Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 8, 2008

Re: Setting the Bar Low

The best thing going for Hillary Clinton may be the proportional voting system. Without it the next few days might be rough. Barack Obama does have a batch of friendly states ahead. Next Tuesday offers three opportunities for him. In Virginia scant pollling shows him in the lead. (The combination of African Americans in the Richmond area and upscale professionals in northern Virginia seems ideally suited for him.) He also is expected to do well in Maryland and D.C., with large numbers of large African American voters.

Moreover, he is expected to head into Tuesday with a head of steam. On Saturday he has a caucus in Washington, where he again is polling well and received the endorsement of Governor Christine Gregoire. He also stands to do well in the Louisiana primary(again, with a significant African American electorate) and in the Nebraska caucus (where, if the Red state caucus contests on Super Tuesday are any guide, he will win). The one bright spot for Clinton may be Sunday’s caucus in Maine where Bill has campaigned and she has the governor on her side. (But, yes, Maine did not do too much for Mitt Romney.)

In short, Obama trails Clinton by 70 delegates today, but after this weekend’s 228 delegates and Tuesday’s 238 delegates are tallied, he will likely be in the lead. Once again, the proportional voting system will keep the total delegate count close, but in four days expect to hear that Clinton is now the “underdog.” (And matters will not get easier for her when they head to Wisconsin on February 19 and Obama’s “Yes we can” cheer will resonate well in the land of La Follette.) With that new status she may be the “scrappy fighter” or the “fading star,” depending on the media spin.

The best thing going for Hillary Clinton may be the proportional voting system. Without it the next few days might be rough. Barack Obama does have a batch of friendly states ahead. Next Tuesday offers three opportunities for him. In Virginia scant pollling shows him in the lead. (The combination of African Americans in the Richmond area and upscale professionals in northern Virginia seems ideally suited for him.) He also is expected to do well in Maryland and D.C., with large numbers of large African American voters.

Moreover, he is expected to head into Tuesday with a head of steam. On Saturday he has a caucus in Washington, where he again is polling well and received the endorsement of Governor Christine Gregoire. He also stands to do well in the Louisiana primary(again, with a significant African American electorate) and in the Nebraska caucus (where, if the Red state caucus contests on Super Tuesday are any guide, he will win). The one bright spot for Clinton may be Sunday’s caucus in Maine where Bill has campaigned and she has the governor on her side. (But, yes, Maine did not do too much for Mitt Romney.)

In short, Obama trails Clinton by 70 delegates today, but after this weekend’s 228 delegates and Tuesday’s 238 delegates are tallied, he will likely be in the lead. Once again, the proportional voting system will keep the total delegate count close, but in four days expect to hear that Clinton is now the “underdog.” (And matters will not get easier for her when they head to Wisconsin on February 19 and Obama’s “Yes we can” cheer will resonate well in the land of La Follette.) With that new status she may be the “scrappy fighter” or the “fading star,” depending on the media spin.

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Setting the Bar Low…for Hillary

The conventional wisdom these days is that the media are in the tank for Obama, and it’s mostly correct. But one of the unanticipated effects of the uncritical coverage of Obama and the enthusiasm he provokes is that it has lowered the bar for Hillary. The expectation that she was going to be blown out of the water on Super Tuesday — ballasted by rotten exit polls that suggested she might lose in New Jersey and Massachusetts, two states she carried with comfortable margins — helped shape the coverage that night as an unexpected triumph for her.

Now it’s happening again. It is said, based on the results so far, that she is going to have a tough month because the contests in February are primarily caucuses or in Southern states, and in both these contexts, Obama has had commanding success. In some sense, then, all Mrs. Clinton need do is not be humiliated to eke out a moral victory of a kind in the minds of people who follow all of this far too closely. The thing is that people who follow all of this far too closely help set the tone for everyone else. Next Tuesday night will offer some clues to this, especially in light of the primary in Virginia. If she keeps it close, you can expect Chris Matthews to talk about her indomitable toughness and grace under pressure….

