No Fear

North Carolinian Terry Mancour looks on the bright side of having his car keyed:

The anecdotal reports from our fellow Obamanauts have documented a string of petty vandalism across New Carolina, with cars bearing Obama stickers getting viciously hacked like this every day. It was an erratic and not particularly successful attempt at voter intimidation. At least I didn’t feel intimidated. And I tried to keep things in perspective.

A century ago there would have been lynchings and homes afire, doors being busted down at 4am, the kind of cruel guerrilla warfare one tends to associate with banana republics and Asian despots. Even a few decades ago there would have been angry meetings, axe-handle wielding thugs, vicious dogs and fire hoses. If the sum total of politically oriented violence in North Carolina was reduced to a few angry words, a scuffle or two and poorly worded public attacks, well, I had to count that as progress.

It’s progress on several fronts, I think. Four years ago I heard from several southerners who said they did not dare put a Kerry bumper sticker on their cars or a Kerry sign on their lawns, and petty vandalism was the least of their fears. Of course, according to righties, the only vandalism that went on was against people with Bush signs. And maybe there was more retaliation against people with Bush signs, if only because in many parts of the country it took a ton of courage to display a Kerry sign at all.

Maybe southerners are less fearful of openly supporting the Democrat this year. See, that’s progress.

Mancour continues,

“You don’t seem very intimidated,” he said, surprised. He was from California and he had been watching the circus that is southern politics with a mixture of amusement and anxiety. Clearly he had been expecting dogs and fire hoses and race riots by this point.

“I’m not,” I shrugged. “Like I said: they’re scared. And I’m not. I’m not even particularly angry. If my cherished ideas of political philosophy were getting flushed down the toilet every day, I’d probably be scared to. I guess it’s because I’m a parent. When I see stuff like this, it reminds me of my kids drawing on the walls. You can get upset about it, but they’re just kids.”

It may be that the most devastating thing you can say to a rightie is we’re not afraid of you any more.

The Play’s the Thing

Idle speculation for a Saturday — if John McCain were a Shakespearean character, which would he be?

I began to wonder after reading “The Making (and Remaking) of McCain” by Robert Draper. In this narrative, the once-honorable hero listens to the bad advice of others and comes to a tragic end. It reminds me a bit of Brutus in Julius Caesar, who was persuaded to go along with the assassination of Caesar for the good of Rome, only to see all his good intentions come to ruin. But that’s not exactly right.

Then there’s Hamlet, who was charged with avenging his father in the first act but spent the entire play working up the nerve to do the job. In his anxiety and indecision he drove his girlfriend to suicide and accidentally killed her father — not to mention what happened to poor old Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I see a touch of Hamlet in McCain, who is stumbling around from one contrived theme to another instead of engaging in a straightforward, honest campaign.

Then there’s Macbeth, who began the play as a military hero but who was easily corrupted by ambition. And crazy King Lear who trusted the wrong daughters. But maybe he was twisted old Richard III all along, and we just didn’t notice.

End of Days, the Prequel

The Asian and European markets are tanking this morning. It’s shaping up to be a fun day on Wall Street.

Now, for the good news — Nate Silver says the McCain campaign is on life support. In “Blame game: GOP forms circular firing squad,” Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen and John F. Harris of The Politico document the unraveling of the GOP political machine. There will be some juicy books written about the McCain campaign when this is over, I bet. The GOP also expects to be routed in the House.

Headline in today’s Los Angeles Times: “McCain’s homestretch strategy: paint Obama as a socialist.” Brilliant.

Even Scott MClellan endorses Obama.

According to Nate Silver’s “scenario analysis,” McCain absolutely must win Florida and Ohio to win the election. Both states are leaning blue at the moment, but, y’know, stuff happens, especially in Florida and Ohio. On the other hand, Obama can lose both Ohio and Florida and still win the election, Nate says.

It’s looking about as good as it could possibly look for Obama.

In the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne makes the interesting observation that the GOP seems to be splitting into McCain and Palin camps. The stats say Palin is a drag on the ticket, Dionne says,

Yet the pro-Palin right is still impatient with McCain for not being tough enough — as if he has not run one of the most negative campaigns in recent history. This camp believes that if McCain only shouted the names “Bill Ayers” and “Jeremiah Wright” at the top of his lungs, the whole election would turn around.

Then there are those conservatives who see Palin as a “fatal cancer to the Republican Party” (David Brooks), as someone who “doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin” (Kathleen Parker), as “a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics” (Peggy Noonan).

If you think about it, Dionne continues, you see the split forming between the party elite and its rank and file.

