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Monthly Archives: October 2008

Reflections of a Campaign Now Past (Almost)

October 29th, 2008 - 9:57 pm

Here are ten random thoughts on this depressing campaign that I have not see discussed much in the media.

1. Advice on McCain: stay focused on the economy; on socialism; on the effort to redistribute income by taxing some at rates (aggregate federal, state, payroll, and Medicare taxes) at 65% while half the taxpayers are to be excused from federal income taxes. Reiterate Obama’s own past support for redistribution and spreading the wealth, and why such a worldview is the touchstone that explains all the creepy associations from Chicago, the boards and foundations, and the church. What they all have in common is a belief that the United States is an unjust country and that a powerful state must intervene to take from some to give to others in a way that transcends the progressive income tax. That was the theme of Rev. Wright’s sermons on the evil on black middle-classness that won him a 10,000 sq. ft mansion and the subtext of Dreams From My Father and Audacity of Hope that likewise earned the Obamas a stately mansion. Socialism pays!

2. Throughout this campaign one has wondered why McCain did not rhetorically offer up scenarios in which he asked what would have been the media reaction had he had friends like Ayers, Khalidi, Wright, or Pfleger?

He did that yesterday in connection to Khalidi, not elegantly, but nonetheless in a way that made one think that the media would have gone ballistic—e.g., envision McCain going to a dinner honoring some right-wing anti-Semitic activist, who was an associate of Yasser Arafat, damning the United States and Israel?  And imagine as well an associate of McCain, who was a former abortion clinic bomber, emailing and phoning the senator until 2005? And imagine McCain sitting in a church for twenty years, as his white racist pastor deplored the growing multiracial nature of the United States, and McCain fending off charges that he could not remember such sermons—despite being married in the church, having his children baptized there, and using such a pastor’s clichés for the title of his book—and assuring the Chicago Sun-Times that he attended services promptly at 11 AM each Sunday.

3. The real issue of the campaign: The $600 million that Obama amassed and abject rejection of public campaign financing. There are three problems: (1) the breaking of one’s word; (2) the creation of such a vast treasure chest; (3) and the complete destruction of the principle of public financing. Never again, will one on the Left make the credible argument either that there is a poisonous nexus between big money and big politics, or that the government should step in to ensure that special interests do not exercise an inordinate influence. So Obama essentially destroyed the idea of public campaign financing of national elections. It’s dead, kaput—over with for good. And the media simply skipped that latter story. (Again, imagine the media’s reaction should McCain have flipped on the issue, rejected public financing, raised a $600 million war-chest, outspent Obama 4-1, and now was airing 30-minute infomercials unanswered by the poorer, and public financed Obama.)

4. What I was most surprised at watching the clips of Wright and Pfleger these past months was not their extremist rhetoric, but the standing ovation given to both as they voiced truly racist and venomous sentiments. Wasn’t that the more disturbing development—that these firebrands voiced such hatred to obvious sympathetic audiences who stood up and roared their approval of the hateful diatribes? Scary.

5. While listening to the 2001 Chicago Public Radio interview with Barack Obama I was at once struck with the strange feeling, “Who is this?”

By that I mean the accent and cadence were not those of the Obama I have heard the last six months. He sounded just a few years ago like a normal nerdy Harvard Law School lawyer. Has he, as he wrote in his memoirs, so embraced the cadences, accent, and dropping the g’s of Rev. Wright that his past voice is not almost unrecognizable in comparison to how he presently speaks?

I think the metamorphosis transcends the differences between the genres of the interview and the stump speech; at least I noticed no such wide variance with other candidates. The same old question: who really is Barack Obama?

6. Such a strange campaign: former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell had much more positive things to say about the now convicted felon Sen. Ted Stevens than he did a week earlier about presidential candidate John McCain.

7. The most outrageous statement that arose during the campaign? This “snippet” from Obama:

“…just to take a, sort of a realist perspective…there’s a lot of change going on outside of the Court, um, that, that judges essentially have to take judicial notice of. I mean you’ve got World War II, you’ve got uh, uh, uh, the doctrines of Nazism, that, that we are fighting against, that start looking uncomfortably similar to what we have going on, back here at home.”

National socialism led to the industrialized murder of 6 million innocents, and began a war that took 50 million lives and destroyed Western Europe. At the time of the war, a democratic United States was fighting to preserve democracy when it had been destroyed in all of Europe, while struggling at home with racial segregation in the South and discrimination elsewhere.

The Civil Rights movement that began in the 1940s and ended in the 1960s and 1970s with equal rights for all citizens in the southern United States is in no way an argument that  America was analogous to Nazi Germany. As we survey the world today, we see slavery in the Sudan, religious oppression in much of the Arab world (as well indentured servitude), tribal hatred among Muslim sects, genocide in many countries of Africa—but nothing quite like the death camps of Nazi Germany. Again, this is the same old Obama evocation of “tragic”, an adjective he frequently uses in connection with the history of the United States, and the inability of courts to legislate by fiat a redistribution of resources and an equality of result.

8. Greatest farce of the campaign? The good old McCain, bad new McCain nonsense. We know now that the media in 2000 liked McCain only because he worked with Democrats, opposed the hated and more conservative George Bush, and was going to lose. In 2008 they demonized him, despite his continued bipartisanship, and his frequent opposition to George Bush—solely because he became the last obstacle in the way of the ascension of the anointed Barack Obama.

9. I don’t think after this campaign anyone, of either party, can ever again read the New York Times, watch NBC, or browse Newsweek and not know that these are simply op-ed venues, opinion journalism rather than objective news sources. They ensured that we knew about every Palin pregnancy and change of clothing, and almost nothing why Joe Biden was under wraps, isolated from the press, forbidden to wander from the teleprompter—and still continued to say the most astounding things. We are about to elect Barack Obama and yet have no idea what he really feels about FISA, NAFTA, nuclear power, oil drilling, coal use, Iraq, Iran, Jerusalem, campaign finance reform and a host of other issues. And the media completely failed to explain why exactly there is always a new Ayers, Khalidi,  Pfleger, or Wright quote. Why not just one such odious figure in one’s past rather than so many? And why always a “I was only 8 years old”, “Not the (fill in the blanks) I used to know”, “Just a casual neighborhood acquaintance”, etc.

10. Why can’t just once Barack Obama speak out and say something like, “Come on, guys, please cool it. No more photoshopping of Sen. McCain’s portrait with feces on his face; no more allegations that Mrs. Palin did not deliver her own child; no more Sarah Palin effigies in a noose; no more outbursts from comedians about raping Sarah Palin; no more supporters like Congressman Lewis comparing McCain to George Wallace; no more zealots tapping into Palin’s email”?

Given his vaunted “there are no red/blue states”, he really could play Zeus on Olympus. I can’t remember a  campaign in which a candidate preached ad nauseam about the sleazy tactics of an opponent while his supporters waged a vicious attack designed to smear opponents and provide a deniability of culpability for the candidate. The Bushes and Clintons waged tough campaigns, but none of them had pretensions that they did not, or were so successful in distancing themselves from footsoldiers who waged a quite different war.

Postscript: McCain’s problem is no longer Obama (the hope and change hypnotic fit is wearing off, as the reality of the radical Chicago activist begins to replace it), but time. McCain’s campaign is starting to hit stride, but there are five full days left, not five weeks. The public is acclimatized now to Wall Street frenzy, pleased with falling gas prices, a stronger dollar, and the quiet in Iraq (four times fewer Americans were lost in Iraq in October than were murdered over the same time in the single city of Chicago), and not sure that Obama’s European solutions are the antidote to the Bush years or the present growing economic uncertainty–and not sure still they have any idea who Obama is or what he intends.

“Go Fail, Young Man!”

