William Katz:  Urgent Agenda




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(Here is my audio report on Hollywood and politics.)




SUNDAY,  OCTOBER 19,  2008


Posted at 7:3 5 p.m. ET

The strangeness of this election year progresses.  The machinations of ACORN should be major news, but to make it major news means raising questions about the group's relationship with Barack Obama, and there are religious lines that a proper journalist doesn't cross.   You don't want to be shunned by the other parishioners.

Well, there are some journalists who have crossed.  The San Diego Union-Tribune editorializes on ACORN today, and its words are worth examining:

Using corporate, partisan and taxpayer grants, the nonprofit group has spent $35 million this year to register 1.3 million people in 21 states. But it's highly likely that hundreds of thousands of these registrations are bogus. That's because ACORN relies on canvassers who appear to be paid based on how many signatures they get – an invitation to fraud – and because ACORN as an institution appears to collectively think such fraud is tolerable in the name of “social justice.”

ACORN's voter drive in San Diego County – detailed in yesterday's Union-Tribune – is troubling. Nearly 2,000 of the 26,000 forms it turned in were invalid, much higher than the norm. But compared with what ACORN did elsewhere, its San Diego effort was a model of probity. In Ohio, for example, officials say ACORN gets the primary blame in the registration of 200,000 new voters whose forms appear to be bogus.

But remember, it's social justice.  We're all for social justice, aren't we?

Unfortunately, many Democrats depict concern over ACORN as Republican hysteria. They are right that voter fraud has been a tiny problem in recent years. But they ignore a key point: the stunning scale of bogus registrations this time around.

Even if a tiny fraction of these fake voters actually fill out a ballot, they have the potential to tip the presidential vote in battleground states – such as Ohio. Or Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina or Wisconsin – all swing states where ACORN has been active.

And then there is the fundamental principle - that the ballot is sacred, and that sanctity must be protected, no matter what polling statistics in a state show.  We don't want to become a third-world country.  Or do we?  Or do some of us?

If we have another very close race, the subsequent court fight could make Florida 2000 seem like a polite tiff.

So, please, spare us the “social justice” rhetoric. What ACORN has done isn't noble. It's reprehensible. We hope that the FBI's investigation into the group is vigorous and thorough.

The problem is, investigations take time.  The FBI is part of the Justice Department, and operates under the attorney-general.  The new attorney-general will probably be chosen by President-elect Obama.  How enthusiastic do you think he or she will be about probing ACORN? 

Watch for the "investigation" to fade away, or be dragged out to the point where no one cares.  Oh, if there is a report, you'll read it on page 56 of The New York Times, right below the closeouts at Fred's Camera and Electronics.

October 19, 2008.      Permalink          


NOTE AT 5:09 P.M. ET:  Correction:  In an audio report about Hollywood, I said that actor Lee Marvin fought at Iwo Jima.  Reader Joseph J. Gallick corrects me.  There had been stories for years that Marvin was at Iwo, but Mr. Gallick points out that it was actually Saipan, where he was wounded.  Corrections are always welcome here.

UPDATE AT 3:54 P.M. ET:  Trackers now published still show Obama solidly in the lead.  Hotline has Obama up seven, same as yesterday.  The Gallup "traditional" survey of likely voters has Obama up three, up one from yesterday.  The "expanded" survey, taking into account new voters, has him up seven, up from four yesterday.  The IBD/TIPP tracker has Obama up five, down from seven yesterday. 

UPDATE AT 10:15 A.M. ET:  From The New York Times, on the Powell endorsement:  While Mr. Powell and Mr. Obama have spoken occasionally, including a face-to-face meeting earlier this year, the endorsement caught the Democratic presidential nominee by surprise. Aides to Mr. Obama said they did not know about the endorsement before the television interview on Sunday morning.

COMMENT:  That is a profoundly dishonest statement and an affront to any reasonable journalistic standard.  The idea that this came as a surprise is laughable.  It's been in the press for days.  The correct report should have read:  "...spokesmen for Senator Obama claimed the endorsement caught the Democratic presidential nominee by surprise.  However, there had been considerable speculation about it in media reports during the past week."