Suddenly, the conservative writers are discovering that the very anti-intellectualism their side courted and encouraged has begun to consume their movement.

They’re all scapegoating Bush, of course. But “movement conservatism” is coming unglued, and this is not Bush’s fault alone.

Conservatism has finally crashed on problems for which its doctrines offered no solutions (the economic crisis foremost among them, thus Bush’s apostasy) and on its refusal to acknowledge that the “real America” is more diverse, pragmatic and culturally moderate than the place described in Palin’s speeches or imagined by the right-wing talk show hosts.

Conservatives came to believe that if they repeated phrases such as “Joe the Plumber” often enough, they could persuade working-class voters that policies tilted heavily in favor of the very privileged were actually designed with Joe in mind.

When the dust settles after election day, it will be interesting to see how working-class Americans voted.

End of Days, Sort Of

Following up the last postMarc Ambinder argues that Sarah Palin is setting herself up to be “THE voice of the angry Right in the Wilderness” in the years ahead, and the GOP standard-bearer in 2012.

I don’t know about the last part, but I think it’s possible she has it in her to keep some shreds of the Reagan coalition together in the immediate future. Unlike most GOP leaders today, she appeals to both the religious Right and the bomb-’em-all warhawk Right. She speaks the language of both groups.

As I said earlier this week, I don’t think Palin is stupid. I think she was grossly unprepared for national scrutiny, but she could learn.

However, I’m not sure Palin could redeem herself as anything but a whackjob to the saner parts of the electorate. It’s even possible she won’t win re-election in Alaska. That’s not a prediction, just a speculation. However, I think it’s likely that by 2012 the GOP will be in the process of re-aligning itself into a more moderate party, the whackjob Right will be shut out, and Sarah Palin will have moved on to a career as a right-wing “personality” on Faux News.

Ambinder also says,

There’s a suspicion in some McCain loyalist precincts that Gov. Sarah Palin is beginning to play the Republican base against John McCain — McCain won’t let her campaign in Michigan…McCain won’t let her bring up Jeremiah Wright… McCain doesn’t like her terrorist pal talks….

She’s in this for herself now.

Time and Tides

These days events and issues and the nation seem to be sweeping toward some irresistible something that’s bigger than all of us. It feels like river currents rushing toward a waterfall. Have you felt that, too?

History shows us that no status quo lasts forever, no matter how solid and immutable it seems. Sometimes changes are slow and imperceptible, but occasionally some confluence of events breaks the old order apart and sets up a new one almost overnight, or at least within the space of a few years instead of a few decades. Most of the time invasion or insurrection are involved in these changes, but not always. The breakup of the Soviet Union is a prime example of events taking over and forcing change almost overnight without gunfire.

I’m not saying I expect armed revolution or a change in our form of government. I am saying that the political status quo that has prevailed in America for the last few decades is disintegrating rapidly. I suspect the next two or three years will be disorienting for most of us.

Assuming Barack Obama wins the election — it’s looking good, folks, but it ain’t inevitable — I don’t expect a replay of the Clinton years, in which a huge right-wing juggernaut worked relentlessly to destroy the Democratic administration.

Oh, they will try. I fully expect that within two weeks of an Obama inauguration, Tony Blankley will be all over cable television explaining ever so unctuously that the Obama administration has already failed. Hell, he might not even wait until Obama is inaugurated before declaring the Obama administration has already failed.

But Blankley is complaining that other “conservatives” are abandoning the cause, leaving him to fight on alone. His old comrades in arms, like George Will, Peggy Noonan and David Brooks have left the field of battle, he thinks.

In an Obama administration, George Will will still be an insufferable prick, Peggy Noonan will still mistake her psychological projections for insight, and David Brooks will still be an idiot. Some things will not change. What will change, I believe, is that the Right’s ability to dominate the national conversation and overwrite real issues with its phantasmagorical agenda will be much diminished. This will happen not because they’ve changed, but because the political climate of America will have changed.

The powerful Rabid Right is becoming old and shabby and, like, so last decade.

Please let me be clear that I do not expect to wake up on January 21 living in political utopia. I’m a Buddhist, remember; all phenomena are dukkha. And as I said, there will be massive disorientation while the Powers That Be figure out the new rules — indeed, until they begin to notice there are new rules. And there will be disorientation across the political spectrum, not just on the Right. It will take some time yet before Democrats in Congress stop cringing in fear of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

We see disorientation already in the way the McCain campaign evokes a “real” America that looks like the America they thought was out there somewhere, but which they are finding strangely elusive. Rosa Brooks writes,

The GOP code isn’t hard to crack: There’s the America that might vote for Obama (a suspect America populated by people with liberal notions, big-city ways and, no doubt, dark skin), and then there’s the “real” America, where people live in small towns, believe in God and country, and are … well … white. … But with each passing year, the “real” America of GOP mythmaking bears less and less resemblance to the America most Americans live in.

