December 13th, 2007

Clinton Campaign, Suddenly At Sea in New Hampshire, Brandishes Harpoon Gun (Now With Multiple Updates Tracking Clinton Camp Miscues)

by Philip Baruth

Well, as the Emperor says in Amadeus, there it is. A pair of polls released this morning show Obama erasing Hillary’s lead in New Hampshire, purportedly the Clinton campaign’s fire-wall against a loss in Iowa.

obama, on the picket line

And so now — what, ten hours later? — Hillary’s NH co-chair is leading an interviewer into an extended discussion of Obama’s experimentation with drugs growing up. Something Obama has admitted outright, which separates him from the Bill Clintons and the George Bushes of the world.

Clearly, if Hillary loses, she will lose having done everything possible to win, no matter how questionable. She will lose ugly. Never pretty to watch.

Late Update, Thursday, 9:30 am:

Having moved the drug question into the mainstream media, the Clinton campaign executes the two-step disengagement strategy: 1) they disavow any foreknowledge of Shaheen’s comments, and 2) Shaheen more or less disavows his own comments.

But it looks like a story with no legs, thus far.

Which makes sense, given that Obama has written about it very candidly in his memoir, the audio version of which won a Grammy. Hard to say it isn’t old news.

Obama camp has linked this attack to the now-infamous kindergarten essay attack, and both sides seem ready to step away from it. Howard Wolfson must be pulling his hair out, somewhere deep in a musty office building on the edge of Des Moines.

Latest Update, Thursday, 8:03 pm:

Turns out the story has legs after all — but all of them are kicking the Clinton campaign’s butt. Bill Shaheen has resigned, portraying it as a “personal decision.”

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass, Bill. Or really, on second thought, let it hit you just once, right in the old Shaheen.

Latest Possible Update, Ever, Friday the 14th, 2:12 pm:

New polls put Obama up significantly in Iowa. Add that news to the above, throw in the moment from last night’s debate in which he turned Hillary’s put-down about Clinton-era advisors into an ace come-back, and you’ve got a recipe for the Big Mo.

obama, on the picket line

December 12th, 2007

Blair in Breakout Role as Bush’s Dog’s Dog

by Philip Baruth

Pretty ballsy for a guy who got run out of office for acting like Bush’s poodle: a balding Tony Blair makes a guest cameo in the White House’s newest BarneyCam video. Which, correct us if we’re wrong, makes Blair not even Bush’s dog, but a guy who has to kiss up to Bush’s dog.

poodle Tony

The video and script are if you’ve got the stomach for Bush’s bad acting, the Bush twins and their constant primping, as well as a muddled script mixing the holidays and a promo for our National Parks.

All that and yes, Laura Bush in the role that first captured the heart of a nation: First Stepford Lady.

December 12th, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Jim Douglas Slips Bobby Sand & The Media Some of the Old Chronic

by Philip Baruth

Dan Barlow has a nicely detailed piece up this morning in the Rutland Herald, tracking what seems to be the end of the Bobby Sand/Jim Douglas stand-off. The only thing about it that’s flat-out wrong is the headline: “Douglas Changes Course on Pot Policy.” And that’s what counts.

uncle jim

For those who haven’t followed the dust-up, it goes something like this: Sand, a Windsor County State’s Attorney, has shown a distinct willingness over the years to move first-time marijuana offenses through a court-diversion program.

So in November, Douglas seized on a politically opportune marijuana case involving a well-connected Windsor lawyer, ordering state troopers to bypass Sand’s office and move major pot busts through the AG or the U.S. Attorney.

The Governor’s public logic?

That Sand doesn’t approach such cases on their own merits, but rather invokes an across-the-board policy in first-time offenses, regardless of extenuating circumstances. Such as being busted with 36 plants and two pounds loose, which is a healthy stash of chronic, by anyone’s standards.

Rhetorical shit then hit the rhetorical fan.

But suffice it to say that as of this morning, Douglas is reportedly “heartened” by an apology from Sand, for anything Sand may have said to add to the “perception or misperception” that Sand has a firm policy of first-time diversion, rather than a case-by-case approach.

Which brings us back to the headline of Barlow’s article: “Douglas Changes Course on Pot Policy.” Unless VDB missed something crucial, Uncle Jim changed nothing here, and got exactly what he wanted from this entire operatic exchange.

leafJim Douglas has one policy above all others, and that is to be re-elected.

In service of that policy, he selects one hot-button crime issue each re-election cycle, and hits it very hard.

