If you’re not reading Mudflats, you should be. It’s a weblog that’s been written by an “Alaska muckraker” since mid-May, and found itself perfectly-positioned when Sarah Palin ascended to the Veep nominee slot. Things have been on fire there since the announcement, with great local views of all the hubbub that’s descended on Alaska; it’s now one of my first reads in the morning, and one of my last reads at night.

Quote of the day, courtesy of Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton:

If John McCain hadn’t said that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” on the day of one of our nation’s worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week.

Seems to sum it up nicely.

I’m starting to think that a nice paradigm for evaluating the behavior of the candidates for President and Vice President might be what I’m going to call the what-if-it-were-my-kid test: how would I react if I learned that my own kid were behaving the same way? Let’s try this one out:

Imagine that I get a call from my daughter’s elementary school principal, asking me to come down to deal with an issue they’re having with her. I get to her school and learn that every day for the past two weeks, she’s been spending all of recess throwing a kickball at one of her classmates’ heads. I ask her to explain herself, and she says, “Well, I asked Jane to play jacks with me, and she said no, so it’s her fault!” I’m pretty sure I know how I’d react to this attempted justification — with a stern rebuke, followed by a calm discussion of how Jane is perfectly within her right to choose what she wants to do without my daughter beaning her with an inflatable ball.

Or how about this:

For an entire semester, my kid tells me he’s doing his math homework and is sailing along in class. Every night, we go over the work he has to do, and he assures me that he’s all set with math. Then his report card gets sent home, and he has a big F in math; I set up a conference with the teacher, learn that my son only turned in a handful of his homework assignments, and am handed a sheaf of (failing) quizzes he took in class. I ask my son about it, and he swears he did all his homework and did fine on his quizzes, even when presented with the evidence to the contrary. Again, I’m pretty sure there’s only one real response to this: a stern rebuke (this time accompanied by some tangible punishment), followed by an (attempted) calm discussion about lying, trust, and consequences.

Now, why are these the two examples that pop to mind? Well, the first nicely parallels John McCain saying that he’s only running a negative campaign because Barack Obama won’t do town-hall meetings with him; you can even hear him utter this amazing logical leap here, while at at the Service Nation forum (he repeated it again the next morning on The View). The whole thing feels amazing similar to a kid claiming she’s braining classmates because they won’t play jacks with her, and it feels right to treat it with the same amount of approbation.

The second what-if-it-were-my-kid scenario is a reasonable approximation of the outright lies that continue, even today, to be repeated by both McCain and his VP candidate, Sarah Palin. From their claims on their own records to their claims on Obama’s, their campaign is now firmly based in repeating claims that are known to be false in every way one can measure truth. And I’m not being hyperbolic by saying that their lies continue even today — this morning, Palin again repeated that she was against the Bridge to Nowhere (a line that she conveniently omitted from her stump speech for the few days she was actually in Alaska, speaking to the folks who damn well know better), and spokesman Tucker Bounds repeated the lie about Obama raising taxes on the middle class, a lie so egregious that even Fox News dragged him to the woodshed the minute the words left his mouth. And again, when thinking about it through the prism of my own kid doing the repeated lying, my response is simple — the bar for trusting any claims at this point from the GOP candidates is much, much higher.

I’m really liking this new paradigm.

(Oh, and Tom Toles rocks.)

Thomas Friedman has a great op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, an analysis of the fundamental differences between the two Presidential candidates’ approaches to the campaign over the past month or two. I can’t agree with him enough on this — during the past month, with issue after issue bubbling to the top of real American life (financial market woes, natural disasters, shifts in the Afghan and Iraq war dynamics, etc.), one candidate is actually talking about his plans to address these issues, and the other is concentrating on a campaign of smears and pig’s lipstick.

