Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gail Collins


In the print edition of today's NYT, the op-ed by Gail Collins dealing with Obama and Jim Johnson includes one of those paragraph breaks intended to be suggestive of the column's theme. But this one seems particularly odd. The paragraph break says -- "Maybe Al Gore will change his mind."

Huh? What does this mean? Change his mind about what?

The op-ed itself doesn't mention Gore.

Is Collins or the NYT implying Gore should have, or might still, enter the 2008 nomination contest (after a long, expensive, and bruising primary/caucus contest has just concluded)? Or is Collins or the NYT suggesting that Gore has already turned down the chance to be Obama's VP or VP vetting person, but might still be persuaded to accept one or both? I don't get it.

Can someone enlighten me?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

They Ask Questions

Hunter, at the Great Orange Satan, has a question for Democratic OK Rep, Dan Boren:

So here's my gentle question for Rep. Boren[who is refraining from endorsing Obama, his party's presumptive nominee, because Boren represents a CD full of sensitive folk who would faint away were he to do so--Ed.]. Let's just suppose that he was right, and Obama really was "the most liberal senator" in the entire Democratic contingent -- a term magically conferred by conservatives on whatever figure wins the nomination, election after election, while hyper-mega-death-penalty-mocking-war-humping-salmon-punching-archconservative Republicans magically turn into "moderates", using those same conservatives' exact same terribly objective calculations for such things.

So let's just stipulate that someone might be "the most liberal" senator. My question for Rep. Boren, and for his Oklahoma constituents, is this: so what? So what if someone is a "liberal"?

What exactly are you afraid of?

What, will he start some wars? Will the economy go to hell? Will gasoline suddenly cost four bucks a gallon, so that getting from one end of town to the other starts to be something you have to plan for in your family budget? Oh, wait, no -- that's what conservatism has wrought. So what big, scary menace will "liberalism" rain down upon us all?

The horror of free public education? The apocalypse of affordable healthcare for families and the elderly? An energy policy that consists of something other than "hell, let's just sit on our asses and see what happens"? My God, maybe we'll have a foreign policy that doesn't revolve around sucking thousands of dollars out of your constituents' pockets, lighting all that money on fire, and using the pyre to make super-special Democracy Smores in the middle of the Iraqi desert?

What, are we afraid less American soldiers will die? That our trade deficit will be, if not reversed, at least addressed? Are Oklahomans all huddled in their closets, lest some of the now-legions of outsourced jobs start reappearing in their towns? What? What is it that is so absolutely alarming about the word "liberal" that you'd rather stomach having everything that's happened to America for the past decade continue, rather than being seen as someone who might secretly have tolerance for, shudder, that word?

What a solid, principled, unflappable figure this Dan Boren is, eh?

Narrowing the VP field

While I'm not offering my full throated endorsement yet, I do concur wholeheartedly with the sentiments of E.J. Dionne, and Ezra Klein on the positive attributes U.S. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) would bring to the position.

Unlike some people, Biden doesn't just say he's a fighter, he's actually been one. And unlike some people, he's actually been a fighter against the other party. He can be, as Ezra notes, an obnoxious ass. But among other things, that is something this campaign will desperately need, since its leader can't afford to be one. Along with his pugnaciousness comes a willingness to say what he believes, come gaffe what may, lending an all-important "authenticity" quotient to the ticket. And the truth is he is about as knowledgeable a spokesperson on matters of law and justice, as well as foreign policy, as the party has.

If Biden can seem a bit unsufferable for all his media appearances, I think it's worthwhile to point out that U.S. Senators are not just voting automatons--they're also elected to inform, and hopefully lead, public opinion, not only in their state, but around the country. Or at least the best of them over the years have recognized the virtue in their playing that role. For this reason, you won't hear me gripe about all the times McCain shows up on Sunday talk shows and the like.

On the downside, Biden isn't exactly what could be called a fresh voice in the public debate. And to the extent that for Obama the promise of bringing in the new is a legitimately real aspiration--and I think it is, as it is for many of his voters and donors--then Biden as VP would not just be a potential mocking point for Republicans and late night TV hosts, but could actually represent a real digression from the campaign's goals.

So, although I have him in my top three or so, I'm not quite ready to annoint Biden. While the Party needs a tough and knowledgeable voice, it also needs a new voice, one that challenges the conventional wisdom on important issues.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Debt Conflict

That well-known Communist and Socialist Utopian, David Brooks, has an op-ed today asserting, among other things, that our greedy, can't delay gratification debt culture is worse than whatever sexual immorality might be being promoted by Hollywood. This is an interesting conservative twist, certain to leave Christianist scolds and prosperity gospel preachers flummoxed.

And while I agree with Jesse Taylor that Brooks tilts his analysis towards the problems presented by debtors and their insatiable consumer appetites at the expense of, say, the behavior of lenders, I actually think the behavior of consumers and lenders are only tangentially the real threat here.

The real problem I think is that, consumer me-too-ism and unscrupulous lending behavior aside, the economy largely depends on people spending money they don't have. This is the real conundrum, the real conflict our public policies to deal with the debt problem will probably only exacerbate. If the spicot gets turned off in some way, credit tightened any which way, the economy will likely slow. At the same time, unless the debt spiral is lessened, the whole system will ultimately end up crashing anyway.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Failure of Moral Leadership

I've been meaning to comment on this (h/t Andrew Sullivan).

This time out, as Duncan Black keeps pointing out, the elephant in the room is the Iraq war. If Hillary hadn’t decided to play it safe and let the rumpus room warriors have their way, she would be the nominee and everyone would be saying “Barack who?” She thought she was being shrewd, and it blew up in her face. That vote lost her the nomination, and yet the “analysts” and pundits are scrupulously avoiding talking about it. The war decided this primary, and it will decide the vote in November as well.

In her essay about self-respect (it’s in Slouching Towards Bethlehem), Joan Didion writes that without integrity, ”one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” I’m not a Hillary hater, but I think that sentence sums up this turning point in her political career. The country needed more from her than what she was ready to give, and now she gets nothing.

That about sums it up. But it was more than the Iraq vote. It's clear that for the Clinton's, the era of Bill's two terms (won with less than 50% majorities both times, BTW) is to be remembered with deep longing and gratitude. But neither Clinton seems to recall that the Democratic Party in general, and liberalism in particular, were essentially forced into exile after 1994.

Not all of that was Bill Clinton's fault. In fact, despite its failure, the Clinton's attempt to provide universal health insurance was admirable and risky. President Bill was also pretty solid on abortion rights and allowing gays in the military. Again, for all the flack "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has received, it's easy to forget that Clinton at least raised the issue and attempted to find a solution.

Nevertheless, the nineties are not grand memories for many of us. Things only got worse after the 2000 election, although for the Clinton's the carpetbagger election of Hillary to a U.S. Senate seat in NY probably allayed some of the disappointment felt by Democrats that year.

Then of course there was the very difficult period between 9/11 and the March 2003 Iraq invasion when Democrats were either cowed into sanctioning the neocon's war or risk finding themselves the targets of the Republican Noise Machine, accused of aiding and abetting terrorist enemies, being a fifth column of opposition to Amerika, and so forth.

As I said, these were very difficult times and Hillary was as good as absent from this country and from the liberal world for all the little she did. I don't recall her ever being a "fighter" during this period or through the 2006 elections, when the only attention she received or encouraged was that related to her inevitable presidential run.

"The country needed more from her than what she was ready to give, and now she gets nothing. "