Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

This seems like ancient history now, from the pre-Palin era, but perhaps worth noting. Sean Hannity on Thursday was all over Barack Obama's acceptance speech, which hadn't occurred yet. Since Hannity couldn't attack the content yet, he had to attack the setting instead. He made numerous references to Greek columns, and Obama descending from on high, and repeatedly referred to Obama as "Apollo." It even seemed to bother him that a lot of people would be able to see the speech, although why that could possibly be a bad thing was unfathomable to me.

What the hell do Republicans have against Greek columns? The founding fathers loved the Greeks, who, of course, created democracy and a great deal of our whole conception of what it means to be a reasoning, involved body of citizens. But I guess if you still believe that Ronald Reagan created the heavens and earth on Election Day in 1980, you might think the Greeks were some kind of elitist, weird foreigners.

And why Apollo? Maybe Hannity was referring to Apollo Creed, another flashy black man who tries to disguise himself by dressing up like George Washington and Uncle Sam but who comes to grief when he has to fight an authentic American. Well, probably not. Hannity isn't that subtle.

But if McCain's campaign handlers start making "Apollo" references, you can be sure they thought about Apollo Creed.

Palin takes Montana

Montana Headlines thinks Sarah Palin wraps up Montana for McCain. Well, he's often wrong, and we can hope this is another example. Like other Republicans, he is in the uncomfortable position now of arguing that although Obama is too inexperienced to be president, Palin is just fine. He notes that Obama considered governors who are nearly as inexperienced, but doesn't seem to realize that considering an inexperienced candidate and choosing one are very different matters.

Quoting Kirsten Powers, he asks of those who are complaining about the choice: "Where were they when Obama, two years into the Senate, announced his candidacy for president?"

I don't know where "they" were, but I know where I was: I was thinking the man has no chance. But I also thought that he was young enough that he could run again in four or eight years, and the extra experience would make him a better candidate.

Obviously, I was wrong. And I was wrong not because "Dems" put him up but because he was able to win over millions of Americans who hadn't voted for Democrats, or voted at all, before. He did this over the course of hundreds of campaign appearances and carefully crafted speeches, dozens of national debates with the best the party had to offer against him, and by building grass-roots campaign efforts in state after state. His organization in Montana, to cite one example, dwarfs anything that Clinton or McCain has done.

And he did it by going directly against the two American families that have dominated national politics for two decades. Moreover, his was the only one of the three most successful presidential campaigns this election that never ran into financial difficulties. He may lack experience, but he has done all that a human being can do in so short a time to prepare himself for the world's most demanding job.

He has accomplished what no politician in American history has ever managed to pull off. He has run a campaign that transcends race, keeping the black vote firmly on his side while appealing to millions of Americans who have never voted for a black candidate in their lives. He is the Jackie Robinson of presidential politics, and he has changed history. Along the way, he has dealt with attack after attack in ways that demonstrate extraordinary grace and coolness under fire: that he is not black enough, that he is too black, that he hangs out with radicals, that he is too green, too weak, too easily influenced by others. He does all of that while continuing to call on Americans to rise above petty politics, to seek out compromise and to work together for the good of us all.

Having said all of that, I still wish he had more experience. And I wish he were not such a liberal. And if I had a choice of anybody in the country to vote for, it probably would not be him.

But I don't have that choice. I have a choice of Obama, an inexperienced but extraordinarily gifted politician, and his smart and seasoned vice president, or of a bellicose old warrior who now seems to willing to toss aside everything that has made me admire him over the years for the sake of a few extra votes, and his unproven vice presidential choice, about whom there is almost no chance I will learn enough in the next 70 days to persuade me that she could be president.

And Montana Headlines thinks Montanans will fall for her because she hunts moose. Lord save us.

UPDATE: If you still doubt that Obama isn't serious about what it takes to be president, reread this. Then ask yourself whether he or McCain (not even to mention Palin) has thought more carefully about the president's authority and responsibilities.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reagan vs. Reagan

Michael Reagan on John McCain, Jan. 31, 2008: "If he gets the nomination the only way he could win against Hillary or Barack Obama would be to be part of a McCain-Limbaugh ticket."

Michael Reagan on Sarah Palin, Aug. 29, 2008: "She'll be a tough candidate for the vice presidency, and a fine vice president who'll shake up Washington."

Sarah who?

I meant to be one of the 4 million bloggers commenting yesterday on John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin as vice president, but my head wouldn't quit spinning. On Thursday night, I was somberly sitting through Barack Obama's acceptance speech, warning myself not to get caught up in his soaring rhetoric. As good Republicans have repeatedly warned me, these are serious times, the front lines of an international struggle against Islamofascism, a time when sober reflection and serious military, foreign policy and diplomatic experience were vitally needed. Obama didn't stack up, no matter how pretty his words.

