Personal: August 2008 Archives

Why are Democrats in sequence so bumfuzzled and then so smug and soft-headed? There's just never the sense with them that they can simply make a decision, establish a conviction, and then follow it through. Always there is the handwringing and the worry, asking themselves "oh, is this a good idea". And when they get what they want, all they can do is be smug - feel good about themselves. They're like an Alzheimers patient in a whorehouse. Every 4 years the same things happen - they constantly get screwed, and they don't want to pay for it. They wake up the day after the election and wonder to their self-righteous selves, "how did this happen?" "Somehow the evil Republicans stole the electon from us with their evil evil evil-doing."

They can never imagine how they are wrong. They can never admit that the ideals they put forward are in some way fundamentally, and unequivocally, flawed. It may make them feel all warm and fuzzy to say that jobs must stay in America and not be outsourced, but that doesn't make their conviction in any way right or in any way justified. And when they get uppity about tolerance for other people, they seem to have no notion of how much people are tired of being called racist or predjudiced just for getting up in the morning. As long as Democrats think they are constantly on the brightest white side of Good, and the Republicans are somehow inherently evil, they will never have the muddy pragmatic realism to win with people who don't give themselves the luxury of being too good to come in first.

Obama can preach his gospel all he wants, but as long as his oratory is used to serve the base crassness of decieving yourself as right in order to play on the irrational fears of populist sentiment, he can take his "new politics" and shove it up his ass. You are not being "right" when you insist still on not telling the truth about how things are. And to pretend that you are telling the truth while lying and distorting is surely a larger sin than simple pandering. If you're going to pander at least have some shame in it. Hillary and McCain are held back a little each time they have to push out crap in order to get themselves elected. It doesn't mean they're not going to do it, but at least they don't seem so proud of themselves having done it.

Say what you want about McCain on the attack - he is always principled enough to sign his name at the end of everything he does. He has at least that much pride. Obama has taken to being shy and hiding his ownership of his negative attacks. McCain tags all his ads at the end, so that even after the knife is stuck in, you know who did it. Obama's been doing it up front, so that by the end, you're not sure who did what. And know who does what is the fundamental step you follow in language and in narrative in order to be honest to how things are. If you're going to attack, you can't be shy about soiling your lily white hem with your opponent's blood. Stop pretending to be self-righteous and admit you're playing the same game everyone else is, rather than pretending to stand above it all. You are not a fucking saint. Your party is not a party of saints. At least Republicans have no shame in being who they are.

Decrying the politics of personal destruction, and still playing the gotcha game (saying McCain thinks people aren't rich till their income is $5 million) is fine if you're a normal politician - but not when you think you're the second coming of Christ. No one is better than the game. If you can play, then you surrender yourself to the compromises you have to make. Acting better than how you are is the real presumptuosness.

As for the speech, I've seen this movie before. It worked the first time. But fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. If you're not willing to offer realistic, substantive, concrete ideas devoid of hyperbole and outsize rhetoric, you are not being honest to the people you're talking to. Let your ideas be dramatic, rather than the way you couch it. Say you want affirmative action to be based on economic status rather than race. Admit that allowing people to invest their private savings accounts rather than paying into a failed Social Security system is not "gambling your money on the stockmarket", but rather ensuring for themselves a higher rate of return than the opportunity cost of capital.

Barack Obama is fundamentally irresponsible. These are the most fundamental things I taught my students when I taught them writing: 1) Be clear on who is doing what. Do not obfuscate the agency of a given action. 2) Do not exhalt with melodrama something that is paltry. If something is important, all the more it should be presented in the clarity of prose so that the emergency of what is happening can be appreciated for what it is, rather than exaggerated beyond any accurate of realistic sense.

Barack Obama is fundamentally irresponsible.

Jaimy Gordon said something particularly memorable to me once. She was rightfully reacting to my frequent and strenuous complaints about sentimentality in the writing we were reading for workshop. She described a New Yorker cartoon in which a man is reading a book. As the panels progress, he gets more and more engaged, more and more distraught, more and more moved by what he's reading. But as we get to the last panel, we see him sitting in front of a typewriter, stoney faced with a ballon showing what he's typing - "what a load of sentimental bullshit" - or something similar.

