Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 12, 2007

Hillary, the Metro Republicans, and 2008

Is Hillary inevitable? Another day, another answer: Robert Novak says no. Her fundraising is slipping a little, due in equal parts to Barack Obama’s fresh face and to the distaste many Democrats feel about her prospective coronation. And, of course, the anti-war Democratic primary base in New Hampshire really, really hates that she voted for the war and won’t repudiate her vote. This raises the interesting question for Hillary-hating war supporters on the Right: who to root for should it turn out that she really is the farthest rightward Democratic candidate in an election in which Democrats are presumed by many strategists to have the advantage.

Meanwhile, Noemie Emery, a Weekly Standard writer who has an amazing ability to put her finger on the political pulse, has a piece in the current issue making the argument that in this election cycle, the GOP is evolving in a significant way, with its urban/ethnic/non-“country” candidates John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney:

None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either. None is a moderate, in the sense of being a centrist on anything or wary of conservatives; rather, each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few.

Upshot? These candidates have the potential to override the current locked-in-place map of red vs. blue states. (Which is why Rudy was in California this past weekend . . .)

Is Hillary inevitable? Another day, another answer: Robert Novak says no. Her fundraising is slipping a little, due in equal parts to Barack Obama’s fresh face and to the distaste many Democrats feel about her prospective coronation. And, of course, the anti-war Democratic primary base in New Hampshire really, really hates that she voted for the war and won’t repudiate her vote. This raises the interesting question for Hillary-hating war supporters on the Right: who to root for should it turn out that she really is the farthest rightward Democratic candidate in an election in which Democrats are presumed by many strategists to have the advantage.

Meanwhile, Noemie Emery, a Weekly Standard writer who has an amazing ability to put her finger on the political pulse, has a piece in the current issue making the argument that in this election cycle, the GOP is evolving in a significant way, with its urban/ethnic/non-“country” candidates John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney:

None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either. None is a moderate, in the sense of being a centrist on anything or wary of conservatives; rather, each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few.

Upshot? These candidates have the potential to override the current locked-in-place map of red vs. blue states. (Which is why Rudy was in California this past weekend . . .)

Read Less

Gates in Munich

I haven’t formed much of an opinion, one way or the other, of our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. But I came away favorably impressed with his performance Sunday at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security, which I attended as part of the American delegation.

When Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of the Pentagon, his appearances at this yearly confab of trans-Atlantic movers and shakers inevitably sparked fireworks—most famously in 2003 when he made the case for war with Iraq and Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister*, broke into English to reply, “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Rumsfeld grated on European sensibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but too often his rhetorical style could distract from the serious issues of the day. The best-known example was his 2003 comment dismissing the views of France and Germany as those of “Old Europe”—as opposed to the “New Europe” further to the east, which was more pro-American. Fairly or not, that sent the representatives of “Old Europe” through the roof.

Gates marked a break with his predecessor in his speech on Sunday, when he dismissed a long litany of “characterizations” that “belong in the past:” “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’” The crowd ate it up.

Gates’s deft touch was also on display when he refused to rise to the bait offered by the star speaker of the conference, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president—I am tempted to be more accurate and call him the Russian dictator—gave a jarringly bellicose address in which he railed against the United States for supposedly “illegal” and “unilateral” actions that were plunging the world into the “abyss of perpetual conflict.” Instead of matching Putin’s angry rhetoric with some of his own, Gates simply said, “As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Thus Gates avoided making news—a trick Rumsfeld never mastered—and kept the focus where it belonged, on Putin’s remarks, which alarmed many of the Europeans in the room. The Secretary of Defense also showed an unexpected flair for humor, joking, for example, about how he had given up his old habit of “blunt speaking” because as president of Texas A&M he had been sent to “reeducation camp” in order to learn how to deal with the faculty.

It was a good start. Of course, in the long run, Gates will be judged not by how well he deals with conference delegates but by how well he deals with America’s enemies. And, unfortunately, winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove a lot harder than winning over the crowd in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel.

