Archive for the ‘McCain sucks’ Category

The Pasty Little Putz and Krugman

July 26, 2010

The Pasty Little Putz is once again addressing the same topic as Prof. Krugman.  In “The Right and the Climate” he says if cap-and-trade is dead, it was the American conservative movement that ultimately killed it.  He’s pleased about this.  Prof. Krugman, however, has a question:  “Who Cooked the Planet?”  He asks why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? The triumph of greed and cowardice.  Here’s the Putz:

Climate change legislation has been dying in the Senate for months now, but Harry Reid’s decision to finally admit as much — in the midst of an endless East Coast heat wave, no less — has supporters of cap-and-trade casting about for somebody to blame. They’ve blamed the Obama administration, for prioritizing health care reform over an energy bill. They’ve blamed the American people, for being too concerned with economic issues to grapple with longer-term threats. And they’ve blamed figures like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, erstwhile supporters of cap-and-trade who have steadily backpedaled away from it.

But most of all, they’ve blamed conservatives — for pressuring Republican lawmakers to abandon legislation they once supported, and for closing ranks against any attempt to tax and regulate our way to a lower-carbon economy.

Cap-and-trade’s backers are correct to point the finger rightward. If their bill is dead, it was the American conservative movement that ultimately killed it. Climate legislation wasn’t like health care, with Democrats voting “yes” in lockstep. There was no way to get a bill through without some support from conservative lawmakers. And in the global warming debate, there’s a seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the conservative movement and the environmentalist cause.

To understand why, it’s worth going back to the 1970s, the crucible in which modern right-wing politics was forged.

The Seventies were a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms, and none was more potent than the fear that human population growth had outstripped the earth’s carrying capacity. According to a chorus of credentialed alarmists, the world was entering an age of sweeping famines, crippling energy shortages, and looming civilizational collapse.

It was not lost on conservatives that this analysis led inexorably to left-wing policy prescriptions — a government-run energy sector at home, and population control for the teeming masses overseas.

Social conservatives and libertarians, the two wings of the American right, found common ground resisting these prescriptions. And time was unkind to the alarmists. The catastrophes never materialized, and global living standards soared. By the turn of the millennium, the developed world was worrying about a birth dearth.

This is the lens through which most conservatives view the global warming debate. Again, a doomsday scenario has generated a crisis atmosphere, which is being invoked to justify taxes and regulations that many left-wingers would support anyway. (Some of the players have even been recycled. John Holdren, Barack Obama’s science adviser, was a friend and ally of Paul Ehrlich, whose tract “The Population Bomb” helped kick off the overpopulation panic.)

History, however, rarely repeats itself exactly — and conservatives who treat global warming as just another scare story are almost certainly mistaken.

Rising temperatures won’t “destroy” the planet, as fearmongers and celebrities like to say. But the evidence that carbon emissions are altering the planet’s ecology is too convincing to ignore. Conservatives who dismiss climate change as a hoax are making a spectacle of their ignorance.

But this doesn’t mean that we should mourn the death of cap-and-trade. It’s possible that the best thing to do about a warming earth — for now, at least — is relatively little. This is the view advanced by famous global-warming heretics like Bjorn Lomborg and Freeman Dyson; in recent online debates, it has been championed by Jim Manzi, the American right’s most persuasive critic of climate-change legislation.

Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.

But it’s also grounded in skepticism that such a regime is possible. Any attempt to legislate our way to a cooler earth, the argument goes, will inevitably resemble the package of cap-and-trade emission restrictions that passed the House last year: a Rube Goldberg contraption whose buy-offs and giveaways swamped its original purpose.

Liberals disagree, of course. They think the skeptics underestimate the potential for catastrophe, and overestimate the costs of regulation. They, too, look to the past for lessons, but their model is the Clean Air Act and its various modifications, which reduced domestic air pollution relatively cheaply.

But the Clean Air Act didn’t require collective action on a global scale — the kind of action that last year’s Copenhagen conference placed ever further out of reach. What’s more, a crucial technology, the catalytic converter, was already on the way as the act’s provisions went into effect. Cap-and-trade is more of a leap in the dark.

Liberalism specializes in such leaps. But you can see why conservatives might lean toward the wisdom of inaction. Not every danger has a regulatory solution, and sometimes it makes sense to wait, get richer, and then try to muddle through.

What an unspeakable jerk he is.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they’re still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record.

Of course, you can’t infer trends in global temperatures from one year’s experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say “See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!” Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we’re currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn’t work even on its own terms.

But will any of the deniers say “O.K., I guess I was wrong,” and support climate action? No. And the planet will continue to cook.

So why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let’s talk first about what didn’t cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.

First of all, we didn’t fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.

Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You’ve probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers — allegations of fabricated data, the supposedly damning e-mail messages of “Climategate,” and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action, then bought into by many in the news media. You don’t believe such things can happen? Think Shirley Sherrod.

Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy’s growth rate.

So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.

Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.

By itself, however, greed wouldn’t have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.

There are a number of such climate cowards, but let me single out one in particular: Senator John McCain.

There was a time when Mr. McCain was considered a friend of the environment. Back in 2003 he burnished his maverick image by co-sponsoring legislation that would have created a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. He reaffirmed support for such a system during his presidential campaign, and things might look very different now if he had continued to back climate action once his opponent was in the White House. But he didn’t — and it’s hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity’s future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career.

Alas, Mr. McCain wasn’t alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price.

Brooks and Herbert

November 4, 2008

Today Bobo is being a real horse’s patoot.  He typed out a whine called “A Date With Scarcity,” in which he gravely warns us that we’re probably entering a period in which smart young liberals meet a stone-cold scarcity that they do not seem to recognize or have a plan for.  Bobo, STFU please.  Mr. Herbert is looking “Beyond Election Day,” and says that as Americans go to the polls in what is probably the most important presidential election since World War II, what they really have to decide is what kind of country they want.  Here’s that inexpressibly dull tool Bobo:

Nov. 4, 2008, is a historic day because it marks the end of an economic era, a political era and a generational era all at once.

Economically, it marks the end of the Long Boom, which began in 1983. Politically, it probably marks the end of conservative dominance, which began in 1980. Generationally, it marks the end of baby boomer supremacy, which began in 1968. For the past 16 years, baby boomers, who were formed by the tumult of the 1960s, occupied the White House. By Tuesday night, if the polls are to be believed, a member of a new generation will become president-elect.

So today is not only a pivot, but a confluence of pivots.

When historians look back at the era that is now closing, they will see a time of private achievement and public disappointment. In the past two decades, the United States has become a much more interesting place. Companies like Starbucks, Apple, Crate & Barrel, Microsoft and many others enlivened daily life. Private citizens, especially young people, repaired the social fabric, dedicated themselves to community service and lowered drug addiction and teenage pregnancy.

Yet, at the same time, the public sphere has not flourished. Despite decades of affluence, longstanding issues like health care, education, energy and entitlement debt have not been adequately addressed. The baby boomers, who entered adulthood promising a lifetime of activism, have been a politically undistinguished generation. They produced two presidents, neither of whom lived up to his potential. They remained consumed by the culture war that divided their generation. They pass their political supremacy today having squandered the fat years and the golden opportunities.

Month by month, frustration has mounted. Americans are anxious about their private lives but absolutely disgusted by public leaders. So change is demanded.

Republicans nominated an old warrior with a record of making hard decisions and absorbing the blows that ensue. Many of us regard him — and always will — as one of the heroes of our time. But the public demand for change was total, and if the polls are right, voters will elect the man who breaks from the recent past in almost every way.

Barack Obama is a child of the 1960s. His mother was born only five years earlier than Hillary Clinton. For people in Obama’s generation, the great disruption had already occurred by the time they hit adulthood. Theirs is a generation of consolidation and neo-traditionalism — a generation of sunscreen and bicycle helmets, more anxious about parenthood than anything else.

Obama is not only a member of this temperate generation, but of its most educated segment. He has lived nearly his entire adult life within a few miles of one or another of the country’s top 10 universities.

His upscale, post-boomer cohort has rallied behind him with unalloyed fervor. Major college newspapers have endorsed him at a rate of 63 to 1. The upscale educated class — from the universities, the media, the law and the financial centers — has financed his $600 million campaign (which relied on big-dollar donations even more heavily than George W. Bush’s 2004 effort). This cohort will soon become the ruling class.

And the irony is that they will be confronted by the problem for which they have the least experience and for which they are the least prepared: the problem of scarcity.

Raised in prosperity, favored by genetics, these young meritocrats will have to govern in a period when the demands on the nation’s wealth outstrip the supply. They will grapple with the growing burdens of an aging society, rising health care costs and high energy prices. They will have to make up for the trillion-plus dollars the government will spend to avoid a deep recession. They will have to struggle to keep their promises to cut taxes, create an energy revolution, pass an expensive health care plan and all the rest.

As Robert J. Samuelson writes in his forthcoming book, “The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath,” “Already, Americans face far more claims on their incomes than can be easily met.”

In the next few years, the nation’s wealth will either stagnate or shrink. The fiscal squeeze will grow severe. There will be fiercer struggles over scarce resources, starker divisions along factional lines. The challenge for the next president will be to cushion the pain of the current recession while at the same time trying to build a solid fiscal foundation so the country can thrive at some point in the future.

We’re probably entering a period, in other words, in which smart young liberals meet a stone-cold scarcity that they do not seem to recognize or have a plan for.

In an age of transition, the children are left to grapple with the burdens of their elders.

Asshole.  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

Conservative commentators had a lot of fun mocking Barack Obama’s use of the phrase, “the fierce urgency of now.”

Noting that it had originated with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Senator Obama made it a cornerstone of his early campaign speeches.

Conservatives kicked the phrase around like a soccer ball. “The fierce urgency of now,” they would say, giggling. What does it mean?

Well, if your house is on fire and your family is still inside, that’s an example of the fierce urgency of now.

Something like that is the case in the United States right now as Americans go to the polls in what is probably the most important presidential election since World War II. A mind-boggling series of crises is threatening not just the short-term future but the very viability of the nation.

The economy is sinking into quicksand. The financial sector, guardian of the nation’s wealth, is leaning on the crutch of a trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout. The giant auto companies — for decades the high-powered, gas-guzzling, exhaust-spewing pride of American industry — are on life support.

As the holiday shopping season approaches, the nation is hemorrhaging jobs, the value of the family home has plunged, retirement plans are shrinking like ice cubes on a hot stove and economists are telling us the recession has only just begun.

It’s in that atmosphere that voters today will be choosing between the crisis-management skills of Senator Obama, who has enlisted Joe Biden as aide-de-camp, and those of Senator John McCain, who is riding to the rescue with Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber in tow.

As important as this choice has become, the election is just a small first step. What Americans really have to decide is what kind of country they want.

Right now the United States is a country in which wealth is funneled, absurdly, from the bottom to the top. The richest 1 percent of Americans now holds close to 40 percent of all the wealth in the nation and maintains an iron grip on the levers of government power.

This is not only unfair, but self-defeating. The U.S. cannot thrive with its fabulous wealth concentrated at the top and the middle class on its knees. (No one even bothers to talk about the poor anymore.) How to correct this imbalance is one of the biggest questions facing the country.

The U.S. is also a country in which blissful ignorance is celebrated, and intellectual excellence (the key to 21st century advancement) is not just given short shrift, but is ridiculed. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are cultural icons. The average American watches television a mind-numbing 4 1/2 hours a day.

At the same time, our public school system is plagued with some of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world. Math and science? Forget about it. Too tough for these TV watchers, or too boring, or whatever.

“When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad,” said Bill Gates, “I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”

The point here is that as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the United States is in deep, deep trouble. Yet instead of looking for creative, 21st-century solutions to these enormous problems, too many of our so-called leaders are behaving like clowns, or worse — spouting garbage in the pubic sphere that hearkens back to the 1940s and ’50s.

Thoughtful, well-educated men and women are denounced as elites, and thus the enemies of ordinary Americans. Attempts to restore a semblance of fiscal sanity to a government that has been looted with an efficiency that would have been envied by the mob, are derided as subversive — the work of socialists, Marxists, Communists.

In 2008!

In North Carolina, Senator Elizabeth Dole, a conservative Republican, is in a tough fight for re-election against a Democratic state senator, Kay Hagan. So Ms. Dole ran a television ad that showed a close-up of Ms. Hagan’s face while the voice of a different woman asserts, “There is no God!”

Americans have to decide if they want a country that tolerates this kind of debased, backward behavior. Or if they want a country that aspires to true greatness — a country that stands for more than the mere rhetoric of equality, freedom, opportunity and justice.

