Saturday, October 18, 2008

Yes, Virginia, there is a real Virginia

By J. Thomas Duffy

Uhhh... what did she just say? Miss Teen South Carolina 2007

Oh! ... I'm sorry, I meant to post this video:

McCain advisor on the "real Virginia"

What is with these people?

Is it in the water they drink? ... The air quality at the Dead Campaign Express HQ? ... Are they working from a "How-To-Run-A-Presidential-Campaign-for-Dummies"?

I happened to be watching MSNBC when this interview occurred, and it was a jaw-dropper.

McKKKain flak Nancy Puss'n'Boots actually dismissed Northern Virginia, pointed to the "southern part" as the "real Virginia," and then, when given the opportunity to correct herself, reiterated it!

From Joe Sudbay, over at AMERICAblog:

Here's the transcript:

KEVIN CORKE: Okay. You’re talking about winning this year, but that's going to require that you win states like – well, like Virginia, for example. And as someone who is now in northern Virginia, we're both right here, we get it. Northern Virginia is increasingly strong in the state. They have more political clout. Democrats have won the statehouse; Jim Webb’s surprising victory in the Senate. It would seem to me that there could be a tipping of the balance there. Would you agree with that? And that maybe be – you know, maybe that's where he has to focus his energy now.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER: Well, Kevin, I certainly agree that northern Virginia has gone more Democratic. You know, as a proud resident of Oakton, Virginia, I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia. And that's really what you see there. But the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message. And remember that, you know, you’ve got places in other states like northern Wisconsin, the iron range of Minnesota, south-central and southeastern Pennsylvania, the St. Louis suburbs and the rural areas of Missouri that are very responsive to our message. And again we're taking it to them in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. He’s having to fight to defend there, as you can tell because he's deployed people like the Clintons out in Pennsylvania. And every speech Joe Biden gives, he says, “I’m from Scranton.” You don't know what else he's going to say, but he sure gets that line in.

CORKE: Hey Nancy, I’m going to give you a chance to climb back off that ledge. Did you say "real Virginia"?

PFOTENHAUER: I did say outside of north – well, I mean real Virginia, because northern Virginia is where I’ve always been, but real Virginia I take to be the – this part of the state that is more southern in nature, if you will. Northern Virginia is really metro D.C., as you're aware, Kevin.

CORKE: All right. I’m just going to let you -- you’re aware of that one. I’m just saying.


This comes within the 36-48-hour window of The Wasilla Whiz Kid shooting out code at one of her mob rallies, indicating how she likes to travel to the pro-American parts of the country (versus, by implication, those pallin'-with-terrorists, anti-American parts of the country), and, of course, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's "flush'em-out-call-to-arms" of bringing back McCarthyism and purging Congress of those with anti-American thoughts.

Now, we know that Stumblin' Bumblin' Fly Boy has no capacity for pulling up Google, or using a computer, but does it extend to the entire staff?

Being in and/or talking about Virginia?

What happened in Virginia, just short two-years ago?

Here's Lowell, from Raising Kane, if Puss'n'Boots wanted to go to a lifeline:

My god, how stupid can these McCain people be? First, they call Arlington and Alexandria "communist country." Then, Sarah Palin talks about how only the rural, "small town" (like Wasilla?) parts of America are "pro-America." Now, McCain spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer channels George Allen's "macaca" moment, when among other things he welcomed S.R. Sidarth - a lifelong resident of Fairfax County - to "America and the real world of Virginia."

And, as Steve Benen points out:

Hmm. Virginia is a key swing state, with 13 electoral votes, and recent polling showing Obama with a modest lead. The state's two most populous counties -- Fairfax and Prince William Counties -- are both in northern Virginia.

And the McCain campaign keeps insulting them.

If there's a clever angle to this strategy, it's hiding well.

They really must be strivin' for that Rovian Utopia, of a 50.1% - 49.9% mandate.


Bonus Nancy Puss'n'Boots Paw-in-Mouth Riffs

ABC News: McCain Adviser Says Northern Virginia Not "Real" Virginia

Think Progress: Pfotenhauer Insults Virginians: ‘Real Virginia’ Is Only Where McCain Is Winning

NPR: Nancy Pfotenhauer: McCain and the Faith Community

Crooks and Liars: Shuster refuses to be spun by Nancy Pfotenhauer

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Wow: Obama in St. Louis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"All I can say is, wow," said Obama, standing in front of 100,000 people in St. Louis, under the Gateway Arch, a record crowd for his presidential campaign.

As the WSJ puts it: "To be sure, big crowds don't always signal a big turnout on Election Day. But Obama's ability to draw his largest audience yet in a typically red state that just weeks ago looked out of reach, could signal a changing electoral map."

The current RCP Average for Missouri is Obama +2.5. A recent CNN poll had McCain up by a single point, but most polls conducted this month have had Obama in the lead. The most recent poll, by Rasmussen, has him up by six points.

What else can one say about the excitement Obama is generating? (Contrast this with the vicious mob scenes at McCain-Palin rallies.)

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An historic endorsement from Obama's hometown newspaper

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As I noted yesterday, The Washington Post has endorsed Obama.

And as Mustang Bobby notes today, three other major newspapers -- the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- have also endorsed Obama. Another one is The Denver Post.

I can't say I'm surprised, except when it comes to Obama's hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune. Why? Because it's one of the most Republican newspapers in the country. In fact:

This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

Over at TMV, Elrod has the full list of the paper's presidential endorsements: "Not a single Democrat, until now. No FDR. No JFK. No LBJ in 1964."

Yet, now, the Tribune is "proud" to endorse Obama. And it actually goes so far as to liken him to none other than Lincoln, a fellow Illinoisan:

Obama is deeply grounded in the best aspirations of this country, and we need to return to those aspirations.

When Obama said at the 2004 Democratic Convention that we weren't a nation of red states and blue states, he spoke of union the way Abraham Lincoln did.

It may have seemed audacious for Obama to start his campaign in Springfield, invoking Lincoln. We think, given the opportunity to hold this nation's most powerful office, he will prove it wasn't so audacious after all. We are proud to add Barack Obama's name to Lincoln's in the list of people the Tribune has endorsed for president of the United States.

Simply put, the Tribune knows Obama well, and this editorial is astonishing in its praise:

On Dec. 6, 2006, this page encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign. We wrote that he would celebrate our common values instead of exaggerate our differences. We said he would raise the tone of the campaign. We said his intellectual depth would sharpen the policy debate. In the ensuing 22 months he has done just that.

Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

Yes he is. And maybe I shouldn't be surprised that even this most Republican of newspapers has endorsed him. As I have been saying for a long time -- and I myself endorsed Obama on February 5, Super Tuesday -- he is what America and the world need in the White House, and he has already proven himself to be one of the most brilliant political figures -- one of the most brilliant leaders -- of our time. With a message of hope and change, with the goal of achieving America's full potential, of realizing at long last that "more perfect union," and with a substantive policy platform that addresses our most pressing concerns, he has inspired many of us in a way and to a degree that we have never been inspired before.

The Chicago Tribune knows this because it knows him. Not even a long history of Republican partisanship can stand up to Obama in 2008.

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The return of McCarthyism

By Libby Spencer

Apparently mistaking a recent Hardball appearance as an audition to become the latest face of reckless demagoguery, Rep. Michele Bachman gave voice to the most rabid and vile imaginings of the increasingly violent GOP base. She hints darkly of widespread anti-Americanism within the Congressional chambers. The video is at the link, I can't bring myself to repeat it here.

Immediately after the segment, Katrina Vandenheuvel issues the appropriate, and surprisingly impassioned, rebuke.

