Sunday, October 19, 2008
Forty years ago, Richard Nixon made a remarkable marketing discovery. By exploiting America’s divisions — divisions over Vietnam, divisions over cultural change and, above all, racial divisions — he was able to reinvent the Republican brand. The party of plutocrats was repackaged as the party of the “silent majority,” the regular guys — white guys, it went without saying — who didn’t like the social changes taking place.
It was a winning formula. And the great thing was that the new packaging didn’t require any change in the product’s actual contents — in fact, the G.O.P. was able to keep winning elections even as its actual policies became more pro-plutocrat, and less favorable to working Americans, than ever.
John McCain’s strategy, in this final stretch, is based on the belief that the old formula still has life in it.
Thus we have Sarah Palin expressing her joy at visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country — yep, we’re all traitors here in central New Jersey. Meanwhile we’ve got Mr. McCain making Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber — who had confronted Barack Obama on the campaign trail, alleging that the Democratic candidate would raise his taxes — the centerpiece of his attack on Mr. Obama’s economic proposals.
And when it turned out that the right’s new icon had a few issues, like not being licensed and comparing Mr. Obama to Sammy Davis Jr., conservatives played victim: see how much those snooty elitists hate the common man?
But what’s really happening to the plumbers of Ohio, and to working Americans in general?
First of all, they aren’t making a lot of money. You may recall that in one of the early Democratic debates Charles Gibson of ABC suggested that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income. Tell that to Ohio plumbers: according to the May 2007 occupational earnings report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of “plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters” in Ohio was $47,930.
Second, their real incomes have stagnated or fallen, even in supposedly good years. The Bush administration assured us that the economy was booming in 2007 — but the average Ohio plumber’s income in that 2007 report was only 15.5 percent higher than in the 2000 report, not enough to keep up with the 17.7 percent rise in consumer prices in the Midwest. As Ohio plumbers went, so went the nation: median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2007 than it had been in 2000.
Third, Ohio plumbers have been having growing trouble getting health insurance, especially if, like many craftsmen, they work for small firms. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2007 only 45 percent of companies with fewer than 10 employees offered health benefits, down from 57 percent in 2000.
And bear in mind that all these data pertain to 2007 — which was as good as it got in recent years. Now that the “Bush boom,” such as it was, is over, we can see that it achieved a dismal distinction: for the first time on record, an economic expansion failed to raise most Americans’ incomes above their previous peak.
Since then, of course, things have gone rapidly downhill, as millions of working Americans have lost their jobs and their homes. And all indicators suggest that things will get much worse in the months and years ahead.
So what does all this say about the candidates? Who’s really standing up for Ohio’s plumbers?
Mr. McCain claims that Mr. Obama’s policies would lead to economic disaster. But President Bush’s policies have already led to disaster — and whatever he may say, Mr. McCain proposes continuing Mr. Bush’s policies in all essential respects, and he shares Mr. Bush’s anti-government, anti-regulation philosophy.
What about the claim, based on Joe the Plumber’s complaint, that ordinary working Americans would face higher taxes under Mr. Obama? Well, Mr. Obama proposes raising rates on only the top two income tax brackets — and the second-highest bracket for a head of household starts at an income, after deductions, of $182,400 a year.
Maybe there are plumbers out there who earn that much, or who would end up suffering from Mr. Obama’s proposed modest increases in taxes on dividends and capital gains — America is a big country, and there’s probably a high-income plumber with a huge stock market portfolio out there somewhere. But the typical plumber would pay lower, not higher, taxes under an Obama administration, and would have a much better chance of getting health insurance.
I don’t want to suggest that everyone would be better off under the Obama tax plan. Joe the plumber would almost certainly be better off, but Richie the hedge fund manager would take a serious hit.
But that’s the point. Whatever today’s G.O.P. is, it isn’t the party of working Americans.
Iraq's majority Shiites draw a line in acquiescing to continued occupation by the US. They want a fixed timeline for an exit - what Palin wanted in 2006 - before agreeing to the new SOFA. They are now in direct opposition to John McCain. And they want more legal jurisdiction over US troops:
If the conditions are not met, "I cannot see that this agreement will see the light," said Sami al-Askeri, a Shiite parliamentarian and political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki...
Askeri said the possibility of an extension raised concerns among members of the Shiite bloc, who met on Saturday night. "Some people say, what's going on?" he said. "This article opens the door to the next government" of Iraq to lengthen the U.S. troops' stay, he said.
Iraqis are as impatient as many Americans. If this is not an empire, why would we want to stay past the deadline the occupied country wants?
The East Coast right-wing elite is the real reason Sarah Palin has been plaguing so many Americans' sleep these past six weeks. First up, Bill Kristol, Mike Gerson and Fred Barnes, had lunch with her during one of those Weekly Standard cruise ships from hell. The combination of a very long "grace" recited by Palin before lunch and two very large assets dangling in front of their faces seem to have sent little starbursts up the pundits' legs. First touted by blogger Adam Brickley, a follower of "Messianic Judaism", Palin went on to wow the beltway big spending neocons. Bill Kristol, however, as we all now know, is the real architect of the Palin fiasco, just as he was instrumental in the Iraq fiasco:
“She could be both an effective Vice-Presidential candidate and an effective President,” he said. “She’s young, energetic.” On a subsequent “Fox News Sunday,” Kristol again pushed Palin when asked whom McCain should pick: “Sarah Palin, whom I’ve only met once but I was awfully impressed by—a genuine reformer, defeated the establishment up there. It would be pretty wild to pick a young female Alaska governor, and I think, you know, McCain might as well go for it.” On July 22nd, again on Fox, Kristol referred to Palin as “my heartthrob.”
He declared, “I don’t know if I can make it through the next three months without her on the ticket.”
The National Review crowd who subsequently came to pay their respects included Rich "Little Starbursts" Lowry, John "Nuke Iran Now!" Bolton, Victor Davis Hanson, Dick Morris and Jay Nordlinger, whose own little starbursts keep popping out of his zipper:
In an online column, he described Palin as “a former beauty-pageant contestant, and a real honey, too. Am I allowed to say that? Probably not, but too bad... Her political career will probably take her beyond Alaska. Dick Morris is only one who thinks so.”
Morris, it appears, was also ga-ga. The only athentic thing about Palin are the thousand-dollar outfits she wears to appeal to the white working class.
