November 11th, 2008

Sarah Palin Announces Prayer For the Lord To Crack Up That Door, Just A Little Bit

by Philip Baruth

Sarah Palin, in a new and exclusive Fox interview concerning her hope that God will show her the way on a 2012 run for the Presidency, should such a thing so bless her:

sarah, failin

“I’m like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. Even if it’s cracked up a little bit, maybe I’ll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it, but don’t let me miss an open door.”

That’s right: even if that door’s only cracked up a little bit. Even then, she’s plowing. Even prematurely. Even with insufficient cracking up of that open door, she’s plowing.

November 11th, 2008

Bush Breaks Away From Presidential Pack

by Philip Baruth

George W. Bush is now officially the least popular President ever: CNN puts his disapproval rating at 76%, a good 10% higher than Richard Nixon’s numbers during Watergate. So apparently the sudden emphasis on diplomacy and the charm offensive at the Beijing Olympics turned out to be more offensive than charming. This is a Presidency that will not end well, folks. Expect another vague but unsettling pretzel-choking incident here in the not too distant future.

November 10th, 2008

Good News and Bad RE: Al Franken

by Philip Baruth

The good news in the ongoing saga of VDB’s man Al Franken is that the margin between Al and Norm Coleman is rapidly narrowing: currently their totals are separated by about 200 votes. This out of some 3 million votes total. Hardly a hopeless case, and almost 50% closer than when the process began. And experts seem to agree that the history of Minnesotan recounts favors the ex-funnyman.

But of course, as is always the case, there’s bad news as well: Franken’s political future would seem to rest squarely on the shoulders of this guy, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Sure, Ritchie’s a DFLer, which is to say a liberal politician with no love lost on a guy like Coleman. But apparently Ritchie rode into the office two years ago dinging the incumbent for politicizing the position, and that means he’ll be bending over backward to be scrupulously unbiased.

Which isn’t the problem: we should be so lucky that all Secretaries of State were scrupulously unbiased.

No, the problem is that 1) the guy’s a rookie, and the problem is that 2) he looks like a manic rooster just before sunrise.

Why problematic?

Because, as Florida 2000 taught us, this process will play out in the media every bit as much as in the counting rooms. Given that Ritchie is already being described by the Star Tribune as a “liberal DFLer,” and that the Coleman campaign is already describing Franken’s gains as “dubious,” VDB foresees a suddenly national snafu along the general lines of Paul Wellstone’s funeral.

But hey, Hope is the watchword of the month. So we’ll keep quiet and do so. Hang tough, Al.

Late Update, Tuesday, 11:59 am:

That didn’t take long: GOP now hitting Ritchie as an ACORN-friendly commie. Oy.

November 7th, 2008

Only Now Can These Things Be Told

by Philip Baruth

Just to get these things off our chest, to confess. First, we never really liked the “Fired Up/Ready To Go!” chant that found its way into the majority of Obama events. Call us jaded, but there it is. Second, while we were scared and embarrassed by the candidacy of Sarah Palin, we kind of sort of liked the First Dude. A man of few words, with a certain dull self-possession. Current odds that Sarah takes Alaska’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, and Todd slides into the still-warm Governor’s chair? Even money, baby.

November 7th, 2008

Grant Park, Chicago, 2008: The Stetsons Bring Election 2008 In For A Landing

by Philip Baruth

Like most Americans, VDB watched the Obama campaign from a stationary perspective. We stayed put, for the most part, while Obama circled the country eight thousand times, lighting to speak to groups small and large. But a few Vermonters took it on the road this campaign, one of whom you’ll remember from his earlier photo diaries: Bill Stetson.

bill and jane
All photos by Bill and Jane Stetson

Bill and his wife Jane were among the very earliest Obama supporters, not just in the state but in the country. And so when it all came to a rest, suddenly, in Chicago, Bill and Jane were there. And now you are too. — PB

bill and jane

Dear VDB,

Jane and I were grabbed by a very excited crew from NECN at Logan last night, and asked what we had seen in Chicago. Like all I had talked to after we won and all day yesterday (many of us operating on 2 hrs of sleep), we could only respond: “numb.”

