Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin: Less Than a Rookie

I am still trying to get my head around this Sarah Palin thing. The timing of the announcement certainly served its cynical purpose of not letting Barack Obama bask for a day in the glow of his dynamic address the night before. The selection is also a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to peel the shrinking number of still-not-over-it Hillary acolytes away from the Democrats, for those who can’t see the issues for the skirts they are packaged in. As for the substance of Palin herself, well, we’ll see.

This much we do know: Obama chose someone who is eminently qualified to take over the reigns of government if something were to happen to him. John McCain, just as surely, did not. The Republicans want you to believe that the governmental experience level of Palin – serving, as she has, on a small-town school board, city council and for a brief time as governor – is comparable to that of Obama. However, Obama has been running for president for a year-and-a-half now – a resume enhancer all by itself – and has successfully managed a huge staff dealing with complex issues such as campaign logistics and issue development. All candidates and presidents of any experience level rely heavily on staff and advisors, and Obama has put together a distinguished group who not only show his ability to recruit talent but also serve to define him. Who defines Palin? Except for the armchair quarterbacking we all do about national and international issues, if she even does that, she has zero experience in many of the issues that will face the next president and VP.

Secondly, experience-wise, McCain has it exactly backwards. It’s one thing for someone with less experience like Obama to come to the White House with a fully-formed staff and agenda and a VP who can support his initiatives and offer advice informed by many years of distinguished service. It is quite another for McCain to put the nation at the risk of having less than a rookie as the head of the government if something happens to him. (Palin in People: Ready to be president? "Absolutely. Yup. Yup.") Being "one heartbeat away" means something quite different when that one heartbeat belongs to John McCain. With this interesting piece of stunt-casting, McCain violated his promise to pick someone who could take charge if he could not.

Although the MSM always hold Republicans to a lower standard than Democrats – imagine what would have happened if a Democrat had tried to bring along a knob like Dan Quayle – Palin will be defined in the next couple of weeks in the drips-and-drabs of her political history that will get exposed, chewed up and spit out in various future 24-hour news cycles. We already know enough to know there are likely to be more interesting things out there. She is already under investigation for using her state office to extract vengeance on a former brother-in-law; she came out four-square for teaching religion-disguised-as-science ("creationism" – which, I just noticed, comes up as misspelled on my spell-check – among the options offered: "cretinism"); she gave a $27 billion contract to a Canadian company for a pipeline; she does not believe women have the right to control their own bodies; etc. Distinguished investigative lawyer IT seems to have a very nice running start on these and future issues, for which we are all eternally grateful.

What she has said and done in the past will be grist for the mill, but I expect her to be tightly scripted this week at the GOP convention. They’ll have her taking a crash course in things she doesn’t know yet, like what a vice president does and such. When she does have a press conference (talking to People magazine doesn't count), I expect her to wax indignant about any questions trying to probe her past and current positions, trying to knock down old issues and avoid creating new ones. It'll be interesting, at least.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Enough! Obama Undresses McCain

Anatomy of a right-wing talking point:
  1. RNC gets hold of a photo of the facade being erected at Mile High Stadium for Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. The layout features – gasp – columns, like those on the Parthenon in ancient Greece or, if you will, every monument in official Washington. Do the math: Columns = temples = god worship = god complex = messiah = Obama = self-importance = arrogance.
  2. The word goes out via blast e-mail to willing fellow-travelers national and local to mock the pretentious Obama for daring to pretend to be a Greek god.
  3. Pliant lap dogs comply like hungry children who will not be fed until they strap the plow to their backs and till the fields.
  4. Locally, a Marquette law visiting professor embarrasses himself by sucking up the GOP garbage and distributing it as Legitimate Concern about an imaginary character named "Barackus Caesar" who is "stupid enough" to believe that appearing before historic American architecture used in everything from the Lincoln Memorial to Junior Bush’s stage at his ‘04 convention is a "good idea".
  5. When the actual details of the convention site are put in context of the large stadium and people point out the obvious non-religious nature of the columns and previous use of columns on non-temple historic landmarks and in political rallies since the beginning of American time, the wing-nuts do not back down from their obviously phony construct. "Whether you think it's fair or not," snoots the impossibly Obama-phobic visiting professor on his comment thread. "Obama is acquiring a reputation for staggering self importance and regard. You don't play into that." That the professor is guilty of ridiculous and unsupportable smears and sucking up is perhaps the reputation he should be more concerned about.

As Barack Obama stepped onto the stage before the large crowd that could be gathered by no one else (I would love to see the Republicans try – they couldn’t get that kind of turn-out for an exhumed Reagan, much less the hapless McCain), the columns were off to the side – framing the video screens for those in the stadium – and nowhere to be seen in the frame featuring the dynamic Obama, who seemed to be speaking in front of a pane of windows. Tomorrow, I suppose we'll be treated to a treatise on the history of fake windows in religious imagery (were they symbolic of mirrors, so he can admire himself?) and the attempt by Obama, by standing in front of them, to stop you from seeing through to the Truth.

It is one thing to take advantage of the beautiful video image of the cheering capacity crowd on a perfect night in a football stadium; it is quite another to be able to take advantage of stadium acoustics to make a great one-word line even better. Early in the speech there was a dramatic moment when he made clear that the legacy of Bush was firmly attached to McCain and both were put on notice. "Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land - enough!" The "enough!" echoed and vibrated through the stadium and through my HD audio channel. It was a one-word wake-up call to the audience and around the country. Enough, indeed.

Those concerned that he was not specific enough and would just come out talking about "hope" and "change" (which wasn’t a fair characterization of his stump speech, but, never mind) would have much to chew on in this dramatic address. From energy independence to health care to Iraq, Obama was concise, articulate and, of course, exactly right.

