Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Good and the Bad

I first fancied myself a writer back in the early '70s. It was a heady time for arts writers at the time, with Rolling Stone and the Village Voice producing high-quality rock and film criticism on a weekly basis. Of course, there was better product to write about then. But there has been no one in recent years like Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, Andrew Sarris, Lester Bangs, Pauline Kael, etc., to bring meaning to the great music and movies that were being produced at the time.

So it was that, in the fine tradition of Christgau's Pazz and Jop Polls, I produced my first best-of list of record albums (yes, albums) for the year 1975. It was handwritten -- and that's not the only way it was amateurish. I swear I just saw it around here somewhere -- if I find it, I'll scan it and put it up. In the meantime, I do remember that my top album was Neil Young's masterpiece "Tonight's the Night". Say what you want about by 2+ years of blubbering on this blog -- as least I got that right.

I am in no position to do a music best-of this year, nor have I been for the past twenty years or so. I am as disconnected from popular music trends as they are from me. The last great album was, what, "The Rising"? The last great radio singles were both from OutKast ("Hey Ya" and "The Way You Move"), and that was over five years ago ("I Kissed a Girl"? Please.). I hear there might be other things going on out there - at least I get exposed to some of them on the life-saving Radio Milwaukee 88.9 - but music as a force that can cause seismic societal change (like the Beatles) doesn't exist any more. Now: you have a niche, I have a niche, and seldom the twain shall meet, except maybe on Facebook.

But that doesn't mean we can't recognize some of the things that made 2008 such an entertaining, terrifying joy-ride. Ergo, 2008: the Good and the Bad:


Springsteen at HarleyFest - a glorious multi-generational celebration.
CC Sabathia - he'll never be as dominant with the Yankees as was he was during the Brewers' frantic playoff run, but what a beautiful thing to watch.
The Illusory Tenant - a smarter and better blogger than I'll ever be.

James T. Harris - the biggest buffoon on radio, blogs and Fox Noise all rolled into one. Produced the funniest video of the years by stomping off of CNN when he couldn't answer a simple question.
David Clarke - if you're drunk and lucky, your publicity-hungry, wing-nutty sheriff might help you get out of the snowbank and send you on your way, too.
Mark Belling - proudly flying the racist flag for 20 years now.
The Shepherd Express - continuing to slip into the abyss, with idiotic weekly polls; ludicrous transcribed conversations about sports with their ridiculous mascot and some other guy; and, this week, an embarrassing poem by their embarrassing society columnists. The death of the newspaper industry can't come too soon for the S-E. The difference is they 1) brought it on themselves and, therefore 2) deserve it. Well, there goes my Best of the Blogs citation, eh, Lou?
Journal Sentinel - Desperately trying to maintain relevance while its pages shrink and price increases. Its limited content is strangely clogged with Patrick McIlheran and, every Sunday, some editor or other making pathetic excuses for themselves. By the end of '09, the paper might be just a weekender.


Barack Obama - good luck, brother -- make us proud
Hillary and Bill Clinton - put up with more bullshit than any couple, ever, and still continue to make the nation a better place, everyday
Democratic Congress - if they do it right, it's ours for a generation.
Sen. Al Franken - funny, right and his soon-to-be-confirmed victory steams the right more than any other loss.
Shoes Thrown at Bush - the perfect ending for a pathetic excuse for a president.

John McCain - embarrassed himself by abandoning his better judgement and his principles by giving himself over to the usual Rovian GOP consultants. The result was the disaster he deserved.
Sarah Palin - in over her head, beyond parody (as delicious as Tina Fey's parody was), and Exhibit Number One for McCain's incredibly irresponsible campaign. Had as much business being on a national ticket as Joe the Plumber.
Sean Hannity - Took over for Rush Limbaugh as the nation's number-one wing-nut, on the "strength" of his cable platform and willingness to shill and provide smarmily-friendly platforms for Palin and any other Republicans afraid of real journalists.
Dick Cheney - The most demonstrably deranged, evil executive presence since Nixon, without the endearing psychosis. "You Don't Know" Dick is doing a farewell tour showing how wrong he is about everything. Bye-bye, now. And take Junior, your little rodeo clown, with you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sentimental Hogwash

The right-wing has a Ronald Reagan fetish. And now, it seems to have found another dead movie star who can rescue us from ourselves and, particularly, the evils of middle-class home ownership. His name is Henry F. Potter, the money-grubbing curmudgeon in one of my guilty-pleasures of a movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. As Potter’s direct descendant, The Simpsons' Montgomery Burns would say: Exxcellent...

The Journal Sentinel’s resident wing-nut, Patrick McIlheran – for whom the shrinking paper still seems to be able to find lots of room, with no progressive counterpart – celebrates the holiday in the Christmas Eve edition of the paper by calling for a revival of Potter’s skinflint ways in the fine art of mortgage lending. "Time for us to find our inner Potter," says Paddy Mac, in one of the most deliciously stupid columns in his decidedly undistinguished oeuvre. On the occasion of a visit by several community bankers to the ivory tower on State St., he puts what I’m sure they would think is unfortunate words in their mouths, "But they were saying, in essence, that when the fictional old grump harrumphed, ‘Ideals without common sense can ruin this town,’ he might have had a point." Hey, presidents of Continental Savings Bank and Johnson Bank, you have just been compared to one of movie history’s greatest villains – Merry Christmas!

Of course, the Potter character had much more on his mind and his agenda than fiscal austerity and vague notions of "common sense". As played by the iconic Lionel Barrymore, he was a maniacal control freak with the goal of owning or at least holding a mortgage on every piece of property in a place that we now know, if not for the accident of George Bailey’s birth, would have been called Potterville. All of his sanctimonious bromides about the Baileys’ more accommodating path to home ownership creating a "discontented lazy rabble rather than a thrifty working class" were just a cover for, as George put it, keeping people in Potter-owned slums. If he could have figured out a way to make more money by handing out loans to the lazy rabble, he would have done that quicker than anyone.

Henry Potter didn’t have high morals about debt-to-assets ratios, adequate down-payments or anything else. He didn’t believe in anything but his own monopoly, power and wealth. That’s why his win-at-all-costs attitude led him to steal money from Uncle Billy so he could eliminate George and get the Building & Loan (a theft, by the way, left unresolved in the movie – did Potter get away with it, while the whole town pitched in to make up the money he stole?). And this is the kind of guy McIlheran thinks we need more of?

I think the elevation of an attractive role model like Mr. Potter is just what the Republican Party needs. Palin/Potter in 2012!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Audacity of Rick Warren

Screw Rick Warren. Seriously. Who needs another greed-headed Christian minister spewing nonsense all over another inaugural pageant? Can’t we retire this nonsense with Billy Graham? Why do we have to legitimize the worst of the sky-god charlatans every four years? Why can’t they stay in their churches or stadiums where they belong?

Warren - the king (or whatever) of the Saddleback church (why Saddleback? Why not the Ponderosa, fer cryin' out loud) is only the latest of the self-styled snake-oil salesmen that have managed to capture the imagination of enough suckers to make a nice living for themselves by doing an entertaining dance while spouting their version of some gospel or other. From strangely respected bible-thumper Graham to Jim Bakker to Pat Robertson to Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a.: Pope Benedict XVI), no one with a loud enough megaphone ever lost any money screeching about Christ and passing the hat. No less so Warren, who apparently can’t even be bothered to don a tie or a miter, dressing Friday-casual as he spouts the recycled glittering generalities of Robert Shuller for the gullible thousands who fill his megachurch.

As with anyone whose basic reason for existing on the public stage is a fraud, there are problems with large parts of Warren’s mostly vague, warmed-over messages (he seeks Christian "self-sufficiency, scalability and reproducibility" for "the Purpose-Driven Life". Whatever.) His ambitions are nothing less than global, suggesting that churches around the world do the work that government can’t or won’t – of course, with a large dose of faith-propagating nonsense thrown in with your health care. However, while pretending to draw us together with one hand, he smites with the other; actively advocating an end to reproductive choice, comparing homosexuality to pedophilia while actively campaigning against gay marriage, opposing embryonic stem cell research and taking other similarly loopy positions.

For reasons known only to him but easy to surmise, Barack Obama has invited the homophobic, anti-choice Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, thereby offending many supporters. I don’t necessarily think we should single-issue these kind of speakers in what I assume will be an inoffensive ceremonial role. You take what you can get with religious figures – by nature, they are bound to be wrong about many things and some are wrong about everything. Obama is also trying to take the partisan edge off of the national discourse by reaching out to the right-wing evangelical community, something for which that group will neither recognize or give him credit.

But rewarding Warren, essentially, for his notoriety, despite his offensive rhetoric and inclinations, is unnecessary. Whatever happened to the humble Irish Catholic priest who would mouth some quick gibberish and get out of the way? No, we have to have the grand statement from the grandstanding evangelical who didn’t vote or support Obama and who will be there with his lemming-like congregation and his hoard of fellow-traveling ministers to try to get in the way of some of the president’s attempts to return the government to sanity and normalcy. It’s like John McCain inviting Jeremiah Wright to his swearing-in. Audacious, sure, but what’s the point?

Aretha Franklin is also in the inaugural program, probably delivering something from her gospel tradition rather than one of her Top-40 classics. If she chose to, I suppose, she could take the edge off of Warren’s unseemly presence with some timely selections. How about some "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" for a woman’s right to choose? Maybe she could serenade some of the so-inclined women in the audience with "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman." Maybe she should just get in the new president’s face like she did with Matt Guitar Murphy in the Blues Brothers movie: "You better THINK".