That decision will require more than casting a vote in one presidential election. It will require a great deal of reflective thought and hard work by a committed citizenry. The great promise of America hinges on a government that works, openly and honestly, for the broad interests of the American people, as opposed to the narrow benefit of the favored, wealthy few.

By all means, vote today. But that is just the first step toward meaningful change.

Vote.  Vote.  Vote.  Don’t let anything deter you.  Vote.

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

November 3, 2008

That delusional neocon legacy Wrong Way Billy says “Hey Liberals, Don’t Worry.”  He excreted a little turd in which he says the bad news for liberals is that John McCain could still win the election. The good news? That wouldn’t be so terrible for them.  It’s beneath comment.  Mr. Cohen, a more rational columnist, writes about the “Republican Blues,” and says Republicans are hard-headed but not to the point they want hope banished from the national vocabulary.  Mr. Krugman, in “The Republican Rump,” says the Republicans’ long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.  Here’s that buffoon Kristol:

Barack Obama will probably win the 2008 presidential election. If he does, we conservatives will greet the news with our usual resolute stoicism or cheerful fatalism. Being conservative means never being too surprised by disappointment.

But what if John McCain pulls off an upset?

I’m worried about my compatriots on the left. Michael Powell reports in Saturday’s New York Times that even the possibility of an Obama defeat has driven many liberals into in a state of high anxiety. And then there’s a young woman from Denver who “told her boyfriend that their love life was on hold while she sweated out Mr. Obama’s performance in Colorado.” Well, what if Obama loses Colorado? Or the presidency? As a compassionate conservative, I’m concerned about the well-being of that boyfriend — and of others who might be similarly situated. I feel an obligation to help.

So let me tell liberals why they should be cheerful if McCain happens to win.

1. It would be a victory for an underdog. Liberals are supposed to like underdogs. McCain is a lonely guy standing up against an unprecedentedly well-financed, superorganized, ExxonMobil-like Obama juggernaut. A McCain upset victory would be a classic liberal happy ending.

2. It would be a defeat for the establishment. Obama’s most recent high-profile Republican endorser was D.C. insider Kenneth Duberstein. Liberals should be on the side of hard-working plumbers, not big-shot lobbyists — oops, sorry, big-shot strategic advisers and consultants. And Duberstein said that Colin Powell’s endorsement was “the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on Barack Obama.” Doesn’t that comment embody everything that liberals (and many conservatives, including me) find creepy about smug establishment back-scratching and gatekeeping in America?

3. It would be a victory for the future. With President Bush’s approval rating at about 25 percent, a McCain triumph would mean Americans were making a judgment on two future alternatives, not merely voting on the basis of their resentment at the past performance of George W. Bush. It would mean voters were looking ahead, not back. Liberals should therefore welcome a McCain win as a triumph of hope over fear, of the future over the past.

4. It would be a victory for freedom. Obama supporter Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic writes that “tyrants and génocidaires would sleep less soundly during a McCain presidency.” Liberals should be opposed to tyranny and genocide. Wieseltier also acknowledges that McCain “was splendidly right about the surge, which is not a small thing; and the grudging way Obama treats the reversal in Iraq, when he treats it at all, is disgraceful.” The surge advanced not only our national security but the cause of freedom in the world. Liberals should be votaries of freedom.

5. A McCain victory would be good for liberalism. Look at recent history. Jimmy Carter and a Democratic Congress begat Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress produced Newt Gingrich. Who knows what would follow a President Obama and a Democratic Congress? Here’s one possibility: President Sarah Palin.

So liberals shouldn’t be too upset at the idea of McCain winning. Could it happen?

It’s possible. What if the polls, for various reasons, are overstating Obama’s support by a couple points? And what if the late deciders break overwhelmingly against Obama, as they did in the Democratic primaries? McCain could then thread the Electoral College needle.

McCain would have to win every state where he now leads or is effectively even in the polls (including North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri). He’d have to take Florida and Ohio, where he’s about four points down but where operatives on the ground give him a pretty good shot. That gets him to 247 of the 270 votes needed.

McCain’s path to victory is then to snatch Pennsylvania (which gets him to 268), and win either Virginia, Colorado, Nevada or New Mexico (states where he trails by about four to seven points) — or New Hampshire, where he’s 10 points behind but twice won dramatic primary victories.

As for Pennsylvania, two recent polls have McCain closing to within four points. Pennsylvania is the state whose small-town residents were famously patronized by Obama as “bitter.” One of Pennsylvania’s Democratic congressmen, John Murtha, recently accused many of his western Pennsylvania constituents of being racist. Perhaps Pennsylvanians will want to send a little message to the Democratic Party. And that could tip the election to McCain.

It’s an inside straight. But I’ve seen gamblers draw them.

If McCain wins, think of this column as a modest contribution to cheering up distraught liberals. If Obama prevails, I’m confident there are some compassionate liberals out there who will do the same for hapless conservatives as they hobble out to the wilderness.

It’s time for someone to adjust his medication…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Fazal Fazlin has an American story. Raised in Karachi, Pakistan, he came to the United States in 1969 with an engineering degree and little else. Now he lives on a five-acre estate in the waterfront mansion that once belonged to Nelson Poynter, luminary of the newspaper business.

Poynter, who died in 1978, was the owner of The St. Petersburg Times, a bastion of journalistic excellence and liberal tradition.

Liberalism was never Fazlin’s thing. For most of his rags-to-riches American life, he was a Nixon Republican.

“I felt Nixon was a great President,” Fazlin, a dapper 58, told me. “He opened relations with China, and that’s what kept inflation down. He had a really good command of the world.”

So perhaps it’s surprising to see “Obama for President” signs outside the Poynter-Fazlin mansion and learn that Fazlin, joining long lines of early-voting Florida residents, has already cast his ballot for the Democratic candidate after twice voting for Bush.

But I’m not surprised. Lifelong Republicans turning to Obama has been one of the themes I’ve picked up in this campaign, ever since, back in January, I ran into Bryant Jones, an Idaho-raised Republican who’d volunteered for Obama in South Carolina.

For Jones, it was disenchantment with “my-way-or-the-highway politics and the same old faces.” For Fazlin, the Republican Party has “forgotten itself.”

That phrase resonated. This election has also been about the ideological exhaustion of a party. What was John McCain’s vice-presidential pick but a Hail Sarah pass reflecting the desperation of a Republican trying to succeed Bush?

Fazlin’s Republican Party, he told me over lunch, “was for less government and it was fiscally conservative. But look at the spending under Bush. We are trillions in debt. My granddaughter will pay for that.”

His Republican Party believed in a link between hard work and reward rather than between securitized toxic mortgage loans and instant fortunes. His Republican Party believed in transactions based on reality. “I had to jump through hoops for my first mortgage,” Fazlin said.

The party’s cultural shift also troubles him. In the party he joined, the Christian Right was insignificant. He sees a link between its rise and “an attitude toward Muslims that I really don’t like. Muslim cannot mean terrorist, but some of the emails I get suggest Republicans don’t see the difference.”

A Muslim himself, Fazlin was pleased to hear another Republican-to-Obama convert, Gen. Colin Powell, say: “Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she could be president?”

American openness allowed Fazlin to make his way. He worked for Zenith in Chicago, then Control Data in Minneapolis, where he came up with “a process to change the surface energy of Teflon.”

I associate Teflon with easy-to-flip eggs, but apparently I missed something, which is probably why I’m a hack and he’s rich.

Fazlin’s breakthrough was important for circuit boards of high-speed computers. He moved on to plasma technology, founding Advanced Plasma in St. Petersburg in 1980.

Nineteen years later, he sold the company “for a few bucks,” enough to buy the Poynter estate. It was here that his far-flung family (from Pakistan, Canada and Australia) gathered for his birthday in June — and gave him the decisive prod into the Obama camp.

They asked: What’s happened to America? Why is it so heavy-handed? Why won’t it sit down, eyeball to eyeball, with its enemies and try to work things out? Fazlin considered those good questions.

He switched allegiance, helping to organize a fundraiser for Obama in Orlando. There, he met Obama and liked “the way he looked me in the eye, the way he wasn’t on a pedestal, but one of us.” He also liked Obama’s efficiency (and believes it could save the government money). They talked politics and Pakistani cuisine.

The Fazlin conversion is significant. Among Republicans flipping to Obama I’ve detected three core feelings: we have to do something different; we cannot be the party of fiscal irresponsibility; we cannot be the angry party of an “America-first” jingoism that alienates the world.

There’s something more, something unspoken. Reagan’s line was, “It’s morning again in America.” Bush has been about American dusk. Republicans are hard-headed but not to the point they want hope banished from the national vocabulary.

Enter Obama.

In Miami, I found more of the Fazlin phenomenon. Andy Gomez, an assistant professor at the University of Miami and a Cuban-American, told me his immediate family is made up of five registered Republicans and one Democrat.

Of that heavily Republican band, five, including Gomez himself, are voting Obama.

“Cuba’s not the issue,” he said. “It’s education, health care, the economy.”

Florida’s still a toss-up, but there’s Obama movement.

As Fazlin swept his Mercedes up the drive, I suggested the colonnaded mansion with its cascading bougainvillea was a Spanish colonial.

“What? I just think of it as Fazal style,” he said.

This is a great country. Hispano-Pakistani is fine. The past is prelude. Only the future counts. It looms tomorrow.

And now here’s Mr. Krugman:

Maybe the polls are wrong, and John McCain is about to pull off the biggest election upset in American history. But right now the Democrats seem poised both to win the White House and to greatly expand their majorities in both houses of Congress.

Most of the post-election discussion will presumably be about what the Democrats should and will do with their mandate. But let me ask a different question that will also be important for the nation’s future: What will defeat do to the Republicans?

You might think, perhaps hope, that Republicans will engage in some soul-searching, that they’ll ask themselves whether and how they lost touch with the national mainstream. But my prediction is that this won’t happen any time soon.

Instead, the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.” It will be the party that harbors menacing fantasies about Barack Obama’s Marxist — or was that Islamic? — roots.

Why will the G.O.P. become more, not less, extreme? For one thing, projections suggest that this election will drive many of the remaining Republican moderates out of Congress, while leaving the hard right in place.

For example, Larry Sabato, the election forecaster, predicts that seven Senate seats currently held by Republicans will go Democratic on Tuesday. According to the liberal-conservative rankings of the political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, five of the soon-to-be-gone senators are more moderate than the median Republican senator — so the rump, the G.O.P. caucus that remains, will have shifted further to the right. The same thing seems set to happen in the House.

Also, the Republican base already seems to be gearing up to regard defeat not as a verdict on conservative policies, but as the result of an evil conspiracy. A recent Democracy Corps poll found that Republicans, by a margin of more than two to one, believe that Mr. McCain is losing “because the mainstream media is biased” rather than “because Americans are tired of George Bush.”

And Mr. McCain has laid the groundwork for feverish claims that the election was stolen, declaring that the community activist group Acorn — which, as Factcheck.org points out, has never “been found guilty of, or even charged with” causing fraudulent votes to be cast — “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” Needless to say, the potential voters Acorn tries to register are disproportionately “other folks,” as Mr. Chambliss might put it.

Anyway, the Republican base, egged on by the McCain-Palin campaign, thinks that elections should reflect the views of “real Americans” — and most of the people reading this column probably don’t qualify.

Thus, in the face of polls suggesting that Mr. Obama will win Virginia, a top McCain aide declared that the “real Virginia” — the southern part of the state, excluding the Washington, D.C., suburbs — favors Mr. McCain. A majority of Americans now live in big metropolitan areas, but while visiting a small town in North Carolina, Ms. Palin described it as “what I call the real America,” one of the “pro-America” parts of the nation. The real America, it seems, is small-town, mainly southern and, above all, white.

I’m not saying that the G.O.P. is about to become irrelevant. Republicans will still be in a position to block some Democratic initiatives, especially if the Democrats fail to achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

And that blocking ability will ensure that the G.O.P. continues to receive plenty of corporate dollars: this year the U.S. Chamber of Congress has poured money into the campaigns of Senate Republicans like Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, precisely in the hope of denying Democrats a majority large enough to pass pro-labor legislation.

But the G.O.P.’s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.

This will pose a dilemma for moderate conservatives. Many of them spent the Bush years in denial, closing their eyes to the administration’s dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law. Some of them have tried to maintain that denial through this year’s election season, even as the McCain-Palin campaign’s tactics have grown ever uglier. But one of these days they’re going to have to realize that the G.O.P. has become the party of intolerance.

