Tag Archives: Ben Smith

Boss Hogg Says Something Interesting

Ben Smith at Politico:

Here’s a major moment in the nascent Republican presidential primary: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour tonight became the first among the leading Republican candidates to suggest that the United States reduce its presence in Afghanistan and its spending on defense.

Barbour echoed the concerns of critics of the Afghan war effort when asked by reporters in Iowa about American involvement in the conflict:

He also said that the U.S. should consider reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. “I think we need to look at that,” he said when asked if the U.S. should scale back its presence.

But he said his reasoning isn’t financial.

“What is our mission?” Barbour said. “How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. … Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?”

“I don’t think our mission should be to think we’re going to make Afghanistan an Ireland or an Italy” or a Western-style democracy, he said.

Barbour’s leading Republican rivals have positioned themselves to President Obama’s hawkish right on a range of foreign policy issues. They’ve also resisted calls from some associated with the Tea Party movement for deep cuts to federal spending that would include defense cuts. In fact, two of the candidates — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — have in the past backed the Heritage Foundation’s “4 percent for Freedom” initiative, which would actually raise baseline defense spending.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Ben Smith correctly identifies the first sort of interesting event in the Republican presidential primary race: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has had enough of Afghanistan and wants to start drawing down troops. No details about how many and when, of course–and, in the end, Barbour’s timetable may not be all that different from Obama’s, which, I expect will have lots of troops coming home next year. But this is Haley Barbour, folks–and we know two things about him: he’s not the world’s boldest policy thinker and he’s probably the smartest political strategist in the field. When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way–and that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.

J.F. at DiA at the Economist:

The interesting thing about Mr Barbour’s comments is not that he said them, but that he’s right: of course reining in defence spending has to at least be part of the conversation if people are going to take Republican promises of fiscal responsibility seriously. The depressing thing about his being right is that it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of other ways for Republicans to show their fiscal bonafides. Means-testing Social Security, for instance. Trimming Medicare. Backing the cost-saving measures in Obamacare. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire (sigh). Any takers, Republicans? No?

My two cents: Mr Barbour will get a pass on those comments for now—and may even get some lip service from the Romney-Gingrich camp—because his candidacy is such a long shot. If things start to improve for him, though, look for him to be pilloried as soft on national security.

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Of course, if Ron Paul runs, he would easily outdo Barbour on this front. But for now, Barbour is the only one, and Time‘s Joe Klein uses the opportunity to tout him as “probably the smartest political strategist in the field.”

Whether or not that’s true, you really don’t need to be a genius to know that Americans across the political spectrum are tiring of the war in Afghanistan. You just need the ability to read. According to a January Gallup poll, 72 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans want to “speed up withdrawal from Afghanistan.” And the sentiment is even stronger among tea partiers. According to a poll commissioned by the Afghan Study Group — in the words of founder Steve Clemons, “a bipartisan group of leading academics, business executives, former government officials, policy practitioners and journalists” — 64 percent of self-identified tea partiers want to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan or leave the country entirely. Considering the poll numbers, more surprising than Barbour taking a dovish position on Afghanistan is that the rest of his fellow candidates-to-be haven’t already done the same.

Alex Massie:

Barbour, the Boss Hogg governor of Mississippi, remains a long-shot for the GOP Presidential nomination but he’s not someone noted for policy boldness or imagination. True, his ideal timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan may not differ from the platonic ideal of withdrawal imagined by the Obama administration; that’s not the important thing here. What matters – though this is but a tea leaf into which too much should not be read – is the hint that Republican enthusiasm for the Afghan mission may be waning. That in turn may make the foreign policy debates during the GOP primary more interesting than seemed likely six months ago.

Barbour, of course, is an impeccably-connected member of the “elite” disguised as a southern good old boy. Doubtless that’s why he’s also able to argue that conservative claims to fiscal responsibility (an interesting concept in itself) are meaningless if the Pentagon’s budget is ring-fenced and protected from future budget cuts. Again, this is the sort of “Beltway” thinking disdained by talk radio and the populist right.

Yesterday James observed that it is “worrying” that ” the United State appears to have lost interest in its role as global policeman” but it’s also worth pointing out that this is a role it has performed fitfully and inconsistently in the past. Again, parts of the Obama administration’s foreign and security apparatus – notably but not only Bob Gates – owe something to the George HW Bush/Colin Powell approach to international affairs. Leadership is certainly important but the problems of foreign policy are something to be managed, not solved. Because often there are no solutions and even rarer still is the solution that doesn’t involve hefty, perhaps expensive, trade-offs.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Political Figures

Oh, Beltway, Beltway, Beltway

Jake Sherman and Marin Cogan at Politico:

Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has launched an inquiry into whether spokesman Kurt Bardella improperly shared e-mails from other reporters with a New York Times reporter writing a book on Washington’s political culture, POLITICO has learned.

Bardella has been cooperating extensively with the Times’s Mark Leibovich on the book, and Issa told POLITICO Monday that he would “get to the bottom” of exactly what Bardella shared with Leibovich.

On Tuesday morning, Issa fired Bardella as a result of his investigation.

Issa, Bardella and Leibovich all were given several opportunities by POLITICO to deny that the e-mails were improperly shared. Bardella and Leibovich declined comment. Issa says he simply does not know.

Issa said Monday that Bardella assured him that “he does not share information between one reporter and another.” But he added there are questions about whether he might have treated Leibovich and his book project differently.

“His collaboration with the book author is what I want to get to the bottom of,” Issa said.

Issa said he was seeking to speak to Leibovich personally on Wednesday to ascertain “what kind of cooperation he was expecting. … I want to know in minute terms what the terms are.” As of late Monday afternoon, Leibovich said he had not heard from Issa or his staff.

In an earlier interview with POLITICO, Issa said he was aware his staff has been cooperating with Leibovich and that he had had a hallway interview with Leibovich himself. He said he agrees that if Bardella forwarded or blind-copied reporter e-mails to Leibovich, it would be improper. “It troubles me too,” Issa said, adding that if it is going on, “I’m going to get it stopped.”

Confronted about whether he was sharing the e-mails with Leibovich, Bardella initially said, “Am I bcc’ing him on every e-mail I send out? Of course not.”