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Clear Channel's House Racist Strikes Again

The pride of Clear Channel and the shame of Milwaukee, Mark Belling, made national news this week – featured as he was on Media Matters for one of his all-too-frequent racist diatribes.

"Whether it's blacks, Mexican-Americans, whatever," said Milwaukee’s most obnoxious racist on his unfortunate radio show on December 10th, "people who live in a neighborhood should not have to put up with newcomers deciding that that neighborhood is going to be ‘Crimeville.’ You wonder why racism occurs, why people fear ‘look what's happening to the neighborhood’ when some -- when a minority person moves in. The answer is because sometimes it does mean an increase in crime."

I don’t know who tipped of Media Matters to this particular outrage – I mean, Belling - when he isn't causing undue pain by libeling grieving family members - says something stupidly racist almost every day. I was driving around on Friday, I think it was, and he was blabbering about kids in ritzy-North Shore Bayside middle-schools were buying, selling and otherwise sharing the ADHD drug Adderall. These are good kids from good homes, he said, not like those bad kids from bad homes who spend all of their time ruining their own and the rest of our lives. This is something we expect and don’t care about from inner city kids, but if it’s going on in white suburbia, well, now it’s a crisis. Why this distinction needed to be made – I mean, drug dealing is drug dealing, is it not? – is clear only in the fevered imagination of Belling, who thinks so little of his listeners that he thinks this is the kind of race-baiting crap they want to hear.

As I have said before, Mark Belling is worst than a racist. He doesn’t believe a word of the fear-mongering, blacks-are-ruining-your-life crap he peddles everyday on the radio. But he plays on the prejudices and ignorance of his targeted South Side, angry-white-male audience by feeding them what they want to hear; by validating their disgust for the black people they encounter on the bus and on the streets; by telling them that all their racist perceptions are correct. The insecure clowns that hang on his every word are being played like a violin by Belling, who is smart enough to know better, but cynical enough to poison the community discourse for the sake of rating points and a few extra bucks in his pocket when it comes time for contract renewal.

By all appearances, Belling exists in a world of his own, strangely isolated from the community of other right-wing talk-show hosts and bloggers who spout the same tired GOP talking points but also engage each other and, sometimes, some of us on issues big and very small. He doesn’t maintain a blog himself, largely ignores what is happening on the political blogs and, on the right anyway, they ignore him. By comparison, Charlie Sykes is a social butterfly, even as he hides in the same studio cocoon as Belling. This gives the other right-wingers plausible deniability on Belling’s racist excesses – Rick Esenberg, for instance, pretends not to listen to him and therefore refuses to defend or condemn any of it. But, scurry as they might from Belling’s stink, they are all part of the same echo-chamber and ultimately responsible for the poison messages spewed by one of the two guys with the largest megaphone.

But those most responsible for Belling’s racist regime are not officially political at all – Clear Channel, the monopolistic owner of WISN and five other radio stations in Milwaukee and the advertisers who make his continuing irresponsibility possible. The reason Belling has always been untouchable is because he gets the best ratings in Milwaukee’s ridiculously weak afternoon drive-time radio market. He and his nonsense are still there because he makes money for Clear Channel, through the advertisers who throw money at WISN to air ads during his show. It is way past time to make an association with Belling painful, not beneficial. None of Belling’s advertisers should be patronized by anyone who is against racism – which should be everyone. Those who pretend to be good corporate citizens, starting with Clear Channel and ending with every advertiser right down the line, should take a good look in the mirror and figure out what is more important – a temporary presence on a highly-rated radio program or a healthy community, unblemished by the daily broadcast of blatant racist garbage.

UPDATE: Commenter David M. asks a legitimate question: why do I think Belling doesn't believe what he says on the air? I thought I would bring my response out here.

The primary reason I think this is because he is otherwise too smart, too well-read, too conversant on other complicated issues to reduce things in his own mind to the black-and-white idiocy he spouts in front of the microphone.

Belling is not the only one who insults his listeners' intelligence - Sykes and the others do it all the time. For instance, when the GOP sends out a talking-point about, say, the supposed taint of "Chicago machine" and Illinois politics on Barack Obama, all the wing-nuts talk like they are totally convinced and, in fact, "worried" about this. But they know better -- they have read the articles all over the place that Obama directed his career above and around regular Chicago pols and was a distant as he could be from the dreadful Blagojevich. But they pretend to believe it in an effort to score phony political points.

Same with Belling and racism. I don't know anything about him personally -- I saw him at a Bucks game once -- but he is too much of a cosmopolitan city-dweller to believe that nonsense. He is being deliberately provocative, dangling the prize of validation before his needy audience.

Like I said, this makes him worse than a racist. Those willing to say ugly things they don't believe to stir up the emotions of those they think are manipulable and weak are the worst kind of demagogue, whether it's for ratings or political power.

Anyone who actually believes the racist nonsense spouted by Belling wouldn't have the capacity of talking for three hours a day on the radio. Belling has the brains and talent to do so, and chooses to manipulate people with what he doesn't believe rather than enlighten people with what he does. In radio, it's called "being a cynical hack". In politics, it's called "fascism".

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Future of Television

I have seen the future of television. And it is not Jay Leno.

Leno was introduced this week by NBC as the host of a prime-time show along the lines of his current Tonight Show, but not really, to run five nights a week at 9. This is supposedly NBC’s revolutionary answer to waning interest in network television generally – give the middle-aged something they can’t stay up past 10:30 to watch now, and let the kids watch Conan and stay up all night. All they need is a comfortable pop celebrity to show up every night and they'll be happy as clams. Why anyone could stand to watch Leno for longer than five seconds is beyond me, but then, I’ve always been a Letterman fan. Why not Junior Bush – I hear he’ll be available soon.

The Leno stunt also has the distinct advantage of being about ten times cheaper to produce than the drama/cop shows that dominate that hour of programming. This is the TV equivalent of the shrinking of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other newspapers, as ad revenue and readers flee to the internet. Both network television and newspapers are facing the same reality as the car companies – they are enormous, inefficient, labor-intensive organizations that have managed to exist past the time that anyone cares anymore. The most successful shows on TV are now reality shows, where millions of nondiscriminating viewers lazily tune in to see stupid people doing stupid things. The Leno show is the next logical step – just set up a camera, put Leno in front of it and see what happens. Television may end up coming full circle, with the modern equivalent of David Garroway and a monkey chatting up whoever happens to stop by their empty studio.

The future of television, we are also told, is digital. In a short two months, moving pictures will not fly through the air anymore, at least not the version that can be picked up on most current TV sets without a satellite or cable connection. The industry has been squawking for months about the conversion, urging people to get the converter boxes they need to continue their "free" programming. But the fact is that millions of elderly, poor, uninformed and chronic procrastinators will turn on their only window to the outside world on February 17th and wonder what the hell is going on. TV will lose a significant part of its universal, democratic character on that day, becoming just another toy for the elite. Some people have had the same TV for twenty years or picked it up for $25 at the rummage sale down the street and now they have to do what now? This is going to be a much bigger mess than the Y2K flash-in-the-pan. The house-bound underclass is going to wake up someday soon and find that someone has destroyed their easy access to Jerry Springer. And they are going to be pissed.

So, although Jay Leno and DTV are unfortunate parts of television’s immediate future, they are not the future of television. The future of television is something like...Netflix.

Yeah, I said Netflix, but not the part that delivers DVDs through mail (Hah! The mail! Just wait until that bad boy goes digital. What do you mean you don’t own a computer?). It’s the instant internet delivery option that Netflix offers on a limited number of their selections that is so facinating. And not just playing the things on your computer – it’s putting the content through a box that explodes it onto your TV, in full-screen and living color.

I discovered this quite by accident last week while I was goofing around the menus on my son’s Xbox360. All of a sudden, there was a button that invited me to get Netflix content through the Xbox. Having just caved in to a free two-week offer from Netflix, I thought I’d check it out. First, you have to go on the computer to jam some selections in your "instant queue" and then, son of a gun, the damn things turn up on the Xbox. Pick one, hit play, and in no time at all, high-quality video content fills the wide-screen. You want to watch all 37 episodes of the first two seasons of 30 Rock? Yes you do, and so do I. How about The Office, American and British versions? King of Kong? Deja Vu, the excellent documentary of Neil Young’s Freedom of Speech tour in 2006 with those other three guys (including some footage from the Milwaukee show)?

Television’s union with broadband internet was only a matter of time, but Netflix-through-the-box (also works with some Blu-Ray players, Tivo and Netflix' own little box for $99) shows how it might work. I can see a time very soon when it will be announced that a pile of new episodes of various series will be available on a given day, and all you have to do is go grab it off the virtual shelf.

Live content – news, sports, QVC – will be a little trickier, but I’m sure somebody is working on it. There is also that small matter of how you pay for the production of shows and actually make money off the deal, but that doesn’t sound like my problem, now does it? Besides, how much can it cost to set up a camera and aim it at Jay Leno and his monkey?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bring Me the Head of Rod Blagojevich

Fred Dooley at Real Debate, apparently with more time on his hands than I and other lefties have, is calling us out for not immediately calling out the Wizard of Springfield for his various nefarious plans to build himself a new house, pay for the kids' college and pad his retirement account on the backs of Illinois citizens looking for a decent Senate replacement for Barack Obama. Allow me to take time out of my busy day and evening to say, unequivocally, that I would like to wring the little man's neck, swing him around the top of the nearest Christmas tree by his hair and fling him, Hancock-like, into the deepest part of a frozen Lake Michigan.