Chris, I fear for my country. I think what we just heard is a congresswoman channeling Joe McCarthy, channeling a politics of fear and loathing and demonization and division and distraction. Not a single issue mentioned. This is a politics at a moment of extreme economic pain in this country that is incendiary, that is so debased, that I'm almost having a hard time breathing, because I think it's very scary.

Bachman's hateful remarks are not only scary, they verge on criminally irresponsible. I think she should be immediately censured by her peers. If you agree, join concerned Americans and sign the petition and pass the link on. The signators have already doubled in number in the last few hours.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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The Palin Factor

By Mustang Bobby

Sen. Barack Obama is way ahead in endorsements by major newspapers across the country, including some big surprises such as the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, both considered to be conservative in ownership and editorially, and others in regions that would be considered the bedrock of conservatism such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But what's interesting is one of the common factors these papers noted in making their endorsements: they all see the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as the deal-breaker for John McCain.

Here's the Los Angeles Times:

John McCain distinguished himself through much of the Bush presidency by speaking out against reckless and self-defeating policies. He earned The Times' respect, and our endorsement in the California Republican primary, for his denunciation of torture, his readiness to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his willingness to buck his party on issues such as immigration reform. But the man known for his sense of honor and consistency has since announced that he wouldn't vote for his own immigration bill, and he redefined "torture" in such a disingenuous way as to nearly embrace what he once abhorred.

Indeed, the presidential campaign has rendered McCain nearly unrecognizable. His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was, as a short-term political tactic, brilliant. It was also irresponsible, as Palin is the most unqualified vice presidential nominee of a major party in living memory. The decision calls into question just what kind of thinking -- if that's the appropriate word -- would drive the White House in a McCain presidency. Fortunately, the public has shown more discernment, and the early enthusiasm for Palin has given way to national ridicule of her candidacy and McCain's judgment.

The Chicago Tribune:

We might have counted on John McCain to correct his party's course. We like McCain. We endorsed him in the Republican primary in Illinois. In part because of his persuasion and resolve, the U.S. stands to win an unconditional victory in Iraq.

It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days. He argued that President Bush's tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, but he now supports them. He promises a balanced budget by the end of his first term, but his tax cut plan would add an estimated $4.2 trillion in debt over 10 years. He has responded to the economic crisis with an angry, populist message and a misguided, $300 billion proposal to buy up bad mortgages.

McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate--but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin's exposure to the public. But it's clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment's notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

...the competence of McCain’s campaign staff is itself cause to question the candidate’s executive abilities. To some degree, the rigors of creating and running a campaign organization can be a test of the skills needed to create and run an administration. And even many Republicans acknowledge that the McCain campaign has been poorly organized and erratic, lurching from one crisis to another without the sense of a strong hand at the tiller.

Columnist William Kristol, a longtime McCain backer, calls the McCain campaign “close to being out–and–out dysfunctional,” concluding that “its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic.”

And of course, the most unfortunate evidence of that “strategic incoherence and operational incompetence” was McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a person utterly unprepared for the high post in question.

The pundits are fond of saying that the voters don't make their selection based on the vice president, and they point to Dan Quayle and Spiro Agnew as examples of dubious choices for tickets that won the election. But perhaps the voters do take into consideration the process and the motives by which the presidential candidates choose their running mates, and it's obvious to anyone -- including the editorial boards of these papers -- that the selection of Sarah Palin was an indicator of what kind of judgment John McCain would use in the White House. They found it disturbing, cynical, and short-sighted to the point that they saw it as one of the factors that disqualified him as their choice for president.

All three papers note the Barack Obama has his flaws; his inexperience, perhaps, or even his lack of flapability in the face of a crisis leads some to wonder if he grasps the seriousness of the duties. But no one has questioned his judgment in choosing his advisers, and the selection of Joe Biden is a testimony to that leadership. It will be interesting if the Palin Factor is a common thread in subsequent endorsements from the rest of the editorial community.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Beating the press

By Libby Spencer

Literally. With the GOP in general and McCain and Palin specifically villianizing the 'liberal media' as the mortal enemy of conservatives I suppose it was only a matter of time before the physical attacks began.

And then he kicked the back of my leg, buckling my right knee and sending me sprawling onto the ground.

From my position there I saw the bottoms of a number of feet almost accidentally stomping me to death as the two political camps screamed back and forth, the music continued to blare and some of the Obama crowd moved the large bearded man and his friends away. When I was helped to my feet the bearded man was walking away quickly.

For a moment I considered running the bloated, twelve-sandwich eating prick down and beating the living hell out of him…and then I remembered that I’m a reporter, how much I enjoy being gainfully employed and how hard it would be to keep my job if I got into a fistfight with a guy at a political rally.

I happen to know Joe Killian in the cyber-sense and he's a very mild guy who would never provoke such an attack. Thankfully he wasn't injured but how long before someone gets seriously hurt?

On a metaphorical level, this from Steve Benen is in a way even more disturbing.

Yesterday, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank added some details.

"I have to say the Secret Service is in dangerous territory here. In cooperation with the Palin campaign, they've started preventing reporters from leaving the press section to interview people in the crowd. This is a serious violation of their duty -- protecting the protectee -- and gets into assisting with the political aspirations of the candidate. It also often makes it impossible for reporters to get into the crowd to question the people who say vulgar things. So they prevent reporters from getting near the people doing the shouting, then claim it's unfounded because the reporters can't get close enough to identify the person."

Now, this is an important detail. I'd assumed the escorts/minders were paid campaign staffers, but Milbank explained that it's the Secret Service that's blocking reporters from chatting with voters. If that's the case, we're talking about a rather obvious First Amendment violation.

When I read the original reports, I had the same impression that the reporters were being blocked by internal staffers. If in fact the Secret Service is doing this, it is indeed a serious FA violation and yet more proof that the police state has morphed from tin foil theory into a true threat to our democracy.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Obama stands up to bogus ACORN claims

By Creature

Here's Keith's rundown of the facts and his interview of Obama's lawyer on this unprecedented PRE-election call to stop the intimidation.

More from CNN.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Quote of the Day: Peggy Noonan on Sarah Palin

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Most of Peggy Noonan's column in yesterday's WSJ was predictably awful:

-- McCain won the debate on Wednesday? Really?

-- McCain succeeded in ridiculing Obama's "eloquence"? Seriously, what debate was she watching, and from the confines of what alternate un-reality?

-- The election is "infantilizing"? Why, because the guy she doesn't like is winning?

-- Palin could have been another Truman? Come now, that's just plain stupid.

But it also contained this, which is our one-day-late QotD:

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office.


In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.

I don't share Noonan's admiration of Reagan, and I don't agree with her assessment of conservatism, both of which follow the first part of the quote, and I don't care about what's good for conservatism, but she is quite right about Palin, about the "new vulgarization," and about what her pick says about McCain. I would even say that she understates, and euphemizes, the case against Palin. There is no sign, not little sign -- and, as I have said before, she is both an arrogant twit and an ignorant thug. She isn't just a symptom and expression of the "new vulgarization," she is the personification of a deepening of that vulgarization.

Still, for once -- and it is rare indeed -- I am in agreement, up to a point, with Peggy Noonan, who, like certain other of the smarter conservatives out there, like David Brooks, has had enough of Sarah Palin. Welcome back to reality, if only for an instant.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Reaction in Review (Oct. 17, 2008)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "A Powell endorsement?" -- Michael looks at what a Colin Powell endorsement of Barack Obama, perhaps this weekend, might mean to the presidential race.

By Carl: "I LOVE this election!" -- Carl thoughtfully looks at what an Obama election might mean to the nation.


