As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

How Low Can You Go

I think Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani have the same printer.

I must say that I'm feeling much better about a potential Obama candidacy now that he's being attacked from the right from within his own party. Hillary, on the other hand, is playing the fear card. She's using Bush tactics because her strategists feel that it's the only way to stop the runaway train. As Matt Stoller notes, there are any number of attacks opponents could use to critique Obama's own tactics in this race, and none of them would include the words "he's too liberal." And the only possible reason you would make that argument is to say "he's not electable," which is blown out of the water by all the new people he brought into the process in Iowa.

Meanwhile, the AFSCME board excoriated their chief Gerald McEntee for producing such a mailer (it was under AFSCME cover).

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Losing Their Lunch

We all know about the conservative establishment crackup over Mike Huckabee's prominence in the GOP nomination, and it's hilarious. But running parallel to that is a real crackup from the GOP's house organ at Fox News, and this one is more multilayered and really interesting.

First of all, they are pissed off that the corn-eating rubes who make up their base are daring to defy their corporate conservative wishes, openly asking "Did populism win and America lose in Iowa?"

(Answer: only if you like your populist candidates completely rhetorical and without any meaning behind them whatsoever, but apparently to Fox News you can't even give the impression of caring about poor people.)

Fox also wants to decide who gets to appear in Republican debates, as the New Hampshire GOP just pulled out of their Ron Paul-banning debate tomorrow. But they're really pissed that the Democrats aren't bowing down to their greatness and appearing on their network anymore. And their blowhard stars are becoming unhinged about it.

Bombastic Fox News host Bill O'Reilly got into a confrontation with an Obama aide after O'Reilly started screaming at him as he tried to get Barack Obama's attention following a rally here.

The incident was triggered when O'Reilly--with a Fox News crew shooting--was screaming at Obama National Trip Director Marvin Nicholson "Move" so he could get Obama's attention, according to several eyewitnesses. "O'Reilly was yelling at him, yelling at his face," a photographer shooting the scene said.

O'Reilly grabbed Nicholson's arm, said "move" and shoved him, another eyewitness said. Nicholson, who is 6'8 said O"Reilly called him "low class."

Secret Service agents came after O'Reilly pushed Nicholson and the agents flanked O'Reilly.

Obama had his back turned at this point and did not see any of this. O'Reilly yelled "sir" at Obama and Obama walked over, not aware of what happened and told him he had an overflow crowd to visit. According to the time code from a photographer shooting the two, Obama and O'Reilly talked about 12 seconds near 11:45 a.m. eastern time.

On one level, I don't understand why they're getting so bent out of shape over this. They made their mark in the late 90s as a relentless opposition force, and Bill Clinton wasn't coming on their channel every other day then. Four years in the minority will probably help their ratings. They could run a nightly "Obama Madrassa Update" and everything.

And yet, at another level, I get it. Fox News got on top by being the biggest bully on the block, the network everyone had to imitate if they wanted to reach "real Americans." It's no longer true. By fits and starts, MSNBC is running in the other direction, and Fox' own imitation, the Fox Business Channel, has less viewers than a mid-level blog. By sticking to the President like glue, Fox revealed themselves to a lot of their viewers to be a propaganda outlet and a national joke. They'll always have their base, but the rest of the media treats them like an afterthought now. And like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Bill O'Reilly won't be ignored!

It's not about losing market share, it's about losing influence. That's also the larger fear of the conservative movement. They created a low-information monster and they don't know what to do with it.

UPDATE: Billo is a laughingstock.

A number of people shouted falafel, the word O'Reilly used in a racy set of telephone conversations with a young woman he was trying to seduce as he described a shower they might take together. He meant loofa, which is not a Middle Eastern delicacy but a bath item.

And even better, you can hear the desperation of a has-been in this quote:

"I gently had to remove him from that position. No scuffle, I just moved him from the spot.. I might have called him an SOB, that's possible, nothing more than that. No one on this earth is going block a shot on the O'Reilly Factor. It is not going to happen."

No one blocks a shot of mine, or my name isn't Charles Foster Kane!!!

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The Immigration Fizzle

One thing you're not hearing a lot out of the Iowa caucuses is the importance of the immigration issue, now that the anointed winners were Mike Huckabee and John McCain, the two least fervent immigrant haters among the candidates. That may have been why Lou Dobbs lost his shit on CNN the other night and tried to leave the stage.

If you look at the entrance poll, you see that Huckabee, Romney and Thompson came 1-2-3 among those who saw immigration as the most important issue, in roughly the same numbers as the final results (36-30-18). And you see this for a variety of issues. To me that means it was not decisive. Though Huckabee ended up coming out with this "deport every illegal in 120 days" scenario, and had a splinter of Minuteman support, he was hammered over the immigration issue for weeks on the air in Iowa by Romney. And it just didn't matter.

Republicans in New Hampshire also pay lip service to concern over illegal immigrants, but they do it in a polite way, so that you know they're not being racist.

I spent much of last night talking to Republican voters in Nashua, and, as would be expected, a fair number of them brought up their concerns over immigration. Surprisingly, though, the word "immigrant" never came up. Nor did "Mexicans," "Spanish," "jobs," or "precious bodily fluids." Instead, I kept hearing "terrorism." Every one framed their concerns in terms of terrorism, as if there were hundreds of al Qaeda cells in Tijuana, just waiting to stream past the gates as soon as a puking frat boy sufficiently distracts the border guards.

This is so they don't appear as ugly. Chalking it up to "terrorist" activity means that you're just a good American who doesn't want to be attacked, not someone who wants to stop the Mexicans from polluting the country. There's certainly a radical middle who thinks that our problems could be solved through increased whiteness, but it's extremely narrow. Winning political issues don't need a cover story. Immigration does.

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The Crime Of Writing

Looks like Leno screwed up.

The restrictions that the striking Writers Guild of America has placed on late-night television hosts to keep them from writing material for their shows continued to have no impact on the leading late-night star, Jay Leno, who planned once again to write and perform a comedy monologue for NBC’s “Tonight Show” Friday night.

A spokeswoman said Friday that the guild would definitely take some action against Mr. Leno, who is a member.

“The answer is, he is not getting a pass,” said Sherry Goldman, a spokeswoman for the Writers Guild of America East. She said that the action to be taken had not yet been specified.

The restrictions are very specific. A host who is also a member of the Guild must limit his duties to the amount of writing he normally does. Otherwise, he's a scab. Which probably suits Leno fine, whatever the execs want.

But they're having lots of trouble getting decent guests. And the Screen Actors Guild will not cross picket lines for the Golden Globes, basically shutting down that awards show. And apparently, United Artists might be breaking from the studio cartel to reach their own deal with writers. The big money execs want to make writers pay and want no compromise. But with nightly barrages like this:

Their public opinion profile will continue to lower (not that they care; they'll forever be seen as greedy snakes in the grass).

Quite a star you've hitched yourself to, Chris Lehane!

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Welcome To Caucus Day!

It truly is exciting today, here in this small, mostly white state out in flyover country, where a small subset of Americans will cast their ballot and determine the fate of the GOP hopefuls. The media crush is simply amazing, everywhere you look there's another reporter. And the polling has been so non-stop that you expect another one after the caucusues are over! Yes, the eyes of the nation are truly upon Wyoming today!

Wait, you haven't heard about it?

Don't forget Wyoming. It's been overlooked in the hoopla surrounding Thursday's Iowa caucuses and next week's New Hampshire primary, but Wyoming Republicans will caucus Saturday and choose delegates to the national convention in September.

Candidates have paid little attention to the state, though.

Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul have passed through since September. Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have not.

"Yes, there have been some appearances by the candidates in this state that otherwise wouldn't have occurred this early in the process," said Jim King, who teaches political science at the University of Wyoming. "But candidates are where the media are — in Iowa and New Hampshire."

This is an example of how truly arbitrary this whole selection process is. The media isn't covering Wyoming because they've decided New Hampshire is more important, and anyway who wants to go to Wyoming after spending all that time in Iowa? So they ignore it, which causes the candidates to ignore it, because the important thing about these early races is the bump and not the win. Not that Wyoming should be decisive, but there's no real reason it should be dramatically less decisive than Iow and New Hampshire; all they have going for them is history. This is exhibit A of why the whole system needs an overhaul.