I have several motivations for wanting Gov-for-now Blagojevich to swim with the metaphorical fishes. Very little of it has to do with "good government". Like Richard Nixon, Blagojevich is by all accounts and by evidence of his very words on the wiretaps ("I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing," says Governor Genius) an insular and singular dick, the product of an unseemly combination of "arrogance and stupidity". As such, he is representative of nothing. You end up wondering less about the governor himself than whoever he is talking to on the phone. Are those people telling him how nuts he is? Are they laughing, hoping it's all an unfunny joke? (Prediction: The defense will be he was just kidding around. What else does he have?) In any event, the threat of any actual corruption occurring was slim-to-none: who would have agreed to give him anything for the appointment? No one, that's who.

But Blagojevich's real crime was what he has done to give the right-wing echo-chamber a way to beat Obama over the head. Ever since Obama won the election a month ago, the usual suspects on talk-radio, cable TV and blogs have struggled to find a way to find cracks in Obama's increasingly solid composition. They have been treading water, recycling McCain campaign talking-points about how the closet Marxist pals around with terrorists and Joe the Plumber was right and Sarah Palin is great and blah de blah blah. Their flop-sweat has been audible through their venom-dipped microphones, as Americans looking for something other than poison lies turned the dials to something more reality-based. The lack of wing-nut effectiveness was reflected in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week, that shows the President-Elect with a 67% positive rating.

But now Blogo-Mania has given the wretched slime-mongers of the right new ammunition to destroy hope and prevent change. Since Tuesday morning, every last one of them has been fully stocked with fresh talking-points from the RNC to smear Obama with an imaginary association with Blagojevich's fevered irrationality. Did you know the phrase "president-elect" appears 44 times in the criminal complaint? Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said there are no allegations "in the complaint" that Obama knew anything about it. "In the complaint"! That means there might be something somewhere else! Obama said he never talked about a replacement for him in the Senate with Blagojevich. Yeah, but who did on his behalf?

And so on. It doesn't take much for the right-wingers to get a hook to drive their agenda. They are hardly concerned about intellectual honesty. Blagojevich gave them the only thin window of opportunity they need, and for that alone he should be sentenced to 20 months as a coin-collector at an Illinois tollbooth.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quick Hits

Shut the Hell Up: Ever since Barack Obama decided he wanted Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the MSM has again taken the opportunity to do their knee-jerk Clinton-bashing. It’s all about her; they are going to fight over who gets to pick the upper echelons of the department; Bill will never disclose his outside interests...wait, now he is Obama going to release that information so we can pick over that; and blah blah blah. The fact that Hillary is absolutely the best person for the job of getting our good reputation back with the rest of the world after eight years of arrogance, belligerence and international lawbreaking by the Bushies gets lost in the shuffle of the usual Clintons-out-for-themselves nonsense.

A Team of Equals: The MSM theory goes that Obama is following the lead of Abraham Lincoln by neutralizing his rivals by bringing them into the administration. This assumes he has any rivals in the Democratic party right now – he doesn’t. The party is all-in on making him and the Democratic Congress a success, a process that could keep the Dems in power of the executive and the legislative branches for a generation or more, if they do it right. What Obama is doing is putting very smart, talented people at the head of the major departments and giving them all the power they need to drive his policies. It shows well-deserved confidence in himself that he is able to do so without worrying about being undercut or someone trying to foolishly take advantage of his inexperience. This will take some getting used to after eight years of the top-down politicization of all agencies by the Bushies, where nothing happened without Karl Rove’s dark approval. Obama not only needs talented, independent leaders in his governemnt -- he wants them.

Good Riddance: The biggest waste of space on cable television, Alan Colmes, is getting off his knees and hanging up his clown suit at Fox Noise, where he has played the role of pretend-liberal sub to Sean Hannity’s ubber-right dom for the past eleven years. A pathetic excuse for a liberal voice, he was the perfect stooge for the Fox parade of nut-right regulars like Ann Coulter and Dick Morris, mildly countering their outrageous lies and exaggerations with wimpy retorts and other milquetoast comments that were forgotten the minute they left his mouth. When Hannity recruited the former comedian to play his straight man, he guaranteed that the Fox faithful could always leave every H&C show knowing they won. Colmes and I actually mixed it up a couple of years ago, when I accused him of being a little too gleeful at Saddam Hussein’s execution – he said he wasn’t and I apologized. Now it’s his turn to apologize for acting as an enabler and helping to legitimize the Fox Noise propaganda experiment for all those years.

Nod to Bob Rocks the House: The Nod to Bob benefit for the Hunger Task Force at Linneman’s Wednesday night was a great success, musically and philanthropically, with a capacity crowd enjoying a night of Dylan interpretations by some of Milwaukee’s best musicians. Thanks to Jim and Marty again for letting me MC the event – always the highlight of my holiday season. Special thanks to my band members: Ken Hanson and Michael De Boer of Longacre, Ron White on drums and, on piano, the Illusory One, Tom Foley.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nod to Bob - TONIGHT

Join me and 17 other entertainers TONIGHT as we pay tribute to the music of Bob Dylan tonight at Linneman's Riverwest Inn, 1001 East Locust in Milwaukee's bustling Riverwest neighborhood. I have the honor to MC the show again this year and get to play a set myself with an extremely talented band at about 8:40. See the entire list and schedule here. It is the 10th annual Nod to Bob, a benefit for the Hunger Task Force. Come early (the show starts at 7 and the place gets packed pretty quickly) and stay late for a great night of music. See you there!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Johnny Gets His Gun

At retail stores like Target and Kohl’s, sales are off and the forecasters are lowering their expectations for the holiday season in the wake of the Bush Recession. But, apparently, it’s not because they lack money because, at gun shops throughout the state, the bitter are in lines around the block to buy more guns to cling to. I guess happiness continues to be a warm gun.

The election of Barack Obama has reportedly set off a gun-buying frenzy among the vulnerable portion of the population made jittery by the apocalyptic screechings of their pretend friends on mainstream radio. Wing-nut Chicken Littles have been predicting for months all manner of things falling from the sky if Obama succeeded at his devious campaign to paint the White House black, install socialism, suspend the Constitution and rule by dictatorship...I mean, you can see why people might be a little confused, wandering the streets until they find themselves draining what’s left of their 401(k) and heading for the gun shop.

Somehow, I missed the "Obama will come for your guns" part of the hysterical right-wing message during the campaign. That would have been a tough one to maintain, not that they cared much about what could or could not get knocked down by reasonable people. In June, when the Supreme Court held (wrongly, I think) that the 2nd Amendment creates an individual right to bear arms, Obama spoke out in favor of the ruling. He has expressed support for reinstituting restrictions on people-killer assault weapons, but that’s hardly the sort of thing that should cause a run on regular old handguns.

"I bought them because I was afraid they were going to be outlawed," said one confused soul in the Journal Sentinel story as he bought a couple of relatively pea-shooting handguns. This brings up a couple of questions. First, where the hell did he get that idea? All over the country there are these poor people who the McCain campaign tried to poison into doing anything – anything! – but accepting Obama’s legitimacy as president and, now that it’s happened, they are just cut loose in space, free-associating on what they are going to do now. Some are buying guns. Others are planning for their personal rapture journey, because the End of Days is surely coming. Some goofy priest is inspired to smoke out Obama voters so he can deny them Communion. Most bizarre – some of those who joined Sarah Palin fan clubs back in September are actually staying in the clubs! Talk about creepy.

Another thing about the guy with the handful of handguns – why is he spending hundreds of dollars on guns he thinks the dreaded Obama Community Organizers are going to take from him? Isn’t that like throwing money away? That’s not going to be a problem for the people with the big people-killing assault weapons. You assume they are just going to barricade themselves and go all David Koresh on the evil government goons you just know Obama will cast under his Messiah-like spell.

Maybe that was the NRA’s plan all along. They weren’t really interested in who won the election and didn’t believe all the nonsense they were throwing around about Obama. But they did see an opportunity. The NRA, you see, which pretends to represent gun owners is really run by and for gun manufacturers. It wouldn’t be beyond them to play up the Fear of an Obama presidency to accomplish a little sales boomlet after the fact. Now, there are thousands more handguns out there, ready to be used in the heat of passion or by accident on family members, lovers and friends. For the NRA and its many apologists, the potential for more death and violence means a good day. Mission accomplished.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Know You Are, But What Am I – Part 2

Local post-election navel gazing in recent days has, for some reason (not sure – maybe it was this guy), turned to which side of the political cheddar-sphere engages in the most "anger and vitriol" as it drives its various issues and agendas. As the title above indicates, we’ve been here before – that time talking about hypocrisy as an evaluative device.

The issue came to a head after Obama’s landslide victory last week, when some guy named Peter DiGuadio went off his rocker in Owen Robinson’s comment thread, saying: "If I had the money, I’d put a bounty on his melon. Seriously." DiGuadio then pulled a double-McBride, taking down his long-running Texas Hold ‘Em Blogger site in the middle of his hissy fit (McBride only hides hers); then, just that quickly, putting up a new one and offering this non-explanation for his hysterics: "Do I hope someone shoots The Messiah [on his old and new blog, DiGuadio just loves to mock the lofty status Obama has never claimed]? No. [yeah, but you said...] It would deprive their children of a father, and no child deserves to have his or her father taken away." Well, OK, so now a childless President Obama would be a worthy assassination target, but, you know, he cares so much about the children. Whatever.