October 26th, 2008 - 8:52 pm

An end to failure seems to be the new American creed of the twentieth-first century. If you were on Wall Street, and bought and sold subprime mortgage paper, gambled on derivatives, garnered spectacular bonuses as you piled up debt—and then helped to bankrupt your investment company—the government was often there to ensure that your past profits were your own, and your present failures everyone else’s. In our brave new world, no one took too many millions he didn’t earn, or was a fool who squandered someone else’s 401(k)s. Instead, nebulous forces, not real people, did this, and so an equally nebulous “government” must set things right.

If you were a federal banking bureaucrat at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and enriched yourself by cooking the books under the politically-correct cover of putting the poor and unprivileged in homes of their own—at the cost of ruining hallowed institutions— then no problem: you failed; others cleaned up your mess; while you sought refuge in victimhood with millions in past bonuses.

For much of the 1990s, the Big Three auto companies preached the gospel of let the market adjudicate popular tastes in automobiles, when warned that their big-profit Tahoes, Yukons, Hummers, and Escalades might make both America more vulnerable to foreign oil spikes and themselves at the mercy of a sudden radical shift to small cars should gas prices ever rise.

Then energy prices spiked. Consumers did not want any more 15-mpg behemoths. Cars went unsold—and Detroit then asked for, and received, a bailout guarantee to cover their own failures. We never heard that the CEOs, the marketers, the advertisers, and the designers failed—only that union health care costs, or market forces, or consumer choices did the automakers in, and thus the government had to intercede to save automakers from themselves

But at the other end of the spectrum, failure is becoming just as obsolete. We are told hourly that millions of Americans have lost their homes, rarely that 94% of home debtors continue to pay their monthly mortgages. And there is almost no information given on how or why those who defaulted walked away? Did at least a few buy a house who had no business taking on a mortgage? Did at least some wish to speculate, buy property, flip it, and profit in a perceived permanently bullish housing market? Did some others take out second and third mortgages to expand their consumer spending and hope to make it deductible on their income taxes? Did others still simply make a business decision to walk away from a freely incurred debt that proved larger than the falling equity in their homes?

Yet it seems to matter little how these mortgages failed, since both political parties are now outbidding each other to offer some sort of debt relief, mortgage reduction, or suspension on foreclosures. Indeed, no one failed at all—“they” (fill in the blanks with “the banks”, “the economy” or “George Bush”) caused the defaults, and so “they” should make it right.

Listen to almost any Congressman, or tune in to radio ads, and rather quickly you will hear a plan to bail out those with onerous credit card debt. No one dares to ask anymore what was charged on the Visa or Mastercharge. Were such debts always heart operations or food purchases to stave off hunger, rather than an occasional plasma television, video game, or vacation? Instead, the failure to pay one’s debts is assumed again to be the fault of someone else.

The message in all of these cases is now becoming unmistakable: if you are hyper-wealthy, gamble with someone else’s money, and lose big-time, then the government will cover your losses. Or better yet, work for a quasi-government agency where the bonuses are yours, while the losses belong to the public. If you build the wrong car, and bet wrongly on the future price on gas, then your successful gambles make you rich, and in times of miscalculation your government covers your losses. And if you buy a house beyond your means, or decide it makes no sense to pay off the mortgage, then someone or something, not you, failed to honor your debt.

But what happens if you are not enormously rich and not rather poor—and, worse still, made the ethical, but old-fashioned decision to pay your debts and not default on what you owe others?

Let us hope that you do not make over $250,000 like many family physicians, small business owners, or restaurateurs. You are way too big to be part of the fifty percent of wage owners who would, under the Obama tax plan, not only be excused from income taxes, but in many cases receive a check from the government.

You are also way too small to be a corporation in need of a bailout, or a megafarm that needs more agricultural subsidies. Instead, as a reward for belonging to the 4% who pay 60% of the nation’s income taxes, and working industriously to achieve an enviable income, you may well soon pay between 60% and 65%—or more— of your gross income in state income, federal income, Medicare, and social security payroll, taxes. And you will be considered the suspect “rich” and then told it is “patriotic” to “spread the [rather than your] wealth around.” Nor can you sigh that your tax liability will ensure that the deficit disappears—not when another trillion dollars in federal entitlements are promised by would-be President Obama.

In the mid-nineteenth century, young people of industry and vision were advised “Go West, Young Man!” Today we might instead suggest “Just Fail!”

The Campaign Takes a Very Strange Turn

October 25th, 2008 - 11:16 am

Questions Still Not Answered

Why didn’t Colin Powell and Co. jump ship in, say, June or July, and endorse Obama after many months of campaigning when his positions were already well known? That is, why wait until late October when, after the financial meltdown, Obama surged in the polls? Had Powell come out even in the first week of September, he could have demonstrated that although Obama was down by three points, he was willing to stick his neck out with a principled endorsement that may well have made him persona non grata in a McCain-administration Washington.

Why didn’t the media or McCain just ask Obama a few of the following questions: Why did you keep emailing and phoning Bill Ayers for three years after 9/11, when the country was gripped by fear of terror, and Ayers, like bin Laden, said that he had not done enough bombing, and had no regrets about the terrorism he had committed?

Why did Obama say in 2004 to the Chicago Sun-Times that he went to Trinity Church every Sunday at 11AM, and then later claim he had not been there that regularly once Rev. Wright’s venom was disseminated to the general public? Is Obama for, or not for, a simple yes or no, missile defense, nuclear power, off-shore drilling, and coal-powered electrical generation? There might be legitimate answers, but surely the public could profit by them, rather than worry over the Palin pregnancies, wardrobe, or Tasergate.

Why did the greatest furor against Palin originate with women, both liberals like a Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd, or Sally Quinn, or conservatives such as a Peggy Noonan or Kathleen Parker?

So far, none of them has adduced the necessary arguments that would justify their venom against Palin: they have not demonstrated that Vice Presidential nominee Palin has less government or executive experience than does Presidential nominee Obama; they have not shown that she has said anything in two months as disturbing as what Joe Biden says almost any day, and, in that vein, they have written few columns about Biden’s lunatic assertions, such as FDR addressing the nation on television as President in 1929, or that our nation’s enemies will test Barack Obama, and his reaction will so disappoint the American people that his polls will immediately sink; they have not shown that Palin’s ideas about shrinking government and keeping taxes low are less sound than Obama’s in time of economic downturn to raise aggregate taxes and expand government. So whence the vitriol, especially the frequent invective about Palin’s family, education,  accent, or mannerisms, or the rather sexist suggestions that her looks bewitched either McCain or others?

Why do so many conservatives think that an Obama-elect might be prove a centrist, and so why do they use phrases like “I pray” or “I hope” that Obama might turn out, well, not to be Obama?

Jimmy Carter did exactly what he promised: raised taxes, grew the government, told the world he had no inordinate fear of communism, trashed our allies as retrograde right-wing authoritarians—and we got the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage-taking (have we forgotten that the “Great Satan” originated as a slur against Nobel laureate Carter?), communism in Central America, the Cambodian Holocaust, and spikes of 12% inflation, 18% interest, and 7% unemployment.

For his first two years (until 1994 Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America’ revolution, and Dick Morris’s ‘triangulation’), Bill Clinton, as promised, raised taxes, raised spending, tried to ram through socialized medicine, and by fiat wanted to force the military to accept those openly gay.

So why would any conservative think that Obama—friend of Ayers, Khalidi, Meeks, Pfleger, and Wright, veteran of mysterious campaigns in which rivals in 1996 and 2004 simply dropped out or were forced out, erstwhile advocate of repealing NAFTA, controlling guns, stopping new drilling and nuclear plants, zealot for bringing all troops home by March 2008, advocate of a trillion dollars in new spending, and raising the tax burden on the 5% who now pay 60% of the aggregate income taxes, supporter of more oppression studies and racial reparations—would not likewise try to govern as he has lived the last 20 years?

Why would anyone think that an Obama would not wish to enact the visions of those who first backed him—the Moveon.org crowd, ACORN, The Huffington Post, Sen. Reid, Rep. Pelosi, a Chris Dodd or Barney Frank—rather than the late pilers-on like Colin Powell or Scott McClellan? We should remember that, unlike the cases of Carter and Clinton, Obama would have both houses of Congress, and a (Republican) precedent of the federal government intervening into the free market, in the manner of 1932.