SACRAMENTO -- The owner of a firm that the California Republican Party hired to register tens of thousands of voters this year was arrested in Ontario late last night on suspicion of voter registration fraud.
State and local investigators allege that Mark Jacoby fraudulently registered himself to vote at a childhood California address where he no longer lives so he would appear to meet the legal requirement that signature gatherers be eligible to vote in California.
Jacoby's arrest by state investigators and the Ontario Police Department comes after dozens of voters said they were duped into registering as Republicans by his firm, Young Political Majors, or YPM. The voters said YPM tricked them by saying they were signing a petition to toughen penalties against child molesters. The firm was paid $7 to $12 for every Californian it registered as a member of the GOP.
Several agencies had launched investigations into Jacoby's activities, including the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which issued the warrant for his arrest earlier this month on felony charges of voter registration fraud and perjury.
Efforts to reach Jacoby were unsuccessful.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 38, Cincinnati 10
Cincinnati, OH (Sports Network) - Mewelde Moore gained 120 yards on 20 carries with two rushing touchdowns and caught another as the Pittsburgh Steelers ripped the winless Cincinnati Bengals 38-10.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 17-of-28 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns for the Steelers (5-1), who won their third straight. Moore filled in aptly for Willie Parker, who missed his third straight game with a left knee injury.
Santonio Holmes gained 89 yards on five catches, Hines Ward had four catches for 60 yards and a score, and Nate Washington had a 50-yard touchdown grab for Pittsburgh, which outscored the Bengals 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 21-of-35 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals, who are 0-7 for the first time since 2002. Fitzpatrick filled in for Carson Palmer, who missed his third start in four weeks because of an injured right elbow.
The Bengals are no strangers to woeful starts. Cincinnati has gone 0-8 to start a season four times since 1978, and will try to avoid the worst start in franchise history, an 0-10 beginning to the 1993 campaign.
Cedric Benson, inserted in the starting lineup over ineffective running back Chris Perry, gained 52 yards on 14 carries for Cincinnati. T.J. Houshmandzadeh gained 58 yards on eight catches, while Chad Johnson had eight grabs for 52 yards and a score.
“THE EDITORIAL BOARD HEARTILY ENDORSES JOHN McCAIN, SINCE WE’LL NO LONGER HAVE TO INVENT CRAZY SHIT, BUT WILL BE ABLE TO JUST REPORT THE FACTS.”
“FORGET THE PLUMBER, CALL ‘JOE THE DOCTOR.’ I THINK I JUST SHIT IN MY PANTS.”
To some, a president Obama is simply unimaginable. From a McCain supporter in Wisconsin yesterday:
"We're all wondering why Obama is where he's at. How he got here. Everybody in this room is stunned we're in this position."
There was always going to be a point of revolt and panic for a core group of Americans who believe that Obama simply cannot be president - because he's black or liberal or young or relatively new. This is that point. As the polls suggest a strong victory, the Hannity-Limbaugh-Steyn-O'Reilly base are going into shock and extreme rage. McCain and Palin have decided to stoke this rage, to foment it, to encourage paranoid notions that somehow Obama is a "secret" terrorist or Islamist or foreigner. These are base emotions in both sense of the word.
But they are also very very dangerous. This is a moment of maximal physical danger for the young Democratic nominee. And McCain is playing with fire. If he really wants to put country first, he will attack Obama on his policies - not on these inflammatory, personal, creepy grounds. This is getting close to the atmosphere stoked by the Israeli far right before the assassination of Rabin.
For God's sake, McCain, stop it. For once in this campaign, put your country first.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says he is voting for Barack Obama.
"He has both style and substance. I think he is a transformational figure," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Obama displayed a steadiness. Showed intellectual vigor. He has a definitive way of doing business that will do us well," Powell said.
Powell, a retired U.S. general and a Republican, was once seen as a possible presidential candidate himself.
Powell said he questioned Sen. John McCain's judgment in picking Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate because he doesn't think she is ready to be president.
He also said he was disappointed with some of McCain's campaign tactics, such as bringing up Obama's ties to former 1960s radical Bill Ayers.
Powell served as secretary of state under President Bush from 2001 to 2005.
The notion of a Powell endorsement has been rumored for several months.
On August 13, Powell's office denied a report on Fox by commentator Bill Kristol that Powell had decided to publicly back Obama at the Democratic National Convention.
Several sources said at the time that Powell had not made a decision about a possible endorsement.
"As always, he is holding his cards close and waiting for more information," one adviser told CNN's John King in August......"
The campaign released the figure on Sunday, one day before it must file a detailed report of its monthly finances with the Federal Election Commission.
Obama's money is fueling a vast campaign operation in an expanding field of competitive states. It also has underwritten a wave of both national and targeted video advertising unseen before in a presidential contest.
Campaign manager David Plouffe, in an e-mail to supporters Sunday morning, said the campaign had added 632,000 new donors in September, for a total of 3.1 million contributors to the campaign. He said the average donation was $86.
The Democratic National Committee, moments later, announced that it raised $49.9 million and had $27.5 million in the bank at the start of October. The party has been raising money through joint fundraising events with Obama and can use the money to assist his candidacy.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
The best of times because W.’s long Reign of Error is about to end.
The worst of times because, well, you know why.
In this season of darkness, as Charles Dickens described an earlier mob scene, I’m feeling as vengeful and bloodthirsty as Madame Defarge sharpening her knitting needles at the guillotine.
I even felt a little thrill go up my leg, as Chris Matthews would put it, when I heard that the Lehman Brothers C.E.O., Richard Fuld, got punched in the company gym after it was announced that the firm was going under.
I can’t wait to see the tumbrels rumble up and down Wall Street picking up the heedless and greedy financial aristocracy that plundered and sundered free-market capitalism.
Just when we thought executives of A.I.G., the insurance giant bailed out by taxpayers for $123 billion, had been shamed into stopping their post-bailout Marie Antoinette spa treatments, luxury sports suites, Vegas and California posh resort retreats, we were dumbfounded to learn that some A.I.G. execs were cavorting at a lavish shooting party at a British country manor.
London’s News of the World sent undercover reporters to hunt down the feckless financiers on their $86,000 partridge hunt as they tromped through the countryside in tweed knickers, and then later as they “slurped fine wine” and feasted on pigeon breast and halibut.
The paper reported that the A.I.G. revelers stayed at Plumber Manor — not the ancestral home of Joe the Plumber, a 17th-century country house in Dorset — and spent $17,500 for food and rooms. The private jet to get there cost another $17,500, and the limos added up to $8,000 more.