He did not shy away from fights with McCain on areas assumed to be his strengths:

  • "If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have...We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy...I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

Boo-yah, McCain. Boo-yah, all your Republican lap-dogs and lackeys. This will fall on deaf ears for people like Rick Esenberg, Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling and the other tiresome local subscribers to the RNC daily talking point e-mails, who provide endless free advertising for the GOP and who will keep pretending Obama is someone they know he isn’t and McCain is someone they say he is. "This election has never been about me," said the supposed Anointed One. "It's been about you." Did you hear that, wing-nuts? Humility from the one you claim thinks of himself as a messiah? Not that you’ll admit it, but your pants are down and your lies are exposed.

We can only hope the (I’m betting) record audience watching at home heard that message and will finally make the smears themselves an issue, and dismiss the tiresome Republicans who cannot be elected on their own merits.

Barack Obama kicked ass tonight, not just a little, and not a moment too soon. The Republicans next week will be back on their heels, with a bunch of meaningless arguments for a couple of talentless candidates. On the stage supposedly designed as a temple in Denver, it was the absent would-be Emperor McCain who could be seen clearly – by many, for the first time – as not worthy and without clothes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary Rocks Denver

There is nothing more mystifying in the annals of mainstream media political coverage than its over-heated, biased coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Like the neo-cons that concocted the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the MSM has been wrong about everything involving the Clintons. They were wrong when they attributed a false sense of entitlement to the Hillary campaign when it began. They were wrong when they called Bill Clinton racist for pointing out the obvious press bias against him and his wife during the campaign. They were wrong about both sulking since the end of the primary season. They were wrong about either Clinton being hesitant to support Barack Obama once the contest was over.

The "what are they really thinking" coverage of the Clintons has a National Enquirer quality to it. No one "close to the Clintons" has ever been quoted by name saying anything that the reporters and commentators have used to drive their anti-Clinton story-lines. The MSM dreams up Clinton devious machinations in their heads, willing to accept "confirmation" by any lower-rung flunky who wants to ingratiate themselves with the MSM by giving them what they want to keep the mirage of psycho-drama alive to justify their past pronouncements and future perpetration of the myth of the Clintons as selfish egomaniacs who will do anything to advance – well, what is it now? Hillary in 2012?

Hillary’s tremendous speech last night at the DNC convention and her unequivocal support of Obama’s candidacy should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has listened to what she and Bill have been saying since the primaries were over. Yet, we were subjected to weeks of speculation about whether she would really get behind him or just mail it in at this convention. No doubt, there was a large minority of former Hillary supporters gathered in Denver who were still bitter about the campaign, disappointed in the dramatic near-miss by the first legitimate woman candidate for president, etc. But Hillary was never one of them. Always knowing what’s right for the nation first and the party second, Hillary had long ago resolved her understandable disappointment and offered to do anything to help Obama get elected.

Hillary’s stemwinder of a speech was expertly crafted and dynamically delivered. She had a strong message to those who still clung to candidacy as an excuse to sit out this election or, god help them, vote McCain. In the most direct challenge I’ve ever heard a politician put to her most ardent supporters, she asked "were you in this campaign just for me?" What a beautiful rejection of the politics of personality that the MSM has been accusing her of for all these years. Not only does she think it is not all about her – she told her supporters, not so gently and in no uncertain terms, to knock it off and get real: After all that hard work on these important issues, you are going to sit back and give this thing to John McCain? Are you crazy??!!

The most dramatic moment was at the close of the speech when she called up the spirit of super-patriot Harriett Tubman. As read strongly by Clinton, Tubman’s words read like angry, life-affirming poetry on the Underground Railroad:

If you hear the dogs, keep going.
If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
If they're shouting after you, keep going.
Don't ever stop. Keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

The more clever of the network analysts, always watching out for the Devious Ways of Clinton, might dismiss this as a cynical way to counteract allegations of racism in the Clinton campaign by calling up an African-American icon. But Hillary Clinton has always known her history. And now she has made her own, by her historic campaign and, now, by her strong plea to her supporters to get to work for Obama.

The cable talkers had almost universal praise for Hillary’s speech – "did what she had to do" was the consensus, without giving her the benefit of considering it was also what she wanted to do. Over on Fox Noise, of course, it was a different story. Juan Williams, the only reasonable voice on the channel (and that’s only occasionally – he is often very wrong), who was almost in tears in praise of Michelle Obama’s home-run on Monday, was mysteriously absent as GOP flunkies like Bill Kristol and Brit Hume chewed over whether she said enough nice things about Obama in the speech.

But, after less than an hour of giving Hillary her due on the real news channels, they all slid into the same anti-Clinton story-line in anticipation of Bills’ address tonight. Will he get behind the ticket, will it be begrudging, is he still bitter and blah de blah blah. After Bill Clinton delivers his rousing affirmation of all things Obama tonight – then what? Having been proved wrong about the Clintons yet again, do you think they could get off of it?...


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle Obama and the American Dream

The tremendous story of Michelle Obama’s family that she told so eloquently last night at the DNC convention should resonate with everyone here in Milwaukee. After all, many of us are familiar with the South Side of Chicago a mere 100 miles away. Although on a much larger and denser scale, the South Side of Chicago is not that different from the North Side of Milwaukee. To succeed – much less excel – from that depressed, heavily-segregated part of the city is a remarkable achievement of not only her but her entire family.

Tell me again how "elitist" this up-from-nothing woman is, as she worked her way from the South Side to Harvard, a big law firm and, ultimately, public service. Tell me again how she is a product of privilege when her hard-working father, a city worker, struggled just to get out of bed with his deteriorating MS that took him too young. No welfare, food stamps or handouts for this family – everyone in it got what they had and what they have through hard work, determination and, yes, faith.

And the extraordinary talents of Michelle Obama were on full display as she delivered her compelling story on this week’s biggest stage. She is the model of the modern professional woman – strong in her own right, but stronger still in an obviously equal partnership with Barack in raising a family and trying to affect real change. In this campaign, she and Barack are seizing the opportunity to live their dream of developing a more-perfect nation; not out of a sense of entitlement, but of duty. One of the most interesting parts of the biopic was the fact that her mother and father implored her not to abandon the community in which she grew up, as too many before her had done and continue to do. So she didn’t, and the South Side of Chicago is a better place for her commitment to her home.

