October 2008 Archives

Should John McCain Have Let Sarah Palin Be Curtis LeMay?


All of the commentators who have suggested with reasonably straight faces in recent days that the McCain campaign may have erred in refusing to let “Sarah Palin be Sarah Palin,” might want to take a gander at what happened forty years ago when Alabama governor and American Independent party presidential candidate George C. Wallace held a press conference to introduce General Curtis LeMay as his running mate. Wallace’s advisors had actually persuaded him to pick former Kentucky governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler, who as Commissioner of Baseball back in 1947, had presided over the relatively orderly integration of America’s pastime and then, as governor, had done his best to assure Kentucky’s peaceful compliance with the Brown decision. As Dan Carter reports in his terrific book on Wallace, the governor’s aide, Seymour Trammel, had argued that Chandler’s reputation as a moderate would strengthen the ticket because what with the KKK, the John Birch Society, and the White Citizens Council, Wallace already had the backing of “all the nuts in the country.” With Chandler on board, Trammel reasoned, “we could get some decent people—you working one side of the street and he working the other.”
Not surprisingly, such impeccable logic was completely lost on the crazies among Wallace’s supporters—that’s to say damn near all of ’em— who set up such a howl that he turned to LeMay. This move met with the warm, even moist, approval of the great mass of the Wallace loonies, including the gazillionaire oil man Bunker Hunt, who promptly rewarded LeMay with a thank-you gift of $1,000,000.
This love and largesse was showered on a man whose military record, mind you, was distinguished by his plan as commander of the Strategic Air Command, to hit the Soviet Union with our entire nuclear stockpile and his subsequent insistence on a similar response during the Cuban missile crisis, during the course of which he berated a group of senators for their “restraint,” explaining “The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war, if there are two Americans left alive and one Russian, we win.” (Not for nothing had Stanley Kubrick used “Bombs Away!” LeMay as the model for shoot-first-worry-about-casualties–later General Buck Turgidson in the Cold War film spoof, Dr. Strangelove.
Wallace’s team had spent a grueling and totally frustrating night before the October 3, 1968 official press conference rollout of LeMay, trying to keep the general off topics nuclear, but the governor had promised his number two guy free rein to discuss defense issues, by God, discuss ‘em he did. Bemoaning a national “phobia” about nuclear war, he allowed, “I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that's been fed to them." Sensing that he had shocked even the jaded reporters in the crowd, LeMay tried to reassure them by bringing them up to speed on conditions in the Bikini Atoll where some twenty nuclear weapons had been tested: "The fish are all back in the lagoons; the coconut trees are growing coconuts; the guava bushes have fruit on them; the birds are back. As a matter of fact, everything is about the same except the land crabs. They get minerals from the soil, I guess, through their shells, and the land crabs were a little bit 'hot' * and there's a little question about whether you should eat a land crab or not."
Suffice it to say, not many in the audience had much appetite left at that point, least of all a supremely agitated Wallace, who clearly thought he might have to choke LeMay in order to get him away from the microphones. In the aftermath of the affair, the campaign assigned three aides to bird-dog the General’s every move and utterance, but despite a 20 percent showing at the end of September, in the wake of the LeMay fiasco, northern supporters, women in particular, deserted in droves, and a month later Wallace captured only 13.5 percent of the vote, with more than half of his total coming from the old Confederacy.
Although Sarah Palin may not have scared as many people as badly as LeMay (and, in my opinion, not nearly as many or as badly as she should have), there are some parallels here. Like Wallace, McCain’s choice of a running mate was dictated by the most extreme of his potential supporters, rather than his obvious need to reach out to voters of a more mainstream stripe. In essence, reversing Seymour Trammel’s argument for pairing Wallace with the more moderate Happy Chandler, McCain’s advisers persuaded him he didn’t have enough “nuts” solidly on his side.
In this sense, Palin embodies the single greatest burden the McCain camp has had to bear not just in the contest for his party’s nomination but throughout a general election campaign where he has had to devote overwhelming amounts of time, energy, and precious resources to selling himself to his own party rather than wooing more of the Independents who were his veritable life’s blood during several key primaries.
In point of fact, his incessant preaching to what should have already been the choir has made it all the harder to persuade those nearer the middle that he is really who they once thought he was.
Herein lies the basis for my admittedly hopeful skepticism of Sarah Palin’s supposedly glowing prospects for 2012. Palin can juice up The Religious Right and other fellow-traveling ideological hardliners so easily because Sarah’s all about certitude, the kind that comes from the absolute conviction that you already know and understand everything you will ever need to. If you want to rally your base, she’s definitely your girl, but as her plummeting fortunes in poll after poll suggest, she’s far better at leading the home crowd in a few cheers than anything else. Even if others could somehow get past her totally misplaced self-confidence and her propensity to make her appalling ignorance a point of pride, Palin has shown no real interest in--or capacity for--reaching out to anyone residing in that still very considerable expanse lying to the left of the also considerable expanse of Rush Limbaugh. Organized, militant minorities have carried the day more than once in American politics, but unless things get so bad that brown shirts and jackboots have come into style by 2012, I don’t think I’d want to run for president knowing I could truly count only on folks who want their kids taught Genesis instead of science and care less about what goes on at the U.N. than how people make whoopee in their own bedrooms.