In an astonishing let-them-eat-cake moment, the A.I.G. big shot Sebastian Preil held court at the bar and told an undercover reporter, “The recession will go on until about 2011, but the shooting was great today and we are relaxing fine.”
There were at least three New Yorkers bagging birds — Jeffrey Malkovsky, a senior director at A.I.G.’s Manhattan office, Hilary James, the general manager of the Bristol Plaza Hotel, and her friend, John Roberts, an A.I.G. adviser.
Who are these looters of our loot? The New York Times should follow up the excellent Portraits of Grief it did after 9/11 with Portraits of Greed.
Payback doesn’t have to go as far as the French Revolution. The grifters shafting us don’t have to shed blood, but they do have to give the money back. As far as these self-serving corporate con men and short-selling traders are concerned, off with their headsets.
John McCain wasted his last-chance debate Wednesday by trying to stir up faux class rage against Barack Obama with Joe the Unvetted Plumber instead of tapping into the real class rage the country feels over bailing out ungrateful financiers who gambled away the life savings of working people.
’Tis a far, far better thing that New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, did when he demanded that A.I.G.’s former executives who were trying to abscond with many millions in severance payments, bonuses and golden parachutes surrender the swag. He set a good example for the feds, who slapped Mr. Fuld in the face with a subpoena.
Cuomo got A.I.G. to instantly reverse itself and cancel 160 conferences and other events that would have cost more than $8 million, as well as give up information on compensation, bonuses and other payments to determine whether they were fitting. (How could they be?)
“We stopped a $10 million severance payment to Stephen Bensinger, the chief financial officer,” Cuomo told me Friday. “Just look at the words chief financial officer. There’s a phenomenon when senior management sees the corporation deteriorating and they concoct a version of looting the company to take care of themselves.”
Even Cuomo, who has been locked in battle with A.I.G. for a long time, was stunned when he learned of the British hunting folly. At first he thought it could not be true.
“That was our partridge hunting trip,” he said. “The partridge paid the ultimate price, but the taxpayer came close.”
He is using a state “claw back” law, which he says allows him to recover contracts and rescind payments if there was unjust compensation.
Great. Now can he find the $123 billion lost by A.I.G. that we now have to plug with taxpayers’ money?
Let’s hope that if Barack Obama becomes president, the first thing he does is keep his promise to make the junketeers come to Washington (preferably by bus or carpooling) and write the U.S. Treasury a check, after which he will fire them on the spot.
Heads must roll.
CBS' Schieffer twice asserted McCain will try to convince voters Obama will raise taxes -- without noting the charge is false
On two successive nights, Bob Schieffer asserted that Sen. John McCain will tell voters that Sen. Barack Obama is going to raise their taxes without noting that the charge misrepresents Obama's tax plan. In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers and raising taxes only on single people earning more than $200,000 per year and families earning more than $250,000 per year. Read More
Fox's Rosen falsely accused Obama of "go[ing] to work on ... working stiff" Joe the Plumber
On Special Report, James Rosen stated of Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher, "Even [Sen. Barack] Obama himself has gone to work on this working stiff," and aired a cropped quote of Obama saying, "How many plumbers you know making a quarter-million dollars a year?" In fact, the context of that remark makes clear that Obama was actually criticizing Sen. John McCain, not Wurzelbacher. Read More
Wash. Post reported that McCain campaign manager warned of "rampant voter fraud," but not that illegal votes are almost never cast
The Washington Post quoted McCain campaign manager Rick Davis' claim that reports of investigations into ACORN have suggested "rampant voter fraud as it relates to voter registration." But the Post did not point out that actual instances of illegal votes cast as a result of registration fraud, e.g., using false names, are extremely rare. Federal statistics show that between October 2002 and September 2005, the Justice Department charged 95 people with "election fraud" and convicted 55, of whom only 17 were convicted for casting fraudulent ballots.
MSNBC, CNN anchors baselessly suggested Obama is prematurely "measuring the drapes" for the White House
MSNBC's Alex Witt and CNN's T.J. Holmes each suggested that Sen. Barack Obama is prematurely "measuring the drapes" for the White House. In fact, Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter all planned for a White House transition months before the election, and Sen. John McCain has also reportedly made transition plans. Read More
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Republicans Sen. Norm Coleman and Sen. Susan Collins made separate appeals to McCain on Friday. Collins faces a tough race for re-election in Maine and serves as a co-chairwoman of McCain's Maine campaign.
"These kind of tactics have no place in Maine politics," Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said. "Sen. Collins urges the McCain campaign to stop these calls immediately."
Coleman, in a tight re-election campaign with author, radio host and comedian Al Franken in Minnesota, said he hoped all candidates and outside groups would stop their attacks.
With the economy on the brink of recession and the country in the midst of two foreign wars, Barack Obama is considering appointing a cabinet of stars to steer America through potentially its worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s if he wins the presidency on November 4.
Obama has a well-regarded, close-knit team of domestic and foreign policy advisers who would follow him into the White House and key administration posts. But he is also being urged to make some high-profile appointments who would command the confidence of the country at such a troubled time.
“It’s important to send a signal,” an Obama adviser said. “With a comparatively new person in office and the awful mess we’re in, these appointments are going to resonate around the world.” Obama, 47, has been warning his supporters that the election is not over yet. “Don’t underestimate our ability to screw it up,” he said last week. But should Obama win, he will not be short of big names to choose for his administration.
A host of well-known figures, including some Republicans, have indicated they would be willing to serve in some capacity as Obama begins to acquire a winner’s glow. From Senator John Kerry, the 2004 presidential candidate with hopes of becoming secretary of state, to Larry Summers, a former US Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator who has been tipped as defence secretary, there are plenty who have signalled their availability.......
OLD Mr. Straight Talk has become so shaky a speaker that when he does talk straight, it’s startling. On Wednesday night, John McCain mustered exactly one such moment of clarity: “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”
Thanks largely to this line, McCain’s remaining base in the political press graded his last debate performance his best. The public, not so much. As with the previous debates, every poll found Barack Obama the winner, this time by as much as two-to-one ratios. Obama even swept the focus group convened by the G.O.P. pollster Frank Luntz in the once-impregnable McCain bunker of Fox News.
