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Rubbernecking the disaster of the 2008 election: the best of Train Wreck Politics

By Griffin · January 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment

So in case it isn’t obvious by the two-month hiatus, Train Wreck Politics has pulled into the station.  Watching the inauguration yesterday (from the comfort of my couch) was surreal.  If a single day could speak to how great a country America really is, there’s June 6, 1944, there’s September 11, 2001, and now we have January 20, 2009– a celebration of and testament to the power of democracy, and a crystal clear, shining validation of the decades-long Civil Rights movement.

But before I completely hang up my hat, let’s take a look back at my year of blogging the most exciting election in history. A trip down memory lane for the one or two of you who care:

I came up with the tagline for this blog– “Rubbernecking the disaster of the 2008 election”– shortly after the New Hampshire Democratic primary.  At that point, I was convinced of two things: 1) Barack Obama was far and away America’s best choice for the next President of the United States; and 2) Somehow, someway, something would happen to stop him.

Obviously, and thankfully, the latter half of that scenario didn’t come true.  But that doesn’t mean 2008 was any less of a train wreck.  The Clintons proved themselves willing to do whatever it takes to win– even actively and openly courting the racist vote.  John McCain sold his soul to the far right, became everything he ever hated, and still lost.  And Sarah Palin.  Dear God, Sarah Palin.

But all that’s over and done with now, and politics is back to being boring.  Which is exactly what I voted for: a competent, boring government.  Obama’s two most talked about post-presidential moves– pardoning Joe Lieberman and nominating Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State– already show a president who has no interest in settling scores or pandering to interest groups, liberal or conservative, only in getting things done.  And though Obama won’t have a filibuster-proof Senate majority, he’s still going to get a lot of things done.  In the next four years, I fully expect to see universal health care in America, an end to the Iraq War (probably followed by an escalation of operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan), a near-unanimous political embrace of a ten-year energy plan to get us off foreign oil, and an aggressive and practical attack on the economic crisis.

Speaking of getting things done, I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished with this blog over the past year.  It was an enormous amount of work and an enormous commitment of time– which is why I’m opting for early retirement.  Often, I would come home after a long day of work and spend three or four hours writing.  Or I’d wake up a few hours early to get some thoughts down.  But seeing the reality of President Obama makes me feel like whatever small effort I made toward that end was worth it.

Granted, I made some mistakes.  Of the hundreds of posts I wrote, I’m sure there are one or two (or three or four) showcasing the absolute worst of my writing skills.  And I did take that four-month unannounced hiatus around May.  And another one in November.  But, hey, that’s blogging.  On the other hand, there’s a lot of great stuff here, if I do say so myself.  Stuff I’m really proud of.

So just for the fun of it, here’s the best of the best– my favorite posts of the 2008 election:


Why Mitt Romney will never be president (Super Bowl edition) (2/4/2008) – A week after launching Train Wreck Politics, one of my first non-spam comments came from an American soldier in Iraq (I checked the IP address, it was legit).  Which was pretty exciting.  As for the post itself, I doubt many people caught Mitt Romney’s subtle but egregious Super Bowl wardrobe pandering, so I was happy to point it out.

Democrats Super Tuesday prediction: Obama will edge Clinton (2/4/2008) – This is the post where I correctly predicted the results in 21 of 22 Super Tuesday states, back at a time when it seemed that everything about the Democratic race was up in the air.  In retrospect, putting together comprehensive endorsement lists for each state was probably more work than it was worth.

STOP GIVING ANN COULTER ATTENTION! (2/10/2008) - I love this post for the opening line:

Every time the media gives Ann Coulter attention, an angel gets its wings sawed off.

TWP Video: Hillary Clinton steals lines from Giuliani and Obama (2/20/2008) – This was my big experiment with video, and I think it turned out pretty well.  The one about Hillary not preparing past February 5th was fun to make, as well.  Videos turned out to be an enormous amount of work though.  So I stopped making them.

