Friday, October 31, 2008

Big Doings In Little Delaware: A Homecoming For Joe & Jill Biden

NEWARK, Del. -- What to make of the fact that Joe Biden and his wife Jill are graduates of the University of Delaware, while both McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and David Plouffe, his counterpart on the Obama campaign, are products of the university's political science program?
Probably not a whole lot beyond it being a pretty big coincidence for such a little state.

In any event, it seems like years ago and not merely last October when the DF&C and I bumped into Biden outside the University of Delaware Stadium before a football game and I rather disingenuously introduced this Class of 1965 alumnus and self-admitted mediocre freshman team halfback to her as "the next Secretary of State of the United States."

I was tacitly acknowledging that Biden's campaign for president was likely to fall short but anticipated that the Democratic standard bearer, whomever he or she might be, would be ending the Republican hegemony in Washington some 13 months from then. And mind you, this was well before the economic meltdown helped supercharge Barack Obama's campaign.

In any event, Biden acted like he appreciated my kind words.

Fast forward to this sun-drenched Halloween day on the North Green of Delaware's tree-lined campus, as lovely a collection of Late Georgian-style classrooms and laboratories as exists anywhere outside of England, and Memorial Hall in particular, where I took most of my undergraduate classes longer ago than I care to remember and Biden and I sat at the knee of a revered poly sci professor who inspired us to go out and change the world.

Well, the world has changed very little because of Biden and not at all because of me, but it was nostalgia supreme as I stood amidst a crowd of about 5,000 people, most of them students, and basked in the glow of a man who in all likelihood will be Vice President Elect of the United States four days hence. The warm-up speaker was Biden's wife Jill, who received a BA at Delaware in 1975 and her fourth degree, a PhD, here in 2006.

Biden delivered familiar stump-speech fare peppered with obligatory "It's good to be home" references, and urged students not just to vote but to help mobilize Pennsylvania residents whom he said would be keys to a Democratic victory.

As it is, Delaware is solidly blue, its neighbor to the north is trending strongly in that direction, and from my own observations there already may be an Obama-Biden volunteer for every Keystone State voter so organized seems this campaign.

* * * * *
My fondness for Biden as a fellow First Stater transcends his politics.

As I noted in an appreciation on the afternoon of his first joint appearance with Obama, Biden wears his working class roots proudly. He happens to be one of the least wealthy members of the Senate, is a pro-choice Catholic, has balanced mundane constituent services such as getting a Korean War-era medal for the father of a friend with an outspoken but nuanced opposition to the Iraq war and trips to overseas hot spots, most recently Georgia. (The nation, not the state.)

Biden has lost none of his loquaciousness and his penchant for the ill-timed remark was considered a detriment even when he was on the short list as a potential Obama running mate. He has gotten at least 60 percent of the vote since he beat a long-time incumbent Republican senator in a 1972 squeaker, faces only token opposition this year and remains extremely popular back home despite his generally liberal views in a state that is staunchly moderate.

He has been true to form on the campaign trail, exhibiting a firm grasp of foreign policy when not occasionally putting his foot in his mouth, but most importantly doing exactly what is required of a vice presidential running mate: Advancing Obama without hogging the spotlight in speaking before comparatively small crowds in battleground states in the closing days of the campaign.

Sarah Palin suffers very badly by comparison.


She has been the story with numbing regularity, as opposed to advancing McCain's agenda, most recently the barely concealed contempt she is provoking among some campaign officials who believe she is a loose cannon who is intentionally undermining the ticket to advance her own career.

Then there is the reality that she has a firm grasp of nothing beyond red-meat politics and that some of the things that have come out of her mouth have been appalling.

You can fool some of the voters some of the time but not all of the voters all of the time. Which explains why Biden's approval ratings have steadily climbed as he becomes better known while Palin's have plummeted.

Well back from the crowd today on the University of Delaware North Green was a McCain-Palin counter rally. There were 10 people there: Eight people holding signs, a police officer and Secret Service man.

Photos by Jennifer Corbett/Wilmington (Del.) News Journal

A Monstrous Halloween Tale: 190 Years Later, Mary Shelley Finally Gets Her Due

Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley
(top) and Robinson and Mr. Stein

Halloween may be my favorite holiday and Frankenstein one of my favorite books.

But there is a dirty little secret about the masterwork written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in her late teens and first published anonymously in 1818 as Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, and a colleague, Charlie Robinson, can now tell the tale after studying Shelley's original notebooks at Oxford University's venerable Bodleian Library:

Shelley's husband, famed English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, deleted many words and added at least 4,000 to 5,000 words of his own to the 72,000-word novel, which is considered the first work of science fiction and remains the most popular book in that genre nearly 200 years on.

Robinson, an English professor at the University of Delaware, has atoned for Percy Shelley's sins in The Original Frankenstein, published this month in England by the Bodleian but not yet available in the U.S.

The enduring popularity of Mary Shelley's monster can be attributed to the quality of the book and the effects of Hollywood on the popular imagination.

"The novel subsumes the basic Western myths about the consequences of the pursuit of knowledge," Robinson says. "It's a short novel, and states the murder as fact, and with its simplicity and clarity, there is a fable-like quality to the narrative. It's also about cautionary science, revolutionary theories, family dynamics and responsibility to one's children."