UPDATE: The good news here for Fred Thompson is that it's another state he gets to skip, just like New Hampshire! And a roar went up in Thompson headquarters. Or a snore. Or something.

UPDATE II: Mitt-mentum!

CHEYENNE, Wyoming: U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney grabbed the early lead in Wyoming's Republican caucuses Saturday as the state had its brief moment in the political spotlight between the traditional attention-getting contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This is good news for John McCain.

UPDATE II: With 83% of precincts reporting Romney has 70% of the delegates, Freddie Thompson 20%, and Duncan Hunter 10%. Hugh Hewitt just had a heart palpitation.


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Friday, January 04, 2008

The Dwindling Options For Obama's Challengers

Hillary Clinton actually gave a pretty nice speech at the NH Democratic Party "100 Club" Dinner. She emphasized some issues you don't much hear about on the campaign trail, like mental health care and the moral imperative of the United States helping deal with the severe Iraqi refugee crisis. But Barack Obama blew her off the stage, to the extent that she almost shouldn't put herself in that position to suffer from the comparison. Obama is simply in his element in the speechifying format; Clinton is not. That doesn't mean one is a better candidate than the other, though oratory is a key element of being President, especially after 8 years of "Is our children learning." But when you have these duelling speeches you're clearly playing on Obama's turf.

Another thing she shouldn't be doing is trying to create a boogeyman out of Obama's "progressive" record. This is pretty much the only thing holding the entire blogosphere back from running into Obama's waiting arms, and these kind of potshots from a right-wing perspective are infuriating because it brings down the party and makes the liberal viewpoint look like a bad thing.

Hillary's aides point to Obama's extremely progressive record as a community organizer, state senator and candidate for Congress, his alliances with "left-wing" intellectuals in Chicago's Hyde Park community, and his liberal voting record on criminal defendants' rights as subjects for examination.

(Edwards is no saint on this either, by calling Obama a sellout to corporate America, which I think is a bit strong.)

The problems for Clinton and Edwards are manifest. There's only five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, not enough time to stop Obama's momentum without a major gaffe. And Obama isn't likely to provide that (though watch Clinton and Edwards go after him hard in tomorrow night's debate).

And on the Republican side, it's even worse. There's a caucus tomorrow in Wyoming. Not that the media has noticed; why would they take heed of a small state that's mostly white and in the middle of nowhere? That would be nutty!

I keep hearing not to count out Hillary Clinton, but with the inevitability balloon punctured, and with really only two business days until primary day, I don't see her finding a way to win.

UPDATE: Just a little more about Obama's speech. He does have this way of making you feel listened to. He directly addressed concerns of naîvete, concerns that hope may equal blind optimism, et cetera:

"I know how hard it will be to get the insurance companies and drug companies pushed back so we can actually deliver universal health care. I know climate change and educational reform don't lend themselves to easy change. I know because I've fought these battles out on the streets. I know because I've seen good legislation fail, because those with good intentions didn't have the powerful sway or the political will to overcome the obstacles. I know how hard this is going to be."

He then goes on to say that every gain we've had was the result of a few people's commitment to change, and that if you know who you're fighting for, you can talk to the other side and get them on board. Which is true, but not really an answer in the face of expected Republican intransigence (which of course is a problem for any Democratic President). Still, you do feel that the concern is at least taken into account, that there is a plan to deal with it.

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Trent Lott Inc., Open For Business

I'm watching the New Hampshire state dinner, and I saw Howard Dean note that the Democratic ethics reform law chased Denny Hastert and Trent Lott out of the Congress so they could cash in with lobbying shops before the hammer came down. Turns out that Lott and his good buddy John Breaux have teamed up to service corporate America.

Putting weeks of speculation to rest, former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) confirmed Friday they plan to file paperwork next week to form a powerful lobbying partnership called The Breaux Lott Leadership Group....

“This is not a well kept secret to say the least,” Lott said. “We’ve worked together for many years in the House and Senate and in the leadership together in the Senate. We thought it was a good opportunity and a fun opportunity to work together.

It's so sad. Lott clearly left to cash in because he just couldn't wait to get rich from all those corporate dollars. He tried to lie about it for a while, but it was obvious. I'm sure Dean Broder will get visions of sugar plums from this bipartisan circle jerk (and really, John Breaux is no Democrat), but these two ought to be banished from lobbying their colleagues until every one of them is out of the Congress. That'd be a legitimate ethics law. Our government shouldn't be for sale. And it's a good thing for Howard Dean to bring up. This is a fundamental fault line between the two parties.

Meanwhile, while Lott's replacement Roger Wicker has been installed, Mississippi's Attorney General is suing Haley Barbour to force him to follow the law.

Republican Congressman Roger Wicker (R-MS) was named as the appointee to Trent Lott's Senate seat only two days ago, but the legal wrangling has already begun. State Attorney General Jim Hood (D) has made good on his promise to sue Gov. Haley Barbour (R) over when the special election for the rest of the term ought to be held.

Hood says that the election must take place within the next 90 days under state law, while Barbour maintains that Wicker can serve until the November election. A spring election might give a relatively conservative Democrat a decent shot, while a November race would be much more in favor of the Republican incumbent, running alongside the presidential election.

Good. Keep the pressure on. Barbour is writing his own rules here.

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Out Come The Knives

I just don't think going relentlessly negative is going to work against a movement candidate. Hillary Clinton has every right to draw contrast, but calling herself "the most innocent" as if Obama and Edwards have something to hide is silly. The only notable part of her speech last night was when she congratulated the party on bringing so many people in to the caucuses. Now she's trying to slash and burn that with a fairly cynical politics.

Politicians do this because negative campaigning works, normally. But against someone who has built a grassroots coalition, I'm not so sure. Especially when it's into the headwinds of momentum. Barring a major meltdown at tomorrow's debate, I think Obama will catch up and take New Hampshire. Chris Bowers, offering an alternative viewpoint, thinks there's less momentum to be had.

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Meanwhile, In Your Sucky Economy

The economy gained a pathetic 18,000 jobs in December, and unemployment is at a two-year high. There's a reason that domestic issues outweigh Iraq in opinion polls nowadays, and it's not because Iraq is doing so well. It's because the economy is in the toilet for those working people struggling to keep afloat. Oil's over a hundred dollars a barrel, too.

This year could be bleak.

UPDATE: Worth a thousand words is this picture of the employment-population ratio. That big dip is the entire Bush Administration.

By the way, Bush wants to cut taxes again (they call it a "stimulus package") to deal with this. Because that's literally the only economic option he can possibly think of. If the economy soars, cut taxes to continue the boom. If it tanks, cut taxes to relieve pressure. If suddenly we become a barter society, cut taxes so people will have more wampum to trade.

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Andrew Olmstead

I'm saddened by his death. I came to Obsidian Wings pretty late, and wasn't fortunate enough to read him regularly. His posthumous final post was wistful, funny, and piercingly insightful.

I will not use his death for political purposes. May he have peace and I feel for his family.

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Thoughts On The Obama Coalition

We've all pored over the numbers, and we've been amazed by the results. We've seen the stunning ground mobilization that led to yesterday's victory for Barack Obama in Iowa. As Nathan Newman says, this is a new movement, a parallel coalition to the progressive movement that has risen online. And it's worth taking a look at it.

Obviously one aspect of it is generational, which we knew going in was probable, but which many felt was risky.

Toward the end, many voters broke for Edwards. However, more voters broke for Obama, specifically new and young voters. Tonight, Obama won because he did something many campaigns have claimed they would do in the past, but never until now had never actually accomplished: he turned out young voters and new voters in record-smashing numbers. This has long been the holy grail of progressive politics, and until now no one had been able to pull it off. Well, Obama pulled it off. That is a remarkable an historic accomplishment. That is why he won.