Posted at 9:58 a.m. ET

Colin Powell has indeed endorsed Barack Obama on "Meet the Press."  As reported in The Politico:

Saying the Democratic nominee could "not only electrify our country but electrify our world," Colin Powell crossed party lines this morning and announced his support for Barack Obama.

Powell made his announcement on "Meet the Press." He said he had no plans to campaign for Obama.

Offering an extended rationale before making his preference known, the former Secretary of State said he had only come to his decision in recent weeks in what he called the campaign's "final exam."

It's sad to see Powell sink this way.  He claimed it wasn't about race, but the line, "not only electrify our country but electrify the world" is code language. 

Also sad was Powell's swipe at Sarah Palin:

Palin, Powell said flatly, is not qualified because she's not ready to be president -- the primary role of the vice president .

Powell, a native son of New York City, also knocked one of Palin's signature lines. "Not just small towns have values," he said.

Of course, there was no discussion of Joe Biden's catastrophic record on foreign policy - opposing just about everything successful in American policy over the last 36 years.  In Powell's world, the world of the Washington bureaucrat, Biden's just "being there" is qualification enough.

Powell said he's gotten to know Barack Obama.  I wonder if he's taken the time to get to know Sarah Palin. 

John McCain's reaction to the Powell announcement was correct and classy:

It doesn’t come as a surprise," McCain said. "I'm very pleased to have the endorsement of four former Secretaries of State, well over 200 retired generals and admirals. I’ve admired and continue to respect Secretary Powell."

The sad fact is that some Americans may be swayed by the Powell halo.  We seem to be creating a lot of halos these days, with very little substance underneath.

October 19, 2008.      Permalink          


UPDATE AT 9:31 A.M. ET:  Rasmussen tracker, just published, shows Obama up six, a gain of one since yesterday.  Rasmussen reports the race as very stable. 

NOTE AT 9:29 A.M. ET:  The political world is in a twitter over the possibility that Colin Powell may endorse Barack Obama today.  And outside the political world?  As Johnny Carson used to say, "Notice the excitement."

It would be a big mistake for Powell.  While vastly overrated, he has nurtured a reputation that places him "above" politics.  When you're above, you don't go below.  If you do, you become fair game for questions that should have been asked of Powell years ago. 


Posted at 8:41 a.m. ET

There is a kind of hypocritical vulgarity to the anointing of Barack Obama in Europe.  The sudden love for Obama does seem to contradict quite a bit of European history, which includes heavy doses of racism, xenophobia, holocausts, and other unpleasantries.

A story in McClatchy Newspapers says: 

PARIS — His visage appears between the svelte curves of fashion models on Europe's most prestigious runways. His speeches are remixed into thumping music tracks in underground dance clubs. His campaign slogans are the foundation for modern art hanging on trendy Parisian gallery walls.

In Europe, Barack Obama is much more than the Democratic presidential nominee. He's the hip new thing.

Abe Greenwald at "Contentions," comments:

At what point can we deem Europe’s cosmetic obsession with a black American presidential candidate offensive? I know we’re supposed to be overjoyed that the rest of the world loves Obama, but this is a pretty condescending brand of love, and it’s shocking that no one has objected to it. You don’t have to agree with Barack Obama to think he deserves more respect from the rest of the world than to be turned into an exotic fashion ornament. A “hip new thing” is still a thing. He may be Europe’s new PC fashion accessory, but he’s still our Democratic nominee.


So, if you’re French and you want to advertise your love of black people, you wear an Obama scarf. Meanwhile, unassimilated North African immigrants light up the skies of Parisian suburbs with nightly arson riots. Way to make with the diversity, Europe!

Well said.  And at NRO's Campaign Spot, Jim Geraghty wonders about the American reaction to The One:

But if he wins, how long until the American people get really tired of hearing just how [insert exasperated modifier here, including the expletive of your choice] cool he is? He uses gestures from Jay-Z videos! He's mentioned in the lyrics of Three 6 Mafia's "Lolli Lolli"! He trades e-mails with Scarlett Johansson! Paris fashion designers love him!

Project ahead one year.  The recession deepens.  Americans get tired of New York Times editorials blaming BUSH(!).  They begin to look more critically at the man in the White House, the pressure increases, Michelle makes one of her now-famous outbursts.  And the word "cool" suddenly drops from the journalistic vocabulary, at least in sane places.  That's when the trouble begins. 

