Hillary Clinton complains about her press treatment. And while she has a point, she does so with crazy eyes. The way this is going, she is going to wish she dropped out a week ago.
Posts For: February 26, 2008
Hillary is trying to nail him down on details, for a change. Facts and figures. This is where she thrives and he flounders. If she can keep that tone (which was beginning to creep in) out of it, this is her best approach.
I judge, from Barack Obama’s own unwillingness to offer a robust defense of his plan, which allows a certain number of people to choose to forgo health care, that he’s sorry now he went with it. It’s so much easier just to say “I will give everybody health care.” And he so wishes he could say it. But he went a different way — the only way in which his campaign deviates from down-the-line Democratic orthodoxy — and now he has to stick to it.
Her measured response indicates she is not going to get angry, but she does pull out a female-friendly phrase (she will “stand up for herself”) and makes a poised defense of her health care plan. His response is equally measured. Obviously the name of the game for him is to create no interesting YouTube moments and to blur the differences between the two of them. So far, so good from his perspective.
The directive may have come from Hillary’s campaign or it may have been doctor’s orders, but boilin’ Bill Clinton has been officially benched. Here’s the International Herald Tribune:
He is being kept as far from the media as possible to prevent any more of the red-faced, finger-wagging tirades and freelance political commentary that polls say cost Hillary Rodham Clinton a lot of support, particularly among black voters.
So what audiences in venues like Lancaster, a working-class town of 33,000 about 35 miles, about 55 kilometers, southeast of Columbus, are seeing is a subdued and substantive former president going on at length about Iraq, health care, education, job creation and what he portrays as the multiple sins of the Bush administration.
Okay, not benched—sent down to the minors. It certainly took the Clintons long enough to face up to the fact that Bill was not being received with the public adoration they thought his due. The Tribune reports that in a December New York Times/CBS News Poll, 44 percent of those polled said they were more likely to vote for Hillary because of her husband and 7 seven percent said he made them less likely to do so. In the latest such poll, respondents were split evenly at 22 percent in each category.
Since Bill has been demoted from the main room to the lounge, Hillary has made the mistake of embodying the traits that seemingly turned her husband’s fans against him: the divisiveness, sense of entitlement, scolding, baiting, and general propensity for playing the victim don’t look much better on her. I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that if she too went into hiding for a while, her numbers might jump.
Earlier today, John McCain denounced a conservative radio host warming up a crowd at a rally for the Senator in Cincinnati. Bill Cunningham repeatedly referred to “Barack Hussein Obama” as he introduced McCain. McCain, evincing what Yuval Levin has described as his peculiar form of “honor politics,” has no patience for such cheap shots. After all, there are plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied with Barack Obama as president–his foreign policy views, for instance–but the fact that his father happened to be a Muslim is most certainly not one of them.
“I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said. “My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign.”
McCain called both Democrats “honorable Americans” and said, “I want to dissociate myself with any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them.”
Asked whether the use of Obama’s middle name—the same as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — is proper, McCain said: “No, it is not. Any comment that is disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate.”
The invocation of Obama’s middle name has for some time now been a rhetorical arrow in the quivers of some of the more fevered commentators on the right. Kudos to John McCain for denouncing such a cynical tactic. He’s a real profile in courage compared to Hillary Clinton, who, far from denouncing such dirty tricks, has made ample use of them.
ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Humvee slammed to a halt on the desert road between Fallujah and the town of Al Farris. I peered around the driver’s head from the back seat and tried to figure out what was happening.
“Why are we stopping?” I said.
“IED,” Sergeant Guerrero said.
I swallowed and took the lens cap off my camera.
“Where?” I said.
All five Humvees in our convoy had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. None had been hit.
“We think there’s one buried off the road around here.”
Two soldiers, including Sergeant Guerrero, stepped out of the vehicle. “Can I get out, too?” I said. I had no idea how long we would stop or if they would even let me out of the truck.
