Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 28, 2008

The Red Ken and Georgeous George Show

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

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State of the Union

You’ve heard of plain vanilla? Plain vanilla is like tabasco sauce next to this speech.

You’ve heard of plain vanilla? Plain vanilla is like tabasco sauce next to this speech.

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On McCain’s Sleeve

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.

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Olmert on the Edge

While America’s attention is on the primaries, Israelis appear to be on the edge of their next political abyss. Two days from now, the much-feared Winograd Commission will be unleashing its final report on the 2006 Lebanon war, and no one is looking more uncomfortable than Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Over the last few weeks there has been a great deal of speculation as to both the contents of the report and its political ramifications, and Olmert has been deep in spin-control. On last Monday night, he announced that he would not step down regardless of the report’s findings — a pretty scary statement, considering that the report could tar him for deep ineptitude. Today he sweatingly announced that his government has “many more years to govern.”

The more Olmert talks, the more his face is obscured by the shadows of vultures circling over his head. For months, about a dozen members of his ruling Kadima party have threatened to bolt if the report turns out bad and Olmert does not resign. Last week, Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu faction pulled out of the coalition, leaving the government with just 67 seats (they need 61 to govern). Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who eagerly seeks Olmert’s post, has been undermining Olmert ever since the war. The Shas party is thinking about pulling its 12 seats out of the coalition over negotiations with the Palestinians. Olmert ‘s popularity has bottomed out, with his party getting only 10 seats in a recent poll (as compared to their current 29). Oh, and let’s not forget that Olmert is currently under multiple criminal investigations. But the biggest vulture of them all is former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, whose Labor party holds 19 seats in the coalition, and who may lose a great deal of public support if he cannot take a principled stand against Olmert.

The Winograd report has the potential to tip any of these over the edge. The report will probably lay heavy blame on then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who failed to prepare the military for war and failed to run the war while it was happening; and on the mustachioed then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose breathtaking ignorance of military affairs raises serious questions about the merits of parliamentary democracy. But the real questions will rise about Olmert, who laid out major objectives for the war, none of which were achieved; and who ran the war as if he were still trading favors at Jerusalem City Hall.

Today, Olmert got a slight boost from the leak of a secret U.S. State Department letter from the war, in which John Bolton, then UN Ambassador, blames Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for capitulating to the French in the last hours of the war. This bolsters Olmert’s claim that he had to launch Israel’s last-minute offensive, in which 33 IDF soldiers were killed, because things had gone bad at the negotiation table. According to Bolton, however, the offensive had no impact whatever on the final agreement. So it is hard to believe this is the kind of spin Olmert really wants: Not incompetent, just impotent?

Every day Olmert’s government looks increasingly like the Ottoman Empire in 1914.

While America’s attention is on the primaries, Israelis appear to be on the edge of their next political abyss. Two days from now, the much-feared Winograd Commission will be unleashing its final report on the 2006 Lebanon war, and no one is looking more uncomfortable than Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Over the last few weeks there has been a great deal of speculation as to both the contents of the report and its political ramifications, and Olmert has been deep in spin-control. On last Monday night, he announced that he would not step down regardless of the report’s findings — a pretty scary statement, considering that the report could tar him for deep ineptitude. Today he sweatingly announced that his government has “many more years to govern.”

The more Olmert talks, the more his face is obscured by the shadows of vultures circling over his head. For months, about a dozen members of his ruling Kadima party have threatened to bolt if the report turns out bad and Olmert does not resign. Last week, Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu faction pulled out of the coalition, leaving the government with just 67 seats (they need 61 to govern). Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who eagerly seeks Olmert’s post, has been undermining Olmert ever since the war. The Shas party is thinking about pulling its 12 seats out of the coalition over negotiations with the Palestinians. Olmert ‘s popularity has bottomed out, with his party getting only 10 seats in a recent poll (as compared to their current 29). Oh, and let’s not forget that Olmert is currently under multiple criminal investigations. But the biggest vulture of them all is former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, whose Labor party holds 19 seats in the coalition, and who may lose a great deal of public support if he cannot take a principled stand against Olmert.

The Winograd report has the potential to tip any of these over the edge. The report will probably lay heavy blame on then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who failed to prepare the military for war and failed to run the war while it was happening; and on the mustachioed then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose breathtaking ignorance of military affairs raises serious questions about the merits of parliamentary democracy. But the real questions will rise about Olmert, who laid out major objectives for the war, none of which were achieved; and who ran the war as if he were still trading favors at Jerusalem City Hall.

Today, Olmert got a slight boost from the leak of a secret U.S. State Department letter from the war, in which John Bolton, then UN Ambassador, blames Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for capitulating to the French in the last hours of the war. This bolsters Olmert’s claim that he had to launch Israel’s last-minute offensive, in which 33 IDF soldiers were killed, because things had gone bad at the negotiation table. According to Bolton, however, the offensive had no impact whatever on the final agreement. So it is hard to believe this is the kind of spin Olmert really wants: Not incompetent, just impotent?

Every day Olmert’s government looks increasingly like the Ottoman Empire in 1914.

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Obama Backs Illegals’ Licenses–Again

Barack Obama has at last decided to declare himself on a specific policy. The problem is it’s not a policy regarding Americans. Well, that’s one of the problems. Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Barack Obama has not backed down” on driver’s licenses for undocumented people, said Federico Peña, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver mayor now supporting Obama. “I think when the Latino community hears Barack’s position on such an important and controversial issue, they’ll understand that his heart and his intellect is with Latino community.

What about the American community? Can we weigh in on this important and controversial issue? It’s actually hard to get at the worst aspect of this horrific policy. There’s the rewarding of illegal behavior and the enticement to remain undocumented. But the gross national security compromise takes the cake. A November 2, 2007 article by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal discusses how undocumented driver’s licenses lead to voter fraud. Fund points out:

The potential for fraud is not trivial, as federal privacy laws prevent cross-checking voter registration rolls with immigration records. Nevertheless, a 1997 Congressional investigation found that “4,023 illegal voters possibly cast ballots in [a] disputed House election” in California. After 9/11, the Justice Department found that eight of the 19 hijackers were registered to vote.

So, the decisive Barack Obama finally shows up, and he’s a nightmare. Why is Obama sticking to this ruinous course, after Hillary and Edwards backed away from the issue? “Obama’s intention is to draw distinctions between himself and Clinton on what are otherwise indistinguishable positions on immigration.” Actually, he’s drawing comparisons between himself and Clinton on the issue of race-pandering. This is a dumb, offensive, and dangerous policy, and any Democratic candidate who doesn’t think it will cost them in the general election is a little too hopeful for his own good.

Barack Obama has at last decided to declare himself on a specific policy. The problem is it’s not a policy regarding Americans. Well, that’s one of the problems. Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Barack Obama has not backed down” on driver’s licenses for undocumented people, said Federico Peña, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver mayor now supporting Obama. “I think when the Latino community hears Barack’s position on such an important and controversial issue, they’ll understand that his heart and his intellect is with Latino community.