There is a spooky element to Robinson's research: The Shelleys apparently visited the same Clarendon Building at the Bodleian in 1815 where he toiled on the new edition, as did Victor Frankenstein and Henry Clerval in the novel itself.

With the assistance of Dr. Bruce Barker-Benfield, a senior assistant librarian at the Bodleian, Robinson inspected each leaf of the original manuscript and through a laborious examination of torn edges, glue residue, ink blots, pin holes, water marks and other minutiae, was able to determine the process through which Mary Shelley created Frankenstein.

There is a cautionary tale in Robinson's research.

There has been a mad rush toward digitization of manuscripts and other primary source materials. But as Robinson told me, he never would have been able to ascertain what was Mary Shelley's work and that of her husband had he used photocopies and not original source material.

Working in a rare book and manuscript library as I do, I know of what he speaks. The experience of opening an old book and seeing, feeling and smelling its pages is irreplaceable.

Our library has the finest archive extant of the works, journals and ephemera of Paul Bowles, the great American ex pat author, composer and translator best know for The Sheltering Sky. This collection is imbued with the faint odor of patchouli, the minty herb widely used in Morocco, where Bowles lived for over 50 years. Other collections can smell of other fragrances, as well as cigar and pipe smoke and many a musty attic or cellar.

Meanwhile, Penguin Classics is publishing a Frankenstein e-book today. Robinson contributed 100 pages of enhancements, including a filmography and summaries of movies ranging from the 13-minute 1910 silent black-and-white version directed by J. Searle Dawley for Thomas Edison, to the 2004 American color film Frankenstein directed by Kevin Connor.

Cartoon du Jour

© Copyright Carlton Cards

The Vagaries Of A Halloween Ritual

It's not as easy as you think:

"In a grove near you, pagans are gathering to celebrate Samhein, the night when the veil between the living and the dead, between this world and others, is thin. We will wear cloaks and have ritual daggers, called athemes at our waists. The prerequisite silver jewelry will gleam in the firelight. Natural fabrics flow as freely as the mead. There will be an unfortunate excess of tie-dyed material. In other words, we will look most like your picture of witches.

"This picture leaves out an important detail, and I don't mean the whole human-sacrifice-and-stealing-Christian-babies thing. Planning a ritual, whether it's for Halloween or any other holiday, is a conflict-filled battle. It's like trying to herd jack rabbits on horseback. Those who practice witchcraft tend to be strident nonconformists, and the very nature of paganism, which has no unifying body or text, means that we have no obligation to believe the same thing or listen to anything beyond the dictates of our own consciences to unite in perfect accord. Often we flow together, achieving unity in which we are transported beyond ourselves, connected with the earth we love and the energy we feel from it."

Click here to read more.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

'Then Get Fitted For A Suit Of Flame'

In the afterlife
You could be headed for the serious strife
Now you make the scene all day
But tomorrow there'll be hell to pay

People listen attentively
I mean about future calamity
I used to think the idea was obsolete
Until I heard the old man stamping his feet.

This is a place where eternally
Fire is applied to the body
Teeth are extruded and bones are ground
Then baked into cakes which are passed around.

Beauty, talent, fame, money, refinement
Top skill and brain
But all the things you try to hide
Will be revealed on the other side.

Now the d and the a and the m
And the n and the a
And the t and the i-o-n
Lose your face, lose your name
Then get fitted for a suit of flame

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

HOWL'OWEEN

Quotes From Around The Boo-osphere

Where there is no imagination there is no horror.

-- ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE Sr.
'Tis now the very witching time of night / When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world.

-- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite / All are on their rounds tonight / In the wan moon's silver ray / Thrives their helter-skelter play.

-- JOEL BENTON
A grandmother pretends she doesn't know who you are on Halloween.

-- ERMA BOMBECK
From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties /And things that go bump in the night / Good Lord, deliver us!

-- SCOTTISH SAYING
There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.

-- GEORGE CARLIN
One need not be a chamber to be haunted / One need not be a house / The brain has corridors surpassing Material place.

-- EMILY DICKINSON
There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.

-- JOSEPH CONRAD
A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man awoke in the night.
-- J.M. BARRIE

On Hallowe'en the thing / you must do / Is pretend that nothing / can frighten you /
An' if somethin' scares you / and you want to run / Jus' let on like / it's Hallowe'en fun.

-- 19th CENTURY POSTCARD
Ask not what your pumpkin can do for you, ask what you can do for your pumpkin.

-- AUTHOR UNKNOWN

Thursday, October 30, 2008

World Series 2008: A Phabulous Phillies Victory Is Tempered By A Greater Reality

World champions (top)
and The Wild Thing
The Philadelphia Phillies' last gasp as a World Series contender ended on a frigid late October evening in 1993 with one swing of the bat as the Blue Jays' mighty Joe Carter launched a fastball hurled by reliever Mitch Williams into the left-field seats of Toronto's Sky Dome for a walk-off three-run homer.

Williams, known with an affection atypical of Philadelphia sports nuts as "The Wild Thing" for his habit of throwing the ball as hard as he could with little concern for finesse, was so unpredictable with such predictability that fans and players alike took to covering their heads with towels when he pitched into one of his frequent jams during the Phillies' improbably pennant run that year.

My children, then 11 and nine, who of course had their heads under towels, broke into tears as Carter circled the bases. I merely grimaced, being a long suffering Phillies fan who had bowed to the inevitable even before it arrived.