* The post originally described Fischer as defense minister.

I haven’t formed much of an opinion, one way or the other, of our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. But I came away favorably impressed with his performance Sunday at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security, which I attended as part of the American delegation.

When Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of the Pentagon, his appearances at this yearly confab of trans-Atlantic movers and shakers inevitably sparked fireworks—most famously in 2003 when he made the case for war with Iraq and Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister*, broke into English to reply, “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Rumsfeld grated on European sensibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but too often his rhetorical style could distract from the serious issues of the day. The best-known example was his 2003 comment dismissing the views of France and Germany as those of “Old Europe”—as opposed to the “New Europe” further to the east, which was more pro-American. Fairly or not, that sent the representatives of “Old Europe” through the roof.

Gates marked a break with his predecessor in his speech on Sunday, when he dismissed a long litany of “characterizations” that “belong in the past:” “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’” The crowd ate it up.

Gates’s deft touch was also on display when he refused to rise to the bait offered by the star speaker of the conference, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president—I am tempted to be more accurate and call him the Russian dictator—gave a jarringly bellicose address in which he railed against the United States for supposedly “illegal” and “unilateral” actions that were plunging the world into the “abyss of perpetual conflict.” Instead of matching Putin’s angry rhetoric with some of his own, Gates simply said, “As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Thus Gates avoided making news—a trick Rumsfeld never mastered—and kept the focus where it belonged, on Putin’s remarks, which alarmed many of the Europeans in the room. The Secretary of Defense also showed an unexpected flair for humor, joking, for example, about how he had given up his old habit of “blunt speaking” because as president of Texas A&M he had been sent to “reeducation camp” in order to learn how to deal with the faculty.

It was a good start. Of course, in the long run, Gates will be judged not by how well he deals with conference delegates but by how well he deals with America’s enemies. And, unfortunately, winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove a lot harder than winning over the crowd in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel.

* The post originally described Fischer as defense minister.

Read Less

The Man Who Gave the Qur’an to the West

So much controversy now surrounds the interpretation of the Qur’an that it is perhaps worth recalling the man who gave us the first reliable translation into any language: George Sale. So little regarded were Oriental scholars in his day that we do not even know his date of birth, but we know that when he died in 1736 he was not quite forty. Sale was praised for the accuracy of his scholarship by Voltaire and Gibbon, but the former mistakenly claimed that Sale had spent 25 years living in the Middle East, while Gibbon mischievously suggested that the work of translation had left Sale “half a Mussulman.” Deists such as Voltaire and Gibbon admired Islam more than Christianity, but the suggestion that Sale placed the two religions on an equal footing was scandalous to most of his countrymen.

In reality, Sale not only did not travel in the Ottoman lands: he never even left England. He learned Arabic from the small community of Arabs living in London, and accumulated a small but valuable collection of manuscripts, which are now in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Sale remained a Christian, but he conceded that Mohammed “gave his Arabs the best religion he could, preferable, at least, to those of the ancient pagan lawgivers.” He appended to his translation, which first appeared in 1734, a “Preliminary Discourse” of more than a hundred pages, which gives a remarkably fair account of Islamic history and theology.

Sale made his living as an attorney, and he dedicated his translation to Lord Carteret, which suggests that he had at least one patron. Yet he is reported by Isaac Disraeli (father of Benjamin) to have “pursued his studies through a life of want.” In his Calamities of Authors, Disraeli asserts that “this great Orientalist . . . when he quitted his studies, all too often wanted a change of linen, and often wandered in the streets in search of some compassionate friend who would supply him with the meal of the day.” The Dictionary of National Biography rejects this claim on the grounds that Sale possessed a library, but it seems to me quite possible that the great scholar preferred to go hungry and unwashed rather than to part with his books and manuscripts.

