Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama's last first impression

My feeling about the debate is the same as everyone else's, I guess: No definitive knockout blows; tie goes to Obama. But I have a handful of thoughts to add.

  • I would have to assume that for people who were not very familiar with Obama prior to the debate, this would have been a reassuring, maybe even eye-opening performance. Obama has been very good at first impressions -- remember those very early primaries? -- and this is one of the very few remaining campaign events where Obama actually will be making the functional equivalent of a first impression on a large group of Americans. That's a benefit to him that may show up in the polls.

  • What this debate didn't have was some kind of defining takeaway line or moment. But that's a good thing, right? It means voters can focus on the arguments put forward and the policies advocated rather than gaffes. We'll see what shape reaction takes over the next few days, of course, but in a no-defining-moments debate, if that is what it was, the guy who is ahead probably benefits.

  • I really liked the format, and thought Jim Lehrer did a good job. Very much liked the direct addressing each other and the interrupting each other and the "I just have to respond to that, Jim."

  • Everyone is focusing on McCain's "Obama just doesn't understand" mantra, and indeed no doubt it was a messaging decision for him to hit that note a dozen times. But I remember from my creative writing workshops that you are supposed to show, not tell -- and even if viewers disagreed with Obama's views and arguments, he certainly didn't come off as clueless or over his head.

  • It was really a lot of story-time for McCain, no? And a ton of historical references. Probably part of the same I-am-experienced messaging, but to me at least the effect was to make his responses seem kind of fuzzy.

  • Stark, clear differences in the candidates' policy positions. There were even a few moments in the debate (on Iraq, e.g.) where I felt like both men actually explained their positions clearly, the positions were radically different, and voters may now have a decent sense of their real choice. Of course, there were other moments that were, uh, less honest and straightforward.

    What did you guys think?
  • best line on the bailout

    "Government control of capital is government control of capitalism."

    From George Will's McCain-eviscerating column.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Chris Rock on Letterman

    It is pretty great the way Chris Rock takes on Bill Clinton, who had been sitting in the exact same seat just moments earlier...

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    This is not my beautiful house

    Best music video ever? Most rock and roll bow tie ever?

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    R.I.P. DFW Pt. II

    I have a few more extended thoughts about David Foster Wallace that I will not have time to put down until late tonight, but I thought I would post a link to my Stop Smiling review of his 2006 essay collection, Consider the Lobster. It is basically a negative review, but I think it's a thoughtful one. Wallace always was a polarizing writer, no need to pretend otherwise now. Very sad death. More later.

    P.S. ... See also, "David Foster Wallace stranded on a desert island."

    UPDATE [9/16 12:54am] ... Here is some of what I wanted to get down on paper. I think I may try to rework this somewhat and give it more of a shape and see if I can convince someone to publish it. Not sure. But here is a first go at an essay on the death of David Foster Wallace:
    I read Infinite Jest in the second semester of my freshman year of college, and I was, wow, a true fanboy. Certainly, I liked it a little too much.

    People did make fun of me for my obsession with David Foster Wallace. I did strike up at least one friendships based on mutual love of the writing and thinking of David Foster Wallace, a kid in my sophomore creative writing class named…I can’t remember his name. I did write stories, as the undergraduate creative writing major that I was, that were love-letters to the style and priorities and structures of a story by David Foster Wallace. I did not use footnotes. I don’t think I ever got quite that bad. Limits.

    I grew up in a small cornfield town in central Illinois, about an hour away from the small Illinois cornfield town where David Foster Wallace grew up. There was something deeply thrilling about being a creative writing student and reading “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” the first essay in Wallace’s collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and knowing firsthand the landscape it described. I still love that essay. Plus, Wallace was a professor at Illinois State University in Normal, where I was from -- I felt I had a connection. I went to school in Ohio, but I still went home plenty, and I knew people who had Wallace as a professor. My best friend, Mike Perillo, was in Wallace’s class. More on that later.

    One time I sat directly behind him at the Normal Theater at a screening of a movie about alcoholism called “My Name is Joe.” Should I have approached him? No, what for? I did not need him to know what a huge fan I was -- I knew.

    Someone I know’s older brother had David Foster Wallace as his AA sponsor, or maybe it was NA, I don’t know. I do remember sitting in this kid’s living room and asking questions about what David Foster Wallace was, you know, really like. Nice guy. Treated his dogs like his kids.