By J. Thomas Duffy: "For Joe the Plumber" -- Great visuals and bonus links explore this bizarre episode following the debate.

By Mustang Bobby: "Joe the plumber isn't licensed" -- Bobby fills us in on the real deal, here.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Reflections on the third Obama-McCain debate" -- Beginning with a "not much to add," Michael adds a great deal of debate perspective -- his own and several others writers' important ideas.

By Mustang Bobby: "Debate wrap" -- Yet another very skillful analysis of the presidential debate,"All I can say is that Barack Obama didn't lose and John McCain didn't win."

By Capt. Fogg: "Let him have one?"
-- Duffy skilfully analyzes the debate and the MSM media's lackluster reactions to McCain's performance vs. Obama's.

By Carol Gee: "When "eloquence is an epithet" -- After the debate this post explores one of McCain's most bizarre misuses of the language, along with other debate elements.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Ambitions of empire: Live-blogging the third Obama-McCain debate" -- Fantastic post with 61 comments: "UPDATED FREQUENTLY -- PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS AND LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK/THOUGHT OF THE DEBATE AND THE REACTION TO IT."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Obama trouncing McCain among early voters" -- The good news: "2008 isn't 2000 or 2004. This may be the year that the old rules no longer apply."

By Dan Tobin: "A Red Sox comeback vs. one from McCain" -- This great writer juxtaposes baseball and the election in a post with a prediction about the upcoming debate.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Canada Votes 2008" -- Michael takes us through the Canadian election's intricacies, including real-time updates, ending with, "For now, though, we must accept what was, going in, the likeliest of outcomes, another Conservative minority."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Dan Balz and double standards: Yet another example of the media's abominable coverage of the 2008 presidential race" -- "Balz defends McCain's attacks on Obama's "patriotism or his commitment to the values the country holds dear" and questions Obama's ability to deal effectively with the current "crisis in the credit markets," says Michael as he critiques the Balz piece.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Troopergate: Orwellian Palin" -- Michael reports on the Alaska Daily News take on the Palin scandal.


By Carl: "Way to go, Paul!" -- Carl happily announces economist Paul Krugman's award of the Nobel Prize in Economics (extra comments).

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Sweet Jane

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Why don't we mellow it out a bit this autumnal Friday evening...

In 1987, the Cowboy Junkies, one of Canada's finest musical acts, recorded The Trinity Session at Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity. Released in 1988, it's an exquisitely beautiful and haunting album.

In 2007, many albums later, the Junkies went back and re-recorded the entire album. The new version, Trinity Revisited, released the same year, is simply magnificent. Profoundly intimate, it also achieves a soaring grandeur that marks perhaps the highest point they've ever reached. And Margo Timmins, with one of the most distinctive voices in music, is simply amazing, as usual. Guests include Ryan Adams and Natalie Merchant.

The two-disc release includes a DVD of the performance. It, too, is fantastic.

Highly recommended. You can find it at Amazon Canada, Amazon US, or, well, pretty much anywhere else. (I don't know if or where it's available internationally.) Or download it at iTunes, or wherever you get your music.

Here, below, are the Junkies, from Trinity Revisited, performing one of their most well-known songs, "Sweet Jane."


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A Powell endorsement?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It might be coming. (Perhaps on Meet the Press this Sunday.)

Powell doesn't have nearly as much credibility as he had before he Iraq War -- that is, before he sacrificed it all out of loyalty to Bush (or whatever else prompted him to play the mouthpiece for deception, and he certainly had his concerns even as he was voicing the party line) -- but he still seems to be a fairly popular public figure (though I haven't seen any recent approval ratings to back that up), particularly among independents.

I don't want to overstate the case -- endorsements don't usually mean that much, after all -- but I think a Powell endorsement at this point, with the three debates behind us and with Obama having opened up solid leads in the polls and with time running out, would be a significant coup for Obama. It would give him a high-profile boost to his own foreign policy credibility (that is, it would act as a major vote of confidence -- even though polls show he already has the confidence of voters even in what was thought to be one of McCain's strongest areas) and there would likely be overwhelmingly positive media coverage next week (certainly the establishment press still likes Powell a lot). As well, it could be just what Obama needs to win over remaining independents and "undecideds," those voters seemingly waiting for something, anything, to compel them to vote one way or the other.

We shall see.

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And the WaPo endorses...

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Barack Obama.

No surprise there, though the Post is hardly a bastion of liberalism and pro-Democratic sentiment, regardless of what the finger-pointing self-victimizers of the right may have to say about it.

It's actually not a bad endorsement -- well, actually, it's quite good -- with most of it focusing on Obama's many positive qualities and policy positions, including praising him on foreign policy, health care, education, and the economy. And this is especially nice:

Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic cisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.

But, I have my problems with it, too. To wit:

1) Like so many in the establishment media, the WaPo editors can't quite get past their long history of sucking up to, and being charmed and deluded by, McCain:

It gives us no pleasure to oppose Mr. McCain. Over the years, he has been a force for principle and bipartisanship. He fought to recognize Vietnam, though some of his fellow ex-POWs vilified him for it. He stood up for humane immigration reform, though he knew Republican primary voters would punish him for it. He opposed torture and promoted campaign finance reform, a cause that Mr. Obama injured when he broke his promise to accept public financing in the general election campaign. Mr. McCain staked his career on finding a strategy for success in Iraq when just about everyone else in Washington was ready to give up. We think that he, too, might make a pretty good president.

Of course, he has only been bipartisan only on selected, self-serving issues; he has waffled back and forth on immigration (even openly disagreeing with himself); he may be against torture but his torture bill was weak (and ignored by Bush); he has supported Republican-friendly campaign finance reform while remaining in cahoots with certain key industries (gaming, alcohol, telecom) and their shady lobbyists; and his ongoing support for Bush's disastrous war in Iraq has been shaped by his warped neocon worldview and grotesque stubbornness in the face of reality.

And Obama made the right decision not to take public financing, given his extensive grassroots efforts and the distinct advantage the Republicans have with respect to national-party spending. Plus, the public financing system has been a matter of convenience and necessity for McCain, not a matter of principle.)

He would not make a "pretty good president" -- not even close. It's possible he would actually be worse than Bush: neoconservative on foreign policy, neoliberal on economic policy, social conservative and even theocratic on domestic policy, including abortion and judicial appointments.

2) The WaPo editors reiterate their continued support for the Iraq War: "Thanks to the surge that Mr. Obama opposed, it may be feasible to withdraw many troops during his first two years in office. But if it isn't -- and U.S. generals have warned that the hard-won gains of the past 18 months could be lost by a precipitous withdrawal -- we can only hope and assume that Mr. Obama would recognize the strategic importance of success in Iraq and adjust his plans."

It must be repeated: The surge has only partly contributed to the decline in violence in Iraq and has otherwise been a failure. Given that, how would withdrawal be "precipitous"? The Iraqis no longer want the U.S. there, and it's not like the occupation, which is what it really is, has achieved much in the way of progress. And what is "success"? The editors don't explain, perhaps because they don't know what it is, perhaps because there are any number of definitions of it. Success in the war has always been a nebulous concept anyway, which is partly the reason the war has been such a mismanaged disaster.

Like so many who still support the war, the WaPo editors simply toss out the usual distortions and deceptions. Thankfully, Obama has other plans -- which, even if adjusted to accommodate future conditions on the ground, wouldn't simply be more of the same, or worse.

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I LOVE this election!

By Carl

I love this election so much I think
I want to have sex with it...