At the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove writes that “the tax argument still works.” He lays out the arguments that he thinks McCain might still employ to pull off a win. Remarkably, these are the same arguments McCain has been employing and which are not working.

Meanwhile, Karl’s masterpiece, his personal Frankenstein monster, is a pariah even in his own party. People still listen to Karl … why, exactly?

The GOP is losing because they are marketing to a demographic that doesn’t exist — America circa 1980-2004. The political shift began with Katrina. It is being accelerated by the financial crisis. We are rushing toward something that is very different from where we have been. My hope is that Barack Obama is the leader he seems to be, and will steer us into a soft landing.

See also: Joe Klein, “Why Barack Obama Is Winning.”

The 44 Percent

From the Wall Street Journal:

Now we know: 95% of Americans will get a “tax cut” under Barack Obama after all. Those on the receiving end of a check will include the estimated 44% of Americans who will owe no federal income taxes under his plan.

In most parts of America, getting money back on taxes you haven’t paid sounds a lot like welfare. Ah, say the Obama people, you forget: Even those who pay no income taxes pay payroll taxes for Social Security. Under the Obama plan, they say, these Americans would get an income tax credit up to $500 based on what they are paying into Social Security.

Just two little questions: If people are going to get a tax refund based on what they pay into Social Security, then we’re not really talking about income tax relief, are we? And if what we’re really talking about is payroll tax relief, doesn’t that mean billions of dollars in lost revenue for a Social Security trust fund that is already badly underfinanced?

I googled for some statement by the Obama campaign that FICA taxes will be reduced, and found nothing. Maybe your luck will be better, if you want to look. Possibly the genius who wrote the WSJ editorial has never looked at a standard paycheck and doesn’t realize that withheld income taxes and withheld FICA taxes are two separate line items and not the same thing. Can anyone else explain what this guy is talking about?

Further, it’s important to understand that in McCain World, payroll taxes are taxes paid by the employer and not the employee. In other words, the income taxes withheld from paychecks are not being “paid” by the employee. Hence, workers whose taxes are paid through payroll taxes do not actually pay taxes.

That’s where they’re coming up with “the estimated 44% of Americans who will owe no federal income taxes.” They “owe” no taxes because taxes are withheld from their paychecks, and they have no other income to declare.

[Update: The Anonymous Liberal says these are people who don’t earn enough to pay income taxes. Maybe, but are we talking apples and oranges? Is Obama talking about 95 percent of wage earners getting tax cuts, as he says, while McCain is talking about 44 percent of all Americans? I’ve never seen a paycheck so small that there wasn’t a teeny bit of income tax taken out of it.]

And in the minds of the conservative elite, such people do not deserve tax breaks. Giving them a tax reduction is welfare, since they didn’t pay taxes, anyway. And, in fact, a few days ago, some right-wing TV bobblehead actually said that most average-income bus drivers, teachers, and autoworkers “don’t pay any taxes.”

Of course, most working people don’t think that way. To most working people payroll tax deductions are taxes they pay. But to McCain, giving most working people a tax break amounts to “welfare,” because, you see, they don’t pay taxes. That makes a tax break for them a “transfer of wealth” and not a tax break.

A number of rightie bloggers have picked up this argument and are running with it, including Betsy Newmark, who says “Barack Obama is planning to give a tax break to [people who] don’t pay income taxes.” Betsy Newmark is a teacher. Very likely Betsy in the 44 percent.

And she doesn’t know. She assumes the “44 percent” are some other people, not her. As Atrios says,

I’m really never quite sure who this “don’t pay any taxes” stuff is aimed at. Though, thinking about it just this second, maybe I do. Basically everybody pays taxes. So you when you’re talking about giving free money to people who don’t pay any taxes, that must be somebody else because, you know, I pay taxes.

I suppose that works.

That’s exactly it. It must be some other bus divers, teachers and auto workers who don’t pay taxes. Or maybe the 44 percent are people who don’t work. But Obama specifically says his tax cuts are for working people. So that can’t be it.

Don’t any of these people, you know, think?

The Right Hates America

Sarah Palin thinks some parts of America are not the “real” America. A McCain staffer says northern Virginia is not “real” Virginia. I’m sure that’s going to go over well with northern Virginia voters. See also Marc Ambinder, “McCain’s Cosmological Breakthrough: Unreality Is Expanding.” Hysterical.

