Back in the Saddle

It was fairly stunning, during last night’s Christian dog-and-pony show at the Saddleback Church, to see the contrast between Obama’s responses to the questions that were asked of him and McCain’s responses. But if you’ve been following the campaign at all, it wasn’t all that surprising.

Barack gave thoughtful answers to the questions as they were posed. McCain, on the other hand, gave calculated answers formulated with two parts campaign rhetoric and one part jingoism, and squeezed them in to make them fit (even though they often weren’t really even answers to the questions that were posed). Obama spoke from the heart; McCain spoke from talking points.

It was also pretty revealing to see how McCain used so many of his answers to interject military options at every juncture. In fact, his entire perspective is a military one.

The other thing that was so surprising was that the (right-wing) pundits immediately said what a great job McCain did, using the number of times he got applause to support their claims. Well, hello! He’s a Republican speaking in front of a church audience in Orange County, the right-most place on the left coast. Big deal. Anyone can get applause in front of an audience that already agrees with his positions. What was more telling was that Obama got such a significant positive response from this crowd. Kudos to Barack for going into the lion’s den. (C’mon. I couldn’t get through a post like this without at least one Biblical reference.)

George W. Bush: American Idle

If there were ever any doubts that George W. Bush treated his presidency as just another misadventure in a life filled with misadventures, this video — captured surreptitiously at the annual Gridiron Dinner — should quell those doubts:

I cannot express the level of disgust and rage I feel when I listen to this. It is completely surreal that this fool is capable of being so cavalier about things that would embarrass the most hardened sociopath. The fact that he can joke, under any circumstances, about Scooter Libby, Harriet Myers, and his good friend Brownie and what they did to this nation is unconscionable.

If Bush were merely idle and his presidency were merely useless, that would be several rungs up the ladder from where we stand. His presidency has been actively destructive — of human lives, of our economy, of our standing in the world. I do not envy his successor who will face the task of cleaning up the biggest shit pile an American president has ever left behind.

(By the way, George, did you even know that this song is about a man facing execution? If you make it through to next week, you may want to make a better song choice.)

Is That a Swiftboat I Hear?

Barack Obama lately has been accused, both by his fellow Democratic candidates and by his Republican opponents, of being long on rhetoric and short on policy. (He used to be criticized for being too wonky, so go figure.) His campaign speeches have done what those of no candidate in my lifetime have ever done. Namely, they’ve inspired voters and instilled a sense of hope and optimism in these most negative of times. Because these more recent speeches are meant to inspire rather than simply rattle off a litany of policy statements, he’s been perceived as not having fleshed-out positions on matters of importance.

The most recent criticism came last night from Republican frontrunner John McCain’s “victory” speech in Wisconsin:

“I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change.”

I refer Senator McCain to a 64-page document, entitled “The Blueprint for Change: Barack Obama’s Plan for America,” which describes in detail Barack Obama’s positions and plans for his Presidency. If anyone (including the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media) would care to look at that document (along with the Issues section of Obama’s website), they might be surprised at how empty it isn’t.

I find it particularly ironic that McCain is attacking Obama for his oratory. Is it because that’s one of his own many weaknesses? The grammar cop in me likes to point out how often McCain fails even to match subject and verb, so how can he be expected to energize the electorate? McCain may have silver hair but he sure doesn’t have a silver tongue. Frankly, I find it unlikely that he could inspire a good bowel movement in his demographically challenged base.

Here’s the extent to which McCain inspires. The total of all Republican primary voters in Wisconsin is less than the total cast for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama on the Democratic side. This is in a state that is usually pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. (The numbers, according to the Associated Press, are adjacent.)

This kind of criticism of a candidate may be new to Democratic rivals, but the Republicans are quite familiar with such tactics. It was the same kind of approach the Bush campaign used against John Kerry in almost identical circumstances. Kerry’s positions also were very clearly defined and posted on his website. That document was available for anyone who cared to view it, but few cared to, including the press.