If the current polls hold, Barack Obama will win the White House on November 4 and Democrats will consolidate their Congressional majorities, probably with a filibuster-proof Senate or very close to it. Without the ability to filibuster, the Senate would become like the House, able to pass whatever the majority wants.

Though we doubt most Americans realize it, this would be one of the most profound political and ideological shifts in U.S. history. Liberals would dominate the entire government in a way they haven't since 1965, or 1933. In other words, the election would mark the restoration of the activist government that fell out of public favor in the 1970s. If the U.S. really is entering a period of unchecked left-wing ascendancy, Americans at least ought to understand what they will be getting, especially with the media

I've railed ever since the Reagan administration about the pendulum, and how it swings in both directions and liberals would get their turn again at behind the wheel.

The nation is not a unitary monolith of ignorance or intellectualism. Instead, it is a living, breathing being, as capable of changing its mind and its heart as anyone of us, and now we're seeing the realization that progress happens, that liberalism, for whatever perceived flaws were magnified and exaggerated by the right, has its benefits to everyone.

And once we've persuaded the majority that we will not hurt them, that we are not the scary monsters we've been made out to be, oh what a glorious day awaits America and the world!

Get ready for it, folks. Please leave in comments the one thing you'd like to see a liberal super-majority accomplish.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Election, the Big Picture

By Carol Gee

The last presidential debate is over. Fewer people watched this debate than watched the second. Most people think that Barack Obama was the more successful debater. And, because that is the case, the Republican smear machine is still in operation.

Truth squads are out. There are websites dedicated to that work. Television networks make some attempts to help viewers sort fact from fiction. Attempts to define Barack Obama as somehow dangerous are back-firing. Recent weeks have proven that racism remains a nasty reality in far too many places. And it was unleased by the McCain campaign. John McCain has been playing with fire. People worry about the potential for violence. Moreover, McCain is losing credibility as a true maverick with the general public, and also with many in the mainstream media.

"Joe the Plumber" is on the hotseat, along with Sarah Palin. Joe is actually a worker. He is not a licensed plumber, and several government entities that have jurisdiction are probing further. Veep candidate Sarah Palin is also having major ethics problems. Palin's problems are turning out to be the perfect example of that old saw, "the pot calling the kettle black."

TV ad buys for presidential candidates are in a state of flux. It is quite a contrast. Obama is soon going to be speaking to the nation on many major networks for a half hour. And the Republicans are forced to cut back on any advertising in several states. Voting has begun for many people. Many people worry that the Republicans will somehow steal the election. There are predictions that there will be major voting problems, a possible "major meltdown." College students will be particularly affected, facing major stumbling blocks.

President George W. Bush has 94 days left in office. There have been 4185 military deaths in the Iraq war since March of 2003. And in 18 days it will be Election Day. Get the picture?

Hat Tip: Most of today's story leads came from my regular contributors, Jon and "betmo."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Like Dubya

By Michael J.W. Stickings

John McCain declared in the debate the other night that he is not George Bush (and that Obama "should have run four years ago"). It was a fairly effective one-liner, but Obama's substantive, fact-based response was even more effective: "So the fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."

And this excellent new Obama ad, first aired the morning after, gets right to the heart of the matter.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

For Joe the Plumber

By J. Thomas Duffy

His 15-minutes ...

Barack Obama And The Plumbing Business Owner

His 16th-minute, ad nauseum ...

Joe the Plumber Reacts to debate - Katie Couric Interview

Bonus Links

The Jed Report: McCain's Lame October Surprise: Joe, The Right-Wing Loon

Think Progress: Fact-Checking ‘Joe The Plumber’

A.J. Liebling: No Mo-Joe for McCain

BooMan: McCain Took an Ass-Whooping

SilentPatriot: Obama to McCain: "Your attacks say more about your campaign than they do about me"

Thers: The Plumber?

Debate Results: Flintstones vs. Jetsons Pt. III

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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"Joe the Plumber" isn't licensed

By Mustang Bobby

Following up on Michael's analysis of "Joe the Plumber's" financial situation comes this news...

According to The Blade, the latest star of the campaign, Joe Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," isn't licensed or registered as a plumber:

A check of state and local licensing agencies in Ohio and Michigan shows no plumbing licenses under Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher’s name, or even misspellings of his name.

Mr. Wurzelbacher told reporters Thursday morning that he worked for Newell Plumbing & Heating Co., a small local firm whose business addresses flow back to several residential homes, including one on Talmadge Road in Ottawa Hills.

According to Lucas County Building Inspection records, A. W. Newell Corp. does maintain a state plumbing license, and one with the City of Toledo, but would not be allowed to work in Lucas County outside of Toledo without a county license.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he works under Al Newell’s license, but according to Ohio building regulations, he must maintain his own license to do plumbing work.

He is also not registered to operate as a plumber in Ohio, which means he's not a plumber.

So, what is he? A plumber's helper?

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Reflections on the third Obama-McCain debate

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I actually don't have a great deal to add today to what I wrote last night about the debate in my long and occasionally rambling live-blogging post.

Obama won. Pretty easily. That's about it. And that's pretty much the consensus today.

But, a few points:

1) One of the best summaries comes, as usual, from TNR's Noam Scheiber: "[T]he debate in a nutshell: McCain fulminating angrily, if sometimes effectively; Obama yielding more than he should at times, but still deadly on bottom-line differences. The election obviously isn't over. But McCain came up empty on his last, best chance."


2) The most famous man in America today is Joe the Plumber. But who is this celebrated American Everyman? Well, hardly a non-partisan moderate. In fact, it looks like he's a registered Republican.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo: "It turns out Joe the 'Plumber' is like the perfect McCain supporter. He says Social Security is a joke and he 'hates' it."

In an interview with Katie Couric right after the debate, he said that "McCain did a fine job this evening, I think he brought up some good points. I do like his health care and I do like his, where he stands on taxes."

Robert Barnes at WaPo's The Trail: "Joe the Plumber is not exactly a plumber and he's 'not even close' to making the kind of money that would result in higher taxes from Democrat Barack Obama's proposals." (He's not even a licenced plumber.)

Dean Baker at The American Prospect explains that, under Obama's plan, Joe's taxes would increase only by a small amount, assuming that the plumbing business he is planning to buy "would be his entire taxable income."

Jonathan Chait at TNR's The Plank: "It's pretty ridiculous that somebody who earns more than 99% of Americans should become a stand-in for the average working man." He's not there yet, but, if he may be if he buys that plumbing business.

"In the meantime," Steve Benen at Political Animal notes, "depending on some of the details, Wurzelbacher would probably get a tax break under Obama's plan, and if he's like most of the middle class, his break would be bigger under Obama than under McCain.


3) I wrote recently about what I call "the revolt against the punditocracy," whereby the people, according to the polls, decisively disagreed with the pundits' initial reaction of the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate. Many pundits called that first debate for McCain, or at least called it a draw. In contrast, the people, by a substantial margin, gave it to Obama. Many pundits said that Palin was, if not the outright winner of her debate, at least the winner of the expectations game. In contrast, the people, by a similarly substantial margin, gave it to Biden.

The pundits seem to have gotten the message. After both the second and third debates (and it was quite evident last night) many were far more cautious in terms of their initial appraisals than they had been before. There were the notable exceptions, hyper-partisans like Bill Bennett (who's hardly much of a pundit) on CNN, but, overall, I detected a certain uneasiness, as if they wanted to wait for the poll results before weighing in, at which point they generally agreed with the people.

To put it another way, the pundits often -- it may not be a general rule, but it's close -- get it wrong. And they do so, in my view, because they focus not on substance but on style. What matters to them is the expectations game, the drama, the theater. Instead of focusing on content, they look for game-changing moments, gotchas and gaffes, snappy one-liners that easily digested and easily regurgitated.