Perhaps voters were unimpressed by McCain’s big moment because they can figure out the obvious rejoinder: Why didn’t McCain run against President Bush four years ago — as he had four years before that? Instead McCain campaigned for Bush’s re-election, cheered for Bush policies he once opposed and helped lower himself and America into the pit where we find ourselves today.
The day after the debate, McCain put up a new ad trying yet again to shake the president. “The last eight years haven’t worked very well, have they?” he asks, as if he were an innocent bystander the entire time. But no matter what McCain says or does, he still can’t quit the guy. Heading from a Midtown hotel to a fund-raiser the night before facing Obama onstage on Long Island last week, the McCain motorcade lined up right next to the New York red-carpet premiere of Oliver Stone’s “W.” A black cat would have been a better omen.
The election isn’t over, but there remain only three discernible, if highly unlikely, paths to a McCain victory. A theoretically mammoth wave of racism, incessantly anticipated by the press, could materialize in voting booths on Nov. 4. Or newly registered young and black voters could fail to show up. Or McCain could at long last make good on his most persistent promise: follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell and, once there, strangle him with his own bare hands on “Hannity & Colmes.”
Even Republicans are rapidly bailing on a McCain resuscitation. It’s a metaphor for the party’s collapse that on the day of the final debate both Nancy Reagan and Dick Cheney checked into hospitals. Conservatives have already moved past denial to anger on the Kubler-Ross scale of grief. They are not waiting for votes to be counted before carrying out their first round of Stalinist purges. William F. Buckley’s son Christopher was banished from National Review for endorsing Obama. Next thing you know, there will be a fatwa on that McCain-bashing lefty, George Will.
As the G.O.P.’s long night of the long knives begins, myths are already setting in among the right’s storm troops and the punditocracy alike as to what went wrong. And chief among them are the twin curses of Bush and the “headwinds” of the economy. No Republican can win if the party’s incumbent president is less popular than dirt, we keep being told, or if a looming Great Depression 2 is Issue No. 1.
This is an excuse, not an explanation. It absolves McCain of much of the blame and denies Obama much of the credit for their campaigns. It arouses pity for McCain when he deserves none. It rewrites history.
Bush’s impact on the next Republican presidential candidate did not have to be so devastating. McCain isn’t, as he and his defenders keep protesting, a passive martyr to a catastrophic administration. He could have made separating himself from Bush the brave, central and even conservative focus of his campaign. Far from doing that, he embraced the Bush ethos — if not the incredible shrinking man himself — more tightly than ever. The candidate who believes in “country first” decided to put himself first and sell out his principles. That ignoble decision is what accounts for both the McCain campaign’s failures and its sleaze. It’s a decision McCain made on his own and for which he has yet to assume responsibility.
Though it seems a distant memory now, McCain was a maverick once. He did defy Bush on serious matters including torture, climate change and the over-the-top tax cuts that bankrupted a government at war and led to the largest income inequality in America since the 1930s. But it isn’t just his flip-flopping on some of these and other issues that turned him into a Bush acolyte. The full measure of McCain’s betrayal of his own integrity cannot even be found in that Senate voting record — 90 percent in lockstep with the president — that Obama keeps throwing in his face.
The Bushian ethos that McCain embraced, as codified by Karl Rove, is larger than any particular vote or policy. Indeed, by definition that ethos is opposed to the entire idea of policy. The whole point of the Bush-Rove way of doing business is that principles, coherent governance and even ideology must always be sacrificed for political expediency, no matter the cost to the public good.
Like McCain now, Bush campaigned in 2000 as a practical problem-solver who could “work across the partisan divide,” as he put it in his first debate with Al Gore. He had no strong views on any domestic or foreign issue, except taxes and education. Only after he entered the White House did we learn his sole passion: getting and keeping power. That imperative, not the country, would always come first.
One journalist who detected this modus operandi early was Ron Suskind, who, writing for Esquire in January 2003, induced John DiIulio, the disillusioned chief of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, to tell all. “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” DiIulio said. “What you’ve got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”
If politics strongarm everything, you end up with the rampant cronyism, nonexistent long-term planning and abrupt, partisan policy improvisations that fed the calamities of Iraq, Katrina and the economic meltdown. Incredibly, McCain has nakedly endorsed the Bush-Rove brand of governance in his own campaign by assembling his personal set of lobbyist cronies and Rove operatives to run it. They have not only entangled him in a welter of conflicts of interest, but they’ve furthered cynical political stunts like the elevation of Sarah Palin. At least Bush and Rove didn’t try to put an unqualified hack like, say, Alberto Gonzales half a heartbeat away from the presidency.
As if the Palin pick weren’t damning enough, McCain and his team responded to the financial panic by offering their own panicky simulation of the Bush style of crisis management in real time. Fire the S.E.C. chairman and replace him with Andrew Cuomo! Convene a 9/11 commission to save Wall Street! Don’t bail out A.I.G.! Do bail out A.I.G.! Reacting to polls and the short-term dictates of 24-hour news cycles, McCain offered as many economic-policy reboots in a month as Bush offered “Plans for Victory” during the first three years of the Iraq war.
Now McCain is trying to distract us from his humiliating managerial ineptitude by cranking up the politics of fear — another trademark Bush-Rove strategy. But the McCain camp’s quixotic effort to turn an “old washed-up terrorist” into a wedge issue as divisive as same-sex marriage is too little, too late and too tone-deaf at a time when Americans are suffering too much to indulge in 1960s culture wars. Voters want policies that might actually work rather than another pandering, cynical leader who operates mainly on the basis of his “gut” and political self-interest.
The former Bush speechwriter David Frum has facetiously written that McCain could be rescued by “a 5,000-point rise in the Dow and a 20 percent jump in home prices.” But the economy, stupid, can’t be blamed for McCain’s own failures, any more than Bush can be. Even before the housing bubble burst and Wall Street tumbled, voters could see that the seething, impulsive nominee isn’t temperamentally fit to be president.
That’s where the debates have come in. There may have been none of those knockout blows the press craves, but the accretional effect has been to teach the public that McCain isn’t steady enough to run the country even if the economy were sound, and that Obama just might be.
In Debate No. 1, you could put the volume on mute and see what has proved to be the lasting impressions of both candidates start to firm up. In Debate No. 2, McCain set the concrete: he re-enacted the troubling psychological cartography of his campaign “suspension” by wandering around the stage like a half-dotty uncle vainly trying to flee his caregiver. After the sneering and eye-rolling of McCain’s “best” debate on Wednesday, CNN’s poll found the ever-serene Obama swamping him on “likeability,” 70 to 22 percent.