The central defect of Sale’s version is that he translates the Qur’an as prose rather than poetry, ignoring the division of the text into verses—though by turning it into a continuous narrative, he certainly renders the Qur’an more readable. His language is simple yet elevated; it recalls not only the King James Bible but also his contemporaries: John Locke, Jonathan Swift, and David Hume. The most sensitive passages, on issues such as jihad and the treatment of infidels, are clear and unambiguous. There may be more modern translations of the Qur’an—but Sale’s still remains the best prose.

So much controversy now surrounds the interpretation of the Qur’an that it is perhaps worth recalling the man who gave us the first reliable translation into any language: George Sale. So little regarded were Oriental scholars in his day that we do not even know his date of birth, but we know that when he died in 1736 he was not quite forty. Sale was praised for the accuracy of his scholarship by Voltaire and Gibbon, but the former mistakenly claimed that Sale had spent 25 years living in the Middle East, while Gibbon mischievously suggested that the work of translation had left Sale “half a Mussulman.” Deists such as Voltaire and Gibbon admired Islam more than Christianity, but the suggestion that Sale placed the two religions on an equal footing was scandalous to most of his countrymen.

In reality, Sale not only did not travel in the Ottoman lands: he never even left England. He learned Arabic from the small community of Arabs living in London, and accumulated a small but valuable collection of manuscripts, which are now in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Sale remained a Christian, but he conceded that Mohammed “gave his Arabs the best religion he could, preferable, at least, to those of the ancient pagan lawgivers.” He appended to his translation, which first appeared in 1734, a “Preliminary Discourse” of more than a hundred pages, which gives a remarkably fair account of Islamic history and theology.

Sale made his living as an attorney, and he dedicated his translation to Lord Carteret, which suggests that he had at least one patron. Yet he is reported by Isaac Disraeli (father of Benjamin) to have “pursued his studies through a life of want.” In his Calamities of Authors, Disraeli asserts that “this great Orientalist . . . when he quitted his studies, all too often wanted a change of linen, and often wandered in the streets in search of some compassionate friend who would supply him with the meal of the day.” The Dictionary of National Biography rejects this claim on the grounds that Sale possessed a library, but it seems to me quite possible that the great scholar preferred to go hungry and unwashed rather than to part with his books and manuscripts.

The central defect of Sale’s version is that he translates the Qur’an as prose rather than poetry, ignoring the division of the text into verses—though by turning it into a continuous narrative, he certainly renders the Qur’an more readable. His language is simple yet elevated; it recalls not only the King James Bible but also his contemporaries: John Locke, Jonathan Swift, and David Hume. The most sensitive passages, on issues such as jihad and the treatment of infidels, are clear and unambiguous. There may be more modern translations of the Qur’an—but Sale’s still remains the best prose.

Read Less

Obama the Healer?

First, a confession: I really like Barack Obama. I like his look, his poise, his ready intelligence. His voice is a marvelous instrument, and he is unusually articulate (especially for a . . . politician). Watching him announce his candidacy on Saturday, I found myself cheering along, pleased that a black man with an exotic name was standing where Lincoln stood and eloquently invoking his example. And I’ve been impressed by the patriotic breadth of his rhetoric. As Kay Hymowitz recently observed, Obama is one of a new group of black leaders “touting old-fashioned American self-reliance and ingenuity, with nary a hint of racial resentment.” His chief selling point, he told “60 Minutes” last night, is that he can “pull together the different strands of American life and focus on what we have in common.”

The question, of course, is what sort of substance this rhetoric will serve. Obama may radiate moderation, but his positions, to the extent that he has set them out, are well to the Left, even in the Democratic party. This is most obvious with respect to his proposal on Iraq, the irresponsibility of which is visible from as far away as Australia. But there is also reason to wonder about his views on the key divisions in American society—the ones that he promises to heal.