The Wild Thing was emblematic (or should I say symptomatic?) of the 1993 team, which was longer on characters (as opposed to character) than talent, the polar opposite of this year's edition, who while also having their share of characters, ooze talent and display a steely self confidence even when they fall behind.

To no one's surprise -- save for the stunned Rays and a bunch of sports pundits in awe of Tampa Bay's Cinderella run this year -- the Phillies have galloped to the 2008 World Championship, only the second in the franchise's loss-sodden 125-year history -- by taking four of the five games of a best-of-seven series whose outcome was never in doubt.

The 4-3 clincher last night -- the longest Series game in history -- had the feel of a sudden-death drama with play resuming at the bottom of the sixth inning after being suspended because of a downpour on Monday evening.

The victory capped an amazing run of seven consecutive post-season victories at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia where fans were feverishly twirling and not wearing towels during a raucous celebration on another frigid late October night thanks to just enough hitting and superb pitching.

Lanky left-handed started Cole Hamels, who won Game One and started the abbreviated Game 5, ended with an overall 1.80 earned-run average to be named Series most valuable player, while reliever Brad Lidge smoked the Rays in the bottom of the ninth inning to seal the win with an unbelievable 47th straight regular- and post-season save.

The championship was the first for the Phillies since their only other Series win in 1980 when Hall of Dame third baseman Mike Schmidt was the MVP and the first for any of the city's professional teams since the 76ers won the National Basketball Association Championship in 1983, supposedly the longest sports drought for any big city -- some 100 seasons of futility in all.

But as my late great Phillies phanatic mother would say with varying degreees of conviction, baseball "is only a game," was is a damned good thing because her team lost an awful lot and was awful a lot during her lifetime, reaching the post season only four times in her 73 years on the planet.

But compared to 1993 or 1980, baseball is only a game in another respect.

This is supposed to be a celebratory post, but even as I cheered on my Phillies the weight of a world far different than those years has never been far away. Then there are the nail-biting closing days of the most important presidential election since my mother was five years old.

So a twirl of the towel for Philadelphia, but God save America.
Top photo: John G. Mabanglo
European Pressphoto Agency

Labels:

Permission To Die A Happy Man Granted

Graphic by J. Weitzel

Cartoon du Jour

Tony Auth/The Philadelphia Inquirer

McCain-Palin Trainwreck Excuse du Jour

17th in a series on the best
excuses for the GOP disaster
How's this for a brain fart? The trainwreck is because the campaign couldn't overcome the candidates themselves:
"[T]he McCain camp could probably have done some things differently, but it probably wouldn't be enough to save them. What is striking about 2008 is how little the campaigns have mattered in comparison to the fundamental nature of the two men running.

Nothing the McCain campaign did could change the reality of McCain the candidate's poor management instincts and his tendency to fidget around and not stay on message. When the economic crisis hit, this reality flew in the face of the McCain campaign's message of steadiness versus inexperience. Whether by design or the candidate's nature, Obama's caution and deliberation was a living, breathing talking point against the experience card."

More here.

Have They Buried The Hatchet?

PROBABLY NOT. MORE HERE.
Photograph by Reuters

She Gots Ferrin Affairs Expertise

Hat tip to Cogitamus

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

It seems to have taken forever (the seasons have changed, and changed and changed again), but this long presidential campaign is finally coming to an end. In January, with snow blanketing the trail in Iowa and New Hampshire, I wrote of the Barack Obama phenomenon: "Shake hands with tomorrow. It’s here."

I didn't mean that Senator Obama would win the election. He still seemed like a long shot to me. But it was clear that the message, style and strategy of his campaign pointed to a new direction for American politics, and that a new generation of voters — younger, smarter, more diverse, more open-minded — was anxious to follow his lead.

. . . This election is hardly over, despite the impulse of the pundits to write the McCain campaign’s obituary. But Senator McCain has diminished his chances of winning the presidency in many ways, the most important of which was his failure to grasp the most significant new trend in American politics.

With the country facing enormous problems (even before the meltdown of the credit and financial markets in recent months), the voters wanted more substance from their candidates. They wanted a greater sense of maturity and a more civil approach to campaigning. They were tired of the politics of personal destruction and the playbook that counseled "attack, attack, attack."

Senator Obama was perfectly suited to this new approach.

-- BOB HERBERT

The problem is that the reality of Sarah Palin does not match the idea of Sarah Palin. It's as plain as day — glaringly obvious! — that she's unfit for the job she's running for. We wouldn’t expect the best darn regional car saleswoman to be appointed the next vice president of General Motors. We wouldn't fly in a commercial plane piloted by someone with a Cessna license because we trusted her gut. We wouldn't follow a woman into battle because she’s a crack shot at moose hunting. Why is it unreasonable — or snobbish! — to have expected a better choice from our party for the next potential leader of the free world?

And please don't reply with, "The other side doesn’t have experience either!" That's an argument you can make without having graduated from elementary school.

The fact of Obama's candidacy is remarkable. A black man, with a Muslim name, at this moment in the country's history? Not to mention a cerebral liberal? It seems impossible.

