“Joe, where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?’’


“Joe’s with us today!’’ Mr. McCain hollered at a cold outdoor rally at Defiance Junior High School. “Joe, where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?’’


“Joe, I thought you were here today,’’ Mr. McCain continued, with dimmed enthusiasm.

Still nothing. The crowd murmured.

“All right,’’ Mr. McCain said, realizing that Joe was nowhere to be found. “Well, you’re all the Joe the Plumbers!”

Somehow, it says it all.

And you can watch for yourself:

More California proposition thoughts later today.


Your briefly telling moment of the day re: the McCain campaign

There’s lots of stuff out there right now, of course, but buried deep in this story about the last-ditch legal battle over the Branchflower investigation is this nugget:

[Local attorney Kevin] Clarkson acknowledged he’s also working with, though not receiving payment from, the McCain-Palin campaign.

“Have I talked to them? Sure. Do they tell me what to do? No,” he said, adding: “Sometimes they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Which, appropriately I think, reminds me of this Depeche Mode song, and imagining Mr. Clarkson singing it back to the campaign:

Only sometimes
I question everything
And I’m the first to admit
If you catch me in a mood like this
I can be tiring
Even embarrassing

But you must
Feel the same
When you look around
You can’t tell me honestly
You’re happy with what you see
Oh sometimes
Only sometimes

You must be
You must be
As embarrassing as me

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My one brief thought on the first 2008 presidential debate

At some point this evening Devo made perfect sense:

Don’t take the theater of the debates to mean anything more than that. Though that said, next Thursday’s theater will be of the Grand Guignol variety.

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To Senator John McCain, Esq.

…let me get this straight.

You survived life in the Naval Academy as a plebe. (As did my dad, for instance.) It’s not the bowels of hell or anything, but even so, it lasts a full year, for instance.

You survived imprisonment and torture by the North Vietnamese for years. Not something I would wish on anyone. Only fools would say otherwise.

You spent decades negotiating the thicket of politics in general. Decades, sir.

The election will be concluded in a few weeks from now, no more. And you’re not on the Senate Finance Committee, it should be noted. And you have a debate scheduled in two days’ time.

So today this comes along.

Senator, full presidential campaigns have been mounted in wartime and have always occurred without a problem. Even during the Civil War. They’ve been run during world wars, during depressions, during times of general unrest.

And you do this.

Enjoy whatever cheap points you’ve scored. Who knows, maybe they’ll be enough in the end. I have my hunch otherwise, though.

I will, though, say this — you could always send Palin to face Obama on Friday. That could be fun. I’d laugh.

I wouldn’t be alone, either.

[EDIT — and after seeing this clip, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t be alone.]

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A reminder that people can still talk to each other

However calculated said reminder might be.

In a telephone call this week, where Mr. Obama called Mr. McCain to congratulate him on his convention speech, advisers said, Mr. Obama asked his rival if he would like to appear together at Ground Zero. Mr. McCain immediately agreed, aides said, and both candidates approved the joint statement and directed their campaign managers to work out the details.

It will be the first of several joint appearances by Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama in the next two months, including the three sanctioned presidential debates that begin on Sept. 26.

I wasn’t trying to be entirely cynical in my prefatory comment to this, though one must be — it is a way to draw a sting from each other and to tread around something rather than put it front and center, hiding in plain sight as it were. I am wondering if they will speak at the ceremony or at the forum at Columbia later that day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose not to — if they do, I half guess they will trade off on who speaks first, and I suspect they will not address their campaigns directly. It’ll be spun this way and that, and probably already is, but even I weary of these kinds of games sometimes.

It is, however, a reminder that people do still have to talk to each other, and should, the more openly so when the rank in power is so much the greater. (That too sounds flippant but you get my meaning — it is partially that which drove the Obama/Murdoch discussion some months back.) At the end of the day, three of the four major candidates will be in the Senate and/or the White House in some way, shape or form, and will all still want and need to talk to one another to get things done. It’s just the way of the dance.

(The fourth, of course, isn’t talking to anybody much right about now, and we all know why. Todd Harris, a GOP strategist, saying that this is being done so she doesn’t make a ‘mistake’ — his words, not mine — reminds me about how for a pitbull with lipstick the phrase ‘all bark and no bite’ is starting to sound a little more relevant. Then again, do barracudas bark to begin with?

David Frum has looked at this pseudo-strategy and has put forward a pretty solid case from the conservative side as to why this silence matters — and is damaging — concluding:

If you want to win a debate, you have to come prepared to debate for every audience at every level. We can all understand that it is unwise to refuse Oprah. But it is equally unwise to do only Oprah. It’s not just Jay Carney who wants more. As President Bush’s current numbers suggest, so does Oprah’s audience.

Right now, do they even think she can win? And as Frum notes in a posted reply to an e-mail he received supporting Palin:

I am not denying that Sarah Palin may have great skills. She may well. I am insisting that neither you, nor I, nor John McCain has any valid reason to believe that she does. This is not an argument about the attributes she lacks. It’s an argument about the information we lack.