At least McCain had half a point on Wednesday night when he said, “I am not President Bush.” What he has offered his country this year is an older, crankier, more unsteady version of Bush. Tragically, he can no sooner escape our despised president than he can escape himself.
One of the ways I got to know John McCain a decade or so ago was through a mutual friend—a fellow by the name of David Ifshin. I knew David through Democratic Party politics. He was a stalwart moderate, a member of the Democratic Leadership Council and an occasional adviser to Bill Clinton. Our wives were, and are, close friends. But McCain’s relationship with David was far more interesting.Ifshin, you see, had been a vehement anti-Vietnam radical. He had even gone to Hanoi at the height at the war and given a speech denouncing the American pilots dropping bombs on North Vietnamese civilians as “war criminals.” The speech was broadcast repeatedly in the Hanoi Hilton, where McCain was being held captive. More than a few people thought Ifshin was guilty of treason........
"As a proud resident of Oakton, Va., I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia," McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer said on MSNBC. "And that's really what you see there. But the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will, I think will be very responsive to Sen. McCain's message."
Program host Kevin Corke asked Pfotenhauer if she wanted to retract the comment, prompting her to reply, "I mean 'real Virginia' because northern Virginia is where I've always been, but 'real Virginia' I take to be the - this part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will. Northern Virginia is really metro D.C."
Earlier this month, McCain's brother, Joe, told those at an event for the Republican nominee that two Democratic-leaning areas in Northern Virginia, Arlington and Alexandria, were "communist country." He quickly apologized and called the remark a joke.
The senator's campaign headquarters is in Arlington, as is the home he uses while in Washington. McCain also attended high school in Alexandria.
Northern Virginia is the most populous in the state, so if McCain considers it enemy territory, he would have to run up large margins in the Hampton Roads and less populated areas of Virginia to win on Election Day. During a rally in the Washington suburb of Woodbridge, Va., on Saturday, McCain noted that his first posting in the Navy was in coastal Norfolk.
Democrats not only control the Virginia governor's office, but Democrat Jim Webb succeeded in 2006 in ousting Republican Sen. George Allen. Veteran Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is retiring this year and former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner is vying with former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore to succeed him.
The popularity of Mark Warner has led some to suggest he may boost Democrat Barack Obama's chances, rather than the opposite.......
Elwyn Tinklenberg’s congressional campaign received roughly $450,000 in contributions in the 24 hours following U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s controversial talk show appearance on Friday afternoon, campaign officials said today.
More than 9,000 individual donors contributed to the DFL- and Independence Party-endorsed challenger’s campaign from around the country, mostly through the Internet, said Tinklenberg spokesman John Wodele.
“It’s phenomenal what the Internet has done to politics,” he said. “I don’t think all these contributions are a result of her comments. But she put fuel on the fire. No doubt.”
The one-day haul would exceed what the Tinklenberg campaign raised in the last three months and total nearly half of what it has raised to date.
On Friday, Bachmann, R-Minn., told MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews she thought Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle “may have anti-American views” and said the media should investigate whether members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America.”
A candidate’s personal relationships can tell you what kind of philosophy and decisions they would make if elected, and that’s what Bachmann was saying, said Michelle Marston, Bachmann’s campaign manager.
Marston said the campaign has received donations as well as phone calls in support and opposing Bachmann’s remarks.
“It’s that time of year,” she said. “The spin machine kicks into overdrive.”
Tinklenberg received about $250,000 of the donations directly through the campaign’s Web site, while another $200,000 came through ActBlue, a progressive political action committee that allows people to donate to particular candidates online, Wodele said.
One of those donating to ActBlue was Mark Fullerton, a Minneapolis resident who said he was offended by Bachmann’s statements.
“I just think the kind of dialogue we’ve descended into the last couple weeks is not good for the country,” he said. “Voters should be aware of the comments she’s made and the attitudes she has.”
Fullerton said he had followed Bachmann’s record and statements for the past two years but had only a passing familiarity with Tinklenberg’s campaign before Friday.
The donations will allow the Tinklenberg campaign to run more television advertising in the closing weeks of the campaign than would otherwise have been possible, Wodele said.
So, how have our friends at the GOP been behaving themselves this week? Oh, it's not good. First, they tricked Democrats in California into becoming Republicans by telling them they were signing petitions for stiffer punishments for child molesters. Then, in DC, Boston, Seattle, and elsewhere, they sent racially charged death threats to ACORN staffers and vandalized their offices. And how were things in Ohio? Watch the most racist Sarah Palin rally so far caught on tape.
Tom Slade, a former Florida GOP chair, was getting about five calls a day last week from fellow Republicans saying the same thing: "Do something." The source of their alarm was the seemingly perilous condition of Sen. John McCain's campaign in the state. After leading for months in Florida, recent polls show him trailing Sen. Barack Obama by about five points. Much of the reversal, no doubt, stems from the economic crisis.
But part of the blame lies with the McCain team itself, according to numerous Florida Republicans. Slade says he's hearing complaints that the campaign isn't coordinating volunteers well and its state director, Arlene DiBenigno, is ineffective. Others say its voter-turnout operation is lagging. (A Florida spokesman for McCain declined to respond to these assertions.) "The campaign is kind of on the ropes," says one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to give a candid assessment. McCain "could lose Florida now, and if he does, it's game over."
Tension has reportedly been mounting between the campaign and state Republicans. Several weeks ago, Florida GOP chair Jim Greer convened a private meeting with both camps to discuss the darkening outlook. News of the gathering, which apparently grew tense, leaked to media. Greer denies any discord, telling NEWSWEEK the point was to "make sure that the ship was on its right course." But a McCain loyalist who was present and also requested anonymity says Greer was just looking out for himself— either by appearing to save the day or "forewarning of a crisis so he couldn't be blamed."Then there's Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, whose enthusiasm for McCain, some say, has waned since he was passed over as a veep pick. He recently told reporters that "his foremost responsibility" is governing his state and that he was eager to help the Arizona senator "when I have time." Then about a week ago, he went to Disney World instead of a McCain rally.........
Back when she was increasing the long-term debt of the town of Wasilla by 69 percent, Mayor Palin also fired the town's police chief and librarian, Irl Stambaugh and Mary Ellen Emmons. The accusation was that they were fired because they had supported her opponent in the previous election. Palin denied any political motivation. But whatever the merits of the firing, what is salient is Palin's reflexive instinct when confronted with the fact. From the Anchorage Daily News:
Reached at her home ... Palin said she planned to meet with Stambaugh and Emmons this afternoon. She also disputed whether they had actually been fired. ''There's been no meeting, no actual terminations,'' she said.
