The Owls and the Pussycat

I recommend this article by Jane Mayer in the current New Yorker on how Palin was chosen to be VP.  It reveals that she was chosen more or less because a small boatful (literally) of conservative Beltway policy-wonk nerds thought, on the basis of one lunch, that she was charismatic and hot.  It all reminds me of that Edward Lear poem: the Owls and the Pussycat, at sea with a honey and plenty of money, of course.  In this Lear drawing, imagine William Kristol as the owl.

Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau. Writers and editors from these publications had been enlisted to deliver lectures to politically minded vacationers. “The Governor was more than happy to meet these guys,” Joe Balash, a special staff assistant to Palin, recalled.

On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard s top writers: William Kristol, the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and a regular commentator on “Fox News Sunday”; Fred Barnes, the magazine’s executive editor and the co-host of “The Beltway Boys,” a political talk show on Fox News; and Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for President Bush and a Washington Post columnist.

…Fred Barnes recalled being “struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident. Maybe because she had been a beauty queen, and a star athlete, and succeeded at almost everything she had done.” It didn’t escape his notice, too, that she was “exceptionally pretty.”… Barnes was dazzled by Palin’s handling of the hundred or so mineworkers who gathered to meet the group. “She clearly was not intimidated by crowds—or men!” he said. “She’s got real star quality.”  By the time the Weekly Standard pundits returned to the cruise ship, Paulette Simpson said, “they were very enamored of her.” In July, 2007, Barnes wrote the first major national article spotlighting Palin, titled “The Most Popular Governor,” for The Weekly Standard. Simpson said, “That first article was the result of having lunch.”

…The other journalists who met Palin offered similarly effusive praise: Michael Gerson called her “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” The most ardent promoter, however, was Kristol, and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska’s political circles…. The next day, however, Kristol was still talking about Palin on Fox. “She could be both an effective Vice-Presidential candidate and an effective President,” he said. “She’s young, energetic.” … On July 22nd, again on Fox, Kristol referred to Palin as “my heartthrob.” He declared, “I don’t know if I can make it through the next three months without her on the ticket.”

Soon after, a second boat of wonks showed up in Juneau for a taste of Alaskan hospitality.

On August 1, 2007, a few weeks after the Weekly Standard cruise departed from Juneau, Palin hosted a second boatload of pundits, this time from a cruise featuring associates of National Review….Hanson, the historian, recalled Palin in high heels, “walking around this big Victorian house with rough Alaska floors, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Sarah.’ ” She was “striking,” he said. “She has that aura that Clinton, Reagan, and Jack Kennedy had—magnetism that comes through much more strongly when you’re in the same room.”… Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor at National Review, had a more elemental response. In an online column, he described Palin as “a former beauty-pageant contestant, and a real honey, too. Am I allowed to say that? Probably not, but too bad.”

It’s just kind of amazing how evident these nerds’ sexual attraction to Palin is — it’s more text than subtext.  So bizarre and shocking how little was known about her beyond her “charisma” and impeccable conservative ideology.

Andrew Sullivan has a good post today:

My view is that after the McCain peeps had made that crazy decision and realized after the fact what they had on their hands, they put their best face on it. They knew that the normal rules for a veep – a press conference, full media accessibility, airing of all the biographical details – would have required the candidate to quit before November. So they tried to shield her from actual democracy – a dangerous decision for the rest of us, but a rational, cynical decision for a campaign running a delusional liar as the potential next president of the US. Palin of course, lives in her own little, somewhat nutty, world and now believes her manifest destiny has been thwarted.

It’s a massive, unmissable clusterfuck and has been for two months. They just can’t hide it any longer. And the pick is a devastating one – because it basically destroys John McCain’s credibility as a presidential decision-maker. His first major decision as a future president is one of the worst in American political history. That alone should be enough to seal his fate next Tuesday. You need nothing else.

An Election Day rout?

I know it’s not in our nature to feel sanguine about the election, but I think it’s starting to become clear that it is almost certainly going to be a blowout.  Or at least, an Obama/Democratic victory by a comfortable margin.  Now, it might be preferable for people to stay nervous and as motivated as possible to get out the vote… but read this (from Politico) and try to imagine how this story concludes with a McCain victory.  (fivethirtyeight.com now gives McCain a 3.7% chance of victory, btw.)

