A Time-Saving Rant

By Mark Trodden | September 8, 2008 9:14 pm

I don’t usually just link to things here, without any real commentary, but I’ve been trying to put together a little rant about how frustrated I am with a lot of my fellow liberals right now. I’ve been trying to write something about the way in which many liberals (many that I speak to) have been successfully distracted from the real issues and work to be done in this election season by the Sarah Palin issue – her pregnant daughter, her sarcasm, her appeal (or lack of it) to women, the initial bump in the polls she seems to have given the Republicans, and so on (rather than staying focused on the issues).

But John Scalzi did a good enough job, and I don’t see any point in reinventing the wheel.

  • http://www.twis.org/audio/2008/08/19/268/ TwisMinion

    thanks for the link

  • Haelfix

    Election season has a tendency to turn perfectly rational people into something out of the Divine comedy.

    A sad fact of life.

    Imo, we have two really excellent candidates that should be far more appealing to everybody than anything the US has outputed for a long time.

    Even if you are a hardcore Republican or a hardcore Democrat, surely comparing the oppositions candidates relative to other candidates of the same party that we’ve seen in the last say twenty years should be viewed as a step in the right direction.

    Instead, as the race tightens there is more demonizing and partisan hatchet jobs than ever.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I completely disagree regarding McCain – I think his ideas and demonstrated willingness to abandon everything he once said make him a dangerous choice. McCain is better than Bush, but that’s hardly a high bar.

  • http://www.twis.org/audio/2008/08/19/268/ TwisMinion

    I think for progressives the “Hey, if we do lose… how bad could things get anyway?” question has been answered repeatedly over the last eight years…

    If anything, I think conservatives must be asking “Hey, if we do win… how bad could things get anyway?”

    There has already been too much time, blood and treasure wasted on the GOP’s current ideology… they need a time out to huddle up, reinvent themselves for the 21st century, then come back in eight years with a new an improved platform…

    can you imagine if they turned pro environment, pro choice, pro universal healthcare, and anti war?

    we’d have creationism in school and stem cell research would be banned outright, i know, i know… but everything else might be worth it, right?


  • Kurt

    This is why I am upset too. This election has absolutely nothing to do with the issues. Obama does not get a get out of blame free card either. His campaign is about one thing-OBAMA. If the democrats really wanted to focus on issues then they would have picked Hillary Clinton. She talked with authority and eloquence that Obama and McCain can’t match. Actually some of Obama’s plans on the economy, healthcare and science policy are very similar to his but she came out with them first!!
    The last 2 months will be about personalities and speeches and negative ads. Does anyone know where they stand on the economy or energy policy (besides drilling) or science FUNDING or anything?
    99% of the people do not and their campaigns are to blame.
    I have seen racism, sexism and ageism but absolutely ZERO journalism in this entire campaign. Obama has a direct line to media like NBC and MSNBC but instead of asking them to talk about the issues they attack McCain/Palin in a way I have never seen before.
    Here is why the democrats will lose even though they should win based on the issues:

  • http://www.twis.org/audio/2008/08/19/268/ TwisMinion

    third time i’ve linked to this… my link finger is getting tired…

    Obama on science

  • Elliot

    I am hopeful that the Obama “ground game” is in place and that the GOTV efforts will be executed with the same passion as the GOP’s trick play in Ohio in 2004 getting the Christian Right out to vote against gay rights.

    Its going to be about who gets their supporters to actually vote on (or before ;)) November 4th.

    At least this time no Harris or Blackwell in FL or OH.


  • Haelfix

    “I think his ideas and demonstrated willingness to abandon everything he once said make him a dangerous choice.”

    Yea he did flipflop, at least on some issues. But then if he didn’t he’d never be the R candidate either. I prefer to judge him less on what he says during the campaign season (especially the primaries), and more on his senate record and actions during public service life, but to each his own.

  • http://www.scottaaronson.com Scott Aaronson

    Mark, for something in politics to matter it suffices for everyone to think it matters. It’s not liberals’ fault that Palin has dominated the news cycles for the last week! Yes, McCain’s ploy was crass, reckless, and cynical, but to judge from the polls it’s apparently working. If 2000 and 2004 taught us anything, it’s that millions of voters will fall for this stuff every single time. They’ll tell interviewers that they disagree with the Republicans on every major issue, and then they’ll still vote for them because they seem like nice, normal folks to have a beer with.