Ever-indulgent readers, I know the Ol’ Bloviator has misled you way too many times to expect you to trust him, but he honestly believes he has finally solved the “comments” problem by cutting back drastically on his “junk filter.” Although most of the 1,800+ postings he found in the junk pile were exactly where they belonged, he has painstakingly rescued all valid but still victimized posts and put them where they belonged. If you can see your way clear to give it one more shot, I’d sure like to see what you think. Y.V.O.S. , The O.B.

Watch Out For Them Lyin' Undecideds!

Having lived by the maxim that things are always worse than they seem rather than better, and taking the Democrats’ fortunes in the last two presidential elections fully into account, I can certainly relate to those Obama supporters who are suspicious of poll numbers showing their guy comfortably ahead in most national and many pivotal “battleground” state polls. In large part, these folks are achieving record levels of sphincter torque over the much-discussed “Bradley Effect,” wherein a black candidate’s poll numbers are inflated because whites who are unwilling to admit that they don’t want to vote for a black person simply lie to pollsters about their intentions.
This supposed phenomenon is so named because it is presumed to explain L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley’s loss to George Deukmejian in the 1982 California gubernatorial race after polls showed him well ahead. The same effect is supposed to explain why Doug Wilder won the Virginia governorship by such a tiny margin in 1989 after polls showed him with what appeared to be a strong lead. Ditto, I might add, for, David Dinkins’s unexpectedly close mayoral victory In New York City in ‘89 and Carol Mosely Braun’s narrower than anticipated win in the Illinois Senatorial race in ’92. More recently, the Bradley Effect was invoked to explain Barack Obama’s surprising loss to Hillary Clinton in this January’s New Hampshire Democratic Primary. I have to say that I bought into the Bradley Effect as at least a partial explanation for what happened in New Hampshire, and I have also been wary of making too much of Oby’s strong poll numbers for the same reason. However, NBC News political director Chuck Todd got me to thinking (Way to go, Chuck!! Nobody else though it remotely possible.) the other day, when he pointed out that neither Bradley or Wilder actually ran behind their respective polling percentages in ’82 and ’89, nor for that matter, did Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. in his unsuccessful 2006 Senate bid in Tennessee . More ammo for Chuck’s argument can be found in this chart from those mighty fine folks over at the Pew Foundation showing that compared to pre-election polls, the final vote tallies in major races involving black candidates actually appeared to reflect not so much desertion in the ranks of their declared supporters, as massive shifts of the “undecideds” to their opponents.