I don’t know what there is to discuss after all this. Nobody on the left ever put a hypothetical bounty on Bush’s melon. The most we’ve ever done is call for his well-deserved impeachment, back when it would have mattered. Despite the right’s repeated lie about a Bush Derangement Syndrome and how we all hated Bush so much, our contempt for the most radical-right and worst administration in U.S. history (not a coincidence that these two go together, by the way) was never personalized to Bush, who was an empty-suited puppet willing to execute orders that came from Dick Cheney and others. Our problem with Bush wasn’t personal; it was the disastrous policies that were done in his name, by his administration.

For personal invective, just look at how the right-wing message machine treated Bill Clinton, who was accused of everything, including murder. Unable to beat him on the substance of the issues, they went after him personally with a ferocity that showed contempt for civil discourse and, yes, the office of the presidency itself. If we wanted to play those games, we would have had lots of ammunition with Mr. Drunk-till-40 (imagine if Clinton had the same history), but, a) we didn’t need it, we fought him straight-up on the issues, and b) we don’t play that. No, only one side has cornered the market on the politics-of-personal-destruction, and the other side is not interested.

But, I think the focus on tone is a little off the point of who does what out here, what is fair and unfair argument, who masks the weakness of their arguments behind rhetorical devices, etc. The focus on which side throws off the most heat misses a more interesting point: which side argues more fairly and honestly? On that point, I offer the following stark contrasts of who does what between left and right:

Recitation of talking-points: In a very entertaining and informative must-read grenade tossed into the secretive mainstream talk-radio foxhole that is 620-WTMJ, former staffer Dan Shelley lets us in on what actually happens at the radio station when Charlie Sykes prepares for his daily poisoning of the public discourse. "Conservative talk show hosts would receive daily talking points e-mails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too. During my time at WTMJ, Charlie would generally mine the e-mails, then couch the daily message in his own words." He also writes about Sykes checking on what Limbaugh and other nut-right radio hosts are saying, the better to harmonize with the GOP choir.

In his snarky, revealingly-defensive and uncharacteristically-long response (Shelley obviously struck a nerve at Radio City), Sykes claims to send the GOP e-mails right to his junk mail folder. Right. An opportunistic message-Republican makes sure has doesn’t get his e-mails from Karl Rove in the White House, lest his pure message be sullied by undue co-mingling. That’s why his daily messages just happen to synch up so nicely with every other national and local wing-nut in the country. Sykes really insults his readers’ intelligence here. He should save his lies for his radio show. Speaking of which...

Lies: One thing I have always given Sykes and Mark Belling credit for is that they are smart enough to know that what they often say, repeatedly, are lies. They are both smart enough to know that man-made global-warming is real. They both know that the selection of Sarah Palin was an embarrassing joke. They both know what Joe Biden meant when he said Obama would be "tested". They know better than to think Obama is a socialist; that Bill Ayers is relevant to anyone about anything; that the Joe the Plumber thing was a transparent and desperate campaign ploy; blah blah blah.

But they pretend they don’t know – in fact, they pretend that they believe the exact opposite – just to drive the talking-points created by whatever campaign for which they are providing free advertising. This sort of intellectual dishonesty is part-and-parcel of their shtick.

For the most part, the left doesn’t do either of these things. If I see an interesting take on a political issue on, say, the excellent Huffington Post, the last thing I am going to do is parrot it here. As for lies, well, the truth has been far more entertaining and unbelieveable than anything you could make up when it comes to the Bushies, whose days in the White House are now thankfully and mercifully numbered.

Every indication is that the right-wing echo chamber on talk-radio and the blogs will continue to take their marching orders from above and continue to spin lies-as-truth. Once in a while, one or another will fly off the handle and show their true colors, like DiGuadio or Belling going off on another racist rant. [UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long. This afternoon, Belling was using the sad story of the child who died in abusive foster care to blame the death on "fat" social workers and the preference to put black kids in black homes. There is no tragedy that Belling will not exploit for his ugly racist message.] It is going to be even more frustrating for them, after President Obama puts the lie to their dire predictions and puts together an effective coalition with people of all political persuasions in his effort to recover from the Bush Disaster.

More and more, the hot-headed right will be barking in the wilderness, with no one listening but themselves and their dwindling number of the target wing-nut demographic that Dan Shelley identifies as "a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media". In terms of its own eventual extinction, the right-wing media doesn’t have to fear a renewal of the Fairness Doctrine as much as they should fear themselves.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Whither the Wing-Nuts?

The extended network of GOP lackeys who make up the vast right-wing media conspiracy are scrambling to deal with the sound thumping delivered on the heads of their favored candidates last week. There seems to be a glitch in the daily e-mail system where they get their talking points and marching orders. Perhaps the justifiable addition of the word "Palin" to spam filters has blocked some of their incoming directives.

The primary problem facing the wing-nut community is that the entire reason for their own existence has disappeared. Without reprehensible, incompetent Republicans in high office to prop up and allegedly vulnerable Democrats to attack, there isn’t much left to talk about for the most uncreative bunch in electronic "entertainment". Ever since they got their long teeth into Bill Clinton’s ass in 1992, right-wing-nut radio has provided the 24/7 free advertising that played a great part in laying the fear-mongering groundwork for GOP successes in the congressional elections of 1994 and, the ultimate goal and prize, the "election" in 2000 and the "re"-election in 2004 of the radical-right Junior Bush regime.

It was a great run for the willing sycophants of the highly-disciplined message management of Karl Rove, who spun out daily talking-point e-mails and, I’m sure even to his own amazement, saw them parroted word-for-word by national and local mainstream radio talk-show hosts who were (and are) desperate for something to talk about and too dim or unimaginative to make it up on their own. Rove’s electronic nationwide network of butt-boys told enough lies and told them often enough that fine public servants like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Howard Dean were made into national laughing stocks – at least for the all-too-manipulable demographic of angry white men who (Rove imagined) sat in their Lazy Boy rockers in tanks tops, swilling Miller High Life and cheering on the poisoning of the national political discourse. At the same time, the wing-nuts tried to construct heroic icons from the flimsy material of Gingrich, Bush and Cheney; men, the story went, who did everything right even (especially) when they were disastrously wrong.

Now – with the Republican party in retreat and its demise just a matter of time – the wing-nuts have lost their cause, not to mention their reliable talking-points. Their attempted destruction of Barack Obama a spectacular failure, the national radio squawkers are left muttering leftover McCain campaign blather about "socialism" and trying to create something out of nothing (i.e.: Sarah Palin). Since the election, they don’t know whether to declare a war on Obama that they have already lost or transition to something safe like sports or financial advice ("and now, Your Money with Sean Hannity").

Locally, they seem happy for now to continue to read e-mails from Scott Walker and incompetent cop David Clarke and talk up the Great White Hope of the moment, Paul Ryan -- whose staff churned out some innocuous crap about "loose money" and fed it to the Wall Street Journal, the house organ of the GOP -- as some sort of savior of a party that is going the way of the Whigs.

National and local wing-nuts are also failing to follow the advice of wise people everywhere: when you are in a deep hole, stop digging. They continue to predict all manner of socialist, Marxist and even attempts at dictatorship from Obama, the product of desperate last-minute nonsense from the dying days of the McCain campaign, absolutely none of which will come to pass. The Fear card is always the last resort of the failing right, and it is hilarious to hear the trained callers on the pretend-call-in radio shows talk about how afraid they are of the incoming administration.

You can’t blame the wing-nuts, I suppose, for trying to do to Obama what they did to Clinton – employing the politics-of-personal-destruction relentlessly until his impact is at least marginalized. But Obama has been immune to this sort of childishness so far because a) people are totally sick of it and want him to succeed, and b) he doesn’t have the same sort of jealous backwater cretins feeding them material, like Clinton had in Arkansas.

Having their ideas and their candidates so soundly thumped in the election and without anyone in power to prop up, the irrelevant voices in the national network so treasured and nurtured by Karl Rove are yesterday’s news. They might as well be standing on a soapbox on a street corner warning about socialism or howling at the moon. Having helped bring us the Bush Disaster and now exposed as wrong about absolutely everything for at least the past 16 years, why would anyone listen to them?

I’m guessing – hoping, maybe – that the appetite for the gaseous noise of right-wing mainstream radio has ended. Perhaps a return of the Fairness Doctrine won’t be necessary to return balance and sanity to the public airwaves. If they maintain their overheated ways, it might be a public hungry for change and, ultimately, the right’s vaunted market that sends them to their overdue showers.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy the spectacle of the wing-nuts blaming the GOP's deep failure at the polls on not being nut-right enough. Here's hoping the party takes up that challenge, running right in 2010 and please, please let them nominate Sarah Palin in 2012. The result, combined with Obama's anticipated success in putting the pieces of the broken government back together, will keep Democrats in control for a generation.