The money quote comes in the middle of the piece:

I dwell on this issue because it is symbolic of the campaign that John McCain has decided to run. It’s a campaign now built on turning everything possible into a cultural wedge issue — including even energy policy, no matter how stupid it makes the voters and no matter how much it might weaken America.
I respected McCain’s willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party’s nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

I mean, if even Fox News is willing to start calling McCain out on his ad tactics and campaign strategy, he’s crossed into uncharted GOP territory…

Today’s Washington Post brought us an article saying that Sarah Palin’s confusion about the Bush Doctrine was “understandable” because there are many different versions of the Bush Doctrine. To anyone who’s seen the video clip, this is one of the most hysterical contentions ever; it’s akin to saying that it’s understandable that a preschooler is confused about the right choice of investments for retirement because the issue is so complex. Sure, learned scholars might have contentious arguments about the various definitions of “the Bush Doctrine”, but Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson revealed that she’s not even in the same state as those learned scholars — in order to be able to have a discussion about the many definitions of the Bush Doctrine, Palin would have had to have even a glancing understanding that there is a Bush Doctrine, rather than some “worldview” to which Gibson might be alluding with a fancy schmancy term. Seriously, she’s operating at the level of a preschooler on this issue; you only need to see the first ten seconds of the clip to see her struggle and delay, hoping that Gibson would give her an easy out.

And for the record, I should point out that not understanding the Bush Doctrine isn’t an insult of Palin per se — she’s a governor of less than two-thirds of a million people, has literally never been a part of national or international politics, and is probably joined by at least a handful of other governors who couldn’t have an informed discussion about the Bush Doctrine. The issue here is that Palin was chosen as the GOP candidate for Vice President of the United States, and I don’t think it’s overarching to expect the folks we aim to elevate to that position to have even the slightest clue about international strategy, not to mention the stark change in our willingness to use aggression that will form the backdrop for whatever changes the next Administration makes.

For two days in a row, John McCain has said to a national audience that the tack his campaign has taken, issuing patently-false attack ads and questioning the honor of Barack Obama, is a direct result of Obama refusing to participate in town-hall meetings with McCain. What?!? I’m not even sure how to parse that — I literally have no idea what that statement means, how the two are connected, or whether McCain has some understanding of cause and effect that I don’t. Is there any rational person in this country who thinks that there are only two alternatives for running a campaign for president, having town-hall meetings or issuing blatant lies from the relative safety of an ad design studio? Is there some sort of weird playground rule in effect during this election that says that when a candidate doesn’t agree to his opponent’s demands, the opponent gets to go off the deep end? (For the record, the first time McCain said this was at last night’s Service Nation event at fair Columbia University; the second time was on today’s The View.) I would expect this kind of explanation from an elementary school kid who’s trying to justify pushing someone into a ditch or something, not from a man who’s been trying to convince us all of his deep honor and commitment to rational public discourse.

(I do have to say, though, that it was fun to watch McCain get ripped up on The View, of all things. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a candidate whose positions and statements are so untenable that he can’t defend them while sitting on the sofa of a late-morning coffee klatsch television show; is there really a question of whether or not he’d be able to defend them while sitting in the Oval Office? Nevermind the part of the same appearance wherein he claimed that Palin never asked for earmarks as governor of Alaska, another glaring and undeniable lie.)

It continues to shock me how dishonorable a once-honorable man, John McCain, is willing to become in order to win the Presidency. Fortunately, it also seems that there’s been an uptick in the press noticing this over the past day or two.

Newsweek’s Andrew Romano has a nice piece from last night on the fact-free nature of McCain’s latest “Fact Check” ad; from its claims of the Obama campaign “air-dropping” an army of lawyers into Alaska to its deceptive claims about FactCheck.org’s pronouncements on Obama, the ad is a pure lie from start to finish. (And in an ironic twist, FactCheck itself weighed in on the ad, politely calling it “less than honest.”)