Blame game: GOP forms circular firing squad:

With despair rising even among many of John McCain’s own advisers, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering — much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely….

These public comments offer a whiff of an increasingly acrid behind-the-scenes GOP meltdown — a blame game played out through not-for-attribution comments to reporters that operatives know will find their way into circulation.

I’m trying to allow myself to enjoy this and just indulge in the sheer pleasure of some of the details: the Michelle Bachmann self-immolation, Palin’s shopping spree, etc. (something new almost every day)

Alan Greenspan/ Thomas Gradgrind

Sorry for all the Dickens-related posts, but this amazing scene of Alan Greenspan admitting the failure of his free-market ideology reminds me of Thomas Gradgrind’s anguished confession to his daughter Louisa, whose life he has destroyed with his inhumane utilitarian philosophy:

“I have proved my — my system to myself, and I have rigidly administered it; and I must bear the responsibility of its failures.  I only entreat you to believe, my favorite child, that I have meant to do right.”

Here’s the Ayn Rand acolyte Greenspan admitting to Congress that his ideology didn’t really turn out so well:

Published: October 23, 2008

Facing a firing line of questions from Washington lawmakers, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman once considered the infallible maestro of the financial system, admitted on Thursday that he “made a mistake” in trusting that free markets could regulate themselves without government oversight….

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

Who looks more Presidential?

I had noticed this moment during the broadcast, but had not quite realized how very nuts McCain looked.  (As George who sent me this put it, still photography can be so cruel.)

Also, now that I have a post on the debate going, can I just say that if you’re a Presidential candidate trying to nail down the soccer/hockey/whatever mom vote, “women’s health” is probably not the best phrase to put in sarcastic SCARE QUOTES.  Really could not believe he did that — one of those mask-slipping moments.

Whether McCain Deserves Blame for the Meltdown

Matt Taibbi and Byron York Butt Heads Over Whether McCain Deserves Blame for the Wall Street Meltdown

This is hilarious and great:

M.T.: I’m saying that you’re talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren’t going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They’re going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I’m still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I’m guessing you’ve never even heard of them.

I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn’t pay off their mortgages? …Tick tick tick. Hilarious sitting here while you frantically search the Internet to learn about the cause of the financial crisis — in the middle of a live chat interview.

B.Y.: Look, you can keep trying to make this a specifically partisan and specifically Gramm-McCain thing, but it simply isn’t. We’ve gone on for fifteen minutes longer than scheduled, and that’s enough. Thanks.

M.T.: Thanks. Note, folks, that the esteemed representative of the New Republic has no idea what the hell a credit default swap is. But he sure knows what a minority homeowner looks like.

B.Y.: It’s National Review.

I now ♥ Matt Taibbi, who I think went to high school with Sarah — gotta read his book The Great Derangement.

Canvassing for Obama again

I went canvassing with our friend Steve on Sunday afternoon.  About half of the names on our list were in this huge, bleak development of apartment units southwest of town.  A lot of “Not Homes” although sometimes we could hear someone there, and one “Refused” (a guy who slammed the door in our face).  But there were two gratifying encounters.  One was a self-described 33 year old mother of three who has never voted before and is gung-ho for Obama (although is also planning to vote for our incumbent Republican governor Mitch Daniels — there’s a lot of this, apparently).  She was really fired up and told us about how she convinced her mother that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to vote for another rich Republican born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  “Obama was born with nothing, so he knows what that’s like.”  She was happy to learn about early voting, so we felt we’d accomplished something, albeit minor (the Obama people are very eager to get people to vote early in order to reduce lines on Nov. 4).