Now, all this business can be avoided if the American people do the right thing on election day.  But if they should err, they will expect quick results.  If The One can't deliver, he may be rushing to Europe to get a prestige boost from adoring crowds a lot sooner than his handlers had planned. 

October 19, 2008.      Permalink          


UPDATE AT 8:11 A.M. ET:  In the first tracker out today, Zogby has Obama up only three, a loss of one for The One since yesterday.  We have expressed mighty skepticism here about the Zogby poll, but, I must admit, we're a bit skeptical about all the polls in this weird year.

The story by Reuters, co-sponsor of the poll with CSPAN, said, "Obama's lead among independent voters dropped to 8 points on Sunday from 16 points a day earlier."

Really?  That much?  I'd wait for some evidence over a period of time.  If the trend continues through, say, Wednesday, and is verified by other polls, we may have a race.





Posted at 7:35 p.m. ET

John Hinderaker at Power Line skewers the fading New York Times over its attempted hit piece on Cindy McCain this morning.  John says:

What is shocking about the piece is the tone it takes toward Cindy McCain. I don't think I've ever seen a Presidential candidate's spouse treated so negatively or so unfairly. It's a safe bet that the National Enquirer wouldn't have run this article; only the Times is this committed to putting politics above news judgment or basic fairness.

Sad to see what has become of a once-great newspaper. 

Back in July, Michael Gerson published a piece at Townhall.com, showing the real Cindy McCain, who has a long history of public service delivered without publicity:

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Cindy McCain's first visit to this country in 1994 was during the high season of roadblocks and machetes and shallow graves.

Following a call for help from Doctors Without Borders, McCain had assembled a medical team with the intention of setting up a mobile hospital in Rwanda. Arriving by private plane in mid-April, a couple of weeks into the massacres, she realized that the chaos made deploying her team impossible. At the airport, she paid for the use of a truck and set out for Goma in then-Zaire, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were also headed.

"I never saw anyone harmed," McCain recalls, "but I saw the bodies along the roadside."

She did set up her hospital:

The field hospital covered four acres. McCain's team provided primary care for the sick and frightened refugees, many of them suffering dehydration. For nearly a month, McCain organized food and water for the operation, collecting supplies at the Goma airport.

Now the opposition wants to portray her as just a rich lady with a lot of cars.

Cindy McCain recently returned to Rwanda, which has become far more peaceful, and whose citizens are reconciling. "The reason this will be a successful country," she says, "is the women -- some of the strongest, most inspiring women I have ever met."

Given her history of humanitarianism, these adjectives might be associated with McCain herself. The election of her husband would also bring to the White House an adventurous, traveled, intriguingly fearless first lady. Over the years, McCain has brought medical services to a Sandinista stronghold following Nicaragua's civil war; set up a mobile hospital near Kuwait City while the oil wells still burned from the first Gulf War; helped in Bangladesh following a cyclone. And while in that country in 1991, she found her daughter Bridget in an orphanage -- "She really picked me," McCain insists. Sometimes the desire to save every child is properly concentrated on a single child.

But too many on the left have little respect for people like Cindy McCain, people who actually do something, rather than meet in coffee houses to talk about it.  This doing something, it's an inconvenience, isn't it?  Can't the government do it?

Even if a first lady is not intrusively political, the whole White House responds to her priorities. Cindy McCain has had decades of personal contact with the suffering of the developing world. And in some future crisis or genocide, it might matter greatly to have a first lady who knows the smell of death.

That puts it bluntly, and correctly.  The alternative is Michelle Obama, who, according to a recent report on her visit to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, knows the smell of lobster. 

It is shameful to see what some in the press have tried to do to Cindy McCain.   But what goes around, comes around.

October 18, 2008.       Permalink          

UPDATE AT 7:04 P.M. ET:  Add this to the update just below:   OPEC will need to order a "substantial" cut in oil output at next week's emergency meeting in Vienna, Algerian Energy Minister and current OPEC chief Chakib Khelil said.  "There will be a reduction in production at the next extraordinary meeting of OPEC, and it will have to be a substantial one to get the balance right between supply and demand," he told reporters on Saturday.

