October 23, 2008

Palin' Around with Personal Shoppers

After the American Century

In these hard economic times I am happy to report that Sarah Palin has been doing all she can to support the flagging economy. In New York Ms. Palin and her family have been spending large sums on clothing and other personal items. At Neiman Marcus alone they spent $75,062 (and 63 cents). For most American families that would be plenty. But on the very same day, September 10, they went to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and spent another $41,850. I find this gargantuan shopping spree as impressive, in its own way, as slaughtering a moose. Of course, they are a large family, with more on the way.

By comparison, Bloomingdale's must have been a mere pit stop, because in there they only spent $5,102.71. I don't know why they bothered to go in, if they couldn't find more than that. But perhaps the Palins were getting weighed down by all those bags and boxes. The last time I spent $75,000 on clothing it really was a hassle to carry all that stuff. I can see why so many working-class Americans identify with Palin, because I am sure that given the chance they would rush out and spend that kind of money, too.

You will be pleased to know that this all-American family had help from personal shoppers. In fact, they probably were not even in all those stores in just one day. I find it hard to believe that they could buy all that stuff in New York, and the very same day spend $4,396.94 at Macy’s in Minneapolis, and again on that very same day, purchase more great stuff down in St. Louis. So, they had some help, which is the way it should be for every all-American family.

All this essential clothing was purchased, for the whole family, by the Republican National Committee. Wasn't that nice of them? They may be the Party against government hand-outs, but obviously they don't carry that philosophy too far.

Some day the Palins will give all these clothes away to charity, because otherwise they would have to include them in their personal income taxes. Just think, some lucky people are going to get the Palin cast-offs. That proves Republicans don't just talk about trickle-down economics. If Palin gets elected, I expect she will help wealthy people to do the same thing. In her case, I think the ideal recipient would be Joe the Plumber. He could sell some of the stuff and go get a plumbing license.

October 21, 2008

McCain's New Myth - Joe the Plumber

After the American Century

In case anyone missed it, John McCain has tried to make Obama look bad by emphasizing the plight of an Ohio plumber "Joe." The gist of the argument, if it can be called that, is that poor Joe (who it turns out has made racist remarks and is not in fact a licensed plumber) would be taxed by the Obama tax plan, which will raise taxes on those who make more than $250,000 a year, (more than 1.3 million Danish Kroner). Paul Krugman, who is this year's Nobel Prize winner in economics, has demolished this silly myth in a column in the New York Times that I highly recommend.

The Republican gambit, as ever, is to claim the GOP represents a silent middle class white majority. But this mythological group is getting smaller and harder to find, not least because of the Bush tax policies that have hammered the middle class. As Krugman points out, the plumbers of Ohio, on average, make less than $50,000 a year. They are not by any stretch of the imagination close to being potential victims of a tax increase. Rather, all of them have been victims of Bush's 2001 tax cuts for the rich, which McCain wants to make permanent. The plumbers of the nation in 2008 have less real income today than they did in 2001, and their dollar is worth less abroad, too. Worst of all, the middle class is now going to pay for the failed deregulation of Wall Street investment banks, which McCain also supported.

McCain is really quite shameless in lying to hard working people and pretending his policies will not continue to push them down. The Republicans engage in class warfare, but pretend to be the friends of labor. Anyone who doubts this can look at the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 2008, which documents the declining wealth of the working class and the middle class, in more detail than McCain has ever mastered. As I noted a few days ago in his space, according to the Statistical Abstract, from 2000 until 2005, the average white family lost $1,300 in annual income, in constant dollars, and it has gotten worse since then. It would be nice to have a Republican candidate, maybe in 2012, who made valid economic arguments rather than just shouting the same misinformation day after day. McCain has repeated this nonsense about Obama raising taxes for months now. Once a man of honor, he now has no shame.

Sarah Palin, Still Hiding from the Press

After the American Century

With just two weeks until election day, Sarah Palin still has not held a press conference, and she has permitted almost no interviews. Joe Biden has been interviewed more than 90 times since becoming the Democratic VP nominee, and he has held countless press conferences in his career as Senator.

The closest thing to an actual vetting by the press was a parody on Saturday Night Live, where Ms Palin appeared briefly. Even there she did not take questions, however. Meanwhile, she runs around the US asking "Who is Obama?" as if anyone knew anything about her, or had even heard of her before late August. In fact, she apparently has not released anything like complete medical records either.

There is no precedent for a candidate remaining so remote from the press. The possible conclusions are:
A) Palin is afraid to meet the press without a script to read.
B) The McCain campaign is afraid that she will reveal egregious deficiencies in her knowledge of national policies and world events.
C) Palin and McCain think that a press conference is really not important.
D) All of the above. (This is likely the correct answer.)