Though Obama speaks openly about the importance of his own faith and regrets the liberal tendency to chase religious believers from the public square, his views are utterly predictable on all the hot-button issues of the culture war, from abortion and gay rights to stem-cell research. Moreover, his own religiosity is hardly mainstream. The church on Chicago’s South Side to which he has long belonged—and where he had his conversion experience—is Afrocentric, with overtones of black separatism. Its principles include a “disavowal of the pursuit of ‘middleclassness'” (along with, it should be said, a commitment to the black family and work ethic).

As for divisions of class, it is useful to remember that Obama got his start as a “community organizer” in these same neighborhoods, and he brings along that baggage. His announcement speech included a quick endorsement of the “living wage,” a kind of minimum-wage-on-steroids beloved of groups like ACORN but disastrous for urban economies. And he pledged to “allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country’s middle-class again.” This is not, to say the least, Robert Rubin’s corner of the Democratic party.

Finally, on race, Obama is careful to a fault, but at some point he will have to spell out where he stands on affirmative action, welfare reform, crime, family disintegration, and a host of other issues. His rhetoric as a Senator has not always been so conciliatory or free of racial rancor. In remarks about issuing a national apology to the victims of lynching and their descendants, he spoke about “completing the unfinished work of the civil-rights movement, and closing the gap that still exists in health care, education, and income. There are more ways to perpetrate violence,” he went on, in words reminiscent of Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, “than simply a lynching.”

Last night’s interview on “60 Minutes” was most interesting for two unscripted moments. Asked by the reporter whether he is troubled by questions about his blackness, Obama replied that “nobody’s confused about that” when “I’m catching a cab.” When his wife was asked about concerns for his safety on the campaign trail, she answered that “as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station.” This prompted the candidate to look down, in obvious discomfort, as if to say, “Not part of the narrative, honey.”

Obama’s success has come in part from his ability to combine the appealing rhetoric of the Democratic Leadership Council with the policy priorities of his party’s left-wing zanies. How long can the balancing act last?

First, a confession: I really like Barack Obama. I like his look, his poise, his ready intelligence. His voice is a marvelous instrument, and he is unusually articulate (especially for a . . . politician). Watching him announce his candidacy on Saturday, I found myself cheering along, pleased that a black man with an exotic name was standing where Lincoln stood and eloquently invoking his example. And I’ve been impressed by the patriotic breadth of his rhetoric. As Kay Hymowitz recently observed, Obama is one of a new group of black leaders “touting old-fashioned American self-reliance and ingenuity, with nary a hint of racial resentment.” His chief selling point, he told “60 Minutes” last night, is that he can “pull together the different strands of American life and focus on what we have in common.”

The question, of course, is what sort of substance this rhetoric will serve. Obama may radiate moderation, but his positions, to the extent that he has set them out, are well to the Left, even in the Democratic party. This is most obvious with respect to his proposal on Iraq, the irresponsibility of which is visible from as far away as Australia. But there is also reason to wonder about his views on the key divisions in American society—the ones that he promises to heal.

Though Obama speaks openly about the importance of his own faith and regrets the liberal tendency to chase religious believers from the public square, his views are utterly predictable on all the hot-button issues of the culture war, from abortion and gay rights to stem-cell research. Moreover, his own religiosity is hardly mainstream. The church on Chicago’s South Side to which he has long belonged—and where he had his conversion experience—is Afrocentric, with overtones of black separatism. Its principles include a “disavowal of the pursuit of ‘middleclassness'” (along with, it should be said, a commitment to the black family and work ethic).

As for divisions of class, it is useful to remember that Obama got his start as a “community organizer” in these same neighborhoods, and he brings along that baggage. His announcement speech included a quick endorsement of the “living wage,” a kind of minimum-wage-on-steroids beloved of groups like ACORN but disastrous for urban economies. And he pledged to “allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country’s middle-class again.” This is not, to say the least, Robert Rubin’s corner of the Democratic party.

