Saturday, August 30, 2008

Florida 56, Hawaii 10

Impressions from opening day:

1. Jeff Demps is fast.
2. Chris Rainey is fast.
3. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey need to read the playbook a little closer.
4. Brandon James is a special teams God.

Those four points pretty much define my beloved alma mater's opener against over-matched Hawaii. Tim Tebow didn't put up Heisman Trophy numbers; nine of 14 for 137 yards passing with one touchdown. He did not score a rushing touchdown, which broke a string of 14 straight games with both a running and throwing touchdown. He didn't have a terribly effective passing day, notwithstanding those numbers. Florida's pass protection was surprisingly mediocre, and Tebow spent much of the game scrambling out of the pocket and throwing on the run.

UF's leading receiver was Louis Murphy, and he only caught two passes for 51 yards. (And a touchdown) Freshman Deonte Thompson let a long touchdown pass slip through his hands.

But as mentioned above, it was UF's three shortest players who ruled the day. James' returned a punt for a touchdown in the second quarter, and it was electrifying. He had to wait on a punt that rolled and tumbled along the ground. Once he scooped it up, he streaked through the Hawaii punt coverage unit, made several nifty cuts and broke a few tackles. It was his third career punt return for a touchdown, one shy of the school record. (Held by Jacquez Green)

Demps and Rainey, meanwhile, flashed extraordinary speed. Demps carried the ball just twice but gained 76 yards and scored a touchdown on a 62-yard run that included a couple broken tackles and a Hawaii cornerback left wondering how Demps blew past him despite the great angle he had. Rainey carried six times for 58 yards and a touchdown and most of those runs came between the tackles. The Gators put up 255 rushing yards, which is a total you'll take most days.

Both players screwed up a couple assignments, including teaming up for a roughing the punter penalty that so infuriated Urban Meyer he nearly slapped Demps. Rainey botched an option play and left Tebow to tote the ball instead.

Perhaps most interesting was the lack of carries for Emmanuel Moody, who sprained his ankle early in the game. Kestahn Moore is supposed to be the starter, but while he carried the ball seven times none of those rushes came when the game was close. Tight end Aaron Hernandez evidently sat out the game, as did Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Things get tougher next week when Miami comes to town, and it would be nice to get Moody, Hernandez, Spikes and Harvin healthy.

The defense played awfully well, though it was facing a Hawaii offense that was gutted of most of the players that led the Sugar Bowl team last season. The Warriors played three quarterbacks, none of them Colt Brennan, and none of them talented Brennan back-up Tyler Graunke. The Gators intercepted four passes, about half of the total they reeled in last year, which is good. On the other hand, the first interception came on a horrendous overthrow of an open receiver by Hawaii QB Greg Alexander.

I was happiest about Florida's pass rash. The Gators picked up four sacks, and two of them came from defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh. UF simply could not push the pocket last season, so it was encouraging to see a defensive tackle get in the backfield. Jermaine Cunningham chipped in with 1 1/2 sacks and cornerback Joe Haden, who played a fantastic game and can really hit, chipped in another 1/2 sack.

It wasn't a perfect game; the passing attack in particular still needs some work and Florida was penalized 13 times, including several pointless offsides infractions. But while Hawaii isn't a great team this year, they're not untalented, and they're a much better opening opponent than the Western Kentuckys and Charleston Southerns of the world. In that context, a 46-point beatdown is, at the very least, an auspicious beginning.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, the comedy stylings of David Brooks!

What's the only thing worse than a fatuous ass endlessly and tendentiously expounding on important issues with grave pomposity? A fatuous ass trying to be funny.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Cult of the Average

A few minutes ago the Democrats officially nominated Barack Obama as their candidate for president. You might have heard about it. It made all the papers.

If you believe the pundits, the Democratic Party has made a massive mistake: they have nominated a man who is not average.

Oh, the horror. The horror.

A couple pieces inspired this entry. The first comes from New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (who evidently made it a point to write out "Barack Hussein Obama"); the second from Slate's John Dickerson, who has quite conspicuously valued balance this election cycle.

Dickerson tears into Obama for the crime of erecting some Greek columns on the Invesco Field stage where he'll be speaking tomorrow. (To be sure, Salon's War Room had a similar take) Never mind, as Dickerson at least notes, that George Bush had a similar set-up in 2004 and received no criticism for it. Never mind, as some of Salon's readers pointed out, that much of America's governmental architecture is designed in a Greco-Roman manner. If Greek columns indicate delusions of divinity, then the whole of Washington D.C., not to mention the Baker County courthouse in Macclenny, Florida, should be targets of John Dickerson's next column.

Kantor's story, by contrast, is not an opinion piece, but purports to investigate why Obama has had so many issues connecting with people. My two "favorite" passages:

But with Barack Hussein Obama officially becoming the Democratic presidential nominee on Wednesday night, some of the same qualities that have brought him just one election away from the White House — his virtuosity, his seriousness, his ability to inspire, his seeming immunity from the strains that afflict others — may be among his biggest obstacles to getting there....

Last month, while visiting Jerusalem, Mr. Obama crammed a note in the Western Wall that was promptly fished out and posted on the Internet. The message was elegantly phrased, as if he had anticipated that his private words to the Almighty would soon be on public display.

The overriding message here? Barack Obama is too good for his own good. There's no evidence that he intended that Western Wall prayer to be read by the public, but damnit, it was remarkably well-written. What shallow artifice! He can inspire people! He has "seriousness!" God, please save us from this above-average writer, inspirational figure and serious individual.

I mock Kantor and Dickerson, but I suspect no one will be as upset with their pieces as I am. After all, it has long been established wisdom that our candidates must fundamentally reflect us. They must be like us. They cannot be too far above us, because that frightens us.

Well, guess what? Barack Obama is above you. Hillary Clinton is above you. John McCain is above you. We need to recognize that. We need to embrace that.

John McCain has argued, and the media has embraced the claim, that Obama's unique ability to inspire crowds, to remind them of their hopes and aspirations, is a piece of sorcery to be shunned and scorned. The media has argued that Obama's wide-ranging intellect, his professorial ability to find the depths of a question and explore them, are hindrances to an effective campaign.

We must denigrate enthusiasm. We must mock idealism. We must spit on oratory and inspiration and passion. For countless generations we have told the youth of the nation that they must assemble and participate. They must take part in the political process, because if they don't, democracy crumbles. We have told them to be passionate and enthusiastic. And when they finally discover a candidate about whom they can be passionate and enthusiastic, people like Dickerson and David Brooks and countless others insult them. Brooks and Dickerson and countless others insult that candidate for his willingness to speak to them and his ability to inspire them. The youth of America, it seems, was meant to be seen and not heard in the political process.

And John McCain? McCain's message to those who are my age is simple: participate in the process, attend a rally, cheer your candidate, express enthusiasm, and I'll put you in an attack ad that labels you a member of a messianic cult.

Why do we want our presidents to aspire to average? Do we understand the kind of decisions a president has to make? We're talking about a man who decides to send troops into harm's way. We're talking about a man whose decisions affect the wellbeing of millions of Americans. We want an average man making those decisions? Why? When did we come to that conclusion?

I think that moment came before I was born, and frankly, I'm rather pissed that decision was made without my input.

We've seen what happens over the past eight years when our president is a man of average intelligence and below-average intellectual curiosity. So why then do people like Dickerson and Kantor, two writers who presumably did not earn their positions at Slate.com and The New York Times by being idiots and sub-par writers, continue to help perpetuate this idea of the middle brow, unexceptional president?

As much as I want to blame the media, this is on us. We ask silly, insipid questions like, "Which president would you rather have a beer with?" Yeah, I ended that sentence with a preposition. That's what Real Americans(TM) do. Screw you Barack Obama and your firm grasp of the English language!

If this entry makes me sound enraged, it's only because I'm enraged. This denigration of excellence has poisoned our political system to the extent that any deviation from average is considered evidence of electoral weakness. We have, after more than 230 years of independence, finally succeeded in creating a political atmosphere that punishes a candidate for demonstrating skill and talent.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Note to the Governor of Montana

I appreciate your excitement, but the bolo tie is making it really hard for me to take you seriously.

Monday, August 25, 2008

2008 Florida Gators Preview: Part 3

Schedule:

For an SEC team facing three schools that played in BCS Bowls last year, Florida's schedule is surprisingly manageable.

August 30: Hawaii
September 6: Miami (Fl.)
September 20: at Tennessee
September 27: Ole Miss
October 4: at Arkansas
October 11: LSU
October 25: Kentucky
November 1: Georgia (in Jacksonville)
November 8: at Vanderbilt
November 15: South Carolina
November 22: The Citadel
November 29: at Florida State

Of Florida's four true road games, only one comes against a ranked opponent: Tennessee on September 20. The other three include a trip to Arkansas, where Bobby Petrino takes over a Razorbacks team that lost all of its offensive weapons and looks to rely on Casey Dick to quarterback the depleted unit. Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt: they'll give it the old college try and then they'll lose. FSU is a bad team. They might have a winning record because of the weakness of their out of conference schedule and the ACC, but they're a bad team. Tallahassee hasn't been a pleasant place for the Gators over the years, but that curse was broken in 2004 and decisively buried in 2006.

Speaking of bad teams, Miami's coming to town for the first time since 2002. The game will renew a rivalry whose latest chapter was written in 2004 and which took a decade-long break in the 90's. The Hurricanes went 5-7 last year. They'll be better in 2008, but they're relying in large part on the talent Randy Shannon brought in this past signing day. That group might one day form the core of a Miami resurgence. But as true freshmen, they're going to get handled with relative ease in Gainesville.