In Bradley’s case, for example, just a few days before the election, a Field poll showed him with 47 percent of the vote to Deukmejian’s 41 ,and another poll had the difference down to 45-44. Thus, on the eve of the balloting, save for the roughly 3 percent support spread among three other candidates of the “ no way in hell” variety, 8-9 percent of those polled ostensibly remained undecided. When the votes were in, Deukmejian had claimed just over 49.3 percent to Bradley’s 48.1, but since percentage-wise, Bradley had actually outperformed his final polling numbers, those shocked at his defeat should probably have been yelling “Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!” not at the folks who told pollsters they were backing Bradley, but at a huge chunk of the self-described undecideds who wound up going for his opponent with suspicious uniformity.
Things were a little different with Obama in New Hampshire this year, but not much. The final pre-primary Real Clear Politics poll average showed Oby with 38.3 percent of the vote and a seemingly done-for Hillary at 30. Loverboy John Edwards and Bill, “I am, too, Hispanic!” Richardson accounted for another 18.3 and 5.7 percent respectively, leaving 7.7 percent in the undecided column. When tally-up time came, BO was in fact nearly 2 points below his polling percentages, while HC had gone nine points over hers. However, the two white boy also-rans had also lost more than 1 point each, suggesting that perhaps Oby had been shot down not by the Bradley Effect but the “Hillary Effect,” which reared its fearsome head when HC managed to pull a lot of folks off the fence and into her tent by transforming herself, in but the blinking of a single moist eye, from macho and formidable to feminine and vulnerable.
I may be wrong, of course—I think I may have been mistaken about something ten or fifteen years ago, although, for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was—but I’m guessing that in polls involving black candidates and white voters, the bulk of the real liars are to be found among the “undecided” folks who know damn well they aren’t going to vote for a black person but are telling pollsters they are still uncertain. This would make sense, after all, because it strikes me as a lot easier to believe that you aren’t really lying when you say you haven’t made up your mind even though you actually have than when you say you’re going to do something knowing full well you aren’t.
Still, what’s the difference? Call it “Bradley Effect” or not, doesn’t this mean that Oby could still lose in races where he seems to have a big lead right now?” Obviously, he could, but, all other things being equal, insofar as the reliability of the polls might actually rest less on the “truthiness” of people who have already declared themselves for Barry O than on the credibility of those who still claim to be undecided this late in the game, the key number is not the size of BO’s supposed lead so much as the percentage of the vote he projects to receive. A new Big Ten Poll l shows the following results for Pennsylvania:

Obama/Biden 51.9%
McCain/Palin 41.5%
Other 1.2%
Undecided 3.4%
Refused 2.0%

Let’s assume that the 1.2 % who intend to vote for the likes of Darth Nader don’t come to their senses or, God forbid, convince others to wallow with them in their miserable stupidity. Let’s also assume every single sovereign voter claiming to be undecided is lying through his or her rotten teeth or store-bought teeth and actually plans to vote for McCain and every one of the uncooperative SOB’s who refused to answer does the same. Even then, Angry Geezer and Stylish Airhead would still come up short unless they can convince an additional roughly 3 percent of the electorate to abandon the leading team in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter and come over to the losing team’s sidelines.
Obviously, similar conditions would apply in any state where the polls consistently show Obama-Biden above 50 percent. When they fall below that, however, after taking a gander at some of the wild swings in the Pew Foundation chart, I’m obliged to be a bit more skeptical of their prospects anywhere they can’t win simply by holding on to what they’ve got.
Clearly, unless somebody issues them a polygraph, pollsters can’t ever be any more accurate than their respondents are truthful. Still, if the oft-cited and equally oft-misread examples of Bradley , Wilder, et. al. are any guide, the most important question about their findings may not be just how many people are lying but what they are lying about.
Of course, a lot of liberal types seem to presume that any white vote against Obama (or any other liberal black candidate, for that matter) has to be racially motivated. A lot of them surely will be, but it isn’t as if there aren’t some legitimate reasons to have some doubts about Oby (some of which, even his supporters share) or that simple partisanship won’t explain a lot of votes either way. At any rate, the Bradley Effect, or at least the fear thereof, is clearly real enough to make us wary of projections about what will happen on Nov. 4, and I can only imagine how nervous the network nabobs will be on election night when trying to use exit polls to tell us who’s winning. Without denying or excusing the Bradley Effect’s racial component, it strikes me that some of the responsibility for its tyrannical grip on our perceptions of this election lies with those who have presumed to make the simple act of a white person voting against a black person seem like prima facie evidence of being a card-carrying Kluxer.