The New York Times’s Andrew Rohter took a look at McCain’s battleground-state ad purporting that Obama wants to teach kindergarteners about sex and found it similarly full of shit. The ad claims that Obama had “one accomplishment” while in the Illinois legislature, a bill that teaches children about sex before they are even taught to read. That, alas, is a total lie recycled from Alan Keyes’s campaign against Obama in 2004 — the proposed law was about “age and developmentally appropriate” sex education (with the youngest kids learning things such as how to avoid sexually predatory behavior, an issue appropriate enough that the Cub Scouts also teach about it), Obama wasn’t one of the bill’s sponsors, and the thing never made it to a vote in the full legislature. And finally, the ad repeats the same lie Palin told in her convention acceptance speech about Obama having no real accomplishments; this Times article from mid-last-year is a great resource for those who’d like to understand the actual accomplishments of Obama’s tenure in the Illinois state legislature, which include the first major campaign finance reform law in a quarter-century, the state’s first racial profiling law, increased childcare subsidies, and enhanced tax credits for the working poor, and earned a reputation as a policymaker willing to cross the political aisle to achieve results.

Finally, we get to this week’s total shitshow of an “issue”, the McCain campaign’s claim that Obama called Sarah Palin a pig. It’s so inane, so ludicrous, and so totally, demonstrably false as to be laughable, but of course, it’s dominated the news cycle for nearly 48 hours. (The slogan of this week: “This waste of time and energy was brought to you by the lies and slander of the McCain campaign, mindlessly repeated by the unthinking media.”)

To those of you who’ve read me for any amount of time, there’s no doubting that I’m a reasonably solid Democrat, so it’s no surprise that I’m behind Obama in this horse race. But with that said, I spent a lot of the 1990s thinking that John McCain was a very reasonable — non-wingnut, non-neo-conservative — Republican, and that he’d likely serve our nation well were he ever to attain the Presidency. That’s why it’s so shocking to me how far he’s fallen, and how willing he’s been to dishonor the amazing legacy he could have had. Fortunately, it seems that I’m not alone in this assessment.

The Washington Post’s Michael Kinsley:

[T]hat shouldn’t let John McCain off the hook. He says he’d rather lose the election than lose the war. But it seems he’d rather lose that honor he’s always going on about than lose the election.

Time Magazine’s Joe Klein:

Now he is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I’ve ever seen in presidential politics…. I just can’t wait for the moment when John McCain — contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat — talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

The Washington Post’s editorial board:

John McCain is a serious man who promised to wage a serious campaign. Win or lose, will he be able to look back on this one with pride? Right now, it’s hard to see how.

The Washington Monthly’s Hilzoy:

I hope McCain is enjoying himself. It would be a shame for him to give up what remains of his honor without getting anything at all in return.

The message that really hit home to me was spoken by Obama when he was asked to respond to the “lipstick on a pig” idiocy.

This happens every election cycle. Every four years. This is what we do. We’ve got an energy crisis. We have an education system that is not working for too many of our children and making us less competitive. We have an economy that is creating hardship for families all across America. We’ve got two wars going on — veterans coming home not being cared for — and this is what they want to talk about. This is what they want to spend two of the last 55 days talking about.
You know who ends up losing at the end of the day? It’s not the Democratic candidate. It’s not the Republican candidate. It’s you, the American people, because then we go another year or another four years or another eight years without addressing the issues that matter to you. Enough.
I don’t care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift-boat politics. Enough is enough.

Let’s hope that enough Americans agree.

I started watching Sarah Palin’s speech a few minutes into it last night, and my take is that she’s a supremely confident speaker, and is clearly willing to go for the jugular, but didn’t give us any reason to think that she has any grasp of the issues that matter at the national level.

The first chunk of the speech was about her family, and that’s understandable — the nation still has to really meet Sarah Palin, and that’s what that was about. The next bit was about her accomplishments as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska, and this is where my incredulity meter started jumping. Palin threw out a line or two about her strong ethics reform credentials… on the same day that she stopped cooperating into the Alaska legislature’s ethics inquiry into her firing of the state public safety commissioner. She clearly implied that Alaska’s current budget surplus was as a result of her vetoes of wasteful spending, but there’s really no debate at this point that huge windfall taxes on the Alaskan oil and gas industry, taxes championed by Palin, are what’s responsible for the surplus. (Of note, these same taxes were defeated in Congress by the GOP in the lower 48; also of note while we’re talking about surplus and debt, when Palin started as mayor of Wasilla, the town had no debt, a number that ballooned to just under $20 million — or $3,000 per person — by the time she left.) And finally — and most brazenly — Palin claimed that she was against earmarks and the now-famous Bridge to Nowhere, claims that are now known to be so absolutely, positively false as to make you wonder if her press insulation was so effective this past week that she doesn’t know that there’s not a single thinking person who believes them anymore.

