Monday, October 20, 2008

Slivers and Fractures
You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing. -- Peggy Noonan

In this week's Sift:
  • It Gets Uglier. Charges of terrorism, socialism, baby-killing, and vote fraud are starting to lead to violence. Does anybody think we're going to be one big happy family again after this is over? Plus some humorous responses to it all.
  • Endorsements. Obama's getting some interesting ones from places like the Chicago Tribune and the Houston Chronicle. And Colin Powell.
  • More on Vote Fraud and Vote Supression. Only one is a genuine threat to American democracy.
  • Short Notes. Want to carve a Barack-o-Lantern?

It Gets Uglier
Instead of substantive proposals for dealing with our country's problems the McCain campaign has treated swing-state voters to this robocall:
You need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans.
Robocalls are an especially insidious way to run a negative campaign. Because they go by so quickly, they're very easy to mishear. So while the sentence above is defensible in a word-for-word way -- a decade ago Obama worked with a guy who decades before that had worked with some other guys who died when their bomb went off by mistake  -- many voters will hear something else: that Obama was involved (and maybe is still involved) in terrorist bombings that kill people.

Senator Susan Collins, co-chair of the McCain campaign in Maine, asked McCain to stop the robocalls, saying "These kind of tactics have no place in Maine politics." When Fox News' Chris Wallace asked the candidate if he would stop the calls, McCain responded, "Of course not."

And the hits just keep coming. Now Obama is a "socialist" and a new robocall claims that Obama voted to deny medical care to babies. 

Rule #1 in a Karl-Rove-style campaign is: Never defend; always attack. So when confronted with this and his other punches-below-the-belt, McCain has been demanding that Obama repudiate a statement by Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement. In the third debate, McCain claimed that Lewis "made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace."

One way to spot spin: Spinners characterize a statement instead of quoting it. Lewis in fact made the very apt point that it's dangerous to create "an atmosphere of hate" because you don't know how far other people will take it. "George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun." But he stirred up the kind of people who did. That's what Lewis accused McCain and Palin of doing -- not of being segregationists, bombing churches, or killing children.

And people are getting stirred up. A man in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield has hung an Obama effigy in his yard as a bizarre Halloween display. A local reporter was assaulted at a Palin rally in North Carolina. Another Palin crowd in Florida shouted racial insults at a black sound man in the press area. ACORN offices have been vandalized in Boston and Seattle. Sunday a woman at a BBQ restaurant in North Carolina yelled at Obama himself "socialist, socialist, socialist -- get out of here". Also in North Carolina, tires on 30 cars were slashed outside an Obama rally. A California Republican newsletter printed an image of Obama on a food stamp together with watermelon, ribs, and fried chicken. A black Obama supporter in Arizona had swastikas and McCain slogans painted on his restaurant -- including "no niggers 4 president".

Al Jazeera reporter Casey Kaufman (yes, Al Jazeera covers America) interviewed people attending a Palin rally in rural Ohio and filmed statements like these:
  • "I'm afraid if [Obama] wins, the blacks will take over."
  • "He must support terrorists."
  • "Obama and his wife, I'm concerned that they could be anti-white and that he might hide that."
  • "He thinks us white people are trash."
McCain, meanwhile, says that he is proud of the people who attend his rallies. The assaulted Greensboro reporter comments:
After today I'm wondering -- and this is just wondering at this point -- whether Republicans aren't in some respect giving their supporters license for this sort of crap. If the story you peddle is that your guys are the good guys and all those who stand against them are the bad guys, and the "liberal media" is in that second column, might there be a message there -- even if it is one that is misconstrued and carried to stupid extreme in some cases?
What Republicans really are telling their supporters is that Obama and other Democrats aren't loyal Americans. Friday, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann was pushing an Obama-is-anti-American line on Hardball when host Chris Matthews pointed out that Obama is a U. S. senator. How many other people in Congress, he wondered, did Bachmann suspect of being anti-American? Bachmann left the door open: "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?" (Bachmann's opponent has gotten $650,000 in contributions since.)

Sarah Palin says she likes to visit "the pro-America areas of this great nation." (Numbers wonk Nate Silver analyzes the places Palin goes and notes that they are also the white parts of America.) And McCain surrogate Nancy Pfotenhauer said that McCain has support in "real Virginia" as opposed to the suburban northern areas of the state.