Friday morning, all of that changed. It wasn't experience we needed, I learned, it was an authentic American biography, a feisty political history, a deep pro-life commitment. Foreign policy experience? Hey, she lives just across the Bering Strait from Siberia. Legislative experience? Hey, she was ordering potholes fixed in Alaska before Obama ever ran for office. Washington experience? Hey, haven't you heard that politics is the only profession in which experience counts against you?

I couldn't keep up. Old political pros like Sean Hannity can shift with the political winds at the drop of a hat in the ring, but it takes some of the rest of us time to shift gears. I was amazed at the speed with which much of the right-wing blogosphere, including in Montana, fell into line (for an honorable exception, go here).

Not that I'm complaining. If experience is no longer a qualification for president, then fine. I've always thought experience in presidential candidates was overrated. The job is just too different from every other job in the world for any experience to be truly relevant. And the job is so wide-ranging and complex that even the best candidates have to rely heavily on the advice and wisdom of others. So how much candidates know is less important than how well they listen to and evaluate what other people tell them. Admit it: If you had known in 1860 what was about to happen to the country, would you have voted for Abe Lincoln as commander in chief? Pretty words: That's all he had to offer.

But some aspects of experience are relevant. One is how well the candidate can perform on a national stage. Palin? No clue. Another is that it takes years to absorb all the policy minutiae that experienced politicians keep in their heads. I've seen a lot of smart challengers have their heads handed to them in political debates, even at city council level, by incumbents whose only real advantage was that they understood how stuff worked.

Exceptions are awfully rare, in my experience. One of the few I can recall was when Rick Hill went up against Bill Yellowtail in a debate at the Alberta Bair Theater. Yellowtail had legislative and federal administrative experience, and I had heard him give a pretty good speech. I figured he would blow Hill away. But Hill, in my view, not only held his own but actually won the debate and went on to win the election. But as I say, that comes to mind only because it was so rare.

Is Palin one of those rare exceptions? Lord knows, I have no idea. But I do know this: I'm not betting on it. And to those who say that Palin actually has more executive experience than the other candidates, I can only offer this advice: Please get some therapy.

I have no doubt that it takes every bit as much talent, persistence and intelligence to serve well as mayor of a small town as it does to serve as mayor of Detroit. Issues that roil small towns may look tiny from a distance, but they matter to people who live there. The problem is that lots of small towns just don't have good mayors. There aren't enough good mayors to go around, and a lot of people who might be good mayors won't take the job because the ratio of grief and effort so far outweighs the rewards. Since Palin advanced to governor from mayor, it's a fair guess that she was good at it, but I don't know that for a fact, and I doubt that any of the bloggers applauding her selection have pored through city council minutes and records to find out for themselves.

Besides, if serving as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, counts as presidential-level executive experience, then I have more executive experience than everybody in the race combined. Plus, my experience is in the private sector, where results count. And in my mind, less than two years of gubernatorial experience is almost equal to zero. The whole point of getting experience is that it allows you to get stupid mistakes out of your system at a level where the damage can be contained. If you don't make stupid mistakes, you don't need experience. If you don't learn from mistakes, experience is of no value to you. But in two years, a governor has barely had time to make all of the mistakes most rookies make, much less absorb and learn lessons from them.

Yes, I know it's only vice president. But I've always thought a vote for McCain is a vote for his vice president. Heck, I'm a decade and a half younger than he is and in almost ridiculously good health (knock on wood). But, like him, I work too many hours under too much stress, and I don't like my odds of getting through the next eight years without a serious health problem.

The way I see it, the maverick just bet the ranch, the farm, the cattle and the whole country. I'm not taking that bet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hannity vs. himself

On his radio show, Sean Hannity keeps referring to the Democratic National Convention as the "downright mean" Democratic convention, a reference to one of Michelle Obama's least astute political observations.

My question: How many times does Hannity have to say that before it stops being a commentary on her "real" beliefs and starts becoming evidence that she was right? My guess is, that point has been passed.

GOP grows up

It appears that some adults are left in the Republican Party.

HIllary for veep?

Everybody in the world except me seems to think that putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket would have helped Barack Obama win the presidency. I've never been able to figure that out. Outside of the extreme PUMAs, to whom does Hillary appeal? Basically to the same people Obama appeals to.