Paul Farhi and Paul Kane at WaPo:

Leibovich, a former Washington Post staffer, is on leave from the Times while he researches the book, which is scheduled to be published next year. Reached Monday night, Leibovich had no comment.

Politico.com first reported the alleged leak Monday. The Web site’s editor, John Harris, first raised concerns about the e-mails Sunday in a letter to Issa.

“The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances,” Harris wrote, according to Politico. “As the editor-in-chief of Politico, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that Politico journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”

Harris – a former Post writer and editor – said in an interview Monday that his Capitol Hill reporters heard about the possible leak Friday. “It’s just intolerable if [information about] our reporting was shared with other journalists from other news organizations,” he said. “Our reporting is proprietary and our stories are competitive. Journalists have an expectation that their communication [with sources] is confidential.”

But sources familiar with the matter said that the leak involves hundreds of e-mails to Issa’s office, many of them mundane and routine inquiries from news organizations seeking information and interviews with the chairman.

Bardella lists Leibovich among his friends on Facebook.

Jack Shafer at Slate:

Although I would be first to offer condolences to any reporter whose e-mails or inquiries to a press officer had been blithely shared with another reporter, I wouldn’t spend more than five seconds on cheering him up. A certain variety of Washington reporter lives and dies by leaks from government officials, so I don’t see why a government official leaking to a reporter about a national security matter is kosher, but a government official leaking about what reporters are asking him about is “egregiously unprofessional,” “compromising,” or “intolerable,” as Harris puts it.

As for Harris’ expectation that communications from reporters will be “held confidential,” well, I feel another lung coming up. Although I hope flacks will keep confidential my inquiries to them and their bosses, never in my journalistic career have I believed that a flack would keep his mouth zipped. Flacks and reporters are in the business of distributing information, not sequestering it. They move information like currency traders! They’re blabbermouths! This is one reason why reporting on the press is so easy, why the freshest journalistic recruit can start reporting on the press with almost no experience: Reporters love to give up their secrets and the secrets of others. Why? Because that’s what they’re trained to do! Flacks are almost as loose-mouthed.

Anybody composing e-mails these days should proceed on the assumption that what they write will be posted on the Web milliseconds after they send it. E-mail is not a secure form of communication. You might as well skywrite your questions to a press spokesman as put them in an e-mail. If Harris is so upset about his reporters’ e-mails getting leaked to Leibovich, he should have them use the phone. It’s not a leak-proof device, but it’s harder to forward a phone conversation unless you’re running a tape recorder.

Of course it is wrong for somebody to share correspondence without asking for permission first, but if that ethical constraint were universally observed, there would be no journalism. We’d all be rewriting GAO reports for a living.

Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker:

I’m somewhat mystified that Issa required an “investigation” to get to the bottom of this, because inside Issa’s office there was no secret about Bardella’s cooperation. When I was writing my profile of Issa, Bardella openly discussed his cooperation with Leibovich—and not just with me, but with his direct boss as well. For example, during a meeting with Bardella and Issa’s chief of staff, Dale Neugebauer, the three of us had a light-hearted discussion about how extensively Bardella was working with Leibovich.

“So you know about this, right?” I asked Neugebauer.

“Oh yeah. Yeah, he knows,” Bardella said.

“He [Bardella] just got to Washington and he’s got a book about him coming out,” I noted.

“I know, no kidding,” Neugebauer said.

In a later conversation, Bardella told me, “I’ve shared a lot with [Leibovich].” He added, “I have provided him with a lot of content. I BCC him on certain projects that I’m working on.” Bardella said he shared information that shows “this is how it happens” and “this is the conversation I’m having right now.”

“Do the other folks in the office know?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Bardella said, and he gave me an example of the type of stuff he shares: “Here’s this inquiry I got from a reporter. Here’s what I said to my staff about it, here’s the story, here’s the e-mail I just got from so-and-so, another reporter who’s upset that I gave his story to [someone else].”

At another point in one of our conversations, Bardella explained that getting news in partisan outlets— he cited the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Times—was easy, but it didn’t have the same impact as getting something in the mainstream press. He explained that he had recently leaked a report on ACORN to the New York Times, which had run what was, in his view, a good story for Issa. He then received an e-mail from an aide to Senator Susan Collins, he said, who complained about not being part of the decision to leak the report. Bardella said that he sent the e-mails documenting the whole drama to Leibovich.

“I blind-copied Mark in my response,” he said, “which was, given that my options were the Examiner or the New York Times, I’m not exactly going to apologize for the result that I just produced that you would not have. You had the report for four days and you didn’t do shit with it.”

[…]

This long back and forth was the lead-in to a Bardella quote I used in the piece:

[R]eporters e-mail me saying, “Hey, I’m writing this story on this thing. Do you think you guys might want to investigate it? If so, if you get some documents, can you give them to me?” I’m, like, “You guys are going to write that we’re the ones wanting to do all the investigating, but you guys are literally the ones trying to egg us on to do that!”

To me that last quote was one of the most important things Bardella told me. The rest of it—that offices clash over how to leak info and that bookers and reporters are competitive—is interesting but relatively well known, and not very relevant to a piece about Darrell Issa. But that Bardella accused reporters of offering to collaborate with Issa as he launches what will inevitably be partisan investigations of the Obama Administration seemed jaw-dropping. This is exactly the dysfunctional investigator/reporter dynamic that in the nineteen-nineties fed frenzies over every minor Clinton scandal. In his short-lived career, Bardella was witness to the fact that it was all starting over in 2011, now that there was again a Republican House and a Democratic President. From what I know of what Bardella shared, the beat reporters who cover Issa and engaged in this kind of game with Bardella will be the ones most embarrassed by the e-mails that Leibovich possesses.

Andrew Sullivan on Lizza:

Will Ryan now publish every email he has sent requesting an interview with someone on the Hill? If not, why not? And if another journalist somehow got access to his emails and published them, would he be fine with that? Or is it just because he’s buddies with Leibovich? Just asking. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the journalist-source relationship right now. I’m saying there are ethical and unethical ways to point this out.

Michael D. Shear at NYT:

Politico, the news Web site that on Monday revealed that a Congressional aide had been secretly sharing e-mails with a New York Times reporter,  itself sought correspondence between government officials in numerous federal agencies and other news organizations.

