Posts Tagged ‘Palin’

Whales and Forgiveness

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

There is a moving, terrible, strange, sublime cover story by Charles Siebert in the New York Times Magazine today. The headline, “Watching Whales Watching Us,” doesn’t quite get to the heart of it.

The main point of the article is startling: Despite all that humans have done to whales in the last two centuries — hunted, destroyed and decimated entire species — whales have learned to trust us again.

What grabs you by the throat and forces you to pay attention, first and foremost, is the prose:

Eighteen feet of boat on open seas is in almost any circumstance a tenuous alignment. But to suddenly find yourself in that same small vessel above a fleet, 40-foot-long midsea mastodon — one whose fluke alone could, with a cursory flip, send you and your boat soaring skyward — is to know the pure, wonderfully edgeless fear of complete acquiescence. I watched, wide-eyed, the soundless slide of that “moving land,” as Milton once described whales, everywhere beneath our boat, and suddenly felt the whole of myself wanting to go away with her; to hop on for a long ride downward toward some dimly remembered, primordial home.

Siebert is a contributing writer for the magazine. According to the blog, which tracks animals in popular culture, Siebert is known for his “searing analysis of human-animal relationships.” He’s written about chimpanzees, animal shelters and elephant culture. His book Angus: A Novel, is written from the perspective of a Jack Russell terrier.  He’s on familiar terrain.

For this article, he set out for the open waters of Baja California Sur, in Mexico, in search of gray whales. He surveys some of the violent, bloody history of our relationship with whales (“By the middle of the 20th century, worldwide stocks of nearly all the earth’s whale species had been … depleted”), then poses the question: “Why [would] present-day gray-whale mothers, some of whom still bear harpoon scars … take to seeking us out and gently shepherding their young into our arms?”

 If an article like this can have a nut, here it comes:

A combination of anecdotal evidence and recent scientific research into whale biology and behavior suggests that there may something far more compelling going on in the lagoons of Baja each winter and spring. Something, let’s say, along the lines of that time-worn plot conceit behind many a film, in which the peaceable greetings of alien visitors are tragically rebuffed by human fear and ignorance. Except that in this particular rendition, the aliens keep coming back, trying, perhaps, to give us another chance. To let us, of all species, off the hook.

To put a fine point on it: the whales — creatures known to mourn their own dead, teach, learn, scheme, cooperate, grieve, dream, and recognize their friends — are trying to let us know they forgive us.

Toni Frohoff, a marine mammal behavioralist, tells Siebert: “There are reasons why something like forgiveness is a possibility … There’s something very potent occurring here from a behavioral and biological perspective.”

What Siebert doesn’t answer, directly, is why this matters. And not just matters. Why the soaring prose? Why the artwork, accompanying the piece, instead of photos? Why remind readers of the floating factories used by whalers in the early 1900s, that allowed for “immediate on-board flensing and refinement of the carcass”?

There’s a clue in his final anecdote, I think, about a female humpback whale that, in 2005, became hopelessly entangled in a vast crab-trap net off the coast of San Francisco. A rescue team arrived, and, with the whale near death, divers risked their lives to cut the net.

When the whale was finally freed, the divers said, she swam around them for a time in what appeared to be joyous circles. She then came back and visited with each one of them, nudging them all gently, as if in thanks. The divers said it was the most beautiful experience they ever had. As for the diver who cut free the rope that was entangled in the whale’s mouth, her huge eye was following him the entire time, and he said that he will never be the same.

We live in a culture, in a political moment, when anti-environmentalism is not only alive, it’s celebrated. Remember, Sarah Palin fought tooth and nail against putting not just polar bears, but beluga whales, on the endangered species list (so as not to restrict off-shore oil and gas development), and, if Frank Rich is to believed, she is still the standard-bearer for a huge swath of the Republican party. And don’t think it’s just the fringes. When the Supreme Court recently overturned two lower court rulings that restricted the Navy’s use of sonar devices having a murderous effect on whales, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, sniffed: “For the plaintiffs, the most serious possible injury would be harm to an unknown number of marine animals that they study and observe.”

The whales are trying to let us know they forgive us, but we have navies to run, shipping lanes to fill, crabs to trap. Which may explain why we’re too busy to notice.

How do those alien movies end, again?

The Final Jewish Vote: Obama, in a Landslide

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The numbers are in.