It’s late in the game, but Johnny Mac may have found himself a teency bit of traction through his efforts to paint Barry O as a conniving socialist hell-bent on redistributing the wealth. Yessir! From the recently bailed-out tycoons up on Wall Street to the heavily subsidized big-time farmers down South, all decent, God-fearing believers in this glorious free-enterprise capitalism we practice in this country are cheering for JM to root out and destroy the malignancy of socialism that under Bolshevik Barry’s misguidance would speedily metastasize throughout the American body politic.
Since the New Deal ushered it in, the American variant of a socialistic state has survived and grown, not uniformly, but in bits and pieces and fits and starts, chiefly because few of its beneficiaries (that would be almost everybody, in one way or another) want to admit that it exists. We’re way too into rugged individualism for that. Starting with FDR, who, however unwittingly, as historian Paul Conkin has so brilliantly and concisely shown, laid the foundations for our unacknowledged welfare state, our politicians have been unwilling to tell their constituents anything other than that the government benefits accruing to them are theirs by right while assailing those aimed at other interest groups as unjustified and wasteful. Hence, for some time, the formula for success in American politics has consisted of milking the government dry for your supporters and raising ten kinds of hell when anybody else shows up with a bucket trying to squeeze out a few drops for folks who live outside your district or didn’t vote for you.
Back in the late 1960s, I worked for the Department of Agriculture as a “crop reporter,” charged with ascertaining that individuals had not planted cotton in excess of their allotted acreage, and far more importantly from the landowner’s perspective, certifying that he had left enough acreage unplanted to qualify him for the maximum government payment for not farming land that he had no intention of farming in the first place. I wish I had kept count of the number of times that I heard a guy who was getting paid not to farm launch into a tirade against the “guvmint” and all its welfare checks and food stamps lavished on people who obviously just didn’t want to work.
It was about this time that Mississippi Congressman Jamie Whitten professed to wonder if “when you start giving people something for nothing . . . you don’t destroy character more than you might improve nutrition.” Whitten showed no such concern, however, about character issues among the 350 large-scale planters in his Mississippi Delta district who received Department of Agriculture crop-control subsidy checks in amounts of more than $50,000 in 1967, with 69 of those payments topping $100,000 and some even running in excess of $200,000.

In 1964, John McCain’s Arizona predecessor, Barry Goldwater, sounded mighty good to the business and financial types when he railed against the lazy folks on “the dole” and advocated making social security voluntary. Then, however, as the old lady said when her pastor served up a sermon against dipping snuff, Goldwater “quit preachin’ and went to meddlin’” by talking about “getting big business out of government” and curtailing corporate tax breaks and other incentives. This sent such a shiver down the spines of the denizens of Wall Street that Goldwater’s Democratic opponent Lyndon Johnson achieved the unprecedented by besting his GOP rival’s contribution total from big business by nearly 50 percent.
By the way, am I the only one who’s puzzled by the folks who tear their hair at the prospect Obama raising their taxes to support his domestic agenda, but don’t even blink when told repeatedly that, at the very least, the war in Iraq is costing them a cool twelve billion bucks every month? Apparently they think that the debt for this massive and massively wasteful and harmful expenditure is just going to evaporate, never to show up on their tax bills or those of their children.
Still , we should be grateful to the McCainiacs, I suppose, for giving us a chance to save ourselves from a slick-talking socialist who has so clearly beguiled not only the resolute free marketers at The Economist, whose team of experts chose Obama’s tax plan over McCain’s by a wide margin, but the likes of Paul Volcker and even Warren Buffet. Asked to comment on Buffet’s endorsement of Obama, McCain running mate Sarah Palin shrugged, “ Who cares about some guy who spends all his time wastin’ away in Margaritaville?”

When the tumult and the shouting die, when the bands are gone and the lights are dimmed, there is the stark reality of responsibility in an hour of history haunted with those gaunt, grim specters of strife, dissension, and materialism at home, and ruthless, inscrutable, and hostile power abroad….the bloodiest, most turbulent age of the Christian era… is far from over. Sacrifice, patience, understanding, and implacable purpose may be our lot for years to come. … Let’s talk sense to the American people! Let’s tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains, that we are now on the eve of great decisions."

