The End of the Freak Show and the Conservative Arguments Against Obama

Guy Benson ( and Mary Katharine Ham ( have posted what they consider to be The comprehensive argument against Barack Obama at Hot Air. Their inability to come up with anything more with more substance than this, along with the lack of any positive argument to vote for John McCain, demonstrates why Obama is now so far ahead in the polls. The post consists of a lot of distortions and repetition of standard right wing talking points which I and others have debunked multiple times throughout the campaign, and which voters are ignoring this year.

Their arguments consist of the type of freak show politics which Matt Drudge has promoted in recent years as described by Mark Halperin and John Harris in The Way to Win. The failure of such smears to gain traction points to a change in the political climate discussed by Eric Boehlert today as he discussed how Drudge has lost his influence compared to that described by Halperin and Harris in The Way to Win. Eric wrote:

Why the misfires? As Halperin himself noted in 2006, “Matt Drudge is not doing stories on policy, on welfare, on healthcare. He’s doing stories on the most salacious aspects of American politics. When that drives the dialogue, that’s where the country heads, that’s where our political coverage heads.”

Thanks to our current economic crisis, “the most salacious aspects of American politics,” as Halperin put it, have taken a vacation during the closing weeks of this campaign. And the press can’t even pretend that those “salacious aspects” are remotely newsworthy, which means the second part of Halperin’s claim, about Drudge driving the dialogue, no longer applies.

Halperin’s writing partner John Harris admitted as much recently while addressing students at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. In an article on Harris’ speech, the local paper reported: “The Republican Party’s ‘Machiavellian’ style of attack politics hasn’t struck a chord in this election, Mr. Harris said, leaving John McCain to shift strategies nearly weekly.”

The so-called comprehensive argument against Obama represents a futile attempt to restore the freak show to its dominance in selecting presidents at a time when the electorate has moved beyond this and wants a serious candidate who has meaningful positions on the real issues.

I have already discussed many of these arguments in depth and will only quickly outline the flaws in the these arguments against Obama. Their arguments would only be persuasive to those who lack a moral compass and accept the authoritarian mind set and dishonesty of the far right or who are ignorant of the issues and Obama’s actual positions. They pretend to be providing information by utilizing video clips, but they repeatedly take comments out of context and surround them with outright untrue statements and misinterpretations in what amounts to a crude hatchet job and not meaningful political discourse.

Their first point comes the closest to being over a real issue. While they grossly distort Obama’s views, repeat the usual right wing nonsense on partial-birth abortions, ignore Obama’s opposition to late term abortions unless the health of the mother is in danger, and even repeat the smear that Obama supports infanticide, there is a real differences between the parties on abortion rights. What they fail to understand that a majority reject the view of the authoritarian right that they have the right to control the bodies of others. A majority agree with Obama on abortion, and reminding them that John McCain would return us to the era of shirt-hanger abortions will not help him pick up any votes. Even many who oppose abortion rights would not go as far as John McCain and Sarah Palin in ignoring exceptions based upon the health of the mother or rape.

Their second point distorts Obama’s views on taxes, distorting his words and claiming that Obama’s comment to “spread the wealth around” does not sound like the words of a tax cutter. An objective comparison of the tax policies of Obama and McCain was reviewed here. They miss the point that by spreading the wealth around Obama means giving a tax cut to the middle class. They also erroneously claim that increases in capital gains taxes decreases tax revenue, and vice versa, along with ignoring the fact that Obama’s proposed increases in capital gains taxes will only affect couples making over $250,000 per year, and the tax would still be less than under Ronald Reagan. Changes in the capital gains rate primarily changes how investment income is structured and changes where the taxes come from far more than the total tax revenue raised, making it easy to play politically motivated games with the results of a rate change. The ability to distort the consequences of tax rates on investment income is further complicated by the fact that more taxes are brought in when the market is rising. Tax revenue will increase during a strong bull market if the capital gains rate is raised, lowered, or remains the same.

Their third point is to again raise the debunked claims of radical associations which I have already discussed in numerous posts. The ironies in this attack are that 1) John McCain is the one who really has associations with extremists, and 2) these McCarthist attacks on Obama have wound up backfiring against McCain, providing serious people with a real reason to stay clear of the authoritarian right.

