New Hamphire Is History; Now What?


It concerns me that Romney could win the nomination with a plurality and yet with actual support well below 50%. I’m skeptical about a victory over Obama under these conditions.

I notice that some 77% of the entire vote in NH went to Romney-Paul-Huntsman. This suggests  that NH, which sends only a handful of delegates to the convention, is far from being even broadly conservative. This is not representative of the entire country.

So you might think that Romney, Paul, and Huntsman will not do so well in SC in less than two weeks.

But Romney’s more or less hollow victory may have a psychological effect in SC and beyond. People like to go with a perceived winner (the bandwagon effect). And Romney, I believe, is about to get very clever. So far, he’s been extremely careful not to appear too Conservative, and this has served him well.His immediate concern has been to court NH voters. With SC looming, I predict that he’ll begin to portray himself more overtly as much more conservative than people now think. Newt needs to be watching for this and pounce on it as further evidence of “pious baloney.”

Pundits were saying tonight that Newt’s rebound strategy for the past few days has backfired on him. I don’t think that, and I hope Newt doesn’t either. It’s silly to see a causal connection in the correlation between Newt’s low support in NH and his recent more vigorous response to Romney. Possibly, the pundits who represent the “establishment” are worried that Newt will continue to apply the pressure and thus mitigate Romney’s chances of winning in SC.

Romney delivered a great speech tonight. But close examination suggests that he is another cynical politician. The victory had only just been won and he was immediately starting to use Reagan-speak (i.e. “a city on a hill,” etc.). His strategy will be to try to convince conservatives that he’s a safe bet. So watch for him to roll out all the buzzwords and themes that resonate with true conservatives.

If Romney wins the nomination, and it very much looks tonight like it’s his to lose, it will be a sign that the Tea Party has lost traction, just when it needs to be boiling. Such a grassroots movement is very hard to sustain without a prominent leader beating the drums. So far, the movement’s most prominent spokesperson has held back. But look for Sarah Palin to back a candidate as we get closer to SC. It won’t be Romney. My hope is that she is conversing with SC state senators and representatives and persuading them to back a particular anti-Romney candidate. And I still hope that’s Gingrich.

Newt needs a string of strong sponsors whose support would (1) signal the continuing viability of an anti-Romney effort, and, crucially, (2) consolidate support for a single candidate who needs those votes. That candidate needs to be Gingrich.

I don’t know if any of the candidates will be able to beat Obama, but I have grave misgivings about Romney’s chances. Garnering a mere 37% showing in NH, of all places, indicates a real lack of enthusiasm. As it was, they’re saying that voter turnout was surprisingly low tonight. If we don’t have a candidate that people can get excited about, Obama will get a second term, and this could look more like a mandate than the last election!

I think we need to roll the dice for the only candidate who will keep things exciting and shake things up. I still think Gingrich is Obama’s biggest election worry. The president is probably feeling more confident as Romney’s cache expands. He can see that it isn’t expanding with support from an enthusiastic majority.

The GOP Tea Party Debate


Caricatures: GOP Presidential Debate Participa...

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

The Republican candidates have done two debates this week. Tonight’s debate was the best of three. The questions were focused and the candidates showed vim and vigor. Those lagging behind Romney and Perry in the polls needed to up their game, and two of the candidates did. Michelle Bachman shined and Rick Santorum did pretty well. Bachman is still in the game. Santorum is probably going to continue to lose traction.

Until tonight, I was looking forward to hearing more from John Huntsman. After tonight, I don’t care if we never hear from him again. I don’t see any potential there for this guy to break out. He’s glib, the opposite of self-effacing, and petty.

Ron Paul’s only real potential is as a spoiler. Tonight, as a senior congressman from Texas, he played the spoiler to Rick Perry. Paul’s presence will be a nuisance to Perry as long as Paul stays in the race.

Perry proved vulnerable on several points, including his HPV vaccination plan and his handling of illegal immigrants. Michelle Bachman may have succeeded in raising Perry’s weaknesses on these points to a level of appreciable resonance with his own base. Perry was on the defensive most of the evening. He limped through one defense after another in front of ultra-conservative Republicans, many of whom want to see Perry do well. And he was booed following one of his comments about the immigration issue.

Sometimes Perry looks and sounds like he’s channeling George Bush. He’s not an effective debater. I have real doubts about his ability to survive under close scrutiny in future debates.

Mitt Romney hit harder than he has in the past, but with the aplomb we’ve come to expect from him. I believe his problem is that he is uninspiring. He also comes across like a real establishment-type politician. But he’s in this race for the long haul and is the candidate to beat if Perry peters out. Romney projects stability. But he looks like the rich guy he is and hasn’t been comfortable reaching out to Tea Party Republicans who will, for better or worse, make a difference in the Republican nomination process.

Herbert Cain is a refreshing presence at these debates, and he’s doing a number of things well. Can he go the distance? It will be interesting to see. It’s nearly certain that he won’t get the nomination and I doubt that he would be anybody’s first choice as a vice presidential running mate. He could have a place at the table in the next president’s cabinet, though. He’d make a fine good-will ambassador.

That leaves Newt Gingrich.

At every debate so far, Gingrich has excelled. John King of CNN agrees. Newt Gingerich has had “back-to-back-to-back strong debate performances.” King blames Newt’s low poll numbers on his age. He thinks that voters are looking for the younger candidates to get the job done. I’ve wondered about this. But Newt does look like the adult in the room. This could turn things in his favor. When others are petty, kicking sand in each other’s faces, Newt just keeps taking the battle to Obama. He understands that the coming election will be very much about whether Obama should be re-elected. Newt is singularly capable of challenging Obama head-to-head. I suspect he’s the candidate that Obama fears the most.