The conventional wisdom these days is that the media are in the tank for Obama, and it’s mostly correct. But one of the unanticipated effects of the uncritical coverage of Obama and the enthusiasm he provokes is that it has lowered the bar for Hillary. The expectation that she was going to be blown out of the water on Super Tuesday — ballasted by rotten exit polls that suggested she might lose in New Jersey and Massachusetts, two states she carried with comfortable margins — helped shape the coverage that night as an unexpected triumph for her.

Now it’s happening again. It is said, based on the results so far, that she is going to have a tough month because the contests in February are primarily caucuses or in Southern states, and in both these contexts, Obama has had commanding success. In some sense, then, all Mrs. Clinton need do is not be humiliated to eke out a moral victory of a kind in the minds of people who follow all of this far too closely. The thing is that people who follow all of this far too closely help set the tone for everyone else. Next Tuesday night will offer some clues to this, especially in light of the primary in Virginia. If she keeps it close, you can expect Chris Matthews to talk about her indomitable toughness and grace under pressure….

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Not Chelsea . . .

There’s something depressing about Chelsea Clinton having been suddenly called upon to expand her role in Hillary’s campaign. Up until now Chelsea seemed to represent the one untainted region of the Clinton sphere. And one liked to believe that her previous media shyness (she refused to talk to the press) on the campaign trail came from a personal determination not to be sullied with the muck of her parents’ calling.

But now it looks as if Chelsea was merely being kept in the back of the Clinton arsenal, only to be used in the event of a genuine Obama showdown. It’s Chelsea’s mission to grab some of the Obama youth vote. The Daily News reports that she’s on a kind of college tour, including a recent stop at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She has also been calling superdelegateas on her mother’s behalf.

Bill and Hillary are notoriously opinion-obsessed, and are well aware that Chelsea is probably the only Clinton left whose poll numbers show consistent low negatives. Here’s the Daily News:

Peter Ragone, a Democratic consultant who volunteered for the Clinton campaign in California and arranged several of Chelsea Clinton’s appearances there, said the former First Daughter is remarkably popular.

“What kept happening, which was astounding, is you’d expect 25 people and 200 would show up,” he said.

Chelsea is the last of her clan capable of evoking sympathy, which is why it’s a little heartbreaking to see her PR approach turn on a dime.

There’s something depressing about Chelsea Clinton having been suddenly called upon to expand her role in Hillary’s campaign. Up until now Chelsea seemed to represent the one untainted region of the Clinton sphere. And one liked to believe that her previous media shyness (she refused to talk to the press) on the campaign trail came from a personal determination not to be sullied with the muck of her parents’ calling.

But now it looks as if Chelsea was merely being kept in the back of the Clinton arsenal, only to be used in the event of a genuine Obama showdown. It’s Chelsea’s mission to grab some of the Obama youth vote. The Daily News reports that she’s on a kind of college tour, including a recent stop at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She has also been calling superdelegateas on her mother’s behalf.

Bill and Hillary are notoriously opinion-obsessed, and are well aware that Chelsea is probably the only Clinton left whose poll numbers show consistent low negatives. Here’s the Daily News:

Peter Ragone, a Democratic consultant who volunteered for the Clinton campaign in California and arranged several of Chelsea Clinton’s appearances there, said the former First Daughter is remarkably popular.

“What kept happening, which was astounding, is you’d expect 25 people and 200 would show up,” he said.

Chelsea is the last of her clan capable of evoking sympathy, which is why it’s a little heartbreaking to see her PR approach turn on a dime.

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Shari’a in Britain

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

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Hysteria Doesn’t Vote

Barack Obama is being conned into a false sense of assurance by the hysteria of his supporters. If the Beatlemania shriek has become the call of the Obama fan, perhaps Hillary voters can be identified by the chirps of their electronic car locks. Though less impressive in a youtube sense, it’s this “pantsuit army” (as described by Mark Hemingway at NRO) that can be counted on to deliver in the long run.

