R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT

A parting note
8.September.2008, 10.38 am
Filed under: economics, politics | Tags: , , ,

This article by conservative stalwart David Frum in this week’s New York Times magazine dovetails nicely with some socio-economic reading I’ve been doing lately. The full text is here.

In short, the trend to (economic) inequality is real, it is large and it is transforming American society and the American electoral map. Yet the conservative response to this trend verges somewhere between the obsolete and the irrelevant.

Conservatives need to stop denying reality. The stagnation of the incomes of middle-class Americans is a fact. And only by acknowledging facts can we respond effectively to the genuine difficulties of voters in the middle. We keep offering them cuts in their federal personal income taxes — even though two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes, and even though a majority of Americans now describe their federal income tax burden as reasonable.

What the middle class needs most is not lower income taxes but a slowdown in the soaring inflation of health-care costs. If health-insurance costs had risen 50 percent rather than 100 percent over the Bush years, middle-income voters would have enjoyed a pay raise instead of enduring wage stagnation. John McCain’s health plan, which emphasizes tax changes to encourage employees to buy their own insurance rather than rely on employers, is a start — but only the very beginning of a start.


Whose tale stands taller?
5.September.2008, 10.41 pm
Filed under: politics | Tags: , ,

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson thinks he knows (and I’m inclined to agree):

In this campaign, McCain’s story is an epic novel, while Obama’s personal experience is an inspiring article from Reader’s Digest.

RNC: Day 4 (Fight with me!)
5.September.2008, 4.07 pm
Filed under: politics | Tags: , , ,
John McCain makes his way through Hurricane Palin on Thursday night at the RNC.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
John McCain makes his way through Hurricane Palin on Thursday night at the RNC.

“My friends,” we knew most of this going in.

John McCain is not a great orator. John McCain’s body language is awkward. John McCain’s attempts to rally the base seem unconvincing, while he seems most at ease when talking of bipartisanship and “reaching across the aisle,” which the base is not too interested in. John McCain’s campaign is just not good at backdrops — he was back in front of a lime green sea once again Thursday night, months after being mocked incessantly on the cable outlets for a similar scene.

But, then again, John McCain’s not your average politician, and he doesn’t need to be.

Seldom has there been a more stark difference in styles: Barack Obama’s cool, laid-back attitude and utter mastery of cadence; McCain’s stilted but (dare I say it?) straightforward speaking style and his obvious grasp of the seriousness of his task. And this speech was no different: The biggest rounds of applause he got all night were when he mentioned Sarah Palin, and later when he was joined onstage by Sarah Palin.

His speech, like hers, was relatively short on policy — and unfortunately, in my view, the policy he did offer often sounded like Republican boilerplate (“Education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century” is almost word for word from Bush circa 2000) — but it was candid, and lighthearted, and certainly helped to reinforce the idea that this is a man of CHARACTER. It’s hard to imagine someone telling you all about their POW days (especially after it was told by others constantly over the course of three days) without seeming boastful or arrogant, but he did. In fact, it was the best part of the speech, I think… it doesn’t give you a good reason to vote for him, but it at least gives you the sense that if he wins, it’s going to be OK.

Where Obama is too cocky, McCain seems a little too comfortable dealing in generalities (tax cuts are good, health care reform is bad), but I was thankful he’s stopped quesitoning Obama’s patriotism and instead shifted to why people should invest their time FOR McCain and not against Obama. Yet his was a speech urging people to vote AGAINST something: Against “Washington,” a “culture of corruption,” a “do-nothing” Congress and politics as usual.

Two very different men, two very similar messages — and one overarching question: Can either of these guys really change the system — and will they?

RNC: Day 3, Part 2 (A dispatch from the ground)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Palin fever has gripped the nation — quickly making an unknown governor the entire hope and breadth of the conservative movement in one fell swoop.

The turning point came here on Wednesday, when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took to the stage and delivered a “barn-burner” speech that chronicled her family life, hockey mom cred, self-proclaimed “reformer” status and her plan to “Shake up Washington” with the Original Maverick® John McCain. (Full speech VodPodded at left.)

“What a breath of fresh air!” crowed ex-Sen. Fred “Law & Order” Thompson the night before (in what Jon Stewart correctly noted was a hands-down impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn, “I say, I say!”).