I very much sympathise with that cartoon, because it's a process I find myself repeating very often. I remember even when I was much younger, when I watched Titanic in the cinema, how I wept while watching it - though to be accurate to what went on, there were personal aspects that led up to that event. Once it was over, of course I felt completely manipulated by filmmaking that's the equivalent of pushing an elevator button. Of course over the years I've come to understand at least in part how the percolation of a Marxian perspective very much assists in creating this odd sentiment. This dictates that we should always strive to be able to understand what is going on by looking at it from the outside rather than from the inside (to put it rather simplistically) - not inhabiting the emotion, but rather questioning why that emotion is evinced. This does not necessarily undercut the sincerity of all emotion per se - but it curses us to always question the nature of our being affected by something we watch or observe.

If we were to do a practical criticism, a close analysis, of why we are affected by the ending of great expectations - especially when we are in the courtroom with pip and magwitch and we understand there to be no "help or pity in all the world" - we would perhaps dissect with awe the way dickens constructs scene, uses language etc.

In a political context though, when the sentiments you have to put forward have to be repeatable (in a stump speech) or reproducible (in the sentimental medium that is television) or is in fact the translation and repetition of affections past - it is no less able to bring about emotion. But in the context of such a direct appeal to persuasion - to vote one way or another, rather than to simply nudge people towards a more nuanced understanding of how things are or a particularly focused world view - you question whether it really should be about emotion as a means of persuasion.

The more I think about it, the more I think persuasion should be about facts. About rationality. If you want to help poor people, the question is not how do we make people feel for poor people, it is what are the best policies to lift those people out of poverty. And unfortunately sometimes those policies can seem counterintuitive - like taxing the rich less. It might not make any conventional or emotional sense - certainly not as much as giving the poor money (though that's a good idea too, via the EITC) - but if it's borne out by the facts, how it feels shouldn't make a difference.

But I'm a sucker, whether Adeena would believe it or not, and I'm a sucker for a reality distortion field. That's why I'm emotionally entertained by Steve Jobs, and why I can't help but be emotionally entertained by Michelle Obama's speech.

But so what if you feel the pain of the common people? So what if you are "like them"? Will it stop you from enacting policies simply because you think they'll work and hope they'll work, rather than counterintuitive policies that smart people can measurably and verifiably tell you will work? Because I can never help but worry that Democrats are too soft-headed not to damn the people they are trying to help, just because they can't help themselves from giving in to what people want rather than standing up for what is in those people's long term best interests. You can try and protect people all you want from the pain of free trade and lost industry, but all you're doing is delaying and magnifying the inevitable, rather than doing the hard and radical work required to create a situation where the impact of these changes would be minimised.

Jaimy also helpfully points out that people have every right to be surprised when they find out I'm not an only child.

I've always been a big fan of Blackbird. I consider it probably the best place to go that I know of to get finely prepared food in Chicago. That may change as my experience widens, but by and large that impression has stayed with me, and whenever I go back, the food seldom disappoints. The high point was going for their New Year's Eve tasting menu, that I found altogether sublime, and which highlighted some of the key strengths of their kitchen. I've always had lovely amuse bouche there, and they've typically been fish, and they have a real strength in cooking pork.

Having said all that I suppose already constitutes a mini review of Blackbird (all that's left to say is that I really appreciate them having a small piece by Tony Fitzpatrick in each of their washrooms). Which brings me to Avec, their sister restaurant, located right next door. It's meant to be trendier and more casual, in contrast to the elegance and grace of Blackbird. I'm more a Blackbird person by nature, but it's the variety of food that pulls me to say more than that about Avec.

The first time I went to Avec, I made the mistake of going at their peak. It probably didn't help that they'd been featured on the then current season of Top Chef in Chicago. But yes, right round 7pm till whenever they close, whenever I've driven past, it's always been packed to the gills. That experience was saved really by the food, which is why I went back, but otherwise it's not what I would have thought of as ideal. I imagine that there are people who love to dawdle and socialise in a place where you can't hear yourself think, much less talk, but I'm not one of them, and if I'm going to spend copious amounts of time in a place, it would have to have a much more relaxed atmosphere. But that might just be me. trendier souls than myself may find this their Mecca, but I can find the ambience a little wanting.

