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Why do people read Oliver Willis?
Fine, fine, this is a pissing contest. But I’m perplexed – I followed a link to Oliver Willis’s blog today, and it was the perfect antidote to all of the rich prose I’ve been reading. This guy blows. Check out a post about Howard Dean’s fundraising. I read it once, then went back to count the cliches.

“unprecedented in the history of American politics” – “upset the applecart of conventional wisdom” – “Compare and contrast” – “worked the room” – “friends in high corporate places” – “David and Goliath battle” – “the most exciting thing to happen in politics” – “a governor from a town called Hope” – “you must allow yourself to not only think outside of the box, but outside of the beltway” – “an open tent of ideas”

Not much in the way of prose so far – and the conclusion is just weak.

If the choice in 2004 is between a President who caters to K Street while ignoring Main Street, and a governor whose position really reflects the will of the masses – I would put my money on the Doctor from Vermont. You can’t just sit back and enjoy this, you have to stand up and participate in this thing that makes America what it is: democracy in its purest form.

Willis stated previously that “over 21,000 individuals contributed to the Dean campaign.” According to opensecrets.org, George W. Bush raised money from 119,213 donors during the 2000 campaign. Some of those were corporate, but at least 101,301 people gave personal donations of $200 or less. Assuming that Bush’s supporters consist entirely of Thomas Nast cartoons was Willis’s first mistake – his second was assuming that “the masses” consist of 21,000 people.

And 298 people link to this guy. Free content has its downsides.

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Wanted: One succession act
There’s word that the Homeland Security may become 8th in line for the presidency (up from 18th). But if you’re going to make a change like this, why not reverse the silly Succession act of 1947? Since then, the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate have been third and fourth in line. Two guys who have never won national elections or served in the executive branch are expected to take over if Air Force one goes down with Bush and Cheney on board. This meant, of course, that from 1995-2001 Strom Thurmond was fourth in line – and from 2001-2003, that man was Robert C. Byrd. We should never have that animus hanging over our heads ever again.

My suggestion: Make Sec of State third in line, Defense Secretary fourth in line, and Homeland fifth. If the president and vice president are dead, the country is almost certainly in a state of war, and these are the guys that should be ready to take the reins. So if you’re a senator and you want to contact me, look to the column on your right.

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He even LOOKS like Muskie.
Ed Muskie (1914-1996), a senator from Maine, was tipped by Hubert Humphrey to fill out the Democratic presidential ticket in 1968. When Humphrey lost, Muskie began gearing up to run against President Nixon in 1972. He lined up most of the Democrats who wanted to endorse a candidate; as recorded by Hunter Thompson and Ted White, Muskie was seen as the frontunner long before the campaign started. According to White:

… as 1972 began … Muskie’s campaign seemed irresistible. He had solid financial backing, a large and experienced staff, the endorsement of the party’s leading figures, the advice of the party sages, the affirmation of the nation’s pollsters. But if Muskie was long at the bank and on the letterhead, he was short, depressingly short, on ideas. “To this day,” said campaign coordinator Jack English after it was all over, “I don’t know what the campaign was about. We never had a theme.” (White: The Making of the President 1972, p.79)

Muskie was eventually edged out of the race by two Georges – McGovern on the left, and Wallace on the right.

John Kerry declared late in 2002 and, for a while, his campaign seemed inevitable. On Feb. 23 this year, Adam Nagourney summed up Kerry’s progress for the New York Times.

If his support is fairly broad, it is hardly deep; even his advisers acknowledge that much of it is the pragmatic response of Democrats drawn more to the resume than to the man.

But appreciating the political dynamics of this year, Mr. Kerry and his aides have moved to overcome these concerns, thrusting his candidacy ahead with a combination of bluster and a calculated burst of early spending on a big staff, including some of the more respected names in Democratic politics. Mr. Kerry is about to announce that he has hired the Washington media consultant Bob Shrum, along with his partners Tad Devine and Mike Donilon.

Mr. Kerry has made fund-raising calls while convalescing. More important, his aides have let it be known that he was making fund-raising calls while convalescing, to drive a perception that he is a serious and driven candidate.