COMMENT:  We are at their mercy because we've had no real energy policy, except to obstruct every effort to develop our own resources.  I wonder if Mr. Obama will say something about this. 

UPDATE AT 5:07 P.M. ET:   From USA Today:  The national average price of a gallon of gasoline has fallen below $3 for the first time since February.  The average price for a gallon of regular gas was $2.991 Saturday, according to the AAA's daily survey of up to 100,000 self serve gas stations by the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. That's down from $3.040 Friday.

COMMENT:  We're always glad to pass on some good economic news.

UPDATE AT 4:47 P.M.:   The IBD/TIPP tracker, just out, has Obama up seven, an increase from five yesterday and three the day before.  I honestly don't know what to make of this poll.  It was the most accurate in 2004, but tracks over six, rather than the usual three days, which means it can be behind events.  Its erratic movement doesn't encourage belief.  But we'll know the story of all these polls after election day.

UPDATE AT 3:08 P.M. ET:   The Gallup tracker for today is a bit of a stunner.  In their "expanded" report for likely voters, which includes a projection of new voters thought to be voting Obama, Gallup has the race as 50-46 Obama.  The spread was six points yesterday.  The "traditional" measure of likely voters that Gallup employs has Obama up only two.

COMMENT:  Is the race narrowing?  Too early to say.  Look for the trend in the next three or four days. 

UPDATE AT 12:07 P.M. ET:  The Hotline tracker, which had Obama up ten yesterday, has him up seven today.


Posted at 10:16 a.m. ET

The great Thomas Sowell, who, as an African-American writer, exhibits great courage in his conservative writings, makes a powerful case for Sarah Palin and the McCain cause.  I wish the people around McCain could argue the case this well:

Apparently there is something about Sarah Palin that causes some people to think of her as either the best of candidates or the worst of candidates. She draws enthusiastic crowds and provokes visceral hostility in the media.

The issue that is raised most often is her relative lack of experience and the fact that she would be "a heartbeat away from the presidency" if Senator John McCain were elected. But Barack Obama has even less experience-- none in an executive capacity-- and his would itself be the heartbeat of the presidency if he were elected.

In fairness, a new McCain ad makes this point and makes it well.  But how many will see it, or remember it?

Sarah Palin's record is on the record, while whole years of Barack Obama's life are engulfed in fog, and he has had to explain away one after another of the astounding and vile people he has not merely "associated" with but has had political alliances with, and to whom he has directed the taxpayers' money and other money.

Take notes, McCain campaign.  Take notes.

About Obama:

"Clean up the mess in Washington"? He was part of the mess in Chicago and lined up with the Daley machine against reformers.

He is also part of the mess in Washington, not only with numerous earmarks, but also as the Senate's second largest recipient of money from Fannie Mae, and someone whose campaign has this year sought the advice of disgraced former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, who was at the heart of the subprime crisis.

On Sarah Palin - why the hatred of her in the media?

Sarah Palin is the one real outsider among the four candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency on the Republican and Democratic tickets. Her whole career has been spent outside the Washington Beltway.

More than that, her whole life has been outside the realm familiar to the intelligentsia of the media. She didn't go to the big-name colleges and imbibe the heady atmosphere that leaves so many feeling that they are special folks. She doesn't talk the way they talk or think the way they think.

Worse yet, from the media's perspective, Sarah Palin does not seek their Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Much is made of Senator Joe Biden's "experience." But Frederick the Great said that experience matters only when valid conclusions are drawn from it.

Wonderfully stated.  And remember that line from Frederick the Great.  You'll never hear it from Barack the not so great.

Senator Biden's "experience" has been a long history of being on the wrong side of issue after issue in foreign policy. He was one of those Senators who voted to pull the plug on financial aid to South Vietnam, which was still defending itself from Communist invaders after the pullout of American troops.

Biden opposed Ronald Reagan's military buildup that helped win the Cold War. He opposed the surge in Iraq last year.

Well, I'm glad someone noticed.  But don't expect to see any questions about Biden in the mainstream media.  He has, after all the two most important qualifications of all:  1) He's sat there for 36 years, and 2) he has lunch with reporters.