It's also a strongly Democratic movement, and this is counter to Obama's rhetoric of bringing the country together around shared ideals. He would have won if independents were eliminated, and he actually brought a lot more self-identified Democrats into the fold. He created a group of young, educated, liberal, middle and upper middle class voters and turned them into a bloc that could be combined with the traditional Democratic voting classes. And the trans-partisan, post-partisan rhetoric binds these people together, in the hopes that everyone can set aside differences and work for a better nation, which is a self-actualizing progressive nation.

This is where the rubber meets the road for Obama. I have wavered back to being inspired by his rhetorical flourish, his belief that the country is actually closer together than farther apart, that we all have a stake in one another. He speaks the right language of healing to a nation that is battered and broken. He's a good man for this time. And he clearly has the potential to be transformational on a global stage at a time when America's name around the world is mud.

But the key moment for a possible Obama Presidency comes when that first piece of his agenda is blocked by a recalcitrant Republican minority that will have their heels dug in, or (worse) by Bush Dogs who still glory in knifing a progressive agenda. We are called "cynics" by believing the stated goals of a 40-year conservative movement, to destroy government, to make it so that progress can never happen, to stymie any and all efforts in that direction. There is absolutely no reason to think that they will not continue in this manner. It's the only thing they're successful at, and their message discipline and ability to stick together is near-legendary. The media isn't likely to make them pay a price for it, either.

So what happens then? Obama is setting himself up as a kind of Great Man of history, able to bridge partisan divides. In a normal situation, perhaps like the Illinois legislature, perhaps he can work together and get a lot done. There is no comparison between this and retrenched Republicans who work better in the minority. This coalition that he has put together has bought into Obama as a transcendant figure, able to move the country in a new direction. What happens when he fails to deliver on some signature issue? What happens to that coalition? Will they still believe in him? Is Obama capable of using that coalition to mount massive public pressure to implement his agenda? Or will it wilt and become despondent on the lack of movement even with their movement-builder in the White House?

I worry about this. It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about the architect who conjures up buildings through hypnosis.

Voice Over But even more modern building techniques are being used on an expanding new town site near Peterborough; here the Amazing Mystico and Janet can put up a block of flats by hypnosis in under a minute.

Mystico removes his cloak, gloves and top hat and hands them to Janet, who curtsies. He then makes several passes. Cut to stock film of flats falling down reversed so that they leap up. Cut back to Mystico and Janet. She hands him back his things as they make their way to their car, a little Austin 30.

Voice Over The local Council here have over fifty hypnosis-induced twenty-five story blocks, put up by El Mystico and Janet. I asked Mr Ken Verybigliar the advantages of hypnosis compared to other building methods.

Cut to a man in a drab suit.


Mr Verybigliar Well there is a considerable financial advantage in using the services of El Mystico. A block, like Mystico Point here, (indicating a high-rise block behind him) would normally cost in the region of one-and-a-half million pounds. This was put up for five pounds and thirty bob for Janet.

Voice Over But the obvious question is are they safe?

Cut to an architect's office. The architect at his desk. Behind him on the wall are framed photos of various collapsed buildings. He is a well-dressed authoritative person.


Architect Of course they're safe. There's absolutely no doubt about that. They are as strong, solid and as safe as any other building method in this country provided of course people believe in them.

Cut to a council flat. On the wall there is a picture of Mystico.

Tenant Yes, we received a note from the Council saying that if we ceased to believe in this building it would fall down.

Voice Over You don't mind living in a figment of another man's imagination?

Tenant No, it's much better than where we used to live.

Voice Over Where did you used to live?

Tenant We had an eighteen-roomed villa overlooking Nice.

Voice Over Really, that sounds much better.

Tenant Oh yes - yes you're right.

Cut to stock shot of block falling down in slow motion. Cut back to tenant and wife inside. Camera shaking and on the tilt.

Obama's coalition is strong, safe, and has the potential for greatness - as long as people believe in him. I feel he is a progressive, and that his passion for organizing will serve him well in building this new coalition. But when the strongest advocates for progressive change reside in a different coalition, and when the vagaries of government action and inaction are very seldom well-explained, I fear that all the organizing in the world won't mean anything if people stop believing.

UPDATE: A pretty amazing quote, in the middle of this old Chicago Reader profile of Obama:

Obama added that as important and inspiring as it was, the (Harold) Washington administration also let an opportunity go by. "Washington was the best of the classic politicians," Obama said. "He knew his constituency; he truly enjoyed people. That can't be said for a lot of politicians. He was not cynical about democracy and the democratic process--as so many of them are. But he, like all politicians, was primarily interested in maintaining his power and working the levers of power.

"He was a classic charismatic leader," Obama said, "and when he died all of that dissipated. This potentially powerful collective spirit that went into supporting him was never translated into clear principles, or into an articulable agenda for community change.

I hope that Obama can translate his charisma into an articulatable and realizable agenda.

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The Huck-a-boom

Digby writes an excellent post about Huckabee's victory in Iowa, and how he's the only candidate that manages to be inspiring to any segment of the Republican base. The establishment is raging against him, but it might not work this time. At the end she mentions "This might be their 1972." I think that's an extremely apt comparison.

It's important to understand why McGovern got destroyed that year. It certainly wasn't because he was such a dirty fucking hippie. It's because the establishment, having proven unable to stop him with their lame cast of characters, knee-capped him. I wrote about this during the Lieberman-Lamont primary.

FACT: The McGovern campaign of 1972 had its most vociferous opponents on his own side of the aisle. Ed Muskie was the favorite going into that year's election. The DLC's Al From was running a subcommittee for him at the time. Henry "Scoop" Jackson was one of his opponents that year. Jackson's top campaign advisor was Richard Perle. It was Jackson, not the Republicans, who used the phrase "acid, amnesty and abortion" to describe the McGovern platform. His people-powered campaign represented a major threat to the institutional forces of the party (sound familiar?). After winning the Wisconsin Primary, the powers that be drafted Hubert Humphrey and sent him into the race as the "Anyone But McGovern" candidate. In a famous debate, Humphrey suggested very directly that McGovern's plan to reduce defense spending would "sweep the Army and Navy off the table." ALL of these smears and slurs were used by the Nixon campaign in the fall. They ALL came from inside the party, from the wing that is now largely the modern neoconservative movement.

Establishment Democrats never came on board with McGovern's campaign, fighting him at the convention tooth and nail. The reason McGovern's amazing "Come Home, America" nominating speech happened at 3am ET was because of the massive floor fight engaged to knock him out of the race. Humphrey supporters tried to change the rules with respect to California's delegates after agreeing to the rules in the first place. This futile attempt took up weeks leading up to the convention, and lasted all night on the floor. Party rules mandated that a Vice Presidential candidate come out of the convention, and honestly the McGovern campaign was too busy securing the nomination to even consider it. They went through many choices because establishment figures were pressured not to join up with him. Boston Mayor Kevin White was on the verge of receiving the nod, but the Kennedy clan found him unacceptable. This chaos led to the choice of Maryland Senator Tom Eagleton, who had a history of mental illness and was eventually dumped from the ticket. More than anything, this stalled any momentum they could have gained. Intra-party squabbling was a major part of all of this. George Meany, an old lion of the establishment, refused to let the AFL-CIO endorse McGovern. Labor was a far bigger factor in elections at the time.

The Democratic Party had a vested interest in sandbagging the McGovern campaign then, as surely as its offspring today have a vested interest in using McGovern as an example of a liberal hippie counterculture that would destroy the party. It was done to protect little fiefdoms, to ensure corporate dominance and to keep intact the warmaking machine.

Despite all that, there was no stopping McGovern from getting the nomination because the people decided in the primaries, and they dismissed the establishment figures cautioning against him. They were mad and tired of being taken for granted. It's perfectly analogous to Huckabee today. I don't care how much Swift Boat money John McCain gets, that won't change the mind of a Southern evangelical. As Digby says:

They've been voting for religious phonies for a couple of decades now in the hopes that he would advance their religious agenda and represent their values. This time they have the real thing and they know it. And they could not care less what moneyed elites like Chris Matthews and Joe Klein --- or Rush Limbaugh --- think about it.

Huckabee's not losing. I'm telling you.

