Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bill Richardson: more popular than he's ever been.

(Well, almost ever.)

Also, the New York Times would like you to know that John McCain is old.

(In other news, I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog to, "I don't like John McCain, but at least I'm in good company.")

If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought I was kidding about the "uniting the talk radio bloc" effect of Thursday's McCain-lobbyist piece. But no: McCain's single best twenty-four hour period of fundraising came in the immediate aftermath of the publication of that article.

By Thursday morning, when the article appeared in the print editions of The Times, the McCain campaign had begun an aggressive attack against the newspaper, calling the article a smear campaign worthy of The National Enquirer. It was a symphony to the ears of Mr. McCain’s conservative critics.

Operating on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, many conservatives who had long distrusted Mr. McCain on a variety of issues, including his peculiar fondness for talking to reporters for hours on end, rallied to see him at war with a newspaper they revile as a voice of the left. (In fact, Mr. McCain said only that he was "disappointed" with the newspaper, and left the incendiary attacks to his surrogates.)
These people....

The weird thing about that whole "John McCain loves the lobbyists" story is that it may not even be the most pressing long-term issue facing his campaign.

First, McCain opted in to the public finance system for the primaries last year. It meant that his struggling campaign would get $5.8 million in public matching funds in March. Now that he's effectively the Republican nominee, he wants out, because the system entails a spending limit of $54 million through the end of August. He's almost spent that much already, according to the Post.

So the McCain campaign sent the Federal Election Commission a letter earlier this month saying that he was opting out. But there's a problem. And FEC Chairman David Mason, a Republican, made it plain in his letter yesterday: McCain can't tell the FEC that he's out of the system. He can only ask.

And the FEC, which normally has six commissioners, can't give him an answer until it has a quorum of four commissioners. It currently only has two. ...

It is a serious issue. As the Post reports, "Knowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Those of you who know me (which I believe describes... anyone reading this) know how loath I am to write anything more in-depth than "This is funny," so you'll appreciate how annoyed I must be to have to write this, my second long post in a row. (What am I, a freaking essayist?) Realistically, though, I don't really have a choice: there's some shady delegate business coming out of the Clinton campaign, and it is my solemn, bloggerly duty to... well, to point out the fact that I think they're wrong. See, Terry McAuliffe sent an email to the Hillary for President mailing list yesterday afternoon, subject-lined: "Factcheck: the race for delegates." The email explains "the three most important things to remember" regarding the delegate numbers:

1) A candidate needs 2208 delegate votes to secure the nomination with Florida and Michigan included.
Objection, Your Honor! Assumes facts not in evidence. (And, incidentally, facts that are asinine.) As of today, there are a total of 4,048 delegates to the Convention (the original 4,049, minus Lieberman). You want to argue that Florida and Michigan should be counted eventually, I guess I could see where you're coming from. But can the Clinton campaign really believe that it would be legitimate in any way to seat those delegates based on the sham primaries that selected them?
2) After weeks of voting, the race is a virtual tie, with Hillary and Senator Obama now separated by little over [sic] 2% of all the delegates to the Democratic Convention.
2%, eh? The official NBC count (which is as good a source as any) has Obama ahead 1,168-1,018 in pledged delegates.* That's a margin of 150.
  • 150/(1,168+1,018)=6.9%.
  • 150/(4,048 total delegates)=3.7%.
  • 150/(4,415 delegates, if for some stupid reason you include Florida and Michigan)=3.4%.
So clearly none of those are the number they're talking about. Now suppose you add the superdelegates -- who, by way of reminder, are free to change their votes whenever they'd like. NBC's numbers give Clinton 256, Obama 189. That leaves Obama ahead (1,357-1,274), but shrinks his margin to 83. But here's the interesting thing. Both the email and the site refer to Obama's margin as "a little over 2%," right?
  • 83/4,048 (the number that normal people would use)=2.05%.
  • 83/4,415 (the number that the Clinton campaign seems to want to use)=1.88%.
So they argue in Most Important Thing One that we ought to be using a 4,415-delegate count, and then turn around and argue in Most Important Thing Two that we should use the [actual] 4,048 number. What the devil?
3) Both Hillary and Senator Obama will need automatic (super) delegates to win the nomination.
Okay, this one is probably true. But not if she keeps doing this kind of shit.

Following the Most Important Things, the email links to a snazzy new campaign website, The Delegate Hub. And, man, if you thought the email was shady....