The Fox Ambush

I don’t like dry-gulching journalism, but there was a strange scene when the Fox reporter caught up to Bill Ayers and stuck a microphone in his face as he went up the sidewalk of his rather impressive home: Ayers, with a bright red star on his T-shirt, shoos away the reporter with the apparent mumble “this is private property” before the police arrive. How strange that an advocate for communalism and an erstwhile attacker of police stations reverts to the notion of property rights and police to protect him from an intrusive reporter. Right out of Thucydides Book III and the strife on Corfu, when the historian warns that those who destroy the protocols of civilization may well one day wish to rely on them.

What Was Conservatism?

Few seem to know anymore. The decline in the fortune of the Republican Party has prompted some conservatives to claim they were abandoned, and now must seek refuge  of all places in the agenda of Barack Obama—as if growing government, larger entitlements, and higher taxes are the proper antidotes to the unhappiness of the last eight years. One is unhappy with the excessive spending of the Bush administration and the former Republican Congress so he favors the greater spending of the new administration and congress to come?

The tragedy of the Bush administration was largely fiscal. There were, of course, two costly wars, the economic downturn after September 11, Katrina, and the unregulated Fannie and Freddie fiasco that proved the catalyst to the Wall Street subprime speculation.

But that said, by spending beyond the rate of inflation, running up large annual deficits, adding to the national debt, and voting in more entitlements that could not be funded with existing revenues, conservatives committed two suicidal acts. One, they discredited tax cuts, which under George Bush clearly brought in more aggregate revenue and primed the economy. Had we balanced budgets by spending restraint, no politicians would now dare to suggest the answers for our present budget woes were to be found in higher taxes.

Second, conservatives grew the size of the government. Perhaps No Child Left Behind or the Medicare Prescription Drug supplement was felt to be necessary to ensure bipartisan congressional support for the unpopular Iraq War, perhaps not. But when a conservative grows the size of government, he not only suffers the wage of hypocrisy, but he wins the additional charge of encouraging all others to do the same. The inattentive  water master who opens the flood gates of the dam can hardly complain that torrents cascade  out.

Yet Conservatism is pretty simple, and is based on just a few principles. Human nature remains constant, and thus is predictable across time and space. There is a certain humility that comes with conservatism, since the ways of the world, despite the technological chaos, are constant. We know, 1000 years past or right now, that the more we tax something the less we get of it, while the more we subsidize, the more we obtain—given that people will slack when they can, and won’t when they can’t.

Sometimes this conservative take on human nature can get a little depressing, when we know that punishments really do deter crime, or silly things like high walls keep or fines on employers really do keep out illegal immigrants, or strong nations ready for war are not attacked while weak ones eager for peace are. So here we are on the eve of yet another  great retrograde experiment, akin to the European socialist model that contradicts human nature–one that its creators over there are now fleeing from as we apparently, a day late, a dollar short, seek to emulate it.

Randomly Politically Incorrect

October 20th, 2008 - 11:00 am

Why hasn’t Obama put McCain away?

Everything is in his favor. Count the ways. Obama has far more money than McCain (so much for the liberal mantra about the corrosive effects of big money upon politics and the need for public campaign financing. In regard to these changing attitudes about the rich: Old J.P Morgan, remember, was a robber baron who warped the political process; Warren Buffet is an enlightened capitalist whose billions helped out a little here and there).

The Republican brand is toxic. Obama is the more charismatic. Voters usually tire of one party after eight years in the White House.

George Bush will leave office with poll ratings analogous to Harry Truman’s own exit numbers. The Democratic majority in Congress will widen (Nancy Pelosi’s hit speech on the eve of the bailout or Harry Reid’s gleeful announcement that Iraq was lost are precursors of things to come).

Two wars and a sinking economy had depressed voters—before the financial meltdown (which supposedly had nothing to do with the trillion dollars plus lost by Freddie and Fannie). The mainstream media is now overtly for Obama, running hit pieces on Cindy McCain in the New York Times, claiming the Palin rallies are racist, and even going after poor Joe the Plumber as a fraud. John McCain does not have a fervent base of conservative supporters and has not run a dynamic campaign.

The answer, then, to the voters’ apparent hesitancy is simply that citizens still have no idea who Barack Obama is.

Are we to believe that he is a trans-racial, post-politics centrist, who will appoint both Republicans and Democrats and govern in Clintonian fashion?

Perhaps, but then we would also have to assume that his Chicago associates—Ayers, Khalidi, Meeks, Pfleger, or Wright—were themselves centrists, that his record in the Senate is not the most liberal among those of his 100 colleagues, that he has not in the past, in Chicago-style, sued to invalidate African-American voters’ petitions when he wished to eliminate all his state legislature rivals in the 1996 campaign, that in 2004 his campaign had not had some part in the leaking of the sealed divorce records of both his Democratic primary and Republican general Senate opponents that crashed both of their campaigns, and that his original positions when he announced his candidacy were not jettisoned as soon as they were a liability.

Socialism 101

The drop in gas prices, the net weekly partial rebound in the stock market, and the “spread the wealth around” comments of Obama helped McCain. He is finally now talking not of Obama’s “tax cut” (how could one, when the plan is mostly a cash payout to many of the 50% of wage-earners who will next year pay no income taxes at all?), but of a redistributive scheme to ensure an equality of result. McCain needs to sharpen his message: The issue is really socialism—taking from some to give to others through exemptions and credits—that transcends the logic of the progressive tax code. If there were increased revenue (I doubt it since the proposals will harm any incentives for those in the lower brackets to increase wages and productivity, given the specter of losing their cash payments should their income climb; and on the upper groups by taxing every dime over $250,000 at nearly 65% [in high-tax states]), the monies would simply go to a trillion dollars of new programs that will expand government (a Fannie health care system, a Freddie education bureau, etc.), not merely wasting money, but making social problems worse.

What then Went Wrong?

We have six, not twenty-five percent unemployment. Even last quarter’s GDP figures showed growth, not recession. How then did the sudden meltdown occur?

It’s pretty easy to envision, and can be simplified into two general scenarios. One, somewhere between 4-6% of mortgage holders bought houses without sufficient income and down payments. Eventually they found that they could not make their monthly payments—once energy and food prices climbed, or their credit-card purchases of consumer goods kept rising and squeezed family budgets, or adjustable mortgage rates on their loans increased—or all combined.

So they defaulted

Two, a larger number who bought at the greatest expansion of the real estate bubble  had made no payment down, or very little, or had taken out second and third mortgages. Then when housing prices inevitably dipped, they learned that they now owed more on their homes than they were worth, and therefore, despite being employed and in theory able to continue to meet their obligations, decided it was more logical to walk away, and take a hit in their credit ratings than to owe more on a house than it was worth—when, in contrast, renting a house, or renegotiating the loan, or buying another cheaper home made better sense to them.

That rather small percentage of defaulting homeowners was nevertheless large enough to prompt a cascade—given the fact that Wall Street greed in the buying and selling of sub-prime mortgages was given a green light through federal guarantees to the quasi-public Freddie and Fannie.

We live in a culture, after all, where we blame “them”—even though we watch television programs on how to flip houses after cosmetic improvements, go to seminars on how to purchase homes without a down payment, and welcome snake-oil salesmen’s advice how to default on credit card debt. Capitalism depends on some modicum of honesty as well as regulation. While Wall Street must have transparency and oversight, we the people also have to honor debts, save capital, and accept that productivity arises from real work rather than mere speculation. There is such a thing as a moral economy.

Channel surfing on a Saturday night

Recently I turned to C-Span2 Book TV, a program I often enjoy. But here was Michael Moore, in rather repulsive fashion, reading from his latest written diatribe—and damning John McCain for bombing the North Vietnamese communists four decades ago.