Finally, on race, Obama is careful to a fault, but at some point he will have to spell out where he stands on affirmative action, welfare reform, crime, family disintegration, and a host of other issues. His rhetoric as a Senator has not always been so conciliatory or free of racial rancor. In remarks about issuing a national apology to the victims of lynching and their descendants, he spoke about “completing the unfinished work of the civil-rights movement, and closing the gap that still exists in health care, education, and income. There are more ways to perpetrate violence,” he went on, in words reminiscent of Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, “than simply a lynching.”

Last night’s interview on “60 Minutes” was most interesting for two unscripted moments. Asked by the reporter whether he is troubled by questions about his blackness, Obama replied that “nobody’s confused about that” when “I’m catching a cab.” When his wife was asked about concerns for his safety on the campaign trail, she answered that “as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station.” This prompted the candidate to look down, in obvious discomfort, as if to say, “Not part of the narrative, honey.”

Obama’s success has come in part from his ability to combine the appealing rhetoric of the Democratic Leadership Council with the policy priorities of his party’s left-wing zanies. How long can the balancing act last?

Read Less

The Holocaust and the Nakba

Is it fair for the West to demand that the Palestinian government recognize Israel’s right to exist? In an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor of February 2, John V. Whitbeck wrote:

There is an enormous difference between “recognizing Israel’s existence” and “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified. For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba—the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949—is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was “right” for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

Whitbeck’s parallelism is disgusting and morally obtuse to the point where one wonders what the CSM editors could have been thinking when they published it. Here are two small differences between these two “injustices.” First, the Palestinians (and their fellow Arabs) started the Nakba by attacking the Jews. The Jews did not start the Holocaust by attacking the Nazis. Second, the victims of the Holocaust were slaughtered, while the victims of the Nakba lost their homes and land. For their part, the Jews had, over the centuries, lost their homes and land many times—events which paled in comparison to the Holocaust.

This bit of ugliness aside, what should the Arabs recognize? Merely that Israel exists? The Serbs recognized that Bosnia existed. That was precisely what they set out to change. Likewise with Saddam Hussein and Kuwait or the Hutus and the Tutsis or, for that matter, the Nazis and the Jews. The Arabs recognize that Israel exists every time they denounce, defame, boycott, or launch rockets against it. This recognition does not bring peace one millimeter closer.

But can the Arabs be expected to recognize Israel’s right to exist? The answer was supplied to me by a young Egyptian writer I know. “The creation of Israel was an injustice,” he said, “but Israel has earned the right to exist.” It has earned this right, he explained, not by its military victories over the Arabs, but by having built a vibrant society that had sunk deep roots.

This struck me as exactly right. Arabs cannot be expected to acknowledge that Israel’s birth was just. But they can be asked to agree that Israel’s destruction now would be a greater injustice. This—and not acknowledgment of the simple fact of Israel’s existence—is the key to resolving the conflict.

Is it fair for the West to demand that the Palestinian government recognize Israel’s right to exist? In an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor of February 2, John V. Whitbeck wrote:

There is an enormous difference between “recognizing Israel’s existence” and “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified. For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba—the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949—is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was “right” for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

Whitbeck’s parallelism is disgusting and morally obtuse to the point where one wonders what the CSM editors could have been thinking when they published it. Here are two small differences between these two “injustices.” First, the Palestinians (and their fellow Arabs) started the Nakba by attacking the Jews. The Jews did not start the Holocaust by attacking the Nazis. Second, the victims of the Holocaust were slaughtered, while the victims of the Nakba lost their homes and land. For their part, the Jews had, over the centuries, lost their homes and land many times—events which paled in comparison to the Holocaust.

This bit of ugliness aside, what should the Arabs recognize? Merely that Israel exists? The Serbs recognized that Bosnia existed. That was precisely what they set out to change. Likewise with Saddam Hussein and Kuwait or the Hutus and the Tutsis or, for that matter, the Nazis and the Jews. The Arabs recognize that Israel exists every time they denounce, defame, boycott, or launch rockets against it. This recognition does not bring peace one millimeter closer.