Dowd, Kristof, Friedman and Rich

November 2, 2008

Ms. Dowd asks “Who’s the Question Mark?”  She says John McCain was a man of candor. But ever since Steve Schmidt became Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, the candidate has become a question mark.  Mr. Kristof thinks it’s time for the United States to “Rejoin the World.”  He says as president, George W. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy wrenched the United States out of the international community. We must rejoin the world.  Mr. Friedman, in “Vote for (  )” says that the presidential candidates have broad ideas about how to restore the nation’s financial health. But what they are not saying is that we are all going to have to pay for it.  Mr. Rich, in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” says forty-one years after Sidney Poitier’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” racial politics in America have changed, but not completely.  Here’s MoDo:

In the final moments of the most gripping campaign in modern history, John McCain is still trying to costume Barack Obama as a dangerous enigma.

But, in an odd and remarkable reversal, it is McCain who is the enigma, even though he entered the race with one of the best brands in American politics.

And it is Obama, who sashayed onto the trail two years ago as an aloof and exotic mystery man with a slim record and a strange name, now coming across as the steadier brand.

The McCain campaign specializes in erratica, while the Obama campaign continues to avoid any dramatica.

McCain pals around with Joe the Plumber and leaves Tito the Builder to Sarah Palin, exactly the kind of inane campaign silliness that the McCain formerly known as Maverick would have mocked mercilessly.

He’s getting a little traction on taxes, as he latches on to every possible scary image about Obama — except the suggestion that the Democrat’s gray Hart Schaffner Marx suits are red.

Before he was bubbled by Bushies, McCain was one of the most known and knowable quantities in American politics. For most of his long public career, he prided himself on his openness with the press — he even allowed some reporters to watch the results of January’s New Hampshire primary in his hotel suite in Nashua. He relished spending all day being challenged by voters and reporters.

Last summer, tapped out and unable to afford a paid staff of political professionals, he talked freely, telling reporters he would have a White House that would be the polar opposite of the secretive and dismissive Bush-Cheney operation. He imagined weekly press conferences and talked of subjecting himself to a version of British question time in Congress. While acknowledging he was a tech tyro, he promised to try “a Google,” as he called searching the Web, to put government spending online so citizens could bird-dog it.

He even went so far as to spin a dream of a West Wing in which he would cut back on his Secret Service so he wouldn’t feel so constrained.

In the end, “The Bullet,” or “Sarge,” as McCain calls his replacement campaign manager Steve Schmidt, was the one who did the shackling, turning the vibrant and respected McCain into a shell of his former self.

Schmidt abruptly cut off the oxygen supply to McCain’s brain. No more of the oldest established, permanent floating crap game of press confabs. No more audiences that weren’t vetted for friendliness. No more of McCain’s trademark insouciant mocking the process even as he participated in it.

Whether it was the five years he spent in a hole in Hanoi or just his gregarious makeup, McCain seemed to feed off of the company of people who interested him, be it reporters, voters or the pols in his posse, like Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham.

Unlike Obama, He Who Walks Alone, McCain always rejected the solitary in favor of the social. But ever since Sergeant Schmidt put Captain McCain into a sterile brig on the trail, the candidate has become a question mark.

Why would he repeat that oblivious line about the fundamentals of the economy being strong, saying it once in August and again in September?

Why would he threaten to not show up for a debate (after denouncing Obama for not rising to the challenge of joint town halls) so that he could go to Washington and play the shining knight if he had no plan and no prospect for success?

Why did he allow his campaign to become a host body for a Bush virus looking for someplace to infect? After working so hard to erase the image of what Senate aides called “the Bush hug,” McCain inexplicably hugged Bushies, surrounding himself with mercenaries trained in the same Rovian tactics that tore up his family — and tore apart his campaign — in 2000.

Why did a politician who once knew how to play the game so well, who was once so beloved by people of very different political stripes, allow his campaign to get whiny, angry, vengeful and bitter?

Why Palin?

(Her latest instant classics came Friday, when she entered a rally in York, Pa., to the tune of “Thriller” and when a conservative radio station broadcast an interview in which she accused reporters of threatening her First Amendment rights by attacking her for negative campaigning that she feels justifiably calls out Obama “on his associations.”)

Why did he allow his staff to put Palin on a couture catwalk in a tin-cup economy and then, when the price tags were exposed, trash her as a “diva” and “whack job,” thus becoming the rare Republican campaign devoured by Democratic-style vicious infighting?

The ultimate riddle is this: Why doesn’t McCain question why he has become a question mark?

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

An unscientific poll of 109 professional historians this year found that 61 percent rated President Bush as the worst president in American history.

A couple of others judged him second-worst, after James Buchanan, whose incompetence set the stage for the Civil War. More than 98 percent of the historians in the poll, conducted through the History News Network, viewed Mr. Bush’s presidency as a failure.

Mr. Bush’s presidency imploded not because of any personal corruption or venality, but largely because he wrenched the United States out of the international community. His cowboy diplomacy “defriended” the United States. He turned a superpower into a rogue country. Instead of isolating North Korea and Iran, he isolated us — and undermined his own ability to achieve his aims.

So here’s the top priority for President Barack Obama or President John McCain: We must rejoin the world.

There are three general ways in which we can signal a new beginning and “refriend” our allies:

• We should not only close the Guantánamo prison but also turn it into an international center for research on tropical diseases that afflict poor countries. It could thus become an example of multilateral humanitarianism.

The new president should also start a Truth Commission to investigate torture and other abuses during the “war on terror.” This should not be a bipartisan panel but a nonpartisan one, dominated by retired generals and intelligence figures like Brent Scowcroft or Colin Powell.

Such a panel would be respected as fair and authoritative in a way that one composed of bickering Democrats and Republicans would not, and it would underscore that we are eager to return to the norms of the civilized world.

• The new president also should signal that we will no longer confront problems just by blowing them up. The military toolbox is essential, but it shouldn’t be the first option for 21st-century challenges. You can’t bomb climate change.

We also have to pay far more attention to public diplomacy and outreach. Our Afghanistan and Pakistan policy is a mess in part because Osama bin Laden’s approval rating in Pakistan (34 percent) is almost double America’s (19 percent). You know we need a new approach when we lose a public relations competition to a fugitive mass murderer.

A new approach means a vigorous effort for peace in the Middle East. We also need to commit to negotiating with odious countries. President Clinton’s engagement policy toward North Korea was a constant headache, for Kim Jong Il was brutally repressive and tried to start a secret uranium program. But North Korea didn’t produce nuclear materials for a single weapon during Mr. Clinton’s years in office; under Mr. Bush, it has produced enough for a half dozen.

So here’s the score: Clinton diplomacy, 0 weapons; Bush fulmination, 6 weapons.

• We must cooperate with other countries on humanitarian efforts, including family planning. One of the Bush follies that has bewildered and antagonized our allies has been the vacuous refusal to support family planning through the United Nations Population Fund.

The upshot of the failure to support contraception has been millions of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. It’s difficult to think of any person alive today whose policies have led to more unnecessary abortions worldwide than Mr. Bush.

For all my criticisms, though, I would rank Mr. Bush more gently than those historians: I would peg him as second worst, after Buchanan. That’s because Mr. Bush has begun effective foreign-aid programs against AIDS and malaria that are saving millions of lives. His AIDS programs have transformed areas of southern Africa, but he so antagonized the world that America never gets adequate credit for this huge achievement.

Look, a friendlier, more multilateral policy will not solve the world’s problems. Iran isn’t going to give up its nuclear program because it likes us, and brawn is necessary to back up brains.

But without global political capital, we don’t have the leverage to organize more muscular persuasion. Without diplomatic heavy lifting, we can’t credibly threaten military heavy smashing.

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States led the international effort to construct global institutions to promote peace and prosperity. These included the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and they served our interests. Now, in the aftermath of the cold war, we need to rethink and refurbish this architecture for the next half century or more.

The United States needs to be a part of the International Criminal Court and should lead the push for a new climate change treaty, for example. The new president should be an architect of this emerging order, rather than AWOL as the Bush administration has been.

For eight years, the United States has been in self-imposed exile, and that is one reason Mr. Bush’s presidency has failed on so many levels. After Tuesday, let’s rejoin the world.

Mr. Kristof, we can rejoin the world in 79 days.  The current occupant has that long to continue to destroy the country.  Here’s Mr. Friedman:

Here’s what strikes me this election eve: I can’t remember a presidential campaign that was so disconnected from the actual challenges of governing that will confront the winner the morning after. When this election campaign began two years ago, the big issue was how and for how long do we continue nation-building in Iraq. As the campaign comes to a close, the big issue is how and at what sacrifice do we do nation-building in America.

Unfortunately, you’d barely know that from the presidential debates. Watching them in the context of the meltdown of the financial system was like watching a game show where the two contestants were kept off-stage in a soundproof booth and brought out to address the audience without knowing the context.

Since the last debate, John McCain and Barack Obama have unveiled broad ideas about how to restore the nation’s financial health. But they continue to suggest that this will be largely pain-free. McCain says giving everyone a tax cut will save the day; Obama tells us only the rich will have to pay to help us out of this hole. Neither is true.

We are all going to have to pay, because this meltdown comes in the context of what has been “perhaps the greatest wealth transfer since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917,” says Michael Mandelbaum, author of “Democracy’s Good Name.” “It is not a wealth transfer from rich to poor that the Bush administration will be remembered for. It is a wealth transfer from the future to the present.”

Never has one generation spent so much of its children’s wealth in such a short period of time with so little to show for it as in the Bush years. Under George W. Bush, America has foisted onto future generations a huge financial burden to finance our current tax cuts, wars and now bailouts. Just paying off those debts will require significant sacrifices. But when you add the destruction of wealth that has taken place in the last two months in the markets, and the need for more bailouts, you understand why this is not going to be a painless recovery.

The Bush team leaves us with another debt — one to Mother Nature. We have added tons more CO2 into the atmosphere these last eight years, without any mitigation effort. As a result, slowing down climate change in the next eight years is going to require even bigger changes and investments in how we use energy.

Given that Times columnists are not allowed to “formally” endorse candidates and given that the context of this election has changed so much from the policy positions the candidates started with, all I can suggest is that you vote for the candidate with these character traits:

First, we need a president who can speak English and deconstruct and navigate complex issues so Americans can make informed choices. We have paid an enormous price for having a president who could not explain and reassure us during this financial meltdown. We wasted a huge amount of time pretending that we could punish Wall Street without punishing Main Street — when, in fact, they are intricately intertwined.

A major money market fund — Reserve Primary — failed in September because the extra interest it offered customers derived, in part, from the $785 million in high-yielding Lehman Brothers commercial paper and notes it was holding. Depositors who told their congressmen to just let that greedy Lehman Brothers fail were shocked to discover this meant that their own money market would be frozen. No, we don’t need a president defending greed on Wall Street, but we do need one who can explain that we are all in the same boat, that a leak at one end can sink everyone and that while we must regulate, we don’t want to kill risk-taking and the rewards that go with that — which are essential to growing our economy.

Second, we need a president who can energize, inspire and hold the country together during what will be a very stressful recovery. We have to climb out of this financial crisis at a time when the baby boomers are about to retire and going to need their Social Security and eventually Medicare. We are all going to be paying the government more and getting less until we grow out of this hole.

Third, we need a president who can rally the world to our side. We cannot get out of this crisis unless China starts consuming more and unless Europe keeps lowering interest rates. Everyone is interconnected, and everyone is still looking to America to lead.

So, bottom line: Please do not vote for the candidate you most want to have a beer with (unless it’s to get stone cold drunk so you don’t have to think about this mess we’re in). Vote for the person you’d most like at your side when you ask your bank manager for an extension on your mortgage.

Vote for the candidate you think has the smarts, temperament and inspirational capacity to unify the country and steer our ship through what could be the rockiest shoals our generation has ever known. Your kids will thank you.

Here’s Mr. Rich:

And so: just how far have we come?

As a rough gauge last week, I watched a movie I hadn’t seen since it came out when I was a teenager in 1967. Back then “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was Hollywood’s idea of a stirring call for racial justice. The premise: A young white woman falls madly in love with a black man while visiting the University of Hawaii and brings him home to San Francisco to get her parents’ blessing. Dad, a crusading newspaper publisher, and Mom, a modern art dealer, are wealthy white liberals — Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, no less — so surely there can be no problem. Complications ensue before everyone does the right thing.