bill and jane

It was absolutely the most confusing feeling. We stood on the field in Grant Park, next to the stage, people as far as the eye could see, the huge lit buildings of Chicago wrapping around us to the north, and when CNN announced “Barack Obama Elected President” we heard a deafening roar, people jumped up and down, screamed, cried. Thousands of strangers hugged as if they were lost friends, reunited after years.

bill and jane

Many of us just stood, frozen, processing the sights, the feelings — I think we were feeling not just the reality of this victory after years of work, but our country coming back to us — perhaps becoming the actual country our founders intended.

bill and jane

I thought of my Carolinian great grandfather, fed up with the reality of Americans hanging from trees because of the color of their skin, reaching out to rebuild their schools and vowing to crush the Klan.

I felt so united with this brave man.

bill and jane

I felt his blood and memory in me, and the tears running down my face. Many of the tears on the faces around me were for Americans who have suffered needlessly, and for the great America ahead of us. More later — I’m exhausted but glad to be home.


bill and jane

November 6th, 2008

Post-Partum Elation: Some Loose and Disconnected Thoughts on Campaign 2008 And the New Presidential Politics

by Philip Baruth

There should be a companion term for post-partum depression: post-partum elation. This impossibly long campaign, two years in the running, finished every bit as spectacularly as anyone could have wished: not just a win but a drubbing, not just Ohio but Florida and Indiana, not just a national referendum on the Bush Presidency but a wholesale repudiation. A slam-dunk, as Tenet might say.

Chicago, November 4, 2008 (Photo by Bill Stetson)

Not just Hope for Change, but Change-Elect.

Not just no Vice President Sarah Palin, but a thoroughly distressed Palin brand, a brand still taking hits on a daily basis, from highly placed Republicans. A brand that will wear like a “Members Only” jacket come 2012.

So yes, it’s impossible to walk the streets now without smiling uncontrollably at strangers. Tough to drive to Hannaford’s without suddenly slapping the wheel and shouting “Colorado!” out the window.

Still, in addition to the elation, there’s already something undeniably post-partum about the experience, a certain airy disconnectedness, an inability to pack everything neatly away into memory.

Add to this the typical neurosis of the Left, that we will wake tomorrow to the news that recounts and petty partisan officials in Ohio or Nevada or Broward County have stripped Obama of just enough electoral votes to throw the election back into doubt, and that President Bush has appointed Harriet Miers to look into the matter.

So the disconnectedness of the experience, the joy of it, is also still tinged with electoral post-tramatic stress disorder, silly as that may be.

In all, it’s as though someone has died and willed you a thousand precious things, but the deal is that they’re scattered throughout your house, across every floor and under most chairs and a few of the beds.

And you’ll spend the next week or month sleuthing each of these things out and stowing them away in the neater, sharper categories we call memory or history depending on the scope of the mess at hand.

And until you do, you worry somewhere down deep that someone will come and take them away.

All of which is to say that we have no grand overarching narrative for you about the two-year long Obama campaign, not yet. That will take a while. What we have for you today is an entirely random collection of odd mental bits, things to think about while you microwave your Lean Cuisine, or bleach your grout.

The Triumph of Competence

After Katrina had washed away any remaining reputation for competence that Bush had brought to the White House and augmented with the early war in Afghanistan, Americans turned away in disgust.

Launching a misguided pre-emptive war with Iraq was one thing; people could tell themselves that Bush had better access to covert Intelligence, that even if it was misguided the invasion would make the world think twice about crossing us, that it was happening a world away and wasn’t all that interesting anyway.

But losing a major American city to flood, and seeing its people become high-profile refugees, permanently crippled Bush’s poll numbers.

bush crossing delaware

It was a certain elementary disgust that could not be spun, or finessed. Americans wanted an Administration that could do something, anything, well. Something that wouldn’t come crashing to the ground, leaving a pack of cronies to scurry for holes in other obscure governmental departments.