John McCain thinks tax cuts for the middle class amount to “welfare.” A congresswoman thinks Americans are sending un-Americans to Congress.

In St. Louis, 100,000 people show up for an Obama rally, and a rightie blogger writes,

100,000 IS A LOT OF DUPES.



So all those decent, hard-working citizens of St. Louis who came out today, hoisting their kids on their shoulders to see the candidate, are “hordes of morons.” The Right spits on you, St. Louis.

However, I disagree with Ambinder. I don’t think unreality is expanding. I think the Right’s fantasy world is imploding. They aren’t used to having to deal with the real world. No wonder they’re confused.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Never underestimate the ability of the Right to stoke its victim complex. Headline at Pajamas Media:

Obama Supporter Assaults Female McCain Volunteer in New York

As the media fumes over nonexistent hate at Palin speeches, it ignores leftists who go berserk on city streets.

Oleg Atbashian writes,

While the Democrat-leaning media continues to scare undecided voters with bedtime stories about some mythical angry McCain supporter whom nobody has seen, here is a real district attorney’s complaint documenting an unprovoked assault by an enraged Democrat against a McCain volunteer in midtown Manhattan: “Defendant grabbed the sign [informant] was holding, broke the wood stick that was attached to it, and then struck informant in informant’s face thereby causing informant to sustain redness, swelling, and bruising to informant’s face and further causing informant to sustain substantial pain.”

I make no excuses for the assailant, and I sincerely hope he is punished to the full extent of the law.

BTW, here are some of the “mythical angry McCain supporter whom nobody has seen.”

The distinction between angry McCain supporters and the one assailant in New York, beside numbers, is in the word incite. The Palin-McCain campaign is inciting rage. It’s stoking rage as hard as it can stoke. Veep candidate Palin insinuated that entire parts of America are anti-American.

Palin also made a point of mentioning that she loved to visit the “pro-America” areas of the country, of which North Carolina is one. No word on which states she views as unpatriotic.

The Obama-Biden campaign is not inciting rage. There are enraged Obama supporters, but the Obama campaign is not demonizing McCain as un-American or a traitor or someone otherwise outside the mainstream of American politics.

See, righties, that’s why one of these things is not like the other.

For example:

This woman is not some random whackjob off the streets like the New York assailant. She’s an elected whackjob in the U.S. Congress who is speaking on behalf of the McCain Administration. She’s ready to reconstitute the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Rep. Bachmann, btw, has had some of her own “guilt by association” problems. Maybe she’s anti-American too. Click here to donate to the Dem running against her.

I’m sure if one looked hard enough one could equally crazy Obama supporters. But in Congress? or in a paid position with the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party? Not so likely.

Yesterday I linked to a blog post that accused “the Left” of totalitarianism because the news media had the nerve to publish unflattering stories about Joe the Plumber. Apparently someone reminded the blogger of the Right’s rabid hyena attacks on the parents of SCHIP poster child Graeme Frost. Not the same thing, the blogger argues. The Frosts were acting as spokespersons for the Democratic Party. All Joe did was ask a question.

Well, no. Nobody gave a bleep about Joe until John McCain made him the centerpiece of his election campaign. It was McCain, not the question, that made Joe a news item. If Joe decides the media attention has been detrimental, I hope he sues McCain and the GOP out of its socks. And I think a case could be made that using a private citizen like that without the citizen’s permission ought to be criminal.

However, it appears the Joe the Plumber ruse is coming back to bite McCain. After explaining why Joe the Plumber is not, in fact, Joe, or a plumber, Joe Queenan writes (emphasis added),

There is nothing wrong with being as phony as a three-dollar bill. It is, in fact, a rich American tradition. But there is something unnerving about a supposedly sophisticated political organisation that trumpets the dodgy virtues of grassroots phonies when millions of authentic working-class people could have handled the mythological chores perfectly well. All across America, there are plumbers named Joe and Jim and Jack and Mike and Dan and Dave and Ed and Fred whom the McCain campaign could have recruited to be their mascot.

In my own family, there was Joe the truck driver, Joe the postman, Bill the typewriter salesman, and Johnny the jack-of-all trades. Right here in my own neighborhood, I can point to Tony the deliveryman, Vinny the postman, Charley the cook, Tony the token collector. Any one of these guys qualifies as a real-life working class hero. Instead of them, McCain’s people went out and corralled themselves a 24-carat phony. What’s more, they found themselves a phony who doesn’t even pay his taxes on time. This strongly suggests that nobody in the McCain camp has ever met a working-class person before; they think anybody with a shaved head and a hoody must be “authentic”.



Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press:

Barack Obama’s legal team wants a special prosecutor to determine whether partisan politics is at play in a reported though unconfirmed Justice Department investigation of a voter registration effort which has been the target of numerous complaints of late, including one in Michigan.

With the election just over two weeks away, Bob Bauer, Obama’s chief lawyer, said in a conference call with reporters this afternoon that he is asking U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to to hand over to special prosecutor Nora Dannehy any probe into what Bauer called “bogus claims of vote fraud” that mirror concerns raised by Republicans two years ago.

According to a recent Justice Department report, those issues played a role in the controversy over the forced resignations of nine former federal prosecutors.

Bob Bauer was just on Olbermann’s program saying that there was an appearance of collusion between the McCain campaign and the White House. The Justice Department is engaged in “investigations” to bolster the McCain campaign’s claim that ACORN is destroying democracy as we know it.

Update: More details at Bloomberg.

Spreading the Wealth Around

The Right-wing media and bloggers are high-fiving over Barack Obama’s “spread the wealth around” comment. “Did Barack ‘Spread the Wealth’ Obama Just Blow the Election?” says one. “Can you say Karl Marx?” says another. The GOP claims the phrase reveals Obama’s “socialist agenda.”

My favorite is “The Left’s Evolution into Totalitarians Completed.” See, the reason the Left is crucifying Joe the Plumber is to distract people from Obama’s “spread the wealth” remark.

During the debate every time McCain repeated the remark, with a “gotcha” smirk on his face, I think most viewers must have wondered what planet he was from. I realize just about any use of the word “wealth” by a liberal sets of alarm bells on the ideological Right. But most working people are getting tired of a system that keeps them shut out of “the wealth,” even though their labor is creating it.

Most of us are fine with capitalism as long as it is kept fair. And, frankly, a capitalist system in which wealth is “spread around” — where workers are paid well and can buy stuff, so that wealth is kept in broad circulation instead of being hoarded by a minority — is a healthy capitalist system that benefits everyone, including the very wealthy.

But the wages and standard of living of working people have been flat for some time. Indeed, most working class folks are worse off than they were eight years ago. And the rot has reached the middle class as well.

Yet, until very recently, we were assured America’s wealth is going up and up and up.

I don’t know if John McCain understands the unfairness that increasing numbers of Americans are feeling. If you think about it, aside from his POW experience (which I do not belittle) he has led a relatively sheltered life, and a life very far apart from most working and middle-class people. As far as I can tell he has no personal experience of how working people in America actually live. Possibly he has no clue how he is coming across when he makes fun of “spread the wealth around.”

John McCain often expresses admiration for Theodore Roosevelt. Like nearly all dead white guys, TR was a mixed bag. He had many of the standard white guy views of his time that are repugnant to us now — “white man’s burden” stuff. But he got one thing right — Americans need a square deal.

So what did TR say about spreading wealth around?

“The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”

“At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress.”

“The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. … We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.”

“The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted.”

— Theordore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism,” 1910

“Here in this city of the State of Lincoln I can set forth the principles for which we stand to-day in the words which Lincoln used fifty-four years ago, when in speaking of the then phase of the eternal struggles between privilege and justice, between the rights of the many and the special interest of the few, he said:

“That is the real issue. That is the issue which will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between two principles-right and wrong-throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time. The one is the common right of humanity, the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says: ‘You toil and work and earn bread, and I will eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who bestrides the people of his own nation and lives from the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

“Were Lincoln alive to-day he would add that it is also the same principle which is now at stake when we fight on behalf of the many against the oppressor in modern industry whether the abuse of special privilege be by a man whose wealth is great or is little, whether by the multimillionaire owner of railways and mines and factories who forgets his duties to those who earn his bread while earning their own, or by the owner of the foul little sweat-shop who coins dollars from the excessive and underpaid labor of haggard women. We who stand for the cause of progress are fighting to make this country a better place to live in for those who have been harshly treated by fate; and if we succeed it will also really be a better place for those who are already well off. None of us can really prosper permanently if masses of our fellows are debased and degraded, if they are ground down and forced to live starved and sordid lives, so that their souls are crippled like their bodies and the fine edge of their every feeling blunted. We ask that those of our people to whom fate has been kind shall remember that each is his brother’s keeper, and that all of us whose veins thrill with abounding vigor shall feel our obligation to the less fortunate who work wearily beside us in the strain and stress of our eager modern life.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, “The Case Against the Reactionaries,” 1912

Interesting guy, TR.