It’s time for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race (2/20/2008) – After ten straight Obama wins, I figured it was well past time for Hillary to drop out and endorse Obama (and a short four months later, she did).  It was clear at this point that barring a cataclysmic party-wrecking disaster, that Clinton couldn’t win the delegate race.  And I was convinced, like a lot of people, that the long Democratic primary would expose and weaken Obama in the general election, and make it nearly impossible for him to unite the party in November.  But the truth is, the long primary actually ended up making him a better candidate.  So thanks for making all those underhanded race-baiting smears old news early, Hillary.  Or something like that.

Barack Hussein Obama: the new dirty word (2/27/2008) – For a few months in late 2007/early 2008, it seemed like every day that someone was being pressured to apologize for using Barack Obama’s middle name “Hussein.”  This post reflected my belief that everyone needed to stop treating Obama’s middle name like a dirty word, especially Obama supporters.  By making a big controversy every time some right-wing nut got on a stage and said Obama’s full name, they were unwittingly giving a negative power to the name that it didn’t deserve.  I’m still a little surprised that Obama never did anything to embrace his middle name, never defended it once, as if there was in fact something about it to be ashamed of (I was happy to see him use it during the oath of office, though).  During the campaign, the closest he came to even addressing the discussion around his middle name was at the Al Smith Dinner in October when he said something like, “I got my middle name from someone who obviously never thought I’d run for president.”  Funny, but disappointing.

Ku Klux Klan DOES NOT endorse Barack Obama for President (2/28/2008) – Of everything I’ve written, this is by far the post that has generated the most discussion– over 100 comments and still, as of today, counting.  Seeing as how we just elected the first black president in a nation where 150 years ago he would likely have been a slave and 50 years ago he wouldn’t have been able to vote, of course race and racism was a major topic of discussion in 2008.  And for some reason, “Barack Obama + KKK” is an enormously popular search combination.  I guess people really want to know how the one-time most notorious group of racists and American terrorists are dealing with the unthinkable scenario of a black president.  (The answer, surprisingly, is that they’re kind of okay with it.)  This post is one of my favorites, due to some outstanding Photoshopping and condescension on my part.  Moderating the comments is a beast though; for some reason, this post is like catnip to crazies.


An early prediction: Pennsylvania too racist for Obama to win (3/6/2008) – As someone who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, it was clear to me by early March that the state was out of reach for Obama, at least in the primaries.  And I gathered quite a bit of research to back up my gut feeling.  I was surprised Obama won Pennsylvania in the general election by such a wide margin, but maybe I shouldn’t have been.  In the Democratic primary, race and gender were two of the biggest distinguishing factors between two candidates– Clinton and Obama– who essentially agreed on all the major issues.  In the general, with Pennsylvanians losing their homes and their jobs, they simply didn’t have the luxury of voting their prejudices.

For Barack Obama, the good and bad of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy (3/15/2008) – I still clearly remember the Friday night the Jeremiah Wright clips hit the Internet and the controversy blew wide open.  I saw the video first on Ben Smith’s blog, and I knew it was catastrophic– hoping way in the back of my mind that the early weekend timing would bury the story by Monday, but knowing there was no chance of that.  This was clearly, from the first moment on, a turning point in the race– the point where Barack Obama’s long, historic run at the presidency would either sink or swim.  A day later, this post was my thoughts on the situation, laying out the good and bad of it.  To give you an idea of how bad things obviously were, one of the positives I came up with was essentially, “Now that America has rock-solid proof that Obama is a radical church-going black nationalist, it’ll put to rest the rumors that he’s a radical mosque-going black Muslim.”  I didn’t say it like that, but that was the gist of it.  Another “positive” was that it pushed the Rezko story to the backburner.  But in retrospect, that’s like saying, “These new murder charges will make the speeding ticket I got last year seem like nothing.”  Yeah, it was bad.

Morning after the race speech: Obama’s broken pact with white voters (3/19/2008) – In my opinion, this post is quietly one of the best things I wrote all year.  I started out dissecting the politics of Obama’s epic race speech in Philadelphia and ended up taking a long detour into the Civil Rights movement and the history of racism in America.