The remaining tough games on the schedule either come at home or on neutral turf. Ole Miss is getting a lot of play as a darkhorse, what with Jevan Snead and a new, competent coach to reap the benefits of Ed Orgeron's recruiting. But while Snead was a superstud in high school, he hasn't actually proven anything in college, so it's probably premature to fear him. If the game was later in the season and in Oxford, I would be more worried. But it's the fourth game of the season and it's in Gainesville. I'm not worried.

LSU will be tough, because LSU is always tough. Talent abounds in Baton Rouge. But the game's in The Swamp, and I refuse to tremble at the thought of Florida facing an LSU team quarterbacked by a transfer from Harvard's JV squad.

Ultimately, the climax of the season will come on November 1. In fact, Florida's year is essentially a three game season: at Tennessee, LSU and Georgia in Jacksonville. If the Gators win all three of those games, they're set up for an epic run to a national championship. 2-1 puts them in a great position for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. 1-2 and UF is looking at a bitterly disappointing 10-2 year. 0-3 and things get very hot for Urban Meyer.

General Prospects:

A lot of the season is going to come down to injuries. It was announced today that Brandon Spikes, who I labeled an irreplaceable part of the team, is fighting a nagging foot injury. His status for the opener is in question, though Meyer doesn't seem to think the injury will cripple Spikes. Percy Harvin's too explosive a playmaker, too electrifying and dynamic a presence, to lose for a large chunk of the season without it having a massive effect on the offense. If he's in there for 10 or 11 games at full speed, Florida's offense could be something special. If he misses five or six games, or if his heel slows him when he does play, that offense becomes merely good.

And that's an important distinction. The quality of UF's season is going to be directly related to the quality of UF's offense. Considering how the defensive secondary and line played last year, all Meyer can ask for out of his defense is an average performance. If the defense is average, that puts the onus on the offense to carry the load. A special offense= a special season. It's a linear situation. Whatever adjective describes the offense will, by the end of the season, also likely describe the team as a whole.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

2008 Florida Gators Preview: Part 2

Defense:

For all the hype surrounding Chris Leak, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, the 2006 National Championship was largely won on the strength of a ferocious defense. Defensive ends Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey relentlessly pressured the quarterback, linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett stopped all runners and Reggie Nelson patrolled the defensive backfield with shocking ferocity. The 2007 unit had Derrick Harvey and...not much else. It was ranked 41st in the country, 98th (!) against the pass. Youth, inexperience and a lack of talent at a couple key positions combined to produce a defensive unit that could not stop anyone at crucial moments.

The 2008 defense projects better, if only because many of the key players have another year of experience. Exactly how much better is perhaps the most important question facing the Gators.

Defensive Line: DEs

Derrick Harvey bolted for the NFL after his junior year, but Florida appears to have another set of talented defensive ends. They won't replicate the production of the 2006 Moss/Harvey duo or the terror those two inspired, but they should be able to chase down the quarterback often enough to help the secondary.

Junior Jermaine Cunningham is not a dynamic, freakish pass rusher like Harvey or Moss, but he's a solid player and was probably Florida's second-best defender in the 2007 season. He recorded 64 tackles as a sophomore, including 17 in the loss at LSU. Cunningham's 6 1/2 sacks weren't extraordinary, but it was a respectable total. He's "only" 6-3, 250 lbs, so he doesn't profile as a future top NFL draft choice, but at the college level he'll anchor Florida's line.

The future superstar on the line is sophomore Carlos Dunlap, who is a freak in the Jevon Kearse/Moss/Harvey mold. Listed at 6'6, 290 pounds in the media guide, published reports indicate that he's at least an inch or two taller than that. After a largely ineffective true freshmen campaign, Dunlap shredded an admittedly paper thin offensive line in the spring game; he registered four "sacks" and practically pitched a tent in the offensive backfield. He'll probably struggle against the run, but if UF's going to generate a pass rush from the front four, it'll come from Dunlap.

Backing those two up will be a handful of under classmen, foremost among them sophomore Justin Trattou. He showed flashes of excellence as a true freshmen, compiling 20 tackles, 6 1/2 for a loss, and 3 1/2 sacks. For a true freshmen moving back and forth between the DE and DT positions, those are impressive numbers. He'll be a huge part of UF's defensive line rotation.

Fellow sophomore Duke Lemmens played played in 11 games as a true freshmen last year. He didn't make too much of an impression, recording just six tackles. But he was a well-regarded recruit out of California and should join Trattou in the rotation.

A couple true freshmen fill out the rest of the depth chart. William Green, a four star recruit Florida was able to pluck out of Alabama, has impressed coaches and should see action in passing situations. Earl Okine, a 6-7 monster from Gainesville High, might redshirt.

Defensive line: Defensive Tackles

Quite possibly the weakest position group on the team. Florida doesn't lack for talent, but there are no Marcus Thomas types in this group. The Gators will once again have issues pushing the pocket from the middle of the line.

The DT position is unsettled, but one of the starters should be redshirt sophomore Lawrence Marsh. I know very little about him. He's listed as a DE, but at 305 pounds (per GatorZone), he appears to have moved to the interior permanently. Marsh played sparingly last year and has impressed coaches this fall. So...yeah. There you go.

There's a lot of uncertainty behind Marsh. Junior college transfer Troy Epps seems to be in the driver's seat for the other starting position. He's listed at 6'1, 292 pounds and (evidently) dominated while playing for JUCO juggernaut Coffeyville Community College. Epps didn't impress much in the spring, but the fansite reports indicate he dropped fat and added muscle in the summer. No idea how true that is.

After Epps there's a scrum for the remaining spots in Florida's rotation. Senior Javier Estopinan has torn his ACL three different times and is more of an inspirational figure than a legit tackle. Redshirt freshmen Jaye Howard should contribute. Sophomore Terron Sanders played in only six games last year but seems to be in the rotation. Redshirt freshmen John Brown, one of the prizes in Florida's 2007 recruiting class, will also play and might represent the best shot the Gators have at finding a more than adequate tackle.

A handful of other players deserve mention, though they might not rack up a lot of playing time. True freshmen Omar Hunter out of Georgia was the best recruit in Meyer's 2008 recruiting class after being pulled away from a verbal commitment to Notre Dame. He's a huge talent, but a back injury has set him back to the point where he only started practicing late this week. No one's sure how much playing time he'll get.

True freshmen Matt Patchan was one of the nation's top offensive tackle recruits, but he was so fierce in spring practice that the coaching staff moved him to the defensive line. He'll rotate between the DT and DE spots.

Redshirt junior Ronnie Wilson was kicked off the team in early 2007 after an incident where he fired a gun over the head of someone who had annoyed him. He had played a lot as an offensive guard on the 2006 team, and would still be the starter if not for the incident. Wilson's scholarship was revoked, but he's worked his way back on the team as a defensive tackle. He'll miss the opener with Hawaii because of a sprained ankle. His season beyond that remains a question mark.

Linebackers:

Junior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes will lead this unit. Spikes was one of the few Florida defenders who could have been accurately described as an above average player in 2007. He was credited with 131 tackles, 81 solo, and generally played well. At 6'3, 245 pounds, he lacks truly impressive speed and isn't much of a blitzer, but he's a strong tackler and acceptable in pass coverage. He'll be the "spiritual leader" of the defense, for whatever that's worth, and is a candidate to leave early for the NFL.

He'll play alongside fellow junior Dustin Doe, a 6'0, 230 pounder who lacks Spikes' size but makes up for it by running with the grace and speed of his namesake. Recovered a fumble and returned for it a touchdown against Tennessee, but aside from that he wasn't much of a playmaker in 2007. He did record 85 tackles last year and has played in 27 games in his career, so experience won't be a problem.

Doe and Spikes will have to make up the relative weakness of weakside linebacker A.J. Jones. Jones, a redshirt sophomore, played in all 13 games last year and started nine of them. I don't remember him making a single play.

Florida has good depth at the position. Jones will be backed up by sophomore Lorenzo Edwards and true freshmen Lerentee McCray. McCray's a swift, thin linebacker, but he's impressed coaches with his playmaking ability in fall camp. If Jones continues his non-entity performance, Meyer will have options to replace Sophomores Brandon Hicks and John Jones will back up Doe on the strong side. Dustin's probably more entrenched in his position.

The Gators don't have great depth behind Spikes. Redshirt junior Ryan Stamper is the only viable back-up at the middle linebacker position after freshman Brendan Beal tore his ACL. If anything happens to Spikes, Florida is in a world of hurt.

Oh, worth mentioning is true freshmen TJ Pridemore, who was Omar Hunter's high school teammate and possibly the price of signing the megastar DT. He likely won't see a lot of important time as a linebacker, but look for him as a blocker in goal line situations.

Cornerbacks:

I rather bizarrely find myself cautiously optimistic about Florida's corners. I say bizarrely because, of course, UF's cornerbacks humiliated themselves throughout the 2007 season. They were short, they were young, they were inexperienced and they made sure everyone knew it. The Capital One Bowl was their crowning moment of shame, allowing a mediocre Michigan offense to rack up but 1,962 total yards. But the Gators have some talent here, and more importantly, they have enough names to fill out a depth chart.