What about the American community? Can we weigh in on this important and controversial issue? It’s actually hard to get at the worst aspect of this horrific policy. There’s the rewarding of illegal behavior and the enticement to remain undocumented. But the gross national security compromise takes the cake. A November 2, 2007 article by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal discusses how undocumented driver’s licenses lead to voter fraud. Fund points out:

The potential for fraud is not trivial, as federal privacy laws prevent cross-checking voter registration rolls with immigration records. Nevertheless, a 1997 Congressional investigation found that “4,023 illegal voters possibly cast ballots in [a] disputed House election” in California. After 9/11, the Justice Department found that eight of the 19 hijackers were registered to vote.

So, the decisive Barack Obama finally shows up, and he’s a nightmare. Why is Obama sticking to this ruinous course, after Hillary and Edwards backed away from the issue? “Obama’s intention is to draw distinctions between himself and Clinton on what are otherwise indistinguishable positions on immigration.” Actually, he’s drawing comparisons between himself and Clinton on the issue of race-pandering. This is a dumb, offensive, and dangerous policy, and any Democratic candidate who doesn’t think it will cost them in the general election is a little too hopeful for his own good.

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Rumsfeld’s (Not Bad) Idea

I hesitate to forward a suggestion made by Don Rumsfeld, who is likely to go down along with Robert McNamara as one of our worst secretaries of defense. While the United States was on the cusp of the worst military defeat since Vietnam, he seemed strangely disengaged—more focused on futuristic transformation than on reversing the sad course of events in Iraq.

That puzzling impression is only reinforced by Fred Barnes’s excellent Weekly Standard article on the origins of the surge. Barnes notes that “In September [2007], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired general Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and Pace.” But by December, “with Bush favoring a strategy nearly identical to Keane’s, he didn’t object.”
Fairly or not the conclusion one can draw is that Rumsfeld’s attitude was: “Surge, splurge. Who cares? I’m more interested in tinkering with the Future Combat System!”

But simply because Rumsfeld was overly focused on “transformation,” and often the wrong kind of transformation (favoring high-tech weapons systems of little use against guerrillas and terrorists), that doesn’t mean that all of his prescriptions were incorrect. Just last week he gave a speech suggesting that America needs a strategic communications agency—an idea that isn’t original to him but that he is right to advocate. Rumsfeld noted that Congress and the Clinton administration made a tragic mistake by folding the US Information Agency into the State Department in 1999. According to a news account of his speech:

A 21st-century version of the USIA is needed to harness new communications techniques—from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio—to counter a constant torrent of propaganda from radical organizations, particularly in the Middle East, he said.

I completely agree. In fact it’s an idea I’ve pushed in the past myself. (See, e.g., this New York Times article.) I would only add a point about the direction that this new USIA should take.

It would be a mistake to do as Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes have done with the public diplomacy portfolio at the State Department and try to use their communications machinery to drive up America’s favorability ratings as if Uncle Sam were a candidate running for office. It would be nice if everyone around the world liked us, but that’s unlikely to happen, and it shouldn’t be our primary goal anyway. The strategic communications effort should have two objectives: (1) to help moderate Muslims battle the radicals; and (2) to increase respect for American power so as to send a firm message that it doesn’t pay to mess with us.

I hesitate to forward a suggestion made by Don Rumsfeld, who is likely to go down along with Robert McNamara as one of our worst secretaries of defense. While the United States was on the cusp of the worst military defeat since Vietnam, he seemed strangely disengaged—more focused on futuristic transformation than on reversing the sad course of events in Iraq.

That puzzling impression is only reinforced by Fred Barnes’s excellent Weekly Standard article on the origins of the surge. Barnes notes that “In September [2007], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired general Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and Pace.” But by December, “with Bush favoring a strategy nearly identical to Keane’s, he didn’t object.”
Fairly or not the conclusion one can draw is that Rumsfeld’s attitude was: “Surge, splurge. Who cares? I’m more interested in tinkering with the Future Combat System!”

But simply because Rumsfeld was overly focused on “transformation,” and often the wrong kind of transformation (favoring high-tech weapons systems of little use against guerrillas and terrorists), that doesn’t mean that all of his prescriptions were incorrect. Just last week he gave a speech suggesting that America needs a strategic communications agency—an idea that isn’t original to him but that he is right to advocate. Rumsfeld noted that Congress and the Clinton administration made a tragic mistake by folding the US Information Agency into the State Department in 1999. According to a news account of his speech:

A 21st-century version of the USIA is needed to harness new communications techniques—from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio—to counter a constant torrent of propaganda from radical organizations, particularly in the Middle East, he said.

I completely agree. In fact it’s an idea I’ve pushed in the past myself. (See, e.g., this New York Times article.) I would only add a point about the direction that this new USIA should take.

It would be a mistake to do as Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes have done with the public diplomacy portfolio at the State Department and try to use their communications machinery to drive up America’s favorability ratings as if Uncle Sam were a candidate running for office. It would be nice if everyone around the world liked us, but that’s unlikely to happen, and it shouldn’t be our primary goal anyway. The strategic communications effort should have two objectives: (1) to help moderate Muslims battle the radicals; and (2) to increase respect for American power so as to send a firm message that it doesn’t pay to mess with us.

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Gandhi III

Arun Gandhi’s calling it quits. Two weeks ago, we noted his egregious comments about Israel and the Jews, which included calling Israel a “snake pit,” and saying that the Jews were the “biggest players” in a “culture of violence [that] is eventually going to destroy humanity.” A few days later, the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi and head of the M.K. Institute for Non-Violence issued a tepid apology, in which he voiced regret at having “implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people.”

It wasn’t good enough for me, and apparently it wasn’t good enough for the Institute either. He’s been forced to resign which is a good thing for an institue preaching peace.

As for Gandhi himself, here’s what he had to say about the brouhaha, a day after submitting his resignation: “My intention was to generate a healthy discussion on the proliferation of violence . . . Instead, unintentionally, my words have resulted in pain, anger, confusion and embarrassment. I deeply regret these consequences.”

The consequences, yes. But what about the words?

Arun Gandhi’s calling it quits. Two weeks ago, we noted his egregious comments about Israel and the Jews, which included calling Israel a “snake pit,” and saying that the Jews were the “biggest players” in a “culture of violence [that] is eventually going to destroy humanity.” A few days later, the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi and head of the M.K. Institute for Non-Violence issued a tepid apology, in which he voiced regret at having “implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people.”

It wasn’t good enough for me, and apparently it wasn’t good enough for the Institute either. He’s been forced to resign which is a good thing for an institue preaching peace.

As for Gandhi himself, here’s what he had to say about the brouhaha, a day after submitting his resignation: “My intention was to generate a healthy discussion on the proliferation of violence . . . Instead, unintentionally, my words have resulted in pain, anger, confusion and embarrassment. I deeply regret these consequences.”

The consequences, yes. But what about the words?

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Final Shots

John McCain and Mitt Romney are getting in their final shots. McCain puts out a radio ad going after Romney on his Massachusetts record and his electability. (On the latter point, McCain holds a substantial advantage, which is something many conservatives are mulling over.) Romney supporters are circulating a John Fund report that certain (unidentified) conservatives said that McCain said in a private meeting he would not favor a Supreme Court Justice like Samuel Alito. McCain advisor Steve Schmidt denies McCain said it. It would seem odd for McCain, even if he believed such a thing, to have made the comment. He did, as Schmidt points out, strongly support Alito in his confirmation fight. Does any of this matter? I think back-and-forth spitballs the day before an election don’t matter very much. Crist-mentum may.