Take your pick: heroin, sexual predators, civil commitment or, here in late 2007, lax drug enforcement for major marijuana busts.

No one will ever convince us that the Governor cared a whit about the Windsor attorney and her 36 plants moving through a court diversion program. But Douglas had had his eye on Sand, who is on record supporting decriminalization of marijuana, and he happened to be shopping for a new get-tough social issue anyway. It was pure kismet.

Look, we’d like a new Governor as much as the next blog, but denying reality won’t get it done: Jim Douglas worked the press, and this particular issue, exquisitely.

With Sand’s apology in hand, Douglas can plausibly claim that he bridled a runaway State’s Attorney, and saved our youth from the Gateway Drug, yet move nimbly away from the issue before Sand’s supporters have fully mobilized.

Barlow’s article should rightly have been slugged: “Douglas Secures Apology, Burnishes Anti-Drug Bona Fides.” That gets to more of the meat of it.

Which is to say that although the Democrats still have no candidate, Jim Douglas is already half-way through his two-note re-election strategy. Granted, he still has to air one lone ad painting his eventual opponent as a wild-eyed tax-and-spender, but there’s time for that.

He makes it look easy, VDB has to admit.

And in the absence of a Democratic candidate with some guts and some brains — an honest-to-god challenger rather than a run of feckless trial-balloonists — it’ll only get easier. [Hat-tip to the inimitable Lee Sanderson for the editorial cartoon below.]


December 10th, 2007

Bill Stetson Phones Home: VDB Takes You to Oprahpalooza, New Hampshire Style (Now With New Wicked Sarcastic Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Did you really think we were going anywhere else this morning? Anywhere else but Oprahpalooza? Maybe if we didn’t have roving photojournalist Bill Stetson cunningly pre-positioned across the state line at the Double O Rally in Manchester last night. But, of course, we did.

Double O Rally

The news coverage of the three-state tour has been just shy of roadblock. But journalists are a skeptical lot, particularly when it comes to anyone else’s ability to impact a Presidential race.

So most outlets dutifully detailed the intensity and scope of the gatherings, and then moved into serious chin-pulling mode: “Whether Winfrey’s popularity will translate into votes for Obama in the state’s Jan. 26 primary is an open question.”

Double O Rally

Really? Well, thank you very much, Los Angeles Times. Because if you and other media outlets hadn’t reminded us time and again, VDB would have simply assumed that the race was over as of Friday.

Double O Rally

Really, though, shouldn’t that caveat be appended to every report of everything that happens on the campaign trail? No one knows, after all, what makes people do what they do in those dark little booths, all by themselves.

Double O Rally

But we do know that enthusiasm helps. And 30,000 in South Carolina, 8,500 in Manchester — those numbers can’t be faked. That’s serious excitement, serious momentum. And many of those people will now go out and pass the experience on to their friends.

So when the meme gets set on its head middle of this week — when rival campaigns begin to argue that Oprah’s appearances were somehow a net loss for Obama — you’ll see it coming.

And you’ll know that the Obama campaign delivered this weekend on the promise of last summer, when their candidate drew 10,000 people in Oakland: they’ve now tripled that personal best.

Which bodes well, weeks out from Iowa, no matter what anyone says.

Although, of course, whether Ms. Winfrey’s media popularity will translate into votes [VDB puffs meerschaum pipe, pulls chin meditatively] remains to be seen.

Double O Rally
A few unskeptical Vermonters on hand for the Double O in Manchester, from left to right: Rebecca Kazal of Hanover, Jane and Bill Stetson, and Sarah Muyskens of Burlington. And thanks, as always, to Bill for these fine photos.

Late Update, Tuesday, December 11, 4:25 pm:

Well, that didn’t take too awful long. CNN is now running a direct variation of the “Oprah net negative” counter-meme: “Oprah Could Have Negative Effect on Obama.”

Sure, we’d like to take credit for sooth-saying, but the truth is that campaign media economics make this sort of thing all but automatic.

Hundreds of thousands if not millions of Hillary supporters, Edwards supporters and Republicans watched the Oprah endorsement with mild fear and loathing; anyone who managed to find a barely reasonable way to turn the endorsement on its head would guarantee themselves serious web traffic. See Gore endorsement of Dean, circa 2003.

That’s how we explain this story.

But how to explain the places that Howard Fineman can go?

“It’s Obama time!” [Oprah] declared, and the candidate emerged from a tunnel and onto the stage.

Whether by instinct or design, the thin-as-a-rail, youthful looking Obama looked somehow innocent as he appeared—a man-child in this setting, doted over and presented by two powerful, commanding women (his wife and his endorser).