The vacuum nature abhors is being filled heavily right about now. The only one who can change that is saying nothing. Good job, there.)

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A letter to a writer about Palin and the press

The writer in question is someone who I’ve read off and on idly over time and who I disagree with on many fundamentals but who has shown a willingness to say publicly that the political beliefs he stands for are being undercut fiercely by the actions of those in the party that is supposed to represent those beliefs. (No surprise that I am talking about a conservative writer and thinker here.) He and I have exchanged some very brief messages this week — he likely gets tons of mail and I’m only one interested reader of many, so his answers have been short but unfailingly polite — and today I wrote this to him which could easily stand as a blog post on its own, so with some editing, here goes. The addressee’s already written back to say he was working on this very subject, as he too has major misgivings about the choice of Palin, and I’ll be interested to read his thoughts.

[The Bill O’Reilly/Barack Obama interview last night] didn’t happen out of nowhere, and the stories about Ailes and some of Obama’s folks meeting to clear the air or the like beforehand are all interesting, so I’m hardly ascribing sudden outbreaks of altruism on both sides — and it is good to see Obama pressed on points (not merely because it must be done as a matter of course no matter the candidate or party, but because repeated exposure, while running the risk of stock answers, can also help on focusing one’s thoughts — both on the part of the interviewer/interviewee and on the part of the voting viewer or listener). Also, that interview could have been a heck of a lot longer and we all would still be wanting more, I suspect.

The ultimate point is though that that (finally) happened, and that while O’Reilly unsurprisingly is all about O’Reilly first and foremost, he said some positive things about Obama….[while] Obama comes off as being willing to talk about….his public record to a polite [side note — yes, this is O’Reilly but it wasn’t like he was going to spend his time insulting Obama from the word go, nor would Obama have put up with that] but clearly not friendly questioner in a one-on-one context. One would want or expect no less.

So my question lies with that frankly bizarre Nicole Wallace bit from last night:


As Jay Carney talked about here:


Assuming she is speaking what is meant to be the larger approach from now to November, what is the point of this strategy? As a reflexive reaction to the past week’s events, perversely understandable….(but) there are huge gaps of specific knowledge regarding Palin that leave everyone groping. My feelings at this point on her are essentially negative, but my sense is that if the campaign gives no chance to change that negative impression, then they are saying “We’ve made our people happy, we know a lot of you are unhappy, and we don’t care about anyone or anything else.”

An insult, to be blunt. An insult to detractors, supporters and everyone in between. There is scope and breadth to talk about much with Palin — based on larger questions about political beliefs and policy, based on her public record — that can steer well clear of the unavoidably prurient questions that are flying around as well. It can be done collectively, and it can be done individually, and it can be done without limitations on ‘friendly’ questions or sympathetic reporters. Not that I think Olbermann is some sort of saint, but to use him as an example — if Obama can talk to O’Reilly, then seems to me Palin can talk to him.

(I admit, just by my saying that, it shows how much the game *has* changed in the past week but not in the way I’d initially expected, or many other people. When the news first surfaced a week (hell, at this point it seems like a lifetime) ago, the idea was that there was new energy brought to the campaign. But it seems to me that essentially we’re all seeing a part of overt — almost grostequely so — wish-fulfillment on the part of uncritical boosters that Palin needs to be the center of the campaign — and that McCain is an afterthought. That sounds harsh, but how much talk is going around on the right/conservative side about her being ‘the future’ and how McCain’s speech didn’t measure up and so forth? I might overstate this, certainly — but the implications are inescapable now. And given THAT, that makes this purported plan via Wallace’s statement all the more ridiculous.)

If Palin is suppose to be a tough, confident person and politician, then facing reporters is as nothing. The proof is in the pudding and it needs to be demanded, or Palin and the campaign deserves little but mockery.

[EDIT — after having posted this blog entry, I find it interesting to note this Kevin Drum piece pointing out that Palin has magically disappeared back to Alaska, and that Drum figures this:

Howard Fineman, Ben Smith, and Chuck Todd are all reporting the same thing: the McCain campaign is going to whisk Sarah Palin back to Alaska and then have her hole up for a good long while until they think it’s safe for her to talk to the press….These guys are being suckered with misinformation so that the McCain campaign will have yet another excuse to pretend that the media is bent on making up egregious lies about Palin. I don’t think she’s going to be talking to a horde of serious national journalists, but they’ll pick some spots and do a few remotes.

I suspect this is right on track.]

Meanwhile, there’s a last afterecho of that now notorious snippet of Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy letting fly via a live mic the other dayNoonan posted a tortuous equivalent of Bill Clinton’s ‘depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is’ but Murphy, to his credit, is far more blunt in his own talk:

(In an private conversation fragment that landed on the Internet due to a open MSNBC microphone, I made my grouchy feelings about the base centered strategy Palin represents clear in a blunt manner. Sorry Sarah, it’s nothing personal. It’s the just the politics of the choice that I don’t like.)

What I don’t like is the effect I think Palin will ultimately have on the ticket. With all her charm, she is still a pick aimed squarely at the Republican base. In a high turnout Presidential year, I am not worried about turning out the base. I’m worried about everybody else we need to win and I fear that among those voters, Sarah Palin will be a dud.