He was making the usual morally equivalent arguments that a Stalinist regime in North Vietnam that had killed hundreds of thousands of its own, was, in fact, a superior moral culture to our own, and thus John McCain might be considered a war criminal as well as a terrorist. Then Moore went on to his conspiracies about the “oil men ” and their plots about getting “gas stations” in Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Next, in grotesque fashion, Moore boasted that, “More people want to have sex with Barack Obama than with John McCain”. Then he went on to his sex jokes about gutting a moose and having sex with Sarah Palin, while in Orwellian fashion, Moore (all 300 pounds plus of him) damned Big Macs, American children’s lack of exercise, and soft drinks that have fattened other Americans up. (Or was he implicitly blaming Coke and Super Size-it for his own obesity?)

I remember that right after 9/11, Moore lamented that Bin Laden had selected New York, a city full of Democrats, rather than a red-state target. But  I had forgotten what a repugnant and incoherent buffoon he had become.

Turning the channel to CNN, I found that there was a story about the white racists at a Palin rally. Then I went to MSNBC and someone was talking about “what happened to John McCain.” (as in the old “good” losing McCain of 2000 versus the now “bad” McCain of 2008 that could still beat Obama). I finished by turning to local news and the hype about Colin Powell’s anticipated principled endorsement of Barack Obama. Some evening…

An Epidemic of Incompetence

The following happened to me in a recent 6-day period: (1) My insurance company, Beacon One, notified me that without prior warning my insurance on my farm would be suddenly canceled—and without grounds. Ten days later a second letter came in the mail stating that the prior notice was “in error.” No explanations or apologies;

(2) Macy’s called to say that I had been in arrears on a bill for a new bed, and therefore they had (a) charged me a finance penalty fee, and (b) turned the bill over to collections and to the credit rating bureau. When I called their 1-800 number, they confessed that they had not put the street address on my bill (but instead just a five digit number, along with the city, as in something like “Victor Hanson, 5643 Fresno California”). They then admitted that their bill was returned to them on three successive occasions, that they had not called me personally to inquire about the address, despite having my private number, or to inform me of an overdue payment due, and that they were “sorry,” but that the charges and letter they sent to the bureau were understandable;

(3) My Internet satellite provider, Hughes, called and offered on its own initiative, to upgrade my rural antenna dish for $198 dollars, if I would agree to continue the service for two more years. But after installing the new dish, they sent me a bill for $597, with a warning that service would be disconnected in seven days if the amount was not paid. I’m still trying their 1-800 number (8th attempt) to figure that overcharge out;

(4) I turned in my worn and demagnetized ATM card to Citibank to get a new one. They assured me they would send a fresh duplicate ASAP, with the exact same number as the original. Seven days later it came, was activated—and found to have a different and wrong number, nullifying my online automatic bill payments. I am still working on that too, but now must notify all my on-line creditors that either their card on file is no longer operative, or that it may be, or that both old and new card numbers  work, or neither,  since no one at Citibank knows anything other than they regret it was their fault but offer no payment for late bill charges or my time in trying to run down creditors.

There is one unifying theme to all these incidents. When notified (usually by emails threatening dire consequences, and with warning not to dare email back at that automatic email address), I called their 1-800 number as directed. The respective holds (lousy music) averaged about 20 minutes each. In every case the person on the other end, either could not speak English well enough to carry on a conversation, or, if they did, could not understand basic mathematics. Their supervisors were no improvement.

We are suffering from a nationwide epidemic of incompetence that threatens to sever the very sinews of commerce, brought on by a therapeutic educational system that teaches almost everything other than literacy. All this is compounded by a corrupt corporate culture that builds into its calculations the notion that there is still great profit to be made by hiring, on the cheap, attack-dog, but largely illiterate, employees, who may not understand how to fill out, or mail, or discuss bills, but will intimidate or ignore enough to make their employers a great deal of money. No apologies or contrition are ever expressed when the mistake is found to be on the company’s part. We are a long way from the 1950s when I used to follow my grandfather around Selma as he paid his bills in cash, face to face, and received a handshake, thanks—and a receipt.

When Obama praises ethnic magnet schools, talks of pouring billions more into education, promises reparations in deed rather than word, or advocates more “oppression studies”, I am not confident there will be a return to basic education, but assured that more “-studies” courses will appear: as in Asian-, African-American- , Chicano-, environmental-, ethnic-, leisure-, peace-, or women’s- studies courses that won’t do a thing to improve America’s declining literacy or knowledge of simple math and science—or questionable ethics.

Hope and Despair

October 14th, 2008 - 6:36 pm

Pre-debate Anxieties

The problem with bringing up Ayers and Wright and the other assorted nuts of Obama’s weird Scipionic Circle—I think the most reprehensible of the discarded associates was the rather murderous Kenyan,  Raila Odinga—is that it may now be too little too late.

That is, all these were legitimate issues of concern. And had McCain not played Zeus on Olympus in August, he might have raised them as proof of poor judgment and a certain extremism that was not conducive to the sobriety required by the Presidency:  Mutatis mutandis, would McCain have befriended an abortion clinic bomber, had a racist pastor with KKK affiliations, or patronized a Serbian nationalist with blood on his hands?

But by evoking them now, McCain looks desperate (a), and (b) diverting attention from the omnipresent economic crisis. What then might he do in the debate?

1. Damning both Wall Street greed and Fannie and Freddie collusion is fine, but he might at least remind us that the US is now running up billions in annual deficits, adding to trillions in federal debt, and simply cannot promise more expenditures unless they are met by commensurate cuts in spending. In this regard, he can (carefully to be sure) suggest that our national culture of buy now/pay later is going to have to change. Voters want to be challenged to sacrifice rather than hear the same old “they” did it—as if these creepy politicians were elected by ghosts, or practice an ethos absolutely foreign to what we see in our own popular culture.

2. So far McCain has not explained the significance of Freddie and Fannie. Yes, there was a nexus of Enron-like corruption as a Raines or Johnson cooked the books to win mega-bonuses; covered their tracks by talking grandly of “putting the poor into a home”; and then hedged their bets by sleazy donations to House and Senate liberal demagogues.

But that said, they also serve as a warning about such huge quasi-public enterprises: can we imagine a Health care Freddie or an Education Fannie? At least a Ken Lay or Richard Fuld in the private sector can be demonized as a bandit, but when a Raines practices such similar greed, he is inside the government and embedded in folds of bureaucratic protection, with all sorts of liberal apologies that shield him from the full deterrent effect of the law. The lesson of  what caused the Wall Street greed is not just robber capitalism, but unaccountable government monstrosities—that would be made worse by Obama’s planned “hope and change” creation of a new trillion dollar government expansion.

3.    If he brings up earmarks again, McCain has to tell us the truth: in aggregate dollars they do not constitute a big percentage of the budget. BUT they represent a sort of lubricant for far greater larcenies. In other words, terrible waste and spending are facilitated in trite ways by lawmakers tacking on earmarks. We saw that with the $700 billion bailout plan. Yes, wooden arrows were a small part of the largess, but the inclusion of these payoffs reduced the principled discussion of our very futures into a matter of petty bribes and payoffs. Earmarks are a question of honesty and the integrity of the entire political system. When a cop takes $20 to drop a ticket, we don’t say “$20 is a small part of the multimillion dollar police budget”, but rather that such crookedness is a dangerous cancer to the public trust.

4. Bring up judgment in foreign policy: Obama wished to meet Iranian leaders without preconditions, but even Iranian leaders now want no such meeting without their own preconditions. How strange—an American President in search of dialogue with a third-rate terror state would be asked to grant, not demand, preconditions for a chance to talk? Why would Iranian mullahs voice such braggadocio if they didn’t sense future American uncertainty?