Damn the luck! If only Oprah had said no to this whole endorsement thing. If only she’d decided to stay on-set and avoid the campaign trail. But no, she had to bring out 30,000 people to witness Obama’s emasculation.

If you need VDB, we’ll be at Chuck E. Cheese, with the other man-children, drowning our sorrows in root beer and cheese sticks.

Even Later, But Less Sarcastic Update, Wednesday, 6:54 am:

Huge news out of NH: Obama has all but erased Clinton’s lead in her “firewall” state. Clinton campaign stepping up “contrasts” apace. Grab your asbestos mitts, people, if you plan to read a newspaper any time soon.

December 8th, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut (Reprise)

by Philip Baruth


Announcer: When Kurt Vonnegut died in April, something died in Commentator Philip Baruth too. But the other night he discovered a rare Vonnegut paperback at his local supermarket, and that has made all the difference. Here’s Philip.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #208: God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

At the very front of my local mega-supermarket there’s a long table covered with books. It doesn’t seem to belong there, this table, because the books are used paperbacks, some yellow with age. Everything else in the store is blindingly new and fresh, but not these books, sales of which may benefit a charity of some kind — I’ve never been clear on that end of it.

What I do know is that the books are almost all romance novels, with titles like “Love’s Fury” and “Furious Love” and “The Year of Loving Furiously.”

I usually give the table a wide berth, because my life is a pretty precarious contraption, and any more love or fury could easily bring the whole thing crashing down.

vonnegutBut the other night, I had an honest-to-God intuition: that if I searched through every single book on that table, I’d find something rare and strange and valuable.

And there, under a stack at the back, I found it: a 1976 paperback edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s non-fiction essays called Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons. Vonnegut is a hero of mine, but I’d never seen this collection before.

It’s full of very odd little bits: Vonnegut’s address to the American Physical Society, a 1970 commencement address at Bennington College, that sort of thing. I paid a dollar in cash for the book, then stayed up long into the night reading it cover to cover.

Like most of Vonnegut’s novels, this non-fiction is very funny and very angry, and the anger stems from three linked historical events: the fire-bombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the madness of Vietnam.

Having himself survived the firebombing of Dresden in an actual underground slaughterhouse, Vonnegut was never able to entirely accept World War II as a “good war,” a clash of angels and devils.

In an address at the Wheaton College Library, Vonnegut deliberately upset that easy opposition: “We were empty-headed children in that war, as all ground soldiers are . . . . And one idea that was put into our heads was that our enemies were so awful, so evil, that we, by contrast, must be remarkably pure. That illusion of purity, to which we were entitled in a way, has become our curse today.”

The more you read of Vonnegut, the more you realize that whenever he speaks of World War II, he also means Vietnam. And the genuinely heart-breaking thing about reading these non-fiction snippets in 2007 is how clearly and directly a deceased Kurt Vonnegut is also addressing Iraq, and the War on Terror.

To take one mind-blowing example, there’s a little three-page snippet from 1971 called “Torture and Blubber,” published just after the the Pentagon Papers. Among other things, Vonnegut is livid that the secret documents showed top Pentagon officials explicitly referring to their bombing campaigns as an instrument of torture, like the rack.

“I am sorry we tried torture,” Vonnegut says, once he’s settled down, “I am sorry we tried anything. I hope we never try torture again. It doesn’t work. Human beings are stubborn and brave animals everywhere. They can endure amazing amounts of pain if they have to. The North Vietnamese and the Vietcong have had to.”


In a sense, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons bears out all of the anti-War arguments of the 21st-century Left. But lest anyone get too comfortable with even that black-and-white opposition, Vonnegut also rebukes pacifists like himself.

His are words to remember in the coming year, no matter who wins the White House: “Never mind who lied. Everybody should shut up for a while. Let there be deathly silence as our armada sails home.”

[This piece aired on Vermont Public Radio. You can listen to the commentary here.]

December 6th, 2007

Breaking News: One More Undeniable Sign That The Vermont Delegation Don’t Play

by Philip Baruth

You look to VDB for breaking news, news you can’t find anywhere else. And we’re there for you. When Pat Leahy made Green Mountain Coffee Roasters the official java of the Senate Judiciary Committee, VDB was all over it like white on rice. Or brown on — coffee beans. Whatever.

o xmas tree

And now, we bring you something even more awe-inspiring. That, friends, is no ordinary Capitol Christmas Tree, standing on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. No, that tree was cut from the Green Mountain National Forest near Bennington.