But she has huge negatives and always has. Not entirely her fault, but there it is. Does she really help Obama get the votes of independents, moderates and non-voters? I don't see it. What am I missing here?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Schweitzer speaks

In case you weren't listening, here's the transcript of Brian Schweitzer's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Molnar vs. Tussing update

This is pretty rich. I reported in July that Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar had complained to challenger Ron Tussing that Mary Jo Fox of Tussing's campaign had sent a debate proposal to Molnar's government address. "This is against the law," Molnar said, arguing that it amounted to campaigning on the government's dime.

Tussing just dropped off a copy of Molnar's latest fund-raising letter. The letter's contact information includes Molnar's government e-mail address and his government phone number.

Careful, Brad.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

An Obama supporter called Hannity yesterday to argue that Barack Obama, not John McCain, had the better answer to last week's Saddleback question about evil. Obama, you may recall, said that we must confront evil with humility because it is so easy to mistake the evil in ourselves for evil in someone else (it was Jesus, not Obama, who said, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye").

McCain said evil must be defeated and vowed to pursue Osama Bin Laden to the "gates of Hell." His only nod to Christianity was his apparent concession that the jurisdiction of the unitary executive stops at the gates and does not extend into Hell itself. Dick Cheney would dispute that.

His answer really had nothing to do with evil because you know what? I suspect that Osama Bin Laden firmly believes in the depths of his soul that he is obeying the will of Allah. And you know what else? I don't care what he thinks. I just want him stopped. And if it should turn out in the afterlife that he was right after all, and he is greeted with hosannahs in Heaven, then I will willingly take up quarters in Hell. I wouldn't want to belong in a Heaven that would have him as a member.

The caller said that McCain had it wrong because humans lack the power to defeat evil. Only God can do that. Although I was an amateur preacher in my younger years, I am no theologian. But I am pretty sure she was right about that. The battle against evil is like a baseball game that always has one more inning to play. No matter how far ahead or behind one side may get, nobody wins because the game never ends until God calls it.

That's not only theologically correct, it's also theologically necessary. If evil can be defeated, then so can good. And if good can be defeated here on this Earth, then that would mean the end of all hope.

Hannity, good Christian that he is, wasn't buying any of that. He said that evil can be defeated here and now and rattled off a list of examples: Hitler, Stalin, the hypothetical rapist next door whom Hannity so often invokes. But from a Christian perspective, he was almost certainly wrong. If you believe that the human soul is immortal, and that evil resides within it, then evil must also be eternal, until God decrees otherwise. So while Hitler isn't hurting anybody anymore, the evil in his soul is still there, basting away in the lower depths of Hell, waiting for payback.

Big deal. I'm not going to base my vote for president on which candidate has the better understanding of the Christian conception of good and evil. But what struck me was how unwilling Hannity was to acknowledge even the inconsequential possibility that on a matter of faith, a Democrat might have it right and a Republican might have it wrong. In Hannity's world, when it comes to politics, Christianity has to take a back seat.

That's a bit sad, and a little bit scary.

SIDE NOTE: On the interesting and important question of whether Hell should be capitalized, I accept the judgment of William Safire, who once argued, "Hell is a place, like Scranton."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

McCain vs. the Constitution

Earlier this week, I speculated about whether John McCain had read the California Constitution, since he offered up his legal opinion that California Supreme Court justices had read it wrong. Today I'm wondering whether he has read the U.S. Constitution.

McCain, from a White House ceremony about the Iraq resolution in 2002:
The Constitution of the United States designates the President of the United States as Commander-in-Chief. The Congress of the United States plays a role, and I believe that this process we are about to embark on is the appropriate role that Congress should carry out its responsibilities. But at the end of the day, the final, most serious responsibility of sending young American men and women into harm's way rests with the President of the United States.

My Constitution says that responsibility rests with Congress. The president decides who gets sent where. Congress decides to do the sending.

"The Dark Side" reviewed

The Outpost editor, shaking off the summer bonds of decadence, finishes and reviews "The Dark Side." It's a must read -- that is, the book is a must read, not the review. But if you aren't going to read the book, you should at least read the review.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama pressing hard

I don't know what's going on with the John McCain campaign in Montana because I never hear from it. But I do know at least some of what is going on with the Barack Obama campaign because just about every day I get an e-mail, a piece of mail or a phone call from the campaign. The campaign has a fairly nonstop stream of organizational meetings and get-out-the-vote sessions going on, and it checks in regularly to make sure we know what's up.

I don't know what all of that will mean in November, but if I had to judge this race solely on the basis of what crosses my desk, I would guess that Obama was about 90 percentage points ahead.

A straight-talking lie

On July 22, John McCain said, "I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign."

