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If elected president, John McCain will raise taxes.

Why? Because this election has so many eerie parallels to 1988. The older war hero emerging from the shadows of a two-term Republican. The move to paint his Democratic opponent as an elite tax-and-spend liberal. The young, once-obscure sidekick that many people argue is inexperienced (I can’t wait for Sarah Palin’s first visit to a Central American market or her first speling lesson).

Barack Obama is running hard to escape the trap and become Bill Clinton, not Michael Dukakis. But even Obama has repeated some of Dukakis’ steps. The main one is tapping an experienced Washington senator to be his vice president. Obama’s saving grace is his charisma, which puts him back in Clinton’s league. Clinton also gave a great speech, lest anyone forget.

But the biggest parallels of all are these: Rising deficits, a big defense build-up abroad and a financial crisis requiring the government to cover bad debt.

The Resolution Trust Corp. may very well have ended the savings-and-loan crisis, but the rescue came at a cost. George H.W. Bush was willing to pony up. I suspect McCain will do the same once in office — provided we can expect a war hero not to worry about paying the ultimate (political) price for doing the right thing.

People try to draw connections between campaigning and governing, but the two remain wholly separate. George W. Bush ran as a uniter not a divider, and has been anything but for the last eight years. Some say McCain is running as a divider. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a uniter in office. It’s just unclear whether the distinction will matter on election day.

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Let me get this straight. Taxpayers, the new politically correct term for Chinese lenders, are going to bail out Fannie and Freddie so that our benighted mortgage giants can pay back their creditors in, uh, China. It’s sheer genius. I don’t think a country wishing us harm could have put us in a deeper financial hole.

It’s the international version of payday lending — an endless lifeline for the fiscally challenged. Do you think they’d let me go to the bank to borrow money so I can pay my mortgage to the same bank?

Now, if John McCain really believes we need to cut taxes, he should come out against this bailout. Best, however, to discuss “long-term reforms,” preferably of the painless sort. Wake me up when Mr. and Mrs. Straight Talk point out that a streamlined Fannie and Freddie could make it harder for the average American to get a loan or when they discuss the details of how their reforms will keep that from happening.

After all, before these companies existed to enrich MBAs, stockholders, former politicians and foreign creditors, they existed to help Americans.

All this debate about “executive experience” is getting a little stale. Since when did Americans need a president who could order people around? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a president who could empower us to do for ourselves? Isn’t that what democracy and the free market are supposed to be about?

Ideally, yes. Realistically, I guess not. But still. It would float my boat to see a debate about which candidate — McCain, Obama, Palin, or Biden — would be better able to empower us instead of assume power over us.

Drill, baby, drill!

Republicans normally embrace calls for personal responsibility. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the debate over gas prices and what to do about them. That’s the irony in the recent mockery of Barack Obama’s mention of properly inflating tires.

Set aside all the studies showing savings from adequate inflation versus gains from domestic drilling. It’s also a moral issue, the kind Republicans would embrace in most other arenas. Why shouldn’t people be encouraged to take charge of their own lives and curb energy use wherever they can? The market may set an outrageous price for a gallon of gas. But we don’t have to sit back, play the victim and demand government action.

We can use fewer gallons. Or, at least when it comes to political debate, we can just move on to the next brouhaha. But not before I share with you the lead on this real-life press release (written by someone who clearly deserves a raise):

BETHESDA, Md., Aug. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — No matter where the presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, the issue of skyrocketing gas prices is always a top concern. The Car Care Council applauds both candidates who have recently discussed vehicle maintenance as a way to save energy, citing proper tire inflation and regular tune-ups. In fact, according to the survey by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), 75 percent of drivers said they are better maintaining their vehicles because of rising gas prices.

If something is too big to fail, shouldn’t it be completely part of the government rather than lie in some netherworld between the public and private sectors? That’s the only question worth asking in light of the Fed’s proposed bailout of our two big mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

What also seems odd is the constant reassurance from figures of authority that nothing is really wrong, that Fannie and Freddie don’t really need any money from the Fed. Then why all the fuss and bother?

At some point, someone in power (and their enablers) will have to start reading from a reality-based playbook. How else do you explain the large number of people who believe the country is on the wrong track and the large number of pundits and commentators who insist everything deep down is really OK?

Maybe Phil Gramm was right. Or maybe, just maybe, if you start to think about it, just for a fraction of a second, as crazy as it may sound and despite all of Gramm’s degrees and years in public life, he has no idea what he’s talking about. He just wants questions about the economy to go away.

Now that sounds like a reality-based playbook for a presidential campaign in 2008.

Say what you will about the contest to see which presidential candidate (and which presidential candidate’s wife) is more patriotic. At least it managed to knock Bill Clinton back out of the headlines. The economy, the war, fuel prices, none of that stands much of a chance of seeing much airtime anyway between now and November.

I nearly fell down laughing when I heard someone on CNN talk about how the patriotism debate switched the topic of most news away from the economy, etc., an alleged switch that apparently benefits John McCain. I just don’t remember hearing much about those other issues. But I do recall heated exchanges over the motives and whereabouts of Bill Clinton in the aftermath of the Democratic primary.