Actually, the McCain campaign is just making explicit something Republicans have been doing for years -- denouncing parts of the United States. John Kerry wasn't just a liberal, he was a "Massachusetts" liberal. Nancy Pelosi has "San Francisco values". Democrats quite literally never do this. Bush is just a conservative; there's no special invective in him being a "Texas" conservative. Places like Utah are never going to vote Democratic, but you never hear a Democrat say "Utah" with a sneer.

Emptywheel points out that this ugliness is not going to go away after the election. If you really believe that your country has been taken over by a vote-stealing, terrorist-loving, baby-killing, socialist revolutionary, are you just going to nod peaceably and go along? John Lewis is right: Bad things will come of this.

In case you think any of this stuff is new, here's a clip from 1954, where Senator Joseph McCarthy says that legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow "as far back as 20 years ago was engaged in propaganda for Communist causes. Now Mr. Murrow by his own admission was a member of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, a terrorist organization cited as subversive."

Keeping a sense of humor, some Obama supporter has spliced the McCain robocall into a scene from "The Matrix". Neo's terror is exactly what the call seems to ask for, and he has some very appropriate reactions: "How do you know all this?" and "This is insane."

American Prospect's Ezra Klein compares McCain's guilt-by-association tactics to those the Penguin used when he debated Batman: "Whenever you have seen Batman, who is he with? Criminals!"

Onion News Network goes "Beyond the Facts" to tell us about an 8-year-old girl who sells cookies and lemonade to finance her anti-McCain attack ad. The adorably precocious blond says: "You can make a lie sound like the truth if you say it over and over again." And ONN's anchor comments proudly: "I'm sure we will be seeing horrible things from that little girl in the future."

This video imagines what goes on in McCain strategy sessions.

Hayden Panettiere (the indestructible cheerleader from "Heroes") makes a tongue-in-cheek McCain commercial (rated R for language). "He's just like George Bush, except older and with a worse temper." And this Women For McCain video is equally satirical, but with more bite. "I promise to let the government tell me what to do with my body if I get raped." This video is related, but it's not funny at all: a teen-ager who got pregnant after a rape tells Governor Palin that girls in her situation should have a choice.

With two weeks to go in the campaign, newspapers have started making endorsements. No surprise that the Boston Globe went for Obama, and while the Washington Post was not a sure thing, that was no great shock either.

The interesting endorsements, however, came from newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, which has never before endorsed a Democrat for president. ("Is that chill coming from hell?" comments one reader on the Trib's web site. "Do I see porcine aviation outside my window??") The L. A. Times also hasn't endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate in its long history -- until now. The Houston Chronicle and the Salt Lake Tribune are red-state papers that endorsed Bush in 2004 -- both are for Obama this year.

Vice presidential candidates rarely make a significant impression on editorial boards, but Interestingly Sarah Palin did -- a negative impression. The Salt Lake Tribune's take is typical: "More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency." If you just can't get enough of such sentiments, Daily Kos collects them from nine major newspapers.

The big endorsement news of the weekend wasn't a newspaper, it was Colin Powell. Sunday on Meet the Press, Powell made a sweeping statement of the reasons to pick Obama over McCain. And it's way past time somebody made Powell's point about the Obama's-a-Muslim smear: What if he were? "We have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way," Powell said.

Damn straight. Islam is a religion, and we have freedom of religion in America. Would we blithely accept people saying "He's a Jew" in the tone of voice that people are saying "Obama's a Muslim"? What if his middle name sounded Jewish -- Menachem or Moshe -- rather than Arab like Hussein? Would we tolerate speakers using it as a taunt?

Predictably, Republicans immediately turned Powell's endorsement into a racial thing. Asked about the endorsement's impact, George Will went straight into: "It seems to me if we had the tools to measure, we'd find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he's black for every one he loses because he's black." And Rush Limbaugh put it like this: "I am now researching [Powell's] past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed."

More on Vote Fraud and Vote Suppression
This week we started to get some appropriate perspective on the fraud/suppression problem. John McCain has already laid the groundwork for claiming fraud if he loses Florida. And in the third debate, McCain made the ludicrous claim that vote-registration group ACORN is "now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick examines that claim and concludes: "Large-scale, co-ordinated vote-stealing doesn't happen." AP's Fact Check comes to a similar conclusion: Some ACORN registrations are fake -- that always happens when you have a voter registration drive -- but "in alleging voter fraud, McCain goes too far."