If you’re wondering when Barack Obama said this, then you’ve just been PUNK’D! The words above were actually uttered by Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois in his acceptance speech at the 1952 Democratic convention. Unfortunately for Adlai, his soaring, articulate rhetoric sailed over the heads of way too many voters, both in 1952, when he carried only nine states and again in 1956, when he could manage only seven. During the 1952 campaign, GOP vice-presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon and others derided the thoughtful and deliberate--and also indisputably bald-- Stevenson as an “egghead” because his answers and explanations tended to be complex and detailed rather than short and sweet. Analyzing Stevenson’s crushing defeat in 1952, one analyst thought it demonstrated above all “the extreme remoteness of the 'egghead' from the thought and feeling of the whole of the people'" From that time on, the egghead label has been a fairly consistent death sentence for politicians who seem too “professorial,” especially in the last three decades when “intellectual” has become just another word for “elitist.”
Back in August, fearing that the deliberate and thoughtful Barry O. might be just another Democratic egghead destined for omelet duty at a GOP victory brunch, hard-nosed Pennsylvania Democratic governor Ed Rendell observed that the “”bright…well spoken” Obama was “not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with."
"He is a little like Adlai Stevenson,” Rendell explained, “You ask him a question, and he gives you a six-minute answer. And the six-minute answer is smart as all get out. It's intellectual. It's well framed. It takes care of all the contingencies. But it's a lousy soundbite."
"We've got to start smacking back in short understandable bites," he said, noting "Everybody is nervous as all get out. Everybody says we ought to be ahead by 10, 15 points. What the heck is going on?"
I have to admit that I shared Rendell’s concern back then, and, even now, conditioned to believe that too many Americans now sport an attention span roughly equivalent to that of a gerbil, (Oops! Sorry to sound like an egghead.) I still agonize as Obama qualifies and clarifies everything he says, wondering if he will ever deliver the zinger line.
Six weeks after Rendell’s comments, however, Obama is actually up above 10 points in some opinion surveys. Although I think he was beginning to widen his lead at least a little before then, there’s no question that when the latest ten megaton load of feces hit the Wall Street fan, his political capital expanded exponentially as my retirement capital did precisely the opposite. That said, I believe that Obama’s refusal to take Rendell’s advice and dumb down his message and the way he delivers it has nonetheless been a critical contributor to his rising poll numbers. I confess to feeling a little bit sorry for John McCain last night as he bounced from beating the long-dead-if-ever-alive Bill Ayers horse to trying to link Obama to ACORN, which, he insisted with every ounce of melodrama he could muster, is “now on the verge of perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, and maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." I noted to a friend that the fleeting smirks that followed the almost manically agitated McCain’s incessant jabs at his opponent’s “eloquence” suggested that the poor old guy really thought he was finally spilling some big-time egghead yolk. Clearly, the utterly unruffled Oby thought differently and, just as they had after the previous encounters, so did a substantial majority of viewers worried about their jobs and savings who went for the calm and thoughtful demeanor he maintained while John McCain did his best imitation of a pissed-off chiuahaha yipping and nipping at a stolid German Shepherd. Internal polls showed that while Johnny Mac was darting around like a canine on crack, Senator Egghead was convincing them that his health plan was far better for them than McCain’s.
Even Brit Hume and the boys over at Fox had trouble talking up JM’s performance as witnessed by the telling response of this irate viewer: “What in the world is wrong with Fox News now??? I just watched these jerk panelists after the debate and they were clearly not watching the same debate I was. I guess I will now turn off the ‘balanced approach’ news program and turn on AM radio full time. Thank God for Rush!”
There’s still time for things to change, of course, and even if they don’t, although he’s smart as hell and clearly preferable to the alternative, I’m not totally convinced that Barack Obama has all the judgment or political skill needed to get us out of this mess. (For that matter, who does?) Still, even the possibility that, in a time of genuine—as opposed to manufactured-- crisis, voters might actually choose a president who is at least articulate, thoughtful and deliberate truly heartens me. It should do the same for you too, Adlai, old buddy, up there in that great ivory tower in the sky. I know you thought you’d never live to see the day—and, by golly, you didn’t— but it appears that we have finally reached the point where Joe Sixpack might actually prefer an egghead with his beer.