The site -- in essentially its entirety -- lists five FACTS that we must not let the Obama campaign lie to us about! Of the five: one of them is true; one is true but poorly explained; one is questionable; and the other two are... opinions. I won't bother to quote the actual fact here, though I suppose I ought to give them credit for not being completely mendacious. But the other four should expect the full blockquote treatment:
FACT: Neither candidate can secure the nomination without automatic delegates.
This is almost certainly true, but not technically a fact. There are enough remaining pledged delegates to push Obama over the edge without having to tap into the superdelegates. Now, granted, that's not going to happen. But still, given the circumstances, mightn't it be prudent to be careful how we use the word FACT?
FACT: Automatic delegates are expected to exercise their best judgment in the interests of the nation and the Democratic Party.
See, now I don't have any problem with this one. But then they have to go and fuck it up with their explanation, which says:
The Obama campaign is claiming that automatic delegates must follow the lead of pledged delegates and switch their vote to Sen. Obama.

This is false and unfounded - and it is contradicted by Sen. Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, who said, "[basically, the same thing as the FACT]."
Here's my problem with that: who in the Obama campaign is "claiming that automatic delegates must follow the lead of pledged delegates"? If it's not Obama, and it's not his campaign manager, then who are we talking about? Give us a quote or move it along, Clintonians.
FACT: Florida and Michigan should count, both in the interest of fundamental fairness and honoring the spirit of the Democrats' 50-state strategy.
Do they maybe not know what a FACT is?
FACT: There is a clear path to an overall delegate majority (pledged + automatic) for Hillary Clinton after all states have voted -- with or without Florida and Michigan.
I suppose I admire their optimism, but again, fellas: not a FACT.

The only other feature on the entire site is a giant "click here to forward this page" button, which launches an obnoxious pre-written email (for your convenience!) using the lengthiest mailto: tag I've ever seen. The email repeats the generic "Obama campaign is claiming" business, and then points people back to The Delegate Hub for the "full facts." Which, as I've just spent like 800 words pointing out, are suspiciously absent.

I'm a loyal Democrat, and I do actually like Hillary Clinton. So it's not like she's in danger of losing my vote in the general. But really, truly: that email (and its silly accompanying website) pissed me off. Puffery is fine; intentional misleading is not.

* - At the time the McAuliffe email went out, the counts were as they're listed above: Obama 1,168 + 189; Clinton 1,018 + 256. According to the current count, Obama's margin has grown to 152: 1,183-1,031.

Kind of a rough couple of days for The Maverick, huh? First the Times publishes a lengthy piece exposing his tawdry affair close relationship with a foxy she-lobbyist:

Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.
McCain immediately (and furiously) issues an emphatic denial, which the Times dutifully prints, but the cat's out of the bag, the genie's out of the bottle, the Pandora's box is open, and they're all off to the races. Or something. (And to be fair to McCain, the sum total of the evidence in the original Times story -- the semi-implied romantic relationship part of it, anyway -- is about 80% rumor and 20% innuendo. There probably aren't a lot of people who read the story and came away thinking that McCain actually had an affair with this woman.)

So anyway, later that same day, the Post publishes its own version of that same story.
John Weaver, who was McCain's closest confidant until leaving his current campaign last year, said he met with Vicki Iseman at the Center Cafe at Union Station [in 1999] and urged her to stay away from McCain. Association with a lobbyist would undermine his image as an opponent of special interests, aides had concluded.
And then today, the Post comes out with a follow-up, saying explicitly what the other two pieces left as a subplot: for an anti-lobbying crusader, McCain sure does have a lot of interaction with lobbyists.
But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.
(Paul Kiel pointed out that McCain probably just keeps all those lobbyists around to test his fortitude.)

Interestingly, though ("insanely"? "bizarrely"?), the whole kerfuffle may have actually helped him with the fake Christian crowd. For one thing, as Wonkette pointed out, a lot of those folks are just impressed that he had "the good taste to conduct a heterosexual extramarital affair." For another thing, it's apparently united the whole talk radio bloc against the dastardly Liberal Media, which is once again destroying the world, one government-sponsored abortion at a time (and which is defined, obviously, as "any newspaper, magazine, website, or television channel without an explicitly conservative bent"). I've cynically believed for a long time that the whole "conservatives hate McCain" business was total bunk, and that it was just a matter of time before they came around and remembered what a swell guy he was. But I was quite sure it wouldn't happen until at least August, so this [temporary?] d├ętente has kind of caught me off-guard.

Update: The Times has taken a lot of heat for its story (4,000 letters and emails in the last 48 hours alone), prompting Bill Keller and the various editors and reporters who worked on the story to defend themselves in FAQ form. It's an enlightening read, if you have a spare... hour. Here's the crux, though:
The point of this "Long Run" installment was that, according to people who know him well, this man who prizes his honor above all things and who appreciates the importance of appearances also has a history of being sometimes careless about the appearance of impropriety, about his reputation. The story cites several examples, and quotes friends and admirers talking of this apparent contradiction in his character. That is why some members of his staff were so alarmed by the appearance of his relationship with Ms. Iseman. And that, it seemed (and still seems) to us, was something our readers would want to know about a man who aspires to be president.

