Monday, February 25, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 10

Hillary’s Landslide Victory…The Art of the Last Stand…The Cheeseheads Save the Day…Obama as World Champion…Clarence Thomas for Asshole…

Dispatch 10

A Landslide Brought it Down…

I saw a great satire article announcing that Hillary had ended her losing streak, winning in the critical State of Denial. “Denial may have no delegates at the moment,” Clinton declared, “But I will work to make sure they get seated at the convention!” The landslide I was referring to, however, was the overwhelming support from the Roving Stormosphere voting “Hillary for You and Me” as the lamest Hillary Clinton video of the 2008 season. Just because it’s that much fun, I’ll put it up again:

On its victory over “Hillary as Rock Star,” Jess Jenkins wrote, “Both are lame but the 'train wreck' is soooo long it makes it even worse!” Brian Orce called it, “INSANOPLEX,” and Guillermo Olivos noted, “It really looks a lot like the end of the weak pageant for the parents at bible camp.” For this week’s funny clip of the week check out Mike Huckabee’s excellent appearance on SNL Weekend Update:

***** UPDATE: Folks, I have just received an email from Griffin at He writes, "I agree with your readers, the one they chose was all kinds of awful. But I posted another one last week that might be worse than that: do you think? Do we have a winner? -- Griffin

I agree with Griffin, "Hillary for You and Me" had the benefit of stealing the music to "ABC", while "Hillary for Me and You" is as tone deaf as the rest of the Hillary campaign.

This Could Be the Last Time…

The Clinton campaign is in its last days, and a gloomy pallor hangs over Hillaryland. Even most winning campaigns have moments where all feel the end is near. For the Kerry campaign it didn’t happen during the general election- with the race as tight as it was, the doom was always lurking in the background- but in the late months of 2003. Kerry had slipped to a fight for 4th place, behind Dean, Clark and Gephardt, tied with Lieberman and Edwards. I helped the campaign set up an event at a restaurant in Claremont, an old mill town about 20 minutes from Dartmouth.

It was a cold depressing day, in a depressing post industrial town, in a depressing venue that could only hold about 100 people but still wasn’t full, and a thoroughly depressed Kerry delivered a terrible speech, coupled with a pathetic question and answer session. If you had asked anyone on the ground in New Hampshire, Kerry’s days were over. Like McCain in 08, however, Kerry hadn’t suffered any losses before he began his legendary comeback, and so he never had to make a ballyhooed ‘last stand.’ That’s what Hillary is doing in Ohio and Texas. Putting aside the convenience of making a ‘last stand’ in multiple states at the same time (I can hear the spin wheels grinding already), the Democratic landscape is littered with the political graves of desperate of candidates making ill-fated last stands

In 2004, Dick Gephardt withdrew resources from all primary states to focus on his neighboring Iowa, where polls had him ahead late in the game. It was where he would make his last, though also first, stand. Several million dollars of negative ads, and countless boring speeches later, Gephardt crashed and burned, broke, and with only 11% of the vote to show for it. Next up was Lieberman, who put all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket. After coming in 5th place with 9% of the vote (“Tonight we won a statistical 3-way tie for third!”) we declared that he would be ‘making his stand’ in Delaware, the smallest of the 7 states voting a week later. Kerry crushed him 50% to 11%, and Joe-mentum was over. Not sensing the trend, Wesley Clark announced that his southern heritage would play perfectly in Tennessee and Virginia the next week, where he would make his final stand. He came in 3rd place in both primaries and dropped out the next day. Dean marshaled all his forces to sunny Wisconsin, where he gave his farewell speech after a distant 3rd place finish, though retrospectively, had he dropped out earlier the party probably had its last chance to stop John Kerry, who only narrowly defeated Edwards in that primary. Meanwhile, John Edwards, who had still only won one primary at this point, declared that Super Tuesday would be the final showdown. Kerry won all ten states and it was over. Now, you can argue that ‘last stands’ may simply be losing candidates way of coming to terms with reality, but I think it’s more than that. Most last stands are less Napoleon at Waterloo, or even Hannibal against Scipio Africanus, and more Custer at Little Big Horn. Making a last stand means you’re a loser, because if you weren’t a loser, you wouldn’t have to make a last stand. If you still had money, a good campaign, and broad based support, then you wouldn’t have to make a last stand. Last stands are desperate, the last number the band plays while the ship goes down. And voters sense this. No one wants to be tied to a loser. No one wants to be the last sucker in the audience watching the band play when the ship goes down. Watching someone losing, it’s often said, tells you more about a person than watching them winning, and for most people, hardly just Hillary, losing in unbecoming.