The top cornerback will sophomore Joe Haden, who played that role for Florida last year with little success. Haden's got decent size (he's about 6'0, give or take an inch, and about 200 lbs, give or take a pound), excellent speed and surprising strength. You never want to see your cornerback racking up the tackles, but Haden picked up 63 of them last year and dealt out a surprising amount of punishment. Unfortunately, he only intercepted one pass, and it came on a dropped ball against LSU. But I'm optimistic because Haden was playing corner for the first time in his life last year. He was recruited as an "athlete" out of high school and was supposed to be in UF's receiving corps. But he was moved to corner out of necessity, and considering the circumstances he did the best he could. I'm hopeful that his second year as a defensive back will be a more productive one.

I'm less sanguine about the prospects for Florida's number two corner, junior Wondy Pierre-Louis. Wondy's got good size (he's 6-1) and impressive overall athleticism, but his speed and general skillset haven't been terribly impressive. He did intercept two passes last year, which isn't a good total but tied him for the team lead. That should tell you quite a lot about UF's pass defense. He was a solidly below-average player as a sophomore, and while I expect improvement, there's no reason to expect him to really impress.

There will be a scrum for the playing time afforded when UF goes to nickel and dime formations. Fortunately, the Gators have good numbers at the cornerback position. Markihe Anderson played as a nickelback in 2006 and would have been a starter last year were it not for a pre-season injury. He didn't impress when he played last year, but no one did in that secondary. He's probably ahead in this race because the other competitor, redshirt Jacques Rickerson, was probably Florida's worst cornerback in 2007. He might have improved, but I've read nothing to that effect.

True freshmen Janoris Jenkins, a top-ten high school cornerback, will push for playing time and probably get it. Sophomore Moses Jenkins is tall at 6-2 and recorded a sack against Florida State, which is pretty much the extent of his contributions so far. Two true freshmen, Adrian Bushell and Jeremy Brown, will likely redshirt.

Safeties:

This was supposed to be a position of great depth for the Gators. But Jamar Hornsby was kicked off the team, Jeremy Finch transferred and Dorian Munroe tore his ACL. Those defections, combined with five star recruit Dee Finley's failure to qualify academically, have left Florida with a talented but depleted depth chart.

Sophomore Major Wright will start at free safety. (Or strong safety. We don't know yet, and it probably won't make much difference) Played in every game as a true freshmen and started seven of them after it became clear Kyle Jackson simply could not play football at the SEC level. Wright's a big hitter and turned around the Auburn game by forcing a fumble after one of the Tigers' broke a big run. He had 67 tackles and four forced fumbles as a true freshmen, both impressive numbers. Not easily available on the internet were the number of times he screwed up pass coverage responsibilities, but there were quite a lot of them. He was a true freshmen learning on the job, so I won't judge him too harshly. If he can improve in that area, he'll be an outstanding player. If he can't, he'll still be better than Kyle Jackson.

Starting beside him will be sophomore Ahmad Black, a converted cornerback who checks in at 5'8, 190 pounds. Those measurements do not inspire confidence. He played in seven games last year and...did nothing, so far as I can remember. But he'll be the starter until he's unseated by...

True freshmen and mega recruit Will Hill. 6'2, 205 pounds and blazingly fast, Hill was one of the country's very best recruits. Parade All-American, participant in ESPN's All American Game, etc. And Florida fans are desperately hoping he'll live up to that hype. He'll come off the bench for awhile, but hopefully he'll play so well that he'll take over for Black by the Ole Miss or Arkansas games. It's hard to imagine Black being a truly effective safety, though I'm sure he'll give it an admirable effort.

Backing up those three are a collection of walk-ons and converted receivers. The receiver is redshirt sophomore Justin Williams, who has good size and intercepted a couple passes in Florida's first fall scrimmage. He probably won't contribute a whole lot this year, but it's good to have him on the depth chart. Sophomore Bryan Thomas is actually a safety, but he's missed fall practice after surgery to remove a cyst from his knee. No idea when he'll return.

Special Teams

Urban Meyer is a special teams acolyte and coaches the various units himself. As a result, UF's special teams units have become a decided plus for the team. The Gators return punts well and simply don't allow opponents to return them. They block kicks and keep the other guys from blocking kicks. About the only thing they don't do consistently well under Meyer is kick field goals.

Kickers and Punters

Two players continue to battle for the right to boot footballs through the uprights for the Gators. Senior Jonathan Phillips came in as a well-regarded high school kicker and hasn't done anything for Florida except shank extra point attempts. True freshmen Caleb Sturgis comes in as a well-regarded high school kicker and...well, let's hope this sentence ends with a better clause than the previous one did. I actually got a chance to watch Sturgis kick while I was covering a high school football game in Baker County, Florida. He's got a big-time leg and is more than capable of converting field goals from 50+ yards. (I saw him do that several times at halftime without the aid of a tee) Meyer's a little down on Sturgis' accuracy, but I have to imagine Sturgis will win the job eventually.

There's no such competition at punter. Sophomore Chas Henry has the job locked down. He only averaged 39.3 yards per punt, but the important statistic is net average. Florida ranked ninth in the country in net punting average, thanks to the team's preternatural coverage unit. Henry averaged 39.3 yards per punt, and his net punt average was 39.27. Hell, the Gators only allowed five punt returns period in 2007. Summing up: when the Gators punt, just fair catch.

Returners:

Brandon James, Brandon James, Brandon James. Shifty and explosive, this is where James really earns his scholarship. He's a threat to score on every return and is especially dangerous on punts, where Florida ranked seventh in return average.

Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey will probably see some time returning kicks in mop-up situations, but this is James' role.

Tomorrow: Schedule and Prospects


Joe Biden: Feel The Excitement!

Joe Biden it is. And I like it.

I don't much like the way Obama made the announcement, and not just because his campaign sent out the text message at 3:30 am Eastern Time. If he had made the call on Wednesday, he'd have a solid week of great press coverage. Wednesday through Friday would have been glowing coverage of Biden, Saturday and Sunday would have been an amalgam of VP and convention stories and Monday through Wednesday next week would have been a series of positive visuals from picturesque Denver. Instead we get a 3:30 am announcement, two days of weekend coverage (Saturday and Sundays are the worst news days) and process stories about why it took Obama so damn long.

But the pick itself I like. Obama clearly wasn't going to touch Hillary Clinton with a ten foot pole. Evan Bayh is about as exciting as a fifth grade play your child isn't in, Tim Kaine has too many question marks and Kathleen Sebelius is an unknown.

The pundits and commentators think Biden's biggest strength is as a burnish for Obama's foreign policy credentials. They're not wrong, but I think what the selection really says is that Barack Obama takes this governing thing seriously. (Well, that's what the campaign wants the selection to say. Whether you agree or not is probably a matter of partisan affiliation) Obama had options that made more electoral sense. Kaine could have helped push Obama over the top in Virginia, while Bayh could have made Indiana competitive.

But instead of going that route, Obama's campaign can claim, he chose a senator from a solidly blue state. Biden will help in Pennsylvania, his birth state, and blue collar voters will like his boxer's mentality, but you don't choose Joe Biden if you're picking a VP for electoral reasons. You choose Biden because you want a guy with experience, someone who'll be able to help a presidential administration and even take over in the event of a national tragedy. Obama sacrificed politics for wisdom.

That's the spin. Realistically, the political repercussions extend beyond electoral votes. You choose Biden so you can write everything I just wrote about helping your administration and adding an experienced voice. You choose Biden so you get his sharp tongue campaigning for you in rural Ohio, mocking McCain and whoever he chooses as his running mate.

It's not a choice without risk. Back when I talked about Biden in my award-winning VP Profile series, I mentioned the "babysitter dynamic." With this pick, Obama's trying to say, "When that phone rings at 3:00 am, Joe Biden will be there to add an experienced, knowledgeable, intelligent voice to the discussion." What you risk telling voters is, "When that phone rings at 3:00 am, Joe Biden will answer it and make all the decisions." There's a chance that next to Biden's 471 years of experience, Obama will look shallow and weak.

But there's no such thing as a perfect choice. Considering the realistic options, Biden was the best individual available to Obama. Aside from the political considerations, I really do believe that Biden could be a true asset for an Obama administration. He's someone any president should listen to, and I like the idea that Obama's looking for those voices.

Friday, August 22, 2008

2008 Florida Gators Preview

Like most of the civilized world, I'm anxiously awaiting Barack Obama's choice of vice president. But since he's quite intent on making us all feel like jackasses for staring at our cellphones, it's probably wise to write about a different subject.

So, college football. My beloved alma mater went 9-4 in 2007, a mild disappointment coming off the national championship year of 2006. Considering the quality of the players lost and the youth of those remaining, it actually wasn't that bad a year. But expectations are much higher this year, as they should be. Anything less than an SEC Championship will be considered a disappointment.

OFFENSE

Will be the strength of the team. Led by the Heisman Trophy winner, with a solid offensive line and a bevy of talented playmakers, Florida's offense should be one of the very best in the country. Last year's offense was ranked 14th in the country in yards per game, third in points per game.

Quarterbacks:


There's nothing new or original to be written about Tim Tebow. He's an outstanding passer, a frightening runner and generally the best player in America. Tebow ran 210 times for nearly 900 yards last year in large part because Urban Meyer didn't have a true running back on whom he could lean. If things go according to plan, that "210" number will go down considerably. Still, we're talking about the freaking Heisman Trophy winner here. Get him the damn ball and stop apologizing for it.

Two quarterbacks are battling for the back-up role behind Tebow, and according to Meyer, it won't be a clipboard holding job. Meyer wants a system akin to what he used in 2006, when Tebow was Florida's third and short battering ram.