The next step in the Republican’s attack on John Kerry was the now-legendary swiftboat ads. If the right-wing attack machine is on schedule — and we have no reason to believe it isn’t — there’s some severe nastiness in store.

Watch your back, Barack.

Strange G.O.P. Bedfellows

If there were any lingering doubts about how disconnected Romney-the-person is from Romney-the-candidate/campaigner, today’s endorsement of John McCain should shatter those doubts.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Republicans were all jockeying for the bottom-of-the-barrel position as “most conservative.” (I guess that’s kind of like the right-wing version of Miss Congeniality.) Romney was boasting that his platform, positions, experience, and credentials are the most conservative of any of the candidates. He repeatedly stuck out his anchorman chin and criticized John McCain for not being conservative enough and scolded voters for even considering voting for him.

“It was only a couple of weeks ago that … Romney was boasting that his platform, positions, experience, and credentials are the most conservative of any of the candidates.”

But, in this race for the bottom, it was pretty generally agreed by all the pundits that Mike Huckabee was by far the most conservative, hovering somewhat to the right of James Dobson and Jerry Falwell on social issues. He and Romney have both been attempting to resurrect the wedge issue of the anti-gay “Defense of Marriage Amendment,” or whatever the fuck they’re calling it these days, which would for the first time enshrine in the U.S. Constitution discrimination against a single class of citizens.

So how is it that Romney now has done a 180-degree turn and, instead of endorsing the more conservative Huck-ster, is now singing the praises of McCain? This is just one more item in Romney’s record that proves that he’s far more interested in political expediency than principles. And, if you sniff around the edges of this turn of events, it’s starting to smell a little like desperation on the part of the G.O.P.

The Elephant in the Elephants’ Room

Presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his supporters love to boast about McCain’s military service. “He’s a war hero. He was held captive and tortured for 5+ years in Viet Nam.” Quotes similar to this are used as the primary evidence of his ability to lead the nation, or at least a nation at war.

“The ability to strategize effectively to bring about peace while minimizing the loss of human life … is not miraculously bestowed upon all those held in captivity.”

I am not so brazen as to discount either his service or his stamina. But it’s pretty easy to discount this attempted linkage between his military service and his readiness to lead the nation. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the mainstream media have not dared to question this linkage because they risk being misinterpreted as questioning his patriotism.

Military service in and of itself (and, in particular, being held captive) does not qualify one to be President or, by extension, Commander in Chief. The ability to strategize effectively to bring about peace while minimizing the loss of human life is a primary qualification. This qualification is not miraculously bestowed upon all those held in captivity. If that were the case, we could argue that Gitmo is creating the world leaders of tomorrow.

There are those who posit — and I tend to agree — that being held in captivity is instead a disqualifier for the nation’s highest position. It’s virtually impossible to escape lasting psychological damage from the type of captivity and torture that McCain endured. (There’s a special irony in the fact that our 43rd President’s policies have made it highly unlikely that the thousands of returning Iraq War veterans with PTSD and other emotional and mental problems will ever have sufficient mental health services provided for them. Do you suppose they take some comfort in the fact that a Presidential candidate shares something in common with them?)

It’s not a very long dotted line that connects his captivity to his outbursts of rage. With the kinds of pressures a President faces on a daily basis, do we dare risk electing a President who may make decisions out of anger instead of rational thinking?

The dotted line is perhaps not so direct or obvious between McCain’s Viet Nam experiences and his myopic approach to his campaign. Whatever the source of his campaign strategy, McCain is largely a single-issue candidate. He himself has chosen to make the Iraq war the centerpiece of his campaign. While he may dabble in discussions of other matters, he always comes back the favorite song in his songbook: war.

Moveover, McCain seems to be among the millions of Americans who don’t make a distinction between American history and military history. Indeed, the two are sometimes difficult to separate because generation upon generation of American men (and now women) have gone off to one war or other. War is a giant part of the American identity. The prevailing mindset is that we must somehow prove our individual and collective worth by being engaged in and winning wars. Consequently, we find ourselves cast in the role of the world’s policemen. In that role, we’re damned if we intervene and we’re damned if we don’t.