You know what's coming:
Stambaugh's response was to read part of the letter given to him. ''Although I appreciate your service as police chief, I've decided it's time for a change. I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment. . . . '' ''If that's not a letter of termination, I don't know what is,'' he said.
The pattern in American politics is well known:
Democrats accuse Republicans of voter suppression, Republicans accuse Democrats of voter fraud (though as Gerry Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center told me in an interview last week, almost all the evidence is in favor of the Democrats on this; voter fraud is quite rare). From KLAS-TV Channel 8 in Las Vegas, here's a case where it appears the Republicans may be engaging in voter fraud:
Federal, state, and local officials are gathering information about allegations of voter registration fraud that were first raised Channel 8 Eyewitness News.
An employee of a private voter registration firm alleges that his bosses trashed registration forms filled out by Democratic voters because they only wanted to sign up Republican voters.
And here I thought John McCain couldn't slip further from reality on economic matters. I stand corrected.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Saturday accused Democratic rival Barack Obama of favoring a socialistic economic approach by supporting tax cuts and tax credits McCain says would merely shuffle wealth rather than creating it. [...]
Obama has said his tax policies would cut payments for 95 percent of working Americans, while increasing them only for families making more than $250,000 a year. McCain has argued that 40 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes, either because they are seniors or don't meet minimum earnings thresholds, so the only way to cut their taxes is to give them various credits.
"In other words, Barack Obama's tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington," McCain said in the radio address.
We talked the other day about why McCain doesn't know what he's talking about, but Obama is prepared to deliverer a speech in St. Louis today that drives the point home nicely. According to the prepared text, Obama will explain that both candidates are offering tax cuts: "The difference is who we're cutting taxes for."
"It comes down to values -- in America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it? For eight years, we've seen what happens when we put the extremely wealthy and well-connected ahead of working people. Now, John McCain thinks that the way to rebuild this economy is to double down on George Bush's policy of giving more and more tax breaks to those at the very top in the false hope that it will all trickle down. I think it's time to rebuild the middle class in this country, and that is the choice in this election.
"Senator McCain wants to give the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut but absolutely nothing at all to over 100 million Americans. I want to cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all workers. And under my plan, if you make less than $250,000 a year -- which includes 98 percent of small business owners -- you won't see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes -- nothing. It's time to give the middle class a break, and that's what I'll do as President of the United States.
"Lately, Senator McCain has been attacking my middle class tax cut. He actually said it goes to, 'those who don't pay taxes,' even though it only goes to working people who are already getting taxed on their paycheck. That's right, Missouri -- John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare.'
The only 'welfare' in this campaign is John McCain's plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America -- including $4 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies that ran up record profits under George Bush. That's who John McCain is fighting for. But we can't afford four more years like the last eight. George Bush and John McCain are out of ideas, they are out of touch, and if you stand with me in 17 days they will be out of time."
The stories are almost comical: Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, registered to vote on Nov. 4. The entire starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys football team, signed up to go the polls - in Nevada.
But no one in either presidential campaign is laughing. Not publicly, anyway.
Republicans, led by John McCain, are alleging widespread voter fraud. The Democrats and Barack Obama say the controversy is preposterous and is just political mudslinging.
In the middle is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, a grass-roots community group that has led liberal causes since it formed in 1970. This year, ACORN hired more than 13,000 part-time workers and sent them out in 21 states to sign up voters in minority and poor neighborhoods.
They submitted 1.3 million registration cards to local election officials.
Along the way, bogus ones appeared - signed in the names of cartoon characters, professional football players and scores of others bearing the same handwriting. And in the past few days, those phony registrations have exploded into Republican condemnations of far-ranging misconduct, and a relatively obscure community activist group took a starring role, right behind Joe the Plumber, in the final presidential debate.
Looking beyond the smoke and fire, the raging argument boils down to essentially this:
Is ACORN, according to McCain, perpetuating voter fraud that could be "destroying the fabric of democracy"? Or are Republicans trying to keep the disadvantaged, who tend to be Democrats, from casting ballots in a hotly contested presidential race that has drawn record numbers of new voters?
By legal definition, to commit voter fraud means a person would have to present some kind of documentation at the polls - a driver's license, a phone bill or another form of ID - that bears the name of Mickey Mouse, for example. To do so risks a fine and imprisonment under state laws.
Submitting fake registration cards is another matter. Local law enforcement agencies in about a dozen states are investigating fake registrations submitted by ACORN workers. Late last week, The Associated Press reported the FBI will be reviewing those cases.
Accusations of stolen votes have a long history in presidential elections. In the 2000 recount debacle, Republicans claimed illegal ballots were cast. Democrats contended that legal ballots were thrown out. In 2004, when Ohio gave the presidency to George W. Bush, Democrats charged that long lines and malfunctioning machines in that state led to an inaccurate count.
But in this contest, involving the first African-American in American history with a real chance at becoming president, the vitriol is particularly pointed.
"This is all just one big head-fake," said Tova Wang of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "What silliness this is, at this point. It's all about creating this perception that there is a tremendous problem with voter fraud in this country, and it's not true."
On Friday, during a campaign appearance, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin repeated McCain's recent claims that Obama has close ties to ACORN.
"You deserve to know," Palin told thousands in a park north of Cincinnati. "This group needs to learn that you here in Ohio won't let them turn the Buckeye State into the Acorn State."
Obama helped represent ACORN in a successful 1995 suit against the state of Illinois, which forced enactment of the so-called motor-voter law, making it easier for people to register vote. Obama said this week that he had "nothing to do with" ACORN's massive voter registration drive.
ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring retaliated this week in a series of conference calls and interviews. "What we're seeing is the manufacture of a crisis, and attempts to smear Sen. Obama with it. It gives you an excuse should you lose or if there's a contested outcome of the election."
Voter fraud is rare in the United States, according to a 2007 report by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Based on reviews of voter fraud claims at the federal and state level, the center's report asserted most problems were caused by things like technological glitches, clerical errors or mistakes made by voters and by election officials.
"It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate another voter at the polls," the report said.
Alex Keyssar, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, calls the current controversy "chapter 22 in a drama that's been going on awhile. The pattern is that nothing much ever comes from this. There have been no known cases of people voting fraudulently."