Though the film was a box-office smash and received 10 Oscar nominations, even four decades ago it was widely ridiculed as dated by liberal critics. The hero, played by the first black Hollywood superstar, Sidney Poitier, was seen as too perfect and too “white” — an impossibly handsome doctor with Johns Hopkins and Yale on his résumé and a Nobel-worthy career fighting tropical diseases in Africa for the World Health Organization. What couple would not want him as a son-in-law? “He’s so calm and sure of everything,” says his fiancée. “He doesn’t have any tensions in him.” She is confident that every single one of their biracial children will grow up to “be president of the United States and they’ll all have colorful administrations.”

What a strange movie to confront in 2008. As the world knows, Barack Obama’s own white mother and African father met at the University of Hawaii. In “Dreams From My Father,” he even imagines the awkward dinner where his mother introduced her liberal-ish parents to her intended in 1959. But what’s most startling about this archaic film is the sole element in it that proves inadvertently contemporary. Faced with a black man in the mold of the Poitier character — one who appears “so calm” and without “tensions” — white liberals can make utter fools of themselves. When Joe Biden spoke of Obama being “clean” and “articulate,” he might have been recycling Spencer Tracy’s lines of 41 years ago.

Biden’s gaffe, though particularly naked, prefigured a larger pattern in the extraordinary election campaign that has brought an African-American to the brink of the presidency. Our political and news media establishments — fixated for months on tracking down every unreconstructed bigot in blue-collar America — have their own conspicuous racial myopia, with its own set of stereotypes and clichés. They consistently underestimated Obama’s candidacy because they often saw him as a stand-in for the two-dimensional character Poitier had to shoulder in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” It’s why so many got this election wrong so often.

There were countless ruminations, in print and on television, asking the same two rhetorical questions: “Is He Black Enough?” and “Is He Tough Enough?” The implied answer to both was usually, “No.” The brown-skinned child of biracial parents wasn’t really “black” and wouldn’t appeal to black voters who were overwhelmingly loyal to the wife of America’s first “black” president. And as a former constitutional law professor, Obama was undoubtedly too lofty an intellectual to be a political street fighter, too much of a wuss to land a punch in a debate, too ethereal to connect to “real” Americans. He was Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis or Bill Bradley in dark face — no populist pugilist like John Edwards.

The list of mistaken prognostications that grew from these flawed premises is long. As primary season began, we were repeatedly told that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the most battle-tested and disciplined, with an invincible organization and an unbeatable donors’ network. Poor Obama had to settle for the ineffectual passion of the starry-eyed, Internet-fixated college kids who failed to elect Howard Dean in 2004. When Clinton lost in Iowa, no matter; Obama could never breach the “firewalls” that would wrap up her nomination by Super Tuesday. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the many who bought its spin noticed the take-no-prisoners political insurgency that Obama had built throughout the caucus states and that serves him to this day.

Once Obama wrested the nomination from Clinton by surpassing her in organization, cash and black votes, he was still often seen as too wimpy to take on the Republicans. This prognosis was codified by Karl Rove, whose punditry for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek has been second only to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as a reliable source of laughs this year. Rove called Obama “lazy,” and over the summer he predicted that his fund-raising had peaked in February and that he’d have a “serious problem” winning over Hispanics. Well, Obama was lazy like a fox, and is leading John McCain among Hispanics by 2 to 1. Obama has also pulled ahead among white women despite the widespread predictions that he’d never bring furious Hillary supporters into the fold.

But certainly the single most revelatory moment of the campaign — about the political establishment, not Obama — arrived in June when he reversed his position on taking public financing. This was a huge flip-flop (if no bigger than McCain’s on the Bush tax cuts). But the reaction was priceless. Suddenly the political world discovered that far from being some exotic hothouse flower, Obama was a pol from Chicago. Up until then it rarely occurred to anyone that he had to be a ruthless competitor, not merely a sweet-talking orator, to reach the top of a political machine even rougher than the Clinton machine he had brought down. Whether that makes him more black or more white remains unresolved.

Early in the campaign, the black commentator Tavis Smiley took a lot of heat when he questioned all the rhetoric, much of it from white liberals, about Obama being “post-racial.” Smiley pointed out that there is “no such thing in America as race transcendence.” He is right of course. America can no sooner disown its racial legacy, starting with the original sin of slavery, than it can disown its flag; it’s built into our DNA. Obama acknowledged as much in his landmark speech on race in Philadelphia in March.

Yet much has changed for the better since the era of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” thanks to the epic battles of the civil-rights movement that have made the Obama phenomenon possible. As Mark Harris reminds us in his recent book about late 1960s Hollywood, “Pictures at a Revolution,” it was not until the year of the movie’s release that the Warren Court handed down the Loving decision overturning laws that forbade interracial marriage in 16 states; in the film’s final cut there’s still an outdated line referring to the possibility that the young couple’s nuptials could be illegal (as Obama’s parents’ marriage would have been in, say, Virginia). In that same year of 1967, L.B.J.’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, offered his resignation when his daughter, a Stanford student, announced her engagement to a black Georgetown grad working at NASA. (Johnson didn’t accept it.)

Obama’s message and genealogy alike embody what has changed in the decades since. When he speaks of red and blue America being seamlessly woven into the United States of America, it is always shorthand for the reconciliation of black and white and brown and yellow America as well. Demographically, that’s where America is heading in the new century, and that will be its destiny no matter who wins the election this year.

Still, the country isn’t there yet, and should Obama be elected, America will not be cleansed of its racial history or conflicts. It will still have a virtually all-white party as one of its two most powerful political organizations. There will still be white liberals who look at Obama and can’t quite figure out what to make of his complex mixture of idealism and hard-knuckled political cunning, of his twin identities of international sojourner and conventional middle-class overachiever.

After some 20 months, we’re all still getting used to Obama and still, for that matter, trying to read his sometimes ambiguous takes on both economic and foreign affairs. What we have learned definitively about him so far — and what may most account for his victory, should he achieve it — is that he had both the brains and the muscle to outsmart, outmaneuver and outlast some of the smartest people in the country, starting with the Clintons. We know that he ran a brilliant campaign that remained sane and kept to its initial plan even when his Republican opponent and his own allies were panicking all around him. We know that that plan was based on the premise that Americans actually are sick of the divisive wedge issues that have defined the past couple of decades, of which race is the most divisive of all.

Obama doesn’t transcend race. He isn’t post-race. He is the latest chapter in the ever-unfurling American racial saga. It is an astonishing chapter. For most Americans, it seems as if Obama first came to dinner only yesterday. Should he win the White House on Tuesday, many will cheer and more than a few will cry as history moves inexorably forward.

But we are a people as practical as we are dreamy. We’ll soon remember that the country is in a deep ditch, and that we turned to the black guy not only because we hoped he would lift us up but because he looked like the strongest leader to dig us out.

Collins, Blow and Herbert

November 1, 2008

Ms. Collins on “Our Election Whopper:” Omigosh, it’s almost here. The one and only Election Day! The best approach at this point is probably to ignore all polls. Take a deep breath. Do a little meditation.  Mr. Blow looks at “An October Demise,” and says for John McCain to have a chance, everything needed to go his way in October. It didn’t.  Mr. Herbert considers “The Known Unknowns,” and says on Tuesday the question will be answered whether economic anxiety trumps the concern that many voters might have about Barack Obama’s race.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Omigosh! It’s almost here. The one and only Election Day! Except, of course, in the 30-odd states where voting has been going on for some time. Nov. 4 is not quite as much of an event there, although it’s still a big date, what with watching the returns and celebrating Laura Bush’s birthday, along with the increasingly popular feast of Half a Week After Halloween.

Our two-year presidential campaign now ends with a monthlong vote, followed by weeks of litigation over provisional ballots. After that, the new president is sworn in and given 100 days to accomplish his legislative agenda, after which everyone will start plotting for 2012.

It is a grand system in that great American tradition that has given us the seven-month baseball season and the half-gallon cup of soda. We have supersized the election. And why not? Barack Obama’s campaign budget is now supporting half the national economy. I don’t know how we’re going to get along without it, unless we can convince Mitt Romney to start gearing up instantly for his comeback.

Although the polls have consistently shown Obama ahead, Democrats are all afraid of the infamous Bradley effect, in which people falsely claim to be voting for a black candidate so pollsters don’t think they’re racist. In the case of this campaign, you’d have to be paranoid enough to believe the canny closet racists were also falsely assuring the pollsters that they thought Obama would do better with the economy, health insurance and bringing change to Washington, and would appoint better people to his administration than McCain. Which does seem like a lot of effort to impress a stranger on the other end of a telephone line.

The polls also suggest that Sarah Palin has, in two short months, managed to scare the pants off large portions of the population. Confidence seems to be plummeting not only in her own qualifications but in McCain’s overall ability to pick good assistants. These concerns were probably not allayed by the candidate’s promise to take Joe the Plumber to Washington with him.

It also didn’t help when former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, a McCain supporter, was asked on NPR whether Palin would be ready on day one to step in if a crisis occurred.

“Of course not,” Eagleburger responded.

This was a particularly cruel blow since Eagleburger is not just one of the five former secretaries of state that the McCain campaign constantly cites as having endorsed the ticket. He is one of the four who McCain was actually able to remember during a recent interview on “Meet the Press.”

To be fair, Eagleburger went on to qualify his statement and said that given some time in office, he thought Palin would be “adequate.” These days in the McCain camp, this may be what passes as a ringing endorsement.

Obama is going to be racing around from rally to rally over the final 96 hours — eight states in three time zones. This sort of last-minute dash around the nation is another American political tradition, which serves the dual purpose of setting a good example for the campaign workers and torturing the campaign press corps in retribution for all those months of writing down the things the candidate said.

Obama’s target audience is the 10 percent of voters who told this week’s New York Times/CBS News poll that they did not feel as if they had received enough information to make an informed decision on the presidential race. I believe we have met them before. They are the men and women who get up at a town hall meeting after the candidate had just made a 20-minute opening speech about his/her plans for health care reform, and say: “What I want to know is, what are you going to do about medical costs?” My theory is that whenever they hear someone start to discuss the issues, they cover their ears and make humming noises, the way my husband does when I say it is time to take a look at our 401(k)s.

In The Times’s poll, the percentage of respondents who said that they weren’t totally sure who they were going to vote for was almost identical to the percentage who said that they think the economy is doing well. Are they the same people? If so, perhaps they are still undecided because they are waiting to get their marching orders from well-informed friends like Abraham Lincoln, St. Catherine of Siena or Seabiscuit.

The best approach at this point is probably to ignore all polls and just wait to see what happens. Take a deep breath. Do a little meditation. Make a list of all the things you’re going to do once you no longer have to spend time worrying about who’s going to be the next president.

I personally am planning to read the Russian classics.

If it came to a choice I’d probably rather do a root canal on myself rather than read Russian classics…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

John the Contender and Sarah the Subverter limped into these last days hoping against hope. All else had failed, even McCain’s complete apostasy. Their flagging ticket had fallen in the polls, and they were praying for an upset for which there was no precedent.

According to a Gallup report released Monday, there have been only two upsets since 1952: Reagan vs. Carter in 1980 and Bush vs. Gore in 2000. Neither is particularly analogous to the current race.

In 1980, the candidates’ one and only debate was a week before Election Day. Reagan won the debate, and that turned the election. This year, McCain was drubbed in all three presidential debates. In 2000, the lead in the polls flip-flopped constantly. Gore eked out a popular vote win, but didn’t win the Electoral College. This year, McCain hasn’t held the lead in the polls since mid-September. And Obama already has enough states leaning his way to handily win the Electoral College, plus he’s either tied or leading in the toss-up states.

So McCain’s final volley was to brand Barack Obama a socialist, assail his associations and rile up the rurals. For that to work, everything else would have to fall in McCain’s favor. To say that it hasn’t is a gross understatement.

Oct. 19: Colin Powell endorses Obama.

Oct. 20: Al Qaeda endorses McCain.

Oct. 22: Sarah Palin gets smacked down for dressing up. (You know it’s hard out here when you primp.)

Oct. 23: The candidates personally reach out to a campaign volunteer who claimed that a black man had carved a backward “B” on her face during a mugging to punish her for not supporting Obama. The volunteer later confesses to fabricating the story. Scars all around.

Oct. 24: $22,800 for makeup. Wow.

Oct. 25: McCain’s people begin to turn on Palin, making her sound like the title character of a bad movie: “Whack job,” “diva,” “gone rogue.”

Oct. 28: The Pew Center reports that Obama leads among early voters by a margin of 19 percent.