According to the exit polls, 78 percent of Jews voted for Barack Obama. Only 21 percent pulled the lever for McCain.

Given the negative campaign unleashed against Obama in the Jewish community — spearheaded by the Republican Jewish Coalition’s “guilt by association” smears — those numbers are astounding, and they give me great pride.

Consider how far the community has come. The July 1 Gallup poll had Jewish support for Obama at 61 percent; 34 percent backed McCain. On September 8, AJC had Obama at 57 percent, McCain at 30 percent.

These numbers were never terrible, except when you consider that in presidential elections between 1992 and 2004, the Democratic nominee for president averaged 79 percent support in the Jewish community.

The JTA, in a lead election story, trumpets “Jews Looked Past Worries to Embrace Obama,” writing:

For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

And it happened despite the concerted $2 million effort to undermine Obama. As the JTA notes:

The Republican Jewish Coalition ran ads coupling critiques on Obama’s dovish policies with guilt-by-association jabs at his former pastor who embraced Third World liberation theology, at associates at the University of Chicago and during his early political career who had radical pasts, at advisers who had once delivered sharp critiques of Israel and the pro-Israel community. The negative campaign glossed over Obama’s deep ties in the Chicago Jewish community and how he has picked a pre-eminently pro-Israel foreign policy team.

On a National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) conference call yesterday analyzing election results, pollster Mark Mellman said that Obama’s Jewish support was “greater than or equal to” past Democratic nominees, adding: “The long-promised move of Jews out of the Democratic party has yet to materialize.”

Ira Forman, executive director of the NJDC, said Jewish voters — like voters generally — turned to Obama partly as a response to the economic meltdown. Further, he said, McCain’s pick of Palin tarnished his moderate image with Jewish voters, driving some would-be supporters away. Finally, he said, the Obama campaign’s outreach to Jewish voters — along with the efforts of groups like NJDC, the Jewish Council for Educational Research (which organized The Great Schlep), and — was “much more sophisticated and extensive than anything I’ve seen in years.”

Specific numbers for the states are not yet available, but the NJDC — noting that state trends tend to mirror the national numbers — released estimates of Jewish margins for Obama in several key states. Crunching those numbers a bit further shows just how critical Jews were to Obama’s success:

  • Obama won Ohio by 204,000 votes; the Jewish margin for Obama accounted for about 53,000 of that total, or about 26 percent of his winning margin.
  • Obama won Pennsylvania by 600,000 votes; the Jewish margin for Obama was 104,000, or about 17 percent.
  • Obama won Virginia by 155,000 votes; the Jewish margin for Obama was 36,000, or about 23 percent.
  • Obama won Nevada by 120,000 votes; the Jewish margin for Obama was 26,000, or about 22 percent.
  • Obama won New York by 1,784,000 votes; the Jewish margin for Obama was 590,000, or about 33 percent.
  • Obama won Florida by 195,000 votes; the Jewish margin for Obama was 238,000 — providing more than the difference in that state.

These numbers are important. President Obama will know that — despite months of smears castigating him as a Muslim terrorist-sympathizer who would be bad for Israel — the Jewish community stood with him, even above and beyond some other demographic groups, when it mattered most.

How fitting, then, that for his very first appointment — just hours after his election — Obama has tapped Rahm Emanuel to be White House chief of staff.

As Jeffrey Goldberg writes today on

Rahm did not, despite the rumors, serve in the Israeli Army, but he is deeply and emotionally committed to Israel and its safety.

Emanuel’s father, born in Jerusalem, was a member of the Irgun, the underground resistance movement in British Mandated-Palestine, and spoke Hebrew to his son growing up. Emanuel, whose first name means “high” or “lofty” in Hebrew, attended the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Jewish Day School in Chicago; his kids attend the same day school, where his wife, a Jewish convert, volunteers. He and his family are members of Anshe Shalom, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago.

“I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me,” Emanuel told the JTA, when he was first elected to Congress in 2002.

Now — thanks in no small part to the passion, sweat, and muscle of the Jewish community — those values will be part of the everyday fabric of the Obama White House.

Another Neurotic Democrat: Mitchell Bard

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

The New York City based writer and filmmaker is a dude after my own heart.

(Thanks to Loyal for the ND sighting. Keep ’em coming.)