But can the Arabs be expected to recognize Israel’s right to exist? The answer was supplied to me by a young Egyptian writer I know. “The creation of Israel was an injustice,” he said, “but Israel has earned the right to exist.” It has earned this right, he explained, not by its military victories over the Arabs, but by having built a vibrant society that had sunk deep roots.

This struck me as exactly right. Arabs cannot be expected to acknowledge that Israel’s birth was just. But they can be asked to agree that Israel’s destruction now would be a greater injustice. This—and not acknowledgment of the simple fact of Israel’s existence—is the key to resolving the conflict.

Read Less

Obama’s Limit

Of course Barack Obama wants a voluntary limit on presidential campaign spending! He’s already famous and the author of two books.

In his filing to the Federal Election Commission last week, Obama shrouded his intention to follow Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in abandoning public financing of his campaign in a humble-sounding plan to limit spending in the general election. In his filing, which the New York Times quickly hailed as “an unusual challenge to his rivals,” Obama suggested that, if nominated, he might reach an accord with the Republican nominee to return private donations and rely only on the approximately $85 million available from federal funding sources.

Don’t be fooled by such false gestures of public-spiritedness. Senators running for president—especially those who have won as much attention as Obama—always favor limits out of sheer self-interest: spending limits restrict their less well-known opponents. If Senator Obama were to become the Democratic nominee and face, say, former Governor Romney, he would begin the general election campaign with a tremendous advantage.

Prominent Senators, by virtue of their proximity to the day-to-day Washington debate, have a much easier time of developing a national identity and reputation. They are fixtures on the Sunday talk shows. They offer sound bites to the press on any current controversy. They deliver long speeches on C-SPAN whenever they like. Most ex-governors—or almost anyone else running for President—have to spend millions of dollars during the early months of the campaign just to catch up, introducing themselves to the large swath of the country that barely pays attention to the primaries. The kind of public spending limit Obama proposes tilts the odds in favor of those who already have a household name.

There is another weakness of public financing that the New York Times curiously neglects to mention: it gives much more power to the news media. In a universe of strict spending limits, candidates don’t have enough money for advertising, phone banks, and direct mail. Suddenly newspaper editors and TV producers become the arbiters of how much the public learns about the candidates—which would be just fine, one imagines, with a certain media darling from the state of Illinois.

Of course Barack Obama wants a voluntary limit on presidential campaign spending! He’s already famous and the author of two books.

In his filing to the Federal Election Commission last week, Obama shrouded his intention to follow Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in abandoning public financing of his campaign in a humble-sounding plan to limit spending in the general election. In his filing, which the New York Times quickly hailed as “an unusual challenge to his rivals,” Obama suggested that, if nominated, he might reach an accord with the Republican nominee to return private donations and rely only on the approximately $85 million available from federal funding sources.

Don’t be fooled by such false gestures of public-spiritedness. Senators running for president—especially those who have won as much attention as Obama—always favor limits out of sheer self-interest: spending limits restrict their less well-known opponents. If Senator Obama were to become the Democratic nominee and face, say, former Governor Romney, he would begin the general election campaign with a tremendous advantage.

Prominent Senators, by virtue of their proximity to the day-to-day Washington debate, have a much easier time of developing a national identity and reputation. They are fixtures on the Sunday talk shows. They offer sound bites to the press on any current controversy. They deliver long speeches on C-SPAN whenever they like. Most ex-governors—or almost anyone else running for President—have to spend millions of dollars during the early months of the campaign just to catch up, introducing themselves to the large swath of the country that barely pays attention to the primaries. The kind of public spending limit Obama proposes tilts the odds in favor of those who already have a household name.

There is another weakness of public financing that the New York Times curiously neglects to mention: it gives much more power to the news media. In a universe of strict spending limits, candidates don’t have enough money for advertising, phone banks, and direct mail. Suddenly newspaper editors and TV producers become the arbiters of how much the public learns about the candidates—which would be just fine, one imagines, with a certain media darling from the state of Illinois.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.