But the air she brought wasn’t as fresh as it was hot — intensely heated rhetoric that dismissed Democrat Barack Obama as an unqualified, tax-raising, head-in-the-clouds wimp that she could pulverize with one hand while pumping milk (her analogy, not mine, from earlier in the week) with the other.

Palin drew stark distinctions between her work as mayor and then governor of “small-town” America, and Obama’s totally lame “community organizing” in the “cosmopolitan” (Rudy’s work) depths of Chicago. (She surely meant to remark on all that he’s done afterward, such as a landmark ethics reform bill, but probably missed it because the teleprompter backfired — and yet she made it through, adding a new legend to her already mythic if sudden candidacy.)

She drew prolonged, pulsating applause as she spoke of family values and reforming Washington — where her running mate has spent most of the last three decades as a “leader” — and got possibly the best zinger of the night in about what is left after Obama’s “Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot” (presumably the same lot where President Bush got them in 2004).

She also drew a lot of applause on “Thanks, but no thanks” on the Bridge to Nowhere (forgetting to mention — again, probably a teleprompter error — that she’d supported it until it got panned on national television), and brought voters’ eyes back to what really matters: never using the word “bitter” while running for public office, because it will be taken out of context over and over, thereby proving that the utterer is unfit for command.

Yes, Sarah Palin delivered, big-time. But, as usual, there were some Hollywood elites who just wouldn’t listen — including high-falutin’ (if staunchly conservative) Ben “Win My Money” Stein.

“She should have Henry Kissinger babysitting her,” he said.


RNC: Day 3, Part 1 (Nada!)

Did we mention Barack Obama has no “executive experience”?

Wednesday night seemed to be focused on two things: No. 1, making Washington seem broken (because of liberals, mind you); and No. 2, pointing to a lack of governing experience on the Democratic ticket in order to boost the (albeit minimal) governing experience of VP candidate Sarah Palin. Giuliani started out with a “job application” illustration (one that went on for far too long… in fact, he spoke so long that the now traditional biopic film about Palin had to be scrapped). War hero? Check. Reformer? Check. “Loves America”? Double check.

By this point, you’d think the crowd at the Xcel Center would be tired of hearing about McCain’s days in the POW camp. But it remains the ultimate qualification, it seems, as judged by the comments of what I humbly call the Losers’ Parade — endorsements from seemingly every candidate (except Ron Paul and Alan Keyes) that McCain defeated.

Giuliani also rolled out the bizarre insult: Barack Obama was a COMMUNITY ORGANIZER! (Palin picked up on this theme, leading some pundits to wonder whether their shared speechwriter has some strange animosity toward those who involve themselves in their communities instead of taking up a corner office.) But the style was effective: Rudy was having fun at the Dems’ expense, and the crowd ate it up. (It is worth noting, however, that during a post-speech interview with Andrea Mitchell, Giuliani himself pointed out that McCain “needed help” in the “executive” area as well.)

Preceding him, unfortunately, was the always disappointing Mitt Romney — the candidate pundits love to talk about as a darling of the conservative movement, despite his utter failure to garner any significant vote totals outside Utah. No politician in recent memory evokes such a feeling of fakery, and Wednesday was no exception.

Media bashing? Check! Absurd overkill on the term “liberal”? Check! “Executive experience” argument? Check mate!

My favorite part was his call-and-response opener: “Is a Supreme Court decision that grants Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights liberal or conservative? It’s liberal! … We need change all right, change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington!”

Would someone — anyone — please inform Mitt that Republicans have run the “executive” branch for 20 of the last 28 years, and that Congress was in a Republican majority for 10 out of the last 12? If Washington’s liberal, it’s the GOP’s fault. But let’s be fair: Even conservatives don’t care about a word Mitt has to say. Conservative blogger Megan McArdle at The Atlantic made this observation:

Mitt Romney seems to use the word “liberal” in a randomly perjorative fashion. I half expect him to say “I was eating breakfast this morning, and my hash browns were all liberal. I sent them back and told the waitress to bring me some good, conservative hash browns.

He also seems to think that giving American citizens habeas corpus rights is some sort of crazy scheme dreamed up by liberal justices intent on destroying America’s proud tradition of secret trials and warrantless arrests.