    So what can be done? I think Obama now needs to regain the spotlight in some creative new way—something dramatic and unexpected, like his Reverend Wright speech. “Sticking to the script” has turned into a recipe for failure.

    To illustrate the point, consider the following only slightly-fictionalized exchange:

    DEMOCRAT: …and hence c^2=(a+b)^2-4(ab/2), and the Pythagorean Theorem is indeed correct, as claimed.
    REPUBLICAN: Nuh-uh! No it isn’t! You’re an elitist dorkwad!
    DEMOCRAT: Clearly this ad hominem attack is simply an irrelevant distraction from the issue at hand. Returning to the expression for c^2, we see that…
    REPUBLICAN: Blah blah blah! Did they teach you to drone on like that in the Ivy League?

    As judged by 52% of the American electorate, the Republican is winning the debate hands down. The Pythagorean Theorem is false; it’s not even close!

    What, under the circumstances, might have been a more cogent rebuttal to the Republican’s arguments? Well, I’m not a political consultant, but the following all strike me as improvements:

    * I know you are but what am I?
    * Do you have any clue what I’m even talking about, you assbrain?
    * What, did they not have right triangles in the cave you grew up in?

  • tacitus

    So Kerry gets excoriated by Republicans for one “flip-flop” during his election campaign and McCain gets a free pass for “flip-flopping” on just about everything he was known as a maverick for — the religious right, torture, Bush tax cuts, lobbyists, more lobbyists, and yet more lobbyists (160 on his campaign team at the last count). And he just hired one of the biggest pork-barrel long-time fans in the country as his running mate (until she found out it wasn’t politically expedient to like pork any more).

    McCain already had his chance to be a Republican maverick this election campaign. He wanted Lieberman as his VP. He caved. He caved to the religious right and to the very base that hated him until he gave them a Palin orgasm (not too strong a word). If he can’t stand up to his party now, what chance does he have once he’s president? Bush couldn’t do it — and threw Harriet Meiers on the trash heap. Likewise if McCain’s elected, there is not a shred of doubt that he will give them what they want out of the Supreme Court, making it a far-right majority judiciary for perhaps 20 years or more.

    So, feel free to forgive McCain his flipflopping over the past few months if you want. But you’d better get used to it, because you’re going to get a lot more of the same if he becomes president.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Scott – I couldn’t agree more. I’m not saying the Palin pick doesn’t matter. I’m saying that we should expect this kind of ploy, expect that they’ll get a bump from it, and vigorously attack Palin and McCain on the ridiculous things they stand for.

    What I’ve heard a lot of in the last week is shock that they picked someone like her, and heated discussions of her personal life and how she’s mean. I’d like to see us hammering them on the issues (and we can try to do it at their level if it works) so that we don’t look like gossiping schoolkids.

    Your fictionalized exchange does capture the problem well though. I always think its like talking to Dr. Lexus.

  • RationalZen

    The problem with politics is that we have career politicians. That’s the number one problem with politics in the US anyway.

    Obama’s and Palin’s lack of experience are a breath of fresh air for me. That means, theoretically, that when war issues come up they listen to the military leaders for advice. When economic issues pile up they listen to economists, science the scientists and so on.

    The problem with this thought process, is that in a President’s first term they aren’t really looking to solve any problems, they are positioning themselves for re-election. Then in their second terms they just say “F-it”, and just do whatever is self serving to their legacy. We saw it with Clinton, we’re seeing it with Bush, having a different party in power doesn’t solve the problem. Not even close.

    A major problem in this complicated issue is the tribalism involved. It’s obvious to which camp each commenter belongs without actually having to read what they say.

    One commenter above thinks that all republicans ignore math and science, or so you can surmise from their commentary. I bet if you had a face to face discussion with that commenter, they’d say, “I don’t feel like all Republicans ignore math and science, just most.” Yet, if Don Imus were to say, “I don’t think that all female basketball players on the Rutgers team are nappy headed hos, just most of them.”

