The Great Schlep

The conclusion of the holidays means two things for American Jews after eating for the Yom Kippur break fast. First, it is time for Bill Clinton to start campaigning. For those who might have forgotten, Bill told Larry King that he was holding off on campaigning for Obama until after the Jewish Holidays. Now there is nothing keeping him from campaigning in Arkansas. Secondly, it is time for The Great Schlep.

No, for our Jewish readers, The Great Schlep isn’t an event you missed when you fell asleep during Hebrew school. It is a plan devised by Sarah Silverman and described in the video above.  The web site also explains it (but watch the video–it’s much funnier).

The Great Schlep aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor. Don’t have grandparents in Florida? Not Jewish? No problem! You can still become a schlepper and make change happen in 2008, simply by talking to your relatives about Obama.

NSA Eavesdropped on Americans (Including Phone Sex)

ABC News has found that surveillance of Americans has been more extensive than the Bush administration had previously admitted:

Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), called the allegations “extremely disturbing” and said the committee has begun its own examination.

“We have requested all relevant information from the Bush Administration,” Rockefeller said Thursday. “The Committee will take whatever action is necessary.”

“These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones,” said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA’s Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

Kinne described the contents of the calls as “personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism.”

They even spied on phone sex:

Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of “cuts” that were available on each operator’s computer.

“Hey, check this out,” Faulk says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy’,” Faulk told ABC News.

Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall’s “smoke pit,” but ended up feeling badly about his actions.

“I feel that it was something that the people should not have done. Including me,” he said.

Obama Leads in West Virginia

If this one holds, we really are looking at a hugh landslide. ARG has Obama leading by eight points in West Virginia.

Paris Hilton Seeks Campaign Advice From Jeb Bartlett

In August Paris Hilton responded to John McCain’s use of her name in a political ad and interpreted the use of her name as meaning she is a candidate for president. Fortunately she is content to be a fake candidate. While the candidacy is fake, she is taking the fake election seriously and is seeking advice. In the video above, Paris seeks advice from the greatest fake president of all time, Martin Sheen, who played Jeb Bartlett on The West Wing.

Obama Purchases Thirty Minutes in Prime Time

Barack Obama is outspending John McCain on advertising, and is not taking anything for granted despite strong leads in the polls. He has already aired two minute add spots in order to talk more on the financial crisis than is possible in a typical thirty minute ad. One week before the election he is now planning on purchasing thirty minute blocks on at least two of the broadcast networks. James Hibberd writes:

The Obama campaign is producing a nationwide pitch to voters that will air on at least two broadcast networks. The ad will run Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. — less than a week before the general election.

The direct purchase of such a large block of national airtime right before an election used to be more commonplace before campaigns began to focus their endgame strategies exclusively on battleground states. Such a move is not without precedent in modern presidential politics, however — Ross Perot did a similar purchase in 1992.

The special is a smart move for the Obama campaign, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia.

“Obama’s theme is not just change but unity, so he’s appealing to the whole nation rather than a handful of tossup states,” Sabato said. “He wants to win the popular vote by a good margin, which will enable him to govern.”

I bet Obama will receive higher ratings than Perot, and won’t spend his time with a bunch of charts.

Anger Management II: Backlash Against McCain’s Tactics of Fear & Loathing

While John McCain has shown problems of a personal problem handling anger as discussed in the previous post, he is also trying to instill anger and fear in his supporters in the hopes of getting back into the race. Joe Biden has referred to both McCain’s personal anger and his tactic of using anger as a political tool. The Trail reports:

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden sharply attacked the recent moves of Sen. John McCain’s campaign in a speech today, casting the Arizona senator as “an angry man, lurching from one position to another.”

They quote further from Biden

“You know, the idea here that somehow these guys are once again injecting fear and loathing into this campaign is … I think it’s mildly dangerous,” Biden said. “Here you have out there these kinds of, you know, incitements out there — guy introducing Barack using his middle name as if it’s some epitaph or something,” Biden told a crowd more than a thousand at a rally in Tampa, apparently meaning to use the word “epithet.”

“They have chosen … to appeal to fear with a veiled question: ‘Who is the real Barack Obama?'” Biden said.

The McCain campaign tries to spread a false answer to this question on Obama by distorting the facts on matters such as Obama’s past associations with people such as Ayers and Wright, hiding the fact that Obama’s association with Ayers was not very significanl and that Obama does not share radical views with either.