It was bad enough when John McCain severely damaged his electoral prospects, by nominating, as his vice president, somebody who knows virtually nothing about domestic and foreign policy...although, in Sarah Palin's case, one could argue that she at least has held elective office and grappled on some level with some issues. But the slippery slope to ignorance is indeed precipitous, to the point where now we have the unlicensed Samuel Wurzelbacher speaking at a McCain rally in Ohio - and agreeing with some audience simpleton that "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel." So said the simpleton, to which Wurzelbacher chimed in, "I'll go ahead and agree with you on that."

This is what happens when the clueless are given free rein, with the official blessing of the McCain campaign. Indeed, this episode yesterday was so egregious that it was even condemned, in clear and unequivocal terms . . . by Fox News.

-- DICK POLMAN

The polls are lying about Obama's support. At least according to the GOP talking points dutifully recorded by The Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz.

. . . Does anyone else here smell a rat? Early voting in many parts of the country has been extensive, especially in Florida where Governor Crist has extended to 12 hours (from 8) the time that early voting places will remain open because of the turnout. Obama's rallies have attracted huge numbers of people, so large that they are unprecedented in American history, while McCain's rallies haven't even matched the turnout of those for Bush or Kerry in 2004.

Yet, somehow the polls, once again, are completely off base. Why? Well don't be surprised that the argument being advanced to question their validity is the same one that was employed in 2004 to explain the discrepancies in the exit polling: i.e., large numbers of Republicans and independents who support McCain are scared don't like to talk to pollsters.

-- STEVEN D

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McCain-Palin Still Don't Get It, Never Will

The attempts of the John McCain-Sarah Palin to wrest Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes from Barack Obama and Joe Biden are comic . . . or perhaps tragicomic is a better word.

Take Tuesday. Please!

The Keystone State was enveloped in wind-whipped rain, except in higher elevations where there was wind-whipped snow, prompting McCain to cancel his first rally and leaving it to Obama to tell 9,000 stalwarts who turned out in the southeastern city of Chester that "a little bit of rain never hurt anybody."

When McCain, with Palin at his side, finally braved the elements and took the stage at an arena in the southcentral city of Hershey, he was doing his best Elmer Fudd on the first day of rabbit season imitation, a deliciously apt allusion offered by Dennis Roddy in a savagely funny but accurate analysis at Slate about what makes Pennsylvania voters tick.

Poll after poll and focus group after focus group reveal that not only have attacks on Obama's character turned off those vital on-the-fence independents, but they may be the single biggest reason that the campaign has squandered what was a close race not that many weeks ago and is not making headway in the voter-rich Philadelphia 'burbs where voters are far more concerned about the economy.

Yet there they were referring to Obama as "an old-fashioned liberal" who would be "redistributionist in chief" if elected, would "lose the war" in Iraq and, horror of horrors, is "interrupting the World Series for an infomercial."

They still don't get it. And never will.

All Aboard For The Republican Right-Wing's Flagellation Station Express

Lordy be! In only six days the angry mantra of the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign will be silenced. You know the one I'm talking about: That some of us are not true Americans because of where we live, what we do for a living, where we went to school and, horror or horrors, because we support a Muslim terrorist for president.

But you can bet your dangling chad that while we will be filling this welcome void by beginning the arduous task of pulling America from the smoldering ashes of the Age of Bush, the angry flagellation that has recently broken out among the holiest of the Republican right-wing holy will intensify.

This writ large is their own version of the McCain-Palin mantra, only here it's real Republicans vs. elitist Republicans.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan is among those already being lashed for having the temerity to not only part ways with President Bush, but with his wannabe successor, as well. Same for former Bush speechwriter David Frum and the lengthening list of GOP bigs who have endorsed Barack Obama, most prominently the tribally traitorous Colin Powell.

"We won’t tolerate those sorts of people on our sinking ship, and it is our sinking ship. Leave us to drown in peace!" is how conservative pundit Daniel Larison mockingly puts it.

This whips-and-chains vaudeville show reminds us that the Republican Party is precariously close to toppling into the abyss where reside Rush Limbaugh and the twentysomething percent of Americans who still believe that Bush is doing a heck of a job.

* * * * *
Poor Bobby Jindal.

It seems like only yesterday that the Louisiana governor was being described as a rising star in the Republican firmament. But after the smear job that the lynch mob has done on Obama it's difficult to see room being made for a dark skinned guy with a funny name on future national tickets.

* * * * *
The pundits at National Review Online, the cyberchild of the magazine founded by conservative Republican godfather William F. Buckley Jr., have spent the last few months piddling on his grave as they have relentlessly bloviated about Obama while completely missing the big picture.

From Obama's fleeting relationship with Bill Ayers to claims he is a socialist and/or communist to comparisons to Hitler and Munich 1939 to whether his birth certificate is genuine, the NRO gang has prattled on and on . . . and on and on. So enamored of the smell of their own self-righteous holes have they been that they never paused to consider that while culture warring and character assassination might have worked in 2000 and 2004, 2008 is a whole different ball game.

This is on full display in Pennsylvania. Although McCain has made it his "firewall" state, he is spinning his wheels in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs because families there are a whole lot more concerned about making ends meet than whether Obama is the demon spawn in a coat and tie.

* * * * *
We also have the folks at NRO, along with their fellow travelers at the Weekly Standard, to thank for their role in Sarah Palin's star turn.