In a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request distributed to at least half a dozen cabinet departments, Ken Vogel, a Politico reporter, made a broad request for all government communications with reporters or editors of 16 news organizations.

The request — which was eventually fulfilled in part after being narrowed, a Politico editor said — asked for “copies of all correspondence,” including “but not limited to e-mails, notes, letters and phone messages — received from or sent to employees or officials” of a number of media organizations: the five major television networks; National Public Radio; the Web sites Huffington Post, ProPublica and TPM Muckraker; and The Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. The request also included Politico.

Among the agencies that received the request were the Justice Department, the Energy Department, the Commerce Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Treasury Department and the Transportation Department.

Politico was the first to report this week that Kurt Bardella, the chief spokesman for Representative Darrell Issa of California, had been giving copies of Mr. Bardella’s e-mail correspondence to Mark Leibovich, a reporter for The New York Times who is on leave to write a book about the political culture in Washington.

Politico reported that its editor in chief, John F. Harris, wrote to Mr. Issa that the practice would be “egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances” and called for an investigation into whether “journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”

(Mr. Harris said in an e-mail Wednesday morning that he was not interested in a legal probe of the situation, but asked Issa directly for answers about the arrangement between Mr. Bardella and Mr. Leibovich.)

Mr. Harris said in an interview Tuesday that there was a difference between a routine request for correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act and an arrangement in which e-mails were passed on immediately to another reporter.

He called it “bad faith between journalists who had an expectation of privacy and the person representing Chairman Issa, who violated that.”

“I thought there was a professional expectation, widely held and legitimately held, and that was compromised.”

In the Politico request, Mr. Vogel hinted at one target of his search, noting that included in the response should be “invitations (including to social events).” In fact, several government officials said Tuesday that the broad request was eventually narrowed to a search for invitations from reporters to social events.

Ben Smith at Politico:

Over at The New York Times’s Caucus blog, Michael Shear (with assistance from three other reporters) responded this evening to POLITICO’s scoop about Kurt Bardella, a since-fired aide to Rep. Darrell Issa who shared reporters’ emails with Times reporter Mark Leibovich.

Shear reported that POLITICO’s Ken Vogel in 2009 filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking correspondence between “at least half a dozen cabinet departments” and representatives of various media outlets (including POLITICO).

Comparing Vogel’s request to the Bardella/Leibovich arrangement, under which Bardella apparently blind copied Leibovich on emails to unknowing reporters, Shear writes that Vogel’s “initial F.O.I. request was, if anything, broader in its reach than the dissemination of information from Mr. Bardella to Mr. Leibovich.”

I find the blog item a bit perplexing and out of character. The comparison, in any event, misses the point of Vogel’s request, whose results never wound up in a story.

The correspondence Vogel requested is considered public information under federal law, the Freedom of Information Act, while the emails Leibovich received from Bardella are not, because Congress — unlike executive branch agencies outside the White House (and some in it) — is not subject to the FOIA. There’s nothing terribly novel about seeking reporters’ emails with executive branch officials. The Columbia Journalism Review and Gawker forced the state of New York to release emails between reporters and David Paterson’s staff last year.

Leibovich’s email collection is for a book due out in 2012, which Leibovich’s publisher describes as an examination of “Washington’s culture of self-love.”

Vogel tells me his request wasn’t actually aimed at reporters. He was reporting for a follow-up story on the controversy over The Washington Post’s aborted plans to host “salons,” in which the Post offered lobbyists who paid as much as $250,000 off-the-record access to “those powerful few” — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

Shear writes “Mr. Vogel hinted at one target of his search, noting that included in the response should be ‘invitations (including to social events).’ In fact, several government officials said Tuesday that the broad request was eventually narrowed to a search for invitations from reporters to social events.”

Vogel says he never asked for “invitations from reporters.” He asked for emails with “employees or officials at the media outlets,” because he wasn’t looking for embarrassing emails from reporters, but rather for invitations to salons or other events.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with reporting on reporters and their emails, whether obtained from leaky staffers or public records. But the equivalence the Times went for in its headline isn’t there, either in the form or subject of Vogel’s reporting.

Dana Milbank at WaPo:

In the middle of all this is the book author, the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich, a friend of mine, who set out to write about this town’s culture and finds himself being sucked into the dysfunctional drama, which resembles nothing so much as a bad reality-TV show in which people put their honesty and judgment second to their quest to be players.

This particular episode begins with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, another friend of mine (see what I mean by incestuous?) who wrote the definitive profile of Issa in January, describing his history as a car thief, among other things. Lizza also got Bardella to make some some surprisingly candid statements.

“I’m going to make Darrell Issa an actual political figure,” Bardella said. “I’m going to focus like a laser beam on the five hundred people here who care about this crap, and that’s it . . . so Darrell can expand his sphere of influence here among people who track who’s up, who’s down, who wins, who loses.”

Bardella also disclosed contempt for reporters he described as “lazy as hell. There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word. That’s just embarrassing. They’re adjusting to a time that demands less quality and more quantity.”

Lizza learned that Bardella had been sharing reporters’ obsequious e-mails with Leibovich. Lizza didn’t include the anecdote because Bardella wasn’t his focus, but word spread via journalistic pillow-talk after Lizza mentioned it in conversations, eventually making its way to Politico. That publication had done more than any other to increase Issa’s profile, with items such as “Issa aims to unmask health care deals” and “Sheriff Issa’s top six targets.”

Put on your PJs: It’s about to get even cozier. Politico reporters were making inquiries on Friday about their e-mails being forwarded to Leibovich, but on Saturday night they partied with Leibovich at the American Legion Hall on Capitol Hill for the 40th birthday party of Politico’s executive editor, Jim VandeHei.

A few hours before the party, Leibovich got a call from Politico’s editor-in-chief, John Harris – who, along with VandeHei and reporter Mike Allen, used to work at The Post with Leibovich (and me! So very cozy!). “Couldn’t this wait until VandeHei’s party?” Leibovich joked to Harris.

The bash itself was a celebration of the politically powerful. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and White House official Austan Goolsbee joined the likes of Bob Woodward and Tom Brokaw in a video tribute to VandeHei. The party received a 600-word write-up, which included Leibovich’s attendance, in Allen’s Politico Playbook the next day.