5.    Iraq: For all practical purposes at the present, the costs of American occupation of Iraq are not that much different in blood and treasure from the stationing of a commensurate number of troops elsewhere. We may soon be nearing the rate of accidental deaths found per 130-140,000 troops per month elsewhere in the world; and the provisioning costs of those in Iraq may not be all that much higher than would be true should soldiers be redeployed back home or to other overseas bases abroad. So McCain might take a risk at this point and simply say that Iraq is not the drain on the American taxpayer as had been alleged, but both a victory now and a wise investment in the future stability of the region. And we need not hear any more that Iraq was a diversion, since it was about the only theater in which we could freely defeat, kill, and humiliate Al-Qaeda and radical Islamists. Far from weakening Afghanistan, it was complementary to it: as destroying Nazi Germany was to defeating Japan. Likewise, the military is not broken but now even more competent, trained, and experienced than it was at the start of the war. McCain needs to remind us of all that, and transcend the “I was for the surge, he wasn’t!”

6.    Challenge Obama to name in advance a Secretary of Defense or State, or Middle East envoy. He will probably mention a safe Clintonite—but who knows? After all, in a 2004 interview he bragged that he went to Wright’s Trinity every Sunday (even on THE SUNDAY?) and had some rather inspirational mentors (GG is the Chicago Sun-Times interviewer):

GG: Do you still attend Trinity?

OBAMA:Yep. Every week. 11 oclock service.


GG: Do you have people in your life that you look to for guidance?

OBAMA:Well, my pastor [Wright] is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for. I have a number of friends who are ministers. Reverend Meeks is a close friend and colleague of mine in the state Senate. Father Michael Pfleger is a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.

GG:Those two will keep you on your toes.

OBAMA: And they’re good friends. Because both of them are in the public eye, there are ways we can all reflect on what’s happening to each of us in ways that are useful. I think they can help me, they can appreciate certain specific challenges that I go through as a public figure.

7.    What does Obama mean by “spread the wealth”? Surely McCain can remind voters that already the top 5% of American income earners pay at least 60% of the total tax burden; while 35% pay no income tax. Is it such a good thing that under Obama’s plan 50% of American might pay no income tax?—and thus have no stake in questions of wise federal expenditures of someone else’s internal revenue?

8.    Is it such a good thing to ask some very productive self-employed Americans in high-tax states to give the government 2/3s of their incomes (40% federal, 15% FICA, 10% state)? Why would anyone take the risk to expand a business, build a new apartment complex, or hire more employees if he  knew that any additional income would amount to only 35% of  profits? It seems hardly worth the additional risk? One neighbor says, “I love Obama—I’m paying no income tax now and getting a credit check from the government, so why work weekends?” The other neighbor replies, “Yes, I’m giving 65% of my extra profits to the government to pay for you, so why work weekends?” Many of the lower middle class will pay no income taxes and get a check back; many of the really wealthy will be taxed at lower capital gains rates (since they take their income often in stock selling and buying or have access to sophisticated shelters), but the victims would be precisely the upwardly mobile, upper middle class.

9.    Just as McCain has voiced disapproval of extraneous zealots who have crossed the line in their anti-Obama sentiments, can’t Obama likewise discourage ACORN, the uber-partisans who swarm radio-stations, or politicos like Rep. Lewis who connected McCain to George Wallace and by extension by the murdering of small girls?

Conservatives for Obama

I have no problem with a David Brooks or Christopher Buckley voicing admiration for Obama and disdain for either Bush or Palin. Both are principled critics whom I like and admire.

My earlier note centered on disagreement about what constituted wisdom. I am not convinced that Palin’s ignorance about Niebuhr or Obama’s interest in him makes much difference. And I think the rabid right’s intolerance of diversity is no different from the Obama cult of near hero-worship. (Wait and see when the Fairness Doctrine is in place).

In that regard, I often note the tone of the hard left at this site; the right disagrees and adduces arguments, the left often by spewing invective. I know that when I give a lecture to businessmen suggesting greed is endemic on Wall Street and has discredited much of their own ethos there are serious but professional retorts; at a university the professorial response to criticism of the Left is shrill and occasionally unhinged.

Half of what I learned did not come from books or graduate school or teaching or writing, but from some rather rough characters who taught me how to prune, hammer, wire, and fix things—as well as their world view that came along with those tasks. Thank God, we have that experience represented in Sarah Palin. Can’t her critics grasp that? It ain’t easy to step up to the city-council, mayorship, or governor’s office while raising kids, on a short budget, without family money or connections, and out in Alaska? Did not the career of Truman teach us anything? We have plenty of highly educated politicos, so there is no worry we are a nation of populist yokels; what is lacking in public life are just a few people who aren’t lawyers, professors, consultants, and bureaucrats.

That said, I do think if McCain now had a 15% lead over Obama, and had he invited reporters to josh and cajole as in the past, and had Palin been photographed with her head in a Conrad novel, with glasses down on her nose, and an occasional cast-off quote from a Jack London, many conservatives might nevertheless have been less prone to admire Obama. After all, in fairness, the latter did get the number of US states wrong on several occasions, erred about basic facts of World War II, and seemed downright silly in his riffs about tire air pressure. I just wish Obama would release his Columbia and Occidental transcripts, so that the nation can be reminded how one gets into Harvard Law School. I suspect there would not be a lot of A+s on contemporary American  moralists or even American geography.

If Obama Wins…

We will all support to the best of our abilities the President of the US; he will need it in these challenging times when so many abroad will try to take advantage of America’s ongoing perceived weakness. But nevertheless, there will be irony aplenty, and not all of it necessarily bad.

Consider. The Europeans really will have their multilateralist: no, problem, Eastern Europe, we will get the UN on Putin right away. Don’t worry France, we are right behind you in Kandahar. Angie, no problem, Iranian nukes can’t quite reach Frankfurt.  OK, UK, ready or not, here come more of your Guantanamo detainees. Don’t worry, Israel, trust me—Hamas really is sober and judicious. How strange to see a Euro-summit in which the US president is to the left of the Europeans, who are fleeing the positions we are now assuming.

Or better yet

As one scared Frenchman told me this summer, “Hey, what’s up? There’s only room for one Obama in the West, and we already claimed that role!”

I don’t believe in guilt by association, but on the other hand, I do listen to others when they admire and praise others, especially if they see something I may have missed. Jesse Jackson apparently has a take on Obama that we’ve not grasped, when today he assured Frenchmen that Obama will be far more sympathetic to the Palestinians and that America is going to change in ways you won’t believe.

From the Horse’s Mouth

For the best thing written on why Wright matters, read this excerpt from progressive journalist Ben Wallace-Wells, who in 2007 wrote a laudatory piece on Barack Obama in Rolling Stone, and apparently felt the following passage was proof of why the hard left finally had an authentic candidate:

This is as openly radical a background as any significant American political figure has ever emerged from, as much Malcolm X as Martin Luther King Jr. Wright is not an incidental figure in Obama’s life, or his politics. The senator “affirmed” his Christian faith in this church; he uses Wright as a “sounding board” to “make sure I’m not losing myself in the hype and hoopla.” Both the title of Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, and the theme for his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 come from Wright’s sermons. “If you want to understand where Barack gets his feeling and rhetoric from,” says the Rev. Jim Wallis, a leader of the religious left, “just look at Jeremiah Wright.”

Obama wasn’t born into Wright’s world. His parents were atheists, an African bureaucrat and a white grad student, Jerry Falwell’s nightmare vision of secular liberals come to life. Obama could have picked any church — the spare, spiritual places in Hyde Park, the awesome pomp and procession of the cathedrals downtown. He could have picked a mosque, for that matter, or even a synagogue. Obama chose Trinity United. He picked Jeremiah Wright. Obama writes in his autobiography that on the day he chose this church, he felt the spirit of black memory and history moving through Wright, and “felt for the first time how that spirit carried within it, nascent, incomplete, the possibility of moving beyond our narrow dreams.”