And so, when presented with a candidate whose campaign itself ran like a Swiss watch, voters perked up. Think about it: the Obama campaign beat not only a field of talented Democrats, but Hillary Clinton; not only Hillary Clinton, but Bill Clinton, and Terry MacAuliffe, the baddest fundraising operation the American political world had ever seen.

And they did it, at least partially, by playing the game better, knowing the rules better. Again, it’s almost impossible to believe that the Clinton campaign foundered on issues of basic political competence: not competing everywhere, as the front-runner; having no Plan B following a disappointing Tsunami Tuesday.

Obama hunted up as many delegates in Idaho as Hillary found in New Jersey. And that shit, as Brad Pitt tells Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise, cannot be taught.

And when reconciliation was called for, Obama reached out, and refashioned a new Party not by pushing the Clintons out but by ranging them alongside.

Later, against McCain, it was the same story: stability and competence and an unwavering message against a campaign that crashed and burned two or three times before finally going up in flames for good.

Americans saw basic competence. And they liked it.

The Triumph of Intelligence

One of the rightest things about Barack Obama, in this moment, was his academic resume: a former professor Constitutional law. A guy who taught the Constitution, to those who didn’t know too much about it.

That, as much as anything, was what I wanted to send to Washington.

Colin Powell seemed to say something similar, at just the right moment in the last weeks of the campaign. He went on Meet The Press as the exclusive guest, because the General had some things he wanted to get off his chest.

Yes, he wanted to endorse Barack Obama for President, and yes, he wanted to make sure that everyone understood he still had a lot of respect for John McCain.

But I think as much as anything he wanted to push back on a lot of nonsense put forward not just over the last eight months, but over the last eight years. So he took the McCain campaign to task for focusing on the trivial, for seeming to divide the country into those who love America and those who don’t. But more surprising to me than anything else was this line, when Powell was asked what specifically affected his choice, and I’ll quote it verbatim:

“I watched Mr. Obama, in recent weeks, and he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge — in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor.”

I almost couldn’t believe my ears: Powell said, out loud, that he preferred Obama in part due to his “intellectual curiosity.”

It was the word “intellectual” more than “curiosity,” of course, that snapped my head around. I’ve become so used to hearing the word “intellectual” used exclusively as a slur, and for a minute I couldn’t make out what Powell was saying.

But the General wanted to make sure no one missed it, and so he repeated himself later in that same quote, broadening the phrase “intellectual curiosity” into “intellectual vigor” — in other words, someone who has the mental desire to seek knowledge, and the mental stamina to stay focused until they’ve acquired some.

Now, let’s remember where we’ve been. Our current President wore his C-average at Yale as a badge of honor. This idea that Bush would make a better President because he got poorer grades was an Up-Is-Down, Weakeness-Is-Strength approach, but it worked pretty well in the end.

This logic said that you could trust George W. Bush, and you couldn’t trust Yale; it said a President, and the voters who put him into office, should always go with the gut instead of the head, emotion not logic, not only because it was a lot less work, but because the gut was bound to be right a lot more often.

And this downgrading of thoughtfulness didn’t start with Bush, by any stretch of the imagination.

There are a lot of strange things in the life of Bill Clinton: the man lost three fathers by the time he was 35, for instance, and was one of the last people in America to shake the hand of John F. Kennedy. But nothing in his biography is stranger than the fact that Clinton’s 1992 campaign had to actively hide the fact that he was a Rhodes Scholar.

The whole “Clinton Can’t Pass a McDonald’s Without Nabbing a Cheeseburger” thing was allowed to take shape partly because it contradicted the picture of an intellectually serious young man from Arkansas, going off to England to study at Oxford, and then at Yale, before settling down to make some serious changes in the way his state was governed.

Obama, on the other hand, was selected as an intelligent man. Not a great bowler. Not the guy who hands you the potato salad at the BBQ. An intelligent man.