Until she stands up and proves otherwise, it seems thatMs. Palin knows incredibly little . I doubt that she has ever read a complex book in her life, and do not think she could analyze a complex situation. She may smile nicely, but she appears to be a vindictive, self-centered person and an inveterate prevaricator. She also appears contemptuous of those who do not share her limited views. Nuance is not her forte.

Colin Powell was correct when he said that Palin is not ready for high office. By putting her on the ticket, McCain has made it impossible for a thoughtful fellow Republican and friend to vote for him.

But Palin has done one signal service to the world, giving us accurate polling statistics about the size of the brainless vote. It appears that the feeble-minded remain a large constituency, as the re-election of George W. Bush already suggested in 2004. An astonishing 37% of those who watched the debate between Joe Biden and a Barbie Doll spouting memorized text that often had nothing to do with the question asked, thought the Barbie Doll won. More than one third of the American public lacks critical judgement, at least when listening to her. Polling statistics further show that people making between $40,000 and $100,000 narrowly favored Palin over Biden, as did those over 65. This is more than sad. Since McCain at best is now polling about 43%, this strongly hints that his base, the Republican base, the base that supports Creationism and is anti-abortion and pro-gun, live in a world befogged by slogans, and that a mere handful of McCain supporters doubt Sarah Palin's ability. With US voters like these, who needs foreign enemies?

Fortunately, more Americans can see the rearview mirror, though this is not really enough when voting on future leaders. More than 70% of the public understands that George W. Bush has done a poor job. Nevertheless, the inescapable conclusion must be that 37% of those who watched the VP debates showed interest in the political process but lack judgement. Such people presumably do not care whether Palin has held any press conferences or not.

Palin remains the least vetted candidate in American history. Dan Quale conceivably could have lost his title as the least qualified vice president. But it appears that he can hang on to that distinction, though Palin most certainly can be crowned the least qualified VP candidate, ever.

October 19, 2008

Why Is Obama Falling Slightly in Polls?

After the American Century

Just a month ago, on September 19, McCain and Obama were tied in the polls. Then as the economic crisis rolled over America, Obama rose in the polls. He also won all three debates. Nevertheless, after rising to more than a 7 point advantage in an average of the polls, in the last few days he has begun to fall again, and now has an overall advantage of 4.9%, which is is 3.3% lower than it was on October 14. In other words, the average of all the polls shows a clear downward line for the last five days, for reasons that are not readily apparent.

Looking back over the campaign, one can see a yo-yo pattern. McCain led Obama in late March, then lost ground, briefly pulled ahead of Obama in the middle of April, then lost ground again, was tied with him on May 2, then lost ground, pulled within 0.7% of Obama on June 1, and then lost ground. McCain also drew within 1.2% of Obama on August 20 fell behind due to the "convention bounce" for the Democrats, but then had an even bigger favorable bounce himself. Then for ten days, from September 7 to 17, McCain was ahead.

This see-saw ride does not seem to be over. For months, the electorate has leaned toward Obama and then pulled back, over and over again. Just a few days ago it seemed obvious that McCain had all but lost the election, and indeed he took his staff out of both Wisconsin and Maine recently, pulling back to defend his slumping popularity in North Carolina, Florida, and Missouri.

The puzzling pattern of Obama's waxing and waning national popularity may be unimportant, of course. But many volatile voters apparently keep changing their minds. This is especially interesting because of the so-called "Bradley effect," named after a Los Angeles mayor. An African-American, he ran far ahead in the polls, but narrowly lost It seemed that many whites were reluctant to say they would vote against a Black man, but in fact this is what they did in the privacy of the polling booth. That was in 1982. Will Obama also be hurt by the Bradley effect? Or is the US signigicantly less racist now? It does seem that at least in the Democratic primaries last spring the Bradley effect was not much in evidence.

A second possibility is that many Americans are beginning to worry about giving the Democrats too much power. It seems certain they will increase their control of both the House and the Senate. Add a landslide White House victory, and the Democrats could do whatever they wanted. US voters are inveterate ticket-splitters. They seem to like it when the power of the executive from one party is checked by a Congress controlled by the other party. Some swing voters may be swayed by that argument to vote for McCain.

Yet another possibility is that uncertain voters are swinging back and forth between Obama and third party candidates. The more certain Obama's victory (and McCain's defeat) seems, the easier it might be for independent-minded voters to pull the lever for Nader or Barr. Curiously, this is good news for the Democrats. The polls strongly suggest that Nader and Barr are taking more votes away from McCain than from Obama. When all four candidates are included in polls, McCain's total falls 3.4%, while Obama loses only 1%. In short, voter volatility may not express dissatisfaction with Obama, but unstable support for McCain.

In fifteen days we will know whether Obama has achieved the landslide some are now beginning to predict, or whether his decline in the polls the last five days is just a blip on the screen or part of a tightening of the race down to the wire.