Hysteria has a hard time finding its way to the polls. First, you have to stop quivering with exctiement long enough to fill out a voter registration form. Then you have to show up at an appointed place and time. And then—in an unthinkable turn of events for Obama’s click-crazed thirty-and-under legions—probably wait on a slow-moving line. Amber Lee Ettinger, for example, found the challenge of step two insurmountable. Better known as “Obama Girl” for her viral video serenade, Ettinger never got around to pulling the lever for the object of her affections last Tuesday. “I didn’t get a chance to vote today because I’m not registered to vote in New York,” she said. It turns out she would have had to travel all the way to New Jersey to do her civic duty, and the poor girl was too ill to make the trek .“I was in Arizona for the Super Bowl — every time I get in the airplane I get sick,” she explained. (There’s also the example of the Green Party/Jerry Garcia voter who showed up for a good time at the Grateful Dead Obama rally.)

It’s hard to imagine a soldier in Hillary’s pantsuit army getting sidelined by the sniffles. These working or single moms with a Sharpied “vote Hillary” on their refrigerator calendars are not likely to be deterred. There’s a clipboard efficiency to that demographic, not unlike the facts-and-figures campaign talk of their candidate. This affinity continues to grow, Hemingway reports, as Hillary seems to be gaining support among women voters. Similarly, Obama’s free-floating rhetoric seems to resonate most deeply with the feckless and leisured, who have better things (not) to do than show up on election day. This may be why his pre-primary poll numbers always seem to overstate the significance of his gains. Meanwhile, Hillary’s growing forces continue to hide in plain sight. And then actually vote.

Barack Obama is being conned into a false sense of assurance by the hysteria of his supporters. If the Beatlemania shriek has become the call of the Obama fan, perhaps Hillary voters can be identified by the chirps of their electronic car locks. Though less impressive in a youtube sense, it’s this “pantsuit army” (as described by Mark Hemingway at NRO) that can be counted on to deliver in the long run.

Hysteria has a hard time finding its way to the polls. First, you have to stop quivering with exctiement long enough to fill out a voter registration form. Then you have to show up at an appointed place and time. And then—in an unthinkable turn of events for Obama’s click-crazed thirty-and-under legions—probably wait on a slow-moving line. Amber Lee Ettinger, for example, found the challenge of step two insurmountable. Better known as “Obama Girl” for her viral video serenade, Ettinger never got around to pulling the lever for the object of her affections last Tuesday. “I didn’t get a chance to vote today because I’m not registered to vote in New York,” she said. It turns out she would have had to travel all the way to New Jersey to do her civic duty, and the poor girl was too ill to make the trek .“I was in Arizona for the Super Bowl — every time I get in the airplane I get sick,” she explained. (There’s also the example of the Green Party/Jerry Garcia voter who showed up for a good time at the Grateful Dead Obama rally.)

It’s hard to imagine a soldier in Hillary’s pantsuit army getting sidelined by the sniffles. These working or single moms with a Sharpied “vote Hillary” on their refrigerator calendars are not likely to be deterred. There’s a clipboard efficiency to that demographic, not unlike the facts-and-figures campaign talk of their candidate. This affinity continues to grow, Hemingway reports, as Hillary seems to be gaining support among women voters. Similarly, Obama’s free-floating rhetoric seems to resonate most deeply with the feckless and leisured, who have better things (not) to do than show up on election day. This may be why his pre-primary poll numbers always seem to overstate the significance of his gains. Meanwhile, Hillary’s growing forces continue to hide in plain sight. And then actually vote.

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Boxer on Blogs

I am continually fascinated by the blogosphere—its odd blend of willful insularity and often-startling reach; its dominant personalities, at who’ve succeeded not so much at being larger than life, but at simply recreating parallel versions of themselves online, seemingly able to document every waking thought in real time; at the alliances and infighting that dominate, especially in political commentary; at the way it allows us to see the evolution of language, the spread of ideas, jargon, and stylistic modes, at a an amazingly rapid pace. In just the last few years, blogs have generated reams of material ripe for critical evaluation.

