama without being closet racists.

UPDATE: Yup, right on schedule. Also from today's NY Times: "Blacks Debate Civil Rights Risk in Obama's Rise. It seems keeping the grievance industry alive is more important than a historic breakthrough:

Last month, the debate bubbled up when The Root, a Web journal of black politics and culture, published a provocative essay titled "President Obama: Monumental Success or Secret Setback?" "If Obama becomes the president, every remaining, powerfully felt black grievance and every still deeply etched injustice will be cast out of the realm of polite discourse," wrote Lawrence Bobo, a black sociologist at Harvard University, who supports Mr. Obama and was outlining in the essay the concerns of some friends and colleagues. "White folks will just stop listening."
Categories > Presidency

More VP Gossip: Kristol Says Lieberman

Bill seems to contradict himself by reporting both that Biden is a pick that reflects weakness and is a strong and experienced leader. He’s right to say that Pawlenty will look puny (without, for example, foreign policy experience) by comparison. Billionaire, perfect hair Romney might be easy prey for the Democrats’ economic populism. And to tell the truth, McCain-Romney would be a really rich guy ticket, with God knows how many houses between them. These are points well taken.

So the "bold" pick (not so bold, in my view, given that the speculation has been there for months) is Lieberman. Pro-lifers shouldn’t worry. What difference would a pro-choice VP make is what Mac has assured us (in a church!) would be a pro-life administration? Pro-lifers, Bill advises, should learn to love this ticket.

I can’t help but think if Bill really wants this result, he shouldn’t have endorsed it. I know lots of people who will view this as "neocon" national security ticket, based on the false premise that national security alone could win the election. There are lots (can’t tell you how many) of Americans who are inclined to vote Republican despite what’s happened in Iraq (such as many Catholics and evangelicals) and others who will be moved primarily by a distinctively conservative take domestic issues--such as energy, health care, taxes, and judicial activism--this fall. Bill might be right that they’re stuck with voting McCain as better than Obama, but they have to be energized actually to vote--as they were in huge numbers in 2004. I really think the choice of Lieberman, as I said before, would compromise the hard-won gains Mac has secured on key domestic issues over the last several weeks, and it would produced a flat convention (at best) with a genuine enthusiasm gap.

Still, John Lewis is right that it would be an authentic choice, one from Mac’s heart.

Please Do My Homework for Me--Part 2

My thinking on the election of 2008: Pete makes an excellent point below. To some extent McCain can campaign against the risks involved in giving the whole government to the Democrats, but there are limits to that approach. People clearly do want change--not gridlock, but some results on various public policy fronts. Maybe the biggest example is health care. So it seems to me that McCain is going to have to become a "can do" man on that issue. In fact he is, at least on his website: He has a clear view of why and how we need to abandon the present employer-based health care system. Mac is going to have to make that view comfortably his own in speech and push it on the stump.

Where the gridlock argument is most attractive: People clearly respond to arguments against activist judges, and Mac needs to become even more clear on who they are and what’s wrong with appointing them. So he needs to become clearer and more aggressive on what’s wrong with ROE, saying more than he believes that babies have human rights from conception. There will be no limits on judicial activism--on ROE-based judicial legislation--if Obama is elected. (Here, I tentatively agree with Ken, the campaign might be directed to some extent against Biden, at least to certain kind of audience.)

So, with your help, I’ve decided to devote my time at the APSA to talk some about judicial activism and a bit more about genuinely conservative health care reform.

How Dare You Even Think of Voting Against Obama?

Steve draws our attention to an article in Slate by Jacob Weisberg, “If Obama Loses: Racism Is the Only Reason McCain Might Beat Him.” Consider yourself warned: if America rejects Sen. Obama in November, Weisberg will be gravely disappointed, deeply ashamed and very, very angry. You can either read Weisberg’s essay for yourself, or watch here as he reads it to you.

Here’s the money graf: “Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world’s judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn’t put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.”

You don’t have to wrap your white sheets around anything but your mattress, however, to suspect that the situation might be a little more complicated. A “veteran Democratic operative” told New York’s John Heilemann this week, “There are two fundamental issues [Obama] faces: black and green. Is he too black? And is he too green?”