  • I don't know if you noticed, but one of the rightosphere's hottest hotheads has taken his ball and gone home. On Election Night, the Texas Hold 'Em Blogger guy put up an upside-down flag on his site and muttered something stupid about being ashamed of his country. I sent him a comment -- "Oh, fer cryin' out loud. Grow up." -- and the next day, he had taken his entire site down and went into an unhinged rant as "Peter" on a Boots and Sabers comment thread, including hoping for terrorist attacks and some such. It's a terrible thing when people believe their own rhetoric. I hope the guy's alright.
  • In one of his worst moments of the campaign, McCain pointed to Obama with his thumb and called him "that one". Now Rick Esenberg, while continuing to make excuses for his fellow travelers, calls me "this guy". I am honored.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Day in Ward 64

The woman had already voted, but she came back in the voting place in near-panic. She was off in another part of the room talking in serious hushed tones, first to the election workers, then to the coordinator, who brought her over to me. "Could you talk to this woman and see if you can answer her question?" she asked.

With a look of concern deep and serious, the near-elderly woman looked at me and told me the story: "I just filled out the ballot and voted for all the candidates I wanted," she began. "But I just noticed on the way out that there were these other questions on the ballot. I forgot to vote on them." She was talking about the sick-leave and sales-tax referendums. Then came her question: "Will my vote count?"

Usually, I try to shade my legal advice in "probably" and "in all likelihood", but I was pretty sure about this one and she needed reassurance. "Yes, your vote will count. You don’t have to vote in every issue on the ballot. You could have just voted for one candidate and left the rest blank, and that one vote would still count." Her furrowed brow relaxed and the frown left her face. She left feeling better than when she came in. Her vote would be counted. That was all that mattered to her that day.

And so it went on Election Day in Milwaukee’s Ward 64 polling place, inside Mitchell Court, a high-rise apartment building for the disabled on 26th and National. From 6:30 that morning to 8 that night, I watched the miracle of democracy unfold before me. All day long, the usually powerless streamed through the crowded room and flexed the muscles of their franchise; seriously, proudly and often joyfully voting in an election that meant something to them, to their children, to their community. Kings and Queens for a day, they stood in short lines, patiently filled out forms, firmly cast their ballots and then returned to their lives of hard work and daily struggles.

The complex tapestry of Milwaukee diversity was on full display. Young and old; disabled and fully-functional; black, white, Latino, Asian; families and the lonely – all came in to cast one vote out of a hundred-thousand in Milwaukee; of 3 million in Wisconsin; of 122 million in the nation. Very few of those voting in Ward 64 spend one-tenth of the time I or any of my readers do on considering the deep issues of the day. But there they were, determined to have their say on the one day of the year that anyone has to listen to them.

I was there as part of the Obama Voter Protection team, designed to make sure everyone eligible got a chance to vote. There was little to worry about in this polling place. The election workers were helpful and friendly to each other, to us observers, and to everyone who came in. One of the workers worked in the building and cheerfully greeted and assisted the residents in getting their vote counted. If the machine didn’t take the ballot (usually because of overvotes – voting for more than one candidate in a race), the voter was quickly given another ballot and got it right the second time.

The ward did a brisk walk-up business all day long. It seemed almost half of the voters ended up at the same-day registration table, either because they had recently moved or were voting for the first time. They came in prepared, clutching their utility bills with their new address in one hand and their small children in the other. The election workers were knowledgeable about the law and carefully made sure the eligible were able to receive their precious ballots. Only a couple of disappointed people were turned away because they had no documentation of their new address and no one to vouch for them, but not before every legal possibility was explored to get them a ballot.

I tried to imagine what it would be like without same-day registration – hundreds of eligible voters turned away because of recent moves or because the election commission screwed up their registration somehow. Many people came to the tables with photo ID in hand, but what would happen if photo ID was required and the election workers would have to turn away so many of those who were otherwise perfectly qualified? Photo ID would turn the exercise of democracy into a grim game of gotcha – a presumption of disqualification unless proved otherwise, instead of the other way around. There wasn’t anyone who voted that day who was not eligible, but hundreds who would have been turned away with Photo ID or without same-day registration. The roadblocks that some would put in the way of so many of those who earnestly and honestly showed up to vote in Ward 64 are a violation of the spirit of democracy in Wisconsin.

After a steady flow of voters all day, we braced for an evening rush that never materialized. Perhaps because of early voting, there was a mere trickle in the last hours. On the TV out in the lobby at 7 p.m., NBC was already projecting Pennsylvania for Obama when one excited voter left the polling place chanting "O-bam-a". It was the only outburst of a day when the celebration was more subdued, but deeply felt.

At the end of the night, I called in the final numbers to the campaign: 573 to 106 for Obama in Ward 64. In this small slice of Milwaukee and throughout the country, the people had their say, one vote at a time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Spirits in the Night

On Election Night 2004, I was watching thousands of electronic ballots being run through a machine in Wisconsin Rapids after midnight when the Word came. On a tiny 20th-century monitor in the elections office, they had a primitive MSNBC electoral map on the screen, and every five minutes someone would hit the refresh icon. One time we did it that late night, my heart sank to my shoes -- Ohio turned red.

Last night, I was driving home from my voter protection assignment (more on that experience in my next post) and called my boy to let him know I was on the way. We were discussing logistics for the rest of our night when I got the Word again -- "Dad, they just called Ohio for Obama!"

Well, that was that. What was red was now blue. What was bad was now good. Ready or not, Change was here.

We went to a friend's house in time to revel in the moments to come with friends and my brother. We playfully argued about channel selection and volume. Where do we want to watch them call it when California polls closed at 10? Fox always tried to be first, said someone. No way, I said -- I'll take my memorable moments without Brit Hume, if you don't mind. I suggested we check CBS to see if they might bring back Cronkite for this. ABC? Get George Will and Cokie Roberts out of here. PBS? I'd rather not sleep through it, thanks very much.

As if by magic, whoever had the remote hit CNN at just the right moment. And there it was, blazing across the screen in High Definition: Barack Obama Elected President of the United States.

Although anyone paying attention could see this coming since they called Pennsylvania at 7, if not for the past month, it was still hard to believe. For once, the candidate matched the moment and the people recognized it. The ugliness that has characterized Republican campaigns since 1988 didn't work this time. The 24/7 free advertising for the Republicans on right-wing mainstream radio met its match in Obama's enormous grass roots support in the form of millions of small contributors, resulting in saturation advertising. As the storms behind the wake of the Bush Disasters battered the nation's economy and psyche, Obama characteristically kept his cool and McCain characteristically lost his. And, if you needed one more excuse to step into the future, there was the ridiculous Sarah Palin, whose cynical selection sealed the Obama deal for many serious people and exposed the unserious as the shills they are.

We watched the giant crowd in Grant Park, a mere 90 miles away, and wished we were there. Then a local station showed the celebration at the downtown Hyatt. Off we went, just Ken and I, to grab our piece of shared history.

The ballroom was packed and Obama was already speaking as we wound our way in, ending up next to the riser with the bank of cameras at the back of the room. The crowd responded as if Obama could hear us, with shouts and applause and cheers. His speech seemed to flow with our rhythms, feeding off our energy. Among other things, Obama is a great writer, but he really got me towards the end:

This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we cant, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.

At that moment, the emotion of the long day at the polls and the joyful night got to me, and tears streamed down my cheeks. Ken knew this was coming and hugged me. We joined in spontaneous multi-cultural line-dancing with hundreds of others, hugged strangers and each other.

Walking back to the car, a crowd of Marquette students greeted us with high-fives on Wisconsin Avenue. We honked at everyone we saw on the way home, shouting and hearing shouts. We celebrated the end of a damaged past and the beginning of a promising future.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Warm Winds of Change

I caught the rush hour this evening at the Shorewood Pick & Save on Oakland Avenue. At 5:30, in the strange early darkness of the first workday after daylight savings time, on a spectacularly warm, breezy November night, the entire community seemed to descend at once on the supermarket, clogging the aisles and overwhelming the checkout lines with the needs and wants of their everyday grocery lives.

Maybe I was just projecting my own sense of joy and relief, but it seemed that diverse group, brought together by the accident of their own shopping, was unusually upbeat and positive, as if they were all gathering provisions to watch and celebrate the elections returns tomorrow night. From the young men and women up from UWM; to the men and women in business suits, picking up something on the way home; to the Russian immigrants; to the kids sitting in the shopping carts – there was a palpable feeling in the air. And it was a good one.

It was the kind of feeling you get at the end of something bad and the beginning of something new – maybe even we didn’t know how hungry we were for Change. After eight years of the Bush Disaster – of war and profiteering, of greed and scandal, of incompetence and arrogance, of secrecy for them and no privacy for you – the passage of time and the 22nd Amendment put an end to all that. The McCain campaign was a weak imitation of the win-at-all-costs Bush steamroller that bullied its way into the White House in 2000 and managed to hang on by smearing a war hero in 2004. The thumping of McCain is a rejection of the cynical politics of personal destruction that worked too well for the Republicans and did the country so much harm in the first half of the ‘00s. The only better result would have been to let Bush run again and take this deserved beating himself.

We all seemed to be quietly celebrating today. Tomorrow, I’m guessing by about 10 p.m., the official pronouncements will be made. Then, we will celebrate loudly and party late.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I pay attention to politics for a lot of reasons. Primarily, I’m interested in the advancement of progressive ideas and the defeat of Bush-era Republicans and everything they have come to represent. But, other than simple civic-mindedness, there are reasons to watch the quadrennial drama that is our national election process other than the constant parsing of positions and strategy. Not the least of these is entertainment.