Oct. 29: Obama buys a chunk of prime-time and broadcasts a love-in to himself, then he has a late-night rally with his former grudge budd Bill Clinton. It looks like a coronation. McCain responds on Larry King in a room that looks like the lobby of a funeral parlor.

Throughout October: The Republican Egghead Revolt: the party’s highbrows huff that the appeal of the Grand Old Party needs to be broader than the audience of the Grand Ole Opry. Many defect to Obama.

And there you have it — a calamity of missteps and misfortunes.

Of course, anything could happen. There are three days left. McCain could still win. And, a drunk man wearing a blindfold could get a puck past Marc-André Fleury.

Yeah, unlikely. It’s a wrap. Fade to black.

I remain cautiously optimistic.  Here’s Mr. Herbert:

All the signs are pointing to an enormous turnout.

Already, in early voting, the numbers have been huge. In Charlotte, N.C., an elderly black woman showed up at a community college eager to cast a ballot for Barack Obama. The line ahead of her was daunting — at least two hours long. She knew she could not stand for two hours, so she went home.

The next day she came back with a folding chair. She sat down at the end of the line, which was even longer than the day before. Every few minutes, as the line inched forward, the woman would get up, move her chair ahead a little bit and sit back down.

The polls show Senator Obama ahead, but there is no reliable precedent for this election. There are too many “known unknowns,” as Donald Rumsfeld might have said.

The eagerness to vote is being driven to a great extent by anxiety. The financial sector, with hundreds of billions of bailout dollars from taxpayers, is trying to emerge from a state of shock. The auto industry, a house of cards for years, is in danger of collapsing. The economy is shrinking, joblessness is soaring and financial security for all but the very rich is going the way of the video cassette recorder.

An auto worker in Michigan told me, “I’m voting for my economic life, man.”

The most significant factor vying with the economy in this election is also the greatest unknown: the race issue. The election would likely be a runaway if not for Senator Obama’s race. He’s leading, but the question is whether the poll numbers accurately reflect what is going on with the electorate.

Of all the issues thrashed about in this interminable election season, the twin towers are still the economy and race.

“I am a strong nonsubscriber to the Bradley effect,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. He was talking about the frequently mentioned phenomenon in which some percentage of white respondents supposedly tell pollsters that they are voting for a black candidate and then go into the voting booth and do otherwise.

The race issue has hurt many black candidates. But there is very little evidence to support the existence of a Bradley effect, named for Tom Bradley, a black mayor of Los Angeles who, in 1982, lost an election for governor of California that he had been expected to win.

Mr. Miringoff does not believe that significant numbers of respondents are lying to pollsters because they are fearful of being seen as racist, or for any other reason. “If you actually listen to the interview process, you would see that people are extremely eager to have their views correctly recorded,” he said.

He recalled the David Dinkins-Rudolph Giuliani race for mayor of New York in 1989 in which Mr. Dinkins, who is black, only narrowly won. “We polled on the eve of that election, Monday night,” said Mr. Miringoff, “and we saw a big shift in the numbers. The race had gotten closer. Most of the polling had stopped two or three days earlier.”

There are many reasons why Senator Obama, or any other candidate, might do better or worse on Election Day than polls suggest. Respondents lying to pollsters is probably the least likely among them.

Turnout is the big wild card this year. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll said that trying to gauge the size of the turnout and decipher its meaning “is probably the No. 1 challenge we’re looking at.”

An exceptionally high turnout probably plays to Mr. Obama’s advantage. It would indicate that large numbers of newly registered Democratic voters, including blacks and younger voters, were showing up in droves. With a better-organized ground operation than the McCain campaign, and with lots more money to spend, the Obama forces should have an easier time getting their voters to the polls.

A huge overall turnout could also be a sign that economic anxiety has become so great across the electorate that it trumps the concern that many voters might have about Mr. Obama’s race.

A potential pitfall for Mr. Obama is the danger that voters who have not expressed a preference to pollsters end up voting heavily for John McCain. Those voters could shift the balance in potential swing states, especially those states where Mr. Obama is ahead but is not polling above 50 percent.

There is some evidence that lower-educated, less affluent white voters — a group that tends to favor Senator McCain — may be somewhat more reluctant than other groups to respond to pollsters.

The Bradley effect may not be real, but race in this election looms large. The question that will be answered Tuesday is whether a bad economy looms even larger.

I remain hopeful.  It’s a feeling I had almost forgotten about, and I’m enjoying it.

Brooks and Krugman

October 31, 2008

I sometimes wonder if the Times publishes Bobo and Krugman on the same day just to make fun of Bobo.  He’s being a policy wonk today and discussing “A National Mobility Project.”  No, it’s not a plan to get us all to get up off the couch and take a walk.  Bobo says we need a national infrastructure project.  What an original idea!  I wonder why nobody’s ever thought of that before?  Putz.  Mr. Krugman writes about “When Consumers Capitulate,” and says that sooner or later, American consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate.  Here’s Bobo:

Government spending is growing at an astounding pace. Congress and the president have thrown hundreds of billions into stimulus packages, domestic programs, military spending and other initiatives. Total federal spending is growing at a 13.8 percent annual rate.

Has all this money done anything to actually stimulate private economic activity? Not that you’d notice. Consumption is cratering. The U.S. economy just experienced the sharpest real drop in consumer spending since 1974.

The lesson here is that we have a right to be skeptical of so-called stimulus packages. The Federal Reserve can effectively stimulate the economy. There are certain automatic government programs, like unemployment insurance, which also do it. But the history of the past century suggests that politically designed, ad hoc stimulus packages rarely work.

Often they get the timing wrong; they come too late to do any real good. Often they get the pressure points wrong; the economy is simply too complicated for lawmakers to know where to apply the stimulus patch. Almost always, they get psychology wrong. When you give people a chunk of money in the midst of economic turmoil, they don’t spend most of it. They save it.

Nevertheless, economists continue to propose new stimulus ideas with unshaken confidence and over the next six months, the government will almost certainly pass more gigantic programs. Republican economists are talking of plans larger than $100 billion, and Democratic ones are hatching plans in the $300 billion range.

Bad policy ideas are coming in profusion. There are plans to bail out automakers. There are plans to issue more rebate checks (even though the last ones didn’t work). Barack Obama is proposing one-time tax credits for small businesses that are hiring. This is an ineffectual ploy that would shower federal money on those few firms that would be hiring anyway while doing nothing for companies in struggling sectors.

These and other plans amount to an economic sugar rush. And yet the political climate being what it is, something big is going to pass.

In times like these, the best a sensible leader can do is to take the short-term panic and channel it into a program that is good on its own merits even if it does nothing to stimulate the economy over the next year. That’s why I’m hoping the next president takes the general resolve to spend gobs of money, and channels it into a National Mobility Project, a long-term investment in the country’s infrastructure.

Major highway projects take about 13 years from initiation to completion — too long to counteract any recession. But at least they create a legacy that can improve the economic environment for decades to come.

A major infrastructure initiative would create jobs for the less-educated workers who have been hit hardest by the transition to an information economy. It would allow the U.S. to return to the fundamentals. There is a real danger that the U.S. is going to leap from one over-consuming era to another, from one finance-led bubble to another. Focusing on infrastructure would at least get us thinking about the real economy, asking hard questions about what will increase real productivity, helping people who are expanding companies rather than hedge funds.

Moreover, an infrastructure resurgence is desperately needed. Americans now spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, a figure expected to double by 2020. The U.S. population is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 42 years. American residential patterns have radically changed. Workplaces have decentralized. Commuting patterns are no longer radial, from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn’t adapted.

The smart thing to do is announce a short-term infrastructure initiative to accelerate all those repair projects that can be done within a few years. Then, begin a long-term National Mobility Project.

Create a base-closings-like commission to organize federal priorities (Congress has forfeited its right to micromanage). Streamline the regulations that can now delay project approval by five years. Explore all the new ideas that are burgeoning in the transportation world — congestion pricing, smart highways, rescue plans for shrinking Midwestern cities, new rail and airplane technologies. When you look into this sector, you see we are on the cusp of another transportation revolution.

A mobility project would dovetail with the energy initiatives both presidential candidates have offered. It would benefit from broad political support from liberals and business groups alike. It would rebalance this economy, so there is more productive weight to go along with Wall Street wizardry.

Smart investors are going to take advantage of the current panic to make money. A smart president could take advantage of it to build something that will last for decades and decades to come.

Well, Bobo, if you want a smart president you had better pray with all your heart that your guy augers in.  Here’s Mr. Krugman:

The long-feared capitulation of American consumers has arrived. According to Thursday’s G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter; real spending on durable goods (stuff like cars and TVs) fell at an annual rate of 14 percent.

To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn’t been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation.

Also, these numbers are from the third quarter — the months of July, August, and September. So these data are basically telling us what happened before confidence collapsed after the fall of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, not to mention before the Dow plunged below 10,000. Nor do the data show the full effects of the sharp cutback in the availability of consumer credit, which is still under way.

So this looks like the beginning of a very big change in consumer behavior. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

It’s true that American consumers have long been living beyond their means. In the mid-1980s Americans saved about 10 percent of their income. Lately, however, the savings rate has generally been below 2 percent — sometimes it has even been negative — and consumer debt has risen to 98 percent of G.D.P., twice its level a quarter-century ago.

Some economists told us not to worry because Americans were offsetting their growing debt with the ever-rising values of their homes and stock portfolios. Somehow, though, we’re not hearing that argument much lately.

Sooner or later, then, consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate. One is tempted to echo St. Augustine’s plea: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For consumers are cutting back just as the U.S. economy has fallen into a liquidity trap — a situation in which the Federal Reserve has lost its grip on the economy.

Some background: one of the high points of the semester, if you’re a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, comes when you explain how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off. The point is that if consumers cut their spending, and nothing else takes the place of that spending, the economy will slide into a recession, reducing everyone’s income.

In fact, consumers’ income may actually fall more than their spending, so that their attempt to save more backfires — a possibility known as the paradox of thrift.

At this point, however, the instructor hastens to explain that virtue isn’t really vice: in practice, if consumers were to cut back, the Fed would respond by slashing interest rates, which would help the economy avoid recession and lead to a rise in investment. So virtue is virtue after all, unless for some reason the Fed can’t offset the fall in consumer spending.

I’ll bet you can guess what’s coming next.

For the fact is that we are in a liquidity trap right now: Fed policy has lost most of its traction. It’s true that Ben Bernanke hasn’t yet reduced interest rates all the way to zero, as the Japanese did in the 1990s. But it’s hard to believe that cutting the federal funds rate from 1 percent to nothing would have much positive effect on the economy. In particular, the financial crisis has made Fed policy largely irrelevant for much of the private sector: The Fed has been steadily cutting away, yet mortgage rates and the interest rates many businesses pay are higher than they were early this year.

The capitulation of the American consumer, then, is coming at a particularly bad time. But it’s no use whining. What we need is a policy response.

The ongoing efforts to bail out the financial system, even if they work, won’t do more than slightly mitigate the problem. Maybe some consumers will be able to keep their credit cards, but as we’ve seen, Americans were overextended even before banks started cutting them off.

No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn’t spend.

Let’s hope, then, that Congress gets to work on a package to rescue the economy as soon as the election is behind us. And let’s also hope that the lame-duck Bush administration doesn’t get in the way.

Collins, Cohen and Kristof

October 30, 2008

Ms. Collins has “The Last Week Quiz,” and says this presidential race has been a great ride, but we need to take a break. She dares us to answer her end-of-the-endless-election quiz.  Mr. Cohen considers “American Stories” and says in no other country could Barack Obama have risen so far and so fast. Such boundless possibility is what America once stood for and can stand for again.  Mr. Kristof asks “What?  Me Biased?” and says this 2008 election is a milestone and may put a black man in the White House. That creates an opportunity for an adult conversation about the complexities of race.  Here’s Ms. Collins and her quiz:

We are so ready to wrap up this presidential race. It’s been a great ride, but once you realize you’ve got the Barack Obama TV special on your to-do list next to recaulking the bathtub, you know the magic’s gone. Time to stop talking and start worrying about whether the voting machines have all their working parts.

Sarah Palin almost got me back in the ring when she suddenly attacked federal funding for scientific research that uses fruit flies. Is she a member of a fruit-fly rights group? Opposed to basic research? Or does she want to limit federal funding to labs that do all their testing on puppies?

No, I’m not going there. We need a break. Dare you to answer this end-of-the-endless-election quiz:

1. Speaking about the campaign, John McCain said: “It’s not an easy business. It’s not …

A) Mumblety-peg.