“Sure,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “You can get out.”
All IED’s are dangerous no matter how much body armor you’re wearing if you’re standing anywhere nearby when they explode. Some create small explosions that are merely intended to harass convoys. Others are formidable anti-tank mines. A smaller number create explosions as big as air strikes and will absolutely destroy you if you’re not inside a heavily armored vehicle. The term IED, short for improvised explosive device, is used to describe just about any explosive that isn’t discharged from a weapon.
I slowly pushed open the vault-thick up-armored door and stepped out into the desolate countryside of Al Anbar. An Iraqi Police truck was parked in the desert a few hundred feet to our right. I hoped there wasn’t an IED trigger man lurking somewhere who was waiting for all of us to expose ourselves.
John McCain put it bluntly yesterday: if he is unable to convince Americans that the troop surge is working in Iraq and that U.S. casualties there have fallen, he’ll lose in November. He immediately backed down from that stark correlation, but the fact remains that McCain is running as the heir to “George Bush’s war.” His challenge is a funny one. A “war-fatigued” public prefers an immediate end to the fighting over a gradual victory, and while the facts are overwhelmingly on McCain’s side, no one has yet been able to convince the public that the facts are, indeed, the facts.
As Rich Lowry notes in his new National Review article about Iraq:
Almost every indicator of violence is headed in the right direction. Last year’s indispensable abbreviation, EJK, or extra-judicial killings—meaning sectarian murders—is barely heard now. The sectarian civil war has dissipated in Baghdad. Nationwide, enemy actions are down about 60 percent since June. In December, American casualties were at early-2004 levels.
The al Qaeda violence that continues to plague the northern city of Mosul will, in all likelihood, soon come to an end as Iraqi and American forces are poised to route the remaining terrorists from their final stronghold. Furthermore, the long-awaited political progress preemptively dismissed by Nancy Pelosi and both Democratic frontrunners is now underway. The country’s parliament has passed three laws critical to the viability of Iraqi statehood.
So: why does McCain face a challenge at all? Shouldn’t Americans be thrilled at the turnaround in Iraq? Evidently not. The nation’s collective masochism seemed to pass a vital threshold once the Iraq War proved tougher than they expected. The two things anti-war Americans never tire of saying are “we can’t win” and, more importantly, “what does winning mean anyway?” In this last question lies the crux of McCain’s uphill battle. He’s got to convince an electorate that has deconstructed the concept of victory that we are indeed victors.
But before he can do that, he has to pierce the negativity that Democrats and the MSM have saddled us with. For all Barack Obama’s hopeful poetry, his true message is that things are currently abysmal. In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger punctured the bubble of rhetoric around a recent Obama speech. Henninger stripped the speech of lofty allusions and revealed its meager substantive core.
Here’s [Obama’s] American: “lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I’ve fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories.”
What’s resonating with voters is not the idea that America is great, but that she can be so after a little scolding. McCain’s telling them that there are some things already worth celebrating about our country puts limits on their Obama-inspired fantasies. Whether it’s the economy, class warfare, real warfare, or America’s standing in the world, McCain is up against the entrenched (and savored) impression that America is in decline. Not only will McCain have to convince the public that we’re winning the war, but he’ll have to make them see that we deserve to win it. Michael Moore made a record-breaking blockbuster film asserting that Iraqi insurgents are the moral equivalent of our Revolutionary War minutemen. Getting that movie’s millions of viewers to recognize (and celebrate) a U.S. military victory is John McCain’s task.
The always interesting Claudia Rosett has come up with this year’s best suggestion for President Bush: buy a subscription to Der Spiegel—and get rid of the bureaucracy that produces U.S. National Intelligence Estimates.
As CONTENTIONS readers know, the American intelligence community, in an NIE released last December, stated that it had “high confidence” that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, weapons design is “the least significant” portion of a nuclear weapons program. The most important is obtaining fissile material. In Iran’s case that would be enriched uranium.