Hillary caught lying about her “experience” in Bosnia (3/21/2008) – The sniper fire story didn’t end Hillary’s candidacy, nor was it a fatal wound.  She was already well on her way to losing the nomination.  But this was the point when the media stopped taking her candidacy seriously.  It was also the point where the late night talk show jokes about Hillary really hit their stride.  In this post, I turned the sarcasm meter up and– thanks to the magic of photography and video– took a few shots of my own.

The value of The View (3/30/2008) – After Barack Obama’s guest appearance, I had a little venting to do about the ladies of The View.  The money quote:

[I]nstead of getting different women with different views, we’ve gotten four women, all with careers in entertainment and all with one common view: uninformed.  Four women whose only real credentials for discussing issues on television is that they are on television.

As for what the value of The View actually is, the short version is that there are a lot of uninformed Americans out there– many of whom are eligible to vote.  We need to know what’s on their minds.


Two hundred-millionaires attack Obama for being out of touch (4/12/2008) – I wrote this post on a Saturday evening in response to the raging Bittergate controversy– and the glaring hypocrisy of Clinton and McCain’s attacks on Obama– and logged off for the day.  I came back 24 hours later, and it had received over 20,000 hits and was on the front page of Digg.  It is still, by far, the most widely read thing I’ve ever written.  To the extent that I was successful in capturing the absurdity of the whole story, it was this sentence that did it:

I’ll go out on a limb and guess that neither Hillary Clinton nor John McCain have driven a vehicle for themselves, folded their own laundry, or gone into a grocery store and purchased a carton of milk in decades.

ABC News debate/Clinton campaign infomercial analysis: What don’t we know about Obama? (4/16/2008) – If you remember, this was the debate moderated by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos– the one where they decided to spend the first hour smearing Obama on Jeremiah Wright and flag pins, while lobbing softballs to Hillary.  Of the 20+ Democratic primary debates, this was easily the most biased and least substantive.  I, like a lot of people, was pretty annoyed.


The Empire Strikes Barack (5/4/2008) – I had nothing to do with creating it, but this was my favorite YouTube video of the entire campaign.


I’m not dead (9/10/2008) – After a four-month unannounced, unexplained blogging hiatus, this was the post where I let everyone know that I had not in fact died.  Not that anyone asked.

Defeating McCain/Palin for Dummies: What Obama needs to do (9/10/2008) - At this point in the general election– right after the Republican convention, but right before Sarah Palin’s interviews and the financial crisis buried the Republican ticket– McCain and Palin were surging in the polls and it looked as if they might actually win.  I, like everyone except Barack Obama, panicked, and this post was the result.  Not that there’s any bad advice there; I still stand behind everything I wrote.  And some of it is hilarious (step #8: “Insult Alaska”).  It’s just that almost none of it turned out to be necessary.  Five days later, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch collapsed, and the McCain/Palin ticket essentially defeated itself.  And all Obama needed to do to convince America to switch parties in the White House was not drool on himself.

A media guide: How to tell if your question to Sarah Palin is sexist (9/14/2008) - It was the day before the financial crisis hit, and the Republicans had succeeded in turning the election into a complete farce.  The war and the economy had both taken a backseat and a national discussion was raging about farm animals and makeup products.  And no matter what was said to or about Sarah Palin, rest assured a spokeswoman for the Republican Party (they called themselves the Palin Truth Squad) would be on TV within the hour accusing someone of sexism.  And then instead of discussing whatever the actual issue was, everyone would get into a heated debate about whether or not that question to Palin about an exit strategy in Iraq was sexist.  So in order to help the media avoid these accusations, I came up with a handy guide to help determine if your question to Sarah Palin is sexist.  My advice basically boiled down to this: “Any question that makes Sarah Palin look bad is sexist.  Any question that makes Sarah Palin look good is okay.”  In other words, all questions are equal, but some questions are more equal than others.