Barack Obama’s 30 minute infomercial this week was one kind of satisfying political entertainment. It was a marvel of effective message delivery. From the beautifully photographed video of amber waves of grain and real people facing real problems to the live remarks by the candidate before yet another throng of supporters in Florida, it was a remarkably powerful presentation.

It also helps that Obama himself is a great communicator in ways that the transparent hand-puppet Ronald Reagan could only dream of. He had not only his total command of the medium and the message on his side; he also has the great benefit of totally on right side of every issue and – ultimately and very soon – of history.

But my favorite form of entertainment has always been comedy. And, for that, the Republicans in this election cycle have proven the funniest cast of characters to ever disgrace the national stage.

In the primary season, our sides split at the antics of hapless and fatally-flawed Rudy Giuliani; cartoonish robo-candidate with the magic underpants, Mitt Romney; and crazy uncle Ron Paul. Mike Huckabee actually had a genuine sense of humor and got off some decent lines, when he wasn’t off on some quack religious tangent.

Alas, the last candidate standing was the most boring – John McCain. McCain was somewhat amusing himself before he took the nomination. But, ever since then, he has locked himself into a hideous straightjacket, stuffing his modest personal charm so far down his throat he can barely talk. It seemed we were going to be subjected to another tightly-scripted, highly-disciplined Republican campaign, with all the entertainment value of a horror movie. When they are on their game, every day is Halloween for the Republicans. Scary is all they can do.

But that was before McCain pulled the Sarah Palin stunt. Ever since then, the campaign has been a laugh a minute. From the campaign hiding her from the press to her hilarious cluelessness in a couple of innocuous interviews, Palin was the gift that kept on giving. In the meantime, McCain himself melted down in public, careening like a car with no brakes at the height of the financial crisis; pacing around the stage, smirking and rolling his eyes during the debates; and throwing forty years of honor and hard work down the toilet of his own doomed campaign.

Now, the week before an electoral thrashing that was preordained years ago, the Republicans are at each other's throats. This is an amazing development after the eight years of the tightly-controlled Bush years, when the message discipline of Karl Rove extended from the White House, through Congress, and all the way through the talk-radio echo chamber. Now, the "party", if that’s what is still is, and even the McCain campaign itself has divided into pro- and anti-Palin camps. As Tom Waits sang: "Everyone’s looking for someone to blame". Watching the circular finger-pointing in a room where everyone is guilty is comedy at its finest.

Some close to McCain are calling Palin a "diva" and a "whack job". She has gone "rouge", Sarah-being-Sarah, and the campaign be damned, say those running an already damned campaign that didn’t need her help to get there. Meanwhile, Palin herself is supposedly already designing snow-machine paths for the Rose Garden in 2012, declaring herself, against all appearances, as a permanently national presence (this, at the same time 59% of those polled find her unqualified).

My favorite example of the coming Republican fratricide are comments made by Jim Nuzzo, described as "a White House aide to the first President Bush". Nuzzo reportedly "dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as ‘cocktail party conservatives’ who ‘give aid and comfort to the enemy’...There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?" Now that’s funny. I can’t wait to see the nut-right try to nominate Palin in 2012. If they succeed, it will be the end of Republican party legitimacy.

I do think Nuzzo has one good point, but not the way he intended. "The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?" This is an excellent question for those who might pretend to present reasonable commentary after the election. Nobody who is serious about national policy can possibly support the cynical nomination of such an unqualified nobody. If they did, they are simply Republican flacks, willing to say anything to defend the indefensible. Their judgement is thus extremely poor, especially if they knew better (and most did). It's like listening to Bill Kristol about the invasion of Iraq. Why would you give any credence to someone who has proven themselves so wrong about so much?

I think we all know who is going to have the last laugh in this election. And we do plan to enjoy it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Being a Democrat

I like a lot of things about being a Democrat.

I like being right about the war; right about health care; right about the environment; right about maintaining a social safety net. I like the fact that Democrats don’t have to lie about what they really think and what their goals really are. We don’t hide behind phony constructs designed to conceal our true motives and intentions. I like the fact that we spend most of our time just trying to establish the truth; believing in science and in objective study; identifying problems and working honest solutions.

Sure, there are many reasons to like being a Democrat. But I love being a Democrat most because we believe in democracy.

Democracy should not be controversial. Regardless of the differences we have on issues and our frequent disdain for politicians who distort the issues and are politically and personally repulsive, at the end of the day, the votes are cast and the people decide. All the chatter, all the ads, all the polls are just so much blather, albeit often expertly informed. Ultimately, one man or woman has one vote out of thousands in a local community; millions in a state; a hundred million nationwide.

But there are those who don’t want to leave Election Day democracy to the whims of random, uncontrollable voters. And they are all Republicans.

I was thinking about this during the spectacular celebration of democracy called the Obama Voter Protection training on Saturday at a union hall in Milwaukee. All morning, myself and a couple hundred other lawyers were schooled on Wisconsin election law. On November 4th, we will fan out across the state as election observers with only one charge – to do our best to make sure every person eligible to vote who shows up at a polling place is allowed to do so, and to make sure their vote will be counted.

We were not instructed to protect only people we thought were Democratic voters. We were certainly not told to interfere in anyway with perceived Republican voters. In fact, we never discussed identifying anybody as anything. If someone appears to be an eligible Wisconsin voter – a citizen, 18 or older, who resides in the state – and is not precluded from voting because of felony supervision or some other legal impediment, they should be allowed to vote. It is very much the Wisconsin way, and we are to act as a resource to fulfill that promise.

I was in the Kerry Voter Protection operation in ‘04. I ended up going way up to Crandon, where the campaign had done some organizing in the Native American community. I spent the whole day in a small room with poll workers and a constant flow of voters. Late in the day, I protected the vote of a young woman who had no ID, but her residence was corroborated by a young man who knew she lived there and who could establish himself as an eligible voter through his own proof of residency. The well-meaning poll workers were going to make her do a provisional ballot. I gently asked them to review the law that allowed one voter to vouch for another, which, eventually, they did and the vote was counted. For all I knew, the woman could have been voting for Bush, but that was not the point. She was eligible, should have been allowed to vote and she did. It was the highlight of that very long and ultimately disappointing (to say the least) day.

For cynical, tactical reasons – because they know they would lose most fair elections – Republicans want to put roadblocks in the path of those who would dare to exercise the franchise of their citizenship. They want to require people to show a photo ID at the polls. They want to eliminate same-day registration in Wisconsin. They want to put police officers and other intimidating authority figures in polling places. They lie about voter fraud when none exists. They smear organizations with bipartisan support like ACORN who would dare to register the working-class and poor for mistakes made by over-anxious summer workers.

What does it say about a political party that is so afraid of eligible voters? You know what it says, and so do they. The difference is that they don’t care what you think about it. They believe only in achieving power by any means necessary. The outrage of Florida 2000 taught Republicans nationwide that they could get away with anything, right up to and including rigging voting machines or dumping them in the nearest river, if that's what it takes. With voter suppression at the front end and recount shut-downs in the back end, the Republicans have no shame. It puts the lie to all their phony flag-waving and red-white-and-blue posturing. They don't believe in American democracy. They believe only in power for themselves.

Democrats stand behind the honest vote in good times and bad. For us, Election Day is not just another opportunity for suppression tactics and manipulation; it is a celebration. That’s why I love being a Democrat.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Comments Now Moderated

I tried to avoid this, but some jerk who keeps posting offensive crap has forced me to moderate my comments. Now, I have to read your comment before I will post it for everyone else to read. I will try to do it quickly and I will allow comments from everyone that disagrees with me. I will not allow personal bullshit aimed at me or anyone else.

It is sad that I have to do this, but he knows who he is. Freedom's just another word for the opportunity to be an incredible asshole. As far as I can tell, only one twisted creep abused that privilege. Because of this, the World Wide Web is just a touch less random and posting comments is a little less instantaneous. All because of one stupid jerk. And I hope/You're happy now...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain’s Last Chance

....if he chooses to take it.

My fellow Americans:

I am appearing today to discuss some serious changes I am making, effective immediately, and for the last ten days of my campaign for president. I appreciate Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio shows allowing this time for free advertising, as they have throughout the campaign, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I mean, come on – I have to spend whatever money we have left in our doomed effort to turn Pennsylvania red. What do you expect me to do, have a press conference?

Anyway, first things first. I have replaced Sarah Palin on the ticket with Mitt Romney. Yeah, I know, it’s late and such a move is considered political suicide, but, you know what?...she’s a joke. We got her a one-way ticket back to Alaska and put her on the plane this morning, and I’ve never felt more relieved. Her selection was the biggest mistake of my political career. Say what you want about the issues or whatever – serious people who care about this country and otherwise wanted to support me simply could not get over the fact that I chose someone so obviously dim and unqualified. I’m deeply sorry for putting the nation through that.

The thing is, we knew well before the convention that we were screwed. We didn’t have any chance in the world of winning this race as Republicans with Bush having screwed so many things up so much and with the party itself being so devoid of a clue. We thought we had to throw a Hail Mary pass to change the dynamic of the race and wake up our lethargic base. My former campaign staff – yes, they are all gone, too – told me some stuff about her and I signed off on it even before they put me on the phone with her. After finding out about her Troopergate scandal, I started to wonder. Then, every time she opened her mouth, I thought, you know, what the heck is going on here? I sat there and grinned and pretended she was alright, but she wasn’t. She’s outta here.