The NIE talked about that issue too. It said that Tehran would probably be able to produce enough uranium for a single bomb sometime “during the 2010-2015 time frame.” Yet not everyone agrees with this view. “New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year,” reports Spiegel Online.
The end-2008 prediction is based on an assumption that Tehran’s technicians have figured out all they need to know about their centrifuges. That appears unlikely. Yet as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November, Iran has made substantial progress recently. Even if the European Union has overestimated Iran’s technical capabilities, it would seem that Tehran will be in a position to build a bomb before the end of this decade, not the middle of the next one. That conclusion fits in with Israel’s estimate of 2010.
In any event, the EU simulations inject some urgency into the efforts to disarm the mullahs. European Union nations are planning in May at the earliest to offer a package of economic incentives to Iran if it gives up enrichment. The United States for its part looks as if it will succeed in persuading a sufficient number of other members of the Security Council to pass a third set of sanctions. Yet nobody expects the new measures, if they are in fact adopted, will actually stop the Iranians. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday about the Western efforts at the U.N., “They could spend 100 years passing resolutions but it wouldn’t change anything.
What is changing at this moment is Iran’s technical capability to enrich uranium. Yet, outside Israel and the offices of Der Spiegel, there seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency in stopping Tehran.
The McCain campaign just completed a media call with campaign manager Rick Davis, communications director Jill Hazelbaker, and general counsel Trevor Potter. The admitted purpose and main focus of the call? “Don’t buy that smoke Howard Dean is blowing around on our withdrawal from the matching funds system.” They want the focus and the media to turn its attention back to what they consider a problem for Barack Obama: his attempt to wriggle out of his commitment to take public financing and accept the limitations that go along with it for the general election.
They repeatedly pointed out that Dean did exactly the same thing he now attacks McCain for doing, i.e. applying for and then withdrawing from the matching funds program in the primaries before he received the funds. Potter reiterated that they had a right to withdraw even without a vote from the quorum-less FEC, that they received no funds, and that they never used the matching fund certificates as collateral for loans. As for gaining ballot access in several states based on their application for matching funds, Potter contends that this consideration is not relevant for FEC purposes.
Davis put this in political terms, arguing that “the Democrats panicked” when McCain took Obama up on his offer to accept public financing for the general election and therefore cooked up this issue regarding primary matching funds. Davis declared twice that the McCain camp would “be happy to debate all day” who has broken their word on public financing and whose record of commitment to reform is stronger. (He reviewed some highlights of McCain’s career, including the Abramoff and Boeing investigations and the passage of campaign finance reform laws–which he accomplished over objections from his party and to his political detriment.)
The bottom line: the McCain people recognize they are essentially entering the general election battle and want to prevent Obama (as he did with Hillary Clinton) from stealing the mantle of reformer/change agent. I would expect to hear far more of the McCain camp line that “there is only one candidate” who broke his promise regarding campaign funding.
Harvard University has had it with the unfair treatment of its female Muslim students. Their modesty must be protected. Here’s Boston University’s Daily Free Press:
Men have not been allowed to enter the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center during certain times since Jan. 28, after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women’s Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women.
Harvard Islamic Society’s Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she said.
Come to think of it, how modest is it to make a university rewrite its gym policy because of your personal belief system? Well, the important thing is Harvard got rid of Larry Summers. I mean, he suggested there may be some innate differences between men and women. And you’d never find that kind of talk in Islam.
Stephen Hayes raises a key point about Barack Obama: rhetoric really does get you far in presidential politics and Obama has enough substance to get by. Attacking his overzealous rhetoric was a sensible but ultimately losing tactic for Hillary Clinton, who could not easily quibble with Obama on actual policy positions and was trying to win on “experience.” However, the best argument for John McCain in the general election is not that there is nothing in all the rhetorical haze (although I think it entirely appropriate to point out that a cult of personality is not exactly in the best tradition of American democracy); it’s that what is there is wrongheaded and downright dangerous.