So why is New Gingrich lagging in the polls?

1. Gingrich is especially disliked by the liberal media. They almost uniformly acknowledge his political prowess. His debating strengths are readily acknowledged. But he’s dangerous to the liberal cause.

2. The media prefers to cover the sensational. This explains, I think, the favor that Rick Perry enjoyed before even announcing his candidacy. Gingrich’s strengths will not be noticed as long as attention is poured on candidates whose substance remains a mystery.

3. Gingrich is the elder statesman of the group. He’s been around longer than anyone, except Ron Paul. He isn’t such a fresh face and he hasn’t been leading the new Republican charge to change the way business is done in Washington.

4. Gingrich has a couple of personal negatives to overcome. These were bigger news earlier on. If he begins to garnish renewed attention, they may return to haunt him.

These aren’t deal-breakers for Newt. The personal issues may already have been aired as much as they can be, and his interval of invisibility may have been good for him on this score. Ron Paul is polling in double digits, and Gingrich is down around 7%—about even with Bachman. Ron Paul is an anomaly. He won’t last. That should give Gingrich room to move up. And if Perry peters, as I expect (hope?), he can move up dramatically. If Gingrich endures and moves up in the polls, that will be a sensation and the media will have to cover the story. And he isn’t ancient. John McCain was ancient.

Here’s how Gingrich improves his standing, if he can hang in there long enough. The Perry fanfare fizzles as his debate performance deteriorates. This depends on Perry’s own limitations. It’s also reinforced by Bachman’s vigorous and effective attacks, as seen in the Florida debate. Bachman needs to play the spoiler long enough for Perry’s cache to diminish. In due course, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, and Rick Santorum need to drop out of the race. Herbert Cain must follow suit. That would leave Romney (a known quantity, but a force to be reckoned with), Perry (paired down to size), Michelle Bachman (maybe), and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s stature is sure to rise if there’s ever a two-way or three-way debate in which he participates. He can hold the Tea Party folks if their favorite candidates drop out, and he can win with independents who are weary of Obama.

But time will be a factor for Gingrich. He needs to win in the South Carolina primary. Rick Perry has the edge there now. Bachman could do well in SC, but for Perry. If the New Hampshire primary comes early enough, John Huntsman could cut into Mitt Romney’s strength there. This could minimize the effect of New Hampshire on a Gingrich bid.

I have no idea what to expect from Iowa, though it’s expected that Bachman could do well and is out of the game if she doesn’t.

Rick Perry has deeper pockets than Newt Gingrich. But Obama has deeper pockets than everyone. And I view it as cynical to suppose that the one with the most campaign money is the likely winner for that reason alone. (What kind of treasure chest did John McCain have during the last Republican primary?)

All of this may be wishful thinking. I would like to see a contest between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. This would be a contest between two radically opposed ideologies on a national stage that is itself deeply divided. Gingrich’s penchant for clarifying ideas might force Obama to be more explicit about his own ideology. The electorate would be faced with starkly contrasting agendas defended by more-or-less articulate spokesmen.

There is one other variable that is important to Newt Gingrich’s chances: Sarah Palin has to remain in the sidelines . . . .

Did Rahm or Rush Use the R-word?


The word “retarded” is not the commonplace it once was. Today we rightly refer to people with mental disabilities in other ways. One severe problem with “retarded” as a noun (i.e., the collective noun “the retarded”) is that it is easily used too generally as a label for those with mental disabilities—as if having a disability is their essential attribute, the feature that defines them as human beings. Read more of this post

Mudflats Is at It Again


The obsession with Sarah Palin continues over at Mudflats. This time the news is “Palin is Back at Work.” I guess that means she has started caring about health care for children and pregnant women. First evidence of this is that she is suddenly prepared to write more into the state budget for this purpose. Notice the  word “more,” which is not emphasized by the Mudflats Maven. The source she quotes, The Anchorage Daily News, does explicitly acknowledge that this is an “increase” in coverage.

What miffs Mudflats is that it’s too little too late, more or less. You see, there was an oil-related windfall a year ago that could have been applied to the problem. It wasn’t. Now there’s the possibility of a near-term shortfall, because of the plummeting price of oil these days. So the coverage will be hard to pay for. You understand, don’t you, that whether children and pregnant women get the health care coverage that’s just right depends on the price of oil.

I don’t know what “just right” is. Neither does the Maven. But once an expenditure is in place for anything the government pays for, it’s unusual for that expenditure to be wratcheted down later on, even if there’s no money for it. Imagine, in this case, what that would mean. “Mean” would indeed be the operative term. To take coverage away from children and pregnant women, because the state could no longer afford it—because the price of oil was down—would be mean, plain and simple.

Of course, the Mavin speculates about Palin’s reasons for the unexpected about-face. Palin’s VP candidacy brought national attention to Palin’s neglect of this sector of the Alaskan population, so now she has, under penalty of chagrin, to do something about it. And “she has plans for 2012, after all.” The Mudflats Maven knows. Maybe she does. That is, maybe she knows Palin has plans for 2012; hence, maybe Palin has plans for 2012. (I have plans for 2012, too, just for the record.)

Adam Sandler Rides Again


bedtime_storiesHe rides a red horse, a motorcycle, a chariot, and (almost) drives a red Ferrari. Adam Sandler is in fine form with his usual lack of finesse as comic hero Skeeter Bronson in Bedtime Stories (distributed by Walt Disney Pictures). Sandler’s basic costume is a handyman uniform. But the actor is kept busy changing in and out of cowboy chaps and gladiator garb for period performances of his imagination.