So, now Mitt Romney is my running mate (yes, Palin is on all the ballots – we’ll get the 2000 Florida legal team together and fix that later, if we have to). And, yeah, I know Romney is an insufferable dick – really, you don’t know the half of it. But, with the weak talent pool we have in the GOP, he’s the best we can do, believe it or not. Who else is there – Giuliani? Give me a break. Besides, Romney has been waiting by the phone for this very call for the last two months, poor guy. I mean, at least he has a history of being able to work with Democrats when he has to -- and we'll have to. As for everything else, he’s more than pliable. He’s so hot for national attention and adulation, he’ll do anything I say or I’ll have the Secret Service steal his magic underpants.

I am also announcing today that I will not run for reelection if I win this time. In other words, I will be a one-term president. That’s what I was always thinking, anyway. With my age (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the trail has been brutal!) and the mess we’ll have to clean up, I’ll be more effective if we can just pick up the pieces and work with the Democrats in Congress to get this nation back on track. I’ll be a caretaker president, without much of a political party to keep happy and only the good of the country to be concerned about. Make no mistake – I will sign a lot of the bills that make it through Congress; Democratic bills that make sense for the nation. You want maverick? I’ll give you a damn maverick in the White House, if you give me that chance.

My friends, I lost my way back in April when I won the Republican nomination, signed up with a Karl Rove disciple and took that long journey to the dark side of my soul. In the process, I lost many friends, my self-respect and my hard-earned honor. When Colin Powell made his eloquent endorsement of my opponent this past weekend, it broke my heart, not because of our friendship, but because he was right. Looking back at the absurd things I have asked you to swallow in this campaign – Sarah Palin, the hysterical attempt to cancel the first debate, our disgraceful smearing of Senator Obama with William Ayers and wild claims of socialism – I might not have voted for that guy, either. I can only hope that, as I try to recover a measure of my dignity, I can also recover my status as a serious person in Washington, a place where great things can and must happen in the next several years.

Senator Barack Obama is an extraordinary talent and has the potential to be a transformational figure in American history. Regardless of my smirking, pacing and eye-rolling in the debates, I have been honored to share the stage with him during this campaign. Frankly, I was thinking of just bagging the whole thing and asking the American people to elect him by affirmation, just to give him a running start at the dire problems we face at all levels. But I do think I would be a moderately better president in some areas, such as national security, so I figured I’d at least give people a choice.

But, make no mistake, my friends: if I happen to pull this off, the first person I will consult about the getting the nation out of this mess will be Barack Obama. Unlike my campaign, which has had no plan for anything and just spent five months trying to tear down an honorable opponent, Senator Obama actually has a broad, well-thought-out plan to rebuild the economy and get this country going again. I will work with him as closely as he will with me, even if it is only working with him from his position as senator. And, despite my disgraceful and unwarranted attacks on his character and motives, I hope he will bring me in if he wins, and allows me to take part in that historic moment.

My friends, I know that I’ve just announced some fairly dramatic, if not historic, developments in my campaign. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this speech is just another stunt in a campaign that has lurched from one head-slapping moment to another. Actually, you wouldn’t be that far wrong. But these are changes I felt I had to make. I would rather lose while trying to claw my way back to respectability than take the increasingly remote chance of winning with an ugly, divisive message and a grossly unqualified vice president.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Liddy and McCain

In its increasingly desperate attempt to prevent the landslide that is about to come down on their tiny heads, the McCain campaign continues to plume the alleged depths of Barack Obama’s past associations. Although McCain himself and the ridiculous Sarah Palin have dropped the topic from their stump speech (Palin hilariously substituting tributes to whatever "pro-American" part of the country she happens to be visiting), Obama’s mild and long-severed acquaintance with education activist Bill Ayers in Chicago continues to be, as Obama rightly pointed out in his third victorious debate performance, the "centerpiece" of the McCain campaign.

In a suitably ironic use of dark resources, McCain has hired the same firm that the Bushies used to slander him in 2000 to send out millions of robo-calls to voters, warning of the Ayers connection and the unknown dangers thereof. Since recent polls show that such negative messages only injure McCain, it is hard to figure out what they hope to accomplish by this. Besdies, automated phone calls don’t have nearly the impact they did back at the turn of the millennium. People are much more sophisticated about unsolicited phone calls coming in – from just not answering to hanging up the moment they figure out that the conversation is, by nature, one-sided. Heck, I do it with people I'm agreeing with.

But, at least it looks like they're doing something in their lost cause. Perhaps they are trying to take the edge off of the angry mobs who were threatening to grab their torches and pitchforks and take over the campaign just last week. The last time that happened, local radio clown J.T. Harris shamefully "begged" McCain to take it to his African-American brother, and thus began his mercifully brief stint as a national laughing stock and local embarrassment. If you haven’t seen the pitiful scene he made on CNN early this week – pulling off his earpiece and lurching off-screen when he was mildly challenged by an actually thoughtful black conservative – you owe it to yourself to watch how lame and vacant Harris really is. Besides, times are tough – you need a good laugh.

The Ayers talking-points have served only to hurt John McCain. The Obama campaign has been very kind by not dragging up much of McCain’s bad buddy choices through the years, all of which were much more intimate, involved and corrupting. His close friendship with S&L criminal Charles Keating – who provided McCain with free airplanes and vacations, not to mention $112,000 in political contributions – is only part of the story. It took David Letterman, of all people, to confront McCain about his continuing relationship with unrepentant Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy.

In many ways, Liddy was worse than any of the Watergate actors – except maybe Richard Nixon himself. It was Liddy that came up with the plot to wire the DNC, as well as other bright ideas such as burglarizing the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (done) and kidnaping anti-war protesters and shipping them to Mexico (not done – drat! Even Nixon wimped out on some stuff). In other words, Liddy was an unapologetic actor in the biggest threat to our Constitution in our nation’s history.

Since he got released after five years of his twenty year sentence by the too-kind Jimmy Carter, Liddy has been the poster boy for unrepentant thugs, from Ollie North to Karl Rove. After the Branch Dividians set fire to their compound and killed their children at Waco in 1994, the charming Liddy suggested that "if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests. ... Kill the sons of bitches."

"He paid his debt, he went to prison, he paid his debt," said McCain on Letterman, which is only one-fourth true as far as the prison is concerned and not at all true regarding his debt to society. People who subvert the Constitution and try to come up with creative and violent ways to serve a criminal president have a bit more of a "debt" to pay than making things worse by bragging about what he got away with. Liddy was a pioneer in the hyper-macho "I'm glad I broke the law" right-wing punk ethic.

G. Gordon Liddy did far more to threaten the very fabric of our government than Bill Ayers ever did. At least Ayers tried to make amends by becoming a positive person in the Chicago educational community. Libby continues to be proudly criminal and unconstructive, who will continue trading on his idiocy as long as ignorant people buy his books, listen to his quack radio show and enlist his services (for Sarah Palin in Alaska, no less). It reflects on McCain that he continues to associate with such people, but, hey -- he's a Republican. If you run in those circles, punks like Liddy is about what you get.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Burning Down the House

Civil rights icon and Democratic congressman John Lewis called out John McCain on Saturday for setting the tone and allowing his campaign rallies to descend into despicable hate-fests. "Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," he wrote in the "Arena" comment area on the Politico site. Comparing the impact of McCain’s recent acceleration of the politics of personal destruction to that of southern demagogue George Wallace in ‘68 and ‘72, Lewis said the doomed Republican ticket was "playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all."

McCain responded to Lewis’ broadside by saying the comments were "shocking and beyond the pale" and calling for Obama to repudiate the remarks. I don’t think he has done so, nor should he. Despite his pitiful efforts yesterday to lecture the hotter heads at his rallies, McCain is reaping exactly what he has sowed. His support in the polls and the electoral college cratering since his erratic antics in the early days of the financial crisis, McCain turned to the kind of desperate tactics that can only inspire desperate men. He asked for it, he got it, and now he’s pretending to be surprised and concerned about it. He made his bed, rolled around in it with the worst sort of charlatans and fools on the far-right, and now he has to sleep in it, bed-spooning with the Limbaughs and Hannitys of his rented, putrid world.

We saw the ugliness first-hand right here in metro Milwaukee, where McCain and Palin made an appearance on Thursday. The right-wing crowd treated national visitors to good, old-fashioned Wisconsin hospitality by swearing and giving the finger to the traveling press corps. Some guy got up and was wildly cheered for squawking about the "socialist" Obama. "So go get him," he growled, the veins bulging from his neck. Part-time radio clown James T. Harris gave McCain permission, apparently on behalf of all similarly deluded black guys, to "take it to" the first African-American nominee of a major party. Harris, who can’t be called a sell out because he never had any convictions to sell out in the first place, was rewarded with a handshake from McCain and he decided to raise the cringe factor even further by kissing Palin’s hand.

"I got the message," said the smiling McCain, as he happily accepted the hateful passion of the engorged masses. Other places last week, similarly overheated crowds have called Obama a terrorist and yelled out "kill him." All in a days work for the man from Arizona, whose only question for his handlers since he nailed down his dying party’s nomination was "Is that what you wanted? How am I doing?"