But the best was yet to come… Sarah Palin, the bulldog, the barracuda, the “hottest governor in the coldest state.” And she delivered, big-time, in a way that likely has Joe Biden searching eBay for a flak jacket.

P.S.: I missed Mike Huckabee’s speech due to an irresistable urge for ice cream. Just finished watching Huck’s speech via Youtube. It’s not even worth VodPodding. Still, here’s hoping McCain loses, and Huckabee somehow gets the nod in 2012, if only because we can really start to talk about the many merits of the FairTax.

RNC: Day 2 (Character and confabulation)

Note: Here I continue with my thoughts on the primetime goings-on, this time at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

A sea of signs, LEDs and massive video screens all had one thing to say: “COUNTRY FIRST.” It looked something like a huge VFW convention, and the “tribute” videos seemed to confirm it. There was a lengthy tribute to President George H.W. Bush (made more interesting by the fact that his son, President George W. Bush, “couldn’t make it” — a “Daily Show” interview later in the night confirmed that plenty there didn’t want Dubya anywhere near), as well as a tribute (of course) to Ronald Reagan.

A message from current Bush followed, via satellite (the first time in decades, so I’m told, that a sitting president hasn’t attended his party’s convention). It was an awkward thing, to see the president doing his best to spread enthusiasm about longtime gadfly John McCain. (This NYTimes Magazine profile of Bush features some interesting revelations about their strained relationship.) He got some applause for a line about the “far left,” and a LOT of applause anytime he mentioned the real star of this convention, “The next vice president” Sarah Palin. All in all, though, it was awkward, mostly because he wasn’t there.

That was just a warm-up, though, to the real star of the show: Fred “Law & Order” Thompson (who died a quick death in the election after being urged to run by conservatives — many of whom worried that someone like John McCain might win!). He gave a very sobering, very matter-of-fact account of McCain’s time in the Hanoi Hilton… it may be cliché, but no one can question the guy’s character and the honor of his five years there. Thompson even put words to a thought I had, which was that “being a POW doesn’t qualify a man to be president”; his reply to his own rhetorical question was that it did show his CHARACTER. In the midst of it all, he roused the party faithful with energetic (if entirely simplistic) urgings against Democrats/liberals on the basis of taxes and war generally, and took a hard dig at Obama near the end by saying that we can “know” and “trust” John McCain, as opposed to his opponent. (Choice portion of speech VodPodded at left.)

All in all, Thompson strongly surprised me, given the utterly unremarkable nature of his performances in the debates. But how was this “red meat” (as commentators afterward called it) followed? By a self-proclaimed Democrat, of course!

Joe Lieberman (called “Loserman” by the same crowd just a while back) used his time to appeal to Democrats and independents, and made a lot up front of how party loyalty isn’t very important, how we’re all Americans and how what Washington really needs is “Compromise.” Of course, this wasn’t greeted all that enthusiastically by the GOP crowd. He even talked about all the accomplishments of the Clinton White House — even less applause here, and much more awkward. (Full speech VodPodded at left.)

More interesting than the speech was this interview immediately afterward with Andrea Mitchell:

Expect more of this parsing in the weeks ahead.

RNC: Who would you rather watch…

This guy:

Or these guys:

Personally, I’d rather have Rudy any day. But the AP reports that Giuliani, who was set to be the keynote speaker tonight at the Republican National Convention, has been dropped in favor of Joe “I’m a Democrat, really!” Lieberman (dubbed “Loserman” by the right-wing echo chamber during his VP run in 2000) and Fred “Law & Order” Thompson (who was goaded into running by conservatives and who unraveled quickly once they realized that he couldn’t act without a proper script).

True, they’re all white guys, and arguably all part of the “establishment.” But Giuliani is by far the most intriguing speaker, a man who doesn’t give off that “I’m reading a teleprompter” vibe that plagues his counterparts (and, indeed, McCain himself).

Just how McCain managed to grab the nomination is still a mystery to me. He’s stilted, his body language is just awful, and he certainly doesn’t look the part of “change,” if that’s really what the electorate is looking for. But I digress.

President Bush’s speech (now set to be given via satellite) may also get canned… of course, one gets the impression that Camp McCain was secretly hoping for something, anything, that could enable them to lose the most unpopular president in modern history during its biggest campaign event to date.