Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

In which I pick on John McCain for Sloppy Web Content

September 7, 2008

In a rare and inexplicable moment of responsible citizenship I decided to look a little into what Barack Obama and John McCain had to say about an actual issue or two. Specifically—and I’m at as much of a loss to explain this as you are—I looked at what they, or rather their websites, had to say about reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the magic of Cap-n-Trade. What I learned is that Obama’s standards for web content (and design, and aesthetics) are rather higher than McCain’s.1

Specifically, McCain’s position statements are full of awkward phrasing and funny capitalization. Here are a couple of sample paragraphs:

To Support The Cap And Trade System, John McCain Will Promote The Innovation, Development And Deployment Of Advanced Technologies. John McCain will reform federal government research funding and infrastructure to support the cap and trade emissions reduction goals and emphasize the commercialization of low-carbon technologies. Under John McCain’s plan:

Emissions Permits Will Eventually Be Auctioned To Support The Development Of Advanced Technologies. A portion of the process of these auctions will be used to support a diversified portfolio of research and commercialization challenges, ranging from carbon capture and sequestration, to nuclear power, to battery development. Funds will also be used to provide financial backing for a Green Innovation Financing and Transfer (GIFT) to facilitate commercialization.

OK, I suppose I’m just being snarky, but that really looks like they copy-pasted from a press release (like this one), removed some formatting, and didn’t bother to check the results. On top of that, there’s a typo (maybe a “Cupertino?”): “process” for “proceeds.” I also think that the constant use of “John McCain” sounds stilted (Obama’s equivalent page refers simply to “Obama”). Maybe “stilted and awkward” is on purpose, to reinforce his public speaking style?

Obama also has longer and better-written descriptions of pretty much all the issues. But rather than talk too much about substance, I’ll mention that not only is Obama’s website uniformly more attractive than McCain’s, even the very URLs are more humanely designed than McCain’s. Mouse over this and this (links to the two emissions-reduction pages) to see what I mean.

By the way, the two of them say pretty much the same thing about cap and trade. Obama makes it clearer that he wants permits auctioned off; McCain says only “Emissions Permits Will Eventually Be Auctioned To Support The Development Of Advanced Technologies.” They seem to have different priorities for what to do with the auction receipts, but that’s hard to tell. Since whatever either might actually try to do would really be done in Congress, I see no effective difference between what they say. The real distinction is that, unlike McCain, Obama probably actually knows what his position is.


1. It is probably unwise of me to criticize anyone for sloppiness. “Let one who is without sin cast the first stone” and all.

The Purpose-Driven Candidates

August 16, 2008

Just watched (more or less) Rick Warren’s forum with Barack Obama and John McCain, and I thought I’d get my impressions down quickly before I’m polluted by pundits.

Though it pains and surprises me to say it, I thought McCain won the evening. He was both genial and decisive, in that folksy way of his. He seemed much more comfortable than Obama, who seemed unsure just how much to pander to Warren’s crowd—McCain had no doubts there. Obama suffered from the curse of the intellectual liberal, wanting to eschew easy and popular but fundamentally silly soundbites, and trying to give reasonably nuanced answers. Alas, the American People do not seem particularly interested in nuance.

And nuance not something with which McCain is noticably burdened. Asked whether they believed in Evil and what they would do about it (multiple choice, something like “understand it, contain it, defeat it”), Obama rambled for a bit, while McCain answered “defeat it” without having to think. Then he said something about going to the gates of hell to capture Osama bin Laden. Seriously. Not a terribly realistic or useful answer, but I fear it’s what people like to hear.

I also remain annoyed with Obama for being against same-sex marriage. Mere political posturing? Don’t know, I think he’s been pretty consistent about it. Interestingly, he and McCain’s stated positions on that tonight were pretty similar—they’re both against it personally, both think it should be left to the states, both oppose a constitutional amendment (with McCain adding a proviso about whether states should have to recognize marriages from other states)—although again I think McCain sounded decisive and Obama waffly.

The pandering question is sort of an interesting one—the setting was obviously evangelical, but I presume this had a much wider audience watching on TV (e.g. me). How did all the God talk go over in America’s living rooms? Probably pretty well, actually.

The One, Continued

August 9, 2008

Re the preceding, I should note that the more prominent self-proclaimed Millennium Experts—the likes of Left Behind‘s Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and old favorite Hal Lindsey of Late Great Planet Earth fame—pooh-pooh the notion of Obama as Antichrist. Obviously he is merely a precursor! As far as I can tell that’s because the antichrist won’t be an American. It’s perfectly clear from Daniel 7:24

And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.