Our next president will be faced with the challenge of changing not only the world’s perception but the reality of the U.S.-military-as-global-police-force. How on earth will McCain’s perspective meet that challenge? McCain’s own war experience was in the nation’s previously most misguided war, and yet he, like so many other Republicans, have yet even to admit that Viet Nam was almost as much of a mistake as the current Iraq fiasco. To expect McCain to meet or even address this objective is like shopping for groceries at a lumberyard.

Let’s face some facts. The vast majority of the nation is opposed to the war. People are tired of having our young men and women sent off to this ill-conceived and poorly-executed venture in Iraq. People are tired of seeing our national debt escalate and our spending power dwindle. People are really tired of all other aspects of our government being hobbled because of inordinate defense spending.

John McCain is simply not capable of addressing the needs, desires, and — dare I say — hopes of America.

No Accolades, Please

With the news today that Karl Rove was making his departure from the White House came all kinds of speculation about why he was leaving and where he may be headed. But, interspersed with the conjecture came a number of comments piling praise on this Machiavellian pus-bag, some even going so far to repeat the prevailing neo-con “wisdom” that Rove is a genius.

How low have our collective standards gotten, when a fair-size segment of the population (which, until recently, has led the press by the nose) can mistake Karl Rove’s willingness to stoop to new lows to get his objectives met with genius? Let’s set a couple of things straight. Mozart was a genius. Einstein was a genius. Karl Rove is a criminal.

The weeping this morning in the White House Rose Garden — peppered with frequent references to the Almighty — was enough to turn even the most ironclad stomach. Rove’s greasy fingerprints are on just about every slimy thing this administration has done. But I guess the neo-cons can rest easy knowing that all of Karl’s dirty dealings have been done in the name of God.

It comes as no surprise that, for the most corporation-centric administration, the news of the departure of the administration’s strategic lynch pin of this gang of crooks broke in the Wall Street Journal. After all, it’s been part of Rove’s campaign strategy to blur the boundaries between corporations and government.

All America has to do to ensure that corruption continues is to fail to acknowledge that this man is the poster boy for all that is wrong with politics. So, please. No accolades. Rove deserves nothing but our profound collective scorn.

Glare Ice from the Dick

If you’ve ever wondered how a transcript can fail to take nuance into account, consider the following exchange yesterday between Dick Cheney and Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: You know, we’re out of time, but a couple of issues I want to raise with you: your daughter, Mary. She’s pregnant. All of us are happy she’s going to have a baby. You’re going to have another grandchild. Some of the — some critics are suggesting — for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family, “Mary Cheney’s pregnancy raises the question of what’s best for children. Just because it’s possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn’t mean that it’s best for the child.” Do you want to respond to that?

CHENEY: No.

BLITZER: She’s, obviously, a good daughter —

CHENEY: I’m delighted I’m about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf. And obviously I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you’re out of line with that question.

BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate —

CHENEY: I think you’re out of line.

BLITZER: We like your daughters. Believe me, I’m very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was a question that’s come up, and it’s a responsible, fair question.

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with you.

BLITZER: I want to congratulate you on having another grandchild.

Absent from the written transcript are the icy glares of the VP, along with Blitzer’s bad-little-boy look when Cheney challenged him. Blitzer’s physical reaction to Cheney made a deer in the headlights seem like a Tibetan monk deep in meditation. (CNN has also conveniently edited out all of the uncomfortable pauses from the video that they now have posted on their website.)

Here’s the unedited version:

Mary Cheney herself is a public figure. For whatever reason, she decided to go public about her homosexuality and her surrogacy. (She conveniently managed to avoid talking about any of that until there was a book deal in the works and until her father’s tenuous 2004 election campaign was already over with.) How absurd that Daddy Dick considers all of this a private matter.