Clearly, many of you did not agree.

This is funny only insofar as it reminds me of the fact that Lyndon "El BJ" Johnson was The Ladies Man's favorite president.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Anderson Cooper, on Clinton's "that's not change you can believe in, that's change you can Xerox" zinger at tonight's debate:

"Clever line. I wonder who gave her that line."

I would like to see video of this:

"I am going to speak for about 15 minutes to 20 minutes, and talk a little bit, as soon as this young lady gets off her phone," Obama said. "She's talking to her girlfriend. She's all like, 'Girl, I got a front-row seat.' Turn off your phone."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This is pretty harsh:

Speaking to reporters last night, Clinton was asked about her campaign's accusation of plagiarism against Obama. She said she had no idea what impact it will have on Tuesday's vote. "I leave that to all of you to figure out," she said, then added: "Facts are important. I'm a facts person. If your whole candidacy is based on words, it should be your own words."
Oh no she didn't!

Monday, February 18, 2008

True story: yesterday's Nicholas Kristof column makes an argument so bizarre that I had to read it twice just to be sure he wasn't joking.

Even for those of us who shudder at many of John McCain’s positions, there is something refreshing about a man who wins so many votes despite a major political shortcoming: he is abysmal at pandering.
Probably because he's a maverick!
For years, Mr. McCain denounced ethanol subsidies, which exist mostly because every ambitious politician in America wants to win the Iowa caucuses someday. This year he claimed that he liked ethanol after all, but he was so manifestly insincere and incompetent in this pandering that the episode was less contemptible than amusing.
So pandering in general is bad, but pandering when McCain does it is good, because he is terrible at it, so everyone knows he's lying.
His most famous pander came in 2000, when, after earlier denouncing the Confederate flag as a "symbol of racism," he embraced it as "a symbol of heritage." To his credit, Mr. McCain later acknowledged, "I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles."
First off, I think that's a misuse of the phrase "to his credit." Second off, seriously: either I'm missing a joke here, or Kristof has lost his damn mind.

He must be a maverick!

This is so awesome that I'm going to post the video and then go ahead and transcribe it right below, in case it disappears.

Barkley: Hey, I live in Arizona. I got great respect for Senator McCain. Great respect. But I don't like the way the Republicans have taken this country. Every time I hear the word "conservative," it makes me sick to my stomach, because they're really just fake Christians, as I call them, that's all they are. But I just... I'm going to vote Democratic no matter what.
Wolf: What about you in politics? At one point you were thinking of running, back in Alabama. What do you think?
Barkley: Well, I just bought a house back in 2007, and in 2014, I promise you I'm going to run for governor of Alabama.
[Wolf, thinking [artist's interpretation]: Wait, did he say "fake Christians"? I think he... Oh, shit, he did. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. I'm going to get fired. I'm going to get sued. I'm going to get fired and sued and killed. How can I make them understand that I disagree? I love Christians! Oh, Lord, what have I done? Oh my God oh my God. ... And now he stopped talking. What can I ask him that would be logical? I mean, obviously I haven't been paying attention for the last ten seconds, but that's nothing new. I think my last question was about... governors?]
Wolf: And... and... and... when will you run for governor of Alabama?
Barkley: 2014. You have to have residency for seven years. And I bought my house at the end of last year, and I'll be eligible in 2014.
[Wolf, thinking [artist's interpretation]: Good save.]
Wolf: Alright, one quick point before I let you go. You used the phrase "fake Christians" for conservatives. Explain what you're talking about.
Barkley: Well I think they want to be judge and jury. Like, I'm for gay marriage. It's none of my business if gay people want to get married. I'm pro-choice. And I think these Christians... first of all, they're supposed to be... they're not supposed to judge other people. But they're the most hypocritical judge of people we have in this country. And it bugs the hell out of me, that they act like they're Christians and they're not forgiving at all.
Wolf: So... you're going to get a lot of feedback on this one, Charles.
Barkley: They can't do anything to me. I don't work for them.
Wolf: So you feel comfortable saying all that.
Barkley: I feel very comfortable saying I'm pro-choice and I'm pro-gay-marriage. Very comfortable.
Wolf: But you can't lump all these conservatives as being fake. A lot of them... obviously, most of them are very, very sincere in their religious beliefs.
[Wolf, thinking [artist's interpretation]: Way to go, Wolfie! You've still got it!]
Barkley: Well, they should read the part of the Bible, they're not supposed to judge other people. They forget that one when it doesn't fit what they want to say.

I cannot wait to donate money to Charles Barkley's gubernatorial campaign.

(Link via Deadspin.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of the largest state in the country, the leader of the eighth-largest economy in the world, spent Saturday night in the stands at the NBA All-Star Skills Competition. In New Orleans. That's legitimately weird, right?