During the summer of 2007, cruises sponsored by these august journals docked in Alaska and editors and writers trooped up to the governor's mansion where they, almost to a man, fell madly in love with a woman who has become become the Lizzy Borden of the McCain campaign.

It is not just that William Kristol, Fred Barnes and Rich Lowry, among other bright conservative journalistic lights, were smitten by a woman whose utter absence of substance was not off putting, but their man crushes continue even as reports multiply that Palin has gone rogue and is at war with the Old Guy. Kristol in particular is righteously indignant that the object of his affections is getting such lousy treatment in the Lower 48.

The joke, of course, is on them.

Because while Palin has little chance of being a force in 2012, her fierce anti-intellectualism has short-term appeal and she is bound to be a player in the ongoing disintegration of the Republican Party, which with her help has a fighting chance to go from having a lock on power in Washington to a political anorexic whose power base consists of Deep South states in hardly any time at all.

Image: "Flagellation of Christ" by Ludovico Carracci

McCain-Palin Trainwreck Excuse du Jour

16th in a series on the best
excuses for the GOP disaster
As if the geezer didn't have enough trouble, his running mate's own staff are a bunch of turncoats:
" 'She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane,' said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to 'go rogue' in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

" 'I think she'd like to go more rogue,' he said.

". . . Anger among Republicans who see Palin as a star and as a potential future leader has boiled over because, they say, they see other senior McCain aides preparing to blame her in the event he is defeated.

" 'These people are going to try and shred her after the campaign to divert blame from themselves,' a McCain insider said, referring to McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, and to Nicolle Wallace, a former Bush aide who has taken a lead role in Palin's campaign. Palin's partisans blame Wallace, in particular, for Palin's avoiding of the media for days and then giving a high-stakes interview to CBS News' Katie Couric, whose sometimes painful content the campaign allowed to be parceled out over a week.

" 'A number of Gov. Palin's staff have not had her best interests at heart, and they have not had the campaign’s best interests at heart,' the McCain insider fumed, noting that Wallace left an executive job at CBS to join the campaign."

More here.

Cartoon du Jour

Align CenterSteve Breen/San Diego Union Tribune

Merle Saunders (1934-2008)

MORE HERE.

There Ought To Be A Law

BUY IT HERE.
Hat tip to The Truth About Cars

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

THE RIVER OF MY DREAMS
By The G8

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

I think it's now fair to say it's a war. My view is that after the McCain peeps had made that crazy decision and realized after the fact what they had on their hands, they put their best face on it. They knew that the normal rules for a veep -- a press conference, full media accessibility, airing of all the biographical details -- would have required the candidate to quit before November. So they tried to shield her from actual democracy -- a dangerous decision for the rest of us, but a rational, cynical decision for a campaign running a delusional liar as the potential next president of the US. Palin of course, lives in her own little, somewhat nutty, world and now believes her manifest destiny has been thwarted.

It's a massive, unmissable clusterfuck and has been for two months. They just can't hide it any longer. And the pick is a devastating one - because it basically destroys John McCain's credibility as a presidential decision-maker. His first major decision as a future president is one of the worst in American political history. That alone should be enough to seal his fate next Tuesday. You need nothing else.

-- ANDREW SULLIVAN

With polls showing Barack Obama pulling ahead of John McCain in the US presidential race, the Republican party's hard-right evangelical allies are starting to panic. As the political elites in the movement freak out, they're sowing the seeds of grassroots anxiety that God will punish America for electing Obama.

In the widescreen-format, director's-cut edition of The 2000s: A Retrospective, Republicans might well look back on 2006 as the year that Iraq sank their electoral fortunes. Back then, before econopocalypse loomed over every hill and household in America, the cost of the unpopular war looked unsustainable, and the casualties unnerving. Violence jerked and spiked, victories stayed local and brutally temporary, and pent-up frustration at the long three-year decline from cakewalk to crapshoot had no other release: in came the Dems. It wasn't an avalanche, but it was enough — enough to accustom America to a new Congress with a new agenda, and enough to give the Democrats themselves the space and the time to set about constructing a more durable majority.
Come November, that majority is set to swell — hopefully cresting somewhere below the point at which Republican opposition is reduced to the clawing of furniture and the gnashing of teeth. Regardless, however, the war in Iraq's rotten domestic legacy will have crawled out from the pit of '06, and the stench of that year will hang around the Republican party for a long time.

In this desperate week of fighting to hold onto Washington power, the GOP will play its last card--to arouse voter fear of what one-party rule would do to the country, of what the "Socialism" of Barack Obama would mean if supported by filubuster-proof majorities that would give Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid a free hand.

By implicitly acknowledging the defeat of their White House ticket, Republicans could make the argument in an attempt to save such endangered Senate seats as those of Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Since Americans have an innate mistrust of concentrated power, the notion could gain traction for voters with short memories. They would have to forget the past two years of "checks and balances" that prevented extending health care to impoverished children and setting reasonable timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, among other majority desires.

-- ROBERT STEIN

If Mr. Obama wins we could possibly see any or all of the following: a federal constitutional right to welfare; a federal constitutional mandate of affirmative action wherever there are racial disparities, without regard to proof of discriminatory intent; a right for government-financed abortions through the third trimester of pregnancy; the abolition of capital punishment and the mass freeing of criminal defendants; ruinous shareholder suits against corporate officers and directors; and approval of huge punitive damage awards, like those imposed against tobacco companies, against many legitimate businesses such as those selling fattening food.