I know, I know, she’s a “hockey mom” and through the magic of identity politics she is going to make female voters swarm across party lines in numbers that Gerry Ferraro never dreamed of since this identity politics hokum is only a good idea that is certain to work when, um, we Republicans try to do it.

Instead, I think she’ll ultimately be a polarizer. After last night’s smash, Republicans are in deep love. Nothing thrills ‘em like a good “us vs. them” speech. But I’d guess that most Democrats had the opposite reaction. In a year where the Democrat generic numbers are 10+ points better than the Republican, I don’t like the math of a strategy that just polarized the election along party base lines. Among the vital sliver of voters in the middle, I think Palin’s rock solid social conservatism will be a turn off.

Yup. And while numbers are always things to fudge, if (if) this is an accurate detailing of what happened on Thursday, I think the fact that the RNC reported getting a million dollars in donations after Palin’s speech while the DNC reported getting $10 million shows that, indeed, she rallied the base. The other one.

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Peggy Noonan proclaims the race over — in that McCain has lost

Well now. A bit bold, shall we say. Nonetheless, there it is:

And that’s Mike Murphy in there as well, also piling it on. In both cases, they’re chalking it up to McCain’s choice of VP. Well then.

Sure, it’s a big ol’ point-and-laugh — but you know, it’s the best one of the week so far. Puts this latest piece of hers in some perspective. But hey, tell your audience what they want to hear — and then talk amongst yourselves.

Oh hey, a transcript

Noonan: [Can’t hear since Todd (who is still on air) is talking over her]

Murphy: Um, you know, because, I come out of the blue swing state governor world. Engler, Whitman, Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, I mean, and these guys, this is all how you win a Texas race, just run it up, and it’s not gonna work.

Noonan: It’s Over.

Murphy: Still, McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech and do himself some good.

Todd: [can’t really tell what he says, but he mentions something about “insulting to Kay Baily Hutchinson]

Noonan: I saw Kay this morning…

Todd: She’s never looked comfortable up there..

Murphy: They’re all bummed out.

Todd: I mean, is she really the most qualified woman they can obtain?

Noonan: The most qualified? No. I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives…[couldn’t hear the end of it]

Todd: Yeah, but what’s a narrative?

Murphy: I totally agree.

Noonan: Every time Republicans do that, because that’s not where they live and it’s not what they’re good at, they blow it.

Murphy: You know what’s the worst thing about it, the greatest of McCain is no cynicism, and..

Murphy and Todd together: This is cynical.

Todd: And as you called it, gimmicky.

Far be it from me to gainsay anyone speaking, really.

[EDIT: Ah, here we go — I knew this wouldn’t take long:

We were speaking informally, with some passion — and into live mics. An audio tape of that conversation was sent, how or by whom I don’t know, onto the internet.

(A quick note from me — audio tape? This IS 2008, right?)

…In our off-air conversation, I got on the subject of the leaders of the Republican party assuming, now, that whatever the base of the Republican party thinks is what America thinks. I made the case that this is no longer true, that party leaders seem to me stuck in the assumptions of 1988 and 1994, the assumptions that reigned when they were young and coming up. “The first lesson they learned is the one they remember,” I said to Todd — and I’m pretty certain that is a direct quote. But, I argued, that’s over, those assumptions are yesterday, the party can no longer assume that its base is utterly in line with the thinking of the American people. And when I said, “It’s over!” — and I said it more than once — that is what I was referring to. I am pretty certain that is exactly what Todd and Murphy understood I was referring to. In the truncated version of the conversation, on the Web, it appears I am saying the McCain campaign is over. I did not say it, and do not think it.

However, I did say two things that I haven’t said in public, either in speaking or in my writing. One is a vulgar epithet that I wish I could blame on the mood of the moment but cannot. No one else, to my memory, swore. I just blurted. The other, more seriously, is a real criticism that I had not previously made, but only because I hadn’t thought of it. And it is connected to a thought I had this morning, Wednesday morning, and wrote to a friend. Here it is. Early this morning I saw Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and as we chatted about the McCain campaign (she thoughtfully and supportively) I looked into her eyes and thought, Why not her? Had she been vetted for the vice presidency, and how did it come about that it was the less experienced Mrs. Palin who was chosen? I didn’t ask these questions or mention them, I just thought them. Later in the morning, still pondering this, I thought of something that had happened exactly 20 years before. It was just after the 1988 Republican convention ended. I was on the plane, as a speechwriter, that took Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, and the new vice presidential nominee, Dan Quayle, from New Orleans, the site of the convention, to Indiana. Sitting next to Mr. Quayle was the other senator from that state, Richard Lugar. As we chatted, I thought, “Why him and not him?” Why Mr. Quayle as the choice, and not the more experienced Mr. Lugar? I came to think, in following years, that some of the reason came down to what is now called The Narrative. The story the campaign wishes to tell about itself, and communicate to others. I don’t like the idea of The Narrative. I think it is … a barnyard epithet.

I feel better already. As do her editors. Doubtless.]

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