Bringing up foreign policy judgment was a poor choice considering that Obama was right on opposing going to war, regardless of how much they want to minimize this. Obama was also right about the surge, regardless of how they want to distort his actual position. Opponents of the surge predicted a decrease in violence with an increase in troops, but the real issue is achieving a political settlement which allows us to leave rather than remaining in Iraq for one-hundred years. While John McCain might be okay with this strategy, the majority of American voters are not.

Similarly they distort Obama’s position on negotiations, appearing to not even understand what “precondition” means diplomatically. While Obama is not demanding preconditions as to the outcome of negotiations, he is not supporting negotiations without any preparation or conditions as they falsey imply. They quote Hillary Clinton and John Edwards’ politically motivated opposition to Obama’s position during the primaries but ignore the support for diplomacy recently expressed by five former secretaries of state. Most voters will feel more comfortable with a candidate who wants to talk to Iran and realize that singing “Bomb, Bomb. Bomb Iran” as McCain has only worsens the situation.

Their claims of disdain for the heartland and playing the race card based upon statements taken out of context and creative interpretations of his meaning, are total nonsense which will have no traction. Their claim of lack of accomplishments ignores Obama’s actual accomplishments. Besides, this a rather bizarre argument to still bring up against Obama after John McCain picked Sarah Palin, who has a fraction of the experience which Obama has, to be his running mate.

More importantly in terms of the election, American voters have seen Barack Obama and John McCain together in three debates besides watching both on the campaign trail. It has been clear that Obama, despite (or perhaps because of) less years in Washington, Obama has far better understanding of the issues, better judgment, and holds the positions held by a majority of voters. Such attempts to revive the freak show will not work as voters are now looking for the candidate who can best solve our actual problems, not the types of problems which only haunt the imaginations of those on the far right. These attempts to replay the politics of past elections when voters have moved beyond such nonsense is exactly why Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and why John McCain is unlikely to be elected president.

The Polls: Palin, PUMAs, and Independents

While the main advantage of adding Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket has been to energize the right wing base, there was initially speculation that Palin might help McCain get the support of women voters who were upset that Hillary Clinton did not make the Democratic ticket. Polls now show both that Palin has wound up hurting McCain and that there are not many PUMA’s left as Obama has consolidated support among both Democrats and independents:

While the choice of Sarah Palin initially helped give McCain a dead cat bounce in the polls, the choice is now hurting him. The New York Times summarizes their poll results:

Mrs. Palin’s negatives are up, to 41 percent now from 29 percent in September. Mr. Obama’s favorability is the highest for a presidential candidate running for a first term in the last 28 years of Times/CBS polls. Mrs. Palin’s negative rating is the highest for a vice-presidential candidate as measured by The Times and CBS News. Even Dan Quayle, with whom Mrs. Palin is often compared because of her age and inexperience on the national scene, was not viewed as negatively in the 1988 campaign.

The choice of Palin has become harmful to McCain, leading many voters to question his judgment, as is seen in an ABC News/Washington Post poll:

McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has become a drag on the GOP ticket: 52 percent of voters said McCain’s selection of her makes them doubt the types of decisions he would make as president, a reversal from a Post-ABC poll following the nominating conventions.

The Pew Research Center also found that Palin has been hurting McCain:

In addition, Sarah Palin appears to be a continuing – if not an increasing – drag on the GOP ticket. Currently, 49% of voters express an unfavorable opinion of Palin, while 44% have a favorable view. In mid-September, favorable opinions of Palin outnumbered negative ones by 54% to 32%. Women, especially women under age 50, have become increasingly critical of Palin: 60% now express an unfavorable view of Palin, up from 36% in mid-September. Notably, opinions of Palin have a greater impact on voting intentions than do opinions of Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate.

Overall, Obama leads McCain 53 percent to 39 percent among those most likely to vote.

While McCain had hoped that he might win thanks to Democratic defections, it now looks like Obama is doing a better job than McCain of solidifying support in his party. Nate Silver looks at several polls and finds:

Among Democrats, Barack Obama is now winning 88 percent support, comparable to John Kerry in 2004 or Al Gore in 2000. And there are a couple of points’ worth of undecideds left in there, so it’s possible that Obama could scrape up against the 90 percent number on election day.