Imagine such a story coming out of the North Side of Milwaukee. There are, of course, many such stories, told in smaller forums; less noticed, perhaps, but no less inspiring. If this kind of against-all-odds success resulted in the emergence of a conservative star, we would never hear the end of his or her accomplishments, regardless of what college, law school or right-wing think tank they ended up in. Instead, with Michelle Obama, the Republicans have created out of whole cloth a caricature, a cartoon figure; as if she were born in Harvard Yard, taken in and raised by ‘60s radicals and committed to a subversive campaign to destroy the American Way.

Michelle Obama spoke not only with passion but with joy about her success and that of others in her family. She came before the nation last night fully-formed and in full, beautiful flower – much more so than Hillary Clinton when she was first introduced to us as the Accomplished Spouse in 1992. Regardless of what happens in this campaign, Michelle will be just as much of a force for positive change as her husband. I can’t wait to see what she can do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama-Biden: Ready on Day One

I love me some Joe Biden.

I always thought Biden was the best white guy running for president this cycle. For me, he is the quintessential old-school American politician – someone who is funny, smart, brilliant on his feet and has always shown himself able to get things done. He brings real gravitas to the ticket and shows everyone that Barack Obama is serious about putting the post-Bush government back together. Obama said he was looking for someone who would feel free to speak his mind and challenge Obama when he thought he was wrong. He’ll certainly get that.

That’s the easy part. Because of his long record of service and his big mouth, Biden also comes with loads of baggage for Republicans – who can only win by tearing their opponents down – to poke through. Even before the announcement this morning, they were already dragging out video from his ‘88 campaign, saying that the presidency was no place for on-the-job training, showing his use of line from a British politician the same year, squawking about his calling Obama "articulate" and "clean" last year and blah blah blah. McCain even put out an instant ad in the middle of the night, showing Biden at a debate earlier in this campagin, saying that Obama was "not ready". This is the sort of thing that they would have done with anyone – like I said, they have no other argument for their own election.

But Biden is going to give as good as he gets. He does not suffer fools gladly, and will turn the lies of the GOP against them when he has a chance. Senatorial comity notwithstanding, if I were John McCain, I would stay away from any direct public debate with Biden. All he would have to do is remind McCain what it was like when he was really independent, really a maverick, before he was stuffed into the uncomfortable straightjacket of right-wing Republican orthodoxy for this campaign.

Biden is also perfect for the VP-as-bulldog role – he’s the best choice in that way since Bob Dole, without the dark surliness and without being wrong all the time. The Joe Biden that has sharply grilled Bush lackeys and judicial nominees is going to be an invaluable resource for the campaign and in the White House after that. We can only hope that the campaign consultants get out of the way and let Joe be Joe, with no "play it safe" constraints.

Most exciting is the prospect of Biden in the vice-presidential debate. It will be one thing if McCain tries to get cute by picking a newby like Pawlenty or Jindal. Either will most likely be stunned into Qualye-ian silence by Biden's superior experience and intellect. But, my dream scenario continues to be to have Captain Underpants, Mitt Romney, on the ticket. I would love to see Romney try to mix it up with Biden – Biden would take Romney’s empty rhetoric and stuff it down his golden throat. I can’t wait to see those vacant eyes glaze over the way they do when he knows his goose is cooked. Besides the entertainment value of having Mitt to kick around for a couple of months, an all-rich/all-elitist McCain-Romney ticket would provide an excellent contrast to the far more modest Obama-Biden pairing. The motto: Obama and Biden – we only have one house each!

The only drawback in the choice of Biden is that, at 65, he is unlikely to be a viable candidate if Obama serves until ‘16. But that’s a small consideration and there will be no shortage of heir-apparents if the Democrats are able to govern effectively when they have control of both houses of Congress and the White House. The choice of Biden shows that Obama will be ready to hit the ground running, ready on Day One. That was someone else’s most effective argument for her candidacy, and Joe Biden takes care of that for Obama.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Right-Wing Cry-Babies

For all of their chest-thumping posturing, you’d think the right-wing bloggers that come out here telling everyone else what to do and think would have thicker skin. Instead, if you try to engage them on their comments or otherwise, many of them run for the hills. They are obviously used to just patting each other on the backs and find themselves in over their heads when challenged on their usually phony facts and arguments.

For instance, everyone’s favorite laughing-stock, Jessica McBride, closed her site to outsiders soon after the spring judicial election, while she was being spanked around the block by IT and others for her amateur and ludicrous analysis of Louis Butler’s record on the Supreme Court. She just took her ball and went home. Who knows what she has been writing since then behind her protective veil – all I know is I am missing out on at least one laugh-out-loud moment a week.

That was quite a move for an attention hound like McBride. I thought the idea was that everyone just had to hear what she had to say about her husband’s latest failed campaign, her continued pain over getting her radio show cancelled by TMJ...whatever. I mean, she always had so much to talk about. Now, you might be able to get a few chuckles from her occasional GMToday/Freeman column, but it’s nothing like when Jess would get into some serious late-night crankin’ and hit the "send" button all by herself.

The latest example of cowardly behavior comes from the current occupant of the McBride chair at TMJ, the equally inadvertently-humorous J.T. Harris. I’ve engaged Harris a bit on his comment threads in the past couple of weeks over some of his more amusing escapades involving Obama and John Edwards. He even called me out by name in one recent post, and we went back and forth on the comment thread for a little bit and, you know, no harm done – not to me anyway.

Then, on Monday, he posted a brief dig at NBC sports guy Chris Collingsworth for daring to ask Kobe Bryant why he felt so patriotic about putting on a USA basketball uniform. Collingsworth’s behavior in the interview "illustrated the soft bigotry of anti-Americanism," scolded Harris. Well, I watched the clip he linked to and discovered no such thing. When Bryant talked touchingly about what it meant for him to represent our country, Collingsworth drew him out with a very mild devil’s advocate routine. "Is that a cool thing to say in this day and age..." he said, smiling in a friendly way.