-- STEVEN CALABRESI

Obama is outperforming any Democrat back to Jimmy Carter among white voters, getting 45 percent to McCain's 52 percent. But in the South, it is a very different story. Obama fares worse among Southern whites than any Democrat since George McGovern in 1972.

Whites in the East and West tilt narrowly toward Obama (he's up 8 and 7 points, respectively), and the two run about evenly among those in the Midwest. By contrast, Southern whites break more than 2 to 1 for McCain, 65 percent to 32 percent.

-- JENNIFER AGIESTA

Out in Pennsylvania today, there was a little bit of rain. John McCain postponed his rally. Barack Obama declared that "a little bit of rain never hurt anybody" and gave his speech.

Who do you want running the country?

Photograph by Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

N.J. Hospitals Crisis: Charles Cullen Was Not The Problem, He Was A Symptom

Charles Cullen is every hospital's nightmare: A deranged nurse who methodically murders patients by giving them hard-to-detect overdoses of medications.

Cullen, who was arrested in 2004 after a 16-year crime spree made considerably easier because a severe nursing shortage enabled him to go undetected as he moved from hospital to hospital, told authorities that he murdered as many as 45 patients at hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

As a result of Cullen cooperating with authorities in a plea bargain that will keep him behind bars for life, hospital procedures were tightened with his input and the New Jersey legislature passed the Nurse Cullen Act. This requires nurses to be fingerprinted and established a system whereby the New Jersey Board of Nursing is notified if a nurse has any kind of brush with the law, no matter how minor.

* * * * *
The Nurse Cullen Act would seem to be a good thing on its face, but it is a safe bet that New Jersey hospitals have killed many more patients than Charles Cullen did as its health-care system has imploded.

The most densely populated and second wealthiest state, New Jersey had 112 hospitals 20 years ago. Today it has 74 and six have closed in the last 18 months alone. Meanwhile, four others have announced plans to close and five have filed for bankruptcy protection, with about half of the other hospitals losing money like an emergency room patient hemorrhaging blood because of gunshot wounds.

The state authorities who rushed to crack down on nurses in the wake of the Cullen scandal, have showed no such urgency in:

* Stanching the very nursing crisis that this psychopath used to his homicidal ends.

* Cutting hospital-bred infection rates.

* Pushing back against rapacious insurance companies that limit access to care.

* Cracking down on the kind of mismanagement that has resulted in the collapse of several hospitals.

This is not to say that beyond the Cullen Act there has been total inertia.

A so-called health reform package signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine in August is supposed to bring more accountability and transparency to hospitals, but the new regulations do not deal with the roots of the crisis, only the symptoms.

They are the equivalent of holding back a flood with a spoon because the core issue remains the degradation of nursing care and the flight of precious registered nurses from New Jersey's remaining hospitals, and the package doesn't even presume to deal with that.

Some of the blame for this lies with the New Jersey Hospital Association, which claims to merely be a trade association but in reality is the health-care equivalent of OPEC, the petroleum cartel.

While the NJHA was a supporter of the reform package, it has worked assiduously to advance the agendas of the executives who run hospitals -- often with a plantation mentality. It has engaged in what, like OPEC with the price of crude oil, would seem to be a pretty fair imitation of coordinating wage fixing at member hospitals.

Nurses themselves must share some of the blame.

Registered nurses trace their lineage to Florence Nightingale-like figures and it is hammered home from nursing school on that no sacrifice is too small. As a result, and as vital as their roles are, nurses keep taking it on the chin. Exacerbating the problem is that the New Jersey State Nurses Association and the few nursing unions have no clout.

The nurses association seems to be especially at sea.

Member nurses were invited (at $75 a pop) to attend a Lobbying Day at the State Capitol in Trenton earlier this month where they could hear Governor Corzine address the legislature and hob nob with professional and industry big shots.

But the event was disorganized and further hammered home that Garden State nurses are pretty much on their own when it comes to the issues that really matter.

Nurses were not allowed to hear the governor speak. The executive director of the state Board of Nursing did not like being asked challenging questions and left early. The CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, who was supposed to speak on reform efforts, was a no-show. And a director of the state Department of Human Services noted with a practiced blaséness that "nothing has changed" since she became an emergency room nurse 30 years ago.

* * * * *
The nursing crisis in New Jersey is playing out one nurse and one hospital at a time, a kind of slow-motion Hurricane Katrina as older and more experienced nurses leave the profession and are not replaced.

A study by the Collaborative Center for Nursing paints a frightening portrait of a profession under siege: The average age of a registered nurse in New Jersey is 52, while the general population is living longer and its fastest growing segment is those over the age of 85. RNs are quitting in droves because of poor or nonexistent retirement benefits, inadequate salaries, lack of job opportunities, those oppressive plantation-mentality work environments -- as well as good old burnout.

More than 50 percent of the RNs interviewed for the study said there were too few RNs and support staff for them to properly do their jobs. Almost 40 percent said that because of their workloads, their ability to identify important changes in patients' conditions was diminished. And when this happens, patients can and do die.

The shortage is exacerbated by the inability of New Jersey's schools of nursing to meet the growing demand, and the number of new graduates would have to triple to prevent the shortage from taking on massive proportions by 2020.