By contrast, John McCain is winning the support of just 85.3 percent of Republicans, well down from Bush’s 93 percent in 2004 and 91 percent in 2000. There are some undecideds in there as well, so his numbers should improve some, but McCain is likely to underperform Bush by several points.

Silver comes to the conclusion that the PUMAs are dead. With regards to McCain’s chances, he makes the same point as is expressed in this email sent out by GOP pollster Steve Lombardo:

We averaged the party ID for several national polls over the last several months and found that on average 36% of registered voters claim to be Democrats while only 28% say they align with the Republican party.  We conduct dozens of national polls each year and, while our numbers have varied 2-4 points from the above, they have consistently showed a 6-9 point advantage for Democrats.  Obama has also closed the long-standing partisan vote gap.  National tracking polls show both candidates holding 85-87% of their party’s vote, where in recent years Republicans have enjoyed a 3-5 point advantage.  Combine the two, and this is a very difficult hurdle for McCain to overcome.  He will need to win independents by at least 15 – 20 points to overcome the party ID deficit. [Emphasis added.]

While McCain needs to win big among independents, Andrew Sullivan points out, “no group has responded more negatively to McCain these past seven weeks than independents. McCain’s unfavorables among independents have soared from 24 percent to 44 percent in seven weeks.” The Pew Research Center poll I noted above finds that Obama leads by 51 percent to 33 percent among independents.

Extending The Map

With recent reports that John McCain might be scaling back in states such as New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Colorado the battle grounds have moved to some unexpected areas. The maps at sites which project the electoral vote, such as and, show that many states which were previously thought to be battlegrounds now appear to be safe for Obama. McCain is reportedly making Pennsylvania his last stand despite being far behind, being correct in his assessment that he must somehow pick off a large blue state in order have any shot at all.

The real battlegrounds where either candidate can still win include Ohio and Florida as well as states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, Missouri, and perhaps even South Dakota. These states have two things in common. They are all states which George Bush as won, and therefore which McCain cannot afford to lose, and Barack Obama has the lead in many polls in these states. Even Arizona and Alaska would be in play this year if not for McCain and Palin’s advantages in carrying their home states. (Ironically, while Palin has hurt McCain nationally, this does mean that Sarah Palin has turned out to at least be more valuable on the ticket this year than John Edwards was in 2004 as her presence does add one state which otherwise might have been lost.)

The battleground might be extended even further. A Public Policy Polling report from today has Obama leading in Indiana 48 percent to 46 percent, with other polls also suggesting Obama could win there (possibly giving him a sweep of all the Big Ten states which had previously been considered a battleground region). If he can win in Indiana and we are allowed to fantasize further about which formerly strong states could go blue, next on the list might be Georgia. McCain still has the edge there and I sure would  not put money on Obama winning there, but it is possible with heavy enough black turn out. 411mania looks at the numbers and shows it is not impossible for Obama to win.

A consequence of the concentration of the population along the coasts and along the great lakes is that in recent elections when the country was split near 50:50 the map looked predominately red. (I’ve even had some Republican commenters cite the red/blue map as evidence that they represented an overwhelmingly majority viewpoint in this country.) Due to the number of sparsely populated states which continue to vote Republican for cultural reasons there will still be large red areas on the map, but after this election blue should be much more prominent. While a full fifty state strategy is not yet feasible for the Democrats, Obama has kept his promise of the primaries to extend the electoral map and greatly increase the chances of a Democratic victory.

Ben Bernacke Endorses Obama

Maybe Ben Bernacke didn’t formally endorse Obama, but this is how The Wall Street Journal is describing his support for Obama’s economic policies. Needless to say, they are not very happy about this. While I doubt it will really have any impact on the election, it does help support the impression that Obama knows far more about handling economic problems than McCain.

Obama Rejects Wearing Mickey Ears

Regular readers know I’m a huge Disney fan, and I have traveled to Walt Disney World many times. I still do not feel at all slighted by Obama’s decision to pose with the Mouse ears but not put them on. As The Swamp points out, this might have created a situation comparable to Michael Dukakis in the tank. (Besides, for me Disney World means having a steak at California Grill or the Potato-Wrapped Red Snapper at Flying Fish just as much as, or perhaps even more so, than seeing Mickey.)