As Hayes points out, Reagan used rhetoric brilliantly to inspire and lead. However, the underlying message was one that Americans were receptive to–rebuilding America’s military might and strengthening the free market. Once Obama moves beyond the liberal Democratic primary electorate, he may find general election voters markedly less receptive to his vision: more government, retreat in Iraq (coupled paradoxically with the notion that America’s standoffishness is responsible for the world’s ills), and the imposition of a liberal social agenda. Even the most inspiring language won’t motivate people to go where they don’t want to go. In the end, ideas usually trump words.
As if yesterday’s paltry showing at the Break-the-Blockade demonstration in Gaza were not enough, today we have additional reason to think that Hamas is not too interested in returning to the status quo ante with Israel. Significant parts of Gaza, the PA has decided, will be put onto Egypt’s electrical grid–thus ending the strip’s dependency on Israel for electricity, and thereby eliminating one of the last remaining signs of “occupation.” Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu applauded the PA’s decision, saying that “We welcome any project that links us to our Arab brothers and ends our relations with the occupation.”
I particularly like the phrase “ends our relations with the occupation.” It suggests that instead of referring to Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel itself is “the occupation,” which is anyway what Hamas and many other Palestinians have claimed all along. Note to reader: Any time you hear people speak of a “sixty-year occupation,” as they frequently do at the UN and other international forums, this is what they mean.
The transfer of Gaza to Egypt’s electrical grid is a major step towards enabling Israel to wash its hands of Gaza, making it Egypt’s problem–which is what I had previously insisted was really happening with the blockade and its subsequent breach. The winners in this transfer are Israel (which wants to be able to say it’s not occupying anything in Gaza) and Hamas (which is becoming increasingly in charge of what happens in the Palestinian territories); the losers are the PA (which is incapable of maintaining control over the territory it has been given) and Egypt (which has no desire whatsoever to be responsible for Gaza, but now finds itself with little choice). Now we just need to wait for the international community to recognize that when Israel pulls out of “occupied” territory and cuts its economic ties, it cannot be simultaneously blamed for both a “blockade” and an “occupation.” It’s one or the other–or maybe neither.
… but I’m going to return fire.
I did not write declaratively that Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate Israel” — I asked a rhetorical question: “Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy?” I stand by the question.
Max writes: “Pollak also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties.” Somehow? In 2002, she explicitly used the word “impose,” and added, for good measure, that the conflict “does require external intervention.” There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of ambiguity here, much less cause for skepticism.
Also, where have I written that I believe Power is “anti-Israel”? If Max had read my posts carefully he would have noticed that not once did I use such a crude and muddled construction. The reason is that I do not believe that Power is animated by “anti-Israel” sentiment, whatever that might entail. What I do believe about her is exactly what I have written about her: That she appears to hold a set of naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East. Her interview with Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz yesterday reinforced that assessment, with her repeatedly explaining Rosner that she’s no expert on things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Well, whatever; there are plenty of links to what I wrote in Max’s post, and I invite readers to click on them to see whether I was judicious in characterizing the things Samantha Power has said, as opposed to the level of care that has been taken right here on CONTENTIONS in characterizing my commentary on Power’s commentary, as it were.
Steve Aftergood, the proprietor of the blog Secrecy News, knows more about secrecy in government than just about anyone else in the United States. He has also thought deeply about the issue. He and I disagree about a great many things, including his contention that the Bush administration has been excessively secretive about what he calls its “shameful” activities in the realm of national security.
But unlike some of his colleagues in the open-government lobby, Aftergood believes that “genuine national security secrets such as confidential sources and legally authorized intelligence methods should be protected from disclosure.”
In this, he evidently disagrees with the premise of Wikileaks.org, whose purpose is to develop “an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis” that will combine “the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies. . . . Anybody can post comments to it. No technical knowledge is required.”