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He Actually Has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Or, as Jon Stewart once put it, 9/11 Tourette's.

He flatlined in Iowa and he's struggling in New Hampshire, but
Rudy Giuliani shook off the early-state blues Thursday as only he can.

"None of this worries me - Sept. 11, there were times I was worried," Giuliani said.

At what point do you start to worry about someone like this? From a mental health standpoint, I mean? As a progressive I have compassion for people who are ill.

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Oh, This Is Delicious

GOP Race In Total Disarray, says the Drudgico.

Stephen Green speaks for most wingnut bloggers who are actually contemptible of "regular people," calling Iowans "corn-sucking idiots" for picking the non-millionaire.

The National Review is imploding, as Tagg Romney sees his inheritance go to some ad sales director in Des Moines with nothing to show for it.

Fred Thompson is resting, and offered this STIRRING oratory:

"It looks like somebody is going to need to carry a strong, consistent, conservative message — and it looks like it ought to be me."

It's a great day to be a Democrat.

(But it's good news for John McCain, because as we know, everything is good news for John McCain.)

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Friday Random Ten

Let's see if this list is as hopeful as Barack Obama:

Saint Simon - The Shins
Elephant Stone - Stone Roses
Narc - Interpol
Motor Away - Guided By Voices
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) - Arcade Fire
Papito - Manu Chao
King And Caroline - Guided By Voices
Dance Till the Morning - Brazilian Girls
I Don't Live Today - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Slow Night, So Long - Kings of Leon

Actually I think it was. "The scenario is bright for the King and Caroline..."

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Clinton press flack Jay Carson: “Iowa is so small, it’s like a mayor’s race in a medium-sized city."

Man, it's good to see these Clintonistas go down in a blaze of spin.

Suck on this, Jay:

(I'm still supporting Edwards, by the way. Nothing's changed for me, but I wouldn't say something as contemptuous about Iowans just because they didn't like my candidate.)

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Rhymes With "Going To Be Out Of A Job In A Month"

First of all, Satan is an off-rhyme, at best, and really not a rhyme at all.

Second, why are Biden and Dodd dropping out when California is SO important and a whole month away?

Third, watch those tracking polls in California over the next week. Will they differ by even a point from the national numbers? Signs point to no. That would kind of be the key. A bunch of candidates spending money in a primary state when it grows closer is the lamest justification you could ever make for moving up the primary. It's Mr. Magoo-like in its myopia. "Californians actually showed up for the primary, proving it was a good idea to have the primary!"

Fourth, you'd think someone looking dead in the face at lame-duck status in 33 days would have better things to do than care what some dude on the Internets has to say.

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John McCain Won Big Among People Who Voted For John McCain

Well, from my watch party-eye's view it seemed to me that it wouldn't be possible to spin the win for McCain after such a decisive victory from Huckabee. But apparently, I was mistaken.

Tonight is a fantastic night for John McCain. … He’s one of the biggest winners of the night. He’s now in a fantastic position. Except for Barack Obama, there’s almost no one you’d rather be tonight than John McCain.

The fluffing is almost embarrassing. Journalists all over the country are doing the walk of shame this morning.

Look, McCain finished FOURTH. A win for Huckabee is not a win for McCain. It's a win for Huckabee. McCain may take New Hampshire by default, but nothing he did yesterday prepped him for that. You're TRYING TO PICK THE CANDIDATE and it's both obvious and embarrassing.

And here's the thing: if McCain and Huckabee last until the finish, then it'll come down to the GOP establishment firewall in South Carolina. Who do you suppose will take that? The Southern preacher, or the guy who was slandered 8 years ago, subject to a whisper campaign that he had a black baby?

Unlike a lot of Democrats, I'd be THRILLED to face John McCain. Anyone who wants to spend a million years in Iraq would be a dream. The only "threat" from McCain is from his natural constituency, the media. This was the line of the night:

I think Kansas will beat Virginia Tech, but the real winner of the Orange Bowl will be John McCain as the merest thought of football reminds voters of his toughness.

UPDATE: Candidates who have the election all sewn up and will float to victory don't launch negative attack ads the same day. Also, what was that part of McCain's speech last night where he said negative attacks don't work?

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Chris Dodd Is A Good Man

From an email:

I count the past year of campaigning for the presidency as one of the most rewarding in a career of public service.

Unfortunately, I am withdrawing from that campaign tonight.

But there is no reason to hang our heads this evening -- only the opportunity to look towards a continuation of the work we started last January: ending the Iraq War, restoring the Constitution, and putting a Democrat in the White House.

I know a lot of you came to this email list through a shared desire to return our nation to one that respects the rule of law, and I want to make one thing clear to all of you:

The fight to restore the Constitution and stop retroactive immunity does not end with my Presidential campaign. FISA will come back in a few weeks and my pledge to filibuster ANY bill that includes retroactive immunity remains operative.

You've been an invaluable ally in the battle, and I'll need you to stick by my side despite tonight's caucus results.

So, one more time, thank you for all of your efforts throughout the course of this entire Presidential campaign.

We made a real difference in shaping the debate, and we'll continue to do so in the coming days, weeks and years.

I'll never forget you, and what we've fought for, together, over the past year.

Chris Dodd

Biden also dropped out, by the way, and he too was good to have in the race. He was loose and showed a blueprint for how to talk strongly on foreign policy and against Republican fearmongers like Rudy.

Dodd is an inspiration. His campaign never took off, never had much of a chance. But he based it on the right things; the Constitution, restoring our image at home and abroad. He's going to face one heck of a fight on FISA in a few weeks, and we'll all be with him because he was the best leader in this campaign.

He has nothing to be ashamed of.

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Iowa Post-Mortem

Well, I was at a debate watch party that ended up not having any WiFi, so I wasn't able to update. But here are some disconnected thoughts:

1) The big winner is the Democratic Party. 236,000 Democrats came out versus about 115,000 Republicans, a 2:1 ratio, in a state where it's easier to vote in the Republican caucus, in a state with same-day registration so anyone can go to any caucus, in one of the three swing states that swung in 2004. Democrats CRUSHED Republicans here and even managed to get 30%-plus turnout statewide, for a two-hour meeting. That's very significant, and bodes very well for the future (especially because the coalition will be strong no matter who wins).

2) A hearty congratulations to Barack Obama. Independents were not decisive; Obama would have won 32-31 among Democrats, according to entrance polls (which appeared to undercount Edwards). Obama really went out and energized young people (he won 57% of Democrats under 30), and that really heartens me. I saw back in October 2006 how he excited young people at a rally at USC. He does represent an opportunity at a new coalition unlike what the Democrats have seen before. The youth vote TRIPLED in Iowa. Now can the media shut up about how young people don't vote?

3) This is also a great day for black America, a hopeful day.

4) Obama goes into New Hampshire as the front-runner, and should he win there, he will continue that trend and become the front-runner nationally. I think Edwards has a firewall in Nevada. If he's not competitive there, it's over. I thought Edwards' Nevada ace in the hole was unions, but he finished third in Iowa among union households, according to the entrance poll, which again seemed to undercount him. I think Clinton is badly wounded. I know that she'd be happy to play the whole "comeback kid" thing, but 2008 is not 1992, and you can't wait until Georgia to win your first primary. Unfortunately, we're front-loaded, and that wave for Obama is not likely to crest in New Hampshire, particularly given his strength among independents.

5) I think Obama's win hurts McCain, who leaves Iowa without a bounce (he tied Thompson for third last night). With many independents likely to vote for Obama, McCain's independent base shrinks. But he might win out of attrition. Romney is very wounded, perhaps fatally. Huckabee just isn't the type of candidate that'll gain traction up there. Giuliani is now frantically trying to get back in the race up there, but his 3% tally in Iowa really looks awful. I think the winner on the Republican side in New Hampshire probably doesn't need much more than 20%.

More in a minute.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Watching the Numbers

Here. Looks like the rural caucuses staked Edwards to a lead that is gradually slipping. So far it's Edwards-Clinton-Obama, but it's really tight. About 12% reporting. The top three are within 4 points of each other.

In a sane world they'd all call it a tie and move on.