The other memorable one was deep into the depressing complex.  This shirtless dude entirely covered with tattoos and with peeling skin on his back answered the door and got his wife, also extensively tattood in what seemed an especially unsystematic/piecemeal way.  She said she’d never voted before but had registered this time, and is going to vote for Obama.  She said she was really glad we’d come by, because she didn’t know where or how to vote.  It came out that she had no idea what Democrat or Republican means, basically did not have any sense of what a political party is.  I got the feeling that she was worried that the process of trying to vote might be somehow embarrassing or difficult (I actually wish we’d explained the process in more detail).  Steve did a great job of trying to explain the party system concisely and sort of nudging her towards voting the Democratic ticket, although she too seemed inclined to vote for My Man Mitch (she had no sense that there’d be anything strange in doing so).  We left her with a handful of campaign leaflets.  Steve mentioned afterwards that she’d made a reference, which I’d missed, about “not caring what religion” Obama is, so she’d clearly gotten some of the emails claiming he’s a Muslim.

We got canvassed the other day, and I had this visceral sense of how that experience of chatting with a stranger who’s come to your door about the election does make it seem that much more concrete and not in a realm of media abstraction, even for someone like me who is thinking and talking about it all the time.

Here’s one way to do some canvassing, start here at the Obama/Biden site.

Perpetual Garage Sales in Elkhart, Indiana

Sad NY Times article about hard times in Elkhart, Indiana:

To understand just how grim things have gotten in this northern Indiana town, consider a new law passed last month by the City Council that limits residents to one garage sale a month.

It seems the perpetual garage sales — which for scores of people in this town are a sole source of income, and for others the only source of clothing — were annoying some residents. The restrictions will make the financial pinch that much tighter.

“I have no other option,” said Todd Baker, 34, who lost his factory job in July right before his wife gave birth to their third child. Friday was his last permissible day to sell old children’s clothing, muffin tins, a fake white Christmas tree, stereo speakers and dozens of household doodads out of his garage…

Elkhart, near the Michigan border in an area known as Michiana, is the white-hot center of the meltdown of the American economy. Its main industries, the manufacturing of recreational vehicles and motor homes, have fallen apart over the last year because of high gasoline prices. That has taken down ancillary businesses like R.V. parts suppliers and storage warehouses.

The jobless rate in Elkhart has increased more than in any metropolitan area in the country; it rose over 4.8 percentage points from August 2007 to August 2008.

This obviously shows why/how Indiana is in play for Obama.  There are probably a lot of desperate people in Elkhart and elsewhere in the state whose natural instincts would, in normal circumstances, lead them without question to the white P.O.W. air force fighter pilot over the black Hawiian/Kenyan former Chicago community organizer… but these aren’t ordinary times.

I taught Dickens’ Hard Times last week and kept thinking about resonances between the novel and our moment.  This article made me think about the role of entertainment and “amusement” (to use Dickens’s term) in our economy.  Hard Times puts a traveling circus at the heart of its imagery as a symbol of the need for imagination, play, and entertainment in everyday life.  Part of what I found sad about this article is the way the fate of this town has been linked to the manufacture of Recreational Vehicles.  Of course the 7 m.p.g. R/V is as good a symbol as any of the arrogant recklessness of the U.S. over the past several decades in terms of energy use.  But if you can bracket that, you can also see the R/V as an embodiment of American optimism and the middle-class promise of a retirement filled with travel and modest adventure/exploration.  That promise is now basically lost in such a dramatic way that people aren’t simply selling their R/Vs at bargain-basement rates, but the whole industry is disappearing into an economic black hole of “perpetual garage sales.”

Maybe that’s a subject for a different post, but until a year ago we lived in a slightly more modest neighborhood in town where there was a bit of the perpetual garage sale phenomenon.  For a while our neighbor across the street, a U.S. mailwoman we were friends with, had one every weekend — or she let some friend or cousin or something who lived in the country outside of town use her driveway for one.  It drove me a little crazy, this weekly sale with something of the quality of a Dollar Store — a lot of random cheap stuff (“muffin tins, a fake white Christmas tree,” etc.) some of it presumably purchased to sell here.  It’s a big class divide: the yard sale as a fun, very occasional family ritual, on the one hand — a chance for the kids to sell some of their old toys and clear out the basement — and on the other, as a serious opportunity to eke out an additional $100 or whatever for the week.

Going canvassing again this afternoon…