This is not to suggest that the people (and, yes, I'm speaking of them as if they were a monolith) do not care about such things. Clearly they do. Negative ads work, for example, or at least can work, and the look of a candidate can mean as much as what he or she says. Voters in 1960 who listened on radio thought that Nixon won the now-famous debate, while voters who watched it on TV thought that Kennedy won. Why? Because Kennedy was cool and collected while Nixon was unshaven and sweaty. Now, in 2008, not much has changed. Voters are reacting negatively not just to what McCain says but to how he looks, how he sounds, how he comes across. And they are reacting positively to Obama not just because of his policy proposals but because he has come across as presidential. But it's like skating on thin ice. If Obama were to lose his control, even for a brief moment, he would immediately be characterized as yet another angry black man, in other words, as a vicious, racist stereotype.

Still, this time, with information coming from so many different channels, and with a good deal of insecurity and uncertainty out there, the people are looking beyond the surface and, according to the polls, rewarding Obama on the actual merits, that is, on substance. The punditocracy has clued in, sort of, and is now taking its cues as much from the people as from its own sense of entitlement.

For more on this, in a related way, see Joe Klein, who has an excellent post up at Time's Swampland: "Pundits tend to be a lagging indicator. This is particularly true at the end of a political pendulum swing. We've been conditioned by thirty years of certain arguments working -- and John McCain made most of them last night against Barack Obama." Read the whole thing. In brief: Many journalists are "trapped in the assumptions of the past," and hence unable to see things clearly in the here and now. And so many of them have bought into the old-style attacks (anti-liberal, anti-government) of McCain (and Palin). But it's a different time now, a different world. And "this is a very good year to be Senator Government," namely, Barack Obama.


Well, I guess I did have quite a bit to add.

And here's our Amusing Photo of the Day, from Andrew Sullivan:

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He is The One

By Creature

This pretty much sums up how Obama handled John McCain's petulant attacks in the debate last night.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Debate wrap

By Mustang Bobby

All of the good metaphors have been taken -- the folks at MSNBC ran through all the sports ones; boxing, baseball, and football, and Gail Collins at the New York Times even used the one from summer camp -- and all of the highlights have been noted, too; Joe the Plumber, the newest "everyman" symbol, will probably wake up this morning with CNN parked in his driveway in Holland, Ohio, and be hounded for his reaction. The pundits are going to pick him over until the next shiny object comes along. All I can say is that Barack Obama didn't lose and John McCain didn't win.

The overnight snap polls give it overwhelmingly to Mr. Obama, and that will probably be the indicator of the rest of the responses, and the so-called "uncommitted" voters gave it to Mr. Obama as well. As I said last night, I think that if the outcome of the polls is based on performance, then they weren't judging it on substance because we really didn't hear anything new. Then again, you never really do hear anything new at these events unless it's a gaffe.

I think Mr. McCain has begun to believe the mantra of Sarah Palin; he's got nothing to lose, which would explain his attempt to throw everything he had at Mr. Obama, who deflected them well, including the much-anticipated Ayers assault. If anything, that made Mr. McCain look desperate; at one point he said he didn't care about an old "washed-up terrorist," but then kept harping on him.

To Mr. Obama's credit, he maintained his cool throughout the whole night to the point that, as Brian noted to me in an IM, it was BORING. I agreed to a point, but as Andrew Sullivan noted, in the case of Barack Obama, boring is good. It gives the uneasy white voter the impression that Mr. Obama is not some kind of scary black dude, and "haven't we had enough drama in the last eight years? Boring is fucking awesome after Bush." The cool demeanor not only accomplished that, but it also seemed to get under McCain's skin; Mr. Obama never rose to the bait and never showed a flare of temper. Even more than that, he was able to come back to the admittedly best line Mr. McCain's been able to come up with in three debates -- "I'm not President Bush" -- by saying that if he mistakes him for Bush, it's because he follows his economic policies most of the time.

I think Mr. McCain will come to regret his mocking of the "health of the mother" argument on the abortion question; that makes him a hero to the far-right every-sperm-is-sacred crowd, but will offend people who see that exception as something that both pro and anti-choice advocates seem to agree on. His defense of his selection of Sarah Palin because she's a "freath of bresh air" (paging Rev. Spooner) makes it sound like he chose her for no other reason than that, and that's both an insult to the intelligence of the voters and calls into question his judgment, especially when he skates out onto the thin ice of knocking Joe Biden on foreign policy (There's a sports metaphor after all).

So by just staying above the fray and showing grace under pressure, the debate goes to Mr. Obama. That's 3-0, and with 19 days to go, that's probably enough. And if I never hear about Joe the Plumber (or see the obligatory picture of plumber's crack), it will be fine with me.

P.S.: NPR does some fact-checking on the points from last night's debate.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Let him have one?

By Capt. Fogg

Although all indications are that the vast majority of Americans thought Barack Obama "won" last night's conversation, the howling of the media this morning seems to be about the whining comment McCain made: "I am not George Bush." Is this an effort to allow McCain to leave with some small measure of undeserved dignity?

In the interest of that old "fair and balanced" shell game, I guess they have to show that he didn't come across as an incoherent, double-talking, sneering and condescending Bush clone. He did however, and in contrast with polls of professional pundits who listen to and repeat what other professional pundits repeat, the public seems to agree. CNN's unscientific poll shows that about 80% of respondents did not think McCain won, but the "scientific" polls seem restricted to those still after all this time undecided and not to the voters in general. I can't help thinking there's something a bit wrong with someone unable to make up their mind after almost two years.

So far this morning, all I'm reading are rubber stamp repeats of the "I am not George Bush" line and nothing of the embarrassing (for McCain) reiteration of "he's going to fine you" after it was explained that he would not and the nauseating repetition of the "there's more we need to know about your relationship with Ayers" red herring after that stinker was put thoroughly in its grave. There are no more unanswered questions, John, no matter how often you ask the same damn thing. No, Obama didn't say that, but I wish he had.

McCain repeated his rehearsed points over and over and it was often obvious that he wasn't really listening to the answers and that he had no idea what the public's view of his and Palin's mean, vicious accusations might be.

My biggest disappointments of the evening were that McCain seemed too often to have the last, and often dishonest word; that Obama did not point out the continuing "trickle down" nature of McCain's proposals that are so much like the Bush standard, that Obama did not bring up William Timmons and tell us "we need to know more." I wish Obama would have asked him why he kept repeating that chestnut about fines when it was patently a false claim. I wish a lot of things, actually. I wish sanity and honesty weren't so rare in this country, but, all in all, I saw McCain as the defendant here, a defendant trying to talk his way around the evidence by postulating unlikely explanations of how his fingerprints were all over the crime scene.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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When "eloquence" is an epithet

By Carol Gee

The last debate between the two presidential candidates, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), is over. The panels and pundits have had their say, the polls have been enumerated, and the TV replays are on the way. Since I have the floor, here are my impressions. The contrasts I see are between form and substance, between shooting from the hip and fluent expression.

Candidate form was in the eye of the "commentaria." Opinion makers looked at how the men spoke more that what each said. TV opinion posited that the difference seemed to be indicated by what was visible on viewers' split screens. There was Obama's unflappability and McCain's edgy emotional reactions of anger, disdain and dismissiveness. The initial responses of both CNN and MSNBC, as I flipped back and forth, were that Senator McCain's performance was a definite improvement, and that Senator Obama's performance was rather flat. Many thought that McCain prevailed at the beginning. He did seem to be in good form, his thoughts persuasively expressed. Many liked the way Bob Schieffer handled the moderator's role.