The best QB for that role is probably sophomore Cam Newton, a 6-6, 240-pound monster of a quarterback who saw mop-up action last year and impressed with his speed and power. He quarterbacked a couple impressive drives in the waning moments of the blowout win over Tennessee, punctuating one with a Tebow-esque rumble into the endzone. His passing performance in the 2008 Spring Game was erratic, and there remain questions about his ability to truly master an offense. But if he can convince Meyer that he's capable of holding on to the football, he's well-suited for a change of pace role as a running quarterback.

Fighting Newton is redshirt freshman John Brantley, one of the prizes of the 2007 recruiting class. A gifted drop back passer, Brantley sat out last year and has battled a handful of small, nagging injuries during his limited tenure at UF. He might well be the post-Tebow quarterback of the future. But with his relatively limited mobility and apparent fragility, it's hard to see how his skills really complement Tebow's in a way that would allow Meyer to use him as a second quarterback.

Running backs

(
Note: in this offense, wide receivers frequently end up running the ball. It's a big part of what Meyer does. Nonetheless, in this section we'll focus only on those who are listed as RBs in the media guide. Receivers who figure to spend time in the backfield will be discussed in the next section)

The bane of Meyer's existence during his first three years at Florida. In 2005 and 2006 it was Deshawn Wynn and his infuriating inconsistency. Last year it was Kestahn Moore and his fumble issues. Those problems were why Tebow became Florida's go-to running back in both 2006 and 2007.

Things look to be better in 2008. Meyer and new running backs coach Kenny Carter have raved about their stable of backs in fall camp, and there's renewed hope that Florida will find a consistent running back for the first time since Ciatrick Fason left after the 2004 season.

Senior Kestahn Moore remains the presumptive starter. Solid and thoroughly boring, Moore's been picking up about 5.3 yards a carry since he debuted in 2005. He lacks breakaway speed but runs hard. (During the 2006 Alabama game, CBS play-by-play man Verne Lundquist told analyst Gary Danielson that "Meyer calls Moore a real 'lunch pail' guy." Danielson deadpanned, "That's usually what coaches call running backs who aren't very fast.") Meyer lost faith in Moore last season after a horribly timed fumble against LSU and another fumble on the first drive of the game against Georgia. Those were his only two fumbles of the season, but they stuck with the fanbase and coaching staff. Still, Moore's always picked up his yards, and Meyer loves how he handles the secondary responsibilities (blocking, receiving, etc.) of the position. Moore will also play a lot of fullback, allowing Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to get an offensive threat at that position while sticking another running back on the field.

The anointed savior is USC transfer and redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Moody. Moody played well for the Trojans as a true freshmen in 2006, but saw himself buried in the tide of four and five star running backs Pete Carroll was trucking into LA. Reports on Moody's skillset are a little sketchy, since he hasn't played a down since that 2006 season. But he seems like a more talented version of Moore, a powerful runner with surprising speed. We think. Meyer is obsessed with ball security out of the running back position and won't let anyone on the field who has fumble issues. Moody ran for over 100 yards in the spring game, but also fumbled while diving into the endzone. If Moody can get that under control, Meyer might well have caught his white whale: an every down running back.

Fellow redshirt sophomore Mon Williams has impressive talent, and at 6-2, 210 pounds he might have the backfield's best combination of size and speed. He saw some mop-up work as a true freshmen in 2006 and impressed coaches during 2007 spring practice, but he tore his ACL and missed all of last year. He should see more than a few touches.

After Williams is a trio of absurdly fast and exciting scat backs. Redshirt freshmen Chris Rainey was a five star prospect in the 2007 recruiting class but hurt his shoulder early in the season and was granted a medical redshirt. He is, as the kids these days say, "fast." Absurdly fast. He came to Gainesville as a 160-pound running back, but has since added 25 pounds of muscle (according to GatorZone.com) and should be big enough to play in the SEC. Considering the three players ahead of him, Rainey will probably spend more time as a slot receiver and on reverses and end-arounds, as opposed to a traditional between-the-tackles running back role.

If Rainey is absurdly fast, true freshmen Jeff Demps is...um, unbelievably fast? Frighteningly fast? Jaw-droppingly fast? Demps barely missed out on a spot on the US Olympic track team as a 100 meter sprinter. Demps and Rainey ran a handful of races on the street outside their apartment; Demps won the first heat, Rainey pulled up on the second and won the third. Demps, like Rainey, doesn't have great size; GatorZone lists him at 5'8, 176 pounds. He won't get the touches of the first four backs discussed here, but he'll definitely see the field, perhaps as Florida's version of LSU's Trinton Holliday.

The last back is Brandon James, Florida's dynamic return man. He won't get a lot of hand-offs, but he will be used frequently as a slot receiver and the pitch man on options.

Receivers and Tight Ends

There seems to be this perception that Florida's got another excellent receiving corps, like the group it had in 2006 or 2007. That's not really true. Cornelius Ingram's season-ending knee injury removes a reliable receiver from the depth chart. That leaves Florida with a thinner group of pass catchers.

The one who should head that group is extraordinary junior Percy Harvin, one of the most electrifying players in America. He's fast, agile and surprisingly strong. He's got good hands, runs solid routes, keeps his nose clean off the field and stays crunchy, even in milk. Harvin can blow past any defender and is capable of making multiple players look stupid with a single, subtle cut. (Check him out on YouTube.) Caught 59 passes for 858 yards and rushed the ball 83 times for 764 yards last season. (That's a 9.2 YPC average, if you don't want to do the math) He is, in short, a wonderful player with the ability to change the game every time he touches the ball.

And no one has any idea how often he'll play this year.

Harvin, who battled leg and hip injuries over his first two seasons at UF, had heel surgery in the spring. His rehab was going swimmingly until the start of fall practice, when he had a setback and felt some pain in the offending heel. He hasn't practiced since, though he has taken part in various conditioning exercises, sometimes at full speed. Meyer hasn't confirmed anything, but it appears likely that Harvin will miss the season opener against Hawaii. The Gators won't need him to beat the Warriors. But while they probably won't need him to beat Miami in week two, it'll be a bad sign if he misses that game. If he misses the game at Tennessee, it'll be a sign that his season is in serious jeopardy.

Behind Harvin is senior Louis Murphy. He was Tebow's prime deep threat in 2007; when the Heisman winner executed his patented "jab step/deep pass" play, Murphy was usually on the receiving end of the pass. If Harvin's unavailable, Murphy will be Tebow's most reliable and experienced target. He has good size (GatorZone lists him at 6'3) and could be a high draft choice in 2009.

After Murphy comes...well, quite a lot of of inexperience. It's hard to believe that Florida's in a position of having two experienced, reliable receivers, one of whom might be suffering from a serious injury, but that's the situation. When Ingram went down and Jarrod Fayson transferred to Illinois, it left a troubled depth chart.

Of course, this being Florida those inexperienced receivers have abundant talent. If Harvin misses the game against Hawaii, the number two receiver is likely to be junior Riley Cooper. Cooper caught only eight passes in 2007, but he made them count; he averaged 22.3 yards per catch and reeled in three touchdowns. Unfortunately, two of those touchdowns came on long bombs against opening patsy Western Kentucky. (The third came on a 30-yard reception against Tennessee) Cooper's another big guy with great speed, but he's been injury prone as a Gator and has shown a tendency to screw up his routes.

Beneath Cooper on the depth chart are a bunch of receivers who can be summed up fairly quickly. Redshirt Junior David Nelson is 6-5 and looks impressive, but only has nine career receptions. Junior college transfer Carl Moore is 6-3, 220 lbs and was a five star JUCO recruit in January, but his spring performance was, by all accounts, poor. He's doing slightly better in the fall, but it's hard to pencil him in for 20+ catches. Redshirt freshmen Deonte Thompson was a big-time recruit out of Belle Glades, Fl. The Gators pulled him away from Miami, Ohio State and USC.

A trio of true freshmen round out the group. Frankie Hammond Jr. came in as a rail thin, lightning quick project who Meyer expected to redshirt. He's impressed enough this fall to earn some playing time. Omarious Hines and TJ Lawrence are likely to redshirt.

At tight end, sophomore Aaron Hernandez will slide into the starting spot vacated by Ingram. He's not the physical specimen Ingram is, but he's got great speed for a tight end and flashed some impressive open field skills as a true freshmen. Hernandez was the nation's top tight end recruit in 2007, and should step up in a big way this season. He'll do a lot to make up for the loss of Ingram.

Fifth year senior Tate Casey will back him up. He's big and he's old and four years ago he caught some touchdown passes as a true freshmen. That's his relevant biography.

The lack of reliable, experienced receivers is troubling on a team that spends so much time in four and five receiver sets. Fortunately, UF has enough playmakers to fill out those sets; it's just that many of those playmakers aren't wide receivers. The running backs, especially James, Rainey and Demps will take a lot of snaps at the slot receiver positions. James has been practicing extensively at the "Harvin position," should Percy be unable to play for an extended period of time.

Offensive Line

Meyer considers this the strongest unit on the team. He might be correct. The offensive line has undergone an impressive evolution over the last three years. 2005's offensive line was an embarrassment and nearly got Chris Leak killed. The 2006 unit improved dramatically but still had some problems. The 2007 line was a legitimate strength, with only the Michigan and Georgia games as black marks. The 2008 offensive line should be one of the best in the country.

Florida lacks a Michael Oher or Andre Smith, the kind freakish, dominating talents that get taken with high draft choices. What the Gators do have is a collection of experienced, talented linemen who have worked together for a couple years and have formed a cohesive unit.