How did it all come to this for Clinton? Losing Wisconsin didn’t help. Not going all out in the state with most Clinton-friendly demographics this side of Super Tuesday may have been a bad call. Dismissing Wisconsin as a ‘small state’ may have been a bad move. I can tell you for sure that it’s not a small state. It takes nearly a day to drive across, which is why I was going 94 in a 65 when I got busted a few miles outside of La Crosse in 2004. The cop was appalled at the state of my car, which looked like it had exploded inside. Stuff was sprawled out everywhere, as I was in the process of relocating to the Stephanie Herseth campaign in South Dakota. The cop told me that as an out-of-stater I’d have to pay my massive fine on the spot. Unfortunately, I had lost my credit card partying in Madison the night before, and I had about 100 bucks that I hoped would last me to Sioux Falls. The cop was flustered. “Who drives across the country without a credit card?!” I offered him a check, which he refused. Then a light bulb went off.

He offered to take me to a bank, where I could cash a check and pay him. Unfortunately, the first two banks we went to didn’t take out of state checks. The cop was growing progressively more agitated as we drove to the third bank, where he insisted on coming in with me. When I was rejected again, he yelled and banged his fist on the counter, “Goddamnit, why the hell won’t you people take his check?!” The old teller looked up. She had dealt with self-important people before. “Because it’s against company policy, sir. Now if you have no further business we ask that you leave the bank.” The cop cursed himself as I wrote out the check in the parking lot. I later argued my case over the phone and got the charge reduced to 16 over. A few weeks later the State of Wisconsin sent me a $77 rebate check. Just sometimes, life can be funny like that.

Obama wins the World Title…

For those who missed it, Obama increased his winning streak to 11, cruising in the Democrats Abroad primary. This bizarre event, in which people primaried and caucused everywhere from Jakarta to Geneva, had a record 22,000 people vote, with Obama defeating Clinton 65-32%. Of all the primaries, this is among the more interesting, as one would have to assume that ex-pats’ vote must be strongly influenced by the impression they believe their candidate would make abroad where they live. Though it would be heresy to think of what the rest of the world thinks in Republican circles, I for one was fascinated by an international poll NPR reported on in August of 2004.

A poll of 33 countries around the world showed 30 going for Kerry, with India too close to call, and only Nigeria and Poland going for Bush- which explains why Bush somewhat surreally kept blustering, “You forgot about Poland!” whenever Kerry brought up unilateralism during the foreign policy debate.

Obama’s new reign as World Champion is a thorn in the side of Hillaryland, where supporters, having been unable to penetrate Obama’s public aura, are now going after his supporters. “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is last week’s favorite phrase, along with “cult”, “mass hysteria” and “Messiah complex.” I laugh all that stuff off- having used the same venomous terms to criticize Deaniacs in 2003 (though in my defense, Dean is so much less cool than Obama that hysteria over him was a little weird). It’s just part of the political game of demonizing your opponents, and by proxy, their supporters in order to make a leaning undecided second guess himself. After all, what undecided voter wants to join a “cult” or “drink the Kool-Aid?” You can see an example of Clinton’s rhetoric here: Obama began responding to these attacks in his stump speech hours later, which goes to show you this will be one candidate who will not take Swift-Boating, or any other attacks lightly.

The main slur I’d offer in return to Clinton partisans is “jealous.” Not the common jealousy that comes with your candidate losing, but the jealousy that Obama is inspiring so many people and capturing the imagination of the nation. That’s what THEIR candidate was supposed to do. The first woman president, remember? It was to be a radical shift from the past, a fulfillment of the American Dream. But then someone with more vigor, inspiration, charisma, judgment and character came along. Kindof like Cassius Clay, who posited,

“Boxing doesn’t have to be dull. It’s the fighters who are dull. I watched the fight of the week last night. They call THAT the fight of the week? It was so boring, every time the bell rang it woke up the referee!” Politics doesn’t have to be dull- the Democratic establishment made it so (No offense Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Gephardt, Daschle and Reid).

Clay, of course, was Muhammad Ali’s birth name. At the age of 20, several months before his first ever title fight, Clay recorded an 8-track album, “I AM THE GREATEST” with Sam Cooke’s backup band. The album is 8 tracks long because that’s how many rounds he predicted he would need to beat Liston (he was correct), a tour de force of rhyming cuplets, short plays, and some amazing disses. For people who enjoy life, this is a must buy (or illegally download) album.