Here’s the nut:

Barack Obama leads John McCain in every poll. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.comgives Obama a 96.7 percent chance of winning. And some McCain supporters with a nose for survival are jumping off of the Republican bandwagon faster than Sarah Palin running to an Alaska consignment shop (yes, I’m talking to you Joe Lieberman).

And yet I can’t bring myself to believe Obama will win next Tuesday.

You have to forgive me. As a 41-year-old Democrat, I’ve seen too much to ever be confident. I watched the nation choose a bumbling Bush (the first one) over a smart, successful governor, all because the governor was a bit of a nerd. Okay, a lot more than a bit, but still. (I often think about the Saturday Night Livesketch in which Jon Lovitz, as Michael Dukakis, in a debate with Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, responds to a nonsensical response by looking into the camera and saying, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy!”) I’ve seen Americans twice put into office a language-bungling, shallow-thinking, political legacy who, as was brilliantly said once, was born on third base but acted like he hit a triple (one of the elections coming after it was clear he had led America into a dangerous, damaging, unnecessary war that was completely mismanaged by his administration).

So you can at least understand why I won’t believe that the U.S. has elected Obama until/if I see McCain giving a concession speech.

What? Me Worry?

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

I’m not sure about this Obama infomercial last night.

I liked the idea going in — staying on the offensive, presenting your vision, uninterrupted.

Of course, it’s given McCain a perfect opportunity to remind people that Obama went back on his pledge to accept public financing. The front page headline in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning was “Obama Floods Airwaves; McCain mocks half-hour ad he says was paid for with ‘broken promises.'”

I liked the idea of cutting away to the live event at the end of the ad. It injected some excitement. Some sense of the real. And it happened in South Florida. But, as Howard Kurtz writes in the Washington Post’s Media Notes:

The idea of moving from the safety of a videotape to a live event was inspired. But doing it in a cheering Florida stadium with Obama going to the overblown rhetoric and vowing to “change the world,” not so much. The whole idea of the show was to bring Obama down from the clouds and into the street. The big rally came close to canceling out the man-of-the-people image so carefully constructed in the previous 27 minutes.

Moreover, log on to your Yahoo! email account today, and you are greeted with this AP headline: “What Obama’s ad left out.” The AP article begins:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was less than upfront in his half-hour commercial Wednesday night about the costs of his programs and the crushing budget pressures he would face in office.

Obama’s assertion that “I’ve offered spending cuts above and beyond” the expense of his promises is accepted only by his partisans. His vow to save money by “eliminating programs that don’t work” masks his failure throughout the campaign to specify what those programs are — beyond the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

And the thing is — unlike so much of what McCain-Palin has launched at Obama this cycle — in my view, all of this is fair game. Obama invited this critical look at his policies. For 24 hours, he’s turned himself into a bull’s eye. The press would be remiss for not writing articles like the one above.

You know how sometimes, a running back tries to get a few extra yards, late in the game, and, instead of going down on the first hit, pushes forward, grinding, trying to slough off a tackler … only to fumble, and fumble the game away?

I have a sinking feeling this morning. Now, it’s true, I always have a sinking feeling. So it’s nothing new.

But this, quoted in Kurtz’s column, makes me utterly queasy:

Is the race tightening? Well, maybe, says the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber:

“Obama’s lead in the national tracking polls looks to be around five points (I get 5.5 when I average all six of the trackers I mentioned, along with the Hotline and Battleground trackers, which haven’t changed much in the last few days). If that drops two-to-three points, as it easily could in a week, I don’t think it’s crazy to think McCain will have a shot at winning Pennsylvania, Virginia, and/or Colorado. Unlikely, yes, but not crazy. According to sites like Real Clear and, Obama’s lead in those states is currently larger than his 5.5 point national lead (significantly so in Pennsylvania). But, as I argued last week, the relationship between battleground-state numbers and national numbers can change significantly as we approach the finish, and those state averages you see could easily be a week out of date.

“My immediate concern is twofold: That McCain is getting some traction with his liberal/socialist/redistributionist charge–the WaPo tracker shows McCain narrowing the gap on the economy over the last week–and, in light of this, that Obama is striking his high-note a few days too early.”

I take comfort in knowing I’m far from the only neurotic Dem out there. But, with five days to go, it’s cold comfort, indeed.

‘Why Elect John McCain?’