Lithwick quotes Barnard College political science professor Lori Minnite, who explains the relative sizes of the voter fraud and voter suppression problems.
From 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration
fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters -- voters who vote twice, impersonate other people, vote without being a resident -- the voters that Republicans warn about. Meanwhile thousands of people are getting turned away at the polls.
Several people, including the Obama campaign, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, former Justice Department voting-rights official Gerry Hebert, and fired U.S. attorney David Iglesias started pointing out the similarities between the vote-fraud investigation of ACORN and the kind of politicized and politically-timed investigations that were at the root of the U.S. attorneys' scandal. Igelisias: "Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic."

In related news, the Supreme Court over-ruled a lower court ruling that would have forced Ohio to make available the names of 200,000 newly registered voters (out of 600,000 new voters total) whose registrations in some way differ from other state databases. All 200,000 would have been vulnerable to challenge at the polls, usually because some state database has a typographical error, or one database includes a middle initial and another leaves it out. (One voter with such a database mis-match is McCain's buddy Joe the Plumber.) How these mismatches might lead to illegitimate votes being cast is a mystery, but forcing 200,000 Ohio voters to cast provisional ballots might lead to post-election litigation that would make Florida 2000 look tame.

Here's the nub of the issue: If newly registered Ohio voters (most of whom are Democrats) become convinced that they'll be hassled at the polls and their votes may not count, many may decide not to bother. That's the whole point. The fewer people vote, the better it is for Republicans.

Oh, and here's another robocall: This one from the Ohio Republican Party warning people about the Democrats' plan to "rig the election."

Short Notes
This is what a crowd of 100,000 people looks like. Not in Berlin, in St. Louis.

538's Sean Quinn relates a hilarious story about an Obama canvasser in Washington, Pennsylvania. I suspect it's an urban legend, because I sort of remember hearing something similar during one of Jesse Jackson's campaigns, but why ruin it?

If you think a Barack-o-Lantern would just be the coolest thing to have on your porch for Halloween, check out Yes We Carve.

What if our campaigns were comedy laugh-offs rather than smear-fests? You've probably seen clips from this already, but Obama and McCain were each very funny at the white-tie Al Smith Dinner in New York. McCain explained why he refered to Obama as "that one" at the debate, and said that Obama also had a pet name for him: George Bush. And Obama observed that from the doorstep of the Waldorf Astoria (where the dinner was held) "you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room."

Josh Marshall explains one obscure bit of blogger slang: When reporters or pundits bend over backwards to give McCain the benefit of the doubt -- like explaining how distressed the honorable McCain must be by the reprehensible tone of his own campaign -- they are said to be "on the tire swing". His post includes video of the original tire-swinging pundit.

Remember how government spying on overseas phone calls was only aimed at terrorists? Well, maybe not. ABC's Nightline reports on NSA whistleblowers' accounts of listening in to ordinary people's phone sex calls and all sorts of other things. Surprised? That's one reason why the Founders were so down on the idea of unchecked, unaccountable power: It never turns out well.

Slate's Linda Hirshman discusses why we might not want pregnant 17-year-olds to keep their babies.

Remember the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department? They're the folks who interpret the law for the rest of the executive branch -- the ones who said that the Convention Against Torture doesn't really mean anything. Now they're saying that laws that specifically ban groups who get government funding from hiring by religion -- they don't really mean anything either. Every bad thing conservatives say about the Supreme Court is true in spades (and in secret) about the Bush OLC. They make the laws say whatever they want.

One snowy winter in Chicago, my friends and I realized we were all perversely rooting to break the snowfall record. One guy explained, "Nobody wants to live through the second worst winter in history." Well, this year the federal government had the biggest budget deficit in history. Enjoy.

In case you missed it, here's McCain putting air quotes around "health of the mother" during the third debate.

If you want some substance in your Sift rather than just politics, I sincerely apologize. I'm getting increasingly obsessed as Election Day closes in, and I hope to recover shortly thereafter. Here's a helping of substance to tide you over: The Washington Post analyzes what really went wrong with the market meltdown. And Washington Monthly does a one-stop summary of all the major issues. Seriously.

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