Today McCain said, "Yesterday, Senator Obama got a little testy on this issue. He said that I am questioning his patriotism. Let me be clear: I am not questioning his patriotism; I am questioning his judgment."

Question: Can anybody think of a more blatant lie by a presidential candidate? I don't mean lies that eventually were uncovered, but lies that were obvious and unequivocal and that followed so closely after the evidence that proves they were lies. I can't come up with one.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Obama vs. McCain 2

Adherents of the notion that right-wing talk radio works because conservatives have strong and certain opinions while liberals struggle with nuance found ammunition for their argument in last night's successive discussions with the top two presidential candidates.

John McCain was quick to answer, sure of himself, funny and full of stories. Great radio. Barack Obama was thoughtful, discursive, occasionally muddled. What was that? NPR?

In my useless opinion, McCain won the political debate. Obama won the religious discussion.

For instance, on the question of evil, McCain went right to Al Qaida and then stayed there. Fair enough as far as it goes. But Obama talked about evil perpetuated by governments (Dafur), evil by individuals (street crime) and the evil within ourselves. The last part, the evil within us, warns us to be humble about judging evil in others. I passed the halfway mark in "The Dark Side" yesterday, so it was a welcome warning. It also struck me as a good answer for a Christian to give. But then Jesus never could have withstood the Republican attack machine. Questions about his birth remain unanswered, he was soft on crime, a sucker for the poor, a cut-and-run commander-in-chief, a combatant in class warfare, and he interfered with free enterprise by driving money changers out of the temple. Points to McCain.

I also liked Obama's answer about which Supreme Court justices he would not have nominated. He distinguished between Clarence Thomas, whose legal record wasn't up to snuff, and Scalia, who is brilliant but too conservative for Obama's tastes. He admitted to mixed feelings about Roberts -- a distinguished and fair-minded scholar who gives too much credence to the Bush administration's usurpation of the Constitution.

McCain took the classic conservative position: He wouldn't have nominated anyone on the whole liberal side of the court: Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, Stevens. Of course, he didn't say it was because he didn't like their politics. Instead, he accused them of "judicial activism," which is conservative code for he didn't like their politics.

After all, is it judicial activism to line up in defense of habeas corpus, the most venerated right in Western law? Even in the infamous Kelo decision, the liberal majority essentially held that it was up to the political process, not unelected judges, to decide what amounts to a taking of private property in the public interest. It was the opposite of activism, but accuracy in such matters hardly counts.

In a question not posed to Obama, McCain also said that the California Supreme Court erred when it overturned the state's ban on gay marriage. Interesting how he would have known that. From what I have read, the court decided the case pretty narrowly based on its reading of the California Constitution. So unless McCain has been reading the California Constitution, which seems unlikely, I don't know how he can judge the merits of the case. I think he meant that he didn't like the political implications of the ruling, not the legal reasoning. Too bad he didn't distinguish between the two. But the audience seemed to love it.

Finally, Fox News analysts labeled Obama's response to a question about abortion as the one major gaffe of the night. In response to a question about when a baby acquires human rights, Obama answered that the question was above his pay grade. McCain instantly awarded rights at conception.

I thought Obama's response was fine and, in effect, made the case for the conservative pro-choice argument. He meant, I believe, that such questions involve moral, ethical and religious judgments that are beyond the competence of mere politicians, and that's why it's better to leave such decisions in the hands of women, their families, their ministers and their doctors. Probably not the answer the crowd wanted to hear, but probably the best answer he could give.

Did McCain win? I think so. But it was an interesting reminder of why Obama is such an unusual and fascinating candidate.

UPDATE: The Hammond Report couldn't be happier.

UPDATE 2: Was anyone else struck by McCain's critique of Bush for failing to ask for sacrifice after Sept. 11, followed by his own failure to ask for any sacrifice at all? McCain wants to wage two wars and pose at least credible threats against Iran and Russia, while facing massive deficits and without asking for a tax increase on anybody. Who pays the bills? As usual, the grandkids.

UPDATE 3: I don't want to be too easy on Obama. I thought he had the worst answer of the night when he was asked whether churches running federally funded faith-based initiatives should be allowed to discriminate in hiring against people who are not of their faith. McCain just charged right past the problem. Obama is a good enough lawyer to know that this poses a terrible problem. Are you going to tell Americans that they can't be hired for jobs paid for with their own tax dollars unless they adhere to a certain religion?

Maybe Obama has it worked out in his head how this would work. If he does, I couldn't figure it out based on his answer. He seemed to be dodging.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obama vs. McCain

Congressional Quarterly assesses the presidential race in Montana.