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I’ve been hearing about it for four days — the NY Times magazine cover story, which deconstructs the woeful campaign of John McCain.

I think we can all agree that no matter what happens in these last eight days, McCain’s presidential campaigns has been god-awful. The magazine article (“The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate”) explains why.

Centrally, the article makes the case that while Obama settled on and stuck to one narrative (“Bush is the problem. I’m not going to be Bush, and McCain will be”), McCain shifted with the wind, never deciding on a single story-line.

It’s a long, powerful article, but here’s the nut:

The campaign was in the throes of an identity crisis by June 24, when a number of senior strategists gathered at 9:30 a.m. in a conference room of McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington. As one participant said later, the meeting was convened “because we still couldn’t answer the question, ‘Why elect John McCain?’ ” Considering that the election was less than five months away, this was not a good sign.

Draper identifies six narratives that McCain used over the course of the campaign, storylines for the public that were often in flux, and almost always reactive.

1. The Heroic Fighter vs. the Quitter. (McCain, through the Surge, was going to deliver victory in Iraq; Obama was waving the white flag of surrender.)

2. Country-First Deal Maker vs. Nonpartisan Pretender. (McCain’s taken on his own party; Obama has no record doing same.)

3. Leader vs. Celebrity. (McCain came out with a hardline when Russia invaded Georgia, and launched the Paris Hilton ad — implicitly mocking Obama’s European trip.)

4. Team of Mavericks vs. Old-Style Washington. (McCain taps Palin as VP. There are some incredible new details here, about just how little McCain knew Palin when he picked her. Also, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the finalists that McCain opted against. Just imagine how this election would have played out with Bloomberg, an economic guru, at McCain’s side during the economic meltdown.)

5. John McCain vs. John McCain. (McCain, in launching the attack ads, was running against an earlier version of himself, who had pledged — in 2000 — to unilaterally take down attack ads.)

6. The Fighter (Again) vs. the Tax-and-Spend Liberal. (After the last debate: all Joe the plumber, all the time.)

It’s a terrific article, in part, I think, because Draper seems empathetic toward McCain. You sort of sense, reading between the lines, a kind of respect he has for the candidate. I do think, however, that in a few important places, Draper leads us to the wrong conclusions.

For example, Draper writes:

The McCain campaign maintained that in contrast to Obama, their candidate had taken on his own party while working with Democrats on such issues as immigration and campaign-finance reform. “Obama pays no price from his party — never has,” Salter told me. “My guy has made a career out of it. So, how can you get people to believe that if you can’t get the press to make an honest assessment of it?

Reading that, I think, you might be tempted to cede the point. McCain has taken considerable heat for standing up to his own party — on campaign finance reform, immigration, and tax cuts during time of war, for example.

What Draper doesn’t say is that part of the reason the press didn’t “make an honest assessment,” as he puts it, is precisely because, as a presidential candidate, McCain has embraced his party on so many of the issues where he once stood apart. He once favored immigration reform; now he wants to build a wall along the Texas border first. (I can’t imagine John McCain 2000 advocating that the solution to the problem of illegal immigration begins with the U.S. spending millions to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans.) He once decried tax cuts in war time as irresponsible, he now wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. The man who supposedly stood up to his party on global warming picks a running mate who is completely in bed with the oil and gas industries, and doesn’t believe global warming is caused by humans.

McCain advisor Mark Salter misses the forest for the trees here. McCain made a career of bucking his party, yes, but he then abandoned the most significant of those stances as a presidential candidate. To the degree that the media has held McCain accountable (see, for example, The Daily Show), it has in fact been making a brutally honest assessment.

Obama may not have made a career of bucking his own party, but neither did he embrace its most radical elements the minute he launched his presidential bid. (You could argue he did the opposite. See, for example, his embrace of immunity for telecommunications companies, and his support of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down DC’s ban on handguns.)

There’s a terrific anecdote, toward the end of Draper’s piece, intended, I think, to explain why McCain feels animosity toward Obama:

Authenticity means everything to a man like McCain who, says Salter, “has an affinity for heroes, for men of honor.” Conversely, he reserves special contempt for those he regards as arrogant phonies. A year after Barack Obama was sworn into the Senate, Salter recalls McCain saying, “He’s got a future, I’ll reach out to him” — as McCain had to Russ Feingold and John Edwards, and as the liberal Arizona congressman Mo Udall had reached out to McCain as a freshman. McCain invited Obama to attend a bipartisan meeting on ethics reform. Obama gratefully accepted —but then wrote McCain a letter urging him to instead follow a legislative path recommended by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate. Feeling double-crossed, McCain ordered Salter to “send him a letter, brush him back a little.” Since that experience, says a Republican who has known McCain for a long time, “there was certainly disdain and dislike of Obama.”

Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that McCain is running one of the least “authentic” campaigns I can remember. (The man who was sunk by nefarious robocalls in 2000 is now sending them out in waves; the guy who said, before tens of millions, that he doesn’t care about a “washed up terrorist” has made that terrorist the center of his campaign.) When you read this paragraph, you feel some measure of understanding — even empathy — toward McCain. He reached out, and was spurned by the cocky newcomer.

That is, until you take a step back and think about it. Who knows why Obama adopted Harry Reid’s approach. Maybe — horror of horrors — the young cocky senator wanted to show some respect to the leadership in his own party, first. Maybe he legitimately liked Reid’s approach better, and his letter back to McCain was a principled stand. There’s a lot left out here.

But one point is clear. Even if you felt spurned, there are a number of ways you could respond. You could, for example — if you wanted to give the benefit of the doubt — take the high road, and leave the invitation open for the future. In the spirit of bipartisanship, you could chose to look beyond the petty and the personal, and decide not to hold a grudge.

McCain, though, felt double-crossed, and he made a different choice. He took it personally: me vs. him. Note the military, tactical overtones in his response: “Send him a letter, brush him back a little.”

Would Lincoln have responded that way? Would Truman, or Kennedy, or Reagan?

I am reminded of an anecdote in Doris Kearns Goodwins’ history, “Team of Rivals.” In it, she recounts how Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois lawyer, was retained on a patent-infringement case in Chicago. The case was moved to Cincinnati, though, and the defense retained Edwin Stanton instead — without bothering to tell Lincoln.

“When [Lincoln] arrived in Cincinnati after careful preparation,” notes the NY Times review of the book:

Stanton and his colleagues ignored him; Stanton was even heard to speak contemptuously of Lincoln as a backwoods bumpkin. Lincoln was hurt by the snub but stayed to watch the trial and was impressed by Stanton’s courtroom brilliance. Six years later Stanton, a Democrat, was practicing in Washington during the [civil] war’s first year and referred disdainfully to Lincoln in conversations with friends. Lincoln was aware of Stanton’s opinions, but when he decided to get rid of the incompetent Cameron, who had made a hash of military mobilization, he appointed none other than Stanton as secretary of war.

Stanton soon justified the appointment. He worked 15-hour days at his stand-up desk and proved to be one of the best war secretaries the country has ever had. 

Point is, Draper’s anecdote wants to suggest that McCain has valid reasons for feeling and acting disdainful toward Obama.

In fact, it highlights — in just a few, short sentences — why John McCain is thoroughly ill-suited to serve as commander in chief.

The Incredible Sunday Roundup

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Reading the expanisve opinion roundup in Sunday’s New York Times gives you the distinct impression that John McCain’s campaign is cooked. No one is coming right out and saying it. But neither do you have to read between the lines. The tone of the verdict is impossible to miss.

Here’s Conservative McCain supporter David Brooks:

Some of us hoped McCain would take sides in the debate now dividing the G.O.P. Some Republicans believe the G.O.P. went astray by abandoning its tax-cutting, anti-government principles. They want a return to Reagan (or at least the Reagan of their imaginations). But others want to modernize and widen the party and adapt it to new challenges. Some of us hoped that by reforming his party, which has grown so unpopular, McCain could prove that he could reform the country.

But McCain never took sides in this debate and never articulated a governing philosophy, Hamiltonian or any other. In Sunday’s issue of The Times Magazine, Robert Draper describes the shifts in tactics that consumed the McCain campaign. The tactics varied promiscuously, but they were all about how to present McCain, not about how to describe the state of country or the needs of the voter. It was all biography, which was necessary, but it did not clearly point to a new direction for the party or the country …

McCain would be an outstanding president. In government, he has almost always had an instinct for the right cause. He has become an experienced legislative craftsman. He is stalwart against the country’s foes and cooperative with its friends. But he never escaped the straitjacket of a party that is ailing and a conservatism that is behind the times. And that’s what makes the final weeks of this campaign so unspeakably sad.