Also Sunday, Politico’s Harris wrote to Issa calling for an investigation into the “egregiously unprofessional” release of e-mails. On Monday, Politico published a story on the controversy co-written by Marin Cogan, a friend of Lizza’s.

From what I understand, the e-mails won’t look good for Politico if and when Leibovich releases them. There are expected to be many from Allen and reporter Jake Sherman. There could be embarrassments for other outlets, including The Post, that played footsie with the 27-year-old Bardella as part of a culture in which journalists implicitly provide positive coverage in exchange for tidbits of news.

But this isn’t real news. The items Bardella fed journalists were “exclusive” previews of announcements designed to make Issa look good. Now that Bardella has been fired, Issa has been embarrassed and a few reporters are set to be humiliated, it might be a good time for those who cover the news to regain a sense of detachment from those who make the news.

Jennifer Rubin:

Self-absorption to the point of parody? Check. Thinly-disguised “news” stories that serve journalists’ own personal or business interests? Check. Evidence that “journalistic ethics” is taking on the status of an oxymoron? Check. In the world of celebrity journalists, it’s perhaps to be expected that some news reporters and editors have come to regard themselves as the story, or, at the very least, to become convinced that their concerns and woes as the most fascinating part of the story. (Hence, hours of Cooper Anderson’s knock on the head in Cairo.) For people in the business of providing “context” and “perspective” that’s a pretty big character flaw.

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Filed under Mainstream, Political Figures

The Word From Madison, Wisconsin

Alex Altman at Swampland at Time:

Thousands of Wisconsin’s union workers and supporters crowded into the state capitol in Madison for a second day to protest a bill that would strip key collective-bargaining rights from public employees. The measure, introduced last Friday by new Republican Governor Scott Walker, would take away public-worker unions’ ability to negotiate pensions, working conditions and benefits. State and local workers would have to foot more of the cost for their pensions–around 5.8 %–and more than twice that percentage of their health-care costs. Nearly all public workers–the bill exempts police, firefighters and state troopers–would be able to bargain only for salary, and any wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. (Raises beyond that capped figure would require a special referendum.) With Republicans now in control of the state legislature after November’s electoral victory, the measure is expected to pass as early as tomorrow. You can read the statehouse’s summary of the bill here.

There’s no question Wisconsin has a deficit problem. The state has a short-term budget shortfall of $137 million, and over the next two years the deficit balloons to more than $3.6 billion. Walker says the “budget repair bill” would save some $30 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $300 million during the following two. “I’m just trying to balance my budget,” Walker told the New York Times. “To those who say why didn’t I negotiate on this? I don’t have anything to negotiate with. We don’t have anything to give. Like practically every other state in the country, we’re broke. And it’s time to pay up.” He says the measure will help avoid up to 6,000 layoffs.

The measure has infuriated the state’s 175,000 public-sector employees, who say they’re being scapegoated by a governor whose party has no love for unions.Other newly installed Republican governors, from Florida’s Rick Scott to Ohio’s John Kasich, have zeroed in on cutting state-employee rolls and rights as a way to close sagging budget gaps. But Walker’s plan, which guts entrenched rights, is perhaps the most dramatic. “It is up to us to fight for the right of workers to have a collective voice on the job,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt. “This proposal is too extreme.”

David Vines at Huffington Post:
For the last two days, protestors have been marching on the Wisconsin State Capitol, protesting Governor Scott Walker’s new union-busting budget proposal. Last night, a public forum was held and protesters got a chance to speak inside the Capitol to let their voices be heard. As of early Wednesday morning, citizens are still speaking to the Joint Finance Committee in the Capitol.

Scroll Down For Latest Updates.

*All times are Central Standard Time

Tuesday, February 15, 10:42 PM: Thousands of demonstrators are inside the Capitol, demanding a chance to speak in an open forum. Officials have been allowing citizens to sign up on a list, but are debating closing down the list due to overcrowding and public safety reasons. Video here.

11:20 PM: I conducted interviews with three members of the University of Wisconsin community, which can all be seen below.

“I’m worried about the future,” Jason Kempe, a Spanish teaching assistant, told me. “I don’t have a problem with losing, but I do have a problem with abolishing the ability to negotiate,” he said. Watch the full interview here.

Then I spoke with Chris McKim, a recent UW graduate who recently spent time abroad in Nepal. “Where I was living in Nepal, they are coming out of 15 years of civil war over very basic human rights, one of them the right to peacefully assemble and collectively bargain in unions,” McKim said. “To see something like that stripped from us here at home, it’s horrifying.” Watch the full interview here.

“We want our professors to be the best and we want our TA’s to be the best,” said Meghan Ford, an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin. “They work extremely hard and to take away their pay like this is a basic violation of human rights, not just worker’s rights.” Watch the full interview here.

Wednesday, February 16, 12:22 AM: It’s past midnight here but the crowd has not thinned out much.

I just talked to Leif Brottem, a sixth-year PHD student and research assistant at UW-Madison. “Taking away health insurance and taking away bargaining rights of the union really… it’s going to negatively effect the university’s ability to attract students which are the lifeblood of the university.” Watch the full interview here.

Then, I interviewed Zachary DeQuattro, a TAA member and Zoology teaching assistant at UW-Madison. “I’m here tonight in support of my wife whose a Madison school teacher, and in support of myself and other graduate students,” DeQuattro told me. He said of the proposed bill, “It’s really the start of losing the whole union setup. The union will be eaten up trying to re-certify every year and it’s just a real shame.” Watch the full interview here.

12:51 AM: Just got word from a student upstairs that this hearing will likely go on all night. The Republicans may leave at 2:00 when they initially anticipated the forum to end, but I’m hearing that this will go on all night.

2:00 AM: It is officially 2:00 AM and the forum is still going strong. I’m with a few hundred people in the atrium of the building, some of whom are fast asleep.

2:02 AM: All of the lights went off for about 10 seconds, which was met with cheers from some of the people gathered here, but they were promptly turned back on. “Maybe someone just leaned on the light switch,” a friend of mine joked.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Just in case you’re busy tracking unrest in Bahrain or elsewhere around the globe, you should also know that Wisconsin’s capitol is still actually totally occupied, due to its governor being an enemy of working people everywhere. Live coverage here and here.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

Over the last few days we’ve had a growing number of emails from readers saying what’s happening now in Wisconsin is important and we should be on it. As you can see from our current feature, we agree. And we are on it. So I wanted to take a moment to explain just why I think this is so important.