As children, Skeeter and his sister, Wendy, had helped their father run a splendidly modest motel. Marty Bronson had been a wonderful father, indicated especially by his storytelling powers. But, as fate would have it, he was a lousy businessman. Of economic necessity, Marty signed his cherished family business over to a charmer named Barry Nottingham. Young Skeeter was witness to this unfortunate transaction, and the insincere promise from Nottingham that the boy would run the place, if he chose to, once he was old enough.

The story gets going some years later, when Nottingham emerges as an unscrupulous tycoon with an odd aversion to ordinary germs and a bad-girl daughter who is inexplicably chased about by admiring paparazzi. (Think Paris Hilton.) Nottingham retains Skeeter, not to run the company as promised, but as chief fix-it man. Responsibility for managing the firm is left to a conniving fellow named Kendall, who courts Nottingham’s daughter, Violet, in a scheme to succeed the aging tycoon.

Just when old man Nottingham has announced that Kendall is to be promoted, and Skeeter concludes that life’s true stories have no good endings, Wendy, now single mother of two, has a favor to ask. She needs Skeeter to be night-time sitter for the children while she’s away for several days to interview for a job. Skeeter has no natural affinity for Bobbi and Patrick, and no idea how he’s supposed to keep them entertained when they’ve lived in a protective bubble—without television, camping experiences, and the like.

One of the best scenes of the film captures the first night Skeeter has charge of the children. They ship off to bed happily enough. But Skeeter, they tell him, must read them a bedtime story. He samples the titles of books in their bedroom collection. The titles humorously reveal the uptight habits of their mother, obviously stricken with politically correct inhibitions about the environment and personal safety. To avoid rehearsing this “communist” propaganda with niece and nephew, Skeeter proposes that he make up a story, like his old man did when he was a kid.

Naturally, the movie revolves around these bedtime stories. Instantly warming to the idea, the children insist on modified endings to Skeeter’s tales, which are told with gusto and feature himself as the conspicuous hero. Amazingly (and this we know already from the previews for the film), events during the next day parallel the story line, conclusion and all, of the previous night’s tale.

It’s never sorted out how these daily coincidences are fated to occur. The family guinea pig, a recurring presence in the film, has something to do with it, apparently. What that is, you might say, is a lacuna in the story. At any rate, the coincidence is plain, and once he catches on, Skeeter takes pains to arrange for a day that will turn to his advantage with the lovely Violet Nottingham and the graces of her doddering dad. Adventures ensue, but never with the blessed results eagerly anticipated by Skeeter.

Meanwhile, the children are tended during the day by a wholesome female friend of Wendy’s. Jill harbors understandable misgivings about Skeeter, whose sensibilities tend toward the reckless and irresponsible. The moderate tension that defines their relationship is one of several plot twists that must be resolved for the movie to come to a complete and satisfying ending. (This probably makes the movie sound more subtle and sophisticated than it is.)

While watching this movie, you may be reminded, as I was, of two other fabulous movies (by “fabulous” I mean having no basis in reality)—The Princess Bride and Night at the Museum. For one scene in particular, and a good one at that, you may recall the classic film Ben Hur (which was loosely based on a true story of some significance).

With two exceptions, the characters are interesting enough. There’s Violet Nottingham—nice on the eyes, but not nice—and Jill—easy on the eyes, and very nice. Violet is played by Teresa Palmer, 22-year-old Australian starlet with the possibility of a future in film. Kerry Russell, who plays Jill, will be recognized as the more experienced actress with significant roles in more substantial movies: as Lyla Novacek in August Rush (2007), the waitress, Jenna Hunterson, in Waitress (2007), and lead character Katie Armstrong in Rohtenburg (also known as Grimm Love) (2006)—recognized, that is, if you’ve seen any of these films. Russell is probably best known as the empathetic victim of a horrible explosion early in the film Mission: Impossible III (2006). Her performance in that role was brief, but very compelling.

British actor Richard Griffiths (b. 1947) is pleasing as Barry Nottingham. The comic lilt of his performance was, I’m sure, enhanced for me by my acquaintance with someone who is rather Nottingham-esque. Griffiths’ claim to fame is as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series. (An interesting fact about Griffiths is that his parents were both deaf; but in Bedtime Stories there’s no obvious evidence that this contributed to his acting repertoire.)

The children, Bobbi and Patrick, are played by Laura Ann Kesling and Jonathan Morgan Heit, respectively. Both do a swell job. Kesling, for whom this is her film debut, I believe, is better than swell and doubtless has a future in acting. Her apparently spontaneous peels of bemused laughter are endearing. They may well be truly spontaneous, which would be a credit to Adam Sandler as a demonstrated laugh-maker by nature.

adam_sandlerSandler has more movies to his credit than I’ve seen. But of those I’ve seen, he’s at his best in Bedtime Stories. (It should be noted that he is also producer of this film, which may account for much of its comic genius.) Here, Sandler isn’t slapstick funny. He isn’t funny for funny’s sake. Funny seems to come naturally to his character as a means of dealing with the pain of loneliness and ignominy. But the almost incessant playfulness has understated moments, and in general it doesn’t betray the deep bitterness many would feel in his situation. There are worse ways of dealing with disappointments in life than to make light of their occurrence. I like this complexity about the character, even if the effect was utterly serendipitous.

The two fiends in the film are Guy Pearce as Kendall, the scheming hotel general manager, and Lucy Lawless as Aspen, co-conspirator and manager on duty. Pearce and Lawless (how apropos is that pair of names?) have the look of simpleton villains who are utterly unsympathetic. The name “Aspen” speaks with loud innuendo; I haven’t the foggiest association to make with “Kendall.”

Guy Pearce starred in the very dark film Memento (2000), and was cast as a drag queen in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994). So he is, you might say, “versatile.” In Bedtime Stories, he looks and acts pathetic, as I imagine he’s supposed to. But during screenwriting I would have suggested a different permutation of pathetic. He looks, sounds, and acts silly in a way that loses the scent of funny most dominant in the movie.