Talking all of this into account, the Cullen Act seems more like a state version of the USA Patriot Act, a draconian overreaction to the 9/11 attacks, in that it almost certainly is unconstitutional and violates personal privacy. Worse yet, the state Board of Nursing has been so slipshod in protecting nurses' privacy while busily treating them as potential criminals that it's easy for anyone to access their home addresses -- say if they want to pay an off-duty call and harm them.

So while there is a Cullen Act, there is no Nurse Empowerment Act or any other effort that goes beyond merely treating the symptoms of a gravely ill system. I somehow think that Charles Cullen would appreciate the irony of that.

McCain-Palin Trainwreck Excuse du Jour

15th in a series on the best
excuses for the GOP disaster
Tom Piatak at Taki's Magazine rues the abysmal failure of the Republicans' minority outreach program (sic) and concludes that those Negroes don't like those GOPs because they favor big government:
"John McCain, despite a long history of pandering to Hispanic groups on immigration, is drawing an abysmal 26% of the Hispanic vote in recent polling, which looks good only in comparison to his share of the black vote, which is likely to end up consisting mostly of those blacks who are personally acquainted with McCain. None of this should surprise anyone: Since an appreciable portion of the GOP electorate favors limited government, and the number of Democrats who do is roughly comparable to the number of blacks backing McCain, the GOP is ill-suited to outbid the Democrats in any contest for the affection of minority voters."
Pathetic, no?

More here.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Enterprise Press Syndicate

'I Tore My Mind On A Jagged Sky'

JUST DROPPED IN
(To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
By The First Edition
I woke up this mornin with the sundown shinin in
I found my mind in a brown paper bag within
I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
I tore my mind on a jagged sky
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in

(Yeah, yeah, oh-yeah, what condition my condition was in)

I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in
I watched myself crawlin out as I was a-crawlin in
I got up so tight I couldnt unwind
I saw so much I broke my mind
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in

(Yeah, yeah, oh-yeah, what condition my condition was in)

Someone painted april fool in big black letters on a dead end sign
I had my foot on the gas as I left the road and blew out my mind
Eight miles outta memphis and I got no spare
Eight miles straight up downtown somewhere
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in

I said I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
Yeah yeah oh-yeah

Game 5: Baseballus Interruptus

BUMMERUS. MORE HERE.
Photograph by Mike Segar/Reuters

Vive La Photoshop

Nicholas Sarkozy sans love handles in Paris Match retouch.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Autumn colors light up the English county of Gloucestershire.
Photograph by Getty Images

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Many Obama partisans detected a vague racial appeal in the anti-urban framing. But the attacks also highlighted an overlooked aspect of the Illinois senator's rise: that in a country forever in thrall to its frontier and small-town heritage, he is the rare White House contender who really is a creature of the big city.

This raises two questions: Is Obama's ascent a further sign -- on top of volatile gas prices, plummeting home values in the exurbs and recent population upticks even in Baltimore and Newark -- that our cities are back and that the country is making peace with its non-agrarian side? And would a big-city president address as never before the problems of our urban cores -- blighted housing, shoddy public transit, dismal schools?

The wilderness years are never pleasant, but if Republicans find themselves there after Nov. 4, they have an opportunity to revive the GOP. If Republicans become champions of an ambitious conservative reform agenda, they will begin the road back to political dominance.

-- PETER WEHNER

Sarah Palin is refusing to call people who would bomb abortion clinics terrorists. Yes, she condemns their actions. But she is parsing the definition of terrorism so as not to offend that small, but vocal part of the conservative base who may not see clinic bombers as heroes, but refuse to place their actions in a a moral context that equates the tactics of the jihadis with the Eric Rudolphs of the world.

This is moral cowardice. The purpose of bombing abortion clinics (it hasn't happened in a decade) is exactly the same as fanatics who set off car bombs in crowded markets; that is, to intimidate and to terrorize people. . . .

Moral equivalency between jihadis and Christians is not, cannot be based on comparative body counts but only on the intent of the attacker – the only possible moral context you can place any attack on innocents. Palin's parsing is an ignominious example of a politician who would rather pander to the extreme of her base instead of taking a clear, unambiguous moral stand against political violence. She should be condemned for this by those on the right who claim moral ascendancy over the rest of us due to their religious beliefs as well as any thinking conservative who cares about the moral standing of our candidates.

-- RICK MORAN

You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don't know what you can say. You can't say anything. . . . I think they ought to be just honest about it and stop the nonsense about, "I look out my window and I see Russia and so therefore I know something about Russia." That kind of thing is insulting to the American people. . . . [I]n a world that is so complicated, so interconnected and so combustible, you really got to have some people in charge that have some sense of the bigger scope of the world. I think that's just a requirement.

-- CHUCK HAGEL

Palin's wardrobe malfunction harks back in various ways to one of the most famous moments in modern Republicanism: Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers" speech. And it makes Nixon's cynical exploitation of cultural resentments look heartfelt. . . .