Whatever the shortcomings of John McCain and Sarah Palin, they are people whose values are the values of this nation, whose loyalty and dedication to this country's fundamental institutions are beyond question because they have not spent decades working with people who hate America. Nor are they people whose judgments have been proved wrong consistently during decades of Beltway "experience."

Douglas MacArthur once said that all defeats begin with two words:  Too late.  I fear that Sowell's wisdom, his penetrating analysis, and his truth telling, are simply coming too late. 

Rough waters ahead.

October 18, 2008.      Permalink          


UPDATE AT 9:38 A.M. ET:  Two new trackers are out.  Rasmussen has Obama up five, Zogby has him up four.  Pretty stable.  Without a major game changer, it's hard to see McCain making any real progress, unless the American voter provides that sober second look, and it leans in his direction.



Posted at 7:59 a.m. ET

We all read the polls, and, while it's entirely proper to be skeptical, the fact is that they all lean in the same direction.  This is not only true of national polls, but of polls in what were called "swing" states until the economic bomb went off.  Obama is solidly ahead, and on track to win an impressive, possibly even a landslide election two weeks from Tuesday.  He is likely to bring in large majorities in both the House and Senate.

That bunker in Australia is suddenly looking good, awfully good.

Can it be turned around?  Michael Barone cautiously suggests that it can, although he, like Karl Rove, makes it plain that he understands the statistical realities.

Can Joe Wurzelbacher, Joe the Plumber from Ohio, change the course of this campaign? That's one question that was raised at the third presidential debate. Wurzelbacher is the man who, in a moment caught on YouTube, confronts Barack Obama on his plan to raise taxes on people like him. Obama, sotto voce, replies that he wants to “spread the wealth around.” In the third consecutive week in which the headlines of the financial crisis have prompted both candidates to denounce “Wall Street greed,” the image of those whom Obama would tax higher was suddenly not an investment banker but a plumber

And, of course, the mainstream media immediately set out to destroy that image by incredible attacks on this small businessman.

The conventional wisdom going into the final debate was that the financial meltdown has pretty much finished off John McCain's campaign and has made an Obama victory inevitable. The polls — not just the national tracking polls but those in critical states — have supported this view unequivocally.

But there are two and a half weeks to go.

Both Obama and McCain have recently advanced additional economic planks to help hard-pressed, middle-class Americans. But neither can claim to have contributed much in the way of substance to the actual steps that Paulson and Bernanke — and, critically, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — have taken to get credit circulating in the blood veins of the economy once again. The fact is that neither Obama nor McCain knows precisely what he would do upon taking office Jan. 20, and voters may sense that it is naive to expect they should.

Which might give way to a rethink just before election day.  No?

Democratic spin artists have dismissed McCain's attacks on Obama as distractions amid a possible economic disaster, and I suspect they will be proved right. Yet it remains the case that about half the voters have doubts about Obama.

About 45 percent of voters in a recent AP poll said they didn't think Obama is qualified to be president.

In three debates, the spin artists go on, Obama has shown that he more than meets the minimal standards for the office, as Ronald Reagan did in the single debate in 1980, and in a year like that one, in which most voters want the in party out, that will be enough. But the 1980 debate was on the Thursday before the election, and the decisive swing came over the weekend. Voters took almost every minute they could. Will they take more time this year, and give some thought to Joe the Plumber? 

It is possible, of course.  But Obama does have one advantage that Reagan also had, his personal attractiveness.  He simply comes off as an attractive candidate on television, even when he's not saying anything, which is most of the time.  McCain has not been able to turn the negative - his age - into a positive, stressing the wisdom that age and experience bring.  America is a youth-oriented society, and Obama is benefiting from the "image" thing.

There could be that sober second look that often comes in the last weekend.  But it can go toward Obama as well as McCain, especially if someone like Colin Powell endorses Obama on national-security grounds, helping to undercut McCain's best credential. 

But we can hope, and we can fight in these next two weeks.  If the gap can't be closed entirely, at least our side can, with get-out-the-vote efforts, make the final result as tight as possible, depriving the opposition of "blowout" talk and inflated egos. 

And political miracles do happen.  Just ask the descendants of Harry Truman.

October 18, 2008.      Permalink          








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