Again, if you love to dawdle, you won't mind placing a drink order and waiting at least 45 minutes for a seat at the bar (a seat at a table is even longer). And while their wine selection exhibits the same elegance Blackbird does, and I could guzzle on that teat quite happily, you will be standing outside next to the rather busy Randolph St. I for one have never been quite happy in less than contolled temperature environments, and car exhaust does nothing for me.

But fine, to go through a long wait and less than ideal environment, the food service should be as impeccable as the food itself promises to be, given the lineage. Unfortunately the service tends towards the harried, with a distinct feeling that the place is at least understaffed. Our food took absolutely forever to come, and the timing in between courses was just way too long. And for that, there's none of the customary geniality of Blackbird. I suspect unless you're a regular or a big spender, terse is the watchword. But the food was very good, and very good enough to make us want to come back. I think the hostess (who's quite handsome, if you're into such things) was free enough to answer our question about when they're less harried, and we resolved to come back then - they open at 3pm, and they don't get too crowded till around 6 plus.

Today was a happy day, and we hadn't eaten yet at 4 something, so we took a swing and got there about 5, which seemed just right. Everything was lazy and laid back. On stepping in you would have thought it was the serving staff having their dinner break, rather than paying customers. We got to sit at a table, we didn't have to sit precariously at the bar, we were able to order fast and our food was timed well for arrival. Not that I go in for excessive schmoozing, but our server seemed particularly unwilling to go through the motions with us the way he was with the rest of the clientele, and I wonder what the fuck that was about. To be sure I was a little unkempt and we only had a single glass of wine between us (a nice Grenache - fruity but still mild) - I suppose more leisurely places must make more of their income on pushing the drinkies, but still - that's no call for being selective in your service.

monkey had the medjool dates - and this may be my ignorance, but they were absolutely lovely. I'm not sure where the dates were in the bowl of four, they were probably holding the spectacular meatball in the middle, covered by the bacon wrapping it all up, but the experience as a whole was very charming. The tomato sauce I thought was particularly outstanding. Next was the pork shoulder, and that was absolutely spectacular. If anything, even though the pork was absolutely perfect, it was the seasonal vegetables accompanying, lovingly rendered in the not-too-heavy pork fat, that was most outstanding. It all came together in a way altogether heavenly. Anything with pork I suspect is a home run in either restaurant, personally.

In comparison, the large plates were altogether fine, but less than spectacular after the pork. I suppose if we were more tuned in to the style of the place, we would have just had more and more small plates, but we wanted a main along with the starters, at least this time round. The pasta was next (they don't update the menus online, so I'm not sure if it was linguine or tagliatelle) - very nice, if a little heavy on the oil and a little oddly tart. Nothing to write home about, but very solid. The pizza similarly was very nice, very fine. Perhaps the meat on top was a little clumped and a little over salted. Overall the use of pepper was strong but that was actually very much to my liking. Good dishes, but overshadowed by memories of pork.

Dessert was uninspired polenta cake for her, and rather good thin chocolate bars for me. Doesn't seem as if dessert is their core competancy, so if you're full, you might just skip it for coffee and port.

To paraphrase Celia, I'm not sure if this is a place where I could willingly waste my time, but the food is definitely worth coming for, and if you're there when the food arrives in a timely fashion and you're not elbow to elbow with everyone else in there, it can be a positively happy experience. I can't see though the harm in finding a way for there to be even one more server, or if it comes to that, making a less clear distinction between the servers and the bus-boys. The service isn't friendly to speed in any situation, but that may just be my own impatience at the pace of American food.

Socialist gains are irreversible.

Again it's nice when people decide to act like they're dribbling idiots. Mindless paste-eating toddlers who can't tell the difference between the toppling of a violent regime who had attacked its neighbours, commited crimes against humanity and defied world opinion in claiming to possess weapons that would be an imminent threat to world security (Iraq) and a regime similar to that (Russia) attempting to exert imperialist influence over a sovereign and democratic nation (Georgia).