—that the antichrist will be the leader of the Revived Roman Empire, embodied in the ten-nation Common Market—erm, excuse me, Western European Union.

Jeez, you can’t make this stuff up. I should be clear that I really do think there’s a large and scary market for Rapture-related propaganda, I just don’t think McCain’s ad guys meant to tap into it. Or rather, I think it’s more likely that anything antichristy is there by accident.

Scott McLemee does make an excellent point, assuming (as he does) that the AC thing was on purpose:

On second thought, this might not help the campaign very much. If you are waiting for the Rapture, it’s not like preventing the rise of the beast with seven horns and ten crowns etc. is a huge priority. (You sort of want to get it all over with, ASAP.)

The RNC panders to these folks, but it doesn’t actually consist of them. The ad’s makers know their audience but not quite well enough to grasp how it really thinks.

Absolutely right (about what the Rapturites want, I mean, but also about the Republican elite pandering to them without totally grokking them). That’s why, for example, John Hagee is so pro-Israel—he wants the Israelis to get on with rebuilding the temple already, so that we can go ahead with the end of the world (or rather, with the end of the current Dispensation).

One more point. If I may psychoanalyze McCain and his campaign for a moment—and I may, because it’s my blog!—what “The One” and “Celebrity” are really about is McCain’s pique and jealousy. He thinks he’s The One, dammit, and he should be the world’s biggest (not just oldest) celebrity. He doesn’t understand why so many of his journalist pals have dumped him for Obama—they should still be fawning over him and talking about what a straight-talking maverick he is. Gosh, it’s kind of sad when you think about it like that… [Not an original thought with me, but I forget where I saw something similar.]

The One

August 9, 2008

I’m loving the brouhaha about whether John McCain’s ad “The One” (best watched at his website) is in fact a coded message to America’s Dispensationalists that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. I think it’s hooey, but entertaining hooey.

Before I go into details, let me maintain my loony-left moonbat cred by saying that I absolutely think the McCain campaign is fully capable of suggesting that Obama is the Beast. Weird coded messages are nothing new to politics, certainly not to modern Republicans—remember W’s apparent non-sequitur about Dred Scott? And certainly McCain and his sinister minions have shown themselves to be no more impaired by Honor and Truth than were Bush and Rove (fortunately, they seem to be considerably less competent). I just don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I wonder if they now wish they had thought of it themselves, so they could have done a better job. But I don’t think they’re that good; the ad looks to me just like what they say it is.

Now to business. Something called “The Eleison Group” has a handy memo detailing the ad’s alleged antichristiness. The gist is that the ad’s imagery and text are so similar to those of the Left Behind books—featuring, of course, an antichrist politician—that the ad must be meant to refer to the books:

Viewers will notice how similar these very odd pictures that appear in the middle of the McCain ad are to the cover art and fonts of the Left Behind series, especially to the image, font, and colors of the final book in the series that would be most recent in reader’s memories.  The hidden images in the clouds and sun in the ad, which took a great deal of editing and are so strange that they had to be intentionally chosen and placed there by the McCain camp for their symbolic value, are of screaming, frantic crowds.

Mere coincidence? They think not!

I’ll be super-nerdy and start with the fonts (see the cover of the last Left Behind book here, and the ad at the link above). Yes, they look kinda similar. But then, all serif fonts look pretty much the same to most people. These do have one obvious superficial similarity—the serifless top vertices on the Ns and Ms—and they were both designed the same year (1989), but that’s about it.

The book jacket looks to me like it uses ITC Giovanni, designed by Robert Slimbach, who (quoting that description from Adobe) “based his design on classic oldstyle typefaces such as Garamond and Bembo.”

The ad uses Trajan, based not on oldstyle fonts but on Roman inscriptions. The differences are especially pronounced (I think) in the construction of the serifs, and in the spur and the  on the G, but lots of the proportions are pretty different too. Check ’em out (that’s the book title on the left, Trajan on the right):

lb-giovanni-sample lb-trajan-sample

OK, maybe they look the same to you, but they don’t to a proper type geek, and any proper conspiracy theory is going to have to assume McCain’s ad guys know their type. Perhaps more to the point is that Trajan is used a lot—it’s probably the typeface a designer would be most likely to use for a political ad if s/he just couldn’t be bothered to think about it. Using Trajan needs no explanation. Actually, if you want to connect it to the Left Behind books, you’d have to explain why they didn’t just use ITC Giovanni.