October 17, 2008

Obama and the Bush Economic Legacy

After the American Century

The final debate is over, and again the American public has said in polls that Obama won. He has defeated McCain now three times, by a wider margin each time. Joe Biden also defeated Sarah Palin. If this were the World Series, then at 4 - 0 it would be all over. But there are 18 days or so left, when conceivably the Republicans can pull some improbable rabbit out of their economy-battered hat. I doubt it, however.

One thing that has become quite clear in these encounters is that Obama is not easily ruffled. Throughout the campaign, whenever McCain let off a nasty remark or a made an attack, Obama remained cool, even-tempered, often smiling. Voters clearly prefer a man who remains dignified to one who is irate, one who has specific proposals to one who mostly repeats the same generalizations over and over. (See, for example, McCain's utterly vague remarks on Social Security in the second debate.)

It also seems likely that McCain's endless claim that Obama was going to raise taxes simply did not convince anyone, even "Joe the Plumber" in Ohio, who, it now turns out, is not a plumber after all. What I do not really understand is why the Democrats have not said more often that all they want to do is go back to the tax system that worked so well in the Clinton years. No need for fancy explanations, just say the truth, that Bush lowered taxes on the rich, creating a deficit for all Americans to pay off.

While Obama seems likely to win the election on the economy, however, the financial mess he inherits is daunting. I checked the statistics today, and it is absolutely true that the average American, white or Black or Hispanic, lost real income during the Bush years, even before the current financial collapse. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, from 2000 until 2005, the average white family lost $1,300 in annual income, in constant dollars. It was worse for African-American families, who averaged a $2,700 loss, and they were starting from a lower income to begin with. For Hispanic Americans the loss was "only" $1000. They did a bit better, on paper, but bear in mind that the undocumented immigrants, of which there are an estimated 10 million now, are largely Hispanic, and they get the lowest wages.

These losses continued in 2006, 2007, and the present year, so that the average American quite literally has been worse off because of George W. Bush's tax policies combined with no real support for unions or for a higher minimum wage. Indeed, as many commentators have pointed out, the Bush Administration oversaw the redistribution of wealth to those who least needed it. The poorest 40% of the American population, who are largely working poor and lower middle class, collectively got more than 13% of all income in 2001 when Bush took office. By 2005, however, this hard-working group, whose health care expenses shot up far faster than inflation, were collectively much worse off, with only 12% of the total income. While they were falling, the next 40% was holding even, i.e. keeping the same share as before. The only group that was getting higher incomes after Bush were the top 20% of wage-earning Americans. This is nothing short of a disgrace, when the economy as a whole was doing well (until two months ago). But it may be hard to redress this economic injustice when the economy is in recession.

Should John McCain somehow win, of course, the unfairness will worsen, and class discrimination continue. It was quite ridiculous to hear McCain call Obama's tax plans a form of class warfare. The unfairness began in 2001, and the Republicans knew exactly what they were doing. If they were honest, they would admit that their fantasies of a deregulated economy lifting all boats led to a tsunami of bad debt.

October 11, 2008

McCain Offense Offensive

After the American Century

In the last two weeks the McCain campaign has become ever more offensive, in both meanings of the term. They are verbally on the offensive because they are losing in the polls, and instead of talking about the issues, they are demeaning themselves by stooping to the lowest form of gutter politics. Hardly a day goes by without McCain or one of his surrogates insinuating or even directly stating that Barack Obama is consorting with terrorists or is a covert terrorist or has a suspicious sounding name, and so forth.

The only shred of evidence they have is that, what a surprise, Obama in the course of serving on many committees and organizations, has just once been on a board with someone that was a student radical in the 1960s. Lest we forget, Obama himself was a child in the 1960s, and had nothing to do with the movements of those years. It is true for any politician that he meets thousands of people, and can always been accused of sharing the views of those whom he has been seen with or shaking hands with.

But to call Obama a terrorist because he was in the same room with a college professor with a radical past is no more credible than claiming that McCain is a communist because he spent time in a communist prison camp and was brain-washed there. You do not see the Obama camp making that sort of claim. Nor have the Democrats raked through the thousands of contacts McCain has had over the years to find "proof" that because he was in the same room with someone he therefore shares their political views.

This sort of guilt-by-association can only remind Americans of the excesses of Joe McCarthy. It is intended to distract attention from the faltering McCain campaign, but it undermines the "straight-talk express." The worst excesses are now at the Palin rallies where she has been whipping crowds into a frenzy of anger and hate. Meanwhile, she refuses to testify in the investigation into her apparent abuse of power as governor. Both in her rhetoric and in her behavior, she demeans the GOP, which may need eight years to recover from such tactics.