The Defeat of Knee-Jerk Machismo

It’s not putting too fine a point on it to note that John McCain turned to a big brawny bald-headed plumber at more or less the same time that ATF officials were breaking up a neo-Nazi skinhead plot to assassinate Barack Obama.

Did John McCain incite the skinhead plot? Not in any direct way. Did he select Joe the Plumber because he was a Central Casting white macho dittohead from Ohio? Yes. And the point is that at some diffuse cultural level, the dogwhistle calls to race and xenophobia and gay-baiting prick up the ears of junkyard dogs too.

Republicans at the national level, and particularly at the Presidential level, have long made knee-jerk machismo their watchword. McCain trotted out Arnold to call Obama “skinny,” to mock his politics and his body in one fell swoop, but it wasn’t as though this was some brainstorm of Steve Schmidt.

Arnold did the same thing for Bush I, and Bush II. He comes in a few weeks before the election and questions the manhood of the Democrat. More palatable to the masses than Coulter’s use of the word “faggot” to describe John Edwards, but the same basic approach: Democrats are weak and womanly, gay or gayer, depending on whether a ballot measure on same-sex marriage is currently pending.

But this time, partially because of the issue of race, those now-standard ploys caught the light in a new way.

So Joe the Plumber, with his grim look and his burly stance and his shaved head, comparing Obama’s “tap-dancing” to Sammy Davis Jr., was revealed for what he was: a big puffed-up bully, a poser without a license, who’d somehow maneuvered himself into a position where his endorsement was to be taken as the endorsement of the white male demographic John McCain coveted.

And Ohio went for Obama. Plumb that, John and Joe.

The Defeat of Democratic Self-Defeatism

In an odd, unhealthy way, Democrats had come to love the image of themselves as a party of Losers. It was a comforting stance, somehow: the party of valiant principle and intellectual heft, constantly attacked and pillaged and left for dead by the Barbarians on the Right.

Florida 2000 never really functioned as a rallying cry for Democrats but as a paradoxical confirmation that we never deserved it in the first place. All of our guiding interpretations involved our own fault, because we were Losers: we didn’t fight hard enough, Al Gore gave up, it was his to lose and he lost it.

And Ohio 2004 strengthened that perception, that if there was an election to be lost, by any losing means necessary, we were just the folks to lose it.

If you thought Barack Obama was targeting America with the phrase, “Yes We Can,” you missed the point: that chant was mostly for Democrats. It was we who needed it repeated for 18 months before it finally sank in.

Republicans already knew they could.

obama II, 2/10/07

November 5th, 2008

Apparently VDB Became Drunk Last Night

by Philip Baruth

Apparently VDB became drunk last night. And now our head hurts, but in a hopeful way. More on the dismantling of the Bush Era, and the ups and downs of the Greatest Election Ever on the Face of the Earth, later this afternoon. Happy new America, people. Among other things, an America in which Joe the Plumber can kiss VDB’s ass. Yes, he can. And an America in which Big Joe Lieberman’s in wicked big trouble as early as Friday. Sweet. All this later today, after coffee and massive doses of generic acetaminophen.

Late Update, 10:25 am:

A concerned reader inquires:

Dear VDB,

Please post more details of your debauchery and hangover to VDB. The political analysis can come later. Are we talking Hasselhoff drunk here, or just “Tipsy Ritchie?”

[Apparently that’s the British tabloids’ new nickname for Madonna’s soon to be ex, now that he goes out drinking with Jude Law & Robert Downey, Jr. I don’t want to underestimate you, but I feel that might be a bit obscure, even for you.]

Also, get yourself a bottle or two of kombucha. It totally works. The brand called “Synergy”(I know, I know) is actually drinkable.

Enjoy the new world!


Thanks very much, S. We’re sure that more than a few readers will appreciate the hangover advice this morning. On the specific sort of drunk under discussion, put it this way: at least a Hasselhoff drunk includes food. We can only wish we’d had that kind of foresight, if you take our point.