B) Beanbag.

C) Tiddledy Winks.

D) Table Skittles.

******

2. Which one of these statements did Barack Obama make while campaigning?

A) “I’ve now been in 57 states. I think one left to go.”

B) “Most of all, I believe in you, Nebraska. Or South Dakota. Or wherever I am.”

C) “We’ve come so far since we began this campaign 21 years ago.”

******

3. When Tom Brokaw asked McCain to compare himself to a movie character, McCain’s first response was to mention:

A) The entire cast of “Hoosiers.”

B) Knute Rockne, urging his team to win one for the dead Gipper.

C) The dead Gipper.

D) Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic,” saving the girl before going down for the third time.

E) Rocky, Rocky, Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.

******

4. Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin’s fiancé, gave an interview to The Associated Press in which he revealed that, at first, he was nervous about appearing with the Palin family at the Republican convention, but later:

A) Was excited by the chance to meet Mitt Romney.

B) “… was like, ‘Whatever.’ ”

C) Prepared by reading up on the party platform.

******

5. Which of the following did Joe Biden NOT say while he was campaigning for vice president?

A) That he hated one of Obama’s anti-McCain commercials, then retracted his criticism since he hadn’t actually seen it.

B) That Hillary Clinton “might have been a better pick than me.”

C) That to find out what Americans think, you had to walk “down Union Street with me in Wilmington and go to Katie’s Restaurant,” an eatery that has been closed for nearly 20 years. And was never on Union Street.

D) That even though he takes the Amtrak home to Delaware every night, he’s never once sat in the quiet car.

E) Asked a Missouri state senator to stand up and be recognized, apparently forgetting that the man was wheelchair-bound.

******

6. Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, struggling in the polls, released an ad that appears to have her opponent saying …:

A) “Deep in my heart, I know Elizabeth is the better choice.”

B) “There is no God.”

C) “We need to concentrate on Wall Street instead of Main Street.”

D) “The Tar Heels stink.”

******

7. Democrat Tim Mahoney of Florida, who was elected to replace the Congressional-page-obsessed Mark Foley, has now admitted to “multiple affairs” and is being investigated for allegedly paying one former lover/staff member $121,000. His campaign slogan when he ran against Foley was:

A) “Keeping Our Philandering Heterosexual.”

B) “Restoring America’s Values Begins at Home.”

C) “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”

******

8. Which of the following did Representative Charles Rangel, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, NOT do during the current campaign season?

A) Announce he was giving up a rent-stabilized apartment that he used as an office while keeping three others.

B) Explain his failure to pay taxes on rental income from a Dominican Republic vacation home by saying he got confused because his business partners kept speaking Spanish.

C) Call out to some New Yorkers who were coughing from pepper spray in the lobby of a hotel in Denver during the Democratic convention: “I’m outta here! I’ll send you cigarettes!”

D) Say of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe: “For $150,000, you’d think she’d get better shoes.”

******

9. At his final appearance before the United Nations, President George W. Bush assured world leaders that his administration was responding to the economic crisis by taking:

A) Bold steps.

B) Baby steps.

C) Another look at invading Iran.

You can find the answers after Mr. Kristof’s column.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Of the countless words Barack Obama has uttered since he opened his campaign for president on an icy Illinois morning in February 2007, a handful have kept reverberating in my mind:

“For as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”

Perhaps the words echo because I’m a naturalized American, and I came here, like many others, seeking relief from Britain’s subtle barriers of religion and class, and possibility broader than in Europe’s confines.

Perhaps they resonate because, having South African parents, I spent part of my childhood in the land of apartheid, and so absorbed as an infant the humiliation of racial segregation, the fear and anger that are the harvest of hurt — just as they are, in Obama’s words, “the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”

Perhaps they speak to me because I live in New York and watch every day a miracle of civility emerge from the struggles and fatigue of people drawn from every corner of the globe to the glimmer of possibility at the tapering edge of the city’s ruler-straight canyons.

Perhaps they move me because the possibility of stories has animated my life; and no nation offers a blanker page on which to write than America.

Or perhaps it’s simply because those 22 words cleave the air with the sharp blade of truth.

Nowhere else could a 47-year-old man, born, as he has written, of a father “black as pitch” and a mother “white as milk,” a generation distant from the mud shacks of western Kenya, raised for a time as Barry Soetoro (his stepfather’s family name) in Muslim Indonesia, then entrusted to his grandparents in Hawaii — nowhere else could this Barack Hussein Obama rise so far and so fast.

It’s for this sense of possibility, and not for grim-faced dread, that people look to America, which is why the Obama campaign has stirred such global passions.

Americans are decent people. They’re not interested in where you came from. They’re interested in who you are. That has not changed.

But much has in the last eight years. This is a moment of anguish. The Bush presidency has engineered the unlikely double whammy of undermining free-market capitalism and essential freedoms, the nation’s twin badges.

American luster is gone. The American idea has, in Joyce Carol Oates’s words, become a “cruel joke.” Americans are worrying and hurting.

So it is important to step back, from the last machinations of this endless campaign, and think again about what America is.

It is renewal, the place where impossible stories get written.

It is the overcoming of history, the leaving behind of war and barriers, in the name of a future freed from the cruel gyre of memory.

It is reinvention, the absorption of one identity in something larger — the notion that “out of many, we are truly one.”

It is a place better than Bush’s land of shadows where a leader entrusted with the hopes of the earth cannot find within himself a solitary phrase to uplift the soul.

Multiple polls now show Obama with a clear lead. But nobody can know the outcome and nobody should underestimate the immense psychological leap that sending a black couple to the White House would represent.

What I am sure of is this: an ever more interconnected world, where financial chain reactions spread with the virulence of plagues, thirsts for American renewal and a form of American leadership sensitive to humanity’s tied fate.

I also know that this biracial politician, the Harvard graduate who gets whites because he was raised by them, the Kenyan’s son who gets blacks because it was among them that mixed race placed him, is an emblematic figure of the border-hopping 21st century. He is the providential mestizo whose name — O-Ba-Ma — has the three-syllable universality of some child’s lullaby.

And what has he done? What does his experience amount to? Does his record not demonstrate he’s a radical? The interrogation continues. It’s true that his experience is limited.

But Americans seem to be trusting what their eyes tell them: temperament trumps experience and every instinct of this man, whose very identity represents an act of reconciliation, hones toward building change from the center.

Earlier this year, at the end of a road of reddish earth in western Kenya, I found Obama’s half-sister Auma. “He can be trusted,” she said, “to be in dialogue with the world.”

Dialogue, between Americans and beyond America, has been a constant theme. Last year, I spoke to Obama, who told me: “Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint.”

Watching the way he has allowed his opponents’ weaknesses to reveal themselves, the way he has enticed them into self-defeating exhaustion pounding against the wall of his equanimity, I have come to understand better what he meant.

Stories require restraint, too. Restraint engages the imagination, which has always been stirred by the American idea, and can be once again.

Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For the last year and a half, a team of psychology professors has been conducting remarkable experiments on how Americans view Barack Obama through the prism of race.

The scholars used a common research technique, the implicit association test, to measure whether people regarded Mr. Obama and other candidates as more foreign or more American. They found that research subjects — particularly when primed to think of Mr. Obama as a black candidate — subconsciously considered him less American than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain.

Indeed, the study found that the research subjects — Californian college students, many of them Democrats supportive of Mr. Obama — unconsciously perceived him as less American even than the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It’s not that any of them actually believed Mr. Obama to be foreign. But the implicit association test measured the way the unconscious mind works, and in following instructions to sort images rapidly, the mind balked at accepting a black candidate as fully American. This result mattered: The more difficulty a person had in classifying Mr. Obama as American, the less likely that person was to support Mr. Obama.

It’s easy to be skeptical of such research, so test for your own unconscious biases at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo or at http://backhand.uchicago.edu/Center/ShooterEffect.

Race is a controversial, emotional subject in America, particularly in the context of this campaign. Many Obama supporters believe that their candidate would be further ahead if it were not for racism, while many McCain supporters resent the insinuations and believe that if Mr. Obama were white, he wouldn’t even be considered for the presidency.

Yet with race an undercurrent in the national debate, that also makes this a teachable moment. Partly that’s because of new findings both in neurology, using brain scans to understand how we respond to people of different races, and social psychology, examining the gulf between our conscious ideals of equality and our unconscious proclivity to discriminate.

Incidentally, such discrimination is not only racial. We also have unconscious biases against the elderly and against women seeking powerful positions — biases that affect the Republican ticket.

Some scholars link racial attitudes to a benefit in evolutionary times from an ability to form snap judgments about who is a likely friend and foe. There may have been an evolutionary advantage in recognizing instantaneously whether a stranger was from one’s own tribe or from an enemy tribe. There’s some evidence that the amygdala, a center in the brain for emotions, flashes a threat warning when it perceives people who look “different.”

Yet our biases are probably largely cultural. One reason to think that is that many African-Americans themselves have an unconscious pro-white bias. All told, considerable evidence suggests that while the vast majority of Americans truly believe in equality and aspire to equal opportunity for all, our minds aren’t as egalitarian as we think they are.

“To me, this study really reveals this gap between our minds and our ideals,” said Thierry Devos, a professor at San Diego State University who conducted the research on Mr. Obama, along with Debbie Ma of the University of Chicago. “Equality is very much linked to ideas of American identity, but it’s hard to live up to these ideas. Even somebody like Barack Obama, who may be about to become president — we have a hard time seeing him as American.”

A flood of recent research has shown that most Americans, including Latinos and Asian-Americans, associate the idea of “American” with white skin. One study found that although people realize that Lucy Liu is American and that Kate Winslet is British, their minds automatically process an Asian face as foreign and a white face as American — hence this title in an academic journal: “Is Kate Winslet More American Than Lucy Liu?”

One might argue that Mr. Obama registers as foreign in our minds because he does have overseas family connections, such as his father’s Kenyan ancestry. But similar experiments have found the same outcome with famous African-American sports figures.

Moreover, Professor Devos found that when participants in the latest study were told to focus on the age of each candidate, or on the political party of each candidate, then Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain were perceived as equally American. It was only when people were prompted to focus on skin color and to see Mr. Obama as black that he was perceived as foreign.

This 2008 election is a milestone and may put a black man in the White House. That creates an opportunity for an adult conversation about the murky complexities of race, in part because there’s evidence that when people become aware of their unconscious biases, they can overcome them.

And now here are the answers to Ms. Collins’ quiz:

ANSWERS: 1-B, 2-A, 3-C, 4-B, 5-D, 6-B, 7-B, 8-D, 9-A

Dowd and Friedman

October 29, 2008

MoDo’s writing fiction again.  I really wish someone at the Times would tell her that they’ll refuse to pay for her overheated fantasizing.  Today she gives us “For Your Consideration,” and has produced a “screenplay” about how in an Ohio hotel suite, two McCain aides ponder how Sarah Palin got away.  Mr. Friedman thinks they’re “Sleepless in Tehran,” and that the collapse of oil prices should give the United States leverage with Iran, but it should be used smartly.  Here’s MoDo:

THE MAVERICK WEARS PRADA
Screenplay by
Maureen Dowd
Revised third draft
© Oct. 29, 2008

FADE IN:

INT. A HOTEL SUITE — in the middle of the day in the middle of Ohio.

NICOLLE WALLACE, a slender, preppie-looking blonde wearing a string of pearls is pacing and frantically thumbing her BlackBerry. She is a top McCain adviser under STEVE SCHMIDT who has been seconded to SARAH PALIN. On the TV, MSNBC’s DAVID SHUSTER is asking ANNE KORNBLUT about rumors that PALIN has gone AWOL after McCain advisers anonymously labeled her a rogue “diva” and a “whack job.”

NICOLLE

(hissing)

How’d she get away?

TRACEY SCHMITT, another blonde sorority type in pearls, also a Bush person who became a McCain person who was then sent over to manage PALIN as her press secretary, sits slumped in a chair, dejectedly checking her BlackBerry messages.

How the heck should I know? She told me she was going to the bathroom to change out of the Jimmy Choos into something more Target for the Joe the Plumber “They’re Not Smears, They’re Just Facts” Bus Tour. She never came back. I called Todd. He’s not picking up.

NICOLLE

Steve’s freaking out. You know how he is about message discipline, much less completely losing a candidate. He’s got enough on his plate scaring the nursing-home Jews in Florida and painting Obama as a Palestinian Marxist Madrassa Child. Maybe all of those dudes painting their chests for Sarah and screaming “2012!” have her looking past the old man. Steve says he will annihilate her if she sabotages this campaign to get started on the next one, or if she plants negative stories about me — I mean McCain — with the base. Are the clothes gone from the belly of the plane?