Barack Dukakis? (9/15/2008) – Round about the middle of September, the polls still hadn’t recovered from the Republican convention bounce, and it looked like we were in for another uncomfortably close election.  And instead of responding to some of the more ridiculous McCain attacks forcefully, Obama was falling into the Dukakis complain-and-explain strategy– where, rather than hitting your opponent back after an unfair attack, you complain about the attack and then kindly explain to everyone why it is false.  This post was my extended analysis of the (in)effectiveness of Obama campaign ads and advice on how to properly respond to accusations that you want to teach sex education to kindergartners.  Little did I realize that September 15, 2008 was the day that John McCain’s campaign would be permanently sunk by his declaration that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong,” rendering this entire post completely moot.  Still an entertaining read.

Media desperate to spark racial controversy [+ Part 2] (9/21/2008) – Ever since the Jeremiah Wright fiasco broke out in March, the media had been hyping the general election as a potential all-out race war.  But McCain promised early to leave Obama’s church out of the national conversation, and by the middle of September, with his poll numbers beginning to slip, it looked like he would stick to that promise.  On September 21, the Associated Press, fed up with all the boring debate about the collapsing worldwide economy, realized that if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.  So they did what any respectable news organization would do: they took a poll asking black and white people why they hate each other so much.  And when the numbers came back showing, hey, we actually do all get along, they still spun the story as best they could.  Time and Politico quickly followed with high-profile overblown articles about the impact of racism on the election.  My two-sentence summary of the AP’s story pretty much summed up the mood of a visibly bored and antsy national media:

Since the beginning of time, black people and white people have never gotten along.  Now, in a year when this threatens to change, a new poll we did shows just how different we all really are and why we should all get back to the pointless racial squabbling that defines us as Americans.

Why McCain suspended his campaign and what Obama should do (9/24/2008) – By late September, a week or so after the big financial collapse hit, the polls had really started turning in Obama’s favor.  It was at this point that John McCain, with his country and his campaign both in crisis, decided to climb into bed and wet himself.  If you want to know the behind-the-scenes of why he decided to suspend his campaign, the New York Times– a month later– wrote a fantastic (and long) article focusing on September 24, 2008 in the McCain camp.  But on the day of, I watched the news in somewhat stunned disbelief, and realized immediately that this would be the turning point in the election.  It just so happened that Obama– obviously an avid reader of this blog– actually ended up following the advice I gave that day exactly.  Which is why I can, in good conscience, take full credit for his win in November.

GOP: A party of whiners (9/30/2008) – With the ship clearly sinking, the McCain campaign cracked open a big bottle of whine and a case of pointy fingers.  In true Homer Simpson-esque fashion, their new message to the American people was simply: “This is everybody’s fault but mine!”  In case you’re wondering, the video at the end was a No More Tears baby shampoo commercial.


Sarah Palin is a global warming denier (or worse, an agnostic) (10/1/2008) – Even as late as October, there wasn’t a lot we knew about Sarah Palin, thanks to her refusal to hold a press conference or speak to anyone without the aid of a script.  So imagine my surprise to hear her talking to Katie Couric about “cyclical” weather patterns and her belief that it “doesn’t matter” what causes global warming.  I realized two things: One, the Republican candidate for vice president was a global warming denier; and two, almost nobody had documented this fact.  The media was so focused on the spectacular gaffes she was making about the Supreme Court and other facets of government that pretty much everyone missed the part of the interview where she put on a tin foil hat and basically said she didn’t believe in science.

VP debate wrap: Palin wins special participation award (10/3/2008) – By the time the VP debate rolled around in October, expectations for Palin were so incredibly low that all she had to do (and all she really did) in her performance against Joe Biden was not run off the stage crying.  That was enough for certain non-partisan journalists to declare that she “ended up dominating” the debate– never mind her strategy of not answering half the questions, talking like a Beverly hillbilly (she’s so folksy and charming!), and frequently winking to distract attention away from whatever was coming out of her mouth.  After Politico’s Roger Simon praised her for dropping her g’s, I had had enough:

Here I thought America’s problems in Iraq and on Wall Street were complex and needed someone who could, you know, at least be able to point either out on a map.  But the answer is so simple: we’re not dropping our g’s!

We shouldn’t be stabilizing Iraq, we should be stabilizin’ it!  And why are we regulating Wall Street, when we clearly need to be regulatin’ it?  If only we had a folksy, average Joe president who was in way over his head, avoided dealing with issues he didn’t understand, and dropped his g’s.  Oh, wait.