Aftergood has pointed out that there is a cardinal distinction between unauthorized disclosure of classified information in a democracy and in an authoritarian state, a distinction that Wikileaks.org (the site has been temporarily shut down by order of a federal judge) aims to blur:
In a democratic system, people have the opportunity to define their own disclosure standards. If you violate those standards or encourage others to do so then you are in effect undermining the democratic process.
Who’s side are you on here Stephen [sic]? It is time this constant harping stopped.
You know full well if you make n comments about us and m negative ones about us it’ll only be the negative comment that is reported — since everyone else has only positive things to say and by your position at FAS [Federation of American Scientists} there is an expectation of positive comment. You are not a child. As a result of your previous criticism it seem you are becoming the “go to” man for negative comments on Wikileaks. Over the last year, our most quoted critic has not been a right wing radio host, it has not been the Chinese ambassador, it has not been Pentagon bureaucrats, it has been you Stephen [sic]. You are the number one public enemy of this project. On top of everything else, your quote is the only critical entry on our Wikipedia page. Some friend of openness!
We are very disappointed in your lack of support and suggest you cool it. If you don’t, we will, with great reluctance, be forced to respond.
“Cool it” Aftergood. In other words: the message from Wikileaks.org to Aftergood is that he should shut up or they will “be forced to respond.” This sounds awfully like a threat. Is it not ominous that this is how some advocates of openness in government want to conduct the discussion? What does this tell us about Wikileaks.org project and the people behind it?
I have no idea what Barack Obama thinks about Israel and the Middle East. I’m not sure he does either. It’s not something he would have given much thought to during the course of a career focused primarily on constitutional law and Chicago city politics. As Ralph Nader noted on “Meet the Press,” he seems to have been “pro-Palestinian” before he was pro-Israeli. But to label him anti-Israeli at heart based on the views of his foreign policy adviser Samantha Power is wrong.
My fellow CONTENTIONS blogger Noah Pollak claims Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East” (i.e. Israel) while “appeasing its greatest enemy” (i.e. the Palestinians). I have read through all the evidence he has collected here, and I remain unconvinced.
Power can explain her views better than I can, but it seems to me that all Pollak has are some statements from her supporting an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a dialogue with Iran. I am skeptical about the prospects of either initiative succeeding, but to be in favor of such policies hardly involves repudiating Israel.
Pollack also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties, presumably with an outside peacekeeping force. I think is a pipe dream because no outside nation will put its troops on the line to stop Palestinian terrorism, but again it’s hardly an anti-Israeli position. In fact ,many Israelis would favor the deployment of, say, a NATO force as part of a final settlement with the Palestinians.
I’ve known Power for six years and have never heard her say anything that I would construe as anti-Israel. In fact, at a December 2006 forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School at which we were both panelists, she rather forcefully dismissed a claim by a Jewish anti-Zionist in the audience who tried to equate Israeli policy with South African apartheid—a favorite trope of the hard left.
I don’t agree with Power on everything. In particular, I am astounded that someone who has campaigned so eloquently and rightly to stop genocide would advocate a troop pullout from Iraq that could very well result in a genocide. But I’ve also found Power to be one of the more reasonable, sane, and centrist foreign policy thinkers on the Democratic side. Her award-winning book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide could have been written by a neocon.
David Brooks reviews John McCain’s rather impressive record (too impressive for many in the conservative base) of trying to limit money in politics and of going after lobbying interests and concludes the early potshots taken by Barack Obama are unwarranted:
This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus. And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense. Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.
Well this perhaps raises a larger problem for Obama: what exactly is he going to talk about? After a few more months, maybe just weeks, the “change” mantra and accompanying fluff will grow old and the media will begin to grow impatient for more. (Signs of that are already popping up.)
There seem to be three possibilities. First, he will describe how horrible the Bush years have been. There is always a segment of the population who will nod approvingly when told things are bad and getting worse. However, you cannot do this for long without sounding like a depressing scold. Moreover, with Bush not running it has limited utility. (This is especially true since