It was ridiculous for Harris to pretend that Collingsworth was anything but supportive of Bryant’s sentiments. But, as usual, he was following right-wing talking points from somebody else (very little of what Harris "does" is original), designed to further demonize NBC, pretend like there is all this rampant anti-patriotism all over the place, and blah blah blah.

So, anyway, I posted a brief comment about how he was wrong for calling Collingsworth out for something he wasn’t doing – his comments are not moderated, and there it was. Later in the day, I checked back to find that my comment was deleted. Not only that, when I tried to post another one chiding him for deleting the first one, I was notified that I was on his comment-spam list and the site wouldn’t even take it.

You know, it’s his site – he can do what he wants. But, if he’s going to run and hide from every little challenge, his supposed "national conversation" is a bit one-sided.

It is an interesting trend that right-wing bloggers are increasingly walling themselves off from impure thoughts and challenges. For all of their bullshit-and-bluster, their veneers of self-rightousness are paper-thin. The bottom line is, when challenged, they just can't handle it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Journal Sentinel to Readers: Drop Dead

With all the buy-outs and shedding of talent going on at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I suppose it would be too much to ask them to hire or even let a volunteer act as an ombudsman to deal with their various, er, issues related to coverage, non-coverage, bias and incompetence. If you, dear reader, have an issue with the paper, you may only take it up with the editors through their laughable Ask the Journal Sentinel feature on occasional Sundays. If you don’t like the answer, well, too bad.

This Sunday, the J-S’s right-wing managing editor George Stanley steps in to make excuses for exaggerated coverage of fluffy issues like Favre’s unretirement to the exclusion of more weighty matters like the recent exposure of more Lies of Still-President Bush. Using old standard phrases of defensive corporate double-speak, Stanley dances around the issue, blaming his selective use of the J-S’s shrinking news hole on the perceived interests of his short-attention-span readers. "We try to choose stories our readers will consider the most important, most relevant and most interesting," he writes. See, it's you, you stupid readers, not him.

Not that he is going to give his readers the chance to get interested in a story like, say, the Bush administration sending White House stationary over to the CIA and ordering them to phony-up a Hussein-Atta link after-the-fact. The excellent question posed by an anonymous reader references that story, the full-of-holes case against the conveniently-suicided anthrax suspect Bruce Ivins and the ridiculous substance and result of the political show-trial of OBL’s driver, all of which were a) important, b) embarrassing to the Bush administration, and c) virtually ignored by the Journal Sentinel.

Stanley addresses the substance of none of these interesting stories specifically – perhaps, if he did, he would have to admit that they all run contrary to his conservative perspective and thus the, er, "space" problem. The J-S has "space to only print a small fraction" of the national news stories that come over the wires, he says, so, natch, he’d rather run a New York Times story about the anxiety of a few Democrats over Obama’s failure to gain as much traction as they would like in the race against McCain and the trunk-length and shoe size of Michael Phelps (with art) than all this falderal about the potentially criminal acts of Bush officials to gin-up the case for the Stupid War that has claimed the lives of over 4,100 American servicemen and women and counting. I mean, as far as Stanley is concerned, get over it already.

You want the real news, Stanley says, get on the internets. "More and more, we’re linking readers to sources on the Internet and elsewhere where they can dig deeper into a subject of special interest to them," he claims. Oh, really? Other than headline links to AP wire stories, good luck finding any links to in-depth national stories on the front page of the J-S web page, much less the kind of non-breaking news expose demanded by the questioner.

In other words, the Journal Sentinel has officially abdicated its responsibility to expose people to news simply because it is news they should know. "We try to choose stories our readers will consider the most important, most relevant and most interesting," he says. So the editors forego their judgement for that of their perception of the elusive, imaginary Typical Reader. This is newspapering by focus group and polling. If the consultants tell Stanley that establishing the historical record of Bush’s many continuing scandals is a downer, well, order up another twenty inches (plus art) on the 65 year-old British matador.

As with all these Ask the J-S puff-pieces, Stanley can’t help but remind the ungrateful complainer how wonderfully local the paper is, covering the world "as if southeastern Wisconsin were at its center." Thereby Stanley makes the remarkable admission that the J-S reports from a fantasy world. Oh, and did he mention the Pulitzer Prize they got last year, and by the way the same reporter starts a series today...What any of this has to do with the failure to report important national issues is anybody’s guess. If an investigative tree falls on Junior Bush in Washington, does it make a sound to people with their heads in the sand in Mequon, or, for that matter, to newspaper executives with their heads up their asses on 4th and State? Not if Stanley can help it.

In the end, Stanley falls back on that old saw that if all sides complain, they must be doing something right: "We are criticized by folks with strong personal political opinions from all over the spectrum." Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah...back when Stanley and his bevy of reporters were doing their best to get the hapless Mark Green elected governor in 2006, I took them to task for their extremely biased story placement and reporting. Stanley responded to my observations by saying "every election season we receive the same volume of complaints from people who work for candidates of both major parties..." This line of "argument" is the cheapest of dodges, ignoring the substance of each complaint by throwing all complaints in the same circular file. Yeah, you say that, but this guy on the other side says this...whatever.

Some criticisms happen to be more valid than others, but Stanley does not accept that as a possibility. If he did, he’d have to do something about it. But, behind the barricades of the Only Newspaper in Town (which increasingly reminds one of Monty Python's Very Big Corporation of America in The Meaning of Life), they ain’t doin’ nothin’. It seems like a strange attitude for Milwaukee’s last vestige of the wilting dead-tree industry to take: Shut Up and Trust Us.

This kind of arrogance does not bode well for those still working in the building that once housed a great newspaper.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Defining the Worst as the Norm

Today’s question is: What is the cheapest trick in the right-wing blogosphere?

I know...where do you start? Is it the constant repetition of GOP talking-points designed to ridicule Democrats who might dare to wear scarves in Muslim countries or claim the very real benefits of proper tire inflation? Is it the citation to and propping-up of conservative columnists and "think"-tank "thinkers" like Bill Kristol and John Bolton, who have been dreadfully wrong about everything – not least the Stupid War in Iraq – as authorities on anything? Is it hacks like Charlie Sykes running whole memos from Scott Walker and David Clarke, as if these self-serving politicians have anything interesting to say?