Steve Benen notes the hypocrisy of McCain launching such attacks considering that he has far closer associations with extremists  than Obama ever has:

But as long as we’re on the subject, McCain’s associations continue to be increasingly interesting as well. We’ve known for a while that McCain has befriended a convicted felon who advised his supporters on how best to shoot federal officials, used the money of a convicted criminal to help buy a house, befriended a radical anti-Catholic televangelist, befriended a radical anti-American televangelist, was a long-time associate of Charles Keating, and hired for his campaign the publisher of a Confederate nostalgia magazine who has described Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist.” This week, we also learned about McCain serving on the board of the extremist U.S. Council for World Freedom, where he worked alongside Iran-Contra figures, and a eugenics researcher studying “white superiority.”

Keith Olbermann did a report on John McCain’s associations with extremists and terrorists:


This type of smear works well with conservatives. Conservatives often hold beliefs which are counter to reality and typically have blinders which prevents facts from influencing their beliefs. Many conservatives are also prone to following conspiracy theories, making them gullible enough to even belief theories going around the conservative blogosphere that Obama is really a socialist as well as a terrorist trying to infiltrate the government.

Basing their attacks on such weak associations can also backfire against the authoritarian right, beyond the hypocrisy of having far more examples of real extremists uncomfortably close to their political leaders. This emphasizes characteristics of conservatives such as lack of toleration for freedom of association. Most people understand that going to a church led by Rev. Wright or sitting on committees (along with Republicans) with Ayers is not rational grounds for attack. Many people are not aware of the political views of those in their church, and this attempt by conservatives to write off not only Obama but everyone attending his church as un-American carries the stench of McCarthyism.

While these attitudes might fire up the conservative base, they alienate most thinking Americans. David Weigel of Reason (via Andrew Sullivan) posts a couple of videos showing the attitude of McCain/Palin supporters who believe the smears coming from their candidates and writes:

Via Jonathan Martin, who says “it’s difficult to imagine even the most hard-core conservatives saying that Al Gore or John Kerry were terrorists.” This is a huge problem with the McCain campaign’s negative turn. No swing voter took offense if a Bush surrogate called Kerry a limp-wristed, French-looking fraud. But I think they wince when they hear someone accusing Obama of terrorist “bloodlines.” The guy still has a net 18-point favorable rating. People simply don’t look at him and think “radical.” The velocity with which the McCain campaign has become a political arm of Sean Hannity’s America makes it look ugly and desperate, rather than strong, as Bush I looked when he mocked Dukakis or Bush II looked when he mocked Kerry.

After a second video, Weigel adds:

This is the blowback when McCain/Palin go hard negative. They rev up the base, but what on-the-fence voter wants to associate with people like this? It reminds me of the collapse of the illegal immigration issue. Yes, a majority of people told pollsters they wanted “secure borders,” but once they started associating those opinions with beer-bellied Minutemen snooping around the AZ-Mexico border, or mouthbreathing radio hosts like Michael Savage…

This view isn’t limited to libertarians such as Weigel. Even some conservatives realize that raising such anger is counterproductive. Andrew Sullivan also links to David Frum who warns fellow conservatives:

We conservatives are sending a powerful, inadvertent message with this negative campaign against Barack Obama’s associations and former associations: that we lack a positive agenda of our own and that we don’t care about the economic issues that are worrying American voters.

Republicans used negative campaigning successfully against Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, it’s true. But 1988 and 2004 were both years of economic expansion, pro-incumbent years. 2008 is like 1992, only worse. If we couldn’t beat Clinton in 1992 by pointing to his own personal draft-dodging and his own personal womanizing, how do we expect to defeat Obama in a much more anti-incumbent year by attacking the misconduct of people with whom he once kept company (but doesn’t any more)?

Here’s another thing to keep in mind:

Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that is going to be very hard to calm after November. Is it really wise to send conservatives into opposition in a mood of disdain and fury for a man who may well be the next president of the United States, incidentally the first African-American president? Anger is a very bad political adviser. It can isolate us and push us to the extremes at exactly the moment when we ought to be rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting.

Besides seeing the danger in whipping conservatives into a fury, Frum is correct that this tactic gives the impression that conservatives lack any real agenda. I find it difficult to take seriously any group which is unwilling to argue the virtue of their positions against those of their opponents, but instead relies on distorting the views of their opponents along with dishonest smears. Republicans cannot simultaneously be the party of dishonst smear tactics and also be taken seriously as a party of ideas.