So I was rather disappointed by Sarah Boxer’s essay on blogs in The New York Review of Books, which seems written for people who have never—or only rarely—encountered blogs. The essay provides a cursory summary of how blogs work, notes a few of their literary tics, and suggests that they are popular because of the freedom they provide. It’s sort of “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog” in 5,000 words. It’s a primer on blogging, but it suggests very little about the medium that isn’t patently obvious to a regular consumer. All this might have been fine in 2004, but in this case, it comes off as a marginally less awe-struck version of what Ross Douthat has called the “critic-as-fanboy style of criticism,” which he says usually come in the form of “extremely long critical essays that describe their subject, often in painstaking and florid detail, without bothering to interpret it.” I’m glad to see that writers are taking the internet seriously as a medium that deserves thoughtful examination, but if Boxer’s essay offers indication, the critical community has yet to figure out what to make of it.

I am continually fascinated by the blogosphere—its odd blend of willful insularity and often-startling reach; its dominant personalities, at who’ve succeeded not so much at being larger than life, but at simply recreating parallel versions of themselves online, seemingly able to document every waking thought in real time; at the alliances and infighting that dominate, especially in political commentary; at the way it allows us to see the evolution of language, the spread of ideas, jargon, and stylistic modes, at a an amazingly rapid pace. In just the last few years, blogs have generated reams of material ripe for critical evaluation.

So I was rather disappointed by Sarah Boxer’s essay on blogs in The New York Review of Books, which seems written for people who have never—or only rarely—encountered blogs. The essay provides a cursory summary of how blogs work, notes a few of their literary tics, and suggests that they are popular because of the freedom they provide. It’s sort of “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog” in 5,000 words. It’s a primer on blogging, but it suggests very little about the medium that isn’t patently obvious to a regular consumer. All this might have been fine in 2004, but in this case, it comes off as a marginally less awe-struck version of what Ross Douthat has called the “critic-as-fanboy style of criticism,” which he says usually come in the form of “extremely long critical essays that describe their subject, often in painstaking and florid detail, without bothering to interpret it.” I’m glad to see that writers are taking the internet seriously as a medium that deserves thoughtful examination, but if Boxer’s essay offers indication, the critical community has yet to figure out what to make of it.

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A Strike in the Dark?

A Strike in the Dark” is what Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker calls Israel’s September raid on a facility in Syria that may or may not have been nuclear in nature and may or may not have been in the process of being supplied with nuclear materials from North Korea.

Hersh is skeptical of the idea that there was anything untoward going on: “In three months of reporting for this article,” he writes, “I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria.”

He suggests that reports to the contrary were transmitted directly from Israeli intelligence to senior members of the Bush administration in a way that kept the CIA from vetting them. In other words, it was the same “process, known as ‘stovepiping,” [that] overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.”

In writing his piece, Hersh seems to have interviewed every source in the Washington DC telephone book, and also every source in Damascus, where he traveled to interview Syrian officials. I have no evidence that contradicts his impressive reporting. But I am still skeptical of his skepticism.

For one thing, Hersh is remarkably predictable. No matter what happens in the world, Israel and the United States (especially under the Bush administration) are always made by him to look trigger-happy and sinister. But could events consistently break in one way? Or is this an artifact of Hersh’s well-known biases? 

My biases tilt the other way. I haven’t interviewed 734 sources, some of whom may or not exist, or even if they do exist may not be telling the truth. But I recently re-read a 2005 statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that is quite relevant to Israeli fears about the Syrian facility:

We remain concerned about North Korea’s potential for exporting nuclear materials or technology. At the April 2003 trilateral talks in Beijing, North Korea privately threatened to export nuclear weapons. During the third round of Six-Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue in June 2004, Pyongyang included a ban on nuclear transfers in its nuclear freeze proposal. In April 2005, North Korea told a US academic that it could transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists if driven into a corner. IAEA inspectors in May 2004 recovered two tons of uranium hexafluoride from Libya that is belied to have originated in North Korea.