Here’s moderate Nicholas Kristof, writing about al-Qaeda’s official endorsement of John McCain:

John McCain isn’t boasting about a new endorsement, one of the very, very few he has received from overseas. It came a few days ago:

“Al Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election,” read a commentary on a password-protected Islamist Web site that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and often disseminates the group’s propaganda.

The endorsement left the McCain campaign sputtering, and noting helplessly that Hamas appears to prefer Barack Obama. Al Qaeda’s apparent enthusiasm for Mr. McCain is manifestly not reciprocated …

The core reason why Al Qaeda militants prefer a McCain presidency: four more years of blindness to nuance in the Muslim world would be a tragedy for Americans and virtually everyone else, but a boon for radical groups trying to recruit suicide bombers.

Frank Rich, never one to celebrate early, writes:

There are at least two larger national lessons to be learned from what is likely to be the last gasp of Allen-McCain-Palin politics in 2008. The first, and easy one, is that Republican leaders have no idea what “real America” is. In the eight years since the first Bush-Cheney convention pledged inclusiveness and showcased Colin Powell as its opening-night speaker, the G.O.P. has terminally alienated black Americans (Powell himself now included), immigrant Americans (including the Hispanics who once gave Bush-Cheney as much as 44 percent of their votes) and the extended families of gay Americans (Palin has now revived a constitutional crusade against same-sex marriage). Subtract all those players from the actual America, and you don’t have enough of a bench to field a junior varsity volleyball team, let alone a serious campaign for the Electoral College.

But the other, less noticed lesson of the year has to do with the white people the McCain campaign has been pandering to. As we saw first in the Democratic primary results and see now in the widespread revulsion at the McCain-Palin tactics, white Americans are not remotely the bigots the G.O.P. would have us believe. Just because a campaign trades in racism doesn’t mean that the country is racist. It’s past time to come to the unfairly maligned white America’s defense.

Timoth Egan notes:

Republicans have been insinuating for years now that some of the brightest, most productive communities in the United States are fake American — a tactic that dates to Newt Gingrich’s reign in the capitol.

Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism. They’re places like Pittsburgh, with its top-notch universities; Albuquerque, with its surging Latino middle class; and Denver, with its outdoor-loving young people. They grow good people in the smart cities.

But in the politically suicidal greenhouse that Republicans have constructed for themselves, these cities are not welcome. They are disparaged as nests of latte-sipping weenies, alt-lifestyle types and “other” Americans, somehow inauthentic.

If that’s what Republicans want, they are doomed to be the party of yesterday …

Spurning the Reagan lesson, John McCain made a fatal error in turning his campaign over to the audience of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In so doing, he chose the unbearable lightness of being Sarah Palin, trotted out Paris Hilton and labeled Obama a socialist who associates with terrorists.

Not to be left out, Marueen Dowd piles on:

With the economy cratering and the McCain campaign running on an “average Joe” theme, dunderheaded aides, led by the former Bushies Nicolle Wallace and Tracey Schmitt, costumed their Eliza Doolittle for a ball when she should have been dressing for a bailout.

The Republicans’ attempt to make the case that Barack Obama is hoity-toity and they’re hoi polloi has fallen under the sheer weight of the stunning numbers:

The McCains own 13 cars, eight homes and access to a corporate jet, and Cindy had her Marie Antoinette moment at the convention. Vanity Fair calculated that her outfit cost $300,000, with three-carat diamond earrings worth $280,000, an Oscar de la Renta dress valued at $3,000, a Chanel white ceramic watch clocking in at $4,500 and a four-strand pearl necklace worth between $11,000 and $25,000. While presenting herself as an I’m-just-like-you hockey mom frugal enough to put the Alaska state plane up for sale on eBay, Palin made her big speech at the convention wearing a $2,500 cream silk Valentino jacket that the McCain staff had gotten her at Saks.

Nobel Economics Luareate Paul Krugman adds:

Mr. McCain seems spectacularly unable to talk about economics as if it matters. He has attempted to pin the blame for the crisis on his pet grievance, Congressional budget earmarks — which leaves economists scratching their heads in puzzlement. In the immediate aftermath of the Lehman failure, he declared that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong,” seemingly unaware that he was closely echoing what Herbert Hoover said after the 1929 crash.