This is where the hysterical hyperbole just gets in the way of any kind of good sense. For all the many many faults of the US invasion of Iraq, the US has no desire to be imperialist. In fact it is having to empty its coffers in order to assist in restoring order and assist in the rebuilding of that country. Anyone who cannot tell the difference between that and the thuggish terrorising of a sovereign nation needs to stop eating lead paint. How can I make it any clearer? The US does not want, neither does it intend, to operate Iraq as if it were a satellite state.

Whatever you want to say about the pretext for war in Iraq, there was sufficient acknowledgement within the relevant security council resolutions for a legal basis for regime change. In the case of Georgia, the Russians provoked a response from the Georgian government after months of goading them. And with that slight provocation, proceeded to offer the most disproportionate response imaginable. If the Russian army had not planned the invasion, do you think it could so easily mobilise as quickly as all that?

Would it be nice if the US had a halo and did the right thing all the time and rode on a white horse? Sure. But back here in the real world they are at least acknowledging that Russia is flouting international law under the flimsy pretext of "peacemaking". The Russians disliked Georgia simply because it seemed to be leaning too far towards the West. Iraq had no friends by the end - much less was trying to move into a communist orbit.

If John McCain is going to take a hard line, then damn right. Russia has to understand that the privileges it enjoys being part of the world economic community require it conform to social and political norms, rather than acting like they have some kind of inherent claim on their "near abroad". People are trying to be calm and not say this is a new Cold War, but it looks remarkably close to the actions of another war that was nowhere near as chilly. I rather enjoy the irony that after scolding people above for exaggerating I'm going to now overreach in my assertions. But if Russia is allowed to annex and control Georgia, how is that in the end different from allowing Nazi Germany from marching into the Sudetenland? Russia in this case is not simply "walking into it's own backyard." They do have a legitimate claim of either influence or sovereignty over a democratically run nation state.

If people have been wary of accusing people of "appeasement" in the past, the time for that caution is gone. This is exactly a situation that merits at least a considered assessment of what Russia considers it's endgame given their actions in the past week.

Campbell Brown is a fucking idiot. And the Daily Show is at its worst when it doesn't speak truth to power so much as simply lose all perspective on what is true and accurate. There's a point where you're just being a dick. And finding ways to disagree with people simply because you don't like them, rather than disagreeing on principle based on an honest assessment of what is going on. For so long they relied on the ridiculousness of what was being said in comparison to what was happening - where has that gone? Or is Truthiness only funny when it's on the other foot?

Part of me just doesn't know where to begin. Just because I've become a Craigslist junkie looking for jobs, I stumbled on to this bullshit

Motivated Creative Solution Based Blogger

We're looking for motivated Blogger/partners with fresh ideas. We're well funded and will compensate. So feel free to explore www.bluegoosenews.com set up a profile. 

Before you send your resume please take some time and preview our site. Tell us how you can help take us to the next level. 

Thanks www.bluegoosenews.com

If you can't smell the horseshit yet, look around the site, realize how aimless and directionless it is, like any other cooperative farce, then realize why when you look at the meandering written-by-a-child "about" page:

Blue Goose is the town meeting of the digital age. It's an interactive warehouse of user-generated news and solutions where responsible citizens collaborate globally for a better tomorrow. Blue Goose creates the ultimate neighborhood one community at a time. It's where responsible citizens of the world share and discover the most powerful tool of all--collective common sense.

I'm sorry, but if you can manage to be several magnitudes less vague, Barack Obama can use you as a speechwriter. My only response to that (and especially their rather bizarre quoting of David Brooks, of all people), is this:

"Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." 

"By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

I really don't know from where these garment-rending, cheeto-eating air-heads come from.

Getting things done requires direction. And I don't just say that because I'm a former Infantry Officer, but I am, and I'm right. But not only do these people not have any kind of direction other than a faffy notion of random do-goodery, they seem incapable of even categorizing a useful sense of the problems they wish to address. They have no heft in terms of having already attracted the mentorship or aegis of an existing useful organization, and they have no bonafides at all other than to have set up in their grandmother's basement somewhere.