On one level, this is just a meaty news story. The newly-inaugurated right-wing Governor of Wisconsin is using the state’s budget crisis to drastically change the rights of union organizing in the state. He’s even added the weird and bizarre touch of proactively hinting that he might call out the state National Guard to calm any labor unrest. The key point is that Gov. Walker is going well beyond cross-government retrenchment to making wholesale changes to rights to collective bargaining. In response, labor and its progressive allies are mobilizing in a huge way to counter the effort. [Click here to see our slideshow of what’s happening on the ground in the state capitol today.] The Governor excludes police and firefighters from the changes to the labor laws. But at least the firefighters in the state seem to be standing with other public sector union members in what’s turning into a huge public battle.

That in itself would make it a story we’d want to be all over. But it’s quite a bit more than that. Whichever side of the policy issue you’re on, I think the outcome of this situation is going to have ramifications across the country. Republicans came out of the 2010 election pumped up and feeling that they had a huge mandate to fundamentally change government in this country. I don’t think the elections really told us that at all. But these things are decided by results post-election not by analysis of the election returns. And that’s what’s being determined right now.

Ann Althouse:

I said imagine how Democrats would react if Tea Partiers had a demonstration like that — replete with misspelled signs and signs depicting a Democratic Party politician as Hitler or with his head in a noose.

The fact is that the Republicans decisively won the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — probably with next to no votes from the people who came to the demonstration. If you’re asking — like Shilling — for the Republican legislators to listen to democracy, they should look at the last election, the people all over the state who voted for them and, presumably, for fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice.

The people around the state were probably at their jobs yesterday, not able to travel here, into the heart of the state’s liberal politics, to do a counter-demonstration and show their numbers (the numbers recorded last October at the polls). Did the demonstrators — many of whom were teachers — try to speak to those people or did they mostly look inward, at each other, pumping up their own resolve?

What are the people around the state supposed to think of them — teachers who have pretty nice jobs and who decided they could go somewhere else for the day instead? What did those teachers teach? I didn’t notice any of them trying to speak to the people of the state, trying to win anyone over. In fact, there were chants — simple, repeated words that don’t try to explain and persuade — and ugly signs full of name-calling and violence. There were plenty of nice people too and gentle signs, but the nice to ugly ratio was worse than at the Tea Party rallies I’ve seen, and Democrats aimed such contempt at the Tea Partiers. Why should the Tea Party-type people of the state be impressed by the other side’s crowds?

Eric Lach at Talking Points Memo:

Speaking on Morning Joe Thursday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) compared the current situation in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has inspired days of protests by proposing a budget that would remove key bargaining powers for public employee unions, to the recent unrest in Egypt that toppled the 30-year authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak, saying it’s “like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.”

Host Mika Brzezinski asked Ryan what he made of the protests and Walker’s “stand.”

“He is basically saying, state workers, which have extremely generous benefit packages relative to their private sector counterparts, they contribute next to nothing to their pensions, very, very little in their health care packages,” Ryan responded “He’s asking that they contribute about 12% for their health care premiums, which is about half of the private sector average, and about 5.6% to their pensions. It’s not asking a lot, it’s still about half of what private sector pensions do and health care packages do. So he’s basically saying, I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counterparts are, and he’s getting, you know, riots. It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days. It’s just, all of this demonstration. It’s fine, people should be able to express their way, but we’ve got to get this deficit and debt under control in Madison, if we want to have a good business climate and job creation in Wisconsin.”

Ryan then seemed to compare what’s happening in his state to anti-austerity protests that took place in Europe last year.

Ben Smith at Politico:

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.

OfA, as the campaign group is known, has been criticized at times for staying out of local issues like same-sex marraige, but it’s riding to the aide of the public sector unions who hoping to persuade some Republican legislators to oppose Walker’s plan. And while Obama may have his difference with teachers unions, OfA’s engagement with the fight — and Obama’s own clear stance against Walker — mean that he’s remaining loyal to key Democratic Party allies at what is, for them, a very dangerous moment.

OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

The @OFA_WI twitter account has published 54 tweets promoting the rallies, which the group has also plugged on its blog.

“At a time when most folks are still struggling to get back on their feet, Gov. Walker has asked the state legislature to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Under his plan, park rangers, teachers, and prison guards would no longer be able to fight back if the new Republican majority tries to slash their health benefits or pensions,” OfA Wisconsin State Director Dan Grandone wrote supporters in an email. “But that’s not even the most shocking part: The governor has also put the state National Guard on alert in case of ‘labor unrest.’ We can’t — and won’t — let Scott Walker’s heavy-handed tactics scare us. This Tuesday and Wednesday, February 15th and 16th, volunteers will be attending rallies at the state

Wis Politics:

In protest of the budget repair bill that will strip public union workers of almost all of their collective bargaining rights, Senate Democrats have walked away from a floor session.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dems are refusing to come to the floor to debate and vote on the bill.

Fitzgerald said at some point, if needed, Republicans will use the State Patrol to round up Democrats to bring them to the floor. The bill passed the Joint Finance Committee on a partisan 12-4 vote Wednesday night and was due to be taken up by the Senate today.

During last night’s debate on the repair bill, Republicans on the JFC amended the bill to remove a provision stripping pension and health benefits from limited term employees.

The GOP amendment will also mandate local governments offer civil service protections to public employees similar to those state employees receive. Democrats on the committee, unsatisfied with what they felt were insignificant changes, voted against the amendment.

“We have to continue to fight,” Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, said. “This is one battle in the war.”

Republican leaders expected it to pass through the Legislature unchanged except for the amendment added in the JFC.

A few audience members broke down in tears as the committee moved toward a vote.

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Where Will Harold Ford Go Now?

Ben Smith at Politico:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

But Reed left the DLC last year himself to serve as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, leaving Ed Gresser, a trade expert, to lead the group in the interim. Since then the board “hasn’t been able to find someone who wanted to come on in a permanent capacity,” a person familiar with the group’s woes said, with the central problem the difficulty of raising money for a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.