UPDATE: McCain has responded in clear terms to the “He doesn’t like Alito” attack here and here. Of all the accusations his conservative opponents could have made on the final day of the Florida campaign, this seemed to be one of the weakest and least credible.

John McCain and Mitt Romney are getting in their final shots. McCain puts out a radio ad going after Romney on his Massachusetts record and his electability. (On the latter point, McCain holds a substantial advantage, which is something many conservatives are mulling over.) Romney supporters are circulating a John Fund report that certain (unidentified) conservatives said that McCain said in a private meeting he would not favor a Supreme Court Justice like Samuel Alito. McCain advisor Steve Schmidt denies McCain said it. It would seem odd for McCain, even if he believed such a thing, to have made the comment. He did, as Schmidt points out, strongly support Alito in his confirmation fight. Does any of this matter? I think back-and-forth spitballs the day before an election don’t matter very much. Crist-mentum may.

UPDATE: McCain has responded in clear terms to the “He doesn’t like Alito” attack here and here. Of all the accusations his conservative opponents could have made on the final day of the Florida campaign, this seemed to be one of the weakest and least credible.

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What Happens Wednesday?

Beginning Wednesday, we will be in the midst of a phenomenon we have never experienced: a national primary. On the Republican side, we have twenty-one states, including California (173 delegates) and winner-take-all contests in big delegate states like New York (101), New Jersey (52), Missouri (58), and Arizona (53). John McCain is ahead by solid, but not insurmountable margins, in New York, New Jersey and California. Huckabee is competitive in Missouri and is well positioned in deep Red states like Georgia and Alabama. So far, Romney has the edge in Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado.Should McCain’s post-Crist endorsement momentum result in a Florida win, there is every reason to believe he will hold his leads in the big three February 5 states of New York, New Jersey, and California (a total of 153 winner-take-all delegates and 173 proportionally awarded California delegates) and do quite well in the remainder. Retail politicking is out, obviously; what remains is paid and free media. Part of that is the national media coverage of the “frontrunner” in national polling, which will create something of a bandwagon effect for McCain. An added factor in his favor: even if Rudy remains in the race, he is not likely to hold his share of the voters in February 5 states, which may benefit McCain in Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.What if Mitt Romney pulls out a win? I think we have a wild coast-to-coast fight. McCain will still hold the advantage in the states in which he currently leads, but Romney, with fresh momentum and lots and lots of money for paid ads, will have a very good shot at consolidating conservative support. In short, all bets are off at that point.

As for Huckabee, his role is not unlike that of John Edwards: potentially a spoiler and holder of some cards if we get to a brokered convention. However, it is difficult to imagine him even playing the Edwards role should McCain win in Florida.

Bottom line: I don’t see how McCain can be stopped if he wins tomorrow.

Beginning Wednesday, we will be in the midst of a phenomenon we have never experienced: a national primary. On the Republican side, we have twenty-one states, including California (173 delegates) and winner-take-all contests in big delegate states like New York (101), New Jersey (52), Missouri (58), and Arizona (53). John McCain is ahead by solid, but not insurmountable margins, in New York, New Jersey and California. Huckabee is competitive in Missouri and is well positioned in deep Red states like Georgia and Alabama. So far, Romney has the edge in Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado.Should McCain’s post-Crist endorsement momentum result in a Florida win, there is every reason to believe he will hold his leads in the big three February 5 states of New York, New Jersey, and California (a total of 153 winner-take-all delegates and 173 proportionally awarded California delegates) and do quite well in the remainder. Retail politicking is out, obviously; what remains is paid and free media. Part of that is the national media coverage of the “frontrunner” in national polling, which will create something of a bandwagon effect for McCain. An added factor in his favor: even if Rudy remains in the race, he is not likely to hold his share of the voters in February 5 states, which may benefit McCain in Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.What if Mitt Romney pulls out a win? I think we have a wild coast-to-coast fight. McCain will still hold the advantage in the states in which he currently leads, but Romney, with fresh momentum and lots and lots of money for paid ads, will have a very good shot at consolidating conservative support. In short, all bets are off at that point.

As for Huckabee, his role is not unlike that of John Edwards: potentially a spoiler and holder of some cards if we get to a brokered convention. However, it is difficult to imagine him even playing the Edwards role should McCain win in Florida.

Bottom line: I don’t see how McCain can be stopped if he wins tomorrow.

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Two Months After Annapolis

Today marks two months since the Annapolis conference. Officially, the conference was intended to demonstrate broad Arab support for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. However, given the many factors that made Israeli-Palestinian peace extremely unlikely, the implicit goal of the conference was always far more important: building a unified Arab front against Iran and its regional proxies.

But maintaining Arab unity against Iran has been challenging. As I previously noted, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt have all improved their relations with Iran since Annapolis, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have engaged Hamas and sought to reconcile it with Fatah. As Martin Kramer observed, Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—in which “…the Jew will be at your door, demanding ‘normalization,’ and the Palestinian, as usual, will repay generosity with ingratitude”—is undesirable to most Arab states, and thus provided a false premise for the failed anti-Iran front. Most disturbingly, in heavily promoting its doomed Israeli-Palestinian strategy against Iran, the Bush administration has overlooked a far more authentic source of broad Arab concern: Syria’s bid to strengthen Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The front against Syria is nearly unanimous. Yesterday, all but one Arab foreign minister—Libya’s—rejected Syria’s demand that Hezbollah’s coalition be granted ten seats in the next Lebanese cabinet, and thus veto power. With their support, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa will soon return to Lebanon in search of a new plan for ending the tumult, which has already built towards violent confrontation: eight were killed during yesterday’s protests.

In short, countering Hezbollah in Lebanon provides a realistic premise on which the U.S. can frame its diplomatic strategy against Iran. This will require that the Bush administration become more engaged in the Lebanese political crisis, perhaps supporting the Arab League’s efforts while keeping a close eye on General Michel Suleiman—the near-consensus choice for Lebanese president who leans toward Syria. It will also require that the administration reconsider its rapprochement with Libya, holding it accountable for supporting Syria’s pro-Hezbollah plan. Most importantly, it will have to use this front to patiently chip away at Iran’s position, first by redressing Hezbollah’s political power in Lebanon, and then squeezing Syria to back away from Iran.

Today marks two months since the Annapolis conference. Officially, the conference was intended to demonstrate broad Arab support for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. However, given the many factors that made Israeli-Palestinian peace extremely unlikely, the implicit goal of the conference was always far more important: building a unified Arab front against Iran and its regional proxies.

But maintaining Arab unity against Iran has been challenging. As I previously noted, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt have all improved their relations with Iran since Annapolis, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have engaged Hamas and sought to reconcile it with Fatah. As Martin Kramer observed, Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—in which “…the Jew will be at your door, demanding ‘normalization,’ and the Palestinian, as usual, will repay generosity with ingratitude”—is undesirable to most Arab states, and thus provided a false premise for the failed anti-Iran front. Most disturbingly, in heavily promoting its doomed Israeli-Palestinian strategy against Iran, the Bush administration has overlooked a far more authentic source of broad Arab concern: Syria’s bid to strengthen Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The front against Syria is nearly unanimous. Yesterday, all but one Arab foreign minister—Libya’s—rejected Syria’s demand that Hezbollah’s coalition be granted ten seats in the next Lebanese cabinet, and thus veto power. With their support, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa will soon return to Lebanon in search of a new plan for ending the tumult, which has already built towards violent confrontation: eight were killed during yesterday’s protests.