No. The cheapest trick used by right-wing bloggers is to try to demonize and misrepresent the left by seeking out offensive comments, usually made deep in obscure comment threads, often anonymous, and to try to present the comments as mainstream lefty thought. It’s a sneaky kind of subterfuge, a smear within a lie; especially when the anonymous comments may have been posted by right-wingers pretending to be lefties so they can "find" the comments later and use them to dishonestly beat us over the head.

A primary purveyor of this sort of sleazy maneuver in the Cheddarsphere is John McAdams, who is apparently is some kind of professor to various unfortunate students at Marquette University. McAdams blathers on about all kinds of issues, real and imagined, within the Marquette community (keeping an eye on a fellow Marquette lecturer with impure thoughts here, trying to brow-beat the student press there) and among Catholics (those who dare to stray from his wing-nut evangelical Catholic orthodoxy get a spanking, although, alas, the beyond-sanctimonious McAdams has not gone through the trouble to get himself ordained).

In the last couple of months, McAdams has exploited the deaths and illnesses of various right-wingers by pointing to their alleged vilification in the comment sections of left-wing sites. Citing selective comments on Democratic Underground and Daily Kos, McAdams declared after the death of right-wing commentator and former WH press secretary Tony Snow that the entire left is "so shameless in their hate. They think their views are the only decent ones, and therefore all who oppose them deserve to be hated. They are, in other words, proud of their hatred." "Hate" is the key word here, in case you missed his point.

In fact, except for those who knew him inside the Beltway, who had nothing but nice things to say, Snow's unfortunate early death was greeted with, at most, indifference in the mainstream left. For what it's worth, I thought his appointment as press secretary set a bad precedent by lending undue credibility to a certified radio wing-nut - who's next, Sean Hannity? I also thought his smug. condescending attitude at the podium should have earned a bit more blow-back from the pitifully cowed MSM correspondents. On the other hand, the guy didn't deserve to die young, fer cryin' out loud. And nobody with a legitimate lefty web presence said otherwise.

But lefties behaving well does not fit in McAdams preordained construct, so he digs deep to make stuff up. Defining the worst as the norm, he decides the left reacted "with all the venom one might expect". Well, what one of him might expect, maybe, especially when he is trying to separate normal Americans from center-to-left flirtation by creating non-existent boogiemen.

Oh, and as if you needed help on that point, McAdams is shocked to find out that liberal bloggers are more "profane" than otherwise merely offensive conservative bloggers. "The kind of vulgarity used on leftist blogs betrays a fundamental contempt for the sensibilities of others," he declares. Well, I don't use much profanity on my blog myself, but several come to mind about elitist snobs like McAdams with the kind of contempt for the intelligence of others he displays on a regular basis. That's much more offensive, I think.

Gathering ideas and links from Wing-Nut Central and googling feverishly, McAdams also finds shame in the reaction of some Brits to the anticipated demise of Margaret Thatcher. I don't know what this has to do with anything in this country, but, you know, to blind squirrels like McAdams, a lefty is a lefty is a lefty. Elvis Costello had the best take on Thatcher almost 20 years ago: When England was the whore of the world/Margaret was her madam. She was perfectly healthy then, although he did promise to "Tramp the Dirt Down" after she was gone. I think people in other countries can own their own contempt for their criminal leaders without suffering input from our fifth-rate commentators. We'll have our own celebration of Dick Cheney's passing soon enough.

Republican flack Brian Fraley also checked in last week with his typically-unoriginal contribution to the smearing of the left by digging deep to find anonymous people on lefty sites kicking Bob Novak while he's down with inoperable cancer. The guy at Texas Hold 'Em Blogger, who likes to play racist games with Obama by calling him the Chocolate Jesus (yeah, I know Harris does it - that's no excuse), decided to poke around on Obama's official website and found anti-Semitic contents. "Birds of a feather flock together," he concludes.

Several obvious points should be made here. First of all, it is entirely possible and maybe even likely that the commenters posting on these lefty sites are about as left-wing as Tom Delay. These are anonymous postings, for the most part, easily left by nut-right interlopers who then "find" them later and send the links around to the needy community of giggling fellow travelers. They read as authentic as those supposedly "liberal" callers on wing-nut radio shows whose convictions crumble under the weight of the host's genius.

Secondly, whatever is on lefty sites that represents the opinions of actual people who think they are being supportive of Obama or left causes, those comments pale in comparison to the vitriol that boils under and on the surface of nut-right sites all over the net. Just one visit to the Free Republic site will expose all manner of the language of bad intent for Tim Russert, Ted Kennedy and any other dead or injured non-right-winger. All of this blather from these sad bastards means absolutely nothing in terms of what passes for mainstream right-wing "thought", and I would never pretend it did.

The right's constant attempt to smear the mainstream left with our anonymous alleged fringe proves nothing but their deep insecurity with their ability to fight us on our real issues. Wrong as they can be, they continue to grasp at straws that don't exist, under pretenses that are as thin as the logic in their position papers.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Enquirer in 2005: Bush Drunk Again

The sad end of John Edwards’ political career takes out one of the most dynamic, articulate Democratic leaders and sends him prematurely to the ash heap of history, along with Gary Hart and various others, known and unknown, who could have, but didn’t. Edwards’ eloquent commitment to the poor and disenfranchised fell just short of what was necessary in his scrutinized life. It is a tragedy for more than just the already-injured Elizabeth – the whole country will be worse off by not having his enormous talent around in the Obama administration and after.

For this, we have to thank the National Enquirer, the supermarket rag usually too busy with the comings-and-goings (and babies and weight problems) of Hollywood stars to be too concerned with those who really have something to do with the ways of the world. This is the New Media, we are told (although there is nothing new about it); loosed from the namby-pamby rules of the Old Media, printing rumors in the hopes that it becomes true. Sure enough, in the case of the sloppy Edwards (really, do you think you could have found somewhere a little more discrete than the Beverly Hills Hilton?), the blind squirrel got a nut, putting the Enquirer’s known batting average at something like .059.