Gresser declined to comment on the DLC’s future, and referred a call to From, who didn’t immediately respond to a message left with an assistant.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

It’s hard to remember, but the whole rise of the progressive netroots was organized around opposition to the DLC, which liberals saw as Satan incarnate. Bill Clinton was an early member, and the DLC helped frame his presidential candidacy.

I always had mixed feelings about the group. I think it was about half innovative effort to counterbalance traditional Democratic interest groups, and half naked effort to suck up to corporate America and/or give contentless messaging cover to red state Democrats.

But for the main part, the DLC disappeared because its work was over. The remaking of the Democratic Party begun by Clinton held in place. The DLC floundered because it had nowhere else to go — having moved the party to the center, it could only advocate for the party is it stood in the Clinton and post-Clinton era, or advocate that it move further still toward the center. It became a an anachronism.

Ezra Klein:

What it hasn’t been able to do is adapt to success. It hasn’t mended relations with liberals, so it never could become the all-purpose Democratic think tank and holding pen that the Center for American Progress is. Its policy shop and messaging shops got a bit stale, which allowed upstarts like Third Way to pass it in influence. It continued picking fights with people like Howard Dean and Markos Moulitsas, which meant that when it got headlines, they weren’t necessarily good ones. It hasn’t nurtured and held onto the young talent that could help it build new constituencies or really update its thinking. It never figured out the Web.

But if I were Al From, the organization’s founder, I’d feel pretty good about myself. For better or for worse, the DLC won. That’s why potential donors and others are now comfortable letting it die.

Marc Ambinder at National Journal:

More prosaically, the DLC did something in 2006 to permanently alienate them from virtually the entire party: they endorsed Joe Lieberman’s re-election bid. Lieberman’s stalwart support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush was just about the biggest sin of all to Democrats of the era. Some issues are zero sum, and the DLC found itself on the wrong side of history, as least as far as the Democratic Party was concerned.
There are two other factors worth mentioning. One was that Big Labor became all the more important to helping Democrats get out the vote, and that made it more difficult for Democrats to affiliate with the DLC. The second was that the Netroots — Atrios and Daily Kos and Chris Bowers — thought the DLC’s “centrism” was equivalent to the politics of concession and compromise.
No question: the Netroots and progressive left are at the center of gravity for the Democratic Party as an institution. There is a distinction, though, between energy and influence. And it still isn’t clear how Democrats win the election without galvanizing the type of voters the DLC sought to attract. The group may be going away, but debates about its ideas will dominate politics for a long time to come.
The truth of the matter is that the DLCs function has been taken over by Third Way. Nobody needs to fear that the centrists aren’t going to be well represented in the Democratic Party. They run the place.
David Dayen at Firedoglake

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Way back in 2005, Markos Moulitsas of the liberal Daily Kos was quite irked with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and declared:

Two more weeks, folks, before we take them on, head on. No calls for a truce will be brooked. The DLC has used those pauses in the past to bide their time between offensives. Appeals to party unity will fall on deaf ears (it’s summer of a non-election year, the perfect time to sort out internal disagreements). We need to make the DLC radioactive. And we will. With everyone’s help, we really can. Stay tuned.

He was going to make them “radioactive.” To think, if a conservative had said it, it would be considered encouraging dirty bomb attacks.

We scoffed. But no more. Apparently Kos really has perfected the promised radioactive superweapon. Ben Smith:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday…  Its website currently leads a Harold Ford op-ed from last November, titled, “Yes we can collaborate.” It lists as its staff just four people, and has only one fellow. Recent tax returns weren’t immediately publicly available, but returns from 2004-2008 show a decline in its budget from $2.6 million to $1.5 million, and a source said funding further dried up during the financial crisis that began nine months before Reed took over.

Could the long-promised superweapon be real? I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions dozens of centrist Democrats suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced

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Cainmania Hits The Nation

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Mark Hemingway at The Washington Examiner:

Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and Member of the Board of Directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, has announced he’s running for President. Or at least thinking about it, anyway. You can read the statement on his website here.

Whether or not Cain will gain any traction remains to be seen. Being popular on the Tea Party lecture circuit doesn’t exactly scream “presidential frontrunner.” On the other hand, the whole point of the Tea Party is to encourage people with real world experince to get involved and lower the barriers to entry in politics. No matter what happens, Cain has the potential to add a lot to the political debate.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

He spoke to NRO’s Jim Geraghty about it on Thursday.

NRO: Let’s get this out of the way: The last person whose first elected office was the presidency was Dwight Eisenhower, and he had led the war in Europe. What is your case to Americans that they should elect you straight to the Oval Office before any other elected position?

HERMAN CAIN: I think that American voters are ready for a problem solver, and not just another politician. I think people are becoming much more aware that successful businessmen are problem solvers, and that’s how they become and stay successful. I’ve gotten this impression over the last two years. What offices you’ve held before isn’t going to be their number one criterion.

What I am hearing from people I’ve talked to is, “What are the problems you want to focus on?” I’ve identified those, as well as what I would do about them. I have identified many of the ideas that I call low-hanging fruit, commonsense solutions that resonate with people.

Let me give you a few examples. One of the first questions I always get when I do one of my talks or Cain coffees or town-hall meetings is, “What would you do about the economy differently?” First of all, make the tax rates permanent, because extending them for two years just extends the uncertainty hanging over this economy for two more years. Secondly, I would ask the Congress to lower the top corporate-tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Why? Because we are the only developed nation in the world that has not lowered its top corporate-tax rate in the last 15 years. The other thing I would do is lower the capital-gains-tax rate, because we punish risk too much in this country. We’re never really going to stimulate the economy in a big way until we do that.

Here’s one piece of low-hanging fruit that just amazes me that Washington doesn’t do it — it’s kind of like a no-brainer. Profits that have been generated overseas by multinational corporations — if they bring those profits back to the United States in the form of repatriated profits, then, in many cases, companies are going to have to pay double taxation. So they leave the money offshore. The last time we had a tax holiday for repatriated profits, back in 2003 under President Bush, nearly $350 billion came back into the country. It’s been estimated that we now have over $800 billion that could come back into our economy.