    I’ve told this story before, but it is a good one. The first story Mike Perillo turned in to Prof. David Foster Wallace came back with the message on it: “I swear to God if you ever turn in a piece of shit like this to me again I will flunk your ass. I shit you not.” Mike said he wrote the same message on a lot of people’s first assignments. A motivational tactic, perhaps? Who knows, maybe the stories really were that bad.

    Maybe. But it seems to me now that there is also a certain need to dominate in a note like that. It's the same kind of urge that drives one to write a 1,000+ page novel with 100+ pages of footnotes that more or less runs down the OED but doesn't even have an ending. The same urge that would lead one to write, in a magazine called Gourmet, an essay about the neurological processes by which a lobster experiences excruciating pain as it's being cooked. (Although that one is kind of cool, I admit.)

    That was kind of the problem with my personal Wallace-obsession. For a self-conscious 20-year-old, maybe the best, most admirable thing about David Foster Wallace was that you could be assured he was the smartest person in any room. He studied philosophy of mathematics! Look at all the words he knew!

    My professor, Steven Bauer, sort of liked Wallace’s writing, I think, but he told me I was hiding behind DFW, not just as an aspiring writer but also as a reader. I should not be into Wallace when I had not read any of the traditional, non-flashy, non-ironic, non-experimental works of fiction that Wallace was struggling so hard to break from. Really, Steven Bauer wanted me to grow up in all sorts of ways, and one of the main ones was to stop being so self-serious and super-smart all the time. Very good advice as it turned out.

    So guess what happened? In time, I sort of broke up with David Foster Wallace. I remember actually writing an email to Steven Bauer at one point declaring my independence from Wallace. Of course I still read his stuff, but I did start to read it a bit differently. I could understand why some people hated him.

    That way of seeing Wallace sort of culminated with the review of his essay collection Consider the Lobster I wrote in 2006 for Stop Smiling magazine. I did not tear Wallace a new one. But I was writing from a position of strength: I knew the subject inside and out.

    This news means the cruise essay, "A Supposedly Fun Thing," really is the best single piece of writing Wallace ever produced. You could do worse; that essay is hysterical. And there are a lot of other essays of his that really stand up as literary works, along with not a few of the stories and Infinite Jest. But this news means that unless there are posthumous publications, these will remain his best work, forever.

    Part of me wants to say that all this stuff from my own life made it hard for me to know how to feel at the news of David Foster Wallace's suicide, but it really didn't. I knew exactly how to feel about it. Bad.


    "September" ... "1st place" ... "no-hitter" ... "Cubs" ... "not on the losing end"

    I've been cheering for the Cubs for more than 30 years, and I can't believe the terms above could be put together in a meaningful (and factually correct) sentence.

    Read about Carlos Zambrano's accomplishment here.

    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    President McCain

    I think we're approaching that point in the campaign... the point at which it's time to deal with the increasingly real likelihood of a McCain victory in November.

    When was the last time the general populace in the U.S. actually impressed you with its wisdom?

    When a significant chunk of the electorate pledges to vote for the ticket containing a woman, even one who is the polar opposite (on every meaningful issue) of their choice in the primaries, it's "President McCain."

    When a significant chunk of the electorate equates banning assault weapons in crime-ridden metropolitan areas with Uncle Sam showing up at their bucolic homestead to effect a mandatory surrender of their gran'pappy's ol' shotgun, it's "President McCain."

    When a significant chunk of the electorate feels that someone who married into a $100 million fortune, and spent the last 3 decades in D.C. is somehow the candidate "most like me" (or however those asinine poll questions are phrased), it's "President McCain."

    When a significant chunk of the electorate deem even the most effective domestic programs to be "wasteful spending" while somehow turning a blind eye to hundreds of billions of dollars flushed down the proverbial toilet in Iraq, it's "President McCain."

    You know this list could go on and on and on. I didn't even mention "abortion," "experience," "drilling," or "commander-in-chief" among many other loaded terms. I'm just sayin', people... get yourselves prepared for the worst.

    Friday, September 12, 2008


    The rap references to Barack Obama are coming too fast for me to keep up with now, but I thought this one was worth posting, "Barock Star" by Mims (remember Mims?) and Jr. Reid:

    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    It's a thought

    Should Obama get (subtly) to McCain's right on immigration? Twofer: Targets a certain set of persuadable voters, picks at a scab within the Republican party.

    What plays may come

    From Savage Chickens, a series of post-it note cartoons which bear a strong resemblance to Life is Hell (in tone, not in character).

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    Why Palin? Why not Hoeven?

