THE GHOST OF SPIRO AGNEW

Posted in Election 2008 on September 15th, 2008 by Ed

Among the political figures to whom Sarah Palin has been compared, Spiro T. Agnew is conspicuously absent. This is unsurprising from the GOP's perspective, as he resigned in disgrace because of the basest forms of corruption during his pre-VP political career (it's a common misconception that he went down with Watergate, but he was a felon without Nixon's help). On the other hand, his absence from the narrative is suprising given that Palin's nomination is a spitting image of Agnew's out-of-nowhere appearance on the national scene four decades ago. The two politicians are eerily similar and the scenario surrounding their nomination is downright identical: choose a neophyte who isn't qualified to run a kindergarten class and then turn the election into a pitched moral battle pitting Good Reg'lar Folk against that condescending liberal media.

Karl Rove has accurately opined that the Obama campaign forgets that its opponent is McCain, not Palin. That said, McCain needs to remember that he is running against Obama. Without that reminder, one would walk away from this race with the impression that he is running against the media. Scoring points off the tsunami of criticism directed at Palin is the campaign's newest strategy. But they didn't invent it.

This technique was pioneered by none other than Spiros Anagnostopoulos, spiritual godfather of the Liberal Media narrative (see Tom Lehmann's "The eyes of Spiro are upon you" from The Baffler). He was the suprise choice as Nixon's running mate after just 18 months as the Governor of Maryland. Before that his political experience consisted of four years as a shockingly corrupt mayor. Sound familiar yet? Like Palin, the Nixon campaign used its nominee as little more than a prop to inflame populist sentiments about "liberal elites" of whom the media are the living, omnipotent embodiment.


"I'm so Greek, it hurts."

The cultural myth of the liberal media was in its infancy in the 1960s and its proponents loved how Agnew was greeted with incredulity, sarcasm, and open hostility. How, the media wondered, can this corrupt hack with zero experience be a heartbeat away from the White House? Relying on every tired trick from Huey Long-style anti-intellectual populism, the GOP used this hostility to its advantage. It gave Agnew a believable martyr complex and plenty of appeal among empathetic voters. Attacking Agnew for his ignorance and inexperience was an attack on the Average Man. The conservative Southern voters Nixon so badly wanted had no trouble identifying with Spiro: "We too hate those know-it-alls, those east coast elites, those college professors who tell us we're wrong when we lynch negroes and mandate creationism."

Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson is the McCain campaign's effort to reanimate Spiro's corpse. In the interview, Palin was unable to answer a question about the Bush Doctrine because…well, she doesn't know what it is. With five years' teaching experience at a Big Ten school, my experience is that the average college sophomore can explain it. That someone who expects to be the VP cannot is front-page news, right? No, the story from that interview was not "PALIN UNABLE TO ANSWER HIGH SCHOOL-CALIBER FOREIGN POLICY QUESTION." The story is the media itself: "LOOK HOW MEAN CHARLIE GIBSON WAS TO OUR QUEEN." Palin must have looked bad because the media made her look bad, not because she doesn't know her ass from a tea kettle. That is Spiro's legacy: the story is not that a woman who wants to be one step from Commander in Chief is thunderingly stupid and has an infantile grasp of basic foreign policy concepts (no wonder all those reporters on her plane aren't allowed to talk to her). The story is that Charlie Gibson sneered at her. Of course the voters McCain-Palin is targeting can empathize – they too are ignorant of facts and details, they too have received that sneer. Thus a vote for McCain is a bold act of rebellion, an ego-boosting "fuck you" to the fancy book-learnin' crowd. No "damage control" is necessary – the whole point is for Americans who don't know shit to bond with one of their own.

Agnew is watching this from his recliner in hell and smiling. He channels Tom Joad, reminding all of his fellow Republicans: Wherever the media embarrass a talentless right-wing hack, I'll be there. Wherever two or more gather in my name, searching for ways to divert attention from lousy candidates, I'll be there. Wherever "regular folk" flip on Fox News in search of a candidate who reminds them of themselves – biased, ignorant, provincial in the extreme, and full of opinions unsupported by facts but which feel true – I'll be there.