But there are Lessons To Be Learned here, and not just by Edwards. The MSM, it is said, smugly ignored the Enquirer’s ambush reporting, supposedly protecting the Democrat by hiding behind ridiculously obsolete concepts like verification and credible sources. Except that the MSM didn’t ignore the story – their slower-but-surer methods eventually closed in and actually resulted in Edwards’ confession. Never mind: this is the "end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism," writes Tim Rutten in the L.A. Times, also crediting the "bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion." Oh, and don’t forget the GOP's nationwide network of radio wing-nuts and Fox Noise, who squawked about the story for weeks. Ooops, looks like he did.

Well, alrighty then. Cheap tabloids toss out some rumors, conduct some ambush "journalism" in a hotel somewhere and publish their results. If it makes a Democrat look bad, the RNC will put it out in their talking points for their too-willing messengers to drive the story for weeks, forcing the issue onto the guilt-ridden MSM for belated discussion and denouement. Sure – that might work, if I'd rather have my rumors and innuendo untested by facts and quality. Then you could just give it to me raw and I’ll believe what I want to believe. Like music, the news would become fractured into niche markets, giving people what they want. Forget what we need to know, you elitist MSM smarty-pants. Just tell me pretty lies.

Well, now that the torch has been passed, let’s play a little catch-up and see what we might find in the newly-Pulitzer-worthy Enquirer. Hello? What’s this? It seems the Enquirer reported back in 2005 that the right-wing’s own darling, Junior Bush, lept off the wagon with both feet and helped himself to a couple of snoots to sooth his self-imposed pain during his mishandling of the Katrina disaster. "‘When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot,’ said one insider. ‘He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back. The First Lady was shocked and shouted: ‘Stop George!’" I love that quote: "Stop, George!" Many of us have been screaming that at him for eight years.

Anyway, I don’t remember the MSM getting all fired up and doing anything at all about that one. If they were protecting a Democrat by ignoring the Edwards story, don’t you think they’d go after the important story of an admittedly alcoholic president going off on a bender or two? But, no. They ignored it because it was the Enquirer. Regardless of the obvious entertainment value of the Bush story (did Laura throw a lamp at him? did he start talking to the pictures on the wall, like Nixon, the last Drunk President?), it seems like a good guideline to me.

I don't want my news cheap, sloppy and half-baked. And I certainly don't think the national discussion should be poisoned by tabloid stories, blown up through the right-wing echo chamber, and served up as anything other than the self-serving, selective efforts at personal destruction that they are. The right-wing messengers couldn't care less whether the Edwards story or any of the other garbage they throw out there is true -- just whether it will effectively destroy an effective politician who will make it harder for them to pull the wool over people's eyes.

This is Edwards' real failure -- that he gave them something like this to blunt his career and his message. In this, he becomes his own worst enemy and, unfortunately, at least for now, one of ours.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why I Blog: A Declaration of Principles

Some comments on my recent post about the sadness of 20 years of Rush Limbaugh on the radio struck me as thoughtful and even helpful. I started writing a response in the comment section and thought, what the heck, I’ll just bring it out here for all to see. Why? Because I can.

Many of my regular commenters like to engage in amateur and, methinks, not well-intentioned psychoanalysis. For instance, my complaints about Limbaugh, they say, are not based on an honest concern about the poisoning of public debate, but rather arise out of "jealousy". Not only that, I am accused of speaking out of a "bulbous, bloviating head". Setting aside for a moment the fact of my 99th percentile size-8 noggin (lucky guess, Anony), I think it might help if I kind of set out what I am trying to do here on this blog; my Declaration of Principles, as it were, although I’m no Charles Foster Kane.

A couple of my recent commenters had some appreciation for my occasional forays into music writing (which is how I got my foot in the door at the Daily Cardinal in the summer of ‘79), but don’t appreciate the political stuff. "There's never any light or joy here," says a regular, Patrick (I don’t think this is the guy from Badger Blogger, but who knows), "except when Plaisted writes about music."

No light or joy? Really? I'm trying to make this blog thingee as entertaining as possible -- my perspective in writing has always been to write something that I would want to read. But I do try to do it with a sense of humor, at least. I think some of the targets of my barbs don't have one, but that's another story.

Besides the exercise of writing, which I love to do, my focus in getting out here and making some noise for the last couple of years is to expose and confront tactics and substance of the right-wing echo-chamber. I really do think that the phenomenon of having right-wing advocacy on the radio, nation-wide, 24/7, with the messages largely being driven (until recently, but maybe still) by Karl Rove's shop is a bad thing, and not just because it’s right-wing. The predominance of one side’s message – a primary focus of which is taken up with falsely defining the other side and its message – on the publicly-licensed radio airwaves that still have an influence and power over and above other media (especially in the captive-audience automobiles of our increasingly mobile society) is unprecedented. It skews not only the political discourse, but also the coverage of straight news organizations, who think they need to suck up to the targeted angry-white-male demographic by lending credence to wing-nut-fabricated "issues’ they would otherwise rightly ignore.

In my mind (and on my blog), the mere existence of the highly-disciplined echo-chamber is an issue in itself (and, by the way, it has never been denied). Another regular commenter, Another Tosa Voter, regularly complains that I keep talking about the right-wing’s "talking points" instead of "real issues". But, see, this is primarily a media criticism blog – the consistent use of GOP talking points by their radio and blog sycophants is a legitimate thing to discuss and criticize all by itself, both from the angle of the GOP’s blatant manipulation of the all-too-willing media figures and from the angle of the media’s willingness to be so manipulated, from the on-air "personalities" to the station managers that hire and schedule them every minute of every day (well, except for the home-and-garden show on Saturday morning).

