Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Reading

The Insiders: Jane Mayer at The New Yorker on how Gov. Sarah Palin has been courting the Washington insiders to climb the GOP ladder all along.

From the start of her political career, Palin has positioned herself as an insurgent intent on dislodging entrenched interests. In 1996, a campaign pamphlet for her first mayoral run—recently obtained by The New Republic—strikes the same note of populist resentment that Palin did at the Convention: “I’m tired of ‘business as usual’ in this town, and of the ‘Good Ol’ Boys’ network that runs the show here.” Yet Palin has routinely turned to members of Washington’s Old Guard for help. After she became the mayor of Wasilla, Palin oversaw the hiring of a law firm to represent the town’s interests in Washington, D.C. The Wasilla account was handled by Steven Silver, a Washington-area lobbyist who had been the chief of staff to Alaska’s long-serving Republican senator Ted Stevens, who was indicted in July on charges of accepting illegal gifts and is now standing trial. (Silver declined to discuss his ties to Palin.) As the Washington Post reported, Silver’s efforts in the capital helped Wasilla, a town of sixty-seven hundred residents, secure twenty-seven million dollars in federal earmarks. During this election season, however, Palin has presented herself as more abstemious, saying, “I’ve championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress.”

In February, 2007, Adam Brickley gave himself a mission: he began searching for a running mate for McCain who could halt the momentum of the Democrats. Brickley, a self-described “obsessive” political junkie who recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, told me that he began by “randomly searching Wikipedia and election sites for Republican women.” Though he generally opposes affirmative action, gender drove his choice. “People were talking about Hillary at the time,” he recalled. Brickley said that he “puzzled over every Republican female politician I knew.” Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, “waffled on social issues”; Senator Olympia Snowe, of Maine, was too moderate. He was running out of options, he recalled, when he said to himself, “What about that lady who just got elected in Alaska?” Online research revealed that she had a strong grassroots following; as Brickley put it, “I hate to use the words ‘cult of personality,’ but she reminded me of Obama.”

Frank Rich: The lingering scent of W.

As the G.O.P.’s long night of the long knives begins, myths are already setting in among the right’s storm troops and the punditocracy alike as to what went wrong. And chief among them are the twin curses of Bush and the “headwinds” of the economy. No Republican can win if the party’s incumbent president is less popular than dirt, we keep being told, or if a looming Great Depression 2 is Issue No. 1.

This is an excuse, not an explanation. It absolves McCain of much of the blame and denies Obama much of the credit for their campaigns. It arouses pity for McCain when he deserves none. It rewrites history.

Bush’s impact on the next Republican presidential candidate did not have to be so devastating. McCain isn’t, as he and his defenders keep protesting, a passive martyr to a catastrophic administration. He could have made separating himself from Bush the brave, central and even conservative focus of his campaign. Far from doing that, he embraced the Bush ethos — if not the incredible shrinking man himself — more tightly than ever. The candidate who believes in “country first” decided to put himself first and sell out his principles. That ignoble decision is what accounts for both the McCain campaign’s failures and its sleaze. It’s a decision McCain made on his own and for which he has yet to assume responsibility.

Though it seems a distant memory now, McCain was a maverick once. He did defy Bush on serious matters including torture, climate change and the over-the-top tax cuts that bankrupted a government at war and led to the largest income inequality in America since the 1930s. But it isn’t just his flip-flopping on some of these and other issues that turned him into a Bush acolyte. The full measure of McCain’s betrayal of his own integrity cannot even be found in that Senate voting record — 90 percent in lockstep with the president — that Obama keeps throwing in his face.

The Bushian ethos that McCain embraced, as codified by Karl Rove, is larger than any particular vote or policy. Indeed, by definition that ethos is opposed to the entire idea of policy. The whole point of the Bush-Rove way of doing business is that principles, coherent governance and even ideology must always be sacrificed for political expediency, no matter the cost to the public good.


At least McCain had half a point on Wednesday night when he said, “I am not President Bush.” What he has offered his country this year is an older, crankier, more unsteady version of Bush. Tragically, he can no sooner escape our despised president than he can escape himself.

Hope for a Loss: Amendment 2 — the ban on same-sex marriage in Florida — is polling below 60%, the threshold needed to pass.

The poll of 600 likely voters shows support for Amendment 2 at 53 percent, less than the 60 percent approval rate required to change the constitution.

The gay-marriage question is one of six statewide referendums on this year’s lengthy ballot. The poll found uncertainty high on all of the rest, which range from tax breaks for homeowners who install hurricane protection to elimination of racist language from the state constitution.

Backers of the gay-marriage ban say the poll should be a wakeup call to conservatives to vote. Opponents say the poll shows they have made progress in explaining that the proposal could jeopardize domestic partnership benefits that many governments and companies offer straight and gay employees.

Gay marriage has been prohibited under state law for more than a decade, but supporters say a constitutional amendment would protect the law from court challenges.

The amendment would define marriage as between a man and a woman and would say that no “substantial equivalent” is legal either. Opponents fear that if the amendment passes, conservatives will raise legal challenges to domestic partnership benefits, from health insurance to hospital visitation rights.

Voters are split over the use of the term “marriage,” said Del Ali, whose firm conducted the poll. The poll found strong sentiment for same-sex couples’ having the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. Seventy-seven percent of those polled favored equal rights for same-sex couples, while 15 percent were opposed and 8 percent were undecided.

Support for Amendment 2 was weakest among women and Democrats and strongest among men and Republicans. Just over half of the independents surveyed opposed the amendment, almost as high as the Democratic opposition.

– The Miami Herald endorses Barack Obama:

In other elections, voters have complained of having to make a choice between two bad candidates. That is not the case this time. The nation is fortunate to have good candidates and a clear choice. Sen. Obama represents the best chance for America to make a clean break with the culture wars and failed policies of the past, and begin to restore the hope and promise of America as the world’s greatest democracy.

Following the trend of some other papers, the Herald lists the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as one of Mr. McCain’s liabilities.

Doonesbury: Blogging for dignity and dollars.

Opus: Steve’s exposure.