How ‘bout one more quote…

“After I become champion of the World, I will become champion of the Universe! I will fight those green men from Mars- those slick, shiny-headed green men. I won’t be afraid of the way they look- after all, they can’t look no worse than Sonny Liston.”

He even sings “Stand By Me” ( and his campaign theme song, “The Gang’s All Here.

Fear and Loathing at the Supreme Court Oral Arguments…

The email read: “For those of you who have not been to oral argument before--or have not been to a coronation ceremony or something comparable--it will be the most formal environment that you have ever attended.” Welcome to the Supreme Court. In this anachronistic corner of the world it still feels like the late 1790s. The two hundred or so in attendance sit silently and motionlessly for an hour before a loud gavel is BANGS! All rise and the Court is called to order. The nine justices swiftly take their seats and after a few ancient phrases and rituals the court is in session. At the outset I was nervous. The radical rightwingers on the Court just looked so much younger and more vibrant than the old liberal guard…Alito doesn’t look a day over 40 in person, and Roberts was practically bouncing up and down in his chair. Stevens, in contrast, looks every bit his 85 years. I watched Ginsburg attentively, having heard worrisome rumors about her health.

The first case was about age discrimination. The petitioners were arguing that even though the law did not explicitly allow lawsuits by federal employees fired in retaliation for bringing age discrimination, other forms of discrimination did, and since the language of the statutes were otherwise the same, suing for retaliation was implied. The Robespierre-like Department of Labor argued against the worker’s right to sue. Ginsburg was the star. With wit and precision she grilled both lawyers, who have the hapless position of arguing their case in a strict 30 minute time allotment while each of the justices routinely interrupted them to completely redirect the flow of the argument. Being able to think on your feet that quickly, all while displaying complete reverence to a rude and hostile group of judges seated above you displays intelligence I’ve never seen on display. All the justices got in on the act in the first case, except Kennedy, which is frustrating in that he is certainly the swing justice in this case, and Clarence Thomas, a horrific boor who should be ashamed of himself.

About two minutes into the first lawyers opening argument, Thomas had ceased paying attention. He stretched his feet out, leaned back in his chair, and began rocking himself to sleep. He closed his eyes, and covered face with his left hand to obscure the glaring lights. He rested motionlessly in that position for periods of five to ten minutes at a time. At completely random moments, not in response to anything said, Thomas would stir and start scribbling. He would then hand a note to an attentive clerk, who would furtively bring the note over to Scalia, who would usually chuckle, then write something back. Thomas would receive the note back, chuckle, then nod back off to sleep. Occasionally, when Scalia looked busy, Thomas would turn to his neighbor, Breyer, and whisper to him. Breyer would nod blandly. Thomas carried on in this manor for the entire two hours that the cases were heard. While I had always heard that he was silent during oral arguments, I never realized the extent of his unprofessionalism and utter worthlessness. It will be a great day when we see him go.

His partner in criminality, Scalia, was contrastingly sharp and animated, his rotundity much more prominent in person. The Round Mound of Formalism cracked jokes when he was in a good mood, but livid when neither side of a case submitted a certain statute in their accompanying documents. “Your argument is based on Title VII, your argument is based on our deciding the Title VII question…” His voice was rising, and he was flipping through papers, “Both of you want to keep talking about Title VII, but it’s not here, it’s not in the briefs, it’s not anywhere, how are we going to decide this case if we don’t even have the statute!” He angrily smashed the whole stack of papers against the table, and for a moment it felt like even the Third Branch was having a FEMA moment.

Despite our fondest dreams, however, Thomas and Scalia will probably stick it through the Obama era. The next president will be replacing Stevens and Ginsburg, both of whom demonstrated a mental vibrancy sharply distinguished with their aging health. I propose that the Big O go for Harold Koh, the one man show. If ya’ll don’t know him, look him up. He’d be a damn good justice, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a first Asian something.

Folks, next stop is Ohio. There’s still time to get on board- we’re picking out rental cars in the next day or two. Email if you’re down for the road trip. When the next Dispatch goes down, it will go down in C-Bus, home of Abercrombie and Fitch, the heart of the Buckeye Battleground. Get bells, whistles and mayhem ready.

And remember Cassius Clay, for he is the GREATEST!

Cassius Clay: This album will go six ZILLION.

Reporter: But Cassius, no album has ever sold- six zillion!

Cassius Clay: That’s because I’ve never recorded. And I am the Greatest!

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