Thursday talk radio update

Racism reared its head in one expected place and one unexpected one.

A caller complained to Dave Rye that he had received a push poll call that contained the question: Do you think your community is ready to vote for a black candidate? I may not be quoting him exactly, and he may not have been quoting the survey exactly, but it was something close to that.

He thought the question was racist, and Rye agreed. I don't see it. Asking someone to assess the level of racism in one's community is not in itself racism. Perhaps there was some racist intent, but I suspect the question related to surveys that show only about 5 percent of voters say they would refuse to vote for a black presidential candidate, but about 20 percent think their neighbors would not (sorry, can't remember where I saw these numbers and don't have time to track them down). It's a way of trying to get a handle on people who don't have the guts to tell a pollster they won't vote for a black but who, nevertheless, won't vote for a black. Sounds legit to me.

The other mention was by Sean Hannity, who raised the argument that if it is racist to vote for a candidate because he is white then it is racist to vote for a candidate because he is black. Hannity has pushed this theme a lot, and it seems so obviously wrong to me that I don't think I have mentioned it before for fear of insulting the intelligence of my dozens of readers. But perhaps it is worth spelling out in case a Hannity fan wanders by.

Here's the deal: Is there a non-racist reason to vote only for white candidates? I've kicked the idea around in my head for a while and can't come up with any. Perhaps somebody can suggest one.

Is there a non-racist reason to favor a black candidate? Of course. It's a way of telling ourselves, and the world, that America has, once and for all, put racism to rest. It's a way of guaranteeing black citizens that the dream of equality is no longer just a dream. It's payback, in a way, for all those good black citizens who never got a chance to hold public office because they lived in a racist society.

You don't have to like those reasons, and you could certainly argue that they are an inadequate basis for electing a president. And you might be right. But I don't see how you can argue that those reasons are racist.

UPDATE: Two other points: First, Hannity, Limbaugh and Glenn Beck all seemed upset about Russia attacking Georgia, and they wanted us to do something. But it never became clear to me exactly what. Maybe I missed it.

Second point: I tried to listen to Limbaugh a bit as a matter of public service, but I didn't get far. Almost immediately, he said that the reason America's reputation has declined overseas not because of anything Bush has done but because of -- hang onto your hat -- Michael Moore. Yes, Michael Moore has more influence over America's international image than the president of the United States does. Talk about making Bush look small.

UPDATE: Here's a source for the claim above about how many people wouldn't vote for a black candidate.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Low times for Lee

From a reader:

Over the past year, Lee Enterprises stock has ranged from $20.60 to $2.76. Tuesday, it opened at $3.33 with a high of $3.39 and a low of $3.10. Meanwhile, the Lambros real estate agency is listing “historic Lee Lodge” in Polson for $4.5 million. Lee owns the Billings, Butte and Missoula newspapers as well as some in smaller communities. One can only hope that corporate executives have adequate golden parachutes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Schweitzer the Republican

Here's the script for the latest Schweitzer-Bohlinger ad:
Schweitzer: I’m Brian Schweitzer.

Bohlinger: “And I’m John Bohlinger.”

Schweitzer: Four years ago, when I chose John, a Republican, to be my Lieutenant Governor, I took some heat from a few Democrats.

Bohlinger: And I know some Republicans who weren’t happy either.

Schweitzer: But working across party lines was more important to us. We’ve created the largest budget surplus and the most tax relief in state history, we’ve helped create over 50,000 new jobs, and our economy is one of the fastest growing in the country. Did I leave anything out?”

Bohlinger: Just that you couldn’t have done it without me.

Pretty clever. Schweitzer has been working this line for four years, and Republicans still haven't found a way to react except by sounding pissy about it. But voters' desire for bipartisan consensus is real, and the GOP ignores it at its peril.

UPDATE: Montana Headlines responds. I don't disagree at all with his analysis of the situation, but I doubt for a couple of reasons that the solution he suggests (demonstrating where the governor has rejected compromise) will be effective.

One is that there just aren't a lot of hard lines of difference between the two parties. Both believe in economic development, some environmental protection, balanced budgets and reasonable taxes. They disagree mostly about where to draw the line, not about whether a line should be drawn. So if voters mostly like the way things stand, then they probably will vote to keep things they way they are.

The other is that most people, even political junkies, just don't follow day-to-day legislative operations that closely. So trying to educate the masses about cases where Republicans sought compromise and Schweitzer rejected it is likely to be a futile endeavor, easily glossed over by the political campaigns. Where the GOP has to fight back is on symbols -- and Schweitzer seems to have that end of the game pretty well locked up.