For instance, let’s take Barack Obama’s off-hand comment last week about tire inflation being one way to get better milage out of your cars. Before the words had barely left his lips (and well before his campaign staff got done slapping their foreheads, knowing that the phrase would be taken out of context), the RNC was out with orders to play the comment as some kind of out-of-touch gaffe. Every radio head and every right-wing blogger was too happy to oblige (and never mind that what Obama said was true and good advice). You couldn’t miss it, which is the point of its broad distribution. It is designed to become another chink in Obama's armor, the death of a thousand cuts, the shot-gun approach for a Republican Party that is wrong about everything.

But we on the left don’t play that. Another "for instance" – yesterday, John McCain suggested his wife might enter the Miss Buffalo Chip contest at a drunken motorcycle rally in South Dakota. Which, by all accounts about the contest itself, means that he was offering for Cindy McCain to flash her tits at a topless beauty pageant. Far be it for me to wax sanctimonious about any of this (I have taken my shirt off on a stage before and, I’ll tell you, it’s not pretty), but this incident is interesting on a couple of levels.

First of all, if we lefties were taking talking-points from somewhere, every last one of us would be holding McCain up to public ridicule for even alluding to such a thing. However, even if we did, we wouldn’t have the power of the public airwaves to spread the smear. But, yes, we are better than that. We respect our audience more than to think they are going to be manipulated by such crass bottom-feeding, and we are not going to burn down McCain just to raise Obama. And it’s not because we don’t have to.

Secondly, there is my favorite party game, What If A Democrat Did It? Can you imagine if Obama had said the same thing about Michelle? The talking-point would go out to use it to ridicule the Obamas, speculate about what Michelle may have done to extract retribution behind the scenes afterward (after all, the castrating bitch story line worked so well against the Clintons), squawking about how such a thing runs counter to the feminist agenda and, ooo, this is going to piss off the Hillary supporters, etc. I mean, I can write this stuff for them myself, it’s so damn predictable. There would be no end to it.

This is the kind of stuff I’m fighting against. I usually have something like 200 hits when I post something and, if my encounters on the street are any indication, it is a quality 200. If I can use my little forum here to move the needle one way or the other in this national discussion, that’s great. But my goal here is to expose lies and tactics. The radio wing-nuts posing as jolly "entertainers" for gullible newspaper columnists have debased political discussion in the country and locally, virtually unchallenged, for many years now. It's way past time they be recognized for who and what they are. I'm here to help.

Monday, August 04, 2008

20 Years of Limbaugh

Columnist Patrick McIlheran, the Journal Sentinel’s unfortunate sop to the wing-nut demographic, thinks two decades of poison on the nation's airwaves is a great thing. He celebrated Rush Limbaugh’s 20th anniversary on Sunday with a warm fuzzy back-rub of a column that included not only loads of gibberish of his own, but also self-serving cameos from Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling, the top-two purveyors of the Dark Trade locally.

Not coincidentally, Limbaugh’s spawning from the cocoon of a failed radio disc jockey to the beautiful butterfly of GOP mouthpiece occurred the minute the paint was dry on the Reagan FCC’s termination of the Fairness Doctrine, which had kept radio airwaves on an ideologically even keel almost since the birth of the limited-bandwidth, federally-regulated medium. It was an obscure action at the time, but the right-wing had a plan and hit the ground running with relentless and unapologetic squawking from all manner of formerly repressed hamm radio hate-mongers who knew in their hearts that "equal time" was for sissies and Communists. With his smug, know-it-all demeanor and elitist I-got-mine-get-yours self-aggrandizement, Limbaugh was the perfect blowhard to take the "new" format (really, just McCarthyism with commercials) to fill the void on a musically-obsolete AM radio band grasping for something to do before and after sports programming.

What Limbaugh and his national and local ilk do is create an alternative universe where right is wrong, up is down and "callers" to their staged shows always agree with the host (and those who pretend not to are quickly convinced by the host’s brilliance) . When Bill Clinton was president for eight years, they ran a constant campaign of lies against him, 24/7, on radio shows across the country. For the eight years of Junior Bush, they have conducted an incredibly universal and tightly-scripted defense for the worst administration in American history. There has never been this kind of one-sided, talking-pointed political advocacy in the history of the electronic media and it has poisoned the political atmosphere in ways it has never been before.

What I don’t get is why McIlheran thinks this kind of slop is entertaining. "Better to be entertaining than tedious when talking of serious things," says Paddy Mac. Oh, really? Yes, dead American soldiers can be so tedious, let’s let Limbaugh play politics with their memories by claiming the Democrats don’t support the troops. That Katrina thing was tedious, was it not? Let’s make things more interesting by lying about the level of grief and death and let’s pretend the Bushies responded just great and it was all the black mayor’s and the female governor’s fault. There. How tedious can things be when you give yourself license to dance on so many graves?

To expand on his "points", McIlheran quotes Belling and Sykes. Hey, I know he’s just a former copy boy and not a real journalist, but McIlheran using Sykes to make his vapid points is like quoting your girlfriend. Sykes sweet-talks him by reciting the old talk-radio-is-just-an-alternative-to-the-liberal-media cannard, and Paddy Mac eats it up like last night’s chocolate strawberries. We "swim in a sea of liberal ideas", you see, and blowhards like Sykes and Limbaugh just provide "an alternative frame" for those who were suddenly not "alone". What a load of hooey. Right-wing nut-jobs were never in danger of being lonely or of not getting their message heard. But their supposed oppression and victimization is their stock in trade -- see, for instance their hand-wringing about the supposed reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine by the Democrats, something that they know is not going to happen.

Of course, the whole notion of a liberal media is complete nonsense. Before the right-wing slime machine got going on the radio, nobody ever got a daily show on the airwaves to drive political points, urge the election and defeat of candidates and propositions and otherwise argue all day long for any point of view. To compare the simple reporting of inconvenient facts – the truth being the real enemy of reality-twisters like Sykes and Limbaugh – to the 24/7 propaganda campaigns of the GOP shills that make up the entirety of right-wing radio, is ridiculous.