Perhaps Israel’s action was “a strike in the dark.” But so what? Even if the intelligence leading Israel to hit the Syrian facility was incomplete or wrong, this was one of those cases where it would not be wise to wait until the evidence comes in the form of a mushroom cloud.

A Strike in the Dark” is what Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker calls Israel’s September raid on a facility in Syria that may or may not have been nuclear in nature and may or may not have been in the process of being supplied with nuclear materials from North Korea.

Hersh is skeptical of the idea that there was anything untoward going on: “In three months of reporting for this article,” he writes, “I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria.”

He suggests that reports to the contrary were transmitted directly from Israeli intelligence to senior members of the Bush administration in a way that kept the CIA from vetting them. In other words, it was the same “process, known as ‘stovepiping,” [that] overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.”

In writing his piece, Hersh seems to have interviewed every source in the Washington DC telephone book, and also every source in Damascus, where he traveled to interview Syrian officials. I have no evidence that contradicts his impressive reporting. But I am still skeptical of his skepticism.

For one thing, Hersh is remarkably predictable. No matter what happens in the world, Israel and the United States (especially under the Bush administration) are always made by him to look trigger-happy and sinister. But could events consistently break in one way? Or is this an artifact of Hersh’s well-known biases? 

My biases tilt the other way. I haven’t interviewed 734 sources, some of whom may or not exist, or even if they do exist may not be telling the truth. But I recently re-read a 2005 statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that is quite relevant to Israeli fears about the Syrian facility:

We remain concerned about North Korea’s potential for exporting nuclear materials or technology. At the April 2003 trilateral talks in Beijing, North Korea privately threatened to export nuclear weapons. During the third round of Six-Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue in June 2004, Pyongyang included a ban on nuclear transfers in its nuclear freeze proposal. In April 2005, North Korea told a US academic that it could transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists if driven into a corner. IAEA inspectors in May 2004 recovered two tons of uranium hexafluoride from Libya that is belied to have originated in North Korea.

Perhaps Israel’s action was “a strike in the dark.” But so what? Even if the intelligence leading Israel to hit the Syrian facility was incomplete or wrong, this was one of those cases where it would not be wise to wait until the evidence comes in the form of a mushroom cloud.

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Super Fight

If the deadlock between lunch-box Democrats and Bill Bradley Democrats (the former Hillary Clinton’s base and the latter Barack Obama’s) cannot be broken with a new flood of money or by an influx of independent voters freed up from a decided Republican race, will the super-delegates–796 quintessential Washington insiders–decide who the Democratic nominee will be? Figures as diverse as David Brooks and Nancy Pelosi have suggested they will. This raises two questions: who will this favor and is this a good way to pick a President.

You might imagine at first blush that Clinton (who to date has secured a lead of 211-128 among the super-delegates) would like nothing better than a smoke-filled room to settle the matter. However, Washington insiders can read polls. And it is clear that Obama, at least now, stacks up better against John McCain than does Clinton. Moreover, the number of Obama’s red-state backers (from Tom Daschle to Claire McCaskill to Janet Napolitano) have made clear that they view him as the one capable of creating a governing majority. So, counterintuitive as it may be, if the nomination is really at stake I think Obama may have the upper hand.

As to the second issue, the smoke-filled rooms were what years of political party rule “reform” was supposed to banish. Like most campaign reform, the law of unintended consequences looms large here. Years of fiddling by legions of rule committees and the more recent effort by Terry McAuliffe, longtime Clinton confidant and now campaign chairman, to create the perfect system (to benefit a supposedly strong front-runner like Clinton) may result in the perfect mess. It is hard to imagine that the loser and his/her backers would not go away very, very mad if a gang of Washington pols decided the nomination. The bitterness and recriminations, not to imagine the back-room deals needed to cobble together a victory, would consume the media and the party. The prospect is an inviting one for the GOP (which explains all the e-mails I receive from GOP types gloating at the possibility of just such an outcome): it would make the GOP’s current intra-party squabbles look like a Zen encounter group.