UPDATE 2: In comments, Montana Headlines observes that I seem to be calling on Montana Republicans to engage in the same sort of battles over symbols that I have criticized in the McCain campaign. He's right about that, I think, or at least that thought occurred to me while I was delivering papers along Shiloh Road yesterday.

But first, a point of disagreement. Montana Headlines suggests that I think voters don't really care about bipartisanship, just about the appearance of it. No, I don't mean that at all. Voters really do care about bipartisanship, but they are unlikely to be persuaded by going through the minutiae of past legislative battles that Republicans are better at it than Democrats.

So what do I think Republicans should do? Any Republicans who care about my opinion are welcome to send large checks to The Billings Outpost Relief Fund (1833 Grand Ave., Billings MT 59102), but here's the freeware version:

1. In legislative races, Republicans should take it on a case-by-case basis. They should point out that Republicans are the go-to guys on low taxes and energy development, and they can try to persuade voters that the GOP's years of fiscal prudence led to the relative prosperity Montana enjoys now. They should (generally) avoid social issues, ignore the national party and never, ever say a bad word about John Bohlinger.

2. In the governor's race, Roy Brown should campaign hard, run a clean race, build up as much favorable name recognition as possible and hope for better luck in 2012. Brown's a good man, and probably would be a good governor, but the odds this year are awfully long.

3. If Brown, as my advisee, says that's not good enough -- he wants to win now -- then my advice would have to be that he go immediately, heavily and profoundly negative. If he can find a picture of Schweitzer giving somebody a haircut, play it big. If Schweitzer has ever tortured a kitten, beaten his wife or cheated a business partner, go for it. If Bohlinger shoplifts bow ties, make an example of him.

I don't think that strategy would be likely to work, and it might very well taint Brown enough to damage any future campaigns. But I think it's the only thing that might work.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

McCain vs. the truth

Montana Headlines takes on the task of defending John McCain's recent attacks on Barack Obama. It's a dirty job, but I guess somebody had to do it.

Oddly, he defends the humor in the ads on the basis of their You Tube popularity. Suffice it to say that certain aspects of humor simply defy rational analysis, such as, for example, the popularity of Adam Sandler.

But I would not want to defend McCain's ads, as Montana Headlines does, as consistent with his promise to run a "respectful" campaign. A joke or two is OK. Arguing that Obama doesn't have the experience to be president is perfectly legitimate. Saying that Obama is too liberal for the job is just fine.

But it's not OK to accuse Obama of selling out America to help his political chances. It's not legitimate to imply that Obama is a celebrity bimbo. It's not fine to flat-out lie about Obama's energy plan, or to lie about his tax plan. And it isn't respectful to imply that Obama has some sort of messianic complex.

Montana Headlines' justification for the McCain ads, such as it is, seems to be that McCain might lose if he doesn't get down and dirty. Just once, I would like to see American voters make it clear that candidates will lose if they do get down and dirty. Then Americans would actually have to make their decision for president solely on the basis of the candidates' experience, skills, potential and policies.

So far, only one candidate appears interested in having voters choose that option.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

Deep in the dog days, nobody seemed to be in the mood for a fight. Dave Rye told a caller with whom he disagreed that he didn't even want to argue. O'Reilly was so tepid that I scarcely remember a thing he said.

Even Hannity seemed off his game. Rather than drum up the anti-Obama hatred, he focused more on recent polls showing the race is tightening and tried to imply that it's really all over; the Obama threat has ended. He pretended he was angry about this, but he sounded half-hearted about it. Perhaps he was hoping that nobody remembered polls like this one.

The only time Hannity seemed to get really annoyed was when he mentioned Obama's remarks about Republicans being proud of their ignorance. It must have hurt because it hit so close to home. Naturally, that didn't stop Hannity from continuing to misrepresent the situation. He kept pretending that Obama's energy plan consists solely of tire gauges, an obvious and deliberate lie.

I would hate to peer into the nightmare of Hannity's soul.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Driscoll and stuff

The Outpost editor gives his take on John Driscoll in this week's Outpost. It was a fun and fascinating interview, and I hope some of that comes through in the story.

The editor also attempts to demonstrate that he hasn't totally forgotten how to write a column.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A thing of beauty

The Hammond Report finds this beautiful. I guess there is no accounting for taste.

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast in the 1950s and '60s, a time when development of all known resources went on without qualm or reservation. A lot of words could be used to describe what that looked like, but "beautiful" would not be among them.

All that development had a lot of consequences, some of them good. But some of them led a lot of people like me to want to live somewhere else.

Look, I'm a big boy. I understand that the gasoline I burn in my car every day has to come from somewhere, and I understand that a price has to be paid. But I don't understand how envirophobes like Hammond and Hannity can simply close their eyes to the cost.