But, it’s one of those things that, repeated enough, become perceived as truth, which is a game the wing-nut squawkers play all too well. McIlheran plays the game himself, explaining the inexplicable appeal of radio lies by claiming "there are people besides us who don’t think America is the world’s foremost problem and who doubt that more government is the answer to all dilemmas". Yeah, except for the small matter that liberals don’t think that "America is the world’s foremost problem" or that "more government is the answer to all dilemmas". The notion that we do is one of those convenient lies told by people like Sykes, Limbaugh and McIlheran, who are doing nothing but playing their listeners/readers for fools.

But, for Paddy Mac (he says), it’s all about laughing at the unbearable pain of the news. "We’ve learned to laugh at the news instead of getting depressed," he writes. But, this, too, is a lie. Claiming that Limbaugh and Sykes and the rest of the wing-nuts are just harmless comedians gives them too much credit as entertainers (as a group, they are as funny as a heart attack) and not enough as committed, scripted ideologues. They know what they are doing and pretending to be entertainers is an effort to take themselves off the hook for their outrages and the fact that the Republican party should have to claim every minute of every one of their shows as an in-kind contribution.

See also: Whallah!

Friday, August 01, 2008

John McCain's Lost Soul

John McCain has always been my favorite Republican. Admittedly, that’s not saying much.

It has nothing to do with his political positions (he is almost always wrong) or occasional attempts to work with Democrats to get some things done once in a while. Unlike what we have come to expect from the slash-and-burn tactics of the sad Gingrich/Bush era, that’s what people of both parties are supposed to do once in a while. It’s not even his compelling personal story as a Vietnam POW; there are hundreds of POWs who did not insist on being president because of their long ordeal.

No, the thing I liked about John McCain was his sense of humor. In staged settings with the right lines, his eyes brighten, his timing is impeccable and he manages to have just the right level of self-deprecation while maintaining a happy dignity. There are very few politicians that have (intentionally) made me laugh out loud. It’s a gift you can’t fake, and McCain had it.

But now, McCain is about as funny that other comic talent who lost it all when he sold out to the Dark Side, radio wing-nut Dennis Miller (wanna buy gold or a steel building? Dennis is your man!). McCain claimed that the ugly, childish ad trotted out by his campaign today – repeating the right-wing talking-point, mocking Obama for supposedly being messianic, complete with Heston-as-Moses parting the Red Sea – was all in some sort of twisted jest. “We were having some fun with our supporters,” said McCain. Forgetting for a moment that McCain thinks it’s OK to entertain his troops with public ridicule of his opponent (can we run footage of McCain in the Hanoi Hilton and have a narrator speculate that he was already designing his political ambitions? Would we? Of course not), what kind of “supporters” would think it’s funny? Oh, yeah, I just wrote about this messiah nonsense on Monday.

Was the other ad released this week a joke, too? You know, the one where footage of Obama’s Berlin speech (and “o-bam-a” chants not from Berlin) are intertwined with pictures of celebrity nightmares Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton. Some have speculated that the juxtaposition of the two famous white women and the famous black man is racist (like the Harold Ford ad in Tennessee); all those who think I see racism in everything Republican, please note that I do not see it here. Spears and Hilton (regardless of how Hilton gained her initial, er, notoriety) are too damaged to elude forbidden sexual energy like the “call me” model in the Ford ad. The problem with the celebrity ad is that Obama is trivalized for the sin of his own notoriety, the bulk of which he has very little to do with. It's like blaming McCain because the media (still) sucks up to him. Like he should talk.

And how about McCain being sent out by his handlers to pretend he was offended that Obama had “played the race card” by saying something innocuous he has said a dozen times about not looking like the old guys on dollar bills? Talk about a joke. But this is the game they are playing. And, contrary to his pledge to play nice and let his surrogates do the dirty work, McCain jumped in this week with both feet.

Back more than a year ago when he started running, McCain looked like he was wearing a straight jacket, literally and figuratively. Even Republicans – not known for demanding much of their candidates – didn’t like this empty shell of his former self that someone was filling with bad lines and bad ideas. He almost dropped out of the race. Then he fired everyone (well, he was broke) and went back to his instincts, becoming the GOP candidate by default out of a miserable field of hacks and losers. The hard-line Republicans gave him some slack until he became the presumptive nominee. Now, he’s back in the straight-jacket, saying things he doesn’t believe to GOP regulars he can’t stand. His sense of humor also went out the door – who can laugh when you feel that much like crying?

Although Obama’s two books have been dissected backward and forward by the media, Robert Kaiser at the Washington Post actually sat down and read all five of McCain’s “as told to” books (Obama personally wrote his), looking for clues into the “curious mind of John McCain”. Kaiser relates McCain’s back-and-forth positions on the Confederate flag flying over the statehouse in South Carolina during his 2000 campaign against Junior Bush. He was against it, then he was for it, then he admitted in his book years later that he really was against the flag flying over the SC capitol, but lied about it for the short term political advantage. Writes Kaiser:
  • "I had promised to tell the truth no matter what," McCain wrote in the book. "When I broke it, I had not just been dishonest, I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interests from my country's. That was what made the lie unforgivable."

Flash forward to 2008, and here we go again. If McCain felt his soul slip into cowardice then, how do you think he feels now, as he lets his Rovian henchman talk him into personally engaging in mocking ridicule of an opponent he pretends to respect and pledged to honor during the campaign? This is one thing he can’t blame on his famous purple rage – these personal attacks he is conducting are fully scripted, poll-tested affairs. Is the presidency really worth it for him to jettison his hard-won reputation for “straight talk” (the Keating Five, notwithstanding)?

Well, there is at least one positive part of McCain stepping away from his own campaign and letting the goons fill his empty suit. Now, it doesn't matter that McCain hates Mitt Romney's guts (another reason to like him) -- New McCain can now go ahead, suck it up, and pick him for his running mate. I really hope he does -- I miss the smarmy Captain Underpants and would love to have him back on the trail, hopefully playing the Bob Dole hitman role from 1976. Now that would be funny.

But, I guess today’s reaction tells us that McCain is going to explain away his excesses in the future by saying that it was all some kind of joke. It might be to somebody, but it - and he - is not funny anymore.