So that’s a bit of a digression, but I think it applies to the imagery as well. I just don’t see anything particularly odd in those “hidden images” that “took a great deal of editing.” They just don’t look that odd to me.


Again, if the McCain camp was really trying for some heavenly image here or allusion to God shining his light on Obama or to Obama shining his own light on the people, they would have used a different image. The classic and obvious image most viewers would recognize as divine would be of the white beam of light shining down from heaven (e.g., Monty Python or Simpsons spoofs). But this is an odd orange light surrounded by darkness. So why would they not go with the classic divine light imagery?

…and another has a stair leading to heaven.

Hm, a stairway… to heaven… Nope, no non-rapture-related cultural resonance there: that imagery could only have come from Left Behind! Seriously, I don’t think that picture (and the rest) are outside the mainstream of Messiah imagery. McCain and the Left Behind designers were drawing from the same image pool.

One more. Quoting from Amy Sullivan in Time:

Perhaps the most puzzling scene in the ad is an altered segment from The 10 Commandments that appears near the end. A Moses-playing Charlton Heston parts the animated waters of the Red Sea, out of which rises the quasi-presidential seal the Obama campaign used for a brief time earlier this summer before being mocked into retiring it. The seal, which features an eagle with wings spread, is not recognizable like the campaign’s red-white-and-blue “O” logo. That confused Democratic consultant Eric Sapp until he went to his Bible and remembered that in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Antichrist is described as rising from the sea as a creature with wings like an eagle.

That idiot seal was one of the Obama campaign’s silliest goofs, and the McCainiacs would certainly want to take every opportunity to remind us of it. I don’t know how many people will get the joke—I did—but even if they don’t, it does say “Obama” right on it, so it works in context anyway.

UPDATE: Had I looked even cursorily at McCain’s website I would have noticed that he (or his lackeys) use Trajan in lots of places. Definitely not Left Behind-specific.

UPDATE 2: Read the comments for more incoherently evolving thoughts.

This Week in God: Pew, Obama, and Dobson

June 29, 2008

I’m not really sure what the much-publicized Pew “Religious Landscape Survey” really shows—quite possibly that surveys don’t capture religious views all that well, religion being the sort of thing that doesn’t really lend itself to multiple-choice questions (or is that just my religion?). But it’s fun to try to take it at face value, and note that, for example, 15% of self-described atheists are at least “fairly certain” that there is a “God or Universal Spirit”—what must Richard Dawkins make of that? Possibly more relevant, and certainly more ballyhooed, is that 57% of Evangelical Christians say that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” This is considerably more tolerant than most observers seem to expect. I like to think that it’s confirmation of what I’ve thought for a long time—that the most prominent and noisy evangelical leaders (all we godless northerners, including much of the pundit class, usually see) are lousy representatives of their respective faiths. In my experience most evangelical Christians are altogether more tolerant, sensible, thoughtful, and just plain better than the ones that get all the press.

As if on cue to make my point, James Dobson chose this same week to dig up and hurl invective at a two-year-old speech of Barack Obama’s. It’s hardly surprising for the Dobsons of the world to spit venom at the Obamas, so there’s little point in saying to much about the kerfuffle itself—although someone really ought to point out that Dobson’s whine

What the senator is saying there, in essence, is that I can’t seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial-birth abortion, because there are people in the culture who don’t see that as a moral issue…And if I can’t get everyone to agree with me, than it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. Now, that is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution.

completely misses the entire point of Obama’s speech. Obama indeed says almost the exact opposite, that people should be guided by their faith. What annoys Dobson is that Obama doesn’t think he shouldn’t expect to get his way without making a better argument than “because I said so”:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

This little tempest in a teapot is, I think, bound to help Obama—no one who would take Dobson seriously is likely to vote for a Democrat anyway (and Dobson doesn’t like McCain either). Meanwhile, behold the backlash.

I wonder if Dobson’s real motivation here is that he’s afraid—not of fire and brimstone or the Rapture or the triumph of Satan, but simply of losing his own power. A liberal who is embraces his religion, and who doesn’t looks ridiculous doing it, threatens to destroy the tissue of lies by which Dobson and his ilk keep their positions. Quoting an article in the current New Yorker (only the abstract is available online, apparently):

…the cultural attitudes descended from the fundamentalist resistance to modernist thought, such as a distrust of science, a rejection of institutional solutions to poverty, and the notion that evangelicals are the saving remnant of Christianity and the American tradition. Religious-right leaders have perpetuated these attitudes and done their best to see that evangelicals continue to regard themselves as an embattled subculture.