A few years ago, Hannity was telling his callers, Let not your heart be troubled. Drive your SUVs. There will be plenty of gas.

Not that we are dealing with the inevitable consequences of that kind of thinking, do the Hannitys of the world don sackcloth and ashes? No. They remain as destructive as ever, mining, burning, cutting, drilling until the last ounce is gone. And heaping ridicule on anyone who suggests there might be a better way.

Then they have the nerve to call it beautiful.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Special Monday talk radio update

Sean Hannity had quite a field day this afternoon ridiculing Barack Obama for saying that inflating car tires and keeping cars tuned up would save as much oil as drilling on the Continental Shelf would produce. Hannity couldn't get enough of it. He played the clip over and over.

My first thought was that it wasn't Obama's best day, but I could see his underlying point: Saving a gallon of gas is just as valuable (and better for the environment) than drilling for one. Still, after hearing Hannity attack the point so relentlessly, I thought I should at least check to see if what Obama said might actually be true.

It might.

St. Obama

Montana Headlines finds this ad "hilarious." Wrong. This is hilarious. The McCain ad is at best an acquired taste and the whole Obama as The Anointed One meme may even backfire.

When I was an assistant city editor in Texas, a friend on the copy desk was fond of saying, every time I caught an error, "David, you're a god." We were just kidding around, but funny thing. After a while, I really started to feel like I had some sort of supernatural copy-editing powers. His joke made me work harder and take my work more seriously.

The ads mocking Obama may have the same effect. At some level, voters know it's a joke. But at another level, they may really think, this guy is something special.

An attorney assesses Obama

Bozeman attorney Kristin Taylor was a student in one Barack Obama's law classes at the University of Chicago. Asked her opinion of this piece in the New York Times, she wrote:
I found the piece interesting, though a bit frustrating as well. I think Dennis Hutchinson was right on in observing that Barack was testing his ideas in the classroom – and I think that fact accounts for the genuinely respectful and thoughtful way he treated his students. It seemed as if he always very earnestly took all of our viewpoints into account as he performed an analysis – and that he truly valued our contributions. He never was dismissive (as some other profs tended to be) and was always interested in exploring the ‘devil’s advocate’ perspective.

I would agree with the students who recollect having their ‘liberal instincts’ offended at times; from what I remember, the only glimpse we had into Barack’s personal politics was the types of classes he taught. He played the devil’s advocate role well himself and truly seemed to believe that a good idea was a good idea, regardless of the political orientation of the individual who offered it. He made sure to analyze an issue from every imaginable perspective and, as best he could, to put himself (or, more accurately, to try to assist his students to put themselves) into another’s shoes. That is why I find it ridiculous to hear someone like Richard Epstein (who, incidentally, had his own libertarian ‘groupies’ and who, to the best of my knowledge, did not spend much time out of his own ‘comfort zone’) allege that Barack never ‘fully engaged’. Barack is incredibly bright and I firmly believe that his ability to see/understand/articulate all sides of an argument is evidence that, on an intellectual level at least, he was fully engaged.

I also agree with you about simplicity vs complication. I’d guess the best way to run an operation of this scope is to keep it simple and if, at times, it is disappointing to hear Barack sounding more simplistic than we’d like, I’d argue that it is reassuring to know that we’ll have a president capable of much deeper analysis. In fact, I’ve said before that I was quite impressed by his ability to make concepts accessible to students – I see it as a great strength that he is capable of sophisticated analysis yet also able to distill information to an easily understandable – and ‘usable’ – form.

Hat tip to Marvin Granger.

McRae and Davis

We drove down on Saturday to see Wally McRae and Stephanie Davis perform in a fund-raiser for the Northern Plains Resource Council. What a great show.

I had never seen Davis perform -- only heard her on "A Prairie Home Companion" -- a show on which she has appeared, she said in response to a question, "thousands of times." I had seen McRae once, also on "A Prairie Home Companion," when it originated from the Alberta Bair Theater a few years ago.

They were both great, and the way they played off each other was even better. McRae, in particular, is quite a performer, reciting his poems and reading some of his new prose with great emotion and skill. Every funny thing he does is a bit sad, and every sad one is a bit funny, that cowboy mixture of romance, sentimentality, toughness and fatalism that we've all gotten to know so well.

He also told a follow-up to this story. After McRae told Zarzyski that he had some stories he wanted to tell that he couldn't fit into rhyme and meter, Zarzyski told him to write prose.

"I don't know anything about writing prose," McRae protested.