The tackle spots will be held down by seniors Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins. Trautwein played a big role as a junior on the national championship team, but he broke his foot last spring and missed the 2007 season. Watkins is a huge dude (6-6, 310 pounds) who started every game at left tackle last season. He had problems in the Georgia game, as did every other linemen on Florida's roster.

Senior Jim Tartt will play left guard; he's become quite adept at that, starting 26 games there over the last two years. Sophomore Michael Pouncey played defensive tackle last year as a true freshman; Florida had so few bodies along the defensive line that the choice came down to Pouncey or Mr. Two Bits. But his future is at the right guard position he'll play in 2007.

He'll start alongside his twin brother, Maurkice Pouncey, who'll handle Florida's shotgun snaps as the center. (Both Pounceys are listed at 6-5, 312 pounds on GatorZone, by the way) This Pouncey started 11 games at right guard as a true freshmen and acquitted himself nicely. That included a fantastic performance at LSU, where he went one-on-one with Glenn Dorsey and generally handled the future top-five draft choice.

Meyer has impressive depth behind the starting unit. Some of the names include former big-time recruit Carl Johnson, Frank Tenpenny, Marcus Gilbert and former big-time recruit James Wilson, who nearly transferred to Wake Forest this off-season.

Tomorrow: defense and special teams.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Well, we're boned

FiveThirtyEight: McCain Now Winning the Small Majority of Simulations

Nate Silver and his partner over FiveThirtyEight frequently run 10,000 computer simulations of the upcoming election. Today, for the first time, McCain has won the majority of those simulations. This seems to be based on a new set of polls coming out today that give McCain a ten point lead in Missouri and a five point lead in Ohio. Those states had been moving in McCain's direction for a few weeks, but those are fairly striking totals. What can we take from this?

We're all going to die.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Anger and Racial Attitudes

There's a large part of me that wants Barack Obama to be pissed.

I want him to be pissed because I just read John McCain's newest national security attack, and I'm pissed. It would be reassuring and satisfying to see Obama react angrily to McCain's accusations, which aren't as odious as his abhorrent "rather lose a war" line but still strike me as beyond the pale. I would very much enjoy watching Obama pound a lectern and call McCain on his words.

The Obama campaign could use a healthy dose of rage, I think. Oh, they're not running some head-in-the-clouds, Aristotelian campaign. They've hit McCain hard, they've run attack ads, they've responded forcefully with statements from spokesmen and surrogates. But there's something inherently reactive about Obama's general election campaign so far. The polls are tightening, and while national tracking polls aren't all that useful, the fact that Ohio is now a dead heat is altogether more worrisome.

There are times when I want Obama to pull a Billy Beane and just throw a freaking chair, for God's sake. Take umbrage at something other than the New Yorker. The candidate himself, not the campaign. When Obama pointed out that the Republicans who were mocking his energy plan for encouraging Americans to properly inflating their tires seemed "proud of being ignorant," that was a good moment. It was the candidate himself leveling a compelling charge that fed into a greater narrative. (The Bush administration is anti-science and anti-objective evidence. McCain is running for a third Bush term. Therefore...) I don't care how strong a statement the campaign's spokesman makes, it will never receive as much attention as a brutal attack from John McCain himself.

I sometimes find myself wondering why Obama doesn't begin every speech or town hall meeting in Ohio by contrasting the "Barack Obama Economic Plan" with the "Phil Gramm-John McCain Economic Plan." I rather desperately want him to stand at that lectern or pace that stage and say:

"I'm sure you all saw that John McCain gave a big speech on the slopes of Aspen last week. And I'm sure you all saw that his good friend Phil Gramm was back in the front row. I'm glad to see it. It's always tough to watch friends fight. I'm happy that Senator Gramm is back advising Senator McCain. After all, Senator McCain fought for his friend when Senator Gramm ran for president in 1996, so Senator Gramm is right to return the favor. It's what friends do.

"But the American people should wonder about this friendship. They should wonder about the relationship between Senators McCain and Gramm, since many think Senator Gramm could be Treasury Secretary in a McCain administration. They should ask how close Senator McCain is to a man who called the United States 'a nation of whiners' and blithely declared that we are suffering from merely a 'mental recession.'

"They should ask Senator McCain whether he agrees with Senator Gramm when he says that the waitress in Cleveland who works 60 hours a week just to pay her bills but can't afford the gas she needs to get to work is a 'whiner.' They should ask Senator McCain whether he agrees with Senator Gramm that the laid-off steel worker in Lorain is simply going through a 'mental recession.' They should ask Senator McCain whether he agrees with Senator Gramm that the millions of unemployed Americans who face skyrocketing food and energy prices are just imagining their problems."

That would be so very, very satisfying. But would it be a good idea?

I suspect the pundits, folks like Joel Klein with their thoroughly middle-of-the-road philosophies, would say no. They might be right, but for the wrong reasons. Because when I think about an angry Obama, I can't help but wonder about the explosive racial tensions that simmer beneath the national surface.

Specifically, it occurs to me that Obama might be terrified of running headlong into the angry black man archetype that still haunts us. Obama reached this point by displaying an almost preternatural coolness and self-confidence. For an African-American to gain mainstream acceptance, he's usually had to be pleasant above and beyond the manners usually required of white celebrities.

We've made a lot of strides in this country, but our willingness to embrace only those African-American figures who display no glaring personality flaws doesn't speak that well of us. Michael Jordan and LeBron James are great on the court and flawless off it, so we love them. We have not yet shown that we can embrace an African-American with glaringly obvious problems like we have embraced several white John Daly figures.

A raging, lectern-pounding Obama is a persona with which we have not yet been confronted. The country's ability to accept it remains questionable. And so Democrats might be forced to accept a candidate who cannot turn to anger as a weapon in this election.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Back in the Saddle

If you're like me (that is, a huge dork) you probably watched Rick Warren's presidential forum at his Saddleback Church last night. If you're not like me (that is, normal, with a social life) you were probably doing something productive. Barack Obama's been vacationing in the exotic, foreign, barely-on-this-planet island of "Hawaii" for the past week, so this was a nice way of getting an hour of free press coming off his lull. It was also a chance to show a couple thousand Orange County evangelicals that he was a different kind of Democrat when it came to issues of faith and morality. For McCain, it was a chance to appeal to that audience of thousands of Orange County evangelicals, people who are the true bedrock of the Republican Party and who have been somewhat reluctant to embrace him.

Before I go any further, let me link to this Salon piece by Mike Madden. I'm giving you that story because my "analysis" is pretty much identical to Madden's, and I don't want anyone thinking I ripped off his perspective. Joan Walsh also said some of the things I will.

That out of the way, I thought Obama handled himself well. He was obviously comfortable speaking about religious and moral issues, and he showed familiarity with the Bible very early in his interview by referencing Matthew. (Warren seemed to appreciate it) He spoke coherently about the role of religion in his life and the importance of a moral aspect to all of his decisions.

And he avoided pandering, volunteering a pro-choice position to the fervently pro-life crowd. Obama expressed opposition to gay marriage, which is an issue where he and I differ, but he did offer an articulate defense for the idea of gay partnerships and offering basic spousal benefits to those partnerships. (“For gay partners to visit each other in the hospital, I don’t think limits my core beliefs about what marriage is.")

What was truly fascinating, however, was the difference in Obama's approach to the forum and McCain's. Obama came in for a...well, for a forum, a conversation about difficult issues. He frequently took a few seconds to answer Warren's questions and his responses tended to snake through the difficult issues Warren raised. Obama stretched out and explored the nuance. He came off like a professor, albeit that cool professor who'd spend a couple hours in his office with a handful of students talking about that tricky footnote on page 63 of the textbook.

McCain, on the other hand, came in impeccably prepared for a debate. He didn't attack Obama, because he's not an idiot, but aside from that his performance was exactly what you could expect to see from him in the upcoming debates. In fact, if he performs in those like he did Saturday night his staffers will be happy campers.

He pivoted effortlessly to areas of strength, "his" issues. His very first response brought the conversation to the supposed success of the surge in Iraq. National security came up in almost every response. McCain frequently answered questions with anecdotes that have become well-worn through overuse on the campaign trail, but he diffused any annoyance by using self-deprecating humor to point out the number of stories he was telling. And then he would tell another story and the audience would laugh. It was quite masterful.

McCain's responses were immediate and decisive, with none of the brief pauses Obama used. He didn't explore the same depths Obama did, but he was more quote-worthy and earned far more applause. (That was likely a simple matter of McCain sharing a political philosophy with those in attendance)

Take the two candidates' responses when Warren asked which Supreme Court justice they wouldn't have nominated. Obama unhesitatingly named Clarence Thomas. But when he talked about Antonin Scalia, Bane of The Left, he praised the justice's "brilliant" legal mind before expressing his disagreement with Scalia's philosophy. And he went into great depth when exploring John Roberts, calling him a "compelling person" before raising concerns about his tendency to give the executive branch too much leeway. It was an interesting answer, but a long one.

McCain? He instantaneously decreed every "liberal" justice on the bench to be unworthy of their positions and moved on to espouse his standard "strict constructionist" philosophy. It was, I must admit, rather breathtaking to watch McCain dispatch four members of the United States Supreme Court with a wave of his hand. Obama criticized three justices, but only called one truly unworthy of the position.

The answer was almost assuredly crafted to resonate with those conservatives who have not embraced McCain's candidacy. If they're not impressed with an effortless dismissal of half of the United States Supreme Court, they're not likely to be swayed by anything.

It's rather crass to talk about who "won" last night, but strictly in terms of presentation, McCain had a hell of a night. Obama didn't do anything to hurt himself, but he didn't do anything to help himself with an evangelical bloc his campaign thinks is up for grabs. McCain, by contrast, might well have made dramatic strides with those same voters.