UPDATE: 390 of 1,781 precincts in, the top three are within less than two points of each other.

Edwards 33.3%
Clinton 32.3%
Obama 31.6%

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The Village: Double Standards for Everyone!

My recent switch from night shifts to day shifts is a godsend on Iowa caucus day. I haven't heard Chris Matthews' lunkhead logic even once.

On the January 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, while discussing possible outcomes of the Iowa Democratic caucuses that evening, MSNBC host Chris Matthews asserted that if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) were to "squeak" out a victory, she will nonetheless have been "rejected here in Iowa by two-thirds of the Democratic Party." Matthews added that she would be "lucky to get 33 percent" and went on to say that a "low 30 percent" result would represent "a resounding rejection" of Clinton.

Earlier in the show, Matthews predicted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would win 18 percent of votes in the Iowa Republican caucuses, although in contrast with his comments about Clinton, Matthews did not assert that if he is right, McCain will have been "rejected" by 82 percent of Iowa Republican caucus participants. Indeed, while Matthews characterized a "low 30 percent" result for Clinton as negative, he suggested on the January 2 edition of MSNBC's Hardball that if McCain were to receive 18 percent of the vote, he would be "the big hero."

The caucuses are also over, I guess, and Clinton lost. And McCain won New Hampshire. It makes it so much easier when the media makes the decisions for us!

(Just so I can slip in a prediction thread before the actual voting starts in a 1/2 hour, I think Romney's going to steal it from Huckabee on the Republican side, but the media will claim McCain won. And Obama looks like he's sitting pretty on the Democratic side, though I could see a real Edwards surge at the finish.)

UPDATE: 12 year-olds rule our discourse.

Hillary stepped onto the parked press bus in Indianola for about 90 seconds to deliver bagels and coffee, and I'm not sure what this says about Clinton and the press — the chill, I think, comes from both sides — but it was a strange moment. She expressed her sympathies that we're away from our families and "significant others," tried a joke at the expense of her press secretary, and paused. Nobody even shouted a question, whether because of the surprise, the assumption that she wouldn't actually answer, or the sheer desire to end the encounter.

One reporter compared the awkwardness to running unexpectedly into an ex-girlfriend.

"Maybe we should go outside and warm up," said another, as Clinton exited into the freezing air.

Screw all of them. They have no business even being allowed to vote, let alone shaping the news for the public.

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Continued Foley Fallout, Over A Year Later

Before we get going on Iowa tonight, I think you should have a look at the depths to which the conservative movement will go to protect their own. Turns out Denny Hastert was paying Mark Foley's legal bills out of his own campaign coffers, and abruptly resigned before the Federal Election Commission smacked him with fines up the yin-yang.

According to FEC documents, Hastert last January initially failed to disclose that legal fees had wiped out the final bit of cash he had in his campaign account. The Illinois Republican and former high school wrestling coach filed an amended finance report in February showing that his '06 campaign had racked up $147,000 in legal expenses in connection with the Foley investigation. In order to avoid substantial fines (and further debt), Hastert quietly agreed last summer to shut down his campaign and pay a $1,000 penalty, the FEC documents show.

The lack of ethics and respect for election law here is unsurprising, but instructive. Why the hell was Denny Hastert paying for these legal bills? They say it was for the "representation of Mr. Hastert in the Foley investigation," but who was investigating him? This was just using one account to cover another, and failing to disclose it.

The Republicans will do absolutely whatever they need to do to win elections. Don't forget that.

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More Iowa Musings

Damn. My hope was that Ron Paul coming ahead of John McCain in Iowa, which is totally possible, would hurt him severely. But apparently the pre-spin is that any number McCain posts is better than expected because he wasn't even competing in the state (even though he was there as recently as last weekend). The media REALLY wants to write the Comeback McCain story.

• Giuliani, unafraid of terrorists, afraid of a Segway.

• I agree that this bipartisanship virus is a function of leadership. When Obama runs a whole campaign on bringing the country together, then he wins and realizes that the hard-core Republicans don't want to hold hands and will work just as hard to filibuster his entire agenda, what then? Will that be a Republican failure or his failure of leadership? It's a risky and dangerous game to be playing.

• Joe Lieberman is a simpleton. The fact that McCain is hitching himself to that star is one reason why his candidacy doesn't concern me to the extent that other bloggers have shown concern.

• FDL has a rundown of everyone's closing ad in Iowa. Duncan Hunter's cracks me up. He looks like he's selling low-cost insurance or some new wonder knife or something.

What he loses in all manner of professionalism he more than makes up for in savings! Call now while supplies last! Operators are standing by!

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Kind of a Side-Bounce Flip-Flop

Yesterday, Mitt Romney's advisor, former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri, decided to one-up the Republican conventional wisdom that we all must fear the terrorists, by saying that we all must fear the gay terrorists.

He’s always had the same position as to regards to the gay agenda. Look, he wants to know people to know he values gay people as people, okay? But he doesn’t want the militant gays to be able to change the cultural institutions of the country.

But then today, Romney said that he loves the President. Granted, it's probably in a biblically and heterosexually proper way, but...

“We’re a nation united that stands behind our fighting men and women. We honor them and respect them,” Romney said at a conference center here. “We love what they’ve done for us, and we also love a president who has kept us safe these last six years.”

I want to live in a country where a man like Romney can love a President without experiencing official discrimination in the form of anti-gay marriage amendments... like the one Romney supports. That's all I'm saying.

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This Shit Is Really Important

It's great fun to slag on the fact-free media and slag on the small sliver of Iowans that will actually participate tonight and slag on this crazy process that has taken over how we select the next President. It values personality over policy, money over ideas, media favorability over issue favorability.

But it's important to step back and understand just how crucial this choice actually is.

Democrats will start 2009 having lost a full branch of government for a generation. We may hope that George Bush's departure from the stage will result in him being erased out of history like wiping clean a chalkboard, but his legacy will resonate for decades.

After nearly seven years in the White House, President Bush has named 294 judges to the federal courts, giving Republican appointees a solid majority of the seats, including a 60%-to-40% edge over Democrats on the influential U.S. appeals courts.

The rightward shift on the federal bench is likely to prove a lasting legacy of the Bush presidency, since many of these judges -- including his two Supreme Court appointees -- may serve for two more decades.

And despite the Republicans' loss of control of the Senate, 40 of Bush's judges won confirmation this year, more than in the previous three years when Republicans held the majority.

We all know that Republicans bottled up a lot of Clinton judicial nominees in committee, and Pat Leahy has not really done the same. But even if he did, we're talking about 20 of the last 28 years with conservative judges being put up for confirmation. You can fault this Senate for confirming too many Bush nominees, and to an extent they have, but it's just a fact of life that elections have consequences, and the federal bench may be the most wide-reaching consequence.

There are appeals courts out there which will be sharply conservative for a long time to come. These hopes of public financing of elections, rolling back the unitary executive, ending the surveillance state and official secrecy, and on and on, are going to run into a stone wall with this kind of court. And that's not just the Supremes, where Roe v. Wade hangs by a thread. It's the appeals courts and the US district courts, which are packed with Federalist Society-approved jurists for some time to come.

We can't afford another term's worth of those appointments. They fly largely under the radar except for a couple high-profile fights, and they're not typically something you can base a campaign on (though the Supreme Court is different, and you can make that an issue). But make no mistake, the conservative movement knows exactly how important this is.

Conservatives tend to agree on that point. They say the ideological makeup of the courts has grown into a major issue on the right, and it has brought Republicans together, whether they are social conservatives, economic conservatives or small-government libertarians.

"This issue unites the base," said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a group that lobbies for Bush's judicial nominees. "It serves as a stand-in for the culture wars: religion, abortion, gay marriage and the coddling of criminals." [...]

While Republicans find themselves somewhat divided heading into the election year, Bush is widely praised for his record of pressing for conservative judges.

"From Day One, President Bush made the judiciary a top priority, and he fought very hard for his nominees," said Washington attorney Bradford Berenson, who worked in the White House counsel's office in Bush's first term. "He was less willing to compromise than President Clinton. As a result, in raw numbers, he may end with somewhat fewer judges than Clinton had."