And his protestations not withstanding, many party and labor leaders, noting the speed at which Mr. Kerry is spending money on high-priced campaign talent, predict he will ultimately bow out of the presidential campaign finance system and tap his wife’s fortune to finance his campaign. True or not, the notion that Mr. Kerry might do that has raised his stock among Democrats who are worried about the huge fund-raising advantage President Bush enjoys.

Finally, Mr. Kerry’s campaign has shown an ability to drive — his opponents suggest a better word might be “manipulate” — the news coverage that is so influential on the dynamics of the primaries. He has been the beneficiary of a number of favorable articles and news columns, and more are in the works.

Indeed, on the very day that Mr. Kerry entered a Baltimore hospital for surgery to remove his cancerous prostate, his advisers were pushing reporters to write articles suggesting that this was the first big test of Mr. Kerry’s campaign — and that the campaign had mastered the moment.

Tomorrow, Howard Dean is expected to reveal that he’s raised $6.5 million from the largest base of supporters in the party. As Kerry relinquishes his frontrunner status, it’s instructive to remember what happens to a guy when he runs on inevitability.

Muskie:

Kerry:

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Because there just aren’t enough blogs about politics …
Larry Sabato, the status quo in human form, offers a fun feature on his political website, the Crystal Ball. Sabato runs fancy electoral college predictions for five of the Democratic candidates (he writes off Dean, Kucinich, Moseley-Braun, and that black guy who lies about stuff)

I share Sabato’s opinion that Howard Dean would stand to win about 5 or 6 states … I’m more skeptical about his other picks. Basically, Sabato assumes that, excepting John Kerry, every Democratic frontrunner could win a competetive race by winning all of Gore’s states and one or two others. I don’t think the Dems can count on Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa like they used to; the former states are trending right, and all three are lacking the non-white voters who saved Gore’s bacon in 2000. But it’s a fun way to kill a few minutes.

(courtesy John Tabin)

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Book review II: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer/Philosopher’s Stone
Reading these books has become a cultural imperative. Movies, TV shows and magazines are padded with Hogwarts references; each Warner Brothers film adaptation is a cultural event; soulless chain stores hosted launch parties for buoyant kids and grudging adults.

So I had to read this book. I didn’t expect to love it; I liked it, and that’s enough to keep me hooked. Fast-paced and cute, the book doesn’t create its own world on the scale of Dune or The Lord of the Rings. Despite the best efforts of Slate.com columnists with too much free time, it lacks the philosophical depth of the former.

The best I can say for this book is that it reminded me of my favorite Raold Dahl novels, which pretty much defined my childhood. And it inspired me to read the next four – but only because working from home hands me a lot of free time.

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Book Review I: George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia
It’s remembered as “the best book about the Spanish Civil War,” and that’s fair. Orwell’s blow-by-blow narrative of his role in the war, fighting in the ranks of the “Workers Party of Marxist Unification” (P.O.U.M.) is more gripping than a novel, and disturbingly funny. But a good chunk of the book is a bitter catalogue of the political pissing contests that ruined the Popular government and scared away funding that could have allowed them to defeat Franco’s National army.

In Orwell’s view, Franco’s uprising could have been stopped. It would have been the first stillborn Fascist coup, and it might have stemmed the tide that he found so horrifying. The Catalans he met, the “workers,” had begun a genuine revolution that wiped away all the trappings of class, from personal greetings to tipping bartenders. It was working, we’re told – the anarchists and their anagrammed militias had stopped the Nationalist advance in 1936 with outdated weapons. But the socialists in charge (“right-wing socialists”), depending on the support of the Soviet Union, formed a ranked Popular Army and began phasing out the militias. On page after page, Orwell rages against the “counter-revolutionary” Soviets, the British left-wing press, and international Communists for their failure to buck up the anarchists. They killed the revolution in its cradle: “It was inconceivable that the people in his territory … liked or wanted Franco, but with every swing to the Right the Government’s superiority became less apparent.”

Orwell’s conclusion?

Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday. The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth’s surface. Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalger Square, the red buses, the blue policemen — all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.

He wrote this in 1938.