Keeping potential gaffes to a minimum has been one of many reasons for Obama’s success this year, forcing the wing nuts to dwell on trivial matters such as a washed up terrorist who, along with Republicans, was on some of the same committees with Obama. There’s good reason why the late night comics have been making fun of the Repubican ticket seven times as often as the Democratic.

Constitutional Issues

Maybe they did know what they were doing in devising the electoral college. On the other hand, direct popular vote would have worked out better in 2000.

Checks and Balances vs Gridlock

John McCain’s latest argument to vote for him is based upon support for mixed government under the assumption that the Democrats are likely to control Congress regardless of who becomes president. This is a risky move for McCain considering that it means campaigning more as a partisan Republican after he has tried to portray himself as a maverick and independent. Such an argument diminishes McCain’s denials that he is basically offering a third George Bush term.

While the argument does contain risks, McCain does not have many cards left to play. Voting for mixed government is actually one of McCain’s strongest arguments left. Steve Benen argues that McCain is basically arguing for gridlock as opposed to what most Americans want:

First, “vote for gridlock” isn’t exactly a compelling pitch. As the argument goes, voters should support McCain, not because he’s right, but because he’ll fight with Congress. In other words, if you’re not tired of partisan spats and a dysfunctional Washington, McCain wants to deliver a few more years of it.

Second, McCain may find this hard to believe, but Obama’s policy agenda is actually pretty popular. By running as the pro-gridlock candidate, McCain is effectively telling voters, “If you vote for Obama, he’ll be in a position to do all of the things he’s promising to do.” Given that a majority of Americans support a middle-class tax cut, ending the war in Iraq, a comprehensive energy policy, and universal healthcare, the message may not resonate as much as McCain might hope.

What is gridlock to one person represents checks and balances on government power to another. In many situations I’d prefer gridlock to one party control of both branches–such as when Bush had a Republican Congress. While I have often supported gridlock as a means of achieving checks and balances, Steve is absolutely right that this would only make sense if McCain was right on the issues.

Mixed government only works out when the opposing party has something to offer. After Hillary Clinton introduced her awful health care proposal during Bill Clinton’s first term I was not all that upset to see the Republicans take control of Congress to provide further checks and balances. Unfortunately we soon learned that the Republicans were not fit to govern. While I wanted an alternative to the Clintons, the Republicans did not offer anything any better.

In order for there to be benefit to having the executive and legislative branches in different hands we would need to have policies from both parties which we want considered, or prefer a compromise position between the two. With the Republican Party having moved so far to the extreme right, McCain has nothing to offer policy-wise which would provide any advantage to Obama working with a Democratic Congress. Just making a generalized argument for split government is not enough. McCain needs to give actual policies where his views are preferable to Obama’s.

The argument might be more compelling to me if a more populist Democrat such as Clinton or Edwards had received the Democratic nomination. Obama is a different matter. He has shown far more ability than most politicians to consider both sides of the issues, and his exposure to free market principles at the University of Chicago should prove valuable in keeping Obama from moving too far to the left on economic matters, despite the ridiculous claims of socialism raised by the McCain campaign. Besides, there are many moderate Democrats in Congress who would side with a Republican minority against any moves to the far left. Fiscal realities will also limit what a Democratic dominated government can do.

The situation where the president often matters the most is on foreign policy, especially in making decisions regarding whether to go to war. While such decisions might be checked by an opposing party, this is a decision which the president primarily makes. Obama has shown far better judgment on this matter. He has also shown a better ability to respond to the recent financial crisis while McCain has acted erratically.

Perhaps the strongest argument against McCain’s call for split government is that there are three branches of government, not two. Further Republican appointees to the Supreme Court would push the court too far in one direction, making Democratic appointees preferable for those who prefer more balanced government as opposed to government which tilts too far in one direction. Further Republican appointees to the Supreme Court could move the country far to the right on many issues, contrary to claims that split government could direct the country on a more centrist course.