During the 1950 Democratic Senatorial Primary in Florida, challenger George Smathers went way beyond shamelessness in insinuating that incumbent Claude Pepper‘s relatively liberal racial and political views marked him as “the Red Pepper,” a seditious radical who might well be cashing checks cut in the Kremlin. Disgusted with this daily charade, a bored reporter covering the campaign apparently concocted a caricatured version of Smathers’s standard stump speech:
"Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy."
I thought of this oft-told story when I read that, having failed utterly to come up with anything of substantive positive appeal to voters, the McCain campaign is predictably returning to its old strategy of trying to make Barack Obama out as a sinister America-hating radical. To that end, on Saturday, the perky pit bull Governor P. is even going so far as to admit that she has read the New York Times, or at least one of its stories showing that Barry O. loves to hang out with “domestic terrorists.” Ms. P. is referring, of course, to the now somewhat long-in-the-tooth William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground group that carried out a series of bombings in the early ‘70s. (Never mind that B.O. was only ten years old back then, can anybody be sure what he was really up to when he claimed to be watching “Scooby-Doo?”) As countless news outlets have have reported, a grown-up Obama has denounced the bombings, and his primary association with Ayers came through their joint service on a charity board. Still, there’s enough there to convince at least one no-nonsense hockey mom that the guy heading the other ticket ``is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.''
Although she is better known for blasting away at moose, Palin is likely just as comfortable witch-hunting, given that she has been blessed with protection from witchcraft, as documented in a video that, for some reason GOP types don’t seem to enjoy as much as a certain other tape from their opponent’s church. Of that second video Palin observed to Bill Kristol, who is one the few elite conservatives still trying to convince us that he actually takes her seriously: “Those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character.”
What then, pray tell us Sarah P., did it say about your character, when, scarcely a month ago, you sat perfectly still in your pew while Jews for Jesus founder David Brickner stood in your church and described a July Palestinian bulldozer attack against Israeli civilians as part of God's "judgment" against them for rejecting the Messiah?
While we’re at it, we might also advise the stone chunkin’ Ms. Palin not to forget the glass house surrounding her longstanding cozy relationship with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party, whose website quotes this rather startling assertion from party founder Joe Vogler:
"I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions."
If that doesn’t get your attention, get a load of this from a taped oral history interview on file at the University of Alaska: “the fires of Hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hate for the American Government, and I won't be buried under their damn flag.” (Who knows? Maybe Jeremiah Wright has just been channeling this guy.)
Although Alaska’s “First Dude” Todd Palin was apparently an AIP member for seven years, there’s no evidence that the CEO herself ever officially signed up with this bunch of lunatics. Yet knowing full well that the group continues to push for a vote on secession, the good Guv addressed their convention a few months ago via videotape and urged them to “keep up the good work.”
Unfortunately, even well-documented right-wing radicalism has never scared as many Americans as the mere hint of such activities on the left. And, by the way, George Smathers beat Claude Pepper in 1950 and served in the Senate until 1968, distinguishing himself by voting against every major piece of civil rights legislation and staking his claim as, save only for his womanizing pal John F. Kennedy, the least celibate married politician in Washington.

Sarah Palin probably wouldn’t approve of his lifestyle, but she clearly isn’t above his political style. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, however, if Ms. Palin intends to drop the lame references to Harry Truman and latch on to George Smathers as her role model, somebody better rush out and buy her the biggest thesaurus they can find.