Obama has now spent two years in the Senate and written two books about himself, both remarkably frank: There is a desire to own his story, to be both his own Boswell and his own investigative reporter. When you read his autobiography, the surprising thing — for such a measured politician — is the depth of radical feeling that seeps through, the amount of Jeremiah Wright that’s packed in there. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. Obama’s life story is a splicing of two different roles, and two different ways of thinking about America’s. One is that of the consummate insider, someone who has been raised believing that he will help to lead America, who believes in this country’s capacity for acts of outstanding virtue. The other is that of a black man who feels very deeply that this country’s exercise of its great inherited wealth and power has been grossly unjust. This tension runs through his life; Obama is at once an insider and an outsider, a bomb thrower and the class president. “I’m somebody who believes in this country and its institutions,” he tells me. “But I often think they’re broken.”


Jumping Ship…

October 12th, 2008 - 8:18 am

This is becoming a very strange campaign.

On CNN last evening both David Gergen and Ed Rollins echoed the current mantra that the “old” noble McCain is gone–and a “new” nastier one has emerged, largely because of his attacks on Ayers, perhaps his planned future ads on Wright, and a few unhinged people shouting at his campaign stops.

Recently Christopher Buckley endorsed Obama, likewise lamenting the loss of the old noble McCain. New York Times columnist David Brooks dubbed Palin a “cancer,” and he suggested that Obama’s instant recall of Niehbuhr sent a tingle up his leg as Obama once did to Chris Matthews as well.

A couple of thoughts: the George Bush, Sr. / Willie Horton campaign was far tougher; so were the Bush 2000/2004 efforts. If anything, McCain’s campaign is subdued in comparison to what we’ve seen on both sides in past years. Indeed, McCain as a vicious campaigner is a complete fabrication, but, again, a brilliant subterfuge on the part of Team Obama that, in fact, has run, via appendages, the far more vicious race.

Obama and his surrogates have repeatedly engaged in racial politics (as Bill Clinton lamented when in fury he denounced the “race card”). When there was never evidence that McCain was using race as a wedge issue, it was clear Obama most surely was–preemptively, on at least two occasions, warning Americans he would soon be the victim of opposition racial stereotyping.

His surrogates like Biden and those in the Senate continue to link legitimate worries about OBama’s past with racism. Second, for about 3 months all we’ve heard are references to McCain’s age, with adjectives and phrases like confused, can’t remember any more, disturbed, lost his bearings, etc.

Moreover, so far, McCain supporters have not broken into Biden’s email, or accused Biden of being a Nazi, or accused anyone of not bearing one of their own children, or photo-shopped grotesque pictures of Obama on the Internet (as in the Atlantic magazine case). I don’t think deranged McCain supporters in Hollywood or television almost daily are quoted as damning Obama in unusually crude terms. Nor are white racist ministers calling McCain a ‘messiah’ or McCain operatives fraudulently swarming voter registration centers. And on and on.

Instead I think what we are seeing again is an interesting phenomenon of the old nice/now mean McCain. A great many moderates and conservatives are worn out and tired of Bush and Bush hatred, the European furor, serial charges of racism and illiberalism, and finally, in their weariness, think that Obama will, in a variety of ways, just make all the ickiness go away–as if he will make all of us be liked abroad and end racial and red/blue fighting at home. They should ask themselves whether Jimmy Carter restored American popularity with his human rights campaigns, praise of left-wing dictators, dialogue during the hostage crisis (cf. “The Great Satan”), boasts of no more inordinate fear of communism, etc., or whether Obama, in his Trinity/Acorn/Pfleger years, brought racial healing and understanding to Chicago.

Second, with Obama now with an 6-8 point lead, some in the DC/NY corridor these last three weeks figure it’s time now to jump or at least sort of jump, since the train they think is leaving the station and there might be still be some space at the dinner table on the caboose. They also believe as intellectuals that the similarly astute Obamians may on occasion inspire, or admire them as the like-minded who cultivate the life of the mind–in contrast to the “cancer” Sarah Palin, who, with her husband Todd, could hardly discuss Proust with them or could offer little if any sophisticated table-talk other than the proper chokes on shotguns or optimum RPMs on snow-machines.

And third, a lot of moderates who would not vote for McCain liked him when he was a sophisticated, ironic maverick loser scoring points against the simplistic Bush and other cardboard-cut-out conservatives. Now he has the onus of winning a campaign and can’t be a noble, tragic loser;so it is easy to say he is no good since he is less than perfect. The sure iconoclastic loser has an attraction that the mainstream conservative possible winner does not.

Obama, as I have said ad nauseam, has brilliantly prepped the battlefield to such a degree that a Farrakhan endorsement or surrogates calling Palin a quasi-Nazi or a bimbo, or smearing McCain as near senile is irrelevant; yet one screamer in a crowd of tens of thousands is proof of McCain’s and Palin’s racism and hatred.

Again, most conservatives know this paradox, but for some being outraged, as the conservative voice of reason, at McCain’s supposed low road ensures a CNN spot, or some future rehabilitation during the expected Obama regnum of the next eight years. I think should I write a column suddenly taking the “high road”, praising Obama’s wit, taste in books, and metrosexuality, I would be dubbed principled rather than cynical, ‘even-handed’ rather than self-serving, and a maverick rather than toadish.

Yet for a self-acclaimed conservative to vote Obama would mean that higher taxes, larger government, more entitlements, more of a UN-centered foreign policy, dialogue with an Iran, less coal,oil, and nuclear energy production at home, more “oppression” studies and “reparations”, leftish Supreme Court judges, open borders (I could go on) were the truly conservative positions, or perhaps suddenly truly the ‘right’ positions. And as far as ethics go, in fact, a cursory review of the past Obama campaigns would reveal a ruthlessness never seen in any of McCain’s efforts. Obama’s record is far more left than McCain’s is far right. Obama the healer has proven to be the most partisan in the Senate, McCain one of the most bipartisan.

Yet to believe that truth would be–if we remember that scene in Tolkien’s The Two Towers--to trust the grating harsh voice of Gandalf detailing the dangers of Saruman rather than the mellifluous charm of the latter who in soothing tones outlines his own victimhood.

Not Quite Ready to Join the Crusade

October 7th, 2008 - 9:32 am

Note: We had a temporary glitch, in which readers’ comments did not appear and some of the text got lost and did not appear in its final form. Hope that is resolved. vdh

Frannie and Freddie

So far we know that the meltdown of Frannie and Freddie, abetted by Wall Street greed, caused the larger financial panic. Yet, there is little outrage that a Franklin Raines or Jim Johnson gave money to oversight members of Congress, hid behind a mantle of political-correctness in boasting about home ownership for everyone, and then cooked the books and borrowed to the hilt to justify mega-bonuses for themselves and their friends.

This was no different from Enron, but Freddie and Fannie miscreants had far more politically-correct cover than did Ken Lay. I don’t think a special prosecutor will ever look into the maze of conflict of interest problems of a Barney Frank, or the political associations of a Franklin Raines, or Congressional members who took cash or discounted loans and then signed off on these massive frauds.

While Obama is right that we need more Wall Street oversight, he cannot or will not explain the relationship of a Raines (informal?) or Johnson (once official) with his campaign, or his past support for resisting regulation of these entities, or his own receipt of funds from them.

Once Wall Street crooks caught on to the Freddie and Fannie schemes, and the availablity of government propping up of paper profits, they too could not resist piling on. But whereas we expected that from fanged Wall-Street serpents, we surely want more from public servants, who supposedly protect the public trust and take an oath to protect the national assets. A Lehman’s Fuld does what such creatures do—maximize profits for themselves and their friends; but a similarly flawed Raines suffers from the additional charge of falsity and hypocrisy.

Do We Want a Trillion-Dollar Increase in Government Programs?

So I fear, his trillion dollars in new entitlements would follow the Fannie and Freddie model: sinecures for hack politicians and ex-officials, big gifts to Congress to ensure lack of oversight, and fraud cloaked by grand slogans of promoting  equality and helping the poor. Yes, I’ll pass on all that.

What’s the Matter with Obama?

For all those who write in adoration of Obama’s hope and change mantra, I hope that they can at least see why others are worried about his candidacy. The problem is not an Ayers or Wright per se, but the succession of such odious figures—the bomber Ayers,the racist Pfleger, the Palestinian zealot Khalidi, the crook Rezko, the hyper-racist Wright, etc.—that in aggregate cement the notion of a young hip radical who ingratiated himself with suspect characters, all of whose ideas Obama wishes suddenly to downplay rather than publicize.