Worse than that, the best they've been able to come up with is some odd kind of online panhandling, where people have "tipjars" - aside from the fact that "social entrepreneurs" should not be the equivalent of the guy behind the counter at a Starbucks, I fail to see the revenue model in hitting people up for money on the basis of hot air.

More to the point, these people are such amateurs and baseless nothings that they seem to have no notion at all about how professional their endeavour could be. This is how adults handle serious things, by actually bringing together people who know shit about shit. By which I mean something like the Copenhagen Consensus. Their about page is simple, direct and communicative, and their purpose is urgent, directive and practical:

The idea is simple, yet often neglected; when financial resources are limited, you need to prioritize the effort. Everyday policymakers to business leaders at all levels prioritize by investing in one project instead of another. However, instead of being based on facts, science, and calculations, the decisions are often made from political motives or the possibility of media coverage. The Copenhagen Consensus approach improves knowledge and gives an overview of research and facts within a given problem, which means that the prioritization is based on evidence.

Put simply, they identify what will do the most good for the least amount of money. Right now they argue that the thing to do is this:

Providing micronutrients for 80% of the 140 million children who lack essential vitamins in the form of vitamin A capsules and a course of zinc supplements would cost just $60 million per year, according to the analysis. More importantly, this action holds yearly benefits of more than $1 billion.

That is how you have the tiniest amount of effort perform an enormous amount of good. Rather than brushing cheeto-dust off your T-shirt and then taking a nap after. If they want a social network to show the good that is being done, then let them show the good of getting a return on investment that is unheard of in any other sector.

What annoys me the most is that they claim to be well funded. If someone sincerely wants to do some real good to some real effect, you don't have to look far to find the best ways to get it done. You want something to energize you? I've just given you one. Do something about it. But no, you'd rather whine and set up a talking shop of no use or consequence. I have no problem with entrepreneurial capital being wasted in pursuit of whatever, but to have it masquerade as wanting to do good is just in bad taste.

Somehow someone somewhere has to realise that the most successful of open-source efforts comes from a) having a clear mandate and direction as to principles and goals b) the engagement of people who know what the fuck they're doing, rather than the "there but for the grace of god" crowd of dilettantes who have nothing better to do than clasp at their chests as if anyone gave a damn.

Who funds this crap? No doubt voyeurs who love to watch other people masturbate - since that's what this is. Enough of a solution for you?

I tend to record a bunch of things off of MSNBC every day. I have a series recording on my DVR to record Morning Joe, I record Hardball and I record Race to the White House. David Gregory is good (though he looks like a monkey), he's personable, he's pretty balanced, he does a good job of moderating his show. His background as someone who has ever tried to grill Bush and the various Bush press secretaries while in their press room also stands him in good stead. He's a smiley presense on TV and tends to seem genuinely engaged with what's going on. He doesn't quite have Tim Russert's gravitas and chubby heft, but he makes a fun host for "Race" and would eventually be a good replacement for Meet the Press after the election, which will give him time to grow into the role before the next presidential.

Not that Hillary won't be running the day after election day. Even if Obama won, I wouldn't put it past her to at least lay the groundwork for a potential insurgent campaign in case he fucks up. That way no piss-ant little VP will stand in her way in 8 years. Not that Obama's going to win anyway.

But yes, if not David Gregory, Chuck Todd (Chucky T) - though personally I'd have it the other way around. The only reason Chucky T isn't more in the running is probably because he doesn't have quite as much seniority as of yet. Andrea Mitchell would also be an interesting choice, but I wonder. She is doing a lovely job with the lunchtime noon broadcast on MSNBC though, I must say. Chucky T actually anchored an hour of politics coverage today, from 2pm to 3pm before David Shuster, so maybe he can catch up on the airtime gap with others. I do notice though, that Chucky T is the guy that's become the somber backgrounded politics guy the way Tim Russert used to be on the morning shows, so you never know. I wonder if their new bureau chief is going to be an on-camera presence.

Chris Matthews, whatever you want to say about his politics and his slightly stubborn and fussy manner (especially when he's made to stay up late and do election coverage), he's good at what he does and very insightful. I think he pretends he's a little less in love with Obama than he was, but somehow I doubt it. He can tend to get some of his analysis of stuff skew more left than makes sense, but when you're actually good, you're sort of entitled to your views. There was a pseudo puff-piece on him not long ago that was really a hatchet job, which was a shame. It'll be interesting to see him run for Senate.