Bill Clinton let Orrin Hatch pick a lot of his judges. George Bush went for broke. As a result, there are hundreds of movement conservatives placed around the country as long-term thorns in the side of progressive governance. It's the right of the President to have those selections. The next one MUST reverse this trend.

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Whoever Loses, We're All Winners

The smart money continues to be on Obama today, with the final poll giving him a wider lead and showing Clinton sinking into third, which would be quite interesting if it's a significant enough spread. Obviously these caucuses, the leaders of whom never even allow the final numbers to be shown because the "winner" might conflict with the candidate who got the most votes, are ridiculous, and I hope they get a decent Viking funeral today. But the real impact, the story everybody should be running tomorrow but won't, is that the Democrats will pummel the Republicans tonight on turnout.

Thousands more Iowa independent voters are expected to turn out for Democrat presidential candidates than Republicans at today’s Iowa caucuses.

Iowa independents are expected to follow the lead set by their national peers in 2006. Nationwide, independents backed Democrats heavily in the watershed 2006 elections, in part out of a rejection of President Bush and a loud cry for change that has continued into the 2008 campaign, strategists in both parties agree.

Recent polls have shown the percentage of Iowa independents planning to participate in the Democrat caucuses is far higher than those who say they’ll caucus for Republicans. Turnout for the Democrats is projected to be higher than Republicans, perhaps double.

Considering that more Democrats will caucus than Republicans, that's as high as a 70-30 spread among independents. And they have to register for the party on site. This makes Iowa very likely to go blue in November, despite the fact that it was a very close state in 2004. I think we could absolutely see as much as 175,000 caucus goers for the Democrats tonight, while projections for the Republicans are around 80,000.

That's the real story coming out of Iowa.

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Pakistan Update

Before I go all Iowa caucus all the time, I do want to look at the situation in Pakistan, where things are getting so bad that refugees are fleeing to... Afghanistan. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The government has quit with the fiction that Benazir Bhutto died from hitting the sunroof of her car, after video evidence emerged to totally contradict that. They even brought in Scotland Yard to help with the investigation (which is still being run out of Pakistan and is not independent). But they did, as expected, delay the election for at least six weeks, a move that angered opposition party leaders.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The main opposition parties denounced the government’s decision on Wednesday to postpone parliamentary elections for six weeks after the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, but they said they would abide by the ruling.

The Election Commission set Feb. 18 as the date for the elections, citing the time needed to recover from the violence that followed Ms. Bhutto’s death last week. Nearly 60 people were killed, election offices were damaged and parts of Ms. Bhutto’s home province, Sindh, were paralyzed.

“It is risky,” said one Western diplomat, who would speak only anonymously, following diplomatic protocols. “Anything could happen, because any straw or incident could ignite more violence or reaction against the government.”

Nawaz Sharif has called on President Musharraf to resign and a caretaker government to be installed. And The Washington Post has more about possible street actions that may be taken as a result of this decision. Obviously things could go from bad to worse at any moment. And if this is true, they will:

The day she was assassinated last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal new evidence alleging the involvement of Pakistan's intelligence agencies in rigging the country's upcoming elections, an aide said Monday.

Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.

Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the Pakistan People's Party election monitoring unit, said the report was "very sensitive" and that the party wanted to initially share it with trusted American politicians rather than the Bush administration, which is seen here as strongly backing Musharraf.

It's clear that this focus on elections is misplaced. Without an independent judiciary and a free press there is simply too many ways for the Musharraf government to cheat. They don't want a fair election. And the fact that Bhutto felt like she had to hide the information from the Bush Administration because they're not honest brokers is amazingly sad.

The must-read on all of this is from Barnett Rubin.

I called a friend in Lahore this morning. The obstacles are not just that electoral materials (possibly including those prepared for rigging) were destroyed in the rioting. The country's infrastructure is under severe stress. In Lahore there are only 7 hours of electricity a day, and water pressure is also reported to be unreliable (I know those of you in Kabul may not feel their pain). Optic fiber lines were cut in Sindh, blacking out telecommunications for a while. The front page of Dawn online yields the following: There has been massive damage to the country's rail network. Fuel is in short supply, and the shortages are likely to get worse. The stock market and the currency are both crashing. Government ministers are charging "foreign elements" (i.e. India) with organizing the riots, a useful excuse for martial law.

In Pakistan there is a massive outburst of rage against Musharraf and everything associated with his government, including the government's claim that it has evidence that the Pakistani Taliban, led by Baitullah Mahsud, carried out the assassination. I still lean toward the hypothesis that the operation was carried out by organizations connected to al-Qaida. Given the relationship of the Pakistani military to jihadi organizations that by no means absolves the Musharraf regime of responsibility.

But what recent events demonstrate even more clearly is that the Bush administration's policy of relying on a personal relationship with a megalomaniac manipulator like Musharraf to fight al-Qaida has strengthened that organization immeasurably and perhaps fatally damaged the U.S.'s ability to form the coalition it needs to isolate and destroy that organization.

We make the mistake in this country of creating a linear line of opposition, where there are "moderates" and "terrorists" in Pakistan. In that scenario, Musharraf is a "moderate" and therefore on our side. But that is not how he's perceived in the country, and it's frankly offensive that we label every foreign entity based on how we think they perceive us. The "pro-American" forces don't want to work together; indeed, they're competing for power. It's worth reading Rubin's entire piece.

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Late-Night Reviews!

First in a one-part series.

Watching Letterman last night was at times like watching a revue at a union hall. There were frequent references to the writer's strike, including a direct appeal to the networks, ON THEIR OWN MEDIA, to negotiate in good faith. It was somewhat subversive and dangerous. Even the shows that were forced back on the air by management had some nice words for the writers.

There was also plenty of free on-air promotion for the guild's cause.

"The writers are correct, by the way. I'm a writer ... I'm on the side of the writers," Leno said.

"I want to make this clear. I support their cause," O'Brien said. "These are very talented, very creative people who work extremely hard. I believe what they're asking for is fair."

Letterman, who had grown a gray beard, brought writers on to recite a top 10 list of their strike demands. They included "complimentary tote bag with next insulting contract offer" and "Hazard pay for breaking up fights on `The View.'"

Apparently, Jimmy Kimmel was more of a good little company man. Doesn't surprise me.

The award for cluelessness goes to Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee said he supports the writers and did not think he would be crossing a picket line, because he believed the writers had made an agreement to allow late-night shows on the air. But that's not the case with Leno; "Huckabee is a scab," read one picket sign outside Leno's Burbank, Calif., studio.

The writers guild urged Huckabee not to cross their picket line after he flew out to California. But Huckabee appeared on Leno, even showing off his electric guitar playing with the band.

"Huckabee claims he didn't know," chief union negotiator John Bowman said. "I don't know what that means in terms of trusting him as a future president."

Bowman obviously hasn't been paying much attention. Huckabee doesn't know much of ANYTHING.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Drop Dead Fred

Dissatisfied that he wasn't given the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue immediately upon announcing, fed up with the grueling one-stop-every-other-day campaign schedule, convinced that there was practically nothing more he could do to ask people for their votes (except for actually showing up and asking), and just grumpy because he didn't get his green Jello today, Fred Thompson has reached the end of the line.

Several Republican officials close to Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign said they expect the candidate will drop out of the race within days if he finishes poorly in Thursday’s Iowa caucus.

Thompson’s campaign, which last spring and summer was generating fevered anticipation in the media and with some Republican activists, has never ignited nationally, and there are no signs of a late spark happening here in Iowa, where even a third-place finish is far from assured.

This reality—combined with a fundraising drought—left well-connected friends and advisers of Thompson Wednesday evening predicting that he will pull the plug on hype and hope before the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary [...]

“Without a solid third-place finish, there’s no point in going on,” a Thompson adviser said Wednesday. “It was an honorable race, and he turned out to be a good candidate. The moment had just passed.”

No word on whether or not the advisor was referring to a Maalox moment.

By the way, it's expected that Thompson would throw his support to John McCain, inducing this cringe-worthy line:

In turn, Thompson might be named attorney general in a McCain administration.