If the deadlock between lunch-box Democrats and Bill Bradley Democrats (the former Hillary Clinton’s base and the latter Barack Obama’s) cannot be broken with a new flood of money or by an influx of independent voters freed up from a decided Republican race, will the super-delegates–796 quintessential Washington insiders–decide who the Democratic nominee will be? Figures as diverse as David Brooks and Nancy Pelosi have suggested they will. This raises two questions: who will this favor and is this a good way to pick a President.

You might imagine at first blush that Clinton (who to date has secured a lead of 211-128 among the super-delegates) would like nothing better than a smoke-filled room to settle the matter. However, Washington insiders can read polls. And it is clear that Obama, at least now, stacks up better against John McCain than does Clinton. Moreover, the number of Obama’s red-state backers (from Tom Daschle to Claire McCaskill to Janet Napolitano) have made clear that they view him as the one capable of creating a governing majority. So, counterintuitive as it may be, if the nomination is really at stake I think Obama may have the upper hand.

As to the second issue, the smoke-filled rooms were what years of political party rule “reform” was supposed to banish. Like most campaign reform, the law of unintended consequences looms large here. Years of fiddling by legions of rule committees and the more recent effort by Terry McAuliffe, longtime Clinton confidant and now campaign chairman, to create the perfect system (to benefit a supposedly strong front-runner like Clinton) may result in the perfect mess. It is hard to imagine that the loser and his/her backers would not go away very, very mad if a gang of Washington pols decided the nomination. The bitterness and recriminations, not to imagine the back-room deals needed to cobble together a victory, would consume the media and the party. The prospect is an inviting one for the GOP (which explains all the e-mails I receive from GOP types gloating at the possibility of just such an outcome): it would make the GOP’s current intra-party squabbles look like a Zen encounter group.

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I’m Not Swooning

Peter Baker of The Washington Post writes

It may no longer be surprising to watch so many young people, African Americans and well-off Democrats fall so hard for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as he battles for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it has been fascinating to see so many conservatives swooning over him lately.

Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush speechwriter, calls him “thoughtful” and praises his “classy campaign.” George Will, the columnist and television pundit, describes him as “an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic ‘fights’ against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.” Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House aide, calls Obama “a well-grounded, thoughtful, decent man” whom Republicans “would find it hard to generate much enthusiasm in opposing.”

… Yet when the infatuation wears off, if Obama gets the nomination, will Republicans still think so highly of him? If Obama delivers the knockout blow to the Clinton dynasty, the bete noire of so many conservatives, would they still find reason to think of him as a knight in shining armor? Lost amid all the dramatic primaries and debates of recent days have been a few moments that voters are likely to hear more about in the fall should Obama win the nomination, moments that will remind Republicans that in many ways he is a pretty conventional liberal.

Let me try to disentangle some of this. I certainly have written favorable things about Senator Obama — for his speeches (which are uplifting and moving, if often devoid of a serious discussion of issues), his style of politics (including his color-blind campaign), and the kind of man he seems (by all accounts) to be. Yet in the same op-ed that Baker cites, I went on to write this:

[Obama] is, on almost every issue, a conventional liberal. And while rhetoric and character matter a lot, politics is finally and fundamentally about ideas and philosophy. Whether we’re talking about the Iraq war, monitoring terrorist communications, health care, taxes, education, abortion and the courts, the size of government, or almost anything else, Obama embodies the views of the special-interest groups on the left…If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and fails to take steps such as this [endorsing conservative policies], his liberal views will be his greatest vulnerability. Obama will try to reject the liberal label–but based on his stands on the issues, at least so far, the label will fit, and it will stick.

In other words, I make precisely the point that Baker says will be made about Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But the way Baker’s piece is set up, any future criticism of Senator Obama, on grounds of political philosophy and ideology, will be seen as activating the “Republican attack machine.” And those of us who have said favorable things about Obama will be accused of going “partisan” because we dare say a negative word about the young senator from Illinois.