The last thing the leaders of the religious right want is for their followers to realize just how religious America is.

Why, Hillary, Why?

June 3, 2008

[UPDATE: looks like it’s effectively over.]

I like Hillary Clinton1. Really I do. I voted for her in the Massachusetts primary. But if we had a do-over I wouldn’t do it again. She’s really been pissing me off.

It’s one thing to keep fighting when things look hopeless. The sort of gumption that requires is admirable, and probably necessary in anyone who really wants to be President. I don’t begrudge Hillary that; indeed, we should be thankful for it. The long primary season has been awfully tiresome, but it’s given Barack Obama some seasoning that he’ll need in the real campaign. McCain’s not the bastard W is, but the Republicans will certainly not keep the gloves on.

It’s the way she’s kept campaigning that’s the problem. As she’s gotten more desperate her tactics have gotten more despicable. Maybe that’s because there’s not a lot of non-despicable tactics she can use—after all, from the sound-bite point of view she and Obama are pretty much identical, and God knows they talked enough about “issues” at all those debates. But still.

I’ve been saying that in this election you have to be either a racist or a sexist2. I thought I was joking, but that seems to have become a main theme of the Clinton campaign, with the added proviso that “and many of you may as well embrace your racism.” The sexism part is fairly explicit. The racism angle is less so, of course, but really the hard core of her “electability” argument boils down to “Those troglodytes in the Hellhole Belt will never vote for a black man, but they might vote for a white woman.” I don’t know which is more offensive, the not-very-veiled implications of racism, or the insult to our intelligence that we might buy electability arguments.

And about electability. Her last gasp argument is that she is ahead in the popular vote, and hence is the proper choice both for reasons of electability and of democracy. Well. As to electability, I should think it’s pretty clear that small popular vote margins in primaries mean absolutely nothing in the general election. But that’s irrelevant, because her claim about the popular vote depends on some pretty twisted counting—as it must, because the nomination process just isn’t designed to measure popular vote.

And now there’s this weekend’s fiasco3. For the love of Heaven, Hillary, call off your legions of lunatic supporters! And I think I really do mean “lunatic” in the worst sense. There is no rational way to rank the candidates Clinton/McCain/Obama (unless you really are a racist). Supreme Court appointments alone are enough reason for any sane Hillary supporter not to even consider voting for McCain, or giving him half a vote by staying home. I am trying to assume that the loonies are a tiny minority, and that most of them will come to their sense by November.

OK, flame off. I just wanted to get that out of my system while I still can. With any luck, by tonight it will all be over, Clinton will have conceded graciously, and everyone will be friends again. The she can continue her career as a respected Senator or Vice President or Supreme Court Justice.

1 And her impersonators.

2 Both, if you’re a Republican.

3 I find I agree with pretty much everything Publius says recently.

Obama throws his whole church Under the Bus

June 1, 2008

Not wanting to take the heat, Barack Obama is getting out of the kitchen, and leaving Trinity Church. As an avowed fan of Jeremiah Wright (even though he’s not the pastor there any more, I know), I’m disappointed. Wussy!

No word yet on whether Obama will throw the entire United Church of Christ (my own denomination, I should remind you) Under the Bus as well. An unruly lot we are indeed! Maybe he’ll give in to the rumors and convert to Islam. Or perhaps he’ll decide the whole religion thing is more trouble than it’s worth—not an unreasonable position, I have to admit—and come out as an atheist.

Democrats. Bah.

May 31, 2008

The Democratic Party will be deciding today what to do about those pesky scoffrules in Michigan and Florida and their alleged delegates. They seem to be expending on awful lot of effort on figuring out details that just don’t matter—we all know Obama’s going to win, and the only real question is how quietly will Hillary go, and when. I suppose the theater is all about determining the exact level of respect Hillary and her legions of rabid supporters are entitled to. Sort of like mob boss negotiations in a more boring version of The Sopranos.

Oh, and the Democrats are also trying to un-piss-off the people of Michigan and Florida. To the people of Michigan and Florida I have two things to say: “Blame your idiot legislatures,” and “Oh, come on, your votes don’t count anyway.”