Friday, August 15, 2008

VP Profile: Chuck Hagel

Age: 61
Current Position: Senator from Nebraska
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Deputy Administrator of Veteran Affairs, 1981-1982
A certain reader has mentioned a couple times that he'd like to see Hagel profiled, so I decided to knuckle under and bow to reader pressure. I'm a weak individual. This might be the last VP Profile; Obama is evidently very close to a decision. Or maybe I'll take a walk on the dark side and profile one of McCain's potential vice presidents. That's right: I'm a crazy man. You never know what I'm gonna do.

Pros: Vice Presidential selections are largely matters of PR in all circumstances, but a Hagel pick would be a huge publicity grab. The NY Times headline writes itself: "In Stunning Move, Obama Tabs Republican Hagel." It would feed into the narrative Obama's campaign has attempted to weave from the moment he entered the race: Obama as a unique, post-partisan figure, the product of an American meritocracy who sees past party labels and cares only about an individual's talent.

In many ways Hagel is a Midwestern, Republican version of Joe Biden: experienced, intelligent, respected and sharp-tongued. If Obama's searching for gravitas, he could do a hell of a lot worse than Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who has called for an end to the Iraq war. He's also excoriated the Bush administration for its demonization of debate and dissent, which endears him to me.

I could pad this out for a few more paragraphs, but what you've read above is pretty much Hagel's appeal as a VP candidate. Obama would earn plaudits from the various editorial staffs for reaching across the aisle and choosing a Republican, and skeptical independents would like the idea of a seasoned heavyweight like Hagel rounding out the ticket. That's as far as it goes.

Cons: The Democratic base would be pretty pissed. Oh, they like Hagel's stance on the war now, but he was a supporter of the war when it first came to the senate. And for the roots people (both grass and net), it only gets worse.

Because outside of the Iraq War, Hagel's pretty much your normal conservative. NARAL's given him a 0 percent rating, and while math isn't my strong suit, it's hard to imagine someone getting a rating lower than that. Those members of the Angry Hillary Supporters Brigade are not going to be happy about the elevation of a pro-life conservative to the vice-president's slot on Obama's ticket, nor should they be.

The NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign both dislike Hagel; the homosexual and African-American communities aren't likely to abandon Obama, barring some kind of unforeseeable development of the truly extraordinary variety. But thumbing your nose at them doesn't seem like a grand idea.

We could go on like this for awhile; his votes on energy and the environment are also problematic. But I'll try to avoid becoming tedious and simply emphasize that, should Obama choose Hagel as his VP, he'll be picking someone who disagrees with him on the vast majority of the important issues. He'll be picking someone who disagrees with most of his voters. That's risky.

Moving on to more mundane concerns, Hagel brings little geographic appeal to the ticket. Nebraska's not in play, and you'd have to squint awfully hard to convince yourself that he could help Obama in South Dakota. Which isn't really up for grabs anyway.

Verdict: He doesn't seem to be a factor in any of the reports on Obama's thinking; at this point, the shortlist seems to have been winnowed down to the Biden, Bayh, Kaine and Sebelius. A surprise is certainly possible, but everything seems to indicate that Obama will choose from that foursome.

Even if Hagel was part of that final four I don't think it would be a good idea. The novelty of a Republican on the ticket would wear off pretty quickly. Obama's a fan of the whole Lincoln-esque "Team of Rivals" motif, but that idea is stretched to the breaking point when you choose someone who disagrees with you on so many issues. It's also asking a lot of your base to support someone like Hagel.

But all is not lost for Hagel, who's retiring from the Senate this year. He's been talked up as a potential Secretary of Defense in an Obama administration. That seems like a good place for a Republican like Hagel. Obama can do his "Team of Rivals" thing by giving the opposition party an important cabinet post and demonstrate that he takes the Defense Department so seriously that he's willing to ignore partisan concerns and choose the best secretary for the job.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Barack Obama Joke

The McCain campaign is welcome to steal this, provided I get full credit and royalties:

God and Barack Obama meet for the first time. God is an Obama fan, but wants to poke a little fun at Obama's supposed arrogance and has spent weeks crafting the perfect joke.

"Barack," God says, "I've got a joke for you."

"OK," Obama says.

"What's the difference between you and me," God asks.

Obama shrugs and says, "My books are interesting?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Does Humidity Weaken Your Ligaments?

A couple days ago I wrote about Florida TE Cornelius Ingram's injury: a torn ACL. Back in July I wrote about injuries suffered by safeties Dorian Munroe and John Curtis: torn ACLs.

Well, those pesky ACLs continue to bedevil Urban Meyer and his gang. Backup offensive linemen Jim Barrie, a sophomore, and backup middle linebacker Brandon Beal, one of Florida's more highly rated freshmen, both tore their ACLs this week.

Ingram and Munroe were big losses, while Curtis, Barrie and Beal are mostly depth casualties. UF's best defensive player in middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, and Beal was about third or fourth on the depth chart there. Barrie wasn't breaking into Florida's starting offensive line this season.

But that's not the point. UF's also suffered a handful of other injuries this fall; offensive tackle Carl Johnson broke his wrist, receiver Louis Murphy is battling a sprained ankle, lineman Sam Robey dislocated his kneecap, defensive tackle Omar Hunter is battling a back issue and lineman Matt Patchan is recovering from a gunshot wound. You know, standard stuff, the kind of injuries a lot of teams suffer.

But the ACL tears, while not unique to UF (Georgia lost its best offensive lineman to the same injury), are troublesome. I'm not in any kind of position to critique the strength and conditioning system crafted by Florida's training staff; in fact, S&C Coordinator Mickey Marotti is regarded as one of the best in the country. Nor can I comment on the ferocity of Florida's fall practices. I'm not in Gainesville, and even if I was, Meyer closed practices to the public after Ingram's tear.

There has been always been this annoying little voice in the back of my head that insists I'm supporting a modern gladiator system when I watch football. At least the pros get paid. To be sure, the collegians get a free college education, but considering how players are often encouraged to do the bare minimum in the classroom, the value of that education is rather questionable.

So I cringe a little hearing about all these injuries. Barrie, Beal, Curtis, Ingram and Munroe will all have the luxury of a world-class sports medicine and rehabilitation program as they attempt to recover. These days an ACL injury, while serious, is not career-ending. Athletes come back from ACL tears all the time.

But the rehab process is still long and painful, both physically and mentally. I wonder sometimes if it's really appropriate to support a system that puts these 18 year olds through a grinder in an effort to glorify a coach or a university.

The reality, though, is that I have those thoughts a lot, and I still watch Florida football, still scream for Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. I still intend to write up a lengthy preview post in a couple of weeks before UF's opener with Hawaii. And I still plan to do some bragging should UF win a championship this year. Maybe that's a sign of moral weakness. I don't know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mark Penn, Obama's Past and the "Correct" American Life

The internet's been buzzing about this Atlantic piece by reporter Joshua Green. I'm not actually in love with the story. It's not bad, and if you're a junkie like me you'll want to read it, but Green promises in his first two paragraphs some fresh insights into Hillary Clinton's defeat. Instead he writes a fairly conventional piece that'll seem awfully familiar if you've been reading the various papers. Staff conflicts, philosophical failings, etc.

The appeal of Green's story is the in-house memos and e-mails he wrangled from the remnants of the Clinton campaign. You've probably seen the memo that's become the highlight of Green's article; it comes from "chief strategist" Mark Penn and is dated March 19, 2007. The money quote:

All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.
Save it for 2050.
It also exposes a very strong weakness for him—his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.

OK, so Mark Penn is a world-class prick and either a racist or someone who's anxious to appeal to racists. That's abundantly clear.

But I am now more concerned with the idea he's expressing in that quote, the concept that there's something uniquely dark and un-American about Obama's biography, that there's something vulnerable there. I'm interested in that idea because it's become an unspoken part of the McCain campaign strategy. They've openly questioned Obama's loyalty and patriotism; see the previous post and McCain's "rather lose a war" comment a few weeks ago. In making that "argument," the McCain people never explicitly mention Obama's past or his race, but they are certainly counting on the idea that his biography makes him uniquely vulnerable to patriotism questions.

I started Distressed Reporter about a month ago, so I'm obviously late to a lot of these larger discussions. We all know about the "Obama's a Muslim" emails, for instance. And I know the facts of Obama's biography have been hashed out before.

But for all that hashing, Penn's basic assertions still seem to constitute the conventional wisdom on Obama's biography. I wonder if that says more about the people who sculpt our conventional wisdom than it does about Obama or the public at large.

I say that because, to my thoroughly biased eyes, Obama's is the kind of life that represents what we say the American Dream is about. He is, many ways, the best example we can point to when we tell our children that they can grow up to become president. In the past, there was a kind of unspoken, unacknowledged racial asterisk by that promise; if you were black, or, really, anything other than white, the line came off as trite and deceptive. Obama's biography should be enough to erase that asterisk.

And I wonder from where we got the idea that the American people couldn't connect to a man raised by a single mother dedicated to her son and his education. Yes, their life and that education spanned the world and involved some unfamiliar places. But in a country with a 50 percent divorce rate, it seems that there are at least as many voters who were raised in split homes, under difficult circumstances, with occasionally unavailable parents, as there are voters who were brought up in a Leave It To Beaver episode.