    My initial reaction to the selection of Palin was anything but enthusiastic, but decidedly not dismissive. Over time and after her selection speech, I started to drink the kool-aid on her merits. Not her policy merits, mind you which she is obviously lacking in, but in her political merits.

    But for all her faults, I never really bought the line that this was a pure vote-grab to the XX chromosome-holders. Yes, it was a benefit of her selection, but I saw it as more of a windfall then a motivation. This TNR piece makes the case that influential conservatives were rattling the trees for her selection well before we knew what the general election picture would look like (indeed, even going back to 2007 when we were certain McCain would not be the Republican nominee). In fact if you looked at her positions without any reference to her gender or residence, she's about as ideal a candidate as one could imagine. To paraphrase Triumph, she looks like she was created in a lab from parts from lesser conservatives. She's as much a vote-grab to the right as she is to women.

    But then came John Hoeven. He is, by some measures, the most popular governor in the country. He's the longest-tenured sitting governor int he country (eight years). He is a former CEO of a bank (a state-owned bank at that, which in light of the current GSE takeover seems pretty relevant). On the issues he is pretty near or spot on the RNC platform. He is from a small, Western state, so that's a wash. But it's a swing state so that's a point. He's been on the national radar for at least a couple years because the RNC (even going up to the White House) leaned on him heavily to run against Kent Conrad for his Senate seat.

    Running mate selection is at its most basic, a study in opportunity costs. There is always a potentially less bad selection to be made, but of course their are many different margins and angles which do not always point in the same direction. Hoeven may not even be that great a candidate, but my suspicion is that the McCain camp didn't cast a wide and deep net because obvious alternates with just as many positives and probably fewer negatives exist.

    I'm starting to think politicians may actually be self-serving...

    Saturday, September 06, 2008

    Mike Murphy's problem with Palin

    I don't doubt that John McCain's sometimes-adviser Mike Murphy is quite sincere in his lukewarm reaction to Sarah Palin. In fact it's absolutely true that if Palin turns out to be a polarizing pick, as Murphy thinks she will, the choice will turn out to be a net loss to McCain.

    But isn't there something sort of self-serving about Murphy's assessment, too? In early July, there was some talk that McCain might bring Murphy on as a campaign adviser. It didn't happen, but it remained possible to imagine a campaign trajectory where, come September or so, McCain brought in Murphy to save the day and ride with him to a general election victory. It was possible to imagine that until precisely the moment that Palin's candidacy was unveiled.

    This is because the Palin choice indicates a political strategy opposed to Murphy's own, what he called on live-mic his experience from the blue/swing state governor world. That's the substance. The personality part is that the choice sure seems to come out of a Steve Schmidt strategy, indicating that Karl Rove's protege is the strategist holding the reins. (More background on personalities here.)

    Did Mike Murphy secretly hold out hope that McCain would eventually call him into the fold? Who knows! But even if Murphy thought of it as a 1 percent chance, the fact is that it is now a 0 percent chance. That may not be the main reason Murphy doesn't like Palin, but it's got to be in there somewhere.

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    My co-bloggers won't like it, but...

    Thomas Sowell has a new column up at NRO discussing what it really means to have experience, foreign policy or otherwise. Perhaps somewhat glibly:
    a plain fact should be noted: No governor ever had foreign-policy experience before becoming president — not Ronald Reagan, not Franklin D. Roosevelt, nor any other governor.

    It is hard to know how many people could possibly have had foreign-policy experience before reaching the White House besides a Secretary of State or a Secretary of Defense.

    The last Secretary of War (the old title of Secretaries of Defense) to later become President of the United States was William Howard Taft, a hundred years ago. The last Secretary of State to become President of the United States was James Buchanan, a century and a half ago.

    Why the media should apologize [to Palin]

    In case you missed it, from Roger Simon's latest column:
    On behalf of the elite media, I would like to say we are very sorry.

    We have asked questions this week that we should never have asked.

    We have asked pathetic questions like: Who is Sarah Palin? What is her record? Where does she stand on the issues? And is she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

    We have asked mean questions like: How well did John McCain know her before he selected her? How well did his campaign vet her? And was she his first choice?

    Bad questions. Bad media. Bad.
    we should stop reporting on the families of the candidates. Unless the candidates want us to.

    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    Diddy on Sarah Palin

    [Video removed because it annoyingly starts automatically, which we do not need on our blog once we've seen it once. But if you haven't, by all means click here to hear Diddy's vlog entry on Palin.]
    (Via Julianne Shepherd)