Should the Democratic Party’s motto be “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time”? Regretting old decisions seems to be the party’s normal practice now. Besides the ill-considered proscription of large ornery states, we also have the decision to allocate delegates proportionally rather than winner-take-all, and of course the superdelegates.

And while I’m ranting about wasting time and energy, how about money? Wouldn’t the hundreds of millions spent so far, and yet to be spent, in this election have been better spent feeding the hungry? Sheltering the homeless? Aiding Chinese earthquake victims? Heck, buying every American a nice cup of coffee? If only Obama could use his superhuman fundraising powers for good…

Again with the Reverend

April 30, 2008

I’m a bit disappointed that Barack Obama finally saw fit to denounce and repudiate (denounced! repudiated! We declare him excommunicated and anathemized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and all his angels and all the reprobate!) the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Although I’m the whitest of white guys, I have some sort of weird soft spot for Wright. I must just like having fiery black preachers around.

I had foolishly hoped Obama really would be be able to transcend the awful conventions of political campaigns, especially the smug and phony patriotism that so poisons our political discourse (a subject for another day’s rant). He seemed to be doing so well, both in small things—eschewing those tacky flag pins—and in large—turning the last flap over Wright into an opportunity for a genuinely important discussion about race.

But I suppose after Wright seemed to imply Obama might secretly agree with him even Obama didn’t feel he had any choice; he was in a sort of “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” situation. Although really I’m not sure that’s exactly what Wright meant. He said

We both know that, if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.

As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I’m still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That’s what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.

Heavens above, does anyone think politicians don’t say what they say and do what they do based on electability?? Whatever else Obama may be, he’s still a wily politician. If he weren’t, he would never have gotten where he is. And if he weren’t, he would frankly make a terrible president. I remember a good line from Joe Klein’s political roman à clef Primary Colors:

You don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president? He had to tell his little stories and smile his shit-eating, backcountry grin. He did it all just so he’d get the opportunity, one day, to stand in front of the nation and appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature.’

Perhaps the real reason Obama had to do something was—as I heard some commentator (no idea who!) say on NPR—that Wright undermines Obama’s basic premise, that America is ready to put its racial problems behind it, and ready to elect a President who transcends racial (and other) divides. Wright’s racial anger belies that. Now, whether that’s really Obama’s premise I tend to doubt—slavery and other race-based horrors are America’s Original Sin (as I’ve said before), and we won’t be done with them for a long time—but yes, righteous anger doesn’t really suit Obama’s message. Some of Wright’s nuttier and more controversial views—his support for the odious Louis Farrakahn, his the-government-created-AIDS conspiracy-theory-mongering—are I think less interesting and worrying in themselves than because they same to be taken seriously by significant numbers of African-Americans. What does that say about the state of race relations in the country now? Nothing Obama’s campaign would like to bring up, I think.

Also on NPR I heard two Congressmen, one a supporter of Clinton and one of Obama, discussing Wright. The Clinton supporter (Emmanuel Cleaver, himself an African-American and a minister) was considerably more pro-Wright than the Obama supporter. My default assumption is that (despite being politicians!) they were both being honest—but it does make a perverse sort of sense for a Clinton supporter to want to emphasize Obama’s connection to Wright in the guise of “praise,” and for an Obama supporter to put all the distance possible between Obama and Wright.

A plague on both their houses

March 10, 2008

I’m on record as being pro-Hillary, but she (or her campaign) seems to be trying to alienate the likes of me. That “3 AM Phone Call” spot is, if not exactly the worst kind of fear-mongering (Rove would done it more vilely, and more effectively), nonetheless icky. Not to mention that it likely helps McCain at least as much as it helps Hillary.

Meanwhile Obama’s campaign seems determined to prove that he’s as unprepared as Hillary says he is. I admire him for surrounding himself with brilliant academics and other non-politicians, but it’s a sad fact that they seem unused to the reality of Presidential politics. Mind you, I despised both candidates’ obviously insincere NAFTA-pandering, so in a way Austin Goolsbee’s “don’t worry, Canada, we don’t really mean it” is a point for Obama, but still… If Obama wins (as certainly seems likely), I rather expect him to start his administration with a series of embarrassing missteps, much like his friend and ally Deval Patrick. Hillary is stretching a bit in her increasingly desperate claims to Experience (this, for example). Her real experience (and that of her formidable political machine) is in having made those stupid mistakes already, and learned from them.