The Republicans seem almost certain to lose this election, but they could do so with dignity and honor in tact, ready to fight another day. However, it appears that McCain has decided he would rather befoul his formerly good name in a desperate attempt to smear his opponent, rather than appeal to the electorate on the basis of policies and principles.His stump speeches reportedly are now perfunctory and brief on the issues, before turning to a villification of his opponent. The campaign might have been a dignified discussion of the issues. Instead, the Republicans are taking the low road.

October 05, 2008

Obama would win if the election were tomorrow. But it isn't.

After the American Century

With less than 30 days remaining in the presidential race, McCain seems to be falling behind. A series of recent polls has revealed that states once considered toss-ups like Michigan and Pennsylvania, now are clearly in the Obama column. Indeed, the McCain campaign has pulled its operation out of Michigan, probably because the money and the personnel are needed in Florida, where Obama has a slight lead (4%), or perhaps in North Carolina, where McCain also has fallen slightly behind according to some polls. The trend all across the country seems much the same, with swing states leaning toward Obama, including Nevada, Colorado (just barely), and Virginia. These states went to Bush in 2000 and 2004. McCain retains the lead in two swing states, Missouri and Indiana, in each case just 2% - within the margin of polling error.

The New York Times now estimates that Obama has 260 electoral votes secured, compared to only 200 for McCain, with 78 votes still up for grabs. That means Obama would only need to nail down 10 more votes to become president. However, the Times takes a smaller number of polls into consideration and is a bit cautious. In contrast, Real Clear Politics estimates that if the election were tomorrow, Obama would win easily, with 353 electoral votes, compared to only 185 for McCain. The national polls now uniformly put Obama ahead, Rasmussen Reports has a daily tracking poll, which for the last ten days has shown McCain trailing by 6 or 7% every day.

The focus of attention has narrowed to seven states, which between them have 89 electoral votes. These are Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia. Put another way, for McCain, four states that looked possible for him two weeks ago are now off the table: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan. Together they have 52 electoral votes.

Is it suddenly all over? The Vice-Presidential debate was so recent that it has not yet registered in polls, but it should only reinforce these trends. Initial polls suggested that Biden won it by a wide margin, especially among independent voters. If the trend is clear, however, the battle continues. Recall that McCain pulled ahead twice, briefly in August and then again in early September. Then the shocking collapse of the Wall Street investment banks clearly favored Obama.

In a campaign year of so many twists and turns, it seems unlikely that the Democrats will have clear sailing now. Look for an October surprise, perhaps from the Karl Rove trainees who manage the McCain attack advertisements.

October 03, 2008

Palinitudes, Palinites, Playing the Palin Card

After the American Century

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden have now debated. Based on the substance of the debate, no one could doubt that Palin lost. She continually retreated into a memorized script or gave short vague answers. She endlessly mouthed platitudes about growing the economy and seemed to have only a vague idea about what the problem is at the moment on Wall Street and in the banking system. Take away the folksy rhetoric and the smiles, and there was almost nothing there.

Joe Biden was a huge contrast. He had command of the facts on any issue that came up, and his vast experience repeatedly showed in his answers. He also has the gravitas that Palin forever will lack. Yet, it is entirely possible that after Sarah Palin fades into the obscurity she so richly deserves, the name Palin may remain behind to enrich our political vocabulary. Here are some of the useful possibilities.

Palinesque, loud, brassy and self-assured but without substance.

Palingo, using a grammar so fractured that all meaning disappears, although appropriate buzz words are prominent. Especially useful in debates.

Palinitude, a statement that appears obviously true to fundamentalist Republicans and obviously false to everyone else.

Palinites, white mothers with little education but passionate self-assurance, who embrace moralistic rhetoric, fundamentalist religion, creationism, and blind patriotism.

Palinicity, a word like ethnicity, to refer to this group. Future commentators might say that a certain candidate's palinicity had yet to be tested in the rural slums of the Bible Belt.

Palinize, 1. verb, to put lipstick on an animal, 2. verb, to attempt to distract attention from a bad idea. You can palinize a pig, but it's still a pig.

Palinoscopy an investigative probe to nowhere.

Playing the Palin Card, nominating such a women for an important position, in hopes that the Palinites will vote for the ticket.

The problem with Playing the Palin Card, however, as John McCain has begun to notice, is that while Palinites cheer wildly whenever they hear a Palinitude the same statements simultaneously alienate the rest of the electorate. Furthermore, McCain has begun to appear palinesque because he chose her in the first place.

I interviewed an Alaskan moose recently who told me that palinites are never environmentalists. They hunt from helicopters, take no prisoners, and eat their enemies. Hence the term palinity, which means "genial ferocity." (Do not confuse palinity with palinicity, defined above.)

The last month of the campaign is likely to be increasingly palinesque as McCain palinizes his proposals and spouts palinitudes. The whole painful process might be called palinization.
Should McCain and Palin lose the election, there may follow that investigation into her possible abuse of power in the Alaska trooper-gate investigation. Call it palingate if you must, but it might prove a palinoscopy.