I can’t quite understand the media’s fascination with the Clinton-Obama story line. Well, no. I can, given the obvious drama. But it seems that health care, the housing crisis, the war in Iraq all offer plenty of drama, too. They’re just more complicated and require a little more digging outside the beltway. Just don’t expect anyone to pick up a shovel.

In the meantime, I suspect Barack Obama is going to start taking a real beating from the netroots, given his penchant for announcements like this and this. But I suspect the campaign must believe it will help Obama appear more centrist if he is consistently under attack from the left. After all, the same strategy works for McCain, only with attacks coming from the right.

Obama’s decision to spurn public financing and the resulting storm, I first put down as some inside-the-beltway issue that wouldn’t much resonate. But the more I think about it, the more I think he made a mistake there. You don’t jettison systems or principles you supposedly believe in just because they’re inconvenient. Isn’t that the lesson of the last seven-plus years?

Is it possible that the Internet is changing politics? You’d be foolish to think otherwise. But you’d also be foolish if you thought the Internet laid the foundation for some utopian break.

What if the Internet served mainly as a funnel for the village cranks who, in the past, bored their family, friends and neighbors with their rants, sent angry letters to newspaper editors and generally made a habit of being self-righteous, indignant and quick to jump on everyone else’s hypocrisy but their own? Sounds like the political Internet, eh? The funnel has turned into a megaphone that’s harder and harder for the rest of us to dismiss politely, as we would the neighborhood crank. All the cranks are linked together now — and plugged directly into the media.

Consider the tempest-in-a-T-1-cable over comments by John McCain’s Internet adviser. He said something to the effect that McCain doesn’t need to know how to use a computer to govern effectively. The people bemoaning this sound a bit like someone complaining about a city council member who doesn’t know what it’s like to live on their street because s/he lives in some other, better-protected neighborhood.

Ultimately, Americans don’t need a leader who understands the Internet. They need a leader who can help them get affordable health care, sensible energy choices and perhaps an end to the war in Iraq. But just as the issues are eclipsed by the likes of Chris Matthews’ analyzing the interior and ulterior motives of Bill Clinton, they’ll be eclipsed by judgments concerning politicians’ use of, and attitude towards, new technology.

The good news for American democracy online is that there will always be some new toy for the insiders to twitter about.

In a surprise announcement, Barack Obama and John McCain jointly said they would let the one who really wanted to be president go ahead and take the job and spare the American people the agony of five more months of listening to stories about which adviser said what and whose preacher preached what.

They also hoped their announcement would end speculation about Bill Clinton’s potential role in the campaign, armchair psychologizing over his motives and endless rehashing of any stray comments he might make between now and November

Under increasing pressure, John McCain today released a detailed plan outlining how he would pay for the United States’ continued military presence in Iraq.

The Republican presidential candidate has come under fire recently for proposing expensive foreign-policy solutions but not offering a way to pay for them.

You’ll immediately note how absurd that sounds. Who’s asking McCain to come up with a way to pay for foreign military adventures? No one. It’s a given that we pay for them, even if we have to borrow every last penny from China and Japan. Don’t expect Barack Obama to get the same pass when the question of health care, mortgage assistance, unemployment benefits or any other sort of domestic program comes up.

Military adventures, no matter how worthwhile or necessary to public safety they may be, cost money. Why don’t reporters and voters ask how we pay for those with the same intensity and knee-jerk persistence with which they demand comprehensive plans for domestic spending?

Asking how you pay for something isn’t the same as questioning whether it’s worth having, although our elected leaders often try to make people think they are.

It’s an interesting double standard, no?

Lawyers for David Archuleta are filing a motion in federal court today to overturn the American Idol victory of David Cook, who was crowned victor in a stunning finale of the musical competition’s seventh season last night.

Archuleta’s attorneys rest their case on the fact that Cook has failed to win over the crucial bloc of white girls aged 10 to 13, who make up a significant portion of the music-buying audience. Cook’s inability to dazzle this demographic threatens his ability to cook up a hit single this fall as a follow-up to his victory in the TV contest, the attorneys allege.

“Without getting into names, other Idol winners have clearly failed in the wider marketplace,” said Stu Ing, lead attorney for the teen sensation Archuleta. “We think it’s time the show reflected the broader, music-buying public rather than a narrow elite of people who have phones.”

Ing and his colleagues also contend that the finale should be redone as many tweens were asleep in bed during the crucial final phase of voting. Had these girls been able to vote, the results might have been different and Archuleta would have been the one weepily crooning at the end.

Wait a sec. Are we talking about American Idol or the Democratic primary season? Who knows anymore. But it’s tempting to consider what Cook’s win portends for the second-biggest election this year.

Is Cook a stand-in for Barack Obama, the outsider who wasn’t even expected to enter the contest? And is Archuleta Hillary Clinton, with a troublesome stage father in place of an intrusive stage husband?

Or is Cook John McCain, the grizzled veteran, while Archuleta represents a new face, i.e. Obama, who was buoyed by a youth vote that failed to materialize when it really mattered?

We can only wait and see. And hope that tween girls aren’t so disillusioned that they give up on American Idol entirely.