John McCain’s tone deaf campaign (10/6/2008) – With the economy in a death spiral and millions of Americans losing their homes and jobs, John McCain took to the campaign trail to talk about the real issue on people’s minds: why you shouldn’t trust Barack Obama.  McCain’s new stump speech was pretty much one big oppo dump, thick with innuendo and accusations.  As I watched it unfold live on C-SPAN, I noticed it was working wonders on the small, monochromatic crowd in New Mexico– they had their torches lit and their pitchforks polished– but I doubted heavily that it was a good national strategy:

McCain’s solution isn’t to tap into some bubbling spring of national anti-Obama fury (which, let’s face it, is often just thinly-veiled racism).  Even the most skeptical voters, whether they realize it or not, aren’t nearly as afraid of Barack Obama as they are of our tanking economy.  McCain’s solution is to build up his own credibility on the current financial crisis.

The planetarium to nowhere (10/8/2008) – Despite McCain’s best efforts, the second presidential debate went ahead as scheduled.  My wrap-up:

Last night’s debate was one of the final opportunities John McCain will have to convince America to change its mind about President Barack Obama.  And in front of 60 million people, he once again chose to talk about that planetarium in Chicago. Apparently, Barack Obama once authored a $3 million earmark to replace a planetarium projector, and that’s why we’re so dependent on foreign oil, why we’re stuck in Iraq, why the stock market has lost a third of its value in the last two weeks, and why 40 million Americans don’t have health insurance.

It won’t be remembered as the point John McCain lost the presidency. … But the moment last night when John McCain started talking about that planetarium in Chicago will be remembered by me as the moment I knew the race was over.

McCain’s new Ayers attack is putting Obama’s life at risk (10/9/2008) – As McCain’s crowds grew more and more angry, it was becoming obvious that his strategy of linking Obama with “unrepentant terrorist” William Ayers was bearing some ugly fruit (despite not moving the polls at all).  And a lot of people, myself included, were getting increasingly worried about Barack Obama’s safety:

There’s nothing wrong with attacking your opponent’s character in a closely contested and heated election. But McCain’s message isn’t that Barack Obama will be a bad president, it’s that Barack Obama harbors a secret resentment against his country, associates with terrorists, and will deliberately harm America.

McCain pokes hornet’s nest, condemns swarm (10/13/2008) – After weeks of McCain and Palin pounding home the message that America should be afraid of Barack Obama, John McCain began reprimanding his supporters for being afraid of Barack Obama.  The media mostly applauded McCain’s new convictions, but I saw it for what it was: a political course correction.  The fearmongering wasn’t working.

Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright or not, the race is over (10/15/2008) – With McCain’s poll numbers really tanking, many Republicans were urging him to pull out what they thought could be the magic bullet to take down Obama: Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  But three things were abundantly clear to me:

1) 90% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track;

2) By a margin of 20-30%, Americans trust Barack Obama more than John McCain to handle the economy; and

3) John McCain is doing absolutely nothing to change perceptions about #1 and #2, instead focusing on Bill Ayers and (perhaps later) Jeremiah Wright.

There are 21 days left before this election, and every day that Republicans spend focused on anything other than changing #1 and #2 is a day wasted. Nothing they do or say outside of those two points will have any real effect on anything.

Muslims: Pro-American Americans, real Americans (10/20/2008) – During Colin Powell’s surprise endorsement of Obama on Meet the Press, he spoke out strongly against those who were insinuating (and often outright saying) that Obama’s Muslim heritage somehow made him less American.  He referenced a photo from the New Yorker of a mother hugging the gravestone of her son who had died as a soldier in Iraq.  On the stone was an Islamic crescent and star.  I thought it was one of the most poignant things I’ve ever seen.