Rover Writes A Book


OK, I know you’ve all been on pins and needles to find out what the ol’ Bloviator thinks about last night’s VP non-debate, so here’s my scorecard:
Best Performance: Joe Biden, who, though it clearly pained him greatly to do so, somehow managed to curb his trademark gaseousness and generally keep his wingtips out of his pie hole. I confess that even though I cringe every time he opens his mouth, I actually admire ol’ Joe. He’s never forgotten where he came from or the people who are still there, and he has stood up for them for a long time. Say what you will, for a six-term senator, he either hasn’t tried very hard to line his own pockets, or if he has, he certainly hasn’t been very good at it.
Last night, once Joltin’ Joe realized that Governor Bimbo was not going to depart from her three or four hermetically sealed talking points, he lit into John McCain the way Barack Obama might have--but, probably wisely, opted not to-- in last week’s presidential sparring session. In the same way that we southerners pretend to “soften” our most hurtful remarks about someone by prefacing them with a less affectionate than condescending “Bless his heart,” Biden repeatedly assured us “I love John McCain to death” before reducing him to a pile of pulled pork.
Doggone if Sarah Six-Pack didn’t take home the “Coulda’ Been A Lot Worse, That’s for Darn Sure!" trophy by managing to staunch her bleeding a bit in last night’s proceedings, but Johnny Mac, who wasn’t even there, emerged, courtesy of his good friend Joe, with multiple colostomies and thus was the evening’s Biggest Loser. In this category, however, he was given a real run for his money by Gwen Ifill, whose should have known that her Barack Obama book deal disqualified her from moderating this affair from the get-go. Ironically, as it turned out, the real beneficiary of a compromised and apparently cowed Ifill was Sarah Palin, who was allowed to ignore any question she chose while the disengaged Ifill sometimes gave the impression that she was not even listening to what either candidate was saying. It was abundantly clear that Ifill was not the only media type who had been intimidated by McCainiac charges of “gotcha journalism,” defined here as doing anything to expose the arrogant shallowness and appalling ignorance of someone who stands a fair chance of being president sooner rather than later. A long line of reporters and pundits, headed by none other than the iconic Tom Brokaw rushed to commend Her Hockey Mom-ness for cynically flouting the formal rules of the engagement and getting away with it. Farther down the sound-byte chain one eager toady even praised Palin for giving “good answers” to questions that weren’t asked. All I can say is when Katie Couric comes across as the most professional and serious journalist covering the campaign, a heartfelt “God Help Us!” is surely in order.
As to Sarah Palin’s actual performance, let’s face it. If your dog goes over to your laptop and uses his nose to tap out a novel, your first reaction is not going to be “Rover, your plot line is pretty fuzzy at some points.” Thus it was with perky Ms. P., for whom expectations were so low that anything short of barfing moose burger on her classy new pumps was bound to be hailed as a stellar showing. Truth be told, Palin’s support base has already shrunk pretty close to an utterly irreducible core of folks who not only share her antipathy for the theory of evolution but are still a mite skeptical of recent claims that the earth isn’t flat. The McCain camp’s announced plan to put her on talk radio concedes as much, for all the likes of a flatulent, hydrocodone-crazed Rush Limbaugh have to offer is a chance to preach to a decidedly off-key choir. Somebody has to shore up the faith of the faithful, I suppose, when the polls uniformly seem to be suggesting that the ol’ “Straight Talk Express” is headed south faster than a conversion van full of crystal meth.
As I see it, the real value of these faux debates is not so much that they may help voters to make up their minds as that they may tell us when that has already happened. I was mildly surprised that McCain’s first-debate posturing and gimmickry didn’t play better than Obama’s sometimes maddening (for me, at least) restraint. Yet post-debate polls consistently showed Oby had come off quite a bit better with most viewers. (Likewise, last-night’s insta-polls and focus group analyses showed Biden the winner by comparable margins.) I’ve come to suspect that reactions to these spectacles thus far may have less to do with things like John McCain’s surly, condescending manner during the first encounter than his thoroughly ham-handed and totally transparent attempt on the eve of the debate to inject himself into the bailout game late in the fourth quarter and start claiming credit for a smashing victory that never materialized. It could well be too that some folks began to wonder how seriously McCain could be taking the financial crisis if he chose a running mate who thinks the Federal Reserve is just another one of those places where the darned government won't let you shoot anything.

Please Note: Comments are good to go. Just click and shoot, just the way John and Sarah do. By the way, the approval provision is not to protect the Ol' Bloviator's incredibly thick hide but to discourage folks from Neptune
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