TRACEY

It’s not like we were ever gonna return them anyway.

NICOLLE

Think like a diva. Where would you go rogue?

TRACEY

Sean Hannity’s pocket. Could he pant over her more? Or maybe she’s hiding in Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s dressing room at “The View.”

NICOLLE

She’s probably at The Weekly Standard, plotting her shining city on the tundra with Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol. I can’t believe Barnes called me a coward because I tried to update that $30 Wasilla beehive that made her look like the girlfriend in an Elvis movie and upgrade her from pleather to leather. And besides, she’s not going to find real Americans at Saks and Neiman’s. She’s got to go to Barneys and Armani for that.

TRACEY

Between us, Nicolle, she doesn’t look $150,000 different. Maybe we should have spent that money on getting Henry Kissinger to put on his snowshoes and best leer and tutor her.

NICOLLE

Look, Tracey, maybe Sarah doesn’t know who Berlusconi is, but she does know who Valentino is. She saw those labels. She knew we were being sartorial socialists and spreading the wealth to Neiman’s and Saks. She liked being pampered like a movie star. We should have learned from W. If you can keep a war off budget, why can’t you keep a wardrobe off budget? I told the press if someone wants to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most graceful thing to do is lie there.

TRACEY

That’ll be the day.

NICOLLE

I’ll be glad when this blind date from hell is over and I can get away from the dysfunctional Palin clan and back to walking my dog, Lily, in Central Park with my pinko liberal friends. I knew Katie would be brutal, but thank God I arranged that interview because now I can go back to my gig as a political analyst at CBS.

TRACEY

I’m gonna miss Todd. He’s hot.

NICOLLE

I won’t miss him or his 20 calls a day playing stage dad. He’s probably the one who masterminded her breakout.

(Her BlackBerry rings to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.”)

Uh-oh, it’s Steve.

(She listens and then hangs up.)

TRACEY

(sardonically)

Does McCain know the maverick’s maverick has gone all mavericky on him?

NICOLLE

McCain is calling off the search.

TRACEY

(shocked)

Huh?

NICOLLE

He’s fed up with her getting bigger crowds and contradicting his message. He’s fed up with her interrupting him on TV interviews and taking them over. He’s fed up with her drilling him on drilling. He’s fed up with never being able to discuss anything with her, like the latest violence in the Congo. He’s weirded out by the way she keeps trying to explain the Rapture to him. His exact words to Steve were: “For my End of Days, I’d prefer to finish the race with Lieberman.” So forget Sarah. Let’s find Joe.

TRACEY

You betcha!

(Don’t blame me for the spacing.  Just be grateful I couldn’t figure out how to change the font to match what she had…)  Here’s Mr. Friedman:

I’ve always been dubious about Barack Obama’s offer to negotiate with Iran — not because I didn’t believe that it was the right strategy, but because I didn’t believe we had enough leverage to succeed. And negotiating in the Middle East without leverage is like playing baseball without a bat.

Well, if Obama does win the presidency, my gut tells me that he’s going to get a chance to negotiate with the Iranians — with a bat in his hand.

Have you seen the reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is suffering from exhaustion? It’s probably because he is not sleeping at night. I know why. Watching oil prices fall from $147 a barrel to $57 is not like counting sheep. It’s the kind of thing that gives an Iranian autocrat bad dreams.

After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.

As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ‘80s helped bring down that overextended empire.

(Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.)

Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge — using oil money to cushion the prices of food, gasoline, mortgages and to create jobs — to buy off the Iranian people. But the one thing Ahmadinejad couldn’t buy was real economic growth. Iran today has 30 percent inflation, 11 percent unemployment and huge underemployment with thousands of young college grads, engineers and architects selling pizzas and driving taxis. And now with oil prices falling, Iran — just like the Soviet Union — is going to have to pull back spending across the board. Fasten your seat belts.

The U.N. has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 because of Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. But high oil prices minimized those sanctions; collapsing oil prices will now magnify those sanctions. If prices stay low, there is a good chance Iran will be open to negotiating over its nuclear program with the next U.S. president.

That is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don’t know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.

But let’s use our leverage smartly and not exaggerate Iran’s strength. Just as I believe that we should drop the reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden — from $50 million to one penny, plus an autographed picture of Dick Cheney — we need to deflate the Iranian mullahs as well. Let them chase us.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, compares it to bargaining for a Persian carpet in Tehran. “When you go inside the carpet shop, the first thing you are supposed to do is feign disinterest,” he explains. “The last thing you want to suggest is ‘We are not leaving without that carpet.’ ‘Well,’ the dealer will say, ‘if you feel so strongly about it …’ ”

The other lesson from the carpet bazaar, says Sadjadpour, “is that there is never a price tag on any carpet. The dealer is not looking for a fixed price, but the highest price he can get — and the Iran price is constantly fluctuating depending on the price of oil.” Let’s now use that to our advantage.

Barack Hussein Obama would present another challenge for Iran’s mullahs. Their whole rationale for being is that they are resisting a hegemonic American power that wants to keep everyone down. Suddenly, next week, Iranians may look up and see that the country their leaders call “The Great Satan” has just elected “a guy whose middle name is the central figure in Shiite Islam — Hussein — and whose last name — Obama — when transliterated into Farsi, means ‘He is with us,’ ” said Sadjadpour.

Iran is ripe for deflating. Its power was inflated by the price of oil and the popularity of its leader, who was cheered simply because he was willing to poke America with a stick. But as a real nation-building enterprise, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been an abject failure.

“When you ask young Arabs which leaders in the region they most admire,” said Sadjadpour, they will usually answer the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. “When you ask them where in the Middle East would you most like to live,” he added, “the answer is usually socially open places like Dubai or Beirut. The Islamic Republic of Iran is never in the top 10.”

Brooks and Herbert

October 28, 2008

Bobo is wearing his little sociologist and economist hats again today, and seeks to instruct us about “The Behavioral Revolution.”  He opines that the financial crisis may be a coming-out party for behavioral economists to the realm of public policy.  Bobo, sweetie, you’re telegraphing something by talking about a “coming-out party.”  Even in the chi-chi private school I went to back when you were still in diapers only 2 of the girls had debutante parties…  You’re much, much too young to remember the good old days my mother used to talk about.  On a saner note Mr. Herbert talks about “A Choice and an Echo,” and says the heyday of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove is over. Yet Senator John McCain handed the reins of his campaign to Mr. Rove’s worshipful acolytes.  Here’s Bobo:

Roughly speaking, there are four steps to every decision. First, you perceive a situation. Then you think of possible courses of action. Then you calculate which course is in your best interest. Then you take the action.

Over the past few centuries, public policy analysts have assumed that step three is the most important. Economic models and entire social science disciplines are premised on the assumption that people are mostly engaged in rationally calculating and maximizing their self-interest.

But during this financial crisis, that way of thinking has failed spectacularly. As Alan Greenspan noted in his Congressional testimony last week, he was “shocked” that markets did not work as anticipated. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”

So perhaps this will be the moment when we alter our view of decision-making. Perhaps this will be the moment when we shift our focus from step three, rational calculation, to step one, perception.

Perceiving a situation seems, at first glimpse, like a remarkably simple operation. You just look and see what’s around. But the operation that seems most simple is actually the most complex, it’s just that most of the action takes place below the level of awareness. Looking at and perceiving the world is an active process of meaning-making that shapes and biases the rest of the decision-making chain.

Economists and psychologists have been exploring our perceptual biases for four decades now, with the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and also with work by people like Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, John Bargh and Dan Ariely.

My sense is that this financial crisis is going to amount to a coming-out party for behavioral economists and others who are bringing sophisticated psychology to the realm of public policy. At least these folks have plausible explanations for why so many people could have been so gigantically wrong about the risks they were taking.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been deeply influenced by this stream of research. Taleb not only has an explanation for what’s happening, he saw it coming. His popular books “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Back Swan” were broadsides at the risk-management models used in the financial world and beyond.

In “The Black Swan,” Taleb wrote, “The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup.” Globalization, he noted, “creates interlocking fragility.” He warned that while the growth of giant banks gives the appearance of stability, in reality, it raises the risk of a systemic collapse — “when one fails, they all fail.”

Taleb believes that our brains evolved to suit a world much simpler than the one we now face. His writing is idiosyncratic, but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck.

And looking at the financial crisis, it is easy to see dozens of errors of perception. Traders misperceived the possibility of rare events. They got caught in social contagions and reinforced each other’s risk assessments. They failed to perceive how tightly linked global networks can transform small events into big disasters.

Taleb is characteristically vituperative about the quantitative risk models, which try to model something that defies modelization. He subscribes to what he calls the tragic vision of humankind, which “believes in the existence of inherent limitations and flaws in the way we think and act and requires an acknowledgement of this fact as a basis for any individual and collective action.” If recent events don’t underline this worldview, nothing will.

If you start thinking about our faulty perceptions, the first thing you realize is that markets are not perfectly efficient, people are not always good guardians of their own self-interest and there might be limited circumstances when government could usefully slant the decision-making architecture (see “Nudge” by Thaler and Cass Sunstein for proposals). But the second thing you realize is that government officials are probably going to be even worse perceivers of reality than private business types. Their information feedback mechanism is more limited, and, being deeply politicized, they’re even more likely to filter inconvenient facts.

This meltdown is not just a financial event, but also a cultural one. It’s a big, whopping reminder that the human mind is continually trying to perceive things that aren’t true, and not perceiving them takes enormous effort.

Here’s Mr. Herbert:

It seems to have taken forever (the seasons have changed, and changed and changed again), but this long presidential campaign is finally coming to an end. In January, with snow blanketing the trail in Iowa and New Hampshire, I wrote of the Barack Obama phenomenon: “Shake hands with tomorrow. It’s here.”

I didn’t mean that Senator Obama would win the election. He still seemed like a long shot to me. But it was clear that the message, style and strategy of his campaign pointed to a new direction for American politics, and that a new generation of voters — younger, smarter, more diverse, more open-minded — was anxious to follow his lead.

I remember talking with a voter named Debra Gable, who had driven from central Vermont to attend an Obama rally in Derry, N.H. “I dislike politics,” she told me, “because we focus on our differences even though we have so many more commonalities. That’s what I think I’m hearing from Obama, so I want to see how he is in person.”

Ms. Gable had not made up her mind, and the other candidate she was seriously considering — in a Republican field that was still wide open — was John McCain.

This election is hardly over, despite the impulse of the pundits to write the McCain campaign’s obituary. But Senator McCain has diminished his chances of winning the presidency in many ways, the most important of which was his failure to grasp the most significant new trend in American politics.

With the country facing enormous problems (even before the meltdown of the credit and financial markets in recent months), the voters wanted more substance from their candidates. They wanted a greater sense of maturity and a more civil approach to campaigning. They were tired of the politics of personal destruction and the playbook that counseled “attack, attack, attack.”

Senator Obama was perfectly suited to this new approach. He told the crowd that trekked through the cold and snow to hear his victory speech at the Iowa caucuses:

“You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington. To end the political strategy that’s been all about division, and instead make it about addition. To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states.”

John McCain didn’t get it. He seemed as baffled by the new politics as an Al Jolson aficionado trying to make sense of the Beatles.

He answered the desire for a higher tone in politics with ads that likened Senator Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and with attacks that questioned Mr. Obama’s patriotism, blamed him for high gasoline prices and all-but-accused him of being a socialist.

Mr. Obama, said Mr. McCain, would convert the Internal Revenue Service into “a giant welfare agency.”

Get it?

Whether this is admirable or honorable is not the question here. In the current political and economic atmosphere, it seems very much like a roadmap to defeat.

The heyday of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove is over. Yet Senator McCain handed the reins of his campaign to Rove’s worshipful acolytes. With the nation in a high state of anxiety over the conflagration in the credit and financial markets, Senator McCain traveled the country ranting Rovelike about Bill Ayers, trying to instill a bogus belief that the onetime ’60s radical and Senator Obama were good buddies and perhaps involved in some nefarious doings together. Senator Obama was about 8 years old when Mr. Ayers was engaged in his nefarious doings.

It was the classic fear card that the Republicans have played to such brilliant effect for years. But times have changed. (Lately Senator McCain has been obsessively invoking the name of “Joe the Plumber” at his campaign appearances, as if that might be the phrase that finally sways the electorate in a way that the Bill Ayers mantra did not.)