Candidate substance was in the eye of the "publica." After the first responses of the pundits, the instant polls and the focus group results began to emerge, the tide turned toward an apparent Obama win. It seems that the public watched the debate somewhat differently than the TV commentary community. The viewing public did not like the candidates' attacks and defenses nearly as much as the core substantive content. Approval went up when the debate focused on the issues, particularly the economy. What won the public's approval, once again was Obama's eloquence, marked by forceful and fluent expression.

Form vs. substance: The challenge that "Joe the Plumber" faces in trying to start a business became one of McCain's talking points. Obama's focus with each new theme introduced by the moderator was a specific plan, eloquently laid out. He stayed on message, while McCain was trying everything to get under Obama's skin. Once again, it became very clear that, to the very serious problems facing the people of the U.S., McCain's lack of answers, his garbled and inarticulate responses, are in stark contrast to Obama's wide-ranging and specific ideas. Eventually McCain took up the theme of Obama's "eloquence," using it over and over as a kind of disdainful epithet for deceitfulness.

The word "eloquence" was used by Senator McCain, for example, in completely dismissive comments about the issue of the "health of the woman" in Roe v. Wade. He used it as reverse snobbery shorthand for manipulation or deceit, and it was very insulting. Senator McCain's revealing misuse of the word eloquence as an insult is a good clue to how little the man offers to a potential presidency.

With what are we left? We have 19 days until the election, 95 more days of the Bush presidency, and $562,900,440,000 (and rapidly counting) spent on the war in Iraq. We have stock markets around the world going down again. Our own lost 733 points yesterday. We have Congress campaigning, Democrats optimistic, and Republicans pessimistic.

We have experienced 8 years of a rampant epidemic of "dumb." A vaccine is on the horizon, "eloquence." In its correct usage, according to Webster's Dictionary, it means "1) marked by forceful and fluent expression, 2) discourse marked by force and persuasiveness, 3) vividly or movingly expressive or revealing." The choice is clear. Go with Webster. Eloquence will never be an epithet.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ambitions of empire: Live-blogging the third Obama-McCain debate

By Michael J.W. Stickings


7:20 pm - Good evening, everyone. As I did two of the first three debates, the second presidential and the only vice-presidential, I'll be live-blogging tonight's third and final debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. It's set to start in just over an hour and a half from now. I'll be updating this post frequently over the course of the debate and, very likely, well into the early morning hours, as I cover not just the debate itself but the reaction to it in the media and in early polls. Some of the co-bloggers may also stop by to offer their comments, and I certainly welcome all of you to add your comments at any time.

7:26 pm - One quick point before I go have dinner... One of the key questions going into the debate is this: Will McCain take the gloves off, so to speak, and go after Obama directly on Ayers, Wright, or anything else of that sort? In other words, will he go after Obama's character and values as reflected in his past associations? He held back in the second debate, but, with Obama's lead solid and perhaps widening, desperation is evidently sinking in for McCain. In desperation, what will he do? My suspicion is that he will be typically snarky, dropping a few not-so-subtle hints here and there. He will go negative, but it will be implied, not direct. He is apparently reluctant to bring up Wright, against the wishes of his advisors, but Ayers is clearly in play. And both Obama and Biden have criticized him for going negative not to his face but at rallies and in ads. Put another way, McCain is a coward, or is at least behaving that way, preferring to unleash Palin and the partisan mobs on Obama. McCain will likely try to make the "trust" case against Obama without seeming nasty and vindictive, but that will be hard to do. I'm not sure he can.

An opening would come if Bob Schieffer, tonight's moderator, asked him directly about Ayers and Wright, or even about the anti-Obama mobs. But Obama will be waiting. As Dan put it earlier today: "You think Obama doesn't know have a snappy comeback to McCain's stupid questions about Ayers and ACORN?" Of course he does. No, Obama won't bring up the Keating Five scandal or McCain's ties to various lobbyists (e.g., for Fannie and Freddie and for Saddam), but he will point out that McCain is simply trying to distract from the real issues of the day, specifically the economy. And, as we have seen throughout this campaign, negativity doesn't work. From the primaries to now, voters have reacted negatively (and angrily) to the negativity, particularly independents, who are tonight's target audience. Indeed, at the last debate, whenever McCain went negative, the lines tracking Ohio independents (on CNN) went way down. And McCain must know this. So expect him to continue to talk about character and values, and to draw the usual distinctions, all part of the culture war in microcosm that the race has become for McCain-Palin, but don't expect fireworks. Instead, expect Obama to be well-prepared to push back effectively and, I hope, decisively, if and when McCain makes it personal.

Okay, I'll be back a bit later. Stay tuned.

8:11 pm - Just to clarify. I mentioned above that "independents" are tonight's target audience. Perhaps I ought to be more specific. The targeted independents are the "undecideds," or those whom CNN calls "persuadable." Whatever. Maybe they are. Or maybe they're just too clueless to make up their minds.

Anyway, Obama will definitely target them tonight -- he has his liberal-progressive base sown up, after all. For him, it's about making his positive policy points and, in terms of style, looking and sounding presidential, just like he did in the first two debates. It's trickier for McCain. He needs to reach out to independents, many of whom have supported him in the past, but he also needs to play to the rabid GOP base. The base wants him to go negative, to focus on Ayers and Wright. I suspect he'll throw a few scraps to the base while overall emphasizing the independent-friendly elements of his personal myth, namely, the whole maverick thing.

8:30 pm - For what it's worth, CNN's electoral map has Obama above the 270 electoral-vote threshold. This fits with most other national and state polls. What is interesting, though, is that Obama is now ahead in Virginia, long a fairly safe Republican state. Indeed, a new CNN poll has him by a whopping 10 points there, 53 to 43.

8:33 pm - Our friend and co-blogger Mustang Bobby is live-blogging tonight's debate over at his place. Check it out.

8:44 pm - Canadiens 3, Bruins 0, early in the second period. (I'm originally from Montreal, you know, where we love our Habs.)

9:00 pm - And here we go... Live from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York...

9:01 pm - First things first, though. What am I drinking tonight? How about some Johnnie Walker Green Label? Sure, why not? Over to you, Mr. Schieffer...

9:03 pm - Apparently Schieffer wants to cut through the bull... Ah, yes, another bad day on Wall Street. Such fun. And McCain immediately name-drops Nancy Reagan. And, as expected, he's trying to tap into populist anger, much of which is fully understandable, if not fully justifiable. Main Street vs. Wall Street. It's about reaching out to homeowners. "We've got to put the homeowners first," McCain says, criticizing Paulson et al.

9:06 pm - It's "the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression," says Obama. And, as expected, he immediately focuses on the middle class, which thus far has distinguished him from McCain: focus on jobs, tax cuts for the middle class, help homeowners, address long-term challenges (energy, health care, education). Solid points. McCain's first answer was a bit rambling, a bit forced, but Obama looks and sounds strong tonight. Clear and determined. In response, McCain brings up "Joe the Plumber" from Ohio. He's trying really hard to connect to real Americans, but it seems phony. And negative, like it's about protecting Joe from Obama, whose policies McCain misrepresents. Thankfully, Obama stays positive. This is what he will do... again, tax relief for the middle class.

Creature: "Right off the bat McCain seems more grounded and less erratic from the seated position... And McCain is trying too damn hard to look at Obama. It's creepy."

9:11 pm - McCain is suggesting that Obama wants to wage class warfare, "to spread the wealth around." It's the Robin Hood smear that's been making the rounds on the right. Seriously, how can "Joe the Plumber" spread the wealth around? Basically, McCain is trying to paint Obama as some sort of big-government socialist. But it's not working. "Spread the wealth around" seems to be McCain's catch-phrase tonight. Stupid.