Lucy Lawless’s liability is her casting alongside Pearce qua Kendall-permutation-of-pathetic. I want to say that the inane visual and verbal exchanges between Aspen and Kendall insult the capacity of today’s audience to take the bad guys a little more seriously. But this isn’t a serious film, so that, in itself, isn’t a serious criticism. Still, something’s not quite right about the style of humor attempted in the portions of the script assigned to these unfortunate actors. I do think it’s a problem with the script. (Note: Lucy Lawless played D’Anna Biers, Number 3 in Battlestar Gallactica.)

On the whole, though, the script is a good specimen of its type. Audiences still appreciate the kind of humor executed here. And what they like best, from the response I heard in the theater, is comic acting and dialogue that presupposes a reasonably intelligent audience—that is to say, an audience that can discern the referents of subtle allusions and modulate their laugh response to the shifting characteristics of comedic elements in a film.

This film has something else going for it in the comedic category: plot twist and artistic conceit. Nah, forget plot twist. That refers to the threads of the story and their connections. Artistic conceit is something else. It has to do with the vehicle used for conveying the plot and its various twists. Here the conceit is creative and naturally conducive to comedic rendition—the fulfillment in real life of stories told on the eve of their occurrence. The technique sometimes buys two laughs for the price of one, as when Skeeter resuscitates the “big harry guy on the beach.” Eavesdropping on Skeeter’s bedtime stories, you try to imagine how their fulfillment will play out, and usually you’re mistaken about some relevant detail. For someone with an uncanny ability to see what’s coming, for almost any genre of film, that’s a plus.

Bedtime Stories gets off to a promising start by cutting quickly to the grownup stage of Skeeter’s life and establishing his character with a three-way conversation at the hotel registration desk—between Skeeter, Aspen, and an aging alcoholic guest who swears that the mini bar in her room was raided by a Leprechaun. Here we’re introduced to the primary tension, the predominant tone of humor, and Skeeter’s affability despite painful exploitation.

There are quirky moments and unaccountable details to be noted. I’ve already mentioned the metaphysically curious causal function of the family guinea pig. The narrative emphasis given to the creature’s bulging eyes is a bit peculiar, too. The timetable for events is highly compressed; events it would take months, if not years, to unfold transpire in the span of a few days. This may be necessary to ensure that Wendy hasn’t abandoned her children indefinitely. But this sort of fabulosity is out of sync with the central conceit of the movie.

Some of the dialogue is a little offbeat. When Skeeter asks Jill, during what is supposed to be a magical moment, and as if in a trance, “Are you the fairest maiden of the land?” she replies with self-effacing candor, “Do you mean, like, the fairest in checkers?” (or something to that effect). Huh?

Another oddment of the film: it begins and ends with a narrator, who happens to be Skeeter’s father, Marty (played and voiced by Jonathan Pryce). But Marty has gone to his reward, so how is this possible? This, too, is fabulous. But, again, it’s fabulosity is of a different cut than is realized fairly effectively with the bedtime story “fulfillments.” If Marty Bronson’s narrative role makes intentional sense on some subtle level, it’s lost on me.

More important to the story line, but not high profile, is the part played by Courtney Cox. It’s nice to see Ms. Cox in a wholesome role, as Wendy, the politically correct single mom. In the end, Wendy has a private moment with Skeeter, when she’s repentant about her stiffness as the older sister who couldn’t let her hair down. I suppose it’s a fantasy, but I like to think there’s a latent message here that the whole  politically-correct-environmentalist-zeal-and-health-craze-thing is a tad overdone these days.

I almost forgot to mention Mickey, played by Russell Brand. This good-natured good buddy of Skeeter’s is exotically inept. He suffers from “sleep panic disorder”—among other things, apparently. But his “translation skills” come in handy at a crucial moment when Skeeter must impress Mr. Nottingham with a superior plan to take the dynasty to the next level of success. And Russell Brands’ costumes are among the most interesting.

Adam Shankman directed. This is one talented guy. He directed and choreographed Hairspray (2007), and is doing the same for a sequel. Box Office Mojo lists Hairspray fourth in gross receipts (nearly $120 million) among live action musicals produced since 1974. He’s said to be working up a Sarah Palin inspired TV series about the female mayor of a small town (in development at Fox and tentatively titled “Cadillac Ranch”).

dont-stop-believingI have no recollection of the musical score, which is film-speak that seems a little highbrow for this kind of movie. I did pay attention to the music that accompanies the closing credits. It’s the 80s hit song by rock band Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing.”

As for the editing, it’s critical to what I’ve been calling the conceit of the film, and it’s handled pretty well. Bicyclists decked in racing gear are smoothly morphed into cowboys galloping on stallions, for example, while our hero and his girl race the opposite direction, alternately on motorcycle and horseback. The composite sequence that completes “the arc of the story” (something that would have been appreciated by Mickey, the brainless buddy) is a clever resumé of the bedtime stories. It moves toward a predictable but fitting victory for the good guys.

Bottom Line:

On the downside, the villains lack that special je-ne-sais-quoi, the narrator has inexplicable talents for telling stories from the grave, and events happen in fast-forward. The end of the movie is very nearly ruined by a reprise of the Kendall-Aspen theme that overstates their humiliation. But there’s more upside than downside to Bedtime Stories. It’s hard for a movie to be this kind of funny today. If memory serves, Night at the Museum (2006) scampered after the same funny bone, but I think with less success. Movies in this genre (some would say “of this ilk”) don’t generally fare well with critics. But if you laugh pretty consistently and groan only occasionally for one hour and thirty-five minutes, the movie fulfills its objective.