The other response to when people say, “You’ve never held public office,” is, “That’s true. Most of the people in Washington, D.C., have held public office before. How’s that working out for you?” The answer is, we have a mess. The biggest thing that we lack is leadership. My record in business speaks for itself when it comes to my ability to identify real problems and make sure that we have the right people in place who understand how to address them.

David Weigel:

I had the pleasure of talking to Herman Cain before he announced his presidential exploratory committee this week, and you can expect a fuller piece on who he is in a few days. (Some truly horrible breaking news intervened between the interview and the writing.) So far, as he continues his media tour, I don’t hear much about the reason he got into politics — his opposition to health care reform in 1994, and a televised townhall battle with President Clinton that became conservative lore. Bob Cohn and Eleanor Clift reported on this at the time; curiously a video of the battle went inactive on Cain’s old site, and is now gone.

Ben Smith at Politico:

The quixotic presidential bid of Godfather’s Pizza chief Herman Cain has prompted quite a number of memories of the chain — and of its, er, distinctive television ads.

The one above is via Paul Knipe on Twitter, who wrote that the pizza “was awful. But the horrible commercials were rad.” (Godfather’s still exists, mostly attached to convenience stores.

Joshua Green at The Atlantic:

After posting this profile of Herman Cain, the Tea Party-backed, African-American former CEO of Godfather’s pizza and current radio talk-show host who just launched a presidential exploratory committee…(pause for breath)…some of us at the magazine got to wondering how the rest of the GOP field would react to Cain’s challenge. The first thing you do with an unknown opponent is see what’s out there on the internet. Curious about Cain’s tenure at Godfather’s Pizza, some of us started poking around YouTube for old commercials. It’s safe to say that 1980s pizza ads were pretty wacky affairs (remember the Noid?) and hard to imagine one of them becoming an issue now–but not impossible. Anyway, this 1988 Godfather’s ad, starring the “The Studney Twins”–one black, one white–stood in a class by itself. Let’s just say it does little to temper racial stereotypes*

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The Sound Of Silence: Awkward, Painful, And Beheaded

Ben Smith at Politico:

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s opening statement in last night’s debate reflects either an amazing lack of preparation, or sheer panic.

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

As a guy who also sometimes chokes in this fashion, I’ve gotta feel for Brewer here. Then again, maybe she just hadn’t prepared adequately.

Brewer’s main opponent, Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard, jumped on Brewer for claiming, in that stumbling start, that she balanced the budget. The state faces an estimated $700 million budget shortfall, according to an August staff presentation from the Arizona legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Hey, Arizona immigration law haters who are looking for some schadenfreude: it’s popcorn time. Because here’s a clip of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last night giving one of the worst debate opening statements… ever? Sure, let’s go with “ever.”

Ann Althouse:

Seriously, what is wrong with this woman? That is scary.

Steve Benen:

It really is bizarre, and kind of painful to watch. An opening statement is the easy part — a quick introduction, highlight a few talking points, something about getting stuff done, ask for support, and move on. It’s the part of a debate in which folks tend to memorize a short spiel so they come across as competent and set a good impression for the rest of the debate.

Brewer just had a breakdown of sorts. Worse, she seems to be referring to notes in front of her — which would seemingly tell her what to say if she forgets — but which didn’t help.

By my count, there’s a full nine seconds in which a stumped Brewer says literally nothing. That may not sound like a long time, but on the air, during a debate, it’s an eternity.

Brewer is, by the way, the sitting governor. She’s not some fringe candidate included in the debate as a courtesy — Brewer is currently the chief executive of Arizona, and has been on the campaign trail for months.

I kind of doubt this will have a huge impact on the polls — Brewer may be an unprepared right-wing dolt, but she’s the strong favorite in November — but this minute-long video will serve as a reminder for campaigns for quite a while.

Update: But wait, there’s more. When the subject turned to Brewer’s bogus claims about “beheadings,” she got even more confused.

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place:

This is pretty painful to watch. But her later reaction (flagged by Rachel Weiner) to her Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard*, who hammered her for exaggerating the extent of crime in Arizona with tales of beheadings in the desert, is even worse.

Doug Mataconis:

One can only imagine that Brewer dodged the question because she has no evidence to support her outlandish claims, and she knows it.

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Let’s Go Back To Sarah Palin And Spilled Ink On A Page… What Do You See?

Michael Joseph Gross at Vanity Fair:

Sarah Palin’s connection with her audience is complete. People who admire her believe she is just like them, and this conviction seems to satisfy their curiosity about the objective facts of her life. Those whose curiosity has not been satisfied have their work cut out for them. Palin has been a national figure for barely two years—John McCain selected her as his running mate in August 2008. Her on-the-record statements about herself amount to a litany of untruths and half-truths. With few exceptions—mostly Palin antagonists in journalism and politics whose beefs with her have long been out in the open—virtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do. It is an astonishing phenomenon. Colleagues and acquaintances by the hundreds went on the record to reveal what they knew, for good or ill, about prospective national candidates as diverse as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. When it comes to Palin, people button their lips and slink away.

She manages to be at once a closed book and a constant noisemaker. Her press spokesperson, Pam Pryor, barely speaks to the press, and Palin shrewdly cultivates a real and rhetorical antagonism toward what she calls “the lamestream media.” The Palin machine is supported by organizations that do much of their business under the cover of pseudonyms and shell companies. In accordance with the terms of a reported $1 million annual contract with Fox News, Palin regularly delivers canned commentary on that network. But in the year since she abruptly resigned the governorship of Alaska, in order to market herself full-time—earning an estimated $13 million in the process—she has submitted to authentic, unpaid interviews with only a handful of journalists, none of whom have posed notably challenging questions. She keeps tight control of her pronouncements, speaking only in settings of her own choosing, with audiences of her own selection, and with reporters kept at bay. (Despite many requests, neither Palin nor her current staff would comment for this article.) She injects herself into the news almost every day, but on a strictly one-way basis, through a steady stream of messages on Twitter and Facebook. The press plays along. Palin is the only politician whose tweets are regularly reported as news by TV networks. She is the only one who has been able to significantly change the course of debate on a major national issue (health-care reform) with a single Facebook posting (in which she accused the Obama administration, falsely, of wanting to set up a “death panel”).