Senator Hillary Clinton helped define the new political atmosphere with her own historic run for the White House. Senator McCain, demonstrating again his tone-deafness to the new reality, tried to capitalize on Mrs. Clinton’s remarkable achievement by cynically selecting Sarah Palin, the anti-Hillary, as his running mate.

Mr. McCain must never have noticed that the public turned overwhelmingly against the Bush administration because of its repeatedly demonstrated incompetence. Now here is Senator McCain, in the midst of a national crisis, with a running mate who is demonstrably incompetent to serve the nation as its president.

Ms. Palin is a walking affront to the many Republican women (not to mention women in general) who are, in fact, qualified to hold the highest office in the land.

John McCain could have traveled a higher road. He chose not to. He bet instead on one last gasping triumph of the politics of the past.

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

October 27, 2008

Wrong Way Billy thinks we should “Remember the Marne.”  He says the Republican center is giving way, and some on the political right are in retreat. Time for John McCain to finally make his case.  This shit would be really, really sad if it weren’t so ludicrous.  (For the non-history majors, The First Battle of the Marne.)  Mr. Cohen asks if we should “Shoot the Horses?”  He says it’s a wonder that there are still two guys in the presidential race, pulling out all the stops to be chosen as the one to face this economic nightmare.  Mr. Krugman, in “The Widening Gyre,” says the troubles in the banking system, hedge funds and emerging markets are mutually reinforcing. Bad news begets bad news, and the circle of pain just keeps getting wider.  (For the non-English majors, here’s “The Second Coming,” by Yeats.)  Here’s poor, pitiful Billy:

“My center is giving way. My right is in retreat. Situation excellent. I attack!”

That’s the message supposedly sent by General Ferdinand Foch of France to his commanding general, Joseph Joffre, during the crucial First Battle of the Marne in September 1914. The French and British counterattacks succeeded. The German Army, after advancing for a month, was forced back.

Here in the U.S., after more than a month of Democratic advances, it’s the Republican center that’s giving way, and some on the political right who are in retreat. The Obama campaign is marching toward the biggest nonincumbent Democratic presidential victory since 1932, and the Democratic Party is fighting its way toward its best overall presidential and Congressional year since 1964.

Situation not-so-excellent. Time for McCain to attack — or, rather, finally to make his case.

The heart of that case has to be this: reminding voters that when they elect a president, they’re not just electing a super-Treasury secretary or a higher-level head of Health and Human Services. They’re electing a commander in chief in time of war.

The McCain campaign intends, I gather, to return to the commander in chief theme with an event in Florida Wednesday showcasing former secretaries of state and retired senior military officers. But why not showcase young Iraq vets instead? These young soldiers and marines can testify eloquently to the success of the surge that John McCain championed, and to the disaster and dishonor that would have followed Barack Obama’s preferred path of withdrawal.

As for the future in Iraq, the respected foreign policy analyst Michael O’Hanlon, a Democrat, endorsed Obama this past weekend. But O’Hanlon also wrote on Politico that Obama’s Iraq position is “extremely risky,” and that “getting all American combat forces out of Iraq by April 2010, a position he has held while we were losing the war, during the comeback phase, and now while we are winning, is very imprudent and I continue to hope and pray that he rethinks it.”

McCain could point out that hope is nice and prayer is good. But, he could ask: With respect to our national security, do we really want to elect a president on a hope and a prayer?

That has to be the substantive core of his closing argument. But style and tone matter, too. Last week’s New York Times/CBS News poll showed 64 percent of voters saying McCain is spending more time attacking the other candidate than explaining what he would do as president. Just 22 percent say the same of Obama.

When you’re in a hole, stop digging. McCain could order his campaign to pull all negative ads, mailers and robocalls.

For that matter, he might as well muzzle the campaign. McCain campaign senior staff members now seem to be spending more time criticizing one another than Obama, and more time defending their own reputations than pursuing a McCain-Palin victory. McCain should simply say that for the last week of the campaign, no staff member is authorized to speak to the media about anything beyond logistical and scheduling matters.

Then McCain and Palin can spend the final week speaking for themselves. They should throw themselves open full time to the media. Could the press coverage get worse? Next Sunday, McCain and Palin could divide up the talk shows. Sarah Palin live! Lots of people would tune in.

There could be one other big moment this week. Obama has bought a half-hour of television in prime time Wednesday. McCain and Palin could buy time Thursday night — giving voters some incentive to keep an open mind at least until McCain and Palin get to make their case.

Palin could speak first, reprising her fine recent speeches on women’s issues and special needs kids — speeches that got almost no press coverage. She could then introduce her running mate, reminding people of his heroism, and pointing out, as she does on the stump, that he is the only candidate “who has truly fought for America.”

As for McCain, he needs to speak about America’s greatness and its future; about how the ingenuity and toughness of the American people will turn around this financial crisis just as the ingenuity of General Petraeus and the toughness of his fighting men and women turned around Iraq; about how America’s spirit was not undone by a terrorist attack, and will not be undone by a financial mess; about how the naysayers will once again be proved wrong; about how America will emerge from its troubles stronger than ever and will win its battles at home and abroad.

McCain has a chance to close this election in a big and positive way. He has a chance to get voters to rise above the distractions and to set aside the petty aspects of the campaign. He has a chance to remind them why they have admired him, and perhaps to persuade them to vote for him on Nov. 4.

Would this turn things around? Unlikely. But why not take a shot?

Let’s just leave that lying by the side of the road and move on to Mr. Cohen:

I was talking to a banker friend, and he told me the “unraveling” could go on for ages. I thought he meant the unwinding of all the leverage that had inflated everything from the price of stocks to the price of homes.

But, just to be sure, I asked him: “Unraveling of what?”

He paused, before saying, “Almost our way of life.”

A friend of his, he went on, has a horse farm north of New York City. “I told him, for heaven’s sake, you have to get rid of your horses. Shoot them if necessary.”

That got me thinking. Are we going to be living on horse meat before we get to the bottom of this?

It’s now clear that our credit system the world over was rotten all the way through, a giant house of cards maintained by the ingenious connivance of banks, rating agencies and insurance companies in a monumental heist. The only buyers anyone trusts any more are governments.

No wonder Alan Greenspan says he’s in a state of “shocked disbelief.” He’s not the only one.

But as the state intervenes, in what Ed Yardeni, an investment analyst, called “a giant global game of Whac-A-Mole,” the moles keep popping out of new black holes in our financial system.

“We’ve tried rubber mallets, now we’re using bazookas, but we’re flying blind,” Yardeni told me.

It’s really a wonder, when you think about it, that there are still two guys in the race to become U.S. president, pulling out all the stops in these last eight days of campaigning to be chosen as the one to face the nightmare.

Let’s fast-forward a year to October 2009. The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 10 percent. Crime is up across the country. The economy is shrinking. No arm-twisting from the Treasury has managed to restore the broken confidence between borrowers and lenders. Banks, the few still standing, are holding fast to their cash. Property prices are down more than 25 percent from current levels.

The Dow is still heading south as people get used to the idea of stocks trading at no more than 10 times earnings, rather than the much higher ratios our former leveraged world delivered.

New buildings stand empty all over New York because at the end of a boom — that’s to say right now — a lot of new construction comes to market. Exports, long a bright spot in the economy, have plummeted because of a rising dollar. The deficit and national debt stand at unprecedented levels.

The hedge fund industry is decimated — its model of flipping cheap borrowings into leveraged bets around the world has blown up — and one desperate, even contrite, former master of the universe has just sold a Rauschenberg for $9 million less than he paid in 2004.

People still have way too much debt, and the collateral for it keeps evaporating. They are angry. Civil unrest is stirring.

I ask you, Senator McCain, Senator Obama, do you still want the job?

It may not get that bad, of course. On the bright side, gas prices are plunging. There’s a lot of money sitting on the sidelines in places like Dubai. And, as I mentioned, the dollar is up — more than 20 percent against sterling and the euro in the last three months.

You can get a plate of pasta in central London now for less than $50. You can even take a short tube ride for less than $6. There must be hope for us all!

In a way, what’s going on with the dollar is a measure of the extent of global desperation. Here’s a currency backed by debt so massive that it will presumably have to be inflated away some day — and it’s rocketing upward.

Every investment position that made sense during a global boom and doesn’t make sense during a global bust is being unwound, and the people doing the unwinding want dollars. They are buying U.S. Treasury bills yielding basically zilch because they are too plain scared to buy anything else. Capital preservation is the name of the game if you have any capital left.

Of course, there’s the option to try preserving that capital in euros or other currencies. But at some very basic level — and we’re down to basics — the full faith and credit of the U.S. taxpayer is still deemed more credible than any other. That’s a confidence vote, slim but real, in the United States and its ability to come back.

As Avinash Persaud, the chairman of Intelligence Capital Limited, told me: “Money, in the end, is confidence. It’s a check the Federal Reserve has issued.”

Perhaps that’s why Obama and McCain are still in the race: because they believe confidence can be restored.

But both candidates should be clear-eyed about what’s looming. They shoot horses, don’t they?

Here’s Mr. Krugman:

Economic data rarely inspire poetic thoughts. But as I was contemplating the latest set of numbers, I realized that I had William Butler Yeats running through my head: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

The widening gyre, in this case, would be the feedback loops (so much for poetry) causing the financial crisis to spin ever further out of control. The hapless falconer would, I guess, be Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary.

And the gyre continues to widen in new and scary ways. Even as Mr. Paulson and his counterparts in other countries moved to rescue the banks, fresh disasters mounted on other fronts.

Some of these disasters were more or less anticipated. Economists have wondered for some time why hedge funds weren’t suffering more amid the financial carnage. They need wonder no longer: investors are pulling their money out of these funds, forcing fund managers to raise cash with fire sales of stocks and other assets.

The really shocking thing, however, is the way the crisis is spreading to emerging markets — countries like Russia, Korea and Brazil.

These countries were at the core of the last global financial crisis, in the late 1990s (which seemed like a big deal at the time, but was a day at the beach compared with what we’re going through now). They responded to that experience by building up huge war chests of dollars and euros, which were supposed to protect them in the event of any future emergency. And not long ago everyone was talking about “decoupling,” the supposed ability of emerging market economies to keep growing even if the United States fell into recession. “Decoupling is no myth,” The Economist assured its readers back in March. “Indeed, it may yet save the world economy.”

That was then. Now the emerging markets are in big trouble. In fact, says Stephen Jen, the chief currency economist at Morgan Stanley, the “hard landing” in emerging markets may become the “second epicenter” of the global crisis. (U.S. financial markets were the first.)

What happened? In the 1990s, emerging market governments were vulnerable because they had made a habit of borrowing abroad; when the inflow of dollars dried up, they were pushed to the brink. Since then they have been careful to borrow mainly in domestic markets, while building up lots of dollar reserves. But all their caution was undone by the private sector’s obliviousness to risk.

In Russia, for example, banks and corporations rushed to borrow abroad, because dollar interest rates were lower than ruble rates. So while the Russian government was accumulating an impressive hoard of foreign exchange, Russian corporations and banks were running up equally impressive foreign debts. Now their credit lines have been cut off, and they’re in desperate straits.

Needless to say, the existing troubles in the banking system, plus the new troubles at hedge funds and in emerging markets, are all mutually reinforcing. Bad news begets bad news, and the circle of pain just keeps getting wider.

Meanwhile, U.S. policy makers are still balking when it comes to doing what’s necessary to contain the crisis.

It was good news when Mr. Paulson finally agreed to funnel capital into the banking system in return for partial ownership. But last week Joe Nocera of The Times pointed out a key weakness in the U.S. Treasury’s bank rescue plan: it contains no safeguards against the possibility that banks will simply sit on the money. “Unlike the British government, which is mandating lending requirements in return for capital injections, our government seems afraid to do anything except plead.” And sure enough, the banks seem to be hoarding the cash.

There’s also bizarre stuff going on with regard to the mortgage market. I thought that the whole point of the federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the lending agencies, was to remove fears about their solvency and thereby lower mortgage rates. But top officials have made a point of denying that Fannie and Freddie debt is backed by the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government — and as a result, markets are still treating the agencies’ debt as a risky asset, driving mortgage rates up at a time when they should be going down.

What’s happening, I suspect, is that the Bush administration’s anti-government ideology still stands in the way of effective action. Events have forced Mr. Paulson into a partial nationalization of the financial system — but he refuses to use the power that comes with ownership.

Whatever the reasons for the continuing weakness of policy, the situation is manifestly not coming under control. Things continue to fall apart.

On that happy note, I bid you good day.