For those of you who thought Alberto Gonzales was in over his head...

Also, looks like there could be an open podium for that Fox News debate this weekend! Ron Paul, anyone?

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Election Eve Musings

Well, tomorrow there IS going to be an election in Iowa, despite the fact that nobody really wants them to make the decision. The Democratic race hasn't been totally clean, with push-polling galore, but on the surface it looks less nasty, and I think we're going to see record turnout, and by "record" I mean 15%.

And the smart money is on Barack Obama winnning, especially now that Jo Biden and Bill Richardson appear to be steering their folks to choose Obama as a second choice. Now, people have their own minds, and so I'm dubious of whether or not these "deals" actually come to pass in all 1,700 or so caucus sites, but in a close race even some of that going Obama's way will help him. And there are other indicators.

With the most recent polls trending in favor of Obama, the pieces really seem to be falling into place for him now. There are those who argue that the pro-Obama polls are based on unrealistic turnout expectations, but I believe the record-smashing amount of resources campaigns have spent in Iowa will make those predictions more or less true. Further, there are very good reasons to believe that, because of the demographics of holiday travel, Obama is doing even better than polls suggest, not worse.

You know, Obama winning by explicitly running to the right of the leading candidates is a little depressing. But overall, it's not like nominating Lieberman. His economic proposals are in general sound, like requiring opt-outs for 401(k) plans, and across-the-board tax cuts rather than these targeted tax credits for this behavior or that. His open government proposals are laudable, and his foreign policy team is probably the best on paper (Samantha Power's presence alone - make her Secretary of State! - gets me excited about an Obama Presidency).

I simply think that Edwards is in a better place on the issues and also on where the country is at right now. He actually drove a lot of policies to the left throughout the campaign season, particularly on domestic issues. Far from being a divisive figure who would bring the US economy crashing down, he just seized the endorsements of 30 leading economists. On foreign policy, this interview with Michael Gordon, a longer version of his front-page NYT story today about Iraq training missions, shows that he's really not a lightweight and has a keen understanding of these matters.

Again let me go back to the bigger picture. The question from my perspective is that I have never believed that there was a military solution in Iraq, don't believe it today. I think the issue is how do you maximize the chances of achieving a political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia because I think that political reconciliation is the foundation for any long-term stability in Iraq. They have now, at this moment, had well over four and a half years to make some serious progress toward a political solution. They have not done it, and so what we have been doing has not worked. It clearly has not worked. And my view is that we need to shift the responsibility to them, make it clear that we are leaving. That is where the eight to ten brigades come from. Then, as aggressively as can reasonably be achieved, to continue a steady redeployment until all combat troops are out in roughly nine to ten months. Now I am not married to that specific timetable. If my military leadership came to me and said we need another month or some additional time, I would certainly take that into consideration what they are saying. But it is my job as commander in chief to set the policy parameters, which is exactly what I was doing.

(You owe it to yourself to read that whole thing.)

One thing that's interesting is how Hillary Clinton has become somewhat marginalized in this conversation. I think Chris Rock summed up a piece of conventional wisdom, something people might think too crass to hear, but it's definitely part of what people are thinking, I'd bet.

“I’ve been with my wife for 10 years now,” he said. “If she got onstage right now, y’all wouldn’t laugh at all.”

But back to Obama and Edwards. It wasn't that long ago that bloggers were calling them "Edwama." So on one level, there's no major difference. But they are opposites in how they see the political world.

Barack Obama and John Edwards are just now having at it, and each is touching distinct themes in the final appeals to Iowa voters. Obama seems more in the tradition of the early-20th-century progressives, middle-class reformers who sought to clean up politics to restore a functioning democracy. Edwards is more in the tradition of the early-20th-century populists, railing at the monied interests that really ran the country.

But Obama is a rather populist progressive, a onetime community organizer who understands the power of organized popular protest. And Edwards is a progressive populist, heir to Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, not William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long.

Time was when the Democratic presidential field would extend from the hawkish Henry Jackson to the dovish George McGovern, neither of whom could count on the other's Democratic supporters in a race against the Republican. These days, the differences dividing the Democrats are far narrower, and the Democrat who wins the party's nod will command nearly consensual Democratic support. The same cannot be said for the Republicans.

That's very true. Progressive populist versus populist progressive. I'm somewhat comfortable with those options. And I want to believe that progressives will have the ability to impact the process whether either of them (or even Clinton) eventually makes it into the White House.

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My Favorite Pre-Election Poll

Nobody likes this absurd way we choose the leader of the free world.

According to a new AP/Yahoo survey, just over half of all American voters believe New Hampshire and Iowa "have an extraordinary amount of influence" over who wins the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

"Fewer than one in five voters said they favor the current system that allows Iowa and New Hampshire to hold the first contests, while nearly 80 percent would rather see other states get their chance at the front of the line."

Of course, some of this is "because MY state should have a say" nonsense. But the sentiment is right. This has to be the end of the line for Iowa and New Hampshire. I mean it just has to be. They can yell and scream all they want.

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Run For Your Lives!

I know Samuel Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, but I think he meant to replace "patriotism" with "Rudy Giuliani's New Hampshire ad." He just wasn't alive to see it. (Also, he wouldn't have had a chance unless he was living on the island of Guam, which I believe is central to Rudy's new "Win Guam and race to the nomination!" strategy.)

Never mind the fact that all of these challenges have grown worse under the tenure of George W. Bush, whose warmongering, imperialist foreign policy matches up best with Rudy's blood-red neocon vision. Never mind that the part where Osama bin Laden shows up only reminds you of the fact that he's still alive. But the ultimate chutzpah is that somehow, New York City's mayor is the guy who's "tested" and "ready" to deal with such a thing. Happening to be in a particular city on 9/11 does not a foreign policy résumé make, as the public is beginning to figure out.

Josh Marshall is thankful that Rudy's tanking in the polls is almost complete, and I agree with him. A country with this 30-second spot as the template for foreign policy is almost too horrific to contemplate, particularly when you consider the advisers (hello, Norman Podhoretz) ready to realize this nightmare. Apparently, you have to promise to exterminate the brutes in a nicer, more maverick-y way, like John McCain (who I agree is most likely to win by default at this point).

...oh, and just to comment on these new favorability ratings on St. McCain, he was lucky enough to be pummeled into dust early on, which means he hasn't had to withstand the same attacks and scrutiny recently as the rest of the GOP field. Plus the media has a hard-on for him. But there's still a year to the election, and plenty of time to recall "Bomb Bomb Iran" and hugging George Bush and all these ties to K Street, etc. Favorables have a way of fluctuating.

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Romney: "We Must Not Have National Parks, Like The One I Built With My Own Hands That Is Vital To America's Future"

You almost can't keep up with the Romney flip-flops, it's like competing in a footrace against The Flash. After practically challenging Mike Huckabee to a fight for besmirching the honor of President Bush, he decided yesterday to claim Bush mismanaged the Iraq war. And then there's this:

I'll have pictures and a few anecdotes from Obama and Clinton later, but I wanted to bring attention to a rather strange comment that Romney made during his stump speech. He began a thread about all the great things that George Bush has accomplished, including lowering taxes (no surprise there) and then added that Bush has "strengthened our economy by getting us off of foreign oil." Huh? [...]

Romney went on to talk about the fact that oil just hit $100 a barrel today and then something about how we buy a bunch of oil from overseas and that we need to become energy independent. It was all said in a very earnest and serious tone, so it all felt very true, but it can't be, can it? I mean, Mitt just told us that George Bush freed us from our dependence on foreign oil, so who cares if it hits $100 a barrel, right?

This is very distilled flip-flopping, and I think if Mitt ends up getting the nomination he could finely hone this even further and take contradictory positions in the space of a single word, as in "The economy is rolling along at a great clip, but we must admit that it is in some areas weakbutstrong."

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They Don't Respect Labor

I would say that it's telling that Hillary Clinton is appearing over on Letterman tonight, the one late-night show that has settled with its writers, while Mike Huckabee is crossing a picket line to appear on Jay Leno's show.