In short, countering Hezbollah in Lebanon provides a realistic premise on which the U.S. can frame its diplomatic strategy against Iran. This will require that the Bush administration become more engaged in the Lebanese political crisis, perhaps supporting the Arab League’s efforts while keeping a close eye on General Michel Suleiman—the near-consensus choice for Lebanese president who leans toward Syria. It will also require that the administration reconsider its rapprochement with Libya, holding it accountable for supporting Syria’s pro-Hezbollah plan. Most importantly, it will have to use this front to patiently chip away at Iran’s position, first by redressing Hezbollah’s political power in Lebanon, and then squeezing Syria to back away from Iran.

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Galloway Endorses Obama

British MP and former Saddam Hussein flunky George Galloway, who for all intents and purposes is the West’s only sitting Ba’athist politician, has endorsed Barack Obama in today’s Daily Record. To get a handle on Galloway’s inverted sense of virtue, consider the following quote from the article

“This movie star-looking man, with his lovely family and his Bobby Kennedy-type speeches: it all looks and feels like a Hollywood story starring Sidney Poitier.”

That cringe-inducing slice of British Leonard Bernsteinism is supposed to be his recommendation of the Illinois senator for the office of President.

No serious person can accuse Barack Obama of being an ideological co-traveler of Galloway’s. Obama’s leftish boilerplate hasn’t a thing to do with Galloway’s pro-jihad spleen. However, Obama is to blame, in some sense, for attracting such unwanted admiration. As long as he remains unwilling to declare himself on specific policies, there’s a piece of Barack Obama on offer to every fringy demagogue and anti-American extremist with CNN. His dictum of change is so vague as to cast a dangerously wide net. All Obama speaks about is belief, hope, and ending “the disastrous policies of the current administration.” That’s a message with a lot of nasty takers. He can start carving out a discernible political ideology by repudiating the enthusiasm of a disgraceful fifth-columnist like Galloway.

British MP and former Saddam Hussein flunky George Galloway, who for all intents and purposes is the West’s only sitting Ba’athist politician, has endorsed Barack Obama in today’s Daily Record. To get a handle on Galloway’s inverted sense of virtue, consider the following quote from the article

“This movie star-looking man, with his lovely family and his Bobby Kennedy-type speeches: it all looks and feels like a Hollywood story starring Sidney Poitier.”

That cringe-inducing slice of British Leonard Bernsteinism is supposed to be his recommendation of the Illinois senator for the office of President.

No serious person can accuse Barack Obama of being an ideological co-traveler of Galloway’s. Obama’s leftish boilerplate hasn’t a thing to do with Galloway’s pro-jihad spleen. However, Obama is to blame, in some sense, for attracting such unwanted admiration. As long as he remains unwilling to declare himself on specific policies, there’s a piece of Barack Obama on offer to every fringy demagogue and anti-American extremist with CNN. His dictum of change is so vague as to cast a dangerously wide net. All Obama speaks about is belief, hope, and ending “the disastrous policies of the current administration.” That’s a message with a lot of nasty takers. He can start carving out a discernible political ideology by repudiating the enthusiasm of a disgraceful fifth-columnist like Galloway.

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Moving the Goalposts

On Thursday both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles about the extreme methods that Olympic athletes will be adopting to avoid the ill effects of the gritty, smoggy, and noxious air in Beijing. Air pollution in China’s capital is typically five times above the safety level set by the World Health Organization. On some days it is 12.

The atmosphere in the city is about the same shade as its tea. “When you are coughing up black mucus, you have to stop for a second and say: ‘O.K., I get it,’ ” says Colby Pearce, who competed in Olympic test events last year in cycling. “This is a really, really bad problem we’re looking at.” The American was speaking literally. He swears he saw smog floating inside the velodrome in Beijing.

National teams are now engaged in a competition, exceeded in intensity only by the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, to come up with secret strategies to give their athletes an advantage in the dirty air. Should competitors use asthma inhalers, wear special masks, or arrive in China at the last possible moment? Dozens of nations are setting up training facilities in nearby countries, at least 20 in Japan and 15 in South Korea. The American track and field team will camp out in Dalian, a coastal city in China noted for its cleanliness. So will there be any athletes from foreign nations at the opening ceremony, which begins eight seconds after 8:08 P.M. on August 8 this year?

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, believes that Chinese officials “are not going to let down the world.” So far, China has only announced one pollution measure for the Games. On Wednesday, a Beijing paper reported that the government will reduce vehicular traffic in the capital city by half during the Olympics. That, unfortunately, will not be enough to clean the air. Beijing, adopting an odd-even system based on license-plate numbers, ordered cars and trucks off the road for four days last August in a practice drill. Official media said the plan was a success, but later reports revealed that the government ordered them to say that. Others stated the drastic ban had virtually no effect on air quality.

Last October, Rogge said that some endurance events may have to be postponed due to bad air. A better plan is to move them to another city. When confronted with human rights complaints about China, the IOC says that it is only concerned about a host’s ability to stage the Games. Well, now it’s clear that Beijing will not be able to clean the air in time. The U.N. Environmental Program said precisely that in a report issued in October.

Pollution is “like feeding an athlete poison,” said David Martin, a respiratory expert helping American marathoners. The International Olympic Committee has a basic responsibility not to do that.

On Thursday both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles about the extreme methods that Olympic athletes will be adopting to avoid the ill effects of the gritty, smoggy, and noxious air in Beijing. Air pollution in China’s capital is typically five times above the safety level set by the World Health Organization. On some days it is 12.

The atmosphere in the city is about the same shade as its tea. “When you are coughing up black mucus, you have to stop for a second and say: ‘O.K., I get it,’ ” says Colby Pearce, who competed in Olympic test events last year in cycling. “This is a really, really bad problem we’re looking at.” The American was speaking literally. He swears he saw smog floating inside the velodrome in Beijing.

National teams are now engaged in a competition, exceeded in intensity only by the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, to come up with secret strategies to give their athletes an advantage in the dirty air. Should competitors use asthma inhalers, wear special masks, or arrive in China at the last possible moment? Dozens of nations are setting up training facilities in nearby countries, at least 20 in Japan and 15 in South Korea. The American track and field team will camp out in Dalian, a coastal city in China noted for its cleanliness. So will there be any athletes from foreign nations at the opening ceremony, which begins eight seconds after 8:08 P.M. on August 8 this year?

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, believes that Chinese officials “are not going to let down the world.” So far, China has only announced one pollution measure for the Games. On Wednesday, a Beijing paper reported that the government will reduce vehicular traffic in the capital city by half during the Olympics. That, unfortunately, will not be enough to clean the air. Beijing, adopting an odd-even system based on license-plate numbers, ordered cars and trucks off the road for four days last August in a practice drill. Official media said the plan was a success, but later reports revealed that the government ordered them to say that. Others stated the drastic ban had virtually no effect on air quality.