I remember Joe Scarborough as someone who was rather odious as a prime-time commentator, but I have to say that for some reason the shift to Morning Joe has done wonders for his presentation. Either that or it's age, or having Mika there for him to constantly browbeat, he's come to be genuinely watchable. He's also a well of knowledge when it comes to explaining to a liberal audience how conservatives think. Being able to explain how some things just play well, even though certain left leaning partisan audiences might set their hair on fire. Like the 3 am ad, and now the Celeb ad. It's a good show, and I watch as much of it as I can as often as I can take it. Some days the politics just gets too silly though, and I don't last much beyond an hour. I also speed through the show pretty quickly, since I skip Mika's news, most of the finance (except for Jim Cramer and Erin Burnett), all the sports and ads etc.

I'd rather stab myself in the chest than watch Keith Olberman. He and Rachel Maddow deserve one another. I'll say what I've always said about him. If "do it live" pappa bear Bill O'Reilly is an idiot (and he probably is), then Olberman is as much if not more so. Dick. And every day I tape Hardball, and every day I see Mike Barnicle in the first frame I immediately hit delete.

Pat Buchanan is my hero.

Why I am a Centrist

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I've ever had people ask me "what does centrist mean anyway - I don't know what that means" - and certainly the way it's looked at in American politics, centrism can seem to be nowhere. That's because of the party primary system, where you have to run to the extremes of your party in the primary and then move back to the center in the general. But centrism is not simply the compromise you make to win elections, the watering down of pure principles to pander to voters in the murky middle.

Reality is the death of purity. Remember all the talk about Bush being an ideologue? Someone who was uncompromising in his arrogant insistence on a particular world view? The left has that problem just as easily as the right. We could have unions run companies and teachers run schools and government run healthcare, but none of that sounds like a particularly good idea unless you're a politburo member. Entrepreneurs who are willing to participate in risk in order to acheive rewards are who you want running a company, you want an education to be the clear indication that someone has a particular level of aptitude or achievement, and goverment intervention has only helped skyrocket the cost of healthcare. That does not mean unions should not have a say regarding harsh or dangerous working conditions, teachers should not be given autonomy to find inventive ways of achieving standardised goals, and government shouldn't take catastrophic healthcare cases out of the market.

When it comes to specific issues, it's good to have people perpetually on opposite sides arguing - it ensures that minority opinions get heard. This is not just good if the minority opinion turns out to be the right one, it is good just to have people participate in a process where they are included. In the best case, people are persuaded, but if not, at least they are still participating in a social discourse rather than dismissing that means of compromise altogether. But all arguments need to end in getting things done.

In many ways that's what centrism is - it's about ensuring that the extreme ideas that can exist in people's abstract ideas of things becomes moderated by their understanding the realities of a given situation. In fact, recognising the reality of what's going on is the first step towards a solution. "When the facts change, I change my mind" to be sure, but once we are clear on the facts in a given case, the way forward becomes much clearer. When the experts tell you that free trade is good and necessary and that is borne out by the evidence, that is when you aggressively pursue liberalisation. That fact has not changed, in spite of demagoguery on the Democrat side.

One of the ways in which Obama can still win me over - in fact wow me and completely bowl me over, is to put forward some real centrist policy that runs entirely counter to the orthdoxy of his own party. Only Nixon could go to China - and in that way, only Bush and McCain could really stick their necks out on immigration. Often it takes people on the left to pass right wing policies (welfare reform and NAFTA under Clinton) and people on the right to pass left wing policies (immigration etc.). What Obama is most well placed to do is to say this: that under his administration, affirmative action will no longer be applied on the basis of race, but on the basis of economic need. It is the right thing to do, but it's something a white president could never (in certain ways should never) get done.