9:14 pm - McCain has a silly little grin on his face, Obama simply looks earnest... But Obama is struggling a bit with the spending/budget question. "Investing in the American people" is a lame answer. Still, he's emphasizing fiscal responsibility, which is good.

9:17 pm - And McCain name-drops Hillary Clinton! But he's not answering the question. Maybe because he'd balloon the deficit just like Bush. He proposes, again, and across-the-board spending freeze and brings up the hatchet/scalpel metaphor. "I know, I know..." he keeps repeating, just like last time. And he goes negative on earmarks again, as if cutting earmarks would make much of a dent in the budget. Obama: earmarks constitute a tiny percentage of the budget. Good point.

9:20 pm - McCain says he can balance the budget in his first term. "I'm not Bush," stresses McCain. Right, he needs to run as far away from Bush as possible. And this was very well done. But all he's saying is that he can, not how he will. McCain certainly seems stronger and more focused tonight. The Meet the Press-like format suits him. "You have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush," says Obama, especially on "economic policies."

9:25 pm - Leadership in this campaign. It's turned nasty. Oh, come on, Schieffer. There's no equality here. Calling McCain "erratic" is nothing compared to what McCain and Palin have been saying. And it isn't just a "tough" campaign, McCain. You've turned it into a character assassination. And holding more town halls wouldn't have helped. McCain brings up John Lewis's comment that McCain-Palin are like George Wallace in '68. Oh, it's Obama who's gone negative? McCain can prove it? This is pathetic. Watergate? Where did that come from?

9:30 pm - Obama points to a CBS poll showing that Americans by an overwhelming margin think McCain has been more negative than he has. And he points to the McCain campaign's attempt to distract attention away from the economy. Solid answer. He can take the attacks, but voters want a more positive campaign. McCain repeats his claim that Obama is the one who has gone negative. Obama is absolutely right about what John Lewis said. His campaign immediately disagreed with the connection to Wallace, but Palin never denounced those who were shouting "terrorist" and "kill him" at those rallies. "I'm proud of the people who come to our rallies," said McCain. Oh really? All of them? McCain seems genuinely pissed off, but his refusal to acknowledge what has been going on at his rallies is simply appalling. Good for Obama to get out of this back-and-forth. He's in the right, but it's a non-winner for him.

9:36 pm - And here we go... Ayers and ACORN. I didn't think McCain would be this direct, but it looks like he's going for it. Solid answer from Obama explaining his connections to Ayers and the whole ACORN thing. And he does well to shift over to those who do influence him, including Lugar and Buffett. But McCain keeps hitting Ayers. McCain's campaign isn't about "getting this economy back on track," nor about jobs, it's about smearing Obama at every turn.

9:40 pm - A question about the running mates. It's pretty easy for Obama to praise Biden, which he's doing well. He just needs to be careful not to seem overly dismissive of Palin. And now it's time for McCain to talk up Palin: she's a reformer, yadda yadda yadda... As one commenter points out, men seem to be responding favourably to McCain, whereas women seem to be going for Obama, at least according to the gimmicky tracking thing at the bottom of the screen on CNN. "I'm proud of her," says McCain. Methinks he doth praise too much. Obama's really trying not to go negative on Palin, saying just that she's a capable politician who has excited the GOP base, but McCain does criticize Biden. And McCain once more attacks Obama on spending. So petty.

9:47 pm - Is is just me, or does this debate seem to be dragging? It's like the answers go on and on and on.

9:48 pm - "Canadian oil is fine." Hey, thanks McCain. Fantastic. You do realize the vast majority of us are against you, right?

9:49 pm - McCain is rambling on energy. Nuclear, clean coal, etc. We can "easily... eliminate our dependence" on Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil? Really? Just by putting our minds to it? There was absolutely nothing of substance in McCain's answer. Obama, at least, has a plan: expand domestic production (including off-shore drilling -- but "we can't drill our way out of the problem"), alternative energy (solar, wind, etc., plus highly fuel-efficient cars). This is a good issue for Obama. And McCain just seems to be smirking whenever Obama's speaking.

9:51 pm - McCain deconstructs Obama, who said we need to "look at" drilling. Apparently this isn't enough for McCain, who wants, of course, to drill, baby, drill, even though it won't make much of a dent in the price of oil and won't add much to the overall oil supply. McCain is seriously bitter tonight, claiming that Obama knows nothing about Latin America. Needless to say, Obama proves him wrong.

J. Thomas Duffy: "Well, so much for the "fireworks" ... McLame just did a turn of what Keith Olbermann calls "Old Man Yelling At Cloud" ... The Right Wing Freak Show, no doubt will applaud, but he didn't hit Obama with anything other than the talking points he's be spouting for the past two-weeks ... And, whether it was due to his virtually shaking, he seemed all proud of himself, not bothering to listen to, or address, Obama's response ...
Obama just blew an opportunity, talking about if Palin was qualified ... He should have asked how McCain could have chosen a running mate just found to be in violations of ethics ...

9:55 pm - Brilliant statement on energy from Obama... and all McCain can do is bring up Hugo Chavez?

Dan Tobin: "Mccain acts as if spent nuclear fuel stays out to sea on aircraft carriers... it comes to port in Newport News shipyards, then gets dumped... that's the point, McCrazy."

9:57 pm - Health care. Another good issue for Obama. (Of course, McCain will call him a socialist again.) The key is to lower costs for those who already have insurance and to provide coverage for those who don't. Solid answer. McCain's trying to be compassionate, but he's rambling again. A $5,000 refundable tax credit... the core of McCain's plan. What good would that do? Do people really want to have to find their own health care in the free market? And "Joe the Plumber" comes up again. I guess he's the target audience tonight. Yes, yes, socialism... see? McCain completely misrepresents Obama's plan (even though, speaking as a Canadian, we have a pretty wonderful health-care system up here. There is choice, everyone is covered, and, the quality is excellent). Obama responds to the tax credit idea: People would lose employer-based care, especially those who need it. McCain will tax health-care benefits! And people who are sick and need care won't find what they need in the free market (where they'll be denied coverage) -- my point, not Obama's.

10:04 pm - "Joe the Plumber" is rich? So says McCain. He's so snarky and bitter. Seriously, what good will $5,000 do? Does McCain have any idea how much good health care costs? (No, obviously not.) But McCain keeps playing the "spreading the wealth" card, accusing Obama of being a class warrior. Which is just plain silly. Obama has the facts on his side, and, rightly, he keeps coming back to the details of his plan.

Comment from LaurenS78: "McCain acts like a spoiled 3 yr old. Nana-nana-boo-boo." We already have a ton of comments. See below.

10:07 pm - McCain claims he has no litmus test for judicial nominees. He's bipartisan, Gang of 14 and all that. So McCain just said he would consider someone who was for abortion right? Huh. I wonder how that will play with the Palinesque GOP base.

Dan Tobin: "Gee.. for saying he doesn't have 100% negative ads... Mccain sure has an attack for every comment he utters." Indeed.

Creature: "Enough with the plumber, John. This is just stupid."

10:10 pm - Obama: No litmus test either, but Roe was rightly decided. There is a right to privacy in the Constitution. Abortion is a complex issue, but there's shouldn't be state-by-state referendums. Good answer, if unfocused. "We have to change the culture of America," says McCain. But that's just extremist anti-abortion rhetoric. He's accusing Obama of supporting partial-birth abortion, but Obama stresses that he is against it as long as there is an exception for the life of the mother. Which is pretty much what most people think is sound, moral policy, isn't it? McCain may want to change the culture, whatever that means, but Obama, again, is the one with the substance: No one is pro-abortion. It's about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and focusing on education. McCain is really playing to the anti-abortion GOP base here. Surely independents -- oops, sorry, the persuadable -- won't like this.