Last October, Rogge said that some endurance events may have to be postponed due to bad air. A better plan is to move them to another city. When confronted with human rights complaints about China, the IOC says that it is only concerned about a host’s ability to stage the Games. Well, now it’s clear that Beijing will not be able to clean the air in time. The U.N. Environmental Program said precisely that in a report issued in October.

Pollution is “like feeding an athlete poison,” said David Martin, a respiratory expert helping American marathoners. The International Olympic Committee has a basic responsibility not to do that.

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Lying Lies and the Liars Who Tell Them

Last week we noted that the Center for Public Integrity, a public-interest group in Washington DC, had created an online database of the 935 “false statements” uttered by ranking officials of the Bush administration to push the United States into war with Iraq. The New York Times, reporting on the new research resource, compared the scandal the center had documented to Watergate.

But if the Bush lies were bad, how about the lies told by Bill Clinton on the same score, or for that matter, the lies told in the editorials of the New York TimesConnecting the Dots has uncovered a couple of whoppers, which the Times, in its story on the matter did not — or affected not to –  notice.

Here is a New York Times editorial on February 13, 2003, on the eve of the second Gulf war:

The Europeans and the United Nations must recognize that Saddam Hussein does pose a clear and present danger to the peaceful international order that the United Nations purports to protect. The credibility of the United Nations is at issue — not because President Bush says so, but because Mr. Hussein is a serial violator of both international law and Security Council resolutions forbidding him to acquire terrible weapons of mass destruction, and because he is a serious threat to his neighbors.

It is easy to find many more such “lies” in the editorials of the Times. Here is another one from November 4, 1997.

Closing down Baghdad’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction requires the continuing pressure of international sanctions until U.N. investigators are completely satisfied that Baghdad is no longer hiding anything from them. Iraq now demands that the Security Council set a timetable for lifting all sanctions in exchange for full Iraqi cooperation. The sanctions are indeed supposed to be lifted when Iraq has fully complied with U.N. requirements. But Baghdad has no right to negotiate over the degree of its cooperation with U.N. investigators. Iraq has been flagrantly misleading U.N. experts and obstructing inspectors’ efforts to examine suspected storage sites.

And here is President Clinton “lying” to the American people on December 16, 1998, as he justifies military action against Iraq:

Earlier today I ordered America’s Armed Forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States and, indeed, the interest of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.

Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there’s one big difference: He has used them, not once but repeatedly, unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war, not only against soldiers but against civilians; firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Iran, not only against a foreign enemy but even against his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq.

A question Connecting the Dots has asked before is: did the Bush administration lie when it relied on the CIA’s estimates of Iraq’s WMD program? Did the Clinton administration also lie? Are the Clinton administration’s lies included in the database of the Center for Public Integrity? Are the “lies” of the New York Times?

Or perhaps the Bush administration’s lies were not lies after all but something else. Or perhaps the George Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity lacks integrity, as does the New York Times.

Last week we noted that the Center for Public Integrity, a public-interest group in Washington DC, had created an online database of the 935 “false statements” uttered by ranking officials of the Bush administration to push the United States into war with Iraq. The New York Times, reporting on the new research resource, compared the scandal the center had documented to Watergate.

But if the Bush lies were bad, how about the lies told by Bill Clinton on the same score, or for that matter, the lies told in the editorials of the New York TimesConnecting the Dots has uncovered a couple of whoppers, which the Times, in its story on the matter did not — or affected not to –  notice.

Here is a New York Times editorial on February 13, 2003, on the eve of the second Gulf war:

The Europeans and the United Nations must recognize that Saddam Hussein does pose a clear and present danger to the peaceful international order that the United Nations purports to protect. The credibility of the United Nations is at issue — not because President Bush says so, but because Mr. Hussein is a serial violator of both international law and Security Council resolutions forbidding him to acquire terrible weapons of mass destruction, and because he is a serious threat to his neighbors.

It is easy to find many more such “lies” in the editorials of the Times. Here is another one from November 4, 1997.

Closing down Baghdad’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction requires the continuing pressure of international sanctions until U.N. investigators are completely satisfied that Baghdad is no longer hiding anything from them. Iraq now demands that the Security Council set a timetable for lifting all sanctions in exchange for full Iraqi cooperation. The sanctions are indeed supposed to be lifted when Iraq has fully complied with U.N. requirements. But Baghdad has no right to negotiate over the degree of its cooperation with U.N. investigators. Iraq has been flagrantly misleading U.N. experts and obstructing inspectors’ efforts to examine suspected storage sites.

And here is President Clinton “lying” to the American people on December 16, 1998, as he justifies military action against Iraq:

Earlier today I ordered America’s Armed Forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States and, indeed, the interest of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.

Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there’s one big difference: He has used them, not once but repeatedly, unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war, not only against soldiers but against civilians; firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Iran, not only against a foreign enemy but even against his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq.

A question Connecting the Dots has asked before is: did the Bush administration lie when it relied on the CIA’s estimates of Iraq’s WMD program? Did the Clinton administration also lie? Are the Clinton administration’s lies included in the database of the Center for Public Integrity? Are the “lies” of the New York Times?

Or perhaps the Bush administration’s lies were not lies after all but something else. Or perhaps the George Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity lacks integrity, as does the New York Times.

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Bookshelf

• “A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, were they not?” Max Beerbohm once observed. No more so than the Wagners, a family whose head was the most fascinating and least likable great composer in the history of classical music. Even those who find Richard Wagner’s operas exasperating beyond endurance—a group that is legion and whose members include, more often than not, myself—are not infrequently willing to read just about anything about the man himself, provided that it’s sufficiently well-written and dislinclined to fawn over its subject. Jonathan Carr’s The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family (Atlantic Monthly, 409 pp., $27.50) hits the bull’s-eye on both counts.

A British journalist whose strangely sorted resume includes lives of Helmut Schmidt and Gustav Mahler, Carr clearly knows a fair amount about music, but The Wagner Clan is not primarily about the works of the composer of Die Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde, nor is it solely about his wildly tempestuous life. Carr’s main interest, rather, is in Wagner’s family and what they wrought, with and without him. Cosima, the mother of Wagner’s children, was the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Hans von Bülow, the great German pianist and conductor, until Wagner stole her from Bülow (who had previously been one of his adoring acolytes). After Wagner’s death she ran the family business, the Bayreuth Festival, with an iron hand undisguised by the slightest trace of velvet. Siegfried, Richard’s youngest child, was a second-rate composer, a highly accomplished conductor, and a secret homosexual who struggled throughout his life to come to terms with the burden of his family heritage. Winifred, Siegfried’s wife, developed a lifelong crush on Adolf Hitler and delivered the festival into the hands of the Nazis after her husband’s death. Wieland and Wolfgang, their sons, dragged Bayreuth into the 20th century and made it a postwar center of up-to-date thinking on operatic production style. To this day members of the Wagner family continue to run the summer festival, which has long been one of Europe’s hottest tickets.

All this adds up to an immensely interesting tale that Carr tells with great skill, and anyone who wants to know what became of the Wagners will find it both informative and entertaining. As for those whose main interest is in Der Meister himself, The Wagner Clan offers readers unfamiliar with the vast Wagner literature an exceptionally accessible short introduction to the complicated subject of his life and personality. What I like best about Carr’s book is that it is even-handed but not bland: he takes a distinctly jaundiced view of Wagner the man without ever failing to acknowledge the genius of Wagner the artist, and he seems to have no axes of any kind to grind.