I think John McCain will make a fantastic Democratic president. As it is, he is almost certain to inherit a Democratic House and Senate - perhaps both with filibuster and veto proof majorities. It will be his chance to address every left wing issue the congress will want to consider, and temper their response to it in a way a Democratic president never would. That way you would get a much more sensible reform of so many things it almost boggles the mind. Social Security, Medicare, Comprehensive Healthcare. All fixed in a way that might not please everyone, but in a way that is the best judgement of both sides. On the way they might even sort out Immigration with McCain again sticking his neck out and bringing some of his own party with him. Him pushing every right wing policy and having it tempered by the left.

We all saw what happened with the Republicans in control of both Congress and the Presidency. Sure Bush got some things done, but in fact got surprisingly little done. The one big thing he did get was a war funded. But in order to do so, he had to dole out pork like nobody's business (something that Hastert probably has to answer for), exploding the budget. Because when it's people of your own party, you find it a lot more difficult to play hardball with them. John McCain can more easily veto, or threaten to veto, anything a Democrat Congress sends him. But Bush found it difficult to use his veto even once to minimise the pork from his own party.

It's not like I'm someone who fundamentally believes that "gridlock" is a good thing, but the legislature and the executive need to act as checks on one another, and that is easier when they are not controlled by the same party. Ever since Bush was rebuked by the electorate sending him a Democratic Congress, he's done a significantly better job - turning things around with the surge, losing Rumsfeld, being more conciliatory in his foreign policy. I'm not saying he wouldn't have done those things anyway, but when you have someone looking over your shoulder, sometimes you find it easier to do the right thing.

I suppose I should talk about McCain's "Celeb" ad, which I think is fantastic (also "The One", which is not unfunny). The press can jump up and down as much as they want, but these are ads that are exactly effective where they need to be effective, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Pennsylvania - the same places where Hillary smacked Obama around. If only John McCain could now pull off being "a fighter" for the people of those states.

It particularly annoys me when the press decide to be willfully stupid and act dumb about why Obama is being compared with Paris and Britney (happily, second album Bleatney, rather than the drugged-out mommy version). Did their high school Lit teachers fall asleep the day they discussed metaphor in class? When you associate two things that are not like one another, it is exactly the frustration of a direct comparison that makes that comparison interesting. Communication always does two things. It communicates, and it frustrates communication - because direct communication is clear but often too bare-faced. McCain could run ads saying Obama has no experience, that he basically has only had one year in the Senate - and I have no objection to an ad like that. But this way, when you allow your audience to figure out for themselves what it is you're trying to say, that Obama is a dilletante who is famous for being famous, things get more interesting (Britney did sell all that corduroy though). To me, there's nothing trivial about it, and for liberal mouthpieces to foam at the mouth about it is simply disingenuous (that means you Rachel Maddow).

Every once in a while the electorate decides to vote for someone who says they'll be different, but who won't actually be different. And a politician can be sucessful in two ways, by passing lots of legislation, or by winning elections. So far Obama is the latter. But let's be clear that his achievement will not be to herald a "new politics" or some other blather, but rather be a means of bringing more people into the process. This is not inconsiderable, but this is not the metric on which the press is judging the campaign. Exactly by their yardstick of "issues", McCain is the one with the proven record of actually getting stuff done.

At the same time, McCain is exactly right to be defensive about race. He has done nothing wrong. He has every right to stand up and not get tagged for something he has had to work hard not to do.

For those of you who want to say McCain is not putting forward a positive message about his approach to running the country, I'll say this. When that was exactly what he was doing, was anyone listening? Did anyone care? Did it get coverage on the news? A little maybe, but mostly no. The media is more interested in Obama going on a handshake tour. But what McCain is doing now fits into a very natural frame around what he's been saying all along. McCain is someone who again and again has stood up to the Republican party - much to his own detriment politically - in order to do what is right for the country. This is something he's done throughout his political career. It is indelibly a part of who he is and how he approaches things. Obama on the other hand may well be the same way with the Democrats, but right now he's all talk. He has not come close to showing how he'll act under intense pressure to "dance with the one who brung him" - by pandering to the Democratic orthodoxy, rather than governing from centrist principles.