Come Clean

He did not just know a Wright or Rezko, but knew them quite well for quite a long time. And in the case of Ayers, Obama has sorely misled: he apparently still emailed and communicated with him after 9/11, when Ayers, on his Fugitive Justice book tour, grandly announced that he regretted only that he had not bombed enough. At that point any further communication was indefensible, since the New York Times had widely circulated Ayers’ views. Yet Obama was emailing him at least until 2005!

A Pattern Here?

But even that coterie of fringe figures would ipsis factis not be fatal to his candidacy, if he and his wife had not serially dropped hints that they had deep reservations about this country that only reinforced the messages we hear from Ayers and Wright (“God D—mn America”)—and therefore confirm the picture of the Obamas as products of a disturbing Chicago leftist circle.

Michelle announces that the U.S. is “downright mean” and that hitherto she had no reason to have pride in America (a logical thing to say, given whom the Obamas had associated with for years). Indeed, her assertions, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country,” was not only not an anomaly, but typical of her world view: “Our souls are broken in this nation, ” or “(America is) just downright mean.”

Indeed, such declarations are in line with Obama himself when he says, “And if that child should ever get the chance to travel the world and someone should ask her where is she from, we believe that she should always be able to hold her head high with pride in her voice when she answers, “I am an American.” I think most Americans, given what they’ve seen of the United Nations and the world abroad, are already proud to be Americans and don’t need Barack Obama to restore their faith. And if it were a question of being admired by those on the West Bank, or in Russia, or Iran, they’d rather be disliked.

Still More

Even all that would be tolerable if Obama did not almost serially make the most astounding statements, from calling (before chastised) for reparations, ethnic studies charter schools, and more “Oppression Studies” to demonizing the white working class of Pennsylvania (“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”)

More Still

But even his associates and his own admissions would not be fatal, had Obama himself not been involved in suspect organizations like ACORN, like the Woods Foundation, and like the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, that typically squandered someone else’s money to help radical organizations undermine existing institutions in service to some utopian vision of what they wish the United States someday to become.

Too Many Lacunae
And even then I would withhold judgment had Obama earned any record of success rather than played on identity politics. He had no distinguished record as an undergraduate at Columbia (so far as we can tell, given his refusal to release his transcripts) that would have won entry to Harvard Law School. Once there, he published nothing, in contrast to past editors at the Law Review. There is no record that his community organizing helped any but the career of Obama, and many of the Rezko projects are now boarded up. As a state legislator there is no record of legislative achievement, but plenty of ‘present’ votes to prepare for further career aggrandizement. As a Chicago Law Professor, there is not a single scholarly article of the sort Chicago insists on for everyone else. And as a US Senator, there is essentially a campaign for president from the day he was sworn in. So, yes, there is a pattern or rhetoric at the expense of achievement.

One sees that had Obama not been of half-African ancestry, or had he not used identity politics to accentuate that background, there is no reason to believe he would have ever left Chicago politics. Certainly he has no record comparable to a Rice or Powell, who excelled in their given areas of expertise, and while proud of their race, still felt it to be incidental to their professional personae. Again in contrast, when concerns about voter registration, Bill Ayers, or Obama’s experience are voiced, both the candidate and his appendages almost instinctively play the race card–we saw that today with the worries over Acorn and the attacks on Palin for raising the Ayers issue yesterday.

The Flip-flopping

And even then I would have withheld judgment had it not been for his (always later retracted after huddling with his advisers) revealing statements that an Iran was not much of a threat, that we needed to cut missile defense, that there was no need for further oil drilling should we just properly inflate our tires, that all U.S. troops should have left Iraq by March 2008, that we should leave NAFTA (later modified), that we should repeal the FISA accords (later modified), and a host of other disturbing contradictions on taxes, guns, abortion, capital punishment, public campaign financing, and almost every other position he took in the early primaries.

The Anoited Do as They Please

But even all that might be tolerable had Obama not engaged in questionable politics that reveal the Old Left’s doctrine of the noble ends always justifying the dirty means—suing to get an opponent off the ballot, his friends leaking, or in collusion with others leaking, sealed divorce records, not once, but twice to eliminate his primary and general election favored rivals, and now legions of Obamaniacs swarming radio shows to intimidate critics, fund raising millions of dollars illegally from foreign donors and the nonexistent, or his efforts to shut down free speech by seeking to sue or intimidate officials to stop unfavorable opposition ads.

Non Hic Porcus

So after a while, it adds up and becomes rather scary—and thus I still resist ‘we are the change we’ve been waiting for,’ vero possumus, and this is the moment when the planet ceased to warm and the seas subsided nonsense. And I have no apologies for such resistance, despite the swarm of emails one receives alleging racism, or worse for not bowing down in obeisance.


I must likewise differ with legions of readers who suggested Biden won the debate and I was remiss or blinkered in not acknowledging that. He was the more impressive in recall of “facts,” but they were not facts at all. In fact, almost everything he said was simply false, from nutty comments about Hezbollah in Lebanon and our strategy in Afghanistan to his own record on Iraq and Bosnia, or Obama’s stance on Iran. I prefer someone who honestly adduces a few real facts versus another far more polished who believes his sophistry and rhetoric allow him to present dozens of untruths under the banner of “experienced” and “knowledgeable.”

Biden has a little of the Obama con-artist in him (e.g., cf. Obama’s: “Another one of those tricks I had learned: (White) People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied, they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”). That is, Biden believes that his smile and rhetoric always allow him to say almost anything and (almost) get away with it. In the past, his plagiarism and phony bios had derailed his candidacy only when the evidence was so overwhelming as to become embarrassing for the media. This year had he not been allied with Obama, his serial gaffes, racist remarks, sexist condescension, and fabricated assertions on foreign policy would have long ago made him a national embarrassment.

So yes, I confess I am more impressed with the Idaho graduate who was earnest, if not sometimes hesitant, than the class toady who gets everything wrong as he smirks about his powers of recall. Biden’s falsity even extended to his appearance, as he wore too much make-up that only added to his image of vanity (whitened teeth, hair plugs, frozen forehead and smile).

Going negative

McCain’s problem is that after playing Zeus on Olympus, it is hard to bring up such worries about Obama’s judgment in friends, the type of associations he cultivated in Chicago, and his once hard-left views—without seeming crass and cruel. Obama has so prepped the battlefield, that legitimate worries about whom he knew, what he did, and how that past might explain some of his more astounding assertions, are now de facto seen as racist, or Rovian or mere “smears.”

For McCain to win, the current financial panic will have to subside, he will have to bring up Obama’s serial record of poor judgment, and his background which is far to the left of a Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, or Mondale, but quite synonymous with a European socialist. Palin will have to ignore critics and go out fighting in an unapologetic manner. She is an underutilized asset, since she has no qualms drawing distinct class and cultural lines, and only benefits when the elite go negative on her. It’s not over yet, but last night’s debate was a lost opportunity and such opportunities are rarer as the race winds down.

Debate Impressions

October 3rd, 2008 - 9:13 am

So Now What?

Bottom line: Under an enormous amount of pressure, with the McCain campaign slowing, Palin did a good job. Very good. If the loan guarantees stabilize markets and restore liquidity, and if McCain can do as well against Obama, then McCain/Palin can once more pull even. A lot of ifs. Yet the voters want reasons to vote for them, since they have greater trust in their authenticity rather than in the elegance of lawyers.

She ‘Doggoned’ him

Let me elaborate. Sophisticates would rather listen to the six-term Senator Biden suavely and masterfully mislead (on every thing from the legislative responsibilities of the Vice President and confusion about Article I of the Constitution to Hezbollah in Lebanon) than an honest and sincere Palin speak directly to the people. Everyone else would not.