Eric Chartman Charts the Political Age of Sarah Palin


Eric Chartman, over at American Heartland Bar and Grill, explains why Sarah Palin has plenty of time to return to the national scene in politics. Click here for his chart analysis of “political aging.”

Then come on back to this post and place your bet on Palin’s future:

  1. She will go back to Alaska as governor and never rise to a higher level of political leadership.
  2. She will go back to Alaska as governor and deliberately position herself to return to the national spotlight in 2012.
  3. She will go back to Alaska as governor and seek election to the U. S. Senate at the earliest opportunity.
  4. She will eventually run for President of the U.S. and win.
  5. She will eventually run for President of the U.S. and lose.
  6. She will become the CEO of the largest American oil company.
  7. She will spend the rest of her evenings watching Star Trek re-runs.
  8. Other: __________________________________________.

Suzie-Q Fears a “Palin Theocracy”


Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. In September she warned of a “Palin Theocracy.” Her article was published in the online newsletter CounterPunch, which Out of Bounds Magazine calls “America’s best political newsletter.” A ringing endorsement, maybe, but who reads Out of Bounds? Who even knows about it? I suppose it’s endorsed by CounterPunch as the best magazine of its kind. But I digress.

Suzie-Q is a pro-Obama blog that posted Cohn’s article to give it greater exposure. That’s where I first came across Ms. Cohn’s alarmist piece. (DigitizedRevolution also posted the article.)

Now, I don’t have a personal beef with Suzie-Q or the CounterPunch lads, or even with Marjorie Cohn. But I would like to know what Cohn actually means by “theocracy.” She never says. Her riffs are all about Palin’s religious beliefs, her views on abortion and other social issues, and her candid talk about such things. After yesterday’s Palin interview with James Dobson, Cohn probably has more to add to her list of grievances.

But what do they amount to? Whatever she means by the term, it’s clear that Marjorie Cohn doesn’t like theocracy. Is this because theocracy is incompatible with democracy? I would have thought so. But I can’t find anything in the evidence arrayed against Palin that remotely suggests she’s undemocratic.

On the other hand, if Cohn allows that theocracy, in the sense she has in mind, actually is compatible with democracy, then what precisely is her objection to Palin’s political philosophy?

If Cohn would speak plainly on this matter we might find that she and Sarah Palin agree—that theocracy in the sense so far undefined but envisioned by Marjorie Cohn is a bad thing. Or we might find that Cohn has a very muddled view about the nature of a theocracy, and perhaps even of a democracy.

Ms. Cohn may be president of the National Lawyers Guild. But this doesn’t indemnify her against the peculiar BlogLogic that we’ve explored and exposed in other posts at this blog.

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Ms. Cohn’s article is archived at her own website.

Talk about an Abuse of Power


An Alaska ethics probe concluded today that Governor Sarah Palin did abuse her power in the ordeal surrounding the dismissal of state official Walt Monegan. Monegan had refused to fire state trooper, Mike Wooten, who had been married to Palin’s sister until that marriage ended some years ago. Wooten had, Palin alleged, tasered his 10-year-old stepson and threated to kill Palin’s father. This before Monegan’s departure from his job.

Inquiries into Gov. Palin’s possible conduct in the matter had already begun prior to her nomination to be John McCain’s running-mate. There is evidence, however, that the probe was managed by Obama supporters and was speeded up to result in a decision soon enough to have a bearing on the presidential election.

I don’t know the facts, but if this suspicion is true, or even if the suspicion is well-founded without being demonstrably true, then there ought to be a very speedy inquiry into the ethics of the ethics probe and the possibility that those who conducted the probe are themselves guilty of an abuse of power.

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It’s not surprising that Alan Colmes (of Hannity & Colmes) was pleased with this result. He interviewed Dick Morris, who noted that trooper Wooten had made a death threat on Palin’s father and tasered his stepson. Colmes’s response was interesting. He said that Wooten denies making any death threat. Apparently, Colmes had done his homework and knew that this did not apply to the allegation that Wooten had tasered the young boy.

A few weeks ago, during a televised interview, the officer in question acknowledged that he had tasered his 10-year-old stepson. He said he did it because the boy was curious about tasers and asked to be tasered. He agreed in the interview that it was a dumb thing to do.

I mention this because of the example it provides of the deterioration of public discourse. Morris’s statement was a conjunction: Wooten made a death threat against the father-in-law and Wooten tasered the stepson. To defeat this statement, Colmes challenged the second conjunct and ignored the first. In challenging the second conjunct, Colmes offered as evidence Wooten’s denial of the allegation. This is hardly compelling evidence, especially if the first conjunct is true. And the first conjunct is true. The evidence for that is that Wooten confesses to that.

Now, logically, if the second conjunct of Morris’s statement is false, then the entire conjunction is false. But it doesn’t follow that the first conjunt is false. That part of the conjunction is true. And Morris’s comments clearly indicated that he believed its truth is a sufficient condition for Sarah Palin to have fired Monegan if he refused to fire Wooten.

If the trooper had been anyone else than a former brother-in-law, then an ethics probe might never have been started. Who can say? But the grounds for questioning her ethics would certainly have been different, since the findings in the actual probe are tied to the investigators’ judgment that Palin’s behavior was, in some sense, payback. Again, I don’t know the facts, or the evidence that was produced during the probe. But I wouldn’t imagine that Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten would count as sufficient evidence that this was her motive.

What is of interest—because we are in a position to judge based on observation—is the conduct of the press in this matter and the jockeying that will go on among chieftains of the two presidential campaigns. Barack Obama is under closer scrutiny than ever before because of his financial support of ACORN and his relationship with sundry scoundrels. Treatment of the Palin news will be an illuminating test of the objectivity of the “mainstream media.” I make no predictions about what will transpire over the weekend, but if the several prominent news and commentary shows direct more attention to the Palin issue than the Obama probe they themselves should be conducting, it will be very telling.