Let me invalidate a lot of what I've written by saying that I find "issues" like these beyond stupid, and put a candidate's biography in the same category as I do the answer to the "Which candidate would I rather have a beer with" question. But if we're going to talk about biographies, it's worth going at least a little beyond the surface. And it's worth observing that while there are more American flags waving in the background of McCain's life, Obama's personal history is, in its own way, as quintessentially American as anyone's.



Joe Lieberman Continues to Amaze

Lieberman Harshly Criticizes Obama

An account from The Times of Lieberman's appearance at an event in York, Pennsylvania quotes the following quote from the august senator:

“In my opinion, the choice could not be more clear: between one candidate, John McCain, who’s had experience, been tested in war and tried in peace, another candidate who has not,’’ Mr. Lieberman said. “Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not. Between one candidate who’s a talker, and the other candidate who’s the leader America needs as our next president.”

OK, so I'm left with one question: THIS guy used to be my party's candidate for the vice presidency? THIS guy won votes in my party's presidential primary in 2004?

I love Al Gore to death, and if he had run for the presidency this year he would have been my guy, but it's staggering to think that he actually tabbed Lieberman eight years ago.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Did McCain Play The New York Times?

This story appeared in The Times August 9; I'm getting to it now because...well, because I'm lazy and I have lot of nothing to do around the house.

Anyway, the story is a fairly conventional "inside the campaign" peek, the message of which is that John McCain's operation is wide open and at times practically chaotic. Newly imported campaign manager Steve Schmidt is trying to bring order and stability to the campaign, but there remain unresolved tensions simmering barely below the surface.

The story was written by Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg; Nagourney is The Times' chief political correspondent. You'll see his byline on a lot of the paper's campaign trail accounts. The story they write is not, on the surface, entirely flattering. Aside from the description I gave above, at times McCain comes off slightly confused and prone to "adopt the last opinion he has heard."

Yet, the overall image painted by the story is one of John McCain as The Anti-Bush. He's so anxious to hear differing viewpoints from advisers that Schmidt has staffers limit McCain's access to his cell phone. He is "the overseer of a kingdom of dissenting camps."

And McCain's pretty cool with all that. His big quote in the story:

“I think a certain amount of tension is very healthy, and a certain amount of different views,” he said. “Because of the bubble that a president is in, and the bubble that a candidate is in, sometimes you find out afterwards something that — ‘Oh boy, I wish I had heard thus and such and so and so.’ So I appreciate and want some of the tension; I don’t want too much of it, obviously, because we have to have certain efficiencies. But I think there is a balance there.”

What's interesting there is McCain's invocation of the "bubble," which is the exact word that has been frequently used to describe George W. Bush in the Oval Office. In fact, Nagourney and Rutenberg explicitly lay out the anti-Bush argument in one paragraph:

While President Bush has been criticized for being too insular and too slow to adapt to changing circumstances, Mr. McCain’s leadership of his campaign suggests a less hierarchical, more free-form style, much closer to that of President
Bill Clinton.

You have your standard accounts of campaign in-fighting; two pollsters with conflicting philosophies are referenced, and the reporters chronicle a fight over McCain's recent negative veer. It might be instructive to note that the latter scuffle was initiated by a couple former McCain ads and outside image man Alex Castellanos, who you might remember from CNN's election night coverage.

I read this story and I can't help but wonder if McCain and Schmidt were thrilled to read it in the paper. McCain is, in this story, an omnivorous information consumer and a fan of dissent. That may all be true. But it seems conveniently timed, coming at a moment when the campaign is desperate to distance their candidate from an unpopular incumbent whose extraordinary lack of intellectual curiosity has long been chronicled.

So in the back of my mind there's a niggling little voice that keeps raising questions, foremost among them being this: did the McCain camp plant this story? You have a couple aides conspicuously grumble around a reporter, maybe stick them at a bar and let the press corps see them slam home a couple beers in frustration. Feed Nagourney and Rutenberg a few choice, anonymous quotes, and the reporter instinct takes over. Now they've got their teeth in a story that paints your guy in a positive light while ostensibly raising questions about the strength of his operation.

And I can't ignore the fact that Nagourney's one of the authors here. As I said, he's a go-to guy for The Times. He was also involved in a fairly significant kerfuffle with the Obama campaign a while back after he analyzed a poll by pointing out that Obama hadn't closed all of America's racial divides. Conflicts between reporters and campaigns are fairly routine, but this one got splashed around the internet and became a (very) minor sensation.

Now, let me say something that will pretty much invalidate the rest of this post: if I had to bet on the motivations involved here, I would guess that Nagourney and Rutenberg wrote the story in the usual way, using the usual sources, with no particularly unique involvement from the McCain camp.

But I do find myself slightly suspicious. And I wanted to share that, because I have lots of free time.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

VP Profile: Tim Kaine

Age: 50
Current Position: Governor of Virginia
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, 2002-2006
  • Mayor of Richmond, Virginia, 1998-2000
Also someone who's been getting a lot of press in recent weeks. There was a period where he was regarded as the front runner; he's been replaced in that role Bayh Bayh, but Kaine is evidently still in the conversation. He's also someone who was pretty far below my radar until recently, so I'm sort of blind here. Forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me.

Pros: Virginia, Virginia, Virginia and the lucky number 13. Virginia's voters haven't given the state's electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson won just about everything.

And now the Obama folks think Virginia is vulnerable. The polls over at FiveThirtyEight.com show a race that's so absurdly tight that "too close to call" is an understatement. Virginia's elected a bevvy of Democrats in recent years. Jim Webb beat Senator Macaca Allen in 2006, and the Democrats took control of the state senate in 2007.

Kaine was the first blast of that trumpet. He won the governor's chair in 2005 by six percentage points and by all accounts made dramatic inroads into traditionally Republican areas of Virginia while running up big margins in the Democratic regions.

Perhaps no one knows the state better than Kaine, and Obama's people must be salivating at the thought of dispatching the governor throughout Virginia to preach the gospel of Hope. You win Virginia, and you've pulled in 13 votes, two more than are at stake in Missouri, a traditional swing state. It would be roughly the equivalent of the Republicans picking off Massachusetts.

Kaine's a Spanish-speaking Catholic, a man who took a year off during law school to work as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. For whatever reason Obama had crippling issues with Catholics in the primaries, and Kaine can speak to them. Kaine's faith is an important part of his life; there's no one Obama can choose who would help him more with those voters.

Cons: Kaine might come off as a blatant vote grab, a sign that Obama doesn't take governing as seriously as campaigning. The reality, of course, is that every presidential candidate chooses a vice president with political considerations in mind. Sometimes it's less a matter of targeting a particular state or region and more an issue of using the VP to assuage fears; Dick Cheney didn't bring any geographic appeal to the Bush ticket in 2000, but he was tabbed (by himself, to be sure) to lend weight and gravitas to the untested George W. Bush. But choosing the popular governor of a crucial swing state is rather blatantly political, especially considering...

Kaine has no experience of any consequence. Mayor of Richmond isn't an easy gig, but it's hard to keep a straight face while arguing that it prepares one to be vice president. Governor of Virginia is a legitimate resume entry, as the executive experience gained there could be vital. But Kaine has had that job for slightly more than two years. Again, there's nothing there Obama can point to in a press conference that will let him say, "Here's the reason Tim Kaine is qualified."

Kaine's devout Catholicism has fed some rather nuanced views on social issues. He's personally opposed to abortion, has a "faith-based" issue with it, but he has publicly repudiated efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade. He's against the death penalty, but during his time as governor he has overseen a handful of executions and has not moved to repeal the death penalty in his state.

Now, I don't find anything offensive about any of that (Kaine's a supporter of abstinence education, which does trouble me), but he doesn't have easily definable, standard liberal positions. Those Clinton women who remain disconnected from Obama aren't going to be thrilled with the idea of a VP who's opposed to abortion, even if he's generally stood behind Roe. And the death penalty stance might hurt the campaign with rural voters.

Verdict: I like him more than Bayh for a couple of reasons. First, I think Virginia is more vulnerable than Indiana, and let's be honest, if Obama picks either of these fellows it's because he's casting a covetous eye on their electoral votes. Second, Kaine doesn't have Bayh's troublesome history with the Iraq War.

But at the risk of repeating myself, I still slot him behind Joe Biden and Bill Richardson on my short list. There's nothing exciting or inspiring about him. He has precious little name recognition outside of Virginia and the political cognoscenti. On my list he's roughly even with Sebelius; she's a more exciting candidate, but he hales from a more important state.

Oh, and one of my commenters points out that Kaine is a graduate of an area school, Rockhurst High. That's kind of cool.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I Feel Like I Need a "This Sucks" Tag

Florida Tight End Cornelius Ingram Tears ACL

Seems pretty much official at this point. Urban Meyer hasn't confirmed it yet, but that seems like a technicality right now. Ingram's going to miss the 2008 season.

Losing Ingram is a big blow to the Florida offense, certainly. It tears a hole in UF's depth chart at the receiver/tight end position. When it looked like Ingram was jumping to the NFL after the 2007 season, I was worried about Florida's receiving corps. CI's decision to return to Gainesville assuaged that fear, but it's back now. The Gators are down to two proven receivers, Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, and Harvin's coming back (by all accounts swimmingly) from a significant heel injury.

But Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff will probably be able to paper over Ingram's loss. Back-up tight end Aaron Hernandez is a sophomore who's ready to explode, and while having him forced up the depth chart at this point isn't an ideal situation, few teams could lose a guy like Ingram and replace him with a guy like Hernandez. And Florida's offense was not reliant on CI's 30-35 catches.