Anger Management Part I: John McCain’s Problem With Rage


Anger has become a major concern in this race, both with regards to McCain’s personal anger problems and with the manner in which he uses fear and anger to attempt to get  back into the race. The above video summarizes McCain’s anger problem. Michael Kinsley describes one specific example:

McCain’s game is craps. So is Jeff Dearth’s. Jeff was at the table when McCain showed up and happily made room for him. Apparently there is some kind of rule or tradition in craps that everyone’s hands are supposed to be above the table when the dice are about to be thrown. McCain—“very likely distracted by one of the many people who approached him that evening,” Jeff says charitably—apparently was violating this rule. A small middle-aged woman at the table, apparently a “regular,” reached out and pulled McCain’s arm away. I’ll let Jeff take over the story:

“McCain immediately turned to the woman and said between clenched teeth: ‘DON’T TOUCH ME.’ The woman started to explain…McCain interrupted her: ‘DON’T TOUCH ME,’ he repeated viciously. The woman again tried to explain. ‘DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO?’ McCain continued, his voice rising and his hands now raised in the ‘bring it on’ position. He was red-faced. By this time all the action at the table had stopped. I was completely shocked. McCain had totally lost it, and in the space of about ten seconds. ‘Sir, you must be courteous to the other players at the table,’ the pit boss said to McCain. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? ASK ANYBODY AROUND HERE WHO I AM.”

This being Puerto Rico, the pit boss might not have known McCain. But the senator continued in full fury—“DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”—and crisis was avoided only when Jeff offered to change places and stand between McCain and the woman who had touched his arm.

What is bothersome about this story, if it’s true, is only partly the explosive anger. More, it’s the arrogance. At the craps table, who cares who he is? And there’s the recklessness of such a performance in a casino full of journalists (unless McCain absolutely couldn’t control himself, which is even scarier).

Joe Klein believes that McCain’s attempts to control his anger is one factor in his poor debate performances:

But there is also a pent-up anger to McCain. He seems to be concentrating so hard on trying to stay calm that he doesn’t have much energy left over to answer questions in a free and creative way. He is not the sort of person, in the end, that you want to invite into your living room for a four-to-eight-year stay.

Taegan Goddard writes, “a former senior Bush administration official told Political Wire of at least three occasions where he saw McCain fly into a fit of rage, including one time when he got physical and actually push the person annoying him.”


This anger has become part of the chess game the two campaigns are playing. Steve Benen points to an interview yesterday with Charlie Gibson (video above) as suggesting that Obama is hoping to provoke McCain to show his tempter. He begins by quoting an answer from Obama:

“Well, I am surprised that, you know, we’ve been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days that he wasn’t willing to say it to my face,” Obama said. “But I guess we’ve got one last debate. So presumably, if he ends up feeling that he needs to, he will raise it during the debate.”

Obama, in this sense, is almost daring McCain to make these attacks directly. He’s practically questioning McCain’s fortitude, calling him out for using sleazy tactics behind Obama’s back, but not to his face.

I suspect Obama is baiting McCain for a reason — he wants McCain to lose his cool, make personal attacks, and try to change the subject away from the economy. Obama isn’t afraid of this scenario, he’d welcome this scenario.

The McCain campaign is using anger differently, in inciting anger against Obama based upon discredited smears. That will be the topic of Anger Management Part II.

McCain’s Fellow Prisoners And His Lack of Clarity


The night after a disastrous debate performance was not the time for McCain to make the gaffe in the video above. He most likely intended to say, “My fellow Americans,” but instead said, “Across this country this is the agenda I have set before my fellow prisoners and the same standards of clarity and candor must now be applied to my opponent.”

The gaffe was more harmful in reminding people of how McCain repeatedly brings up his POW experience, and even more so as he is also talking about applying standards of clarity to his opponent.

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David Brooks on Palin and Obama

David Brooks, in an interview for The Atlantic, has described Sarah Palin as a “fatal cancer to the Republican party” and has criticized her Bush-like anti-intellectualism:

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he’d rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn’t think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I’m afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

He also commented on Obama’s intellect:

Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I’m getting nowhere with the interview, it’s late in the night, he’s on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he’s cranky. Out of the blue I say, ‘Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?’ And he says, ‘Yeah.’ So i say, ‘What did Niebuhr mean to you?’ For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.

And the other thing that does separate Obama from just a pure intellectual: he has tremendous powers of social perception. And this is why he’s a politician, not an academic. A couple of years ago, I was writing columns attacking the Republican congress for spending too much money. And I throw in a few sentences attacking the Democrats to make myself feel better. And one morning I get an email from Obama saying, ‘David, if you wanna attack us, fine, but you’re only throwing in those sentences to make yourself feel better.’ And it was a perfect description of what was going through my mind. And everybody who knows Obama all have these stories to tell about his capacity for social perception.