The stage for all this was set not so much by McCain, but by right-wing mainstream radio, which has poisoned the political environment by universally treating an Obama presidency as not just unwanted, but as outright unacceptable. Obama has been regularly called dangerous to national security, a traitor to his country, a socialist and a radical extremist. What else is a god-fearing right-winger supposed to feel other than hate and contempt for the guy? Why would they allow for him to take office without a fight – and I don’t mean electoral. Ever since America started settling on Obama a couple of weeks ago, the desperate McCain decided to get in the gutter with the rest of the clowns and make it personal. He didn’t create the situation, but now he’s opened the door. What did he think was going to happen when the official campaign finally gave its imprimatur to this kind of garbage?

How bad is it? Well, right-wingers love to point to anonymous comments made in left-wing blogs to show how wack the left is. Let me turn that tactic on its head for a moment and point to one comment made on a left-wing blog: Mine. Here’s a comment (since deleted) that someone posted anonymously yesterday to my previous post:

Mike,Your an idiot and a liar, McCains was topping out all the time, Hussiens was less than flat. You heard it hear first. The October surprise that I am predicting this year is that someone (not ME LMAO) will assasinate the dumb socialist nigger. The domestic terrorist Nobama will never assume the Presidency, even if he wins the election!!!!

Now, I don’t think this is at all representative of right-wing "thought", such as it is. This person is obviously disturbed. But this is what happens when you present a mainstream political result as unacceptable and dangerous. Stupid people start to believe it. The fact is that, if you believe the crap about Obama put out 24/7 by the national and local wing-nuts on the radio, you would be unpatriotic if you didn’t take some extra-electoral action against this result. How could you let it happen?

This is the world John McCain has bought into. He may even realize that things have gone around the bend. But he can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. He has already lost his soul and his hard-earned honor in this campaign. And for what? So he can make history as the worst loser in U.S. history? The old McCain deserved better. This McCain deserves nothing less.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dialed In

I have to admit I have a guilty appreciation for the real-time "audience reaction" monitor that CNN has been running on the bottom of the screen during the debates. They get 25 or so uncommitted people in a room to watch the debate, give them each a dial and tell them to move it left (bad) or right (good) depending on how they feel or think about what is being said at that moment. The composite results are displayed by gender – green for men, orange for women – on lines that move up and down in relation to the effect the speaker is having.

So, when Barack Obama was talking Tuesday night, the lines usually went up. With McCain talking, the lines stayed flat (these people are too nice – they never dial under 50%). Obama, up. McCain, flat. All night long. There were times when Obama’s orange line hit the top and stayed there for more than a minute. A couple of times, McCain’s line crept up to 75% (again, too nice), but then went crashing when he went after Obama on anything at all. The upward swing of the Obama line and the horizontal path of McCain’s were like watching a live, moving version of the last two weeks of national polling.

As far as statistical usefulness, the CNN line-graph stunt probably means nothing; an unscientific sample of an amorphous group making subjective judgements about carefully-coached rhetoric and stagecraft. As a respected member of the sub-prime commentariat, it is (or should be) beneath me to let myself get tickled by such ludicrous gimmicks. Alas, I cannot resist. Especially when the lines, the trends and the entire election are headed in the right direction.

After all, some of this is just for our entertainment, not necessarily for our education. I think the application of the pop-psych technology might lead to some other interesting applications. How about...
  • Give the dials to 100 local fans during the next Packer game. See the lines go down on that Seattle kick-off return. Rodgers scrambles out of the pocket and finds Jennings downfield? Cool. If the lines go really south during a timeout, look over on CBS and see the replay of the touchdown Favre just threw for the Jets.
  • Hand out dials to all twelve people who RSS Esenberg’s blog. Next time he posts another one making excuses for the pathetic Sarah Palin or trying to justify McCain's dishonorable last-minute smear job on Obama, watch the 45-degree diagonal swoop down to zero in record time as the professor loses more respect, self- and otherwise. Hey, Rick, you still want people to take you seriously after the election, right? Just checking.
  • Give the judges in the Courthouse one of them things so I can see how I'm doing during sentencing arguments.
  • Finally, hook up 100 right-wing nuts and chain them in front of their TVs (tuned to MSNBC, natch) to watch the election returns on November 4th. Watch the lines crater when the Senate goes 60 Dems (not counting Lieberman, who they should ceremoniously bounce from the caucus that night). See them spiral downward as they lose 30, then 35, then 40 seats in the House. By the end of the night, they will have sunk so low...they see the inevitable call for Obama before the polls even close in California. Something strange happens. All over town, one after another of the right-wingers decide maybe a glimmer of hope in their dark world isn’t so bad. Without consulting with each other, they all turn their dials to the right as one. Inexplicably, the line edges slowly, but assuredly....UP.

Monday, October 06, 2008

John McCain, Without Honor

"Overheated rhetoric and personal attacks on our opponents distract from the big differences between John McCain's vision for the future of our nation and the Democrats'." – McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, 3/11/08

"Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people. But let us remember we are not enemies." – John McCain, 4/5/08

It has been months since John McCain has honored his now-laughable promise to run a "respectful campaign". Since the time he started running ads mocking Obama’s popularity, McCain has been willing to let his campaign do whatever his Rovian henchmen thought was necessary to save his doomed electoral fate.

From the wildly irresponsible selection of Sarah Palin as the heartbeat-away running mate for the melanoma-damaged 72 year-old to the wacky attempt to duck the first debate, McCain’s hired guns have been throwing Hail Marys since they attained the Republican nomination by default in April. They’ve known since the beginning that their goose was cooked under the intense flames of the Bush disasters and their own candidate’s severe rhetorical and personal limitations.

Now, wilting under the perfect storm of near economic catastrophe, the McCain campaign is reduced to throwing bombs about Obama’s thin association with William Ayers in one last attempt to win through Fear. But the flop-sweat dripping through McCain’s thick and expensive make-up tells the tale of desperation. And, now that Americans are increasingly settling on Obama and becoming comfortable with the entirely safe, nice, competent guy that he is, who is McCain to tell them they are wrong, at this late date?

Leading the Charge of the Light-Headed Brigade in this war of words is, appropriately, Sarah Palin; she of the winks, the smirks and the unresponsive answers to easy questions. Palin was rated a survivor of last week’s debate (as opposed to the winner, who all surveys said was Joe Biden) by simply showing up and not tripping over her tongue. The giant team that hunkered her down for a week at one of Cindy McCain’s palatial estates had the perfect plan for the clueless Palin that could only have come from a campaign with the requisite contempt for democracy generally and the debate program specifically.

They cleverly decided that she would ignore all direct questions and just recite the greatest hits from her convention speech or whatever other tripe they had drilled into her empty head. As Jon Stewart put it tonight: "It’s not what you want to know; it’s what I want to say." The former teleprompter-reading sportscaster came through like a pro, trotting out her phony folkyisms and spewing nonsense with a cringe-inducing perkiness that gave attractive professional women a bad name. She was rewarded with a pass by the too-easy-to-please national press corps who failed to call her on her machinations, happy to proclaim her rehabilitated, if no more qualified.

So, it’s the newly-rejuvenated SAY-rah who comes bounding back out on the trail this week, talking about Obama’s "dangerous" past association with "domestic terrorist" Bill Ayers and darkly ruminating with forever-wrong greed-head Bill Kristol (who, as the former chief of staff to national embarrassment Dan Quayle, should know a thing or two about bad VP choices) about how the specter of Jeremiah Wright should be "discussed more". "I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up," she said, bringing it up, while McCain’s aides, according to Kristol, audibly shushed her in the background.

Well, we knew this was coming, didn’t we? Not necessarily from the grating nasal voice of who-is-she-to-talk-about-anything Palin, but the desperation of the smear was always in the McCainiac arsenal, even if they are replaying crap from the spring. I always thought the GOP was making a mistake when they sicced their radio and other clowns on the Wright and Ayers "stories" as soon as it became clear that Obama had passed Clinton for the nomination. They shot their "best" shots trying to define Obama negatively, after talking him up when they thought Clinton was inevitable. If I were the type of devious, democracy-hating people they are, I would have kept those loony "stories" in my back pocket for just such a time as this – thus to spring an October surprise. Now, there is no surprise; people have made up their minds knowing full well about the Wright and Ayers distraction, and they are voting for Obama anyway.

The Republicans thought they had it all figured out, and they had the MSM commentariat playing along – this election would be a referendum on Obama. But then, some funny things happened. First, they created the Sarah Palin circus – now there was someone else to look at and wonder if she was qualified – it turned out to be a much better question (and easier to answer in the negative). Then McCain stepped forward, making a complete ass of himself in the middle of the bailout fiasco, proclaiming himself essential to the process, trying to back out of the first debate (then caving before anything was settled), saying nothing at the incendiary White House meeting where Obama took the Democratic lead, not even speaking from the Senate floor before the final vote was taken. At the first debate, he was surly, condescending and cowardly, refusing to face Obama or his own failures. For the past two weeks, John MCain has looked like a desperate fool.

Now, the election is a referendum on McCain. And Americans don’t like what they see. They compare McCain’s erratic flailing to Obama’s cool under pressure. They hear the echoes of McCain’s promise to run a "respectful campaign" as he wallows in the mud like a pig. They wonder what happened to that guy they liked from late-night talk shows, who was so funny and so honorable from his noble service and long sacrifice back in Vietnam. They can’t believe he has given all that up for a fading chance at a White House that, in the end, he never had the talent or the temperament for.

Increasingly, Americans look at McCain and ask: "Why?" Increasingly, they look at Obama and say: "Why not?"