I was especially impressed by the section of The Wagner Clan in which Carr discusses Hitler’s consuming interest in Wagner, a famously difficult subject that the author plays straight down the center:

If Wagner’s works really were “the exact spiritual forerunner” of Nazism, surely the Führer of all people would have drummed that point home ad infinitum. But one looks to him in vain not only for fascist interpretation of the music dramas but, stranger still, for direct references to the [anti-Semitic] theoretical writings. There is, indeed, surprisingly little evidence that Hitler read Wagner’s prose works…Grotesque though it may seem, Wagner’s life and works were almost certainly mirrors in which the Führer thought he saw himself reflected—at least in broad and, to him, imposing outline.

I couldn’t have put it better.

• “A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, were they not?” Max Beerbohm once observed. No more so than the Wagners, a family whose head was the most fascinating and least likable great composer in the history of classical music. Even those who find Richard Wagner’s operas exasperating beyond endurance—a group that is legion and whose members include, more often than not, myself—are not infrequently willing to read just about anything about the man himself, provided that it’s sufficiently well-written and dislinclined to fawn over its subject. Jonathan Carr’s The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family (Atlantic Monthly, 409 pp., $27.50) hits the bull’s-eye on both counts.

A British journalist whose strangely sorted resume includes lives of Helmut Schmidt and Gustav Mahler, Carr clearly knows a fair amount about music, but The Wagner Clan is not primarily about the works of the composer of Die Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde, nor is it solely about his wildly tempestuous life. Carr’s main interest, rather, is in Wagner’s family and what they wrought, with and without him. Cosima, the mother of Wagner’s children, was the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Hans von Bülow, the great German pianist and conductor, until Wagner stole her from Bülow (who had previously been one of his adoring acolytes). After Wagner’s death she ran the family business, the Bayreuth Festival, with an iron hand undisguised by the slightest trace of velvet. Siegfried, Richard’s youngest child, was a second-rate composer, a highly accomplished conductor, and a secret homosexual who struggled throughout his life to come to terms with the burden of his family heritage. Winifred, Siegfried’s wife, developed a lifelong crush on Adolf Hitler and delivered the festival into the hands of the Nazis after her husband’s death. Wieland and Wolfgang, their sons, dragged Bayreuth into the 20th century and made it a postwar center of up-to-date thinking on operatic production style. To this day members of the Wagner family continue to run the summer festival, which has long been one of Europe’s hottest tickets.

All this adds up to an immensely interesting tale that Carr tells with great skill, and anyone who wants to know what became of the Wagners will find it both informative and entertaining. As for those whose main interest is in Der Meister himself, The Wagner Clan offers readers unfamiliar with the vast Wagner literature an exceptionally accessible short introduction to the complicated subject of his life and personality. What I like best about Carr’s book is that it is even-handed but not bland: he takes a distinctly jaundiced view of Wagner the man without ever failing to acknowledge the genius of Wagner the artist, and he seems to have no axes of any kind to grind.

I was especially impressed by the section of The Wagner Clan in which Carr discusses Hitler’s consuming interest in Wagner, a famously difficult subject that the author plays straight down the center:

If Wagner’s works really were “the exact spiritual forerunner” of Nazism, surely the Führer of all people would have drummed that point home ad infinitum. But one looks to him in vain not only for fascist interpretation of the music dramas but, stranger still, for direct references to the [anti-Semitic] theoretical writings. There is, indeed, surprisingly little evidence that Hitler read Wagner’s prose works…Grotesque though it may seem, Wagner’s life and works were almost certainly mirrors in which the Führer thought he saw himself reflected—at least in broad and, to him, imposing outline.

I couldn’t have put it better.

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Another Reason to Fear Jacob Zuma

One of the few reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the impending presidency of Jacob Zuma in South Africa was the expectation that the ousted Deputy President would change his country’s disastrous policies towards Zimbabwe. Zuma’s leadership style is that of the populist, in stark contrast to Thabo Mbeki, an English-educated intellectual with an aloof demeanor. Zuma has long been the man of the African National Congress’ left wing, and is firmly supported by the country’s Communist Party and COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, both of which fought a years-long struggle to mobilize support for Zuma over Mbeki, whom they viewed as too friendly to business. The support Zuma has garnered from the most left-wing elements in South African politics would normally give those supportive of liberal democracy and free markets pause, yet on the issue of Zimbabwe, South Africa’s trade unions have been stalwart opponents of Mugabe. The Zimbabwean dictator, after all, has tried to crush free labor unions, and the main opposition party in Zimbabwe — the Movement for Democratic Change — is led by a trade unionist. South African labor has put worker brotherhood before vague appeals to liberation-era, anti-imperialist “struggle” politics, and for that it should be applauded.

Yet the expectation that Zuma would follow South African labor’s lead in favoring a more aggressive policy to end the rule of Robert Mugabe and restore constitutional government seems to have been dashed. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Zuma criticized the United States and Europe for “tell[ing] us what we need to do” about Zimbabwe and said that Western appeals contained “an element of racism.” He went onto state that “I’m not sure I will do anything fundamentally different,” from Mbeki in terms of Zimbabwe policy.

For years, Zuma’s critics have alleged that he will prove to be another Mugabe. I’ve long found such criticism hysterical, as South Africa’s economic infrastructure, centuries-long example of (limited) parliamentary government, and connections to Western capital would preclude a Zimbabwe-type tragedy from occurring there. Jacob Zuma will not be another Mugabe, but, at the very least, he does not seem all too bothered by him.

One of the few reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the impending presidency of Jacob Zuma in South Africa was the expectation that the ousted Deputy President would change his country’s disastrous policies towards Zimbabwe. Zuma’s leadership style is that of the populist, in stark contrast to Thabo Mbeki, an English-educated intellectual with an aloof demeanor. Zuma has long been the man of the African National Congress’ left wing, and is firmly supported by the country’s Communist Party and COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, both of which fought a years-long struggle to mobilize support for Zuma over Mbeki, whom they viewed as too friendly to business. The support Zuma has garnered from the most left-wing elements in South African politics would normally give those supportive of liberal democracy and free markets pause, yet on the issue of Zimbabwe, South Africa’s trade unions have been stalwart opponents of Mugabe. The Zimbabwean dictator, after all, has tried to crush free labor unions, and the main opposition party in Zimbabwe — the Movement for Democratic Change — is led by a trade unionist. South African labor has put worker brotherhood before vague appeals to liberation-era, anti-imperialist “struggle” politics, and for that it should be applauded.

Yet the expectation that Zuma would follow South African labor’s lead in favoring a more aggressive policy to end the rule of Robert Mugabe and restore constitutional government seems to have been dashed. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Zuma criticized the United States and Europe for “tell[ing] us what we need to do” about Zimbabwe and said that Western appeals contained “an element of racism.” He went onto state that “I’m not sure I will do anything fundamentally different,” from Mbeki in terms of Zimbabwe policy.

For years, Zuma’s critics have alleged that he will prove to be another Mugabe. I’ve long found such criticism hysterical, as South Africa’s economic infrastructure, centuries-long example of (limited) parliamentary government, and connections to Western capital would preclude a Zimbabwe-type tragedy from occurring there. Jacob Zuma will not be another Mugabe, but, at the very least, he does not seem all too bothered by him.