Weisberg doesn’t even allow the second question into the arena, but we should. Four years ago, Barack Obama was completing his eighth year in the Illinois state senate. No one has argued convincingly that the people of Illinois are discernibly better off – or, for that matter, worse off – because of Obama’s efforts there. The same, of course, could be said about the vast majority of the other 7,300 state legislators currently holding office, few of whom are thought, even by their mothers, to be a mere four years away from ably discharging the duties of the presidency. State legislatures are to the Oval Office what the high school junior varsity is to the Super Bowl.

Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004 after: a) the wealthy Republican incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, decided not to seek re-election rather than face Blair Hull, the presumptive Democratic challenger who was vastly wealthier than Fitzgerald; b) Hull’s campaign disintegrated a few weeks before the Democratic primary after a lurid story about the collapse of his marriage became public, allowing Obama to win a plurality in a crowded field; c) Obama’s Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, dropped out of the race three months after the primary after a lurid story about the collapse of his marriage become public; and d) the Illinois Republican party recruited Alan Keyes to replace Ryan on the ballot, despite the fact that Keyes had never lived in Illinois and is . . . odd. Obama won 70% of the vote that November.

25 months after being sworn in as a U.S. Senator in 2005, Obama announced his candidacy for president. Since one doesn’t run for president on a whim, it’s fair to assume that Obama has spent most of his 3 – plus years “in” the Senate either preparing for his presidential campaign or absorbed by it. Thus, for the first time since Wendell Willkie ran in 1940, one of our two major parties is asking the American people to elect someone to be president principally on the basis of qualities he has displayed campaigning for president.

Jacob Weisberg, who doesn’t even allude to qualifications or preparedness, is satisfied to judge Obama entirely on political criteria: “Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums, and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, lacks clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma.” Other voters, however – including a few who are not bigots filled with hatred – think elections are about governance, rather than about performing impressively and coolly as a candidate as an end in itself, and wonder whether a prospective president with Barack Obama’s slender record in public office is up to the job.

The Bare-Knuckles World of College Debate

Professor/hippie Bill Shanahan was coach of the Fort Hays University debate team, until a fateful competition against the University of Pittsburgh. The debate grew passionate, and there ensued a profanity-laden shouting match between Shanahan and Shanara Reid Brinkley, coach of the Pitt team. The climax came with an interesting maneuver on Shanahan’s part: he turned around, dropped his pants, and mooned Professor Brinkley. For this, Shanahan has been dismissed from his position.

Nobody can deny that Dr. Shanahan is penitent. "I am terribly sorry that my actions reflected poorly on the university," he said in a public statement. "However, they must be judged in the unique context of college debate, marked by its passion and rigorous intellectual engagement."

Flatline Protestantism

I can’t remember if someone around here has linked to Joseph Bottum’s article in the latest First Things on the "Death of Protestant America." Smart article. Here are two interesting tidbits:

The death of the Mainline is the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other ­period in American history. Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: The Mainline has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.

The actual organizations at the center—the defining churches in each of the denominations that make up the Mainline—have fallen to insignificance. The Disciples of Christ with 750,000 members, the United Church of Christ with 1.2 million, the American Baptist Churches with 1.5 million, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with 2.3 million, the Episcopalians with 2.3 million, the Evangelical ­Lutheran Church in America with 5 million, and the United Methodist Church with 8.1 million: That’s around 21 million people, in a nation of more than 300 million. The conservative Southern Baptist Convention alone has 16 million members in the United States. The Catholic Church has 67 million.

More Biden Reax

David Frum has the same reading of the Biden pick that I do.

Obama: A Thin Man with a Thin Record

According to Bill Kristol, he has no real experience, and so he’s provided us no real evidence of either courage or character. This PERSONAL contrast needs to be made loud and often, and it does explain why McCain is polling better than a generic Republican and Obama much worse than a generic Democrat. But the generic gap is wide enough that it won’t be enough to win. ISSUES must be exploited too--particularly judicial activism and health care.