Palin makes speeches before large audiences at least a few times a week, on a grueling schedule that has taken her to as many as four locations in three states in one day. She’s choosy, restricting herself to Tea Party gatherings; fund-raisers for charities and Republican organizations and candidates; and moneymakers for herself, mainly business conventions and “Get Motivated!” seminars. Judging from the bootleg videos that sometimes turn up, her basic speech varies little from venue to venue. She presents herself as the straight-shooting, plainspoken, salt-of-the-earth advocate for “hardworking, patriotic, liberty-loving Americans” and as the anti-Obama, the lone Republican standing up to a federal government gone “out of control.” Last July, the quarterly filing by Palin’s political-action committee, SarahPAC, revealed a formidable war chest and hefty investments in fund-raising and direct mail, the clearest signs yet that she may indeed run for president. Republican leaders privately dismiss her as too unpredictable and too undisciplined to run a serious campaign. But on she flies, carpet-bombing the 24-hour news cycle: now announcing her desire to meet with her “political heroine” Margaret Thatcher (the better to look like Ronald Reagan, presumably, though Palin seemed unaware that Thatcher is suffering from dementia); now yelping in theatrical complaint (“I want my straws! I want ’em bent!”), to shrug off revelations that her speaking contract demands deluxe hotel rooms, first-class air travel, and bottles of water with bendable straws; now responding (in a statement read on the Today show) to reports of her daughter Bristol’s re-engagement to Levi Johnston; and all the while issuing scores of political endorsements and preparing a fall media blitz. A TV show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, for which Palin is being paid $2 million, will have its premiere on the TLC network in November. A new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag, will be published the following week.

This spring and summer I traveled to Alaska and followed Palin’s road show through four midwestern states, speaking with whomever I could induce to talk under whatever conditions of anonymity they imposed—political strategists, longtime Palin friends and political associates, hotel staff, shopkeepers and hairstylists, and high-school friends of the Palin children. There’s a long and detailed version of what they had to say, but there’s also a short and simple one: anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin’s life, a sad and moldering strangeness lies beneath.

Ben Smith at Politico:

A former aide to the McCain campaign got in touch with me this morning to cop to being the half-serious progenitor of a story which, embellished almost beyond recognition, appears in Vanity Fair’s portrait today of Sarah Palin as monster.

Reports Vanity Fair:

Soon after her nomination, she brought up with McCain aides the subject of Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Levi Johnston: “Would it be good for the campaign if they got married before the election?” she asked, and went on to wonder whether one weekend or another would be more advantageous for media coverage.

This anecdote first popped up in London’s Sunday Times, a regular landing point for political anecdotes that the less credulous American press won’t print without checking. From that story:

Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”

The fantastic quote — and perhaps the clue that this one hadn’t quite risen to the levels of the principals — is the guarantee that Levi would show: ““It’s a shotgun wedding. She kills things,” the source joked.

Indeed, the former McCain aide (my source and the Times’s) recalls gleefully that while he kicked it around a bit with other aides — as the “end all, be all stunt for a campaign of stunts” — the idea was never brought to Palin, much less seriously considered.

The Vanity Fair story also focuses on Palin’s temper, which may well be a real quality but can’t be quite as out-of-control as its portrayed: It isn’t something the campaign staff — even the large number of them who derided her as lazy, undisciplined or unready — complained of.

One great anecdote that does ring true on the nearly open civil war at the end of the campaign:

When John McCain decided to pull out of Michigan, a decision Palin disagreed with, Recher and Palin hatched a plan one day to make an early-morning drive to Michigan anyway. The Secret Service, becoming aware of the plan, asked the McCain campaign what it should do. The answer came: “Shoot out the tires.”

But my takeaway from the magazine piece is more that you can really write anything about Palin.

David Weigel on Smith’s piece:

Smith explains that the quote came from a wild yarn in a UK Times story, passed on by a McCain campaign source, even though “the idea was never brought to Palin, much less seriously considered.” I can confirm that because I heard it from the same source, albeit after the campaign was over. It was, as I understand it, a goof, and it went to print because, basically, UK papers have more lax standards on what they print than American papers. Of course, it’s not like American papers have covered themselves in glory when “analyzing” Palin’s family based on rumors.

Point is, this anecdote is bunk, and it makes me wonder about the rest of the story.

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Vanity Fair takes another whack at Sarah Palin, but the profile by Michael Joseph Gross seems to try not to read like, or be, a hit piece, even though almost everything in it about Palin is bad. It’s the third big piece Vanity Fair has published on the former governor, following Todd Purdum’s takedown entitled “It Came from Wasilla” (published last August) and Levi Johnston’s “Me and Mrs. Palin” (published the following month).

Much of Gross’s story has to do with the people of Wasilla and how they see Palin, mostly as a newfound outsider of whom they live in perpetual fear, cautious to speak badly of her for fear of reprisal, kind of like the reported sentiments of Iraqis living in fear of Saddam after his government was toppled and he hid from U.S. forces in desert bunkers.
Many things stand out, but two of them are the accounts of Palin’s seemingly bipolar temper and the use of front political groups to put on her speeches.

Rich Crowther at Conservatives4Palin:

Laughably, and here we see the true measure of Gross’ hackery, one person who is named in the article is someone called Sandra, whom Mr Gross feels able to quote despite never having met her.

Perhaps he ought to have been more thorough in that aspect, amongst others, for she is a person well known to the readers of C4P as the pseudonymous Sandrainoregon, or EclecticSandra, or SandraBuehler, or R2D2…… a retired, elderly, archetypal basement dwelling, pajama clad resident of Portman, Oregon, who, for reasons best known to herself, presumably, is devoting every day of her twilight years attempting to undermine Governor Palin by posting inflammatory and provocative comments at pro-Palin blogs.

She is known, for example, to be an active participant at the German blog Palingates, whose European contributors obsessively pursue abysmal conspiracies about Governor Palin, Todd Palin, Track Palin, Bristol Palin and Trig Palin.

Of course, readers will have noted that Mr Gross did interview one other anonymous person, a local Republican who delivered 90 minutes of praise for Palin… though not a word of that praise has been reported.

EARLIER: The Sarah Palin Rorschach Test Continues, As More Ink Is Spilled

Levi Johnston’s 115th Dream

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