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60 Minutes’ Saddam Edit

There was a suspiciously abrupt edit during 60 Minutes last night on CBS. In the much-hyped broadcast Scott Pelley was interviewing FBI agent George Piro about his lengthy interrogation of Saddam Hussein. The audience was about to enjoy one of Piro’s supposed intel revelations when the slice occurred. From the 60 Minutes transcript:

What was Saddam’s opinion of Osama Bin Laden?

“He considered him to be a fanatic. And as such was very wary of him. He told me, ‘You can’t really trust fanatics,’” Piro says.

“Didn’t think of Bin Laden as an ally in his effort against the United States in this war against the United States?” Pelley asks.

“No. No. He didn’t wanna be seen with Bin Laden. And didn’t want to associate with Bin Laden,” Piro explains.

No, Piro doesn’t explain. 60 Minutes seems to have cut an artificial end into that last statement (view here with volume high). Piro starts to clarify or add to his comment about Saddam not wanting to associate with bin Laden when the camera and microphone are redirected towards Pelley. It should also be noted that the “No. No.” appears in the transcript only, not in the broadcast.

In a climate of fudged New York Times data on veterans and inflated Iraqi death counts in prominent journals, it doesn’t take a paranoid to want to know what, if anything, George Piro was starting so say when the edit occured. In fact, all Piro suggests up until that point is that Saddam didn’t trust bin Laden and didn’t want to be seen with him. This has no bearing on whether or not he’d work with him. Some important contextual clarifications may have followed and are now on CBS’ proverbial cutting room floor. Additionally, the “No. No.” needs to be accounted for.

60 Minutes take on this issue is particularly curious because Piro represents the Iraq Survey Group, and the most important (and underreported) finding of that body is that Saddam had financial and operational ties to various Islamist terrorist organizations throughout the region.

60 Minutes needs to make George Piro’s unedited answer available, so there can be no confusion on Piro’s understanding of Saddam’s terrorist associations.

There was a suspiciously abrupt edit during 60 Minutes last night on CBS. In the much-hyped broadcast Scott Pelley was interviewing FBI agent George Piro about his lengthy interrogation of Saddam Hussein. The audience was about to enjoy one of Piro’s supposed intel revelations when the slice occurred. From the 60 Minutes transcript:

What was Saddam’s opinion of Osama Bin Laden?

“He considered him to be a fanatic. And as such was very wary of him. He told me, ‘You can’t really trust fanatics,’” Piro says.

“Didn’t think of Bin Laden as an ally in his effort against the United States in this war against the United States?” Pelley asks.

“No. No. He didn’t wanna be seen with Bin Laden. And didn’t want to associate with Bin Laden,” Piro explains.

No, Piro doesn’t explain. 60 Minutes seems to have cut an artificial end into that last statement (view here with volume high). Piro starts to clarify or add to his comment about Saddam not wanting to associate with bin Laden when the camera and microphone are redirected towards Pelley. It should also be noted that the “No. No.” appears in the transcript only, not in the broadcast.

In a climate of fudged New York Times data on veterans and inflated Iraqi death counts in prominent journals, it doesn’t take a paranoid to want to know what, if anything, George Piro was starting so say when the edit occured. In fact, all Piro suggests up until that point is that Saddam didn’t trust bin Laden and didn’t want to be seen with him. This has no bearing on whether or not he’d work with him. Some important contextual clarifications may have followed and are now on CBS’ proverbial cutting room floor. Additionally, the “No. No.” needs to be accounted for.

60 Minutes take on this issue is particularly curious because Piro represents the Iraq Survey Group, and the most important (and underreported) finding of that body is that Saddam had financial and operational ties to various Islamist terrorist organizations throughout the region.

60 Minutes needs to make George Piro’s unedited answer available, so there can be no confusion on Piro’s understanding of Saddam’s terrorist associations.

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A Shift In Florida?

In five polls since the Governor Crist endorsement, John McCain has surged and now is either tied with Mitt Romney or has a narrow lead in Florida. There’s an argument that this movement to McCain is directly a function of the Crist news and the media coverage which followed. Pollster/Analyst Charlie Cook tells me: “In a really close race, when conservatives are troubled by whether McCain is really one of them, sure it might make a difference.” The other argument: most of these new polls show Rudy dropping below 15 percent. When the headlines scream that Rudy is slipping from relevance and analysts paint his demise, the voters surely pick up on it. (It is also possible that Crist’s nod for McCain contributed to this by signaling to Florida voters Crist’s view of Rudy’s viability.) Cook offered this alternative view regarding the Crist endorsement: “It may just be a sign that the smart money and sharpies are seeing the handwriting on the wall. Are the endorsements a cause or an effect?” Either way, it is hard to escape the conclusion that as Rudy’s vote total goes down, McCain’s goes up.

Romney, eyeing those poll numbers, launched a counterattack, labeling McCain a “liberal Democrat.” The McCain team put out a statement under McCain’s name accusing Romney of “wholesale deception” and reminding voters of Romney’s flip-flops on “cap and trade,” immigration reform, and campaign finance reform. The statement ends:

The truth is, Mitt Romney was a liberal governor of Massachusetts who raised taxes, imposed with Ted Kennedy a big government mandate health care plan that is now a quarter of a billion dollars in the red, and managed his state’s economy incompetently, leaving Massachusetts with less job growth than 47 other states.

Well, I guess we won’t be ending on a warm and fuzzy note in Florida.

In five polls since the Governor Crist endorsement, John McCain has surged and now is either tied with Mitt Romney or has a narrow lead in Florida. There’s an argument that this movement to McCain is directly a function of the Crist news and the media coverage which followed. Pollster/Analyst Charlie Cook tells me: “In a really close race, when conservatives are troubled by whether McCain is really one of them, sure it might make a difference.” The other argument: most of these new polls show Rudy dropping below 15 percent. When the headlines scream that Rudy is slipping from relevance and analysts paint his demise, the voters surely pick up on it. (It is also possible that Crist’s nod for McCain contributed to this by signaling to Florida voters Crist’s view of Rudy’s viability.) Cook offered this alternative view regarding the Crist endorsement: “It may just be a sign that the smart money and sharpies are seeing the handwriting on the wall. Are the endorsements a cause or an effect?” Either way, it is hard to escape the conclusion that as Rudy’s vote total goes down, McCain’s goes up.

Romney, eyeing those poll numbers, launched a counterattack, labeling McCain a “liberal Democrat.” The McCain team put out a statement under McCain’s name accusing Romney of “wholesale deception” and reminding voters of Romney’s flip-flops on “cap and trade,” immigration reform, and campaign finance reform. The statement ends:

The truth is, Mitt Romney was a liberal governor of Massachusetts who raised taxes, imposed with Ted Kennedy a big government mandate health care plan that is now a quarter of a billion dollars in the red, and managed his state’s economy incompetently, leaving Massachusetts with less job growth than 47 other states.

Well, I guess we won’t be ending on a warm and fuzzy note in Florida.