"What we've seen," Keyssar said, "is sloppiness and someone's idea of a stupid joke, like registering as Donald Duck."
ACORN officials have repeatedly claimed that their own quality control workers were the first to discover problematic ballots. In every state investigating bad registrations, ACORN tipped off local officials to bogus or incomplete cards, spokesman Kettenring said.
Many states require that all registrations be submitted to local voting officials so that election directors are in charge of vetting problem ballots, not the groups collecting them.
Part-time ACORN workers receive one day of training and are paid $8 an hour to collect signatures, according to Kettenring. He blamed bogus cards on cheating and lazy employees trying to make a buck for doing nothing.
When caught, Kettenring said, those workers are fired. The group is in the process of tallying the number of bad cards ACORN flagged for election officials, he said. Kettenring said he doubted the percentage of such registrations would reach 2 percent.
But Republicans say any number of fake registrations is unacceptable and could affect the November election.
Signing up voters is a small part of ACORN activities. The group frequently leads challenges to minimum wage laws, predatory mortgage lending in poor and working-class neighborhoods and immigration policies.
Controversy is nothing new. Its leaders are currently locked in a legal dispute stemming from allegations that the brother of the group's founder misappropriated nearly $1 million of the nonprofit's money several years ago.
Since the 2004 election, ex-employees have been convicted of submitting false registrations in states including Florida and Missouri.
"There are certainly problems and I don't think anyone disagrees on that," said Wang of Common Cause. "But it doesn't get reported that ACORN finds these registrations errors themselves. They flag them as being no good, but they have to turn them in anyway."
"They don't get processed," she said. "And Mickey Mouse is not going to vote."
Obama now leads McCain by about 59-17, which is interesting in that Kerry barely edged Bush 213-205 in our count and before that the GOP candidate always won that race.
Yesterday the dam broke with former Bush-backing Denver Post and Chicago Tribune joining a wide Red State cross-section including the Kansas City Star and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
UPDATE: More Surprises in Obama Endorsements
It could not quite top the Chicago Tribune for drama, but it was a bombshell anyway tonight when the Denver Post -- under MediaNews' GOP-leaning Dean Singleton -- came out for Obama. It had backed Bush in 2004 (though Gore in 2000). It's as if a dam broke yesterday with the Washington Post endorsement and now many of the major papers have come out with their backings for Obama, early on the Web well before landing in print. And Colorado, of course, is a key swing state.
UPDATE: Now the Chicago Sun-Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Kerry backers in 2004)--and The Salt Lake Tribune, which backed Bush, have also endorsed Obama. He now leads McCain 56-16 in newspaper backing. The Salt Lake paper said McCain lost them when he picked the utterly unqualified Palin (they wanted him to name the Mormon, Romney). Thanks to Campbell Brown on CNN for the shout-out for our exclusive tabulations. Check out our running list, updated Friday, here. -- Greg Mitchell
Conservative Chicago Tribune endorsement: Barack Obama for president (First Time Ever to Endorse a Democrat for President)
However this election turns out, it will dramatically advance America's slow progress toward equality and inclusion. It took Abraham Lincoln's extraordinary courage in the Civil War to get us here. It took an epic battle to secure women the right to vote. It took the perseverance of the civil rights movement. Now we have an election in which we will choose the first African-American president . . . or the first female vice president.
In recent weeks it has been easy to lose sight of this history in the making. Americans are focused on the greatest threat to the world economic system in 80 years. They feel a personal vulnerability the likes of which they haven't experienced since Sept. 11, 2001. It's a different kind of vulnerability. Unlike Sept. 11, the economic threat hasn't forged a common bond in this nation. It has fed anger, fear and mistrust.
On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.
The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.
On Dec. 6, 2006, this page encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign. We wrote that he would celebrate our common values instead of exaggerate our differences. We said he would raise the tone of the campaign. We said his intellectual depth would sharpen the policy debate. In the ensuing 22 months he has done just that.
Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.
We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.
We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.
The change that Obama talks about so much is not simply a change in this policy or that one. It is not fundamentally about lobbyists or Washington insiders. Obama envisions a change in the way we deal with one another in politics and government. His opponents may say this is empty, abstract rhetoric. In fact, it is hard to imagine how we are going to deal with the grave domestic and foreign crises we face without an end to the savagery and a return to civility in politics.
This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party's nominee for president.
The Tribune in its earliest days took up the abolition of slavery and linked itself to a powerful force for that cause--the Republican Party. The Tribune's first great leader, Joseph Medill, was a founder of the GOP. The editorial page has been a proponent of conservative principles. It believes that government has to serve people honestly and efficiently.
With that in mind, in 1872 we endorsed Horace Greeley, who ran as an independent against the corrupt administration of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant. (Greeley was later endorsed by the Democrats.) In 1912 we endorsed Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as the Progressive Party candidate against Republican President William Howard Taft.
The Tribune's decisions then were driven by outrage at inept and corrupt business and political leaders.
We see parallels today.
The Republican Party, the party of limited government, has lost its way. The government ran a $237 billion surplus in 2000, the year before Bush took office -- and recorded a $455 billion deficit in 2008. The Republicans lost control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2006 because, as we said at the time, they gave the nation rampant spending and Capitol Hill corruption. They abandoned their principles. They paid the price.
We might have counted on John McCain to correct his party's course. We like McCain. We endorsed him in the Republican primary in Illinois. In part because of his persuasion and resolve, the U.S. stands to win an unconditional victory in Iraq.
It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days. He argued that President Bush's tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, but he now supports them. He promises a balanced budget by the end of his first term, but his tax cut plan would add an estimated $4.2 trillion in debt over 10 years. He has responded to the economic crisis with an angry, populist message and a misguided, $300 billion proposal to buy up bad mortgages.
McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate--but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin's exposure to the public. But it's clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment's notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country.
Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, during a speech on October 16 outside Philadelphia, recounted the story of "Joe the Plumber," a man who held a conversation with Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama and who became the surprise star of the candidates' October 15 debate when McCain gave an account of the story. McCain said the man told Obama, "'Look, I've been working all my life — 10, 12 hours. I want to buy the business I'm in, but you're going to raise my taxes.' And you know what Senator Obama had to say to Joe? He wanted to spread his wealth around. He wanted to spread his wealth around."
Get the facts!