McCain campaign attacks similar to those that killed JFK (10/22/2008) – Although McCain and Palin had dialed down the rhetoric, their behind the scenes efforts to smear Barack Obama– through the mail and over the phone– was as dirty as ever.  One McCain campaign mailer that was being sent to families all across America– prominently featuring Obama’s image underneath the word “terrorists”– bore a striking resemblance to the propaganda leaflets that were being passed around Dallas on the day President Kennedy was killed.  My take:

For many Americans, the things McCain is saying cannot be unsaid, the damage he is doing cannot be undone. We’ve seen what happens when an American president is accused by his political enemies of being on the other side, and we’ve seen what happens when one unbalanced loner gets the message.

Attack on McCain supporter could hurt Obama in Pennsylvania [OCTOBER SURPRISE UPDATE: She lied!!!] (10/24/2008) – Probably the oddest moment of the campaign (and that’s saying something) was courtesy of Ashley Todd, a young campaign volunteer who wanted to do everything she could to help John McCain.  Unfortunately, the best idea she could come up with was to make up a story about being physically assaulted and robbed by a Barack Obama supporter.  FAILBLOG.ORG.

Palin spent more on hair and makeup than a college education (10/26/2008) – When the story broke that Sarah Palin spent $150,000 in less than two months of campaigning on clothes and accessories, I tried to think of a way to put the ridiculousness of that number into full context.  What I discovered was that her bill for hair and makeup alone was $32,000, a few thousand more than the cost of her six-year college education, even adjusted for two decades of inflation.


A Christian perspective on gay marriage: Why I’m voting No on 8 (11/2/2008) – Perhaps there was no ballot initiative more hotly debated around the nation than Proposition 8 in California, a measure designed to insert a ban on same sex marriage into the California state constitution.  As a resident of California and a regular church-goer, I decided to offer my two cents as to why I would be voting against the ban– a position directly opposite that of my pastor.  Part of my argument:

Proposition 8 is not a referendum on how you feel about gay marriage, although I suspect a lot of people will– and are entitled to– vote that way. It’s about whether one religious group’s beliefs should be imposed on everyone else. Would Christians stand by happily while Scientologists wrote their definition of marriage into California’s constitution? No. So why should everyone else defer to our beliefs?

TWP’s final electoral map prediction (11/2/2008) – Two days before the election, I gave my best guess at what we would see on election day.  I missed the actual outcome by one state– Missouri– which was only slightly better than my Super Tuesday primary predictions, where I correctly called 21 out of 22 states.  Did I already mention that?  Yeah.  Take that, Five Thirty Eight.

November 4, 2008 (11/6/2008) – A few scattered but entertaining thoughts on the day when Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States.  After blogging most of the year-long sprint to the White House, you can tell how burned out I was.  Burned out but ecstatic.

Andrew Sullivan stirs anti-black sentiment among gays, then condemns it (11/9/2008) – In the aftermath of the Proposition 8 vote (it passed), emotions were running high and fingers were searching desperately for somewhere, anywhere to point.  And no one poured more fuel on the fire than exhibitionist blogger Andrew Sullivan (the guy who still swears by the Trig Palin conspiracy theories and thinks posting graphic war images from the comfort of his nearest Starbucks equals journalism), who for months had repeatedly blamed the black community for somehow singlehandedly holding back gay rights.  This is despite the fact that blacks only made up 7% of the California electorate.  After black people– the ones who were marching for gay rights– began getting openly harassed and verbally assaulted by the gay community, Sullivan did a little backtracking.  But just a little.  Here’s my brief summary of his laughably contradictory argument:

[F]or those of you who are confused, here’s Sullivan’s argument in a nutshell: African-Americans are the single most homophobic group of people in America, they are the reason the Prop 8 vote was even close, and their attitudes on this subject have literally killed countless gays.  But, you know, we shouldn’t demonize or blame them.

Got that?

After later definitive reports showed that blacks had significantly less influence on the Prop 8 vote than first assumed, Sullivan barely shrugged his shoulders.

50 fun facts you might not know about Obama, aka Barack is my new BFF (11/22/2008) – Shortly after the election, a British newspaper posted a list of fun, obscure facts about Barack Obama.  After reading the list, I realized that Obama wasn’t just my new bicycle, he was my new best friend.

Tags: Barack Obama · Train Wreck Politics

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