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Gates vs. Grove

Last week, the two most significant figures to emerge from the technology industry, Bill Gates and Andy Grove, offered views about how capitalism can solve complex social problems. Their thinking could not be more different, and the differences are instructive — and not favorable to Gates.
Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, was at Davos, where he delivered a much-publicized speech advocating “creative capitalism.” The phrase has a nice ring, and Davos major domo Kurt Schwab endorsed it as an “enlightened” view of capitalism. In fact, it was remarkably unimaginative. Gates argued that business needs to “stretch the reach of market forces,” because there are so many places in the world where capitalism has not yet worked. He said that technology and micro financing can provide solutions for business, health, and social problems in the developing world.

All this is unobjectionable. Indeed, it is precisely what all smart companies have been doing since globalization became a reality. Everyone from soap makers to vaccine manufacturers has been figuring out how to create very inexpensive versions of much-needed products. This is how capitalism adapts to new situations, although not every business learns. Where capitalism is failing in the developing world, it is more often due to the absence of political freedom – a subject apparently too sensitive for the international harmony at Davos.

If you want to take a deeper look at creative capitalism, read the current Forbes article on Andy Grove’s efforts to advance research on Parkinson’s Disease. Grove, the co-founder and former CEO of Intel, has consistently proven to be a much deeper thinker than Gates on social and public issues. When he examined how the National Institutes of Health and leading pharmaceutical companies were dealing with Parkinson’s (he was diagnosed with the disease in 2000), he realized that not enough people were asking why there had been so much failure and why so few new treatments had emerged.

The Forbes article provides an entirely different view of how private wealth can bring fresh thinking to the work of government and corporations. The amount Grove is spending is a fraction of what the Gates Foundation has, but you do get the sense that his “creative capitalism” is far more rigorous than what Gates has in mind. For Grove, the problem isn’t the nature of capitalism, it is the lack of contrarian second-guessing within business and governments that is the real enemy of innovation. This doesn’t go down as well as talking about the limits of capitalism. But it strikes me as a much smarter critique of market failures.

Last week, the two most significant figures to emerge from the technology industry, Bill Gates and Andy Grove, offered views about how capitalism can solve complex social problems. Their thinking could not be more different, and the differences are instructive — and not favorable to Gates.
Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, was at Davos, where he delivered a much-publicized speech advocating “creative capitalism.” The phrase has a nice ring, and Davos major domo Kurt Schwab endorsed it as an “enlightened” view of capitalism. In fact, it was remarkably unimaginative. Gates argued that business needs to “stretch the reach of market forces,” because there are so many places in the world where capitalism has not yet worked. He said that technology and micro financing can provide solutions for business, health, and social problems in the developing world.

All this is unobjectionable. Indeed, it is precisely what all smart companies have been doing since globalization became a reality. Everyone from soap makers to vaccine manufacturers has been figuring out how to create very inexpensive versions of much-needed products. This is how capitalism adapts to new situations, although not every business learns. Where capitalism is failing in the developing world, it is more often due to the absence of political freedom – a subject apparently too sensitive for the international harmony at Davos.

If you want to take a deeper look at creative capitalism, read the current Forbes article on Andy Grove’s efforts to advance research on Parkinson’s Disease. Grove, the co-founder and former CEO of Intel, has consistently proven to be a much deeper thinker than Gates on social and public issues. When he examined how the National Institutes of Health and leading pharmaceutical companies were dealing with Parkinson’s (he was diagnosed with the disease in 2000), he realized that not enough people were asking why there had been so much failure and why so few new treatments had emerged.

The Forbes article provides an entirely different view of how private wealth can bring fresh thinking to the work of government and corporations. The amount Grove is spending is a fraction of what the Gates Foundation has, but you do get the sense that his “creative capitalism” is far more rigorous than what Gates has in mind. For Grove, the problem isn’t the nature of capitalism, it is the lack of contrarian second-guessing within business and governments that is the real enemy of innovation. This doesn’t go down as well as talking about the limits of capitalism. But it strikes me as a much smarter critique of market failures.

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How They Spent Sunday

John McCain was making the most of the endorsement by Governor Charlie Crist. (Romney supporter and Florida House Speaker Allan Bense let his sour grapes show.) Meanwhile, Mitt Romney largely refused to engage McCain on McCain’s allegation that Romney had proposed a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. I think there are two factors in that calculation. First, the deeper you get into the topic, the more problematic it becomes for Romney. I agree with others who think that McCain, although shaky on the particulars of the one quote at issue, is correct in his contention that Romney tried to profit politically by remaining ambiguous on the surge for quite some time. (This type of political calculation is precisely the sort of thing McCain routinely inveighs against, and he is no doubt peeved that Romney should escape criticism for what McCain considers to be rank political opportunism.) Second, Romney does not want to change the topic from the economy, and candidly said so. If Romney can fight through the buzz from the Crist endorsement he may in fact have found a message that can win in Florida.

As for Rudy, his team was understandably furious over Crist’s last minute endorsement of McCain. While insisting that chatter about his political demise is “premature,” Rudy continued to try to make the argument in his Sunday TV appearance and in his campaign’s email blasts that he is the solution to the dilemma posed by the McCain and Romney fight: one has economic experience and the other foreign policy expertise. The Rudy team email missive entitled “McCain vs. Romney Shows Giuliani Is Best of Both Worlds” makes the case, as does his final ad (labeled “Clear“), that Rudy offers something for both fiscal and foreign policy conservatives. However, the latest polls show him drifting to fourth, or at best a distant third. It is hard to convince undecided voters that they should ignore the polls, especially if they find either McCain or Romney objectionable and want to cast decisive votes.

And those early and absentee voters? They now total 469,608.

John McCain was making the most of the endorsement by Governor Charlie Crist. (Romney supporter and Florida House Speaker Allan Bense let his sour grapes show.) Meanwhile, Mitt Romney largely refused to engage McCain on McCain’s allegation that Romney had proposed a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. I think there are two factors in that calculation. First, the deeper you get into the topic, the more problematic it becomes for Romney. I agree with others who think that McCain, although shaky on the particulars of the one quote at issue, is correct in his contention that Romney tried to profit politically by remaining ambiguous on the surge for quite some time. (This type of political calculation is precisely the sort of thing McCain routinely inveighs against, and he is no doubt peeved that Romney should escape criticism for what McCain considers to be rank political opportunism.) Second, Romney does not want to change the topic from the economy, and candidly said so. If Romney can fight through the buzz from the Crist endorsement he may in fact have found a message that can win in Florida.

As for Rudy, his team was understandably furious over Crist’s last minute endorsement of McCain. While insisting that chatter about his political demise is “premature,” Rudy continued to try to make the argument in his Sunday TV appearance and in his campaign’s email blasts that he is the solution to the dilemma posed by the McCain and Romney fight: one has economic experience and the other foreign policy expertise. The Rudy team email missive entitled “McCain vs. Romney Shows Giuliani Is Best of Both Worlds” makes the case, as does his final ad (labeled “Clear“), that Rudy offers something for both fiscal and foreign policy conservatives. However, the latest polls show him drifting to fourth, or at best a distant third. It is hard to convince undecided voters that they should ignore the polls, especially if they find either McCain or Romney objectionable and want to cast decisive votes.

And those early and absentee voters? They now total 469,608.

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How Long Before Gore Endorses Obama?

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

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