    Well, you can see the double standard, how it applies to both parties, and why that tribalism will ensure we never have good quality candidates for President.

    Obama has a lot of appeal, is a breath of change, he also had an alarming number of non-votes in his short time in office. The Presidency has no place for silent protests when it comes to hard decision making, which Obama has shown that drawing the line and sticking to it hard is not one of his political strong points. For me, that’s a deal breaker for our president.

    Being willing to make a decision and be wrong, is a far more virtuous attribute than someone who’s tendency leans towards abstention.

  • Kurt

    I am starting to agree with Bill Clinton when he said:
    “Suppose for example you’re a voter and you have candidate X and you have candidate Y,” Clinton said. “Candidate X agrees with you on everything but you don’t think that person can deliver on anything. Candidate Y disagrees with you on half the issues but you believe that on the other half, the candidate will be able to deliver. For whom will you vote?

    “This is the kind of question that I predict — and this has nothing to do with what’s going on now — but I am just saying if you look at five, 10, 15 years from now, you may actually see this delivery issue become a serious issue in Democratic debates because it is so hard to figure out how to turn good intentions into real changes in the lives of the people we represent.”

    Our politics is so so polarizing and gridlocked that it is hard to get anything done at all. In the early and middle part of the 20th century congress actually worked together to get things done in a bipartisian way. Now we hardly see that anymore. I am not sure who will change the environment of congress more completely-Mccain or Obama- but they have to be better than Bush II or Newt Gingrich!

  • CosmicVarianceFan

    I have always argued that liberals make it easy for conservatives to out-debate them.

    First of all, liberals try using verifiable anecdotal evidence and facts. Conservatives use “truthiness” (nod to Colbert) and ad homineum attacks. And they paint everything with Red-White-Blue colors and splash tiny crosses all over the place.

  • Elliot


    I agree with your assessment. I think the Democrats were getting a good response from the “I don’t know how many houses I have Gaffe” by McCain then they lost control.

    I’d go right back at this issue. Point out that John and Cindy McCain are worth norht of 100,000,000 dollars and are completely out of touch with the average voter.

    I’d also get the Jewish population in Florida fired up over the “Jews for Jesus” speaker at Palin’s church. I’d turn this into a big issue and drive try to drive a wedge between the Jewish voters and the GOP.

    I’d also get some fundamentalists who believe that the bible tells them that women should stay home and take care of the kids and be submissive to their husbands to rip into Palin for not following the literal language of the bible.

    I’d also never mention McCain or Palin without saying Bush.

    What I would NOT do, is have Obama put on fatigues and go duck hunting ala John Kerry.


  • CosmicVarianceFan

    What I would NOT do, is have Obama put on fatigues and go duck hunting ala John Kerry

    . Amen to that.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    On the other hand, if we get Biden to do that, and he shoots someone in the face while doing it, he might be a more palatable VP candidate to Republicans.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean
  • http://www.scottaaronson.com Scott Aaronson

    Elliott, exploiting the Jews for Jesus thing might work; there’s clearly no word but shande to describe the support of 30% of Jews for McCain. But Florida seems like a lost cause anyway; if I were Obama I’d focus on Ohio, Virginia, Nevada.

    Sean, if Obama’s “got this,” then let’s see it! Let’s see him swing for the fences like he did in the Rev. Wright situation!

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  • http://www.jewsforjesus.org Matt

    I’m a Jewish believer in Jesus. Most blogs and news services have posted the same one paragraph of the six-page transcript of David Brickner’s message, giving the false impression that he is saying that a bulldozer attack by a deranged Palestinian is God’s judgment on the Jewish people. Please read the entire message for yourself at http://wasillabible.org/sermons.htm so that you can see Brickner’s remarks in context. Please also take a look at the discussion concerning Mr. Brickner’s message at the Jews for Jesus website, http://www.jewsforjesus.org.

  • Elliot


    I think some of the Jewish support for McCain can be attributed to the Obama “Muslim Meme” that has been circulated. He is deliberately referred to by the right as BHO to drive the point home even though it is a bold faced lie. But when you have Karl Rove’s track record of successfully misleading the American people, why stop?