This Election as a Referendum on the Liberal Media


Voting for John McCain is a referendum on the liberal media. They have made it obvious that they support Barack Obama and will cover for him by not covering him when that’s in his (and hence their) best interests. They are doing what they can to get Obama elected a few weeks from now. This is patronizing and offensive. They presume to know better than voting Americans who should be the leader of this great nation. They filter the news and editorialize without restraint, believing that we must rely on them to get the facts that matter. Since we do rely on them for this, and they have not fulfilled their noble duty, voters can send a powerful message of disapproval to the media by voting for the McCain/Palin ticket. If they do, they will also have a President they actually know something about.

Do You Know Kathleen Parker?


If you do, there’s only one reason for it—Ms. Parker’s “cringe reflex has been exhausted.” That happened on September 26. She must be truly exasperated by at this point in time. But what does Ms. Parker mean?

She means that Sarah Palin, whose selection by John McCain she really tried hard to endorse, just isn’t verbally fluent enough to be Vice President, to say nothing of being President.

I cringe, too. I even wrote a post about it. But how does having a dilapidated cringe reflex explain why Kathleen Parker is now enjoying a few minutes of fawning media attention? To understand that, you have to know something most of us didn’t know and you have to remember something that really isn’t that easy to forget.

What you have to know is that Kathleen Parker is a conservative columnist who writes for The National Review and a woman (duh) who wrote a piece called “Palin Problem—She’s Out of Her League.” You’ll find it here. In this September 26 piece, Ms. Parker, with great reticence, I’m sure, suggested that McCain should dump Palin because of the liability she has become, and get someone more erudite to stand at his side. (Maybe Ms. Parker would like the job. She seems to believe that she knows better than McCain how to pickem’, and that’s got to count for something . . . right?)

Now, here’s what you have to remember. Sarah Palin is incredibly popular among leagues of women voters. These are women who will vote. And many of them were not as likely to vote at all until Sarah Palin came along. That’s got to scare the bajeebers out of the liberal left and the liberal media that bleed allegiance to their cause, especially their version of the feminist cause.

Who doesn’t know that if the liberal media can find a conservative woman journalist who thinks Palin’s got to go, that woman journalist is bound to get her chance to be on TV? It sure looks like the media is hoping to scare up a caucus of Republican Women Against Palin. (Not that Ms. Parker is a Republican; I wouldn’t know.) This ought to get interesting. Will it work? Who can say? I figure it’s got at least a 50% chance of backfiring.

* * *

Thinking about this has led me to wonder about the polls we’ve been hearing about. I would imagine that a legitimate poll would include a significant number of women who are backing Palin, quite apart from that fellow McCain. I think it would be interesting if pollsters asking who voters are more likely to vote for, McCain or Obama, would also ask, “And what do you think of Sarah Palin?” And report the results, of course.

Here’s what I’m thinking. If only a small fraction of the people polled show real enthusiasm for Palin, then a satisfactory cross-section of likely voters has not been included in the poll. And that ruins the value of the poll.

The TimesOnline Make a Good Point about Biden-Palin Debate


Gerard Baker, writing for the London Times Online, has a nice little piece on the Biden-Palin debate. He concludes:

Last week, Senator McCain probably lost his first debate against Senator Obama by not winning it.

On Thursday night Mrs Palin won her debate by not losing it.

That sounds about right to me, on both counts.

I would add that Palin scored points that were missed opportunities for McCain last week. Many were baffled when McCain’s debate with Obama ended and McCain had not drawn attention to his demonstrable record of seeking to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while Obama had dubious ties to the principals at those entities. Now I wonder if McCain didn’t keep his powder dry so that Palin could use it to good effect in her salvo Thursday night.

Wall Street Journal Wisdom on Biden-Palin Debate


Jerry Seib, Executive Washington Editor at the WSJ, weighs in already with his “post-debate analysis” and comes to the following conclusion:

It was, in the end, what viewers might have expected from the man who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — much as what they got from Gov. Palin was what they were led to expect from her widely heralded speech to the Republican national convention just a few weeks ago. It was a fascinating byplay — but not necessarily one that changed many minds.

“Not necessarily one that changed many minds”? Apparently, Mr. Seib isn’t one to go out on a limb.

Does anyone else think we should expect more from a Wall Street Journal analyst?

Do You Agree with the Charlie Gibson Doctrine?


What is the “Bush Doctrine”? Who can say? But we now know something about the “Charlie Gibson Doctrine”—which might also be called the “Elite Media Doctrine.”

Charlie Gibson was the first member of the mainstream media to interview Sarah Palin, Republican candidate for the Vice Presidency. I’m only guessing here, but I’d say Gibson was worried about how he would appear to his media colleagues during the interview. This was a much-anticipated interview and news people country-wide were overtly jealous of Gibson. So Gibson knew he was being scrutinized, and he knew what was expected of him by the media. They wanted red meat, and they got it in the form of one question in particular. He asked Governor Palin, “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?”

This is pandering. Why? Because Gibson wanted to please his media buddies. It’s also dirty pool. Why? Because there is no such thing as “the Bush doctrine.” But Charlie Gibson thinks there is. He stated it as follows:

“The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that — the right to preemptive attack of a country that was planning an attack on America?”

Charlie Gibson should be embarrassed, not because he put the candidate on the spot, but because he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Everybody knows that the media would disapprove if Palin answered “yes” to Gibson’s question. You can tell from Gibson’s demeanor that he believed two things: (1) Palin would have to say yes, and (2) if Palin said yes this would cause trouble for the McCain campaign. Remember, Barack Obama’s singular objection to John McCain has been that a vote for McCain would be a vote for a four-year extension of the unpopular presidency of George Bush.

