MUTINY ON THE BAILOUT: Aside from the pulsing knot in your stomach when you consider what you thought was going to be your nest egg, what's striking about the implosion of the banking bailout package is that it reflects a greater reluctance among Republicans than Democrats to pour hundreds of billions in public sustenance down the gullet of negligent private industry. That sort of state-capitalist bottle-feeding of the hapless brats of business has been a Republican specialty throughout the Bush years. But in the current massive meltdown, it has been core Republicans who have revolted, telling Bush, in effect, "Hey, since when in a free enterprise system are fat-cat screw-ups protected against their own failures?" while Democrats such as Barney Frank have labored to cobble together a rescue package to save the financial sector's bacon. Two-thirds of Democrats in the House voted for the package. Two-thirds of Republicans voted against it. The GOP rebellion smacks of a Republican turn toward, shockingly, strict fiscal conservatism, which hasn't been Republican policy (although it has been Republican rhetoric) for years. The further irony is that Bush, in this most recent White House plea for taxpayers to aid the rich in order to save ourselves, may for the first time in his presidency have at least part of one foot planted in the public interest. Being pegged for crying wolf -- as in 9/11, WMDs, Iraq, and tax cuts for the wealthy -- is a real bear, isn't it, W?
McCAIN-OBAMA DEBATE #1: Judging strictly by words spoken, the debate was pro forma: McCain attacking dishonestly (he just won't stop pretending that his business-friendly tax, economic and health care plans aren't Bush 3), Obama parrying politely, and both men scurrying to dodge their own flagrant inconsistencies (McCain ducking the elephantine reality that the Iraq war he backed has created most of the security problems he now says we must solve; Iraq war opponent Obama trying to weasel-word his once-clear declaration to set a withdrawal date for the conflict). But what interested me most was the way these two men behaved: McCain petulantly refusing to look at Obama or to address him directly; Obama giving McCain full personal attention and allowing himself on numerous occasions to announce, "John is right;" McCain and his wife nailing themselves to their end of the stage at debate's end, causing the Obamas the symbolic (but noble) concession of walking fully across to McCain's side to shake hands and exchange niceties; Obama calling McCain "John" throughout the debate, which was a subtly assertive gesture for a black man already resented in some white McCain encampments as an uppity Negro. Overall, I thought McCain came off as a threatened, bossy-acting curmudgeon, and Obama as a too-cautious superior opponent who felt it only fair to tie one hand behind his back. I, like scads of other voters, keep wishing that Obama would take off the white gloves. But he does have a real problem: if he casts one flashing glare too many, about 50 million white voters will lock their car doors against him. As I've written before, and as Brent Staples wrote poignantly in a September 21, 2008 New York Times op-ed, a lot of white voters are already afraid of black men and are subconsciously poised to flee Obama if he shows too much 'tude. So the Senator from Niceness is in a bit a of trap: he's a wimp if he doesn't fight back and he's an Angry Black Guy if he does. It's not an enviable position.
CLINTONS, WHERE ARE YOU? Heard much lately from Hillary or Bill in the much-needed defense of their party's nominee in the face of a reinvigorated Republican campaign of smears and lies? Neither have I. Kind of odd that the man who is the most gifted politician of at least the past 20 years, and the one woman best positioned to discredit that faker Sarah Palin, would be so quiet at such a time. If Hillary weren't so highly principled an individual, one might almost wonder if she's figuring how a weakened Obama would improve her chances next time. Let's hope the Clintons have been sharing an unfortunate case of laryngitis and we'll hear more from them soon. See Paul Slansky's "A Note to Bill Clinton" for a more personal approach to this question.
BIDEN-PALIN DEBATE: Well, this will sure be interesting. I never thought I'd see a candidate who stood to benefit even more from low expectations than George W. Bush, but here we are. If Sarah Palin doesn't forget Biden's name or start speaking in Satanic tongues on network television Thursday night, her handlers and followers will declare victory. Given that Joe Biden has six terms' worth of actual geopolitical knowledge, I'm betting that Palin's pit team will aim low, going for rehearsed zinger lines that will score points with club-dragging impressionables in the TV audience or perhaps lashing out at personally vulnerable points in Biden's history. If you're Karl Rove, the wonderful thing about a Sarah Palin is that the cruder and the more belligerently ill-informed she is on national and world affairs, the more her crude, ill-informed public feels she's one of them. It's a no-loss proposition. If she comes off as defiantly snappy, she wins; if she comes off as defiantly brain-dead, she wins. She is, really, the most advanced development yet in the statesmanship-doesn't-matter movement of the far right, a step beyond even W, who was himself a shocking phenomenon of anti-distinctive mediocrity. Palin is comforting proof, to the mentally lazy and the ignorant, that government is bullshit, that anybody can do it, that all it takes is attitude and a sneering our-kind-of-people moxie. The big question, I think, is how many Americans will be suckered by her Mrs.-Palin-Goes-to-Washington act. For reality checks, take a look at Fred Kaplan's Slate article on Palin and foreign policy and Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone checklist of Palin lies versus facts.