But I suspect that the main reason for the dramatic swing in the polls is something less concrete and more meta than the fact that events have discredited free-market fundamentalism. As the economic scene has darkened, I’d argue, Americans have rediscovered the virtue of seriousness. And this has worked to Mr. Obama’s advantage, because his opponent has run a deeply unserious campaign.

These columnits are all serious, sober people from across the political spectrum, not prone to the kind of hyperbole for the sake of ratings we’re used to seeing on CNN. As I say, none of them even came right out and so much as predicted an Obama win.

Rich, for example, in closing, would only go so far as to say, “this seems to be the election year” when voters are rejecting divisive, Rovian, GOP politics.

Krugman opened with: “Maybe the polls and the conventional wisdom are all wrong, and John McCain will pull off a stunning upset.”

Brooks leaves open the possibility of a McCain win, noting that he “would be an outstanding president.”

But, I have to say, reading these columns one after the other, shot-gun style, stacked four to a page and separated by artist-rendered bunting — it had the feel of a post-mortem, nine days early.

JTA: ‘Obama Making Big Gains With Jewish Voters’

Friday, October 24th, 2008

This is what we have been working toward, for months.

Here’s the nut, from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

[Two] polls suggest that after months of hovering around 60 percent, Obama appears to be within striking distance of the 75-80 percent of the Jewish vote won by the three previous Democratic nominees for president.

A Gallup tracking poll of 564 Jewish registered voters, taken over the first three weeks of October, found Obama leading Republican John McCain by a 74-22 percent margin. That was a 13-point increase in support for the Democratic nominee since Gallup’s July poll, which had Obama leading 61-34 percent …

Meanwhile, a Qunnipiac University poll taken Oct. 16-21 in Florida found Obama winning 77 percent of Jewish voters in that state, compared to just 20 percent for McCain.

The article is clear that McCain’s pick of Palin is hurting him among Jewish voters, who, like growing numbers of voters nationwide, see the Alaska governor as too inexperienced, and too tied to the far right.

But it’s also very clear that Obama is showing gains from his serious outreach to Jewish communities across the country. This, despite a raft of nasty and misleading negative ads directed against him by the Republican Jewish Coalition, published in Jewish newspapers like the Cleveland Jewish News and many others. As the JTA reports:

In addition to citing the Palin selection, both [National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira] Forman and Democratic pollster Mark Mellman emphasized the extensive efforts of Obama and his campaign to introduce the Democratic nominee to the Jewish community. The campaign has sent dozens of Jewish surrogates — including Jewish members of Congress and well known figures in the community such as Ed Koch and Dennis Ross — to key states to talk about Obama’s background and his views on Israel and the Middle East.

“As people got to know him better, they felt a lot more comfortable” with him, Mellman said.

That effort continues next week in my hometown, Akron. The Ohio Democratic Party is bringing Dan Shapiro, Obama’s senior policy advisor and National Jewish Outreach Coordinator, to town to speak to the local Jewish community. (See event details at end of this post.) Like Obama advisor Dennis Ross before him, who came to Cleveland last month to address the local Jewish community, Shapiro will talk about Obama’s positions on Israel, the Middle East, and other areas crucial to Jewish voters.

Obama himself came to Cleveland during the primary, to meet with about 100 members of the Jewish community. He answered any and all questions we had for him, directly and intelligently, speaking from the heart about the critical nature of the U.S-Israel relationship.

It’s all part of an unprecedented effort by Obama to speak directly to the Jewish community, to lay out his positions, and to talk specifically about his record.

Sure, some of this is in response to the smear campaign directed against him, which has hurt him among Jewish voters. But that in no way diminishes the significance of Obama’s outreach effort.

When was the last time a presidential candidate made such a thoughtful, concerted, and consistent effort to speak directly to the Jewish community?

It tells us something about Obama’s values — even more when you remember that Jews make up less than 2 percent of the electorate.

If you live in or around Akron, I hope you’ll come to the Dan Shapiro event. If you have any remaining questions about Obama, his positions on Israel, or his take on the Middle East, this is a wonderful chance to ask them.

DETAILS: Tuesday, October 28, 7:30 p.m.; the Shaw JCC of Akron; 750 White Pond Drive.

Shabbat Shalom.