Look on Vermont’s works, ye mighty, and despair. And happy holidays, of course.

December 5th, 2007

Ron Paul Finally Hits The Big Time: Now Being Smeared By Trumped-Up “Brothel Endorsement” In Nevada (With SFW Video)

by Philip Baruth

Ron Paul, like Dean in 2003, has been invisibly empowered well past the point of comfort for many in more visible positions of power. There is talk that his forces could easily disrupt other candidates’ plans in NH, if not deliver the nomination outright. Which means it’s time for the media to amp up the wackiness quotient, and attribute it to Paul.

ron paul

For example, check out this news report from a local AP affiliate in Nevada. Ostensibly, the reporter is covering a brothel owner’s “endorsement” of Paul, but you don’t have to watch long to see that it’s a low-grade hatchet job.

And not just on Paul: the brothel owner volunteers the information that 60% of his clientele are Democrats.

NB: Nevada is scheduled to caucus January 19th, in the sweet spot between Iowa/New Hampshire and Super-Super February 5.

So look for more brothel “endorsements” and hooker “honk and waves” out of the Silver State going forward.

December 5th, 2007

Santorum Sets Diligently to Work on String of Narrow, Flatulent Columns For Paper That Presciently Labeled Him “Doofus”

by Philip Baruth

We would be remiss if we didn’t cover the breath-taking news out of Pennsylvania last month: values-champion Rick Santorum began a weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. You might expect that Santorum’s maiden effort wouldn’t be worth your time. And you’d be right, in almost every way but one: the first several grafs could easily have been written by VDB. A delicious excerpt:

santorum and brood

‘Odd.” It is, indeed, odd to write a column every other Thursday for a paper that used that very word to describe me. Actually, odd was one of the nicer terms used in The Inquirer to describe me. Imagine these words next to your name in your high school yearbook — disingenuous, snake oil peddler, smug, arrogant, chicken-livered, intolerant and fatalistic.

And most of those labels were in news stories.

My new employer also claimed not so long ago that I “inspire contempt” and “have lost my mind” and that my actions bore a remarkable resemblance to Joe McCarthy’s. You know? The namesake of McCarthyism.

At the time, I took solace from the implied compliment. At least The Inquirer thought I was making a substantial mark on my generation. Not bad for someone they also called a “doofus.”

— Rick Santorum, 11/8/07

December 4th, 2007

Sox Fan Alert: Obama Goes to Fenway

by Philip Baruth

The news continues to trend in Obama’s favor: the new NIE on Iran makes amply clear that those pumping military confrontation with Iran have run way out ahead of the facts, and Hillary Clinton has dropped double digits in national polling. A perfect moment to come to Boston, to storied Fenway Park, and borrow a little Red Sox magic.


The Obama campaign held an event at Fenway two nights ago, and for die-hard Sox fans the view out the windows of the venue was choice. (The field seems to be under construction, but how else to stay on the cutting edge?)

A hopeful crowd: more than a few polls now show Obama out in front in Iowa, and he picked up the of the Mayor of Des Moines just days ago.


But it’s good to remember that this is deadly serious business, this business of seeking the Presidency. Wherever the candidate goes these days, a man with a serious earpiece is positioned withing striking distance. History shows that primaries can be more dangerous than the Presidency itself.

America, in a nutshell.

[Thanks to Bill Stetson for the glimpse of the action.]


December 1st, 2007

After Sorting Frantically Through Old Air Supply and Gino Vannelli Albums, Douglas Campaign Seeks Help Getting Groove On

by Philip Baruth

Over at the Prog Blog, they’ve asked the most pointed and pressing question of the 2008 Vermont election cycle thus far: what theme song should the Douglas campaign adopt in order to seem wildly out of touch not only with popular culture but with the lyrics of the actual song itself?

douglas won't let go
In 2004, for reasons that remain unclear, Jim Douglas ultimately refused to let go of this man’s award.

Click here for the poll, and MP3’s of the five songs in the running. Each is tempting, but personally, I’d have preferred Jim Croce’s “Don’t Mess Around With Jim.”

Why? Because like Reagan picking “Born in the USA,” the Douglas campaign picking the Croce tune would make superficial sense, and then fall apart once voters actually re-read the lyrics.

Big Jim is the baddest thing on 42nd Street for two choruses, that is, until someone comes along who doesn’t believe the hype. And then Slim mops up the floor with him, to teach him a lesson about “hustlin’ people’s dreams.”

If you see VDB’s point.

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