Pat Nixon's cloth coat saved Nixon's career. The speech, with its palpable anger toward privileged elites – and their inconvenient, reality-based rules – defined Nixon's politics and has been an evergreen theme in Republican campaigns ever since. It resonated because Nixon's anger was authentic, rooted in his life experience. He had come of age during the Depression, the son of a grocery store owner in rural California. He was forced to turn down a scholarship to Harvard because his family couldn't afford the living expenses. Instead, he attended Whittier College in his hometown. Some trace Nixon's famous contempt for eastern elites to this initial disappointment.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, may sincerely resent the heck out of elites, but her attitude has no basis in any real kind of disadvantage. Palin could have easily purchased her campaign wardrobe herself, as she and her husband are quite well off.

-- JOHN McQUAID

Barack Obama is noted for his powerful intellect, but I don't think he gets nearly enough credit for the mental dexterity it takes to be simultaneously an Islamic theocrat, atheistic communist and national socialist while posing as a center left candidate. Those must be the compartmentalization skills they taught him at that Manchurian madrasah in Indonesia.

-- DAVID KURTZ

Anti-Americanism is good politics and flourishing in most countries. It will receive fresh energy from the McCain-Palin ticket's new definition of an anti-American as being anyone who is not Joe Six-pack living in Middle America.

This parochial narrative of Palin's handlers, who seem to be as unaware as she of the world out there, is far from the values of most other nations. But it comforts the perception of Americans and their government as being hypocrites whose actions are far less noble than their words

--BRIJ KHINDARIA

Photograph by Shira Golding

Monday, October 27, 2008

Leading Pennsylvania Pollster: It's All Over For John McCain Bar The Shouting

G. Terry Madonna is a familiar talking head on CNN and other news channels these days and even more in demand because John McCain is making his last stand in Pennsylvania.

There probably is no pollster more knowledgeable and well spoken when it comes to Keystone State politics than Madonna, who is the man behind the F&M Poll (formerly the Keystone Poll) at the Center for Politics & Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, where he is director.

Madonna and I worked together for many years when I was an editor at the Philadelphia Daily News. He was going into the field for the final national pre-election F&M poll (summary of the most recent poll
here) when I caught up with him.
MULLEN: Pennsylvania is now being described as McCain's "firewall" state. Given that he is trailing in most polls, does that make sense?

MADONNA: Yes it does. McCain can't win Iowa, New Mexico or Colorado with their 21 Electoral College votes. He is not winning a single [John] Kerry state, so he's picked Pennsylvania with its 21 votes to make his last stand.

MULLEN: What percentage of Pennsylvania voters remain undecided at this late date? Are there enough to decisively tip the result?

MADONNA: Well, there are perhaps 10 percent genuine undecideds. To change the outcome, you would have to assume that all of these voters are going to vote for McCain -- something I don't believe likely.

MULLEN: What are the greatest concerns for Pennsylvania voters?

MADONNA: Overwhelmingly the economy, especially issues relating to personal finances. All other issues, including Iraq and moral issues, are very low in importance.

MULLEN: I asked you this in an interview just before the Pennsylvania primary in late April: What happened to all those Reagan Democrats?

MADONNA: They are here and many will vote for McCain, but the Southeast will deliver big for Obama and that's a bigger problem for McCain. Does Obama win the way Governor Rendell won in 2006 by taking the Philadelphia suburbs? Maybe not by the same percentage, but among the same demographics and geography.

MULLEN: What effect did the selection of Sarah Palin have in Pennsylvania? Was there any migration of angry Hillary Clinton supporters to McCain-Palin?

MADONNA: Not really. Palin helps among core Republicans and a bit among Reagan Democratic women, but among the Clinton liberal, pro-choice women she has had the opposite effect.

MULLEN: What has Barack Obama done right?

MADONNA: He has stayed on message, been very discliplined, cool and unflappable, and presented a case for assisting folks caught up in the recession. He has made no big mistakes and raised record amounts of cash, and understood how to win a national election.

MULLEN: What has McCain done wrong?

MADONNA: He could not escape his identification with George Bush -- almost half the voters believe he will continue the economic policies of Bush. He never developed a strategic campaign -- it's been all tactics. But given the economy he was not likely to win anyway.

MULLEN: Given that going negative seems to have backfired, is there anything that McCain can do to recover at this late date?

MADONNA: Probably not.

MULLEN: How decisive were the three presidential debates?

MADONNA: They were more decisive than anyone thought. Voters saw a self confident, reassuring, calm and cool Obama who did not appear to them to be a radical. He passed a big threshhold in the debates -- his readiness to be president.

MULLEN: Is there any "big" story that you think the mainstream media has underplayed?

MADONNA: Obama's lack of experience and his thin resume.

MULLEN: So who takes the marbles on November 4?

MADONNA: The odds are 80-20 that Obama will be the next president.

McCain-Palin Trainwreck Excuse du Jour

14th in a series on the best
excuses for the GOP disaster
George Bush lap dog David Frum says that John McCain recycled the wrong message:
"[B]y founding his campaign on a full supply-side message, McCain denied himself the opportunity to say anything new. Worse, because that message originally took shape as a (correct) response to the problems of the 1970’s, McCain’s attempt to dust it off and reuse it as a response to the very different problems of the 2010’s only made him look more out of date.

"That’s not a failure of campaign tactics. It's not even a failure of strategy. It's a failure of the Republican Party and conservative movement to adapt to the times.

"Very soon, this election will be over. Then Republicans and conservatives will confront a much harder question: How long will this adaptation take? It took Democrats 12 years to understand and accept their defeat in 1980. Surely we can be faster learners?"
More here.