"You don't know anything about writing poetry either," Zarzyski said, "but that's never stopped you."

Funny that you can go to the Alberta Bair Theater all season and see great performers from around the world. But none of them top a pair who grew up in Bridger and Colstrip. This is blessed country.

Schweitzer on TV

In case you are following this stuff, here's the text of Gov. Schweitzer's first TV ad of the campaign season:
Everything I know about government I learned as a rancher. You’re only as good as your word. You balance your budget. Expect results. Share the credit when you’re right. And take responsibility when you’re wrong. And at the end of the day, you have to be able to look your family in the eye. You also have to clean up a few messes, too.

It's the old Montana mystique: Can anything evil come from a rancher?

Solzhenitsyn R.I.P.

I spent a fair chunk of my spendthrift youth reading Russian novels, among them those by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (which had one of the great last lines in all of literature), "The First Circle," "Cancer Ward," "August 1914." I stopped after the first volume of "The Gulag Archipelago," which was important and necessary work but lacked the sweep of the novels.

When Solzhenitsyn was exiled to Vermont, Americans tended to greet him as a reincarnation of George Washington and James Madison. But he was nothing of the kind. His dissent was of a different sort: spiritual and intense, deep and emotional. He was in the same league, if not quite at the same level, as Tolstoy, Gogol and Dostoevsky, and a worthy successor to them, with all of their profound depth and drive for redemption. He was as much a critic of the West as of his own country, from which he was ultimately inseparable: a great, brave and uncompromising man.

UPDATE 1: You will want to read Montana Headlines on this topic.

UPDATE 2: I just remembered that when I was in the Army I used to have this quote from "Denisovich" on the barracks wall: "The great thing about prison camp was you had a hell of a lot of freedom."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

It was all about Ludacris. O'Reilly said it was a big story, although I could never figure out exactly why. To me, it makes no more sense to blame Obama for Ludacris than it does to blame George Bush for Ted Nugent.

At least O'Reilly was willing to concede that links between Obama and Ludacris are pretty tenuous. Not so Hannity, who quickly added Ludacris to his cabal of insurgents -- the Rev. Wright, William Ayers, Michael Pfleger -- who are out to destroy America by electing a radical socialist.

As I have noted before, Hannity is nothing if not flexible. Hannity's bit in the Nugent spot linked above is priceless: Whenever a Republican is attacked, the man of principle suddenly becomes a moral relativist. His shape-shifting talent was on full display Thursday, when he spent 10 minutes blasting Obama for saying that McCain was trying to scare people by saying that Obama wasn't like them, then spent the next hour and 50 minutes telling listeners that Obama, in fact, wasn't like them.

He did this in part by interviewing Jerome Corsi, whose dubious resume includes authorship of the book that helped launch the swift boat attacks on John Kerry. Corsi has written a new book about Obama, and it wasn't clear to me what explosive revelations it contains, although I may have missed some while popping in and out doing deliveries.

But I did hear him mention three times that the book has 700 footnotes. Uh oh. Every graduate student knows that trick: If you can't come up with anything interesting or original to say, load up the paper with footnotes. But I don't think that trick works on the best-seller lists.

The best Ludacris discussion actually came up on the increasingly unlistenable Glenn Beck show. Beck did a dramatic reading of Ludacris' rap on Obama, with classical piano in the background and frequent interruptions to explore the inner meaning of the text and rhyme scheme. It was pretty damn funny. Beck tends to run his funny ideas -- actually, all of his ideas -- into the ground, so I was glad to switch to NPR when the news came on.

SIDEBAR: Dave Rye didn't talk about Ludacris, but he did praise the Bozeman Chronicle for a recent article announcing layoffs. Few newspapers are willing to publicly disclose their own internal problems, Rye said.

Actually, in my experience, newspapers are usually willing to announce layoffs. Perhaps that's less true in Montana; I don't know. But I have read quite a newspaper announcements of their own layoffs over the years. Sometimes that's an effort to stave off rumors, and sometimes it's a simple realization that even when layoffs happen to you and yours, it's still news.

Hard to believe, but integrity is still out there sometimes.

Keeping Bush in check

This sounds exactly right to me.

I don't see how anyone can even argue that executive privilege includes the right not to appear before Congress at all, even to answer questions that clearly are not privileged. Karl Rove, for example, now works as an analyst for Fox News. He holds essentially the same job that Bill O'Reilly does. But if O'Reilly were called to appear before Congress, and he refused to appear on the grounds that he might be asked questions that would require him to, say, disclose the name of a confidential source, he would be laughed out of court -- and ridiculed all over the country. The Bush administration deserves equal ridicule.