The fact that Dick can’t own up to this is newsworthy, particularly because the administration that Dick so staunchly defends (perhaps “barricades” would be a better word) is making policy decisions about gay marriage, gays in the military, etc. Why shouldn’t he have to explain his position and the disparity between his personal life (the oh-so-sacred family) and his public positions? Cheney, as a man with apparently no conscience, simply cannot reconcile the fact his job was made possible in part by organizations like Focus on the Family, who condemn his own daughter without compunction. So his only option is to lash out. What a scumbag.

It was not, however, Blitzer’s only option to weenie out and back away. Apparently, he’s been following Larry King’s lead when it comes to follow-up questions. I got news for you, Wolf. The tension that you almost created but then backed away from is what makes both good journalism and compelling television.

Will Rove’s Behavior Finally Catch Up With Him?

Almost lost in all the hoopla about the most recent rerun of a rerun of a rerun (a/k/a the State of the Union address) was the juicy news coming from the first day of Scooter Libby’s trial. Libby is accused of perjury related to the leaking of Valerie Plame‘s identity as a covert CIA agent.

Libby’s lawyer, Theodore V. Wells, Jr., seemed completely ready to toss Karl Rove and unnamed White House officials to the wolves in an attempt to build a plausible defense for Libby. He’s basically accusing Karl of using Scooter as a scapegoat to protect himself and the Republican party. (There’s more detail in The New York Times or The Washington Post.)

It’s too early to tell if Wells’ assertions have enough to substantiate them. But one can only hope this is Karl’s comeuppance. Will this be Rove’s undoing? Or will this greased pig slip away one more time?

Sense and Sensenbrenner

I fired this missive off to the good congressman today, in response to his bad behavior. (You can view the background information here.)

Congressman Sensenbrenner —

I hope you are ashamed of your behavior today in shutting down a duly-called committee hearing regarding the Patriot Act, although I fear from your brazenness that you may be incapable of shame. Your attempts to silence the voices that might hold opinions that differ from your lockstep party line subvert the democratic process in ways that I have never previously witnessed.

Your actions are those of a man who desperately fears that his party is losing its vice-grip on the nation, so you must resort to bullying. But your behavior also tells me that you’re not clever enough to figure out that such actions only serve to galvanize your opposition. Your strategy isn’t even very smart politically.

Worst of all, such blatantly partisan manipulation doesn’t serve the interests of the country, because if we can’t deal with situations fully and truthfully, how can legislation be crafted that genuinely serves our needs? Isn’t that what you were elected to do?

Hard vs. Easy

‘There are hard cases and there are easy cases. This is an easy case.’ So said U.S. District Judge Denny Chin regarding the lawsuit that Fox News brought against Al Franken. In their overzealous attempt to squelch any criticism of their totally biased, right-weighted news coverage, Fox tried to get an injunction against the publication of Al Franken’s book ‘Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.’ Chin quickly dismissed Fox’s suit and did not grant the injunction.

Fox tried to win the injunction on the flimsiest of premises — that Franken was in violation of copyright law by using the phrase ‘fair and balanced’ in the subtitle of his book. Now, I ain’t no lawyer, and I’ve never even played one on TV, but I know enough about the law to know that their claim was frivolous at best. It is considered fair use (or maybe I should say ‘fair and balanced use’) to utilize portions of an original work in a work of satire. (For corn sake, Mad Magazine would have been stopped in its tracks forty years ago if that weren’t the case.) Secondly, the phrase itself is completely part of the vernacular. (Maybe I’ll attempt to trademark the words ‘salt and pepper’ to see if I can drum up a few extra bucks in lawsuits.)

How ironic it is that Fox feels the need to manage its viewers’ expectations by relentlessly promoting itself as ‘fair and balanced,’ instead of (heaven forbid) actually being fair and balanced.

The delicious part is that all the attention garnered on this suit has helped catapult the book to the second place on Amazon.com‘s bestseller list on its first day of publication.