  • Elliot


    I did read it and it looks pretty clear to me that Brickner was saying that the bulldozer was “Judgement”.

    I don’t know how else to interpret it. That’s exactly what the words say.

    He also in that sermon, implies that lying is not a good thing. Can you apply this lesson to the very same people running the McCain/Palin campaign that lied in 2000 about John McCain having an illegitimate Black Baby during the South Carolina Primary?


  • http://www.jewsforjesus.org Matt

    Elliot, Thanks for reading the entirety of Mr. Brickner’s sermon. You may also want take a look at Mr. Brickner’s comments concerning his message at Wasilla Bible Church, as well as an interview by Christianity Today with Mr. Brickner about this issue, at the Jews for Jesus website, http://www.jewsforjesus.org.

  • http://www.pieter-kok.staff.shef.ac.uk Pieter Kok

    :-) Sean, is that a Lolbarak?

  • John Knight

    We really should debate the issues.

    (1) Obama’s foreign policy makes Neville Chamberlain looks like a brilliant but ruthless Machiavellian master of statecraft.

    (2) Obama’s policy on terrorism is to side with terrorists, their allies, & their lawyers whenever possible.

    (3) Obama’s policy on political reform is “Talk about ‘Change,’ support the Daley Machine.”

    (4) Obama’s policy on economic regulation is “more regulation & dumber regulation.”

    (5) Obama’s policy on the size of government is “the bigger the better.”

    (6) Obama’s policy on federalism & the states is “Why should they have to make decisions when we can make them for them?”

    (7) Obama’s position on judges is “Screw the Constitution! On with the left-wing agenda!”

    (8) Obama’s policy on Iraq is to abandon our allies & lie about the Surge.

    (9) Obama’s policy on abortion is to let them die, even if they’ve been born.

    (10) Obama’s policy on bi-partisanship is that 3% is enough.

    See? We can discuss the issues without ever mentioning Dorothy Tillman, John Stroger, Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, or Tony Rezko.

  • Elliot


    I did read his comments and accept that he has been caught up in something that was not forseen. Unfortunately in politics, like war, truth is the first victim.

    I, like many others, would have preferred this campaign be about issues not personalities. I guess it just doesn’t work that way.



  • Beezle

    See, you blew it already by even mentioning Sarah Connor. The Obaminator would do well to move on to other targets before he gets melted. The more you talk about her the more she stays in the press and public eye. Ignore her, attack McPain. Let her go to a hockey game. Or play with some pitbulls.

    And lest you think I’m supporting either, 3rd party all the way baby. I’m not gonna have the disaster that either one of these two will be on my hands. No more ‘lesser of two evils’.

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  • Andre

    What third party? How many people even know they exist? A large percentage of the Democratic base probably have more in common with the Green Party platform, if the media could in fact be persuaded to admit that it exists.

  • Andre

    I hear what you say, but I think Obama would lose on issues, and not for the reason you might think. Given that he is now for offshore drilling, for the death penalty, for telecom spying immunity, for giving taxpayer money to religious organizations, against gay marriage, and so on, I don’t think truly liberal voters have many remaining reasons for voting for him, and many would either not bother to vote or abandon him for a third party, as I have. And it would not be surprising if many in the middle are finding him less and less distinguishable from McCain. If history has taught us anything, it is that Democrats who pander to the right almost always lose.

  • Elliot


    To win you need to win the center. If voters just pick one issue that is critical for the next president, it is Appointments to the Supreme Court. The Right wing has been pressing for Justices that will tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

    I would be much more comfortable with Obama’s nominations than McCain’s.


  • Andre

    Yeah well, all I can say is that Democrats have a majority in congress for two years and yet they have caved on absolutely everything of substance. Clinton’s presidency was an endless exercise in caving. I have no confidence Obama wouldn’t do the same, given that he has already started on the above-mentioned issues.

  • Michael Bacon

    From NBC’s Domenico Montanaro
    There are several stories this morning on Palin — in addition to the reviews of her interview performance — ranging from her asking Rick Warren for advice, more on her role in the library books controversy, her town billing for rape kits, as well as a question of ethics.