Sen. Obama had been campaigning outside Toledo, Ohio, on October 13 when he met Joe Wurzelbacher, 34, who works for Newell Plumbing & Heating Co., a small firm in the Toledo area. "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes $250-270-80 thousand a year," Wurzelbacher said. "Your new tax plan is going to tax m more, isn't it?"
Obama explained his tax plan during the roughly five-minute exchange — telling Wurzelbacher that the tax rate on the portion of his income that was more than $250,000 would be increased from 36 percent to 39 percent. But he also mentioned that his plan includes a 50 percent small-business tax credit for health care and a proposal to eliminate the capital-gains tax for small businesses that increase in value. Obama said his tax plan, which he said focuses on bigger breaks for people making lower incomes, would be good for the economy. "If you've got a plumbing business, you're going to be better off if you've got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you," he said. "Right now, everybody's so pinched that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
Wurzelbacher said, "The reason I ask you about the American Dream, I mean I've worked hard. I'm a plumber. I work 10, 12 hours a day and I'm buying this company and I'm going to continue working that way. … I'm getting taxed more and more while fulfilling the American Dream."
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, October 16, Wurzelbacher said he had misunderstood Obama's plan and that the company he wants to buy makes well less than $250,000 a year — which Obama says means his taxes would not be increased.
Misleading. McCain's remark was an oversimplification of a five-minute-long conversation. Obama replied in great detail about his tax plan, and the "spread the wealth" remark was one small part of the conversation.
Voters in at least 10 swing states are receiving hundreds of thousands of automated telephone calls — uniformly negative and sometimes misleading — that the Republican Party and the McCain campaign are financing this week as they struggle to keep more states from drifting into the Democratic column.
Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, has denounced such phone calls in the past: In the 2000 primaries, Mr. McCain was a target of misleading calls that included innuendo about his family, and he blamed them in part for his loss to George W. Bush. This January, too, in South Carolina, Mr. McCain described the calls against him as “scurrilous stuff,” and his campaign set up a “truth squad” to debunk them.
On Friday, a Democratic official in Minnesota said he had received one of these so-called robocalls and had tracked it to a company owned by a prominent Republican consultant, Jeff Larson. According to published news reports, Mr. Larson and his previous firm helped develop the phone calls in 2000 that took aim at Mr. McCain.
A spokesman for the McCain campaign could not say Friday night whether it had contracted with Mr. Larson’s current company, FLS Connect. Phone messages left for Mr. Larson were not answered Friday, nor were messages left at a subcontractor, King TeleServices, which is making the actual calls to voters in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Democrat, Christopher Shoff, a commissioner in Freeborn County, said the automated call described Mr. Obama as putting “Hollywood above America” because he attended a fund-raiser in Beverly Hills hours after the federal government seized control of the insurance giant American International Group. The call was first reported by The Huffington Post.
“It is a disgusting form of negative campaigning,” Mr. Shoff said in an interview, “calling people randomly off a computerized list, during dinner time, and reciting a message that is misleading, as I knew it to be. Republicans should be talking about serious issues.”
Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said the “Hollywood” robocall was based in fact. “I would argue that much of these calls are based on hardened facts that American voters should consider,” Mr. Bounds said.
Another McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers, said the automated calls placed this year were different from those used against Mr. McCain in 2000 because they were “100 percent true.” Mr. Rogers added that it was “crazy” to compare these calls to the calls in 2000, which sought to hurt Mr. McCain by describing his “interracial child” — a reference to the McCains’ adopted daughter from Bangladesh.
On Friday, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, urged Mr. McCain to stop placing automated calls in her state, The Associated Press reported.
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said Mr. McCain’s use of automated calls in this campaign showed “just how much Senator McCain has changed since then — adopting not only President Bush’s policies but his tactics.” In response to the calls, the Obama campaign on Friday added a link on its Web site to FightTheSmears.com, asking supporters to report robocalls.
Mr. LaBolt said the Obama campaign was currently making robocalls, but he added: “The focus of all of our communications is on the direction Senator Obama will take the country and on policy differences between the candidates on issues like health care.” Republican National Committee officials said they were not aware of any Obama robocalls.
Such calls are a relatively cheap way to reach large numbers of voters in a short time. A review shows that the current calls on Mr. McCain’s behalf are uniformly negative and at times misleading.
The phone campaign hammers familiar themes that have been playing out for months in the campaign, focusing on Mr. Obama’s past associations and trying to portray him as a friend of radicals and liberal Hollywood celebrities.
In one widely reported call, Mr. McCain raises Mr. Obama’s links to William Ayers, a founder of the 1960s-era radical Weather Underground. “You need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers,” a recorded voice says.
Mr. Obama, 47, and Mr. Ayers, now a 63-year-old education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, served together on two of that city’s philanthropic boards as well as on the board of an education project, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The two men have been described as friendly, but are not known to be close.
In an Oct. 10 letter to The New York Times, William C. Ibershof, the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s, expressed outrage that Mr. Obama was being tarred with the association, adding that he was pleased to learn that Mr. Ayers had “become a responsible citizen.”
The “Hollywood” robocall, meanwhile, asserts that “on the very day our elected leaders gathered in Washington to deal with the financial crisis, Barack Obama spent just 20 minutes with economic advisers, but hours at a celebrity Hollywood fund-raiser.”
The information is based on a newspaper report from Sept. 16, when the government took control of the American International Group in an $85 billion bailout. Mr. Obama attended a cocktail reception that night in Beverly Hills that featured celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Leonardo DiCaprio, after a 20-minute briefing by economic advisers.
But Mr. LaBolt said Mr. Obama’s schedule that day also showed that he was briefed by staff members twice more and spoke with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.
Mr. McCain was not in Washington, either, on the day Mr. Obama was in Beverly Hills; he was campaigning in Ohio. The Obama campaign noted that Mr. McCain had also raised money from Hollywood.
Voters in North Carolina have received calls accusing Mr. Obama of opposing legislation aimed at protecting aborted fetuses that show signs of life, a position the call states is “at odds even with John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.”
“Please vote,” the call continues, “vote for candidates that share our values.”
The 2003 measure in Illinois that Mr. Obama opposed was virtually identical to federal legislation that Mr. Bush signed into law in 2002 after it was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. But Mr. Obama and other opponents of the Illinois bill have said that the state already had a law protecting aborted fetuses born alive. The Illinois State Medical Society, which also opposed the legislation, said the bill would increase civil liability for doctors and interfere with their patient relationships.