Dan Tobin: "As far as I'm concerned, this show is simply a vetting process for Senator Obama to become our nation's next President... as for John Mccain, well... he's out of the question. He's simply aiding in the vetting process for Obama."

10:16 pm - The last question, on education. Another good issue for Obama. More teachers, affordable college, etc. His tuition credit proposal is excellent. "It's the civil rights issue of the 21st century," claims McCain. What? Oh, the right to a good education. But there isn't much to what he's saying. Just the usual right-wing emphasis on charter schools. And, of course, he accuses Obama of just wanting to throw money at the problem. But at least his loan plan is decent. Obama is extremely confident here. The mismatch in terms of understanding of the issues has been clear all debate, but it's as clear here as anywhere. (Again, McCain is trying to look like he's actually engaged, looking at Obama, smiling, etc., but he's trying too hard.) McCain's pushing vouchers, which is pretty much the entirely of the right-wing position on education. Terrible, terrible idea. What would happen to the public school system? And he's pushing reform... but where? Obama responds to the voucher idea -- they don't work -- and McCain smugly interjects. I'm sorry, but he's behaving like such an arrogant twit. (I'm thinking of another word, seven letters, that begins with 'a' and ends with 'e' and that refers to a part of the body down below.)

10:27 pm - "American needs a new direction," says McCain, in his closing statement. Yes, yes, he has a "record," yes, yes, he's been around. What a load of vapid drivel.

10:30 pm - Obama makes the case for "fundamental change. Solid statement.

And that's it...

10:32 pm - Initial reaction: McCain was feisty, angry, and negative, but I'd say this was another win for Obama. It was a draw on the economy, and the back-and-forth on Ayers didn't do much to tip the debate either way, but Obama pulled well ahead towards the end, on energy, health care, and education.

10:34 pm - Predictably, Bill Bennett thinks McCain the conservative beat Obama the liberal. Whereas McCain was aggressive and strong, Obama was flat. Paul Begala is right that McCain did well early on, but that Obama picked it up later on. And that the reaction shots really hurt McCain. David Gergen agrees that McCain excelled early on, but McCain "swerved off track" when it got personal (on Ayers, etc.: "an exercise in anger management") and Obama won the last half-hour.

Dan Tobin: "If Americans were waiting for this debate to choose one of them, well... they've got problems... but hopefully they will make the correct decision in the voting booth. The fate of our fragile democracy is in their hands."

10:36 pm - I just don't get this line that Obama was flat. He was calm, collected, and, as I said throughout, solid. Was it his best debate? Maybe not, but it wasn't his worst, and I thought he did well, both in terms of style and substance. John King says it was McCain's best performance. Sure, but his bar was pretty low.

Creature offers his final thoughts here. Including: "It's over. In my book McCain is the loser. One tiny, angry, cranky, eye-rolling, seething loser. My disdain for John McCain runs deep and I can't wait until I never have to listen to him again. Please, John McCain, get off my TV and out of my world."

I'll be back in a few minutes...

11:38 pm - Well, that was more than a few minutes, but I was watching some of the post-debate coverage on CNN and MSNBC, then The Daily Show.

Going into the debate today, the key word was "game-changer." As in, McCain needed one. And as McCain himself put it, he intended on "whipping" Obama's "you-know-what," as if the sadistic father was going to beat the petulant child. But, of course, he didn't end up doing anything of the kind, and the debate certainly didn't change the game in McCain's favour. The consensus, such as there is one, seems to be that it was McCain's strongest debate performance, which isn't saying much, and that he did well early on in the debate, on the economy. But then he went personal, and negative, on Ayers and ACORN, looked nasty and vindictive doing so, and lost the debate. I think that's about right, but, to me, the pundits are overlooking what I thought was Obama's excellent performance. Like I said above, he wasn't flat, he was in control. He handled McCain's attacks well, doing so without counter-attacking (on Keating, for example), and then peaked towards the end, on health care, energy, and education, three of his best issues.

Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, as usual, offered some of the most poignant observations, noting, for example, that his ACORN attack went nowhere and that Obama successfully diffused the Ayers smear, while most of the crew at CNN acknowledged -- and are still acknowledging -- that Obama prevailed.

And the people seem to agree. A CNN poll of debate-watchers gives it to Obama 58 to 31, with Obama's favourables rising and McCain's falling during the debate, and with Obama winning decisively on the issues, including taxes. Similarly, a CBS poll of uncommitteds gives it to Obama 53 to 22, another overwhelming margin. Again, I think a lot of this has to do with Obama's refusal to join McCain in going negative and his answers on the three key domestic issues at the end, but, as Maddow rightly pointed out, a lot of it also has to do with McCain's temperament. People clearly aren't reacting well to it. The smirks and the grunts, the eye-rolling and the shiftiness, McCain simply looked like an angry, bitter old man seething just below the surface.

I expected McCain to play the maverick card, and he did, as well as to play up character and values, which he also did, but what I didn't expect was the explicit negativity: attacking Obama for wanting to "spread the wealth around," pressing the Ayers connection (and getting rather emotional about it), etc. And I expected him to play up his experience more, his supposed leadership, his reformist tendencies (however phony). What he did instead was contrast himself with Obama in terms of taxes and spending, that old Republican stand-by. But Obama did what he had to do, sticking to the substance of his policy proposals and challenging McCain on the facts. In the end, McCain's attacks were what fell flat. And while Obama presented himself again as supremely presidential, fully in control and on top of things, it was McCain who acted like a petulant child.

12:08 am - By the way, I thought Schieffer did a fine job. I didn't really notice him much, but he was there when he needed to be.

12:09 am - WaPo's Chris Cillizza has some first thoughts here. I don't agree that Obama's "vaguely arrogant" (if they were arrogant at all, and I don't think they were) facial expressions were on par with McCain's "contrived" expressions. McCain's weren't just "contrived," they were just nasty, and assholish. In this regard, McCain came off far, far worse. Like Cillizza, though, I was surprised that abortion was one of the key issues. But it was largely because the question of judicial nominations came up. Schieffer should have stepped in, though, and brought the discussion back to, say, SCOTUS appointments (a huge issue that hasn't been given nearly enough attention this campaign) and/or other high-profile judicial issues.

12:17 am - This doesn't happen all that often, but I must disagree with my friend Steve Benen, who thinks that this was McCain's worst debate performance. "On the substance, McCain had nothing new to offer. On his demeanor, McCain seemed angry and dismissive (did anyone count how many eye-rolls we saw?). On rhetoric, he was clumsy and repetitious." Well, I agree with all that, but he still did better, that is, was more effective, than he was in the first two debates, especially on the economy, when he was tapping into populist anger. But I think we forget that he did do fairly well at times in the first debate, on foreign policy. So allow me to restate: I sort of disagree with my friend Steve Benen.

12:22 am - Alright, that's it for me. It's been a long evening. I need to watch the debate again, or at least parts of it, and think it over before commenting further. And I'll do that... later today!

Thank you to all of our readers for spending some time with us tonight. Make sure to keep checking back daily, and multiple times daily, for extensive election coverage, and much more, from the Reaction team.

Thank you to all the commenters for letting us know what you thought of the debate. Much, much appreciated.

And thank you to Creature, Dan, and JTD for some fast and furious commentary along the way. You guys are hilarious. And, as always, insightful.

Good night, everyone.

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