The football aspect of this isn't really what's on my mind right now, however. I'll get into greater depth in a few weeks when I write up a complete team preview.

No, I'm more concerned with Ingram himself. CI's gone through a lot in Gainesville. He arrived at UF in 2004 as a well-regarded athlete/dual threat quarterback and small forward. He lost that later designation fairly quickly and seriously considered transferring before moving to tight end prior to the Outback Bowl in 2006.

He spent 2006 and 2007 as a kind of tight end/wide receiver hybrid, played hard, caught some first down passes and was the leading receiver in both the 2006 SEC Championship Game and National Championship Game. There was some disappointment that he wasn't a more dominant offensive force, considering his impressive size and speed. But that always seemed a little petty.

Ingram had the chance to enter the NFL draft this April. Reports indicated he was leaning that way. But he decided to come back for a final year in Gainesville to try and improve his stock.

I don't want to overstate things here. His situation wasn't similar to the one faced by Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford after Florida won its first basketball championship in 2006. CI didn't turn his back on a first round draft choice, a six digit signing bonus and a long-term contract. He was a little soft and inexperienced to be a tight end, a little slow to be a wide receiver. He came back to spend a year as a true tight end and bump up his draft slot by a couple rounds.

Still, he was going to be drafted, and if he had worked his way onto the drafting team he would have had a nice payday. It's no small thing to say no to a lifelong dream and a six figure annual salary. But Ingram did that, and he was going to be a bigger part of this year's offense. The injury seems beyond cruel, and not just because he'll miss the season. It's hard to figure he'll be in high demand at the 2009 draft, considering he was projected as a late round pick this year and will be coming off an ACL tear.

There have been some grumblings that Ingram might petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but there's nothing official yet. I hope he does and I hope he's successful, but you can never rely on the NCAA to make a decision that'll help a student.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

VP profile: Evan Bayh

Age: 53
Current Position: Junior senator from Indiana
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Governor of Indiana, 1989-1997
  • Indiana Secretary of State, 1987-1989
Bayh seems to have become the odds-on favorite in this little game. I linked a Washington Post story last week that put him in Obama's "Final Four," along with Virginia governor Tim Kaine, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Joe Biden. But the speculation continues to swirl around Bayh. Some pundits even suggested Obama would name Bayh this week during his sweep through Indiana. Unless Obama pulls out a surprise announcement tonight, that seems unlikely. All the talking heads argue that Obama will either name a VP in the next couple of days or will wait a few weeks until the Olympics are over. I have a hard time imagining that the Summer Olympics will actually swallow up Barack Obama's vice-presidential choice and keep him from getting adequate news coverage, but hey, maybe that's why I'm sitting here blogging instead of shouting things on MSNBC.

Pros: Bayh's greatest asset is his inoffensiveness. If you come from the "do no harm" school of vice presidential selections, Bayh might be the perfect candidate. He's been around for awhile without earning opprobrium from any corners. Bayh's a pleasant personality, wonderfully safe, guaranteed to do nothing that will hurt the ticket.

Despite Bayh's relative youth he has an impressive governing resume, one that contains both legislative and executive experience. He was a popular two-term governor, easily winning election in 1988 and pulling 62 percent of the vote when he ran for re-election in 1994. As governor, he gained bi-partisan plaudits for "fiscal discipline."

After his tenure as governor, Bayh moved to Washington D.C. to take office as Indiana's junior senator. At this point he's serving on five different committees, including the Intelligence Committees and and the Armed Services Committee. So...yeah. That's something.

The Obama campaign might be looking at Evan Bayh through eyes that see only the number "11." That's the state of Indiana's contribution to our quirky little electoral college, and in a close election, those are 11 votes that could prove crucial. Indiana hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964; it gave George Bush an easy victory in 2004.

Obama thinks that might change this year. The Indianapolis Star reported, and the good folks at the mighty fun FiveThirtyEight.com have pointed out, that the Obama campaign has 14 field offices open in Indiana. McCain has none and has no plans to open any. The polls chronicled over at FiveThirtyEight indicate a small lead (four or five points) for McCain in Indiana. That's not insurmountable.

Bayh has deep roots in the state. The desk he occupies in the US Senate once belonged to his father, Birch Bayh. (No, really, that was his name) His re-election margin in 1994 was the widest in modern Indiana history, and he left the state house with an absurdly high approval rating. I'm generally skeptical of the influence a vice presidential pick can have on voters, but if that theory works for anyone, it works for Bayh.

Cons: "Bayh's greatest asset is his inoffensiveness?" Inspiring, isn't it? If Obama picks Bayh, he'll get a night of news coverage and nothing else. The VP newscycle ends with the following day's newspapers. Bayh is a sinfully boring pick, the kind of choice that does nothing to inspire or energize the base to come out on Election Day.

Bayh's most notable "achievement" in the Senate was co-sponsoring the Congress' joint resolution approving military action in Iraq. Bayh was, in fact, a strong supporter of the war and stood by the invasion while criticizing the Bush administration's conduct of it. That, along with Bayh's chairmanship of the religiously centrist Democratic Leadership Council, can only serve to annoy the liberals who largely carried Obama through the primary campaign.

Aside from the Iraq debacle, Bayh has no extraordinary achievements in the Senate. His tenure as Indiana's governor was impressive, but there's nothing about him that screams "heavyweight." He's not a package of "Instant Credibility: just add water!"

Bayh might come off as a blatant attempt to use the vice presidency as an election tool. Most presidential nominees do that, but this would be particularly hard to spin as anything other than a vote grab. It would feed into the Obama-as-lightweight narrative conjured by McCain.

Verdict: It appears Indiana's electoral votes and the desire to make a safe, uncontroversial pick are likely to win out. I understand it, but I don't particularly like it. Bayh might well force the McCain campaign to spend time and resources in Indiana. That's a big deal. But I remain unconvinced that he'll be able to actually deliver the state, and if that's the case, a close contest there could actually be dangerous for the campaign, enticing them with promises of a victory that's always just out of reach.

I prefer Joe Biden, who brings heft and intelligence. I much prefer Bill Richardson, but he doesn't appear to be a serious option.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Obama Steps Up

My post of a couple days ago notwithstanding, I'm generally an optimistic sort of fellow. I'm not delusional about it, and I think I'm capable of a healthy skepticism when it's a necessity. Still, I'm a believer in the idea of American greatness.

So I was thrilled to read the speech Obama gave on energy policy today at Michigan State University. While he didn't take my suggestion of sticking Tom Izzo on a hamster wheel and having him power Lansing during Spartan home games, Obama still did well this afternoon.

The aspects of the speech that have been making all the ledes are Obama's call to release 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the indication that he's willing to compromise on offshore drilling. I get why that's the case; those are policy shifts, and policy shifts are always interesting. (For a given definition of "interesting.")

I'm fairly skeptical of the SPR element, and in a perfect world offshore drilling wouldn't even be discussed as a serious solution to any problem. But Obama's position on drilling makes sense if you consider it within the context of his job as a legislator. Here's his statement:

Last week, Washington finally made some progress on this. A group of Democrat and Republican Senators sat down and came up with a compromise on energy that includes many of the proposals I’ve worked on as a Senator and many of the steps I’ve been calling for on this campaign. It’s a plan that would invest in renewable fuels and batteries for fuel-efficient cars, help automakers re-tool, and make a real investment in renewable sources of energy.


Like all compromises, this one has its drawbacks. It includes a limited amount of new offshore drilling, and while I still don’t believe that’s a particularly meaningful short-term or long-term solution, I am willing to consider it if it’s necessary to actually pass a comprehensive plan. I am not interested in making the perfect the enemy of the good – particularly since there is so much good in this compromise that would actually reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Obama is willing to compromise and accept something he doesn't like as part of a greater plan he does like. But look at what's he not doing here: he's not lying to the audience. He's not claiming that offshore drilling will solve their short term problems or America's larger issues. He is, instead, speaking as a senator who wants the best bill he can get but who isn't willing to torpedo a solid plan because it doesn't give him everything.

But while Obama spoke about expanding domestic oil production, most of the speech was a call for energy independence and a breaking of the chains that tie America to an oil-based economy.

I've written variations on this sentence before, but it's worth saying again this time: I'm not an expert on energy policy or alternative fuels. Obama called for the "end of the age of oil in our time." He wants to eliminate the country's need to import oil from Venezuela and the Middle East, and he wants to do it in 10 years.

I don't know if that's particularly plausible. It certainly sounds ambitious to my thoroughly amateur ears. I suspect it will be hard to pay for $150 billion Obama wants to invest over the next ten years to "build a new energy economy." I do think I know that $150 billion, in this arena, is a more of a good start than a complete investment.

He wants one million "150 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrids on our roads within six years." He wants to raise fuel mileage standards four percent every year. He wants to provide four billion dollars in loans to help Ford and GM "re-tool their factories and build these cars."

That's far from a comprehensive list. In short, Obama wants a lot of things. Some of them are doable. Some of them are probably very not doable. The legitimate experts and the guys who like to scream at television cameras will hash that out.

But me, I'm pleased to see Obama set such lofty goals. I believe in a government that's ambitious and idealistic and that tries to achieve the extraordinary, even with the foreknowledge that it might well fail. Obama's calling for great steps to address a great problem. He's calling on the American government and the American people to actually try to accomplish something extraordinary. That's as important as the particular details. This speech offers a window into Obama's governing philosophy, and I rather like the view.

I like that he's set a foolhardy goal of energy independence within 10 years. It's no fun hurdling bars that are set artificially low. Conversely, it's not shameful to fall short when the bar is set one notch too high.