This piece by Baker illustrates how the media culture often perpetuates what it says it laments (for example, reducing politics to a simplistic level and people to predictable, cartoonish figures). Baker, by using silly words to describe the views of Will, Noonan, and me toward Obama, apparently wants to create a political environment that continues to personalize policy and ideological differences.

We should be able to praise Obama on the grounds we have without being accused of being “infatuated” with him and “swooning over him.” We can recognize his gifts without viewing him as a “knight in shining armor.” The reality is that Senator Obama is an impressive man and a remarkable political talent. He is also a conventional liberal and, on Iraq particularly, I believe his policies are unwise and even reckless. I disagree with him on probably every major issue–and yet I still find him to be an appealing figure.

Those two things aren’t incompatible–and Peter Baker, a fine and often insightful political reporter, should recognize this.

Peter Baker of The Washington Post writes

It may no longer be surprising to watch so many young people, African Americans and well-off Democrats fall so hard for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as he battles for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it has been fascinating to see so many conservatives swooning over him lately.

Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush speechwriter, calls him “thoughtful” and praises his “classy campaign.” George Will, the columnist and television pundit, describes him as “an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic ‘fights’ against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.” Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House aide, calls Obama “a well-grounded, thoughtful, decent man” whom Republicans “would find it hard to generate much enthusiasm in opposing.”

… Yet when the infatuation wears off, if Obama gets the nomination, will Republicans still think so highly of him? If Obama delivers the knockout blow to the Clinton dynasty, the bete noire of so many conservatives, would they still find reason to think of him as a knight in shining armor? Lost amid all the dramatic primaries and debates of recent days have been a few moments that voters are likely to hear more about in the fall should Obama win the nomination, moments that will remind Republicans that in many ways he is a pretty conventional liberal.

Let me try to disentangle some of this. I certainly have written favorable things about Senator Obama — for his speeches (which are uplifting and moving, if often devoid of a serious discussion of issues), his style of politics (including his color-blind campaign), and the kind of man he seems (by all accounts) to be. Yet in the same op-ed that Baker cites, I went on to write this:

[Obama] is, on almost every issue, a conventional liberal. And while rhetoric and character matter a lot, politics is finally and fundamentally about ideas and philosophy. Whether we’re talking about the Iraq war, monitoring terrorist communications, health care, taxes, education, abortion and the courts, the size of government, or almost anything else, Obama embodies the views of the special-interest groups on the left…If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and fails to take steps such as this [endorsing conservative policies], his liberal views will be his greatest vulnerability. Obama will try to reject the liberal label–but based on his stands on the issues, at least so far, the label will fit, and it will stick.

In other words, I make precisely the point that Baker says will be made about Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But the way Baker’s piece is set up, any future criticism of Senator Obama, on grounds of political philosophy and ideology, will be seen as activating the “Republican attack machine.” And those of us who have said favorable things about Obama will be accused of going “partisan” because we dare say a negative word about the young senator from Illinois.

This piece by Baker illustrates how the media culture often perpetuates what it says it laments (for example, reducing politics to a simplistic level and people to predictable, cartoonish figures). Baker, by using silly words to describe the views of Will, Noonan, and me toward Obama, apparently wants to create a political environment that continues to personalize policy and ideological differences.

We should be able to praise Obama on the grounds we have without being accused of being “infatuated” with him and “swooning over him.” We can recognize his gifts without viewing him as a “knight in shining armor.” The reality is that Senator Obama is an impressive man and a remarkable political talent. He is also a conventional liberal and, on Iraq particularly, I believe his policies are unwise and even reckless. I disagree with him on probably every major issue–and yet I still find him to be an appealing figure.

Those two things aren’t incompatible–and Peter Baker, a fine and often insightful political reporter, should recognize this.

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This Takes The Cake

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)

As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)

As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)

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