There’s only one other possibility, and that is that Palin wouldn’t know what to say because she didn’t know what the Bush doctrine is. That’s pretty cynical, though, and an upright media professional would simply have stated the so-called doctrine, without attributing it uniquely to President Bush, and asked if the candidate agreed with it. Imagine how things would have seemed if Charlie Gibson had asked his question that way, without trying to bait Sarah Palin into an uneasy association with a currently unpopular president. Palin could have said yes. No harm, no foul. Next question.

I know some astute observers believe that Sarah Palin faltered, ever so slightly, in response to Gibson. But there’s another way to interpret her response. Perhaps Gibson should be grateful that Sarah Palin answered graciously. The presupposition of his question was false, and yet Charlie Gibson believed it. Palin was forbearing. She did not confront him about his naivete.

We should hope that every candidate would answer an undisguised formulation of Gibson’s question in the affirmative, without equivocation or nuance. It would be shameful if a President did not adopt this view.

Teddy Roosevelt accepted it, that’s for sure. So did Abraham Lincoln, and I believe his conduct of the Civil War is evidence of it. Every President during the Cold War held firmly to this view, which is one reason why there was a Cold War.

It’s plausible to suppose that the Monroe Doctrine, stated in James Monroe’s annual message to Congress December 2, 1823, presupposes a similar commitment. Here is a passage from Monroe’s presentation nearly two hundred years ago:

Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none. But in regard to those continents circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference.

There has been some controversy about whether Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew beforehand of an imminent attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and deliberately waited for the attack in order to strengthen the grounds for entering the war, which he wanted to do anyway. If the bare suggestion of that possibility is heresy, and beneath the dignity of the President, it is because the so-called “Bush doctrine” is assumed by the American people to be an axiom of American foreign policy.

George Bush, whatever his faults, was right to remind his people that he was duty-bound to protect them from imminent threat with preemptive action. It’s a shame that this required special boldness, especially in the aftermath of 9/11.

Gibson’s question, without its supercilious association with President Bush, ought to be one of the first questions that both Obama and McCain have to answer early in their upcoming debate. Their respective answers could set the tone for the rest of the debate. I wonder what Obama would say. I think we all know what McCain would say.

* * *

Note:

This post was inspired by today’s post by Dennis Prager, who writes:

“All the interview did was reconfirm that Republicans running for office run against both their Democratic opponent and the mainstream news media.

“This year it is more obvious than ever. The press’s beatification of Obama is so obvious, so constant (how many covers of Newsweek and Time has Obama been on?) that media credibility even among many non-conservatives has been hurt.

“Let me put this another way. Charlie Gibson showed far greater hostility toward the Republican vice-presidential candidate than Dan Rather did in his interview with Saddam Hussein or Mike Wallace did in his interview with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Who can disagree?

Never Say “Lipstick”


Barack Obama’s supporters recognized a smear that he didn’t intend. When he spoke of putting lipstick on a pig, the house exploded with laughter. Talk about red meat.

Only problem is, Obama didn’t mean it “that way.” And that’s Barack’s problem, not McCain’s, or Sarah Palin’s. Barack said it, paused (as he is wont to do), and his audience punctuated his remark with wild enthusiasm as if they believed it was about Sarah Palin. And right at that moment it became about Sarah Palin. And there was almost nothing Barack Obama could do about it.

The McCain campaign posted a web ad exploiting Obama’s slip. Big mistake, if you ask me. Or maybe not so big if the real “catnip for the media” (Obama’s estimation of his comment) continues to be the video of Obama’s slip and not the McCain ad.

Dennis Miller has an interesting theory about what happened. “Lady Palin,” he said, “is deep inside Obama’s mellon.” I’m from California, so let me translate. The esteemed governor Palin has become so popular and has so effectively derailed the Obama campaign that Obama can’t get her out of his head and he doesn’t know what to do.

What’s this got to do with the lipstick gaffe? Ms. Palin’s most memorable remark during her convention speech was the alleged extempore joke about the difference between a hocky mom and a pitbull. She pointed to her mouth and said, “Lipstick.” America liked that, and they liked Sarah Palin. Still do.

So the lipstick motif became a fixture of the McCain camp. Miller speculates that this motif took subliminal root in Obama’s consciousness. Without malice or forethought, the motif surfaced in the form of a long-standing aphorism. Obama’s problem is that this aphorism had never before been used in this peculiar political context.

People are beginning to speculate that Obama has a liability that could injure him in his upcoming debate with John McCain. He seems constitutionally incapable of packaging his ideas in the form of a sound byte. When commenting without a script, his statements are neither crisp nor compact. (In this respect, he is more like President Bush than John McCain is.) Obama may be thinking now that going for the spontaneous repartee may be more dangerous than his typically long-winded answers to questions he could answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”

***

By the way, suppose Obama was actually intentionally ambiguous when he said what he did. Would that really be sexist?

What say you?

BlogLogic—Rumors of Sarah Palin’s Affiliation with the Alaska Independence Party


It’s been interesting to see how things have unfolded on the Mudflats blog, which purports to be “tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics.”

The host goes by the handle “AKMuckraker.” Today she published a post titled “Palin – Republican Party Infiltrator? Damning Video.” With a title like that, you hardly need to read further to know what’s up:

There’s a video that incriminates Sarah Palin by showing her past ties to the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) and her secret plan to advance that party’s aims by infiltrating the Republican party.

That’s the muckraker’s thesis.

If you want to know what’s so damning about the video, or whether it’s damning at all, then you might want to read the post. The muckraker connects the dots that lead to her conclusion. And she’s remarkably confident of her conclusion.