In contrast, look what McCain did with the surge. When the popular consensus was that withdrawal was the best way forward, he advocated the strategy he had had in mind all along - more boots on the ground, a greater effort to provide security and allow space for political reconciliation. Sure Obama can argue that pulling out would have similarly put pressure on the Iraqi government, but I can't imagine how reconciliation brought about amidst a less problematic surrounding is somehow going to be the less durable of the alternatives. Deals made under pressure are much less happy, especially in the long term, than deals made at leisure with the space of a relatively more protected environment. Also, the idea that you are going to have more influence by reducing the extent on which you are relied upon is counterintuitive at best.

If Obama has shown anything, it's that he's willing to shift with the political winds in order to get elected. And he's done so when the fundamentals of the situation have remained unchanged. I can appreciate people who follow the happy rule, that "when the facts change I change my mind", but what changed with the FISA bill? Nothing, except that Obama suddenly had to strike a centrist note. On campaign finance, I actually mind less, except that he didn't change his mind when the facts changed, he changed his mind much later when the primary was over. He knew he would have a huge fundraising advantage even before the primaries began. It was particularly weasely for him to claim that his not taking federal funds was somehow a virtuous thing, and campaign malpractise for his people to make him do it facing directly into the camera. It's one thing to be bald-faced - but to look people in the eye while you're doing it?

In contrast, McCain's so called "changes" I find much more benign. For him to no longer dismiss people as "agents of intolerance" is not a bad thing - remember that he wasn't just talking about Jerry Falwell, he was also talking about Al Sharpton. I'd like to think that for someone running to be president, that he would want to be president of everyone, even the ones who listen to idiots, who may not be necessarily idiots themselves. There's a lot to be said for not disenfranchising voters. If you cannot bring voters into the process through a mainstream candidate, you are leaving them to the extremes in a way that is unhealthy. Just think of the ultra-nationalists in Europe. On tax cuts, McCain makes sense - that he opposed the tax cuts in the past because they had problems with them, and he preferred his own tax proposal - also he was pissed off with Bush for winning. Now to repeal those tax cuts would have the net effect of a tax increase, which is going to have a dampening effect on the economy when it could exactly do with more long term stimulus.

Even when it comes to the "presumptuous" charge, McCain has been substantive whereas Obama has simply been image-bound. Obama using the seal that looks like a presidential seal, and making a "statesman's speech" in Germany before he's a legitimate statesman, all involve him putting on the trappings of the presidency, rather than auditioning to do the work of a president in addressing issues. In that way, when McCain does a radio address, he's exactly putting forward an issue-based message about how he wants to run the country. When he gives a mock state of the union about what he hopes to achieve by the end of this first term, again he's trying to be substantive about what he would do, what he would set as his goals. Obama is not even trying to have that kind of heft and detail to what he's doing. Instead, it all empty suit with nothing to go in it. To be fair, there are ads with the term "President McCain", but even then it's about asking voters to imagine him in the office, rather than presuming he's already there.

To me it's shameful that the Democrats have become the party of the working people. I'm not saying they don't claim to want to give those people what they want, but giving them what they want will work exactly against the self interest of those people, rather than being good sensible stewardship of the economy. But the Republicans have done a piss poor job of making their pro-business message clear. They are (or should be) pro-business because businesses create jobs. That is what is most helpful to the well-being of the working and working poor. When it crosses the line where they use the tax code to incentivise specific sectors, then they are interefering rather than allowing markets to function. Government has perhaps erred too far in the direction of being risk averse - or averse to the consequences of risk. When companies should fail, they should be allowed to fail, rather than being rescued. By rescuing them, you are stopping another company from filling their space. Worse still, taxpayers end up taking all the burdens of risk, without reaping any of the returns that come from those risks - which is what's happening now with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

At some point I suppose I'm going to feel obliged to write in more detail and focus about a number of things. Immigration, USCIS, OPT, H-1B, H-1B1, dealspl.us, Kamehachi, La Condesa, Follia, digital converter boxes, miniscraper.com, jon and kate, Ordernetwork/Foodler etc. Jubilee, Wall-E, Problems with Globalization, The OC (again), Clean, Courtship of Eddie's Father.

But as much as moving through those topics would be a useful proxy for what is going on, I just can't seem to get it up for these things that really just seem too straight ahead and lacking in some real complexity.





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