So yes, Biden sounded the more impressive in terms of recall and facts, but it was the transitory experience of a mint that melts almost instantaneously—once you realize that almost all of the sweeping sweet assertions you just heard were, on reflection, simply untrue and so now gone and forgotten. The story today is an embarrassing fact-checking of Biden’s bombast to a far greater degree than is true of Palin’s assertions.

Listening to Biden was like hearing a probate lawyer who pounds you with facts and figures to convince you why his fee is larger that the size of the estate, expecting that you will leave the office reluctantly convinced, depressed, and broke, even as you realize that all his talents were put to no good use.

So the debate had the character of one of those 1940s “champ” fight movies, in which the deft, cocky and more refined puncher beats up—at the beginning—the nervous sweaty challenger with the far greater heart. A man with three decades in the Senate, who reminds us ad nauseam of where he was and what he has done almost every second, in theory should have easily won; but this simply did not happen, in part to Palin’s charisma and Biden’s pontifications and distortions.

What worries me is not that Palin could not do the job of Vice President, but that Obama may well be President, a man of dubious associations, a hyper-partisan voting record, a disturbing if not vicious campaign history in Illinois, with large lacunae in his past at Columbia, and before and during Harvard, and a record of very little accomplishment if not frequent failure as an ambitious community organizer, while a politicized professor at Chicago Law School without a trace of scholarly publication. The pattern is the same: rhetoric, identity politics, and charisma substitute for accomplishment as he goes from one position to the next before the assessment of the last is in.  In contrast, the mayorship in an Alaskan outback, local politics, the governorship of Alaska, at least suggest she had to perform in the give and take of rough and tumble Alaskan politics and be responsible for budgets, decisions, and hiring and firing. In that regard, Obama reminds me of a lot of the very bright people I went to graduate school with, and Palin the very independent and reliable people I farmed with.

…And ‘Aw-shucked’ ‘em

Back to the debate: as the rounds wore on, Palin lost much of her nervousness, smiled, and finally came into her own as the voice of an outsider who was not impressed by the same old, same old DC smugness. And as she did punch back, Biden began losing his composure, sighing with occasional break-ins and interruptions.

The more data he cited (much of it, again, less than factual [e.g., Biden really did, as Palin noted,  rule out coal-generated power; he really did once deprecate Obama’s Iraq suggestions as ill-founded and dangerous; and he really does wish to create a trillion dollars in new spending entitlements; and senior commanders really do think the tactics in Iraq, mutatis mutandis, are of enormous advantage in Afghanistan]), the less effective he became. He’s a good debater, but he ended up out-pointing Palin and still clearly losing.

The people, in the sense of those outside DC, wanted for some reason for Palin to do well, as much as the media wanted her to lose.

…And she ‘you betched’ him too

I cannot think of any presidential or vice presidential candidate who talked—manner, accent, gesture—in an authentically Middle Class fashion, and did so unapologetically. Bill Clinton could do it, but it was a performance to be turned on and off as needed. She sounds like voices in America (I’m in rural Michigan as I write this); but compared to life in the DC/NY nexus, she sounds like she’s from Mars as well. Biden often looked like an anthropological grad student on a South Pacific island doing his field work, both intrigued and taken back by the quaint habits of the otherwise inferior natives. I almost thought in the fashion of John Kerry he would sigh “I can’t believe I’m losing to this…..”

We are so ready to adjudicate political wisdom in terms of instant recall of facts, clever political response, repartee, and spin, to the point of never asking cui bono?  What did all that learning and recall of Biden’s matter when he could not even admit honestly that McCain wants to do all that it takes to win in Iraq and leave a stable government behind and Obama all that he can to get out as soon as possible?

No one believes McCain cut off funds to deny the troops; everyone knows that a cessation of funds was one of the ways Obama wished to get us out of Iraq: rightly or wrongly, Obama wanted us completely out by March 2008.

Why not simply admit that in the heady days of March 2003, Biden was all for charging into Iraq, (that was why he voted for authorization, contrary to his debate spin), then bailed when things got bad (about the very time when Obama, in contrast, for a moment said he had no substantial differences from George Bush on Iraq), and then wanted to trisect the country, and now, in his fourth incarnation, claims he never really said Obama’s views were dangerous on Iraq.  Why the contortions? No wonder we empathized with Sarah when she too was confused by Bidenism.
It’s up to McCain now in the next two debates. If he does the “We are all members of the brotherhood of the Senate” stuff, he will lose. If he takes on Frank, Dodd, Obama and others for Freddie and Fannie collusion, asks why Obama won’t release his transcripts, asks why there is always an Ayers, Pleger, Wright, Rezko, etc. in Obama’s past, he can turn it  around. McCain must realize that he is running against someone who got both the primary and general election opposition candidates, both Democrat and Republican, for the Illinois Senate to pull out, by leaks and smears from sealed divorce cases. Obama is ruthless; and  he will hope and change McCain to the gallows, as he runs a tough campaign of character assassination and anything goes under the mantra of there are no red or blue states, come together kumbaya.

The Road to Perdition

I was reminded last night how tired we’ve become by all these professionals who pontificate, strut, and then say nothing or utter nonsense.  Let me illustrate: I have watched the demagogic Rep. Barney Frank for the last two weeks panicking like a teen-driver who was caught with an open container, screaming and crying that conservatives in DC caused all of Wall Street’s graft—when any one who saw tapes of the past Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac oversight hearings could see the pompous Frank obstructing needed regulation in service to his political agenda, with no concern about the public purse or the poor investor, only the heady notion that he, the anointed, was advancing liberal doctrine at someone else’s exposure in getting “the poor” into houses by hook or crook.

Of those many embarrassing committee moments,  my favorite exchange was brilliant Rep. Frank, as the Harvard Law Graduate, genuflecting to another Harvard Law School graduate, the equally proclaimed brilliant Franklin Raines, who profited in the millions as he helped to ruin a once hallowed housing agency—both smug as they engage in just the sort of skullduggery that caused the meltdown and cost millions of Americans hundreds of millions of dollars.

Both should read their Hesiod to learn why sometimes with intellectual progress can come moral regress:

Rep. Frank: Let me ask [George] Gould and [Franklin] Raines on behalf of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, do you feel that over the past years you have been substantially under-regulated?

 Mr. Raines?

Mr. Raines: No, sir.

Mr. Frank: Mr. Gould?

Mr. Gould: No, sir. . . .

Mr. Frank: OK. Then I am not entirely sure why we are here . . .

Presto! There it is. The two legal eagles agree Mr. Raines is not underregulated, so ipso facto, of course, the dishonest Mr. Raines is NOT underregulated, the dazzling disingenuous Mr. Frank is vindicated—and we are all on the road to perdition as Freddie and Fannie cascade and start the avalanche.
And you wonder why people root for the likes of a fresh, but nervous Palin against these cool composed geniuses?
A note
No apologies on the Palin parody I wrote for NRO. A careful read will easily reveal the essay’s intent: had Palin simply said the nonsense Biden has voiced we would think she was lunatic and she should be gone from the race–and that disconnect reminds us again how the media sadly ignores the most unhinged things if only they come from the politically-correct. Imagine this: If Sarah should say, as did Biden, that Americans once watched “President” FDR on TV in 1929 rally the public after the Great Panic—Sarah is history. Fact. End of story.
All welcome
No one censors any comments on this site. A pajamas editor, I think, scans all postings for obscenity and the usual hate trash, but no political ideas are cut out by me, however strange some of these read. I don’t mind the criticism from the Obama supporters. That’s democracy and we all must take our hits in the arena. My only observation from my angry email at victorhanson.com and personal email accounts, is that there is a sort of regimentation to this bloc outraged opposition, (reminding me of that creepy school girls singing tape glorifying the hope and change prophet) in which any doubt about Obama’s apotheosis earns a massive orchestrated response–as the legions march out lock-step to the internet to kill the barbarians who doubt the divinity of the emperor, and then dutifully report back to their legates that pila are thrown in unison and swords properly drawn and used.