The only problem is, her evidence doesn’t support her conclusion. Her argument is fallacious. If it’s not a specimen of conscious bias against Palin, it’s at least a case of wishful thinking gone awry.

The video features a small gathering of crazies scheming about how best to achieve the secessionist goals of the Alaska Independence Party. So we’re told. We have to take the muckraker’s word for it that this video is not a setup. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here. We’re also told that a key participant seen and heard on the video is Dexter Clark, vice chairman of the Independence party. Fine. We’ll go with that.

The muckraker then provides transcripts of bits of the video. Since these are the portions she uses to make her argument, let’s assume that they are the most damning evidence in support of the muckraker’s conclusion.

The first excerpt shows Dexter Clark estimating the number of American soldiers and dependents who “could be eligible to vote” for Alaska “Statehood.” Of course, Alaska has been a state since 1959. Ah, but it isn’t yet a “State,” as in “independent nation state.” The excerpt doesn’t disambiguate for us, but I take it that Clark is referring to the independent-nation-state kind of state, and he’s calculating the number of votes his party might be able to count on in a referendum on Statehood.

OK?

Well, maybe not. The ensuing paragraph, where the muckraker explains things for us, leaves us in greater suspense. How is “Statehood” really being used here? It isn’t easy to tell.

It might not matter. The basic idea seems to be that the Independence party was shafted by a rigged vote about Alaska Statehood, and the desired result of the AIP went down in smoke.

We come, then, to the next excert, what the muckraker calls “the good part.” Here Clark lauds the election of Sarah Palin to become Alaska’s governor, even though she did so as a Republican. Clark explains why this is good news for his Independence party. Palin had once been a member of the party. The only reason she switched parties and became a Republican was to “get along and go along” (Clark’s words).

At this point, vagueness corrupts the argument. What does Clark mean by “get along and go along”? Presumably, he’s suggesting that at the time of Sarah Palin’s move to the Republican party, she was still an Independence party member at heart and that her new role as a town mayor might work out better if she had the appearance of being a Republican. She couldn’t have been much of a Republican, suggests Dexter Clark, since she discovered that “she all kinds of problems with their ethics.” This is clearly the message that muckraker gleans from Clark’s musings.

The joy in seeing Sarah Palin become governor of Alaska is rooted in Dexter Clark’s perception that Palin remains sympathetic with the AIP cause. And this is based on two things, Palin’s prior membership in the AIP, and Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican. Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican is itself based, in part, on Palin’s past association with the AIP. Clark’s perception of Palin’s continued affinities for the AIP is reinforced by his perception of a clash between Sarah Palin and the Republican party over the ethics of the party.

The net effect is supposed to be that Alaskans now have an AIP governor, disguised as a Republican, who can be counted on to reintroduce the issue of Statehood and perhaps facilitate the achievement of the AIP’s primary objective. What makes the whole thing really rich is that, because governor Palin is such a popular figure in her state, many Alaskans would probably vote with the AIP and everything turn out hunky-dory for the AIP.

So strategists in the AIP propose to infiltrate the two mainstream parties, get these pseudo-members elected to municipal and state offices, and watch them use their positions—synchronizing their efforts, of course—to bring about independence for Alaska.

This seems to be the basic trajectory of Clark’s reasoning process.

And the muckraker is floored by this. The video excerpts are so unbelievably damning that the muckraker thinks her readers might want to sit down before they are presented with the evidence she presents.

What’s truly unbelievable is that the muckraker finds the argument so compelling. Indeed, to sort it out you might need to sit down for a spell.

Here’s the argument:

  1. Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP). [Fact]
  2. If Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the AIP, then his proposed strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [Assumption]
  3. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [MP, 1 and 2]
  4. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence is for members of the AIP to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska.
  5. Members of the AIP agree to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska. [Conjunction of 3 and 4]
  6. No member of the AIP ever leaves the AIP except in pursuit of Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence. [Assumption]
  7. If a person who was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [Direct implication of 6]
  8. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  9. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [MP, 7 and 8]
  10. If Sarah Palin has infiltrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence, then Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [Direct implication of 7]
  11. Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [MA, 9 and 10]
  12. If Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican, then Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United State. [Assumption]
  13. Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States. [MP, 11 and 12]
  14. If Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States, then we should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [Assumption]
  15. We should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [MP, 13 and 14]

Statements 10-15 do not appear in the muckraker’s post. They are gleaned from the tone and content of this and other posts at her blog, and my suspicion that she does not want John McCain to be the next President of the United States. In any case, we can dispense with them here.

The above argument can be simplified by extracting three of the numbered statements, 7-9. The resulting argument is as follows:

  1. If a person was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [Assumption]
  2. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  3. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [MP, 1 and 2]

Notice three things about statement number 1.

First, it is an assumption that is never actually stated in the argument.

Second, it is crucial to the argument, since the muckraker never so much as hints that Sarah Palin was in the room when the video was shot, or even that Sarah Palin has unequivocally embraced Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving Alaska’s independence.

Third, it isn’t true.

How’s that for a specimen of BlogLogic?

* * *

Why have I written this post?

One should not infer from what I’ve said here that I support the McCain/Palin ticket. That would require another instance of specious reasoning.

I have two reasons for writing this post.

First, Sarah Palin should be defended against arguments that violate the principles of sound reasoning. So should any other candidate. But Palin has been the target of incessant, vicious attack with arguments constructed on manufactured evidence. This seems to be the current number one priority of the muckraker. (Again, that’s what muckrakers do.)

Second, I can at least hope that exposing the barrenness of a BlogArgument—or Blogument, if you will—is a contribution to the common good, as a call to sound reasoning in the public square.

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