    Palin reached out to Pastor Rick Warren for advice. “The question I asked her was, ‘How can I pray for you?’ ” Warren said, The Hill newspaper reported online yesterday. Palin then “asked me to send her some Bible verses on how do you deal with the unfair, unjust attacks and the mean-spirited criticism that comes in,” Warren said.

    BOOKS: “Shortly after taking office in 1996 as mayor of Wasilla, a city of about 7,000 people, Palin asked the city’s head librarian about banning books,” AP writes. “Later, the librarian was notified by Palin that she was being fired, although Palin backed off under pressure. Palin alleged attempt at book-banning has been a matter of intense interest since Republican presidential nominee John McCain named her as his running mate last month. Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said Thursday that Palin asked the head librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, on three occasions how she would react to attempts at banning books. He said the questions, in the fall of 1996, were hypothetical and entirely appropriate. He said a patron had asked the library to remove a title the year before and the mayor wanted to understand how such disputes were handled.

    “Palin notified Emmons she would be fired in January 1997 because the mayor didn’t feel she had the librarian’s ‘full support.’ Emmons was reinstated the next day after public outcry, according to newspaper reports at the time.” …

    “The Rev. Howard Bess, a liberal Christian preacher in the nearby town of Palmer, said the church Palin and her family attended until 2002, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was pushing to remove his book from local bookstores. Emmons told him that year that several copies of ‘Pastor I Am Gay’ had disappeared from the library shelves, Bess said. ‘Sarah brought pressure on the library about things she didn’t like,’ Bess said. ‘To believe that my book was not targeted in this is a joke.'”

    RAPE KITS: “When Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, the city billed sexual-assault victims and their insurance companies for the cost of rape kits and forensic examinations,” AP writes. “Palin had been in office for four years when the practice got the attention of state lawmakers in 2000, who passed a bill to stop it. Former Democratic Rep. Eric Croft, who sponsored that bill, said he was disappointed that asking the Wasilla Police Department to stop charging didn’t work. Maria Comella, a McCain-Palin campaign spokeswoman, said Palin ‘does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.’ … Alaska routinely has the nation’s highest rate of sexual assault.”

    USA Today: “In 2000, Alaska lawmakers learned that rural police agencies had been billing rape victims or their insurance companies $500 to $1,200 for the costs of the forensic medical examinations used to gather evidence. They quickly passed a law prohibiting the practice.

    According to the sponsor, Democrat Eric Croft, the law was aimed in part at Wasilla, where now-Gov. Sarah Palin was mayor. When it was signed, Wasilla’s police chief expressed displeasure.

    ” ‘In the past, we’ve charged the cost of exams to the victims’ insurance company when possible,’ then-chief Charlie Fannon told the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, the local newspaper. ‘I just don’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer.’ Now that Palin is the Republican nominee for vice president, Democrats such as former Alaska governor Tony Knowles — who signed the rape-kit bill into law and was defeated by Palin in 2006 — are raising the issue to question Palin’s commitment to women’s issues and crime victims. Palin appointed Fannon after firing his predecessor shortly after she took office in 1996.”

    ETHICAL QUESTIONS: Bloomberg: “Palin’s office approved a state job for a friend and campaign aide with whom she shared a land investment, financial records and interviews over the past two weeks show. She hired a former lobbyist for a pipeline company to help oversee a multibillion-dollar deal with that same company. She named a police chief accused of harassment to head the state police. And she sent campaign e-mails on her city hall account while serving as mayor of Wasilla — conduct for which she later turned in an oil commissioner on ethics charges.

    “These incidents raise ‘some serious questions about her judgment and serious questions about her standards of ethics in public service,’’ said James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in Washington. Suggesting a real estate investment partner for a job ‘may be acceptable in Alaska; it would not be acceptable in Washington, D.C., a place whose norms she wants to change.’”

  • John Knight

    Oooooooooooooooooooooooh! Cut & paste! Cut & Paste!

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  • Elliot

    Why shouldn’t women have to pay for their rape kits. After all Palin’s running mate apparently thinks they enjoy the experience.




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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.


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