FOR THE OHIOANS

Posted in Election 2008, Quick Hits on September 15th, 2008 by Ed

Since the GOP has literally created an industry centered on making sure people (young, brown, or poor ones, anyway) can't vote, I think it is important for Ohioans to realize that a failure to produce certain forms of identification does not preclude voting. According to our friends at the Franklin County (Columbus) Board of Elections, state law mandates:

Voters must bring identification to the polls in order to verify identity. Identification may include current and valid photo identification, a military identification, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document, other than this reminder or a voter registration notification that shows the voter's name and current address. Voters who do not provide one of these documents will still be able to vote by providing the last four digits of the voter's social security number and by casting a provisional ballot. Voters who do not have any of the above forms of identification, including a social security number, will still be able to vote by signing an affirmation swearing to the voter's identity under penalty of election falsification and by casting a provisional ballot.

Note that, aside from the list of acceptable ID being far more expansive than you've been led to believe, voters without any identification can still vote provisionally via affirmation. I don't have a list of 50 states' laws in front of me, but nearly every state has provisional balloting rules which require little more than an affidavit that a voter is not lying about his or her identity. In short, someone who tells you that you cannot vote is lying as long as you are registered.

Oh, and no matter how actively involved in politics you happen to be, there's still a decent chance that you're not properly registered at your current address. Do it now.

2008 SENATE RACES, PART IV: SAFEBUTS

Posted in Election 2008 on September 15th, 2008 by Ed

We've done the uncompetitive seats and the open/toss-up races. All that remain are the safebuts – seats for which assertions of safety are immediately followed by "but…." This small group of races are not what we could call competitive. Nor are they uncompetitive. Think of them as the sasquatches of American politics, the missing link between man and ape. I'll let you determine which primate represents which party.

  • NE Open (Hagel retirement): Nebraska's conservative. Scott Kleeb is a good Democratic candidate for a plains state. I like him. But Mike Johanns, the former Governor, seems like he will be too much for a rookie to handle. A weaker Republican might be in trouble, but if the queen had a dick I suppose she might be the king. In a year that favors Democrats this is potentially a little competitive, but a whole lot would have to go right for Kleeb (and a lot wrong for Johanns) to make it close. Call it for Johanns with a 1% chance of Kleeb prevailing and a 15-20% chance that he causes the GOP a few sleepless nights.
  • Mitch McConnell (KY): McConnell is another guy who should be safe by a mile, but…well, people just don't seem to like him very much. I suppose that is the harvest of being a mean, partisan bastard all of one's political life. He has under 50% approval in his state and can't crack 50% in polling against war vet Steve Lunsford (although McConnell is consistently ahead in said polls). McConnell has the upper hand but this is going to be a lot closer than anyone expects of one of the highest-profile Senators. The guy in charge of making sure other Republican Senate candidates win better watch out for his own ass.
  • Elizabeth Dole (NC): Governor Mike Easley proved that Democrats can win statewide races in NC, although he politiely declined to give up the statehouse to battle Dole. Challenger Kay Hagan is the clear #2 in this race, but there has been enough variance in polling and signs of hope from the DNC to suggest that a massive investment of resources could put this in play. Worth it? Probably not. It's important to note, though, that North Carolina is changing more rapidly than any state east of the Mississippi – especially the high-tech area and PhD factory known as "The Triangle." As the blue menace creeps down the coast and claims Virginia, North Carolina could become competitive within 10 years. But right now Dole is likely to be OK.
  • Susan Collins (ME): George W. Bush's bestest friend in the Senate might seem to be in trouble in a state Kerry won by 9%. The reality of New England's strange political schizophrenia argues otherwise. Rep. Tom Allen is as strong a statewide Democratic challenger as Maine can produce in this era, so if he fails to seriously test Collins then both she and Olympia Snowe (who beat a token challenger by 35% in 2006) can safely be considered incumbents-for-life.

    Essentially, these are the "Oh, Shit" races for the GOP. If November rolls around and they are legitimately worried about any of these, they're in big trouble. These are races that only become competitive when everything has gone wrong for one party and everything went right for the other. If that sounds familiar, well, that was 2006 – an election night that saw Republicans sweating out a Senate race in Virginia, losing 3 House seats in Indiana, and seriously contemplating the possibility of losing a House race in Wyoming. The GOP is clearly in a transitional period and, unfortunately, sometimes a 1994-style thrashing is necessary before the ship can get pointed in the right direction again.

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