After all that, Palin then segued into the only bit of policy meat in her speech, a minute or two about energy; I won’t proclaim to know a ton about energy policy, so it’s hard for me to judge this. She then finished with an alternating string of attacks on Obama and honorifics about McCain, demonstrating the barracuda-like style that gave her her nickname back home.

For those so-inclined, The Washington Monthly did a nice fact-checking of the speech last night, as did the Associated Press and the Obama campaign.

If anyone doubts whether Sarah Palin is cut from the same cloth as our current Bush Administration, the fact that she is now refusing to testify in her state ethics inquiry should answer that question. Remember, the day that Palin was picked as the vice presidential nominee, she was “happy to help out in the investigation of this matter, because she was never directly involved”; two days later, she lawyered up and began making noise that she was done cooperating, and now she’s trying to shunt the investigation over to a state ethics board made up solely of folks she appointed. It’s a transparent-enough move that it stuns me she’s willing to take it, but at some point, I need to stop being stunned by how ridiculous this is becoming.

I guess that since the nation has allowed countless Bush administration folks to get away with refusing to participate in investigations into various abuses of power (Alberto Gonzales, John Bolton, Monica Goodling, Harriet Miers, David Addington, Dick Cheney, etc.), either Sarah Palin or the McCain/Palin campaign feel that erecting this new blockade is a good gamble to take. That’s disheartening on so many levels, the worst of which is that they’re probably right — why would the public take a mere vice presidential nominee to task over her non-participation in an ethics investigation when we didn’t manage to take the highest American law-enforcement officer to task for doing the same thing?

I promise I didn’t intend for things here to become all-election-the-time; between work ramping up and having the World’s Most Awesome Five-Month-Old at home, it seems that all my other free time over the past week and a half has been spent watching the DNC and reading news coverage about the election. Alas, this will all be over soon.

For a bit of only-partially-election-related linkage, though, you have to read this week’s New Republic Q&A with Charles Barkley. It’s entertaining as hell, much like Sir Charles.

Last night, in the face of trying to be spun by McCain campaign spokesperson Tucker Bounds, CNN’s Campbell Brown did something incredibly out-of-the-ordinary for today’s journalists: she called him on his rank bullshit. (This clip is really worth seeing.)

After that, in what shouldn’t be as shocking to me as it is, McCain decided that this was punishment-worthy behavior and backed out of an interview on Larry King Live tonight. The campaign’s official statement was:

After a relentless refusal by certain on-air reporters to come to terms with John McCain’s selection of Alaska’s sitting governor as our party’s nominee for vice president, we decided John McCain’s time would be better served elsewhere.


WowSarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol is pregnant. I honestly cannot imagine how shrill and neverending the GOP attacks would be if it was discovered that a teenage daughter of Barack Obama or Joe Biden was pregnant; televisions would be blanketed with never-ending ads about how worthless “liberal” sex-education programs have proven, how Democrats are encouraging promiscuity, and every other nasty spin you could think of.

In all honesty, if this was in Bristol’s plans, then this is great news for her and her boyfriend-cum-fiancé, and that’s where the personal side of this ends for the rest of us political gawkers. But given that Bristol’s mother has just been selected by John McCain to be his party’s vice-presidential nominee, it’s impossible to deny that there are a few other sides of this that remain highly relevant to the country. For me, this is just another indication that either McCain’s judgement, or his ability to vet his candidate, is much more flawed than anyone previously thought; the whole picture is one of a campaign in total disarray.