Also, it doesn't seem like Hillary's leaving Iowa to tape Letterman, while Huckabee is leaving the state where his advantage is tenuous at best to whoop it up with Jay.

Also, Jay is the guy most responsible for getting Arnold Schwarzenegger elected, he emceed his victory party, and Fred Thompson announced on his show. So the battle lines are clearly drawn.

With any luck, Huckabee will beat a picketer with his own sign and show just how much he thinks of the American worker!

UPDATE: Huckabee is also busy faulting Mitt Romney for not using the apparatus of the state to kill more people, which as we all know is a good Christian value.

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Well, It Certainly Sounds Like An Independent Investigation

Michael Mukasey taps a career prosecutor to investigate the destruction of the torture tapes:

The CIA acknowledged last month that it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. The acknowledgment sparked a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by Justice.

"The Department's National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Mukasey named John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to oversee the case.

Durham apparently went up against the FBI and sent a bunch of public officials in Connecticut to prison, so he's not afraid of taking on the government. He's basically acting as the US Attorney for eastern Virginia because that USA, who would normally have jurisdiction over the CIA, recused himself. And the head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, has also recused himself, along with John Helgerson, the CIA Inspector General.

This has all the earmarks of a legitimate independent investigation, but with the Bush Administration nothing is assured.

UPDATE: It's interesting that this is coming out on a day when 9/11 Commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton reiterated in the New York Times that the CIA stonewalled their investigation and lied to their commission.

UPDATE II: Conyers seems unhappy, wanted a special counsel and thinks the scope of the investigation is too limited. I have to agree to an extent that the Justice Department has defaulted on its ability to independently investigate the White House. So the Congress should engage in a parallel probe.

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Lawsuit Time

Today the state of California joined with 15 others to sue the federal government over the EPA's decision to deny the granting of a waiver to the state to regulate their own greenhouse gas emissions under Fran Pavley's 2004 tailpipe law. The odds are absolutely in favor of California winning this lawsuit. Never since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 has the EPA ever denied such a waiver, and the legal justifications are extremely cloudy. However, the government has succeeded in delaying implementation, which is really all they've set out to do. So expect this to be a long and drawn-out fight that will probably not be resolved until after the choosing of a new President in November.

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Edwards on Foreign Policy

In addition to John Edwards' nice closing ad, he made some legitimate news yesterday with this excellent proposal from his "closing argument" tour through Iowa:

John Edwards says that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.

Mr. Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina who is waging a populist campaign for the Democratic nomination, said that extending the American training effort in Iraq into the next presidency would require the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to provide logistical support and protect the advisers.

“To me, that is a continuation of the occupation of Iraq,” he said in a 40-minute interview on Sunday aboard his campaign bus as it rumbled through western Iowa.

That is a real and significant break from both his past statements on Iraq, and from the other leading candidates. We dug our heels into the quagmire of Vietnam out of "training." The logistical people needed protection, and then those people needed protection, and then we needed attack forces to protect those vital interests. Right now we're training and arming the Sunni Awakening groups, which may be the very groups that attack the central government and its Shiite forces. Training will not get the Iraqis to resolve their ethnic differences.

Obviously, Edwards' populist streak is what's endearing him to many in Iowa and to progressives across the country. But on foreign policy issues, he's been the strongest of the major candidates in offering a way to end the continuing occupation of Iraq. He's spoken directly to Musharraf and encouraged Democratic reforms. He's the only one to fully reject the war on terror frame. So there are some moves against the foreign policy orthodoxy that has defined this country for too long and got us into the mess we're in abroad.

And with Joe Biden attacking him, he's obviously getting under the skin of the establishment.

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The War On Caucuses

The lack of absentee voting and the inability for a town hall meeting format to adapt to the changing schedules of Americans, making it restrictive and somewhat undemocratic, is yet another reason why I don't support the Iowa caucuses outsized importance. But Iowa's 10-15% turnout is a dream compared to Nevada, where turnout has been BELOW ONE PERCENT in recent years.

I do think other states should get a shot to mix it up every now and again, but really caucuses are not representative of democracy in 21st-century America (unless you do them in shifts so that everyone gets an opportunity, including an online caucus for absentees).

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The Harbinger

One thing you have to take into account with this report is that Iowa and New Hampshire were two of the closest states back in 2004, and they figure to be swing states next year. And yet all the momentum is by and large with the Democrats.

*** The enthusiasm gap: Yesterday, we spent some time with the so-called second tier on the Dem side. The most striking thing: the crowd sizes. Biden and Richardson seem to get similar crowds as the GOP front-runners. It's a telling enthusiasm measuring stick that Biden can get Romney crowds. Also, the folks we talked to at Biden seem to be looking toward "experience" as their reason to support him. And consequently, it's hard to imagine that Biden folks would then decide to go with the least experienced front-runner, right? As for Richardson, his supporters seem to be into change more than experience. These anecdotes, of course, could be meaningless but we pass along nonetheless...

There are plenty of ways to measure the enthusiasm gap between the Democratic and the Republican race. The fact that nobody raised more money on the GOP side than Ron Paul, who is being excluded from the New Hampshire debate held by the Republican house organ Fox News, is one example. The fact that Paul backers are trying to game the system in Montana by easily becoming party officers in the state just by asking to do so, is another. But crowds in a close state are significant, too. And the Iowa and New Hampshire polls for the general election for the most part puts the Democrats well in front. That's where they're most known and have seen their records the most up-close.

Regardless of who wins Iowa, that could be the most significant outcome of these early primaries.

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Iraq: Violence Still Rages

For a country that is apparently so clean you can eat off its streets, and where more schools have been painted than ever, violence sure seems to keep happening in Iraq.

A female suicide bomber killed 10 people in Iraq on Wednesday, the latest in a string of suicide bombings that has seen a major strike nearly every day of the past week despite an overall decline in violence.

The woman blew herself up with an explosive vest at a checkpoint of neighborhood patrol volunteers in Baquba, capital of the restive Diyala province. Twenty-eight people were wounded including some women, police said.

The attack came the day after a bomber detonated his explosive vest in a tent crowded with mourners at a Baghdad funeral. Police raised the death toll from that strike to 34, making it the worst in the capital in six months.

Look, a lot of the impact of violence like this is how it affects the psyche of the people, and clearly Iraqis in Baghdad feel a little safer, in part because they've been led to believe that the occupation forces may leave soon. But these gains are reversible. And they're more likely to reverse if political progress remains stalemated. We're still in a very uneasy situation.

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2007-Era NYT Editorial Page

Clearly wanting to clear out the honest editorials before Bill Kristol gets in and asks for a key to the op-ed page washroom, The New York Times rips into the House of Bush.

There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency [...]

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

Paul Krugman also got one in under the wire, explaining how the two parties really have two different views of looking at the world.

On one side, the Democrats are all promising to get out of Iraq and offering strongly progressive policies on taxes, health care and the environment. That’s understandable: the public hates the war, and public opinion seems to be running in a progressive direction.

What seems harder to understand is what’s happening on the other side — the degree to which almost all the Republicans have chosen to align themselves closely with the unpopular policies of an unpopular president. And I’m not just talking about their continuing enthusiasm for the Iraq war. The G.O.P. candidates are equally supportive of Bush economic policies [...]

There’s a fantasy, widely held inside the Beltway, that men and women of good will from both parties can be brought together to hammer out bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.

If such a thing were possible, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani — a self-proclaimed maverick, the former governor of a liberal state and the former mayor of an equally liberal city — would seem like the kind of men Democrats could deal with. (O.K., maybe not Mr. Giuliani.) In fact, however, it’s not possible, not given the nature of today’s Republican Party, which has turned men like Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney into hard-line ideologues. On economics, and on much else, there is no common ground between the parties.

The only time there was this ability to forge bipartisan solutions was when southern conservative racists had a stranglehold on the Democratic Party. Now that there's been an ideological shakeout, both sides remain wedded to their own realities. I'd certainly like to see people brought together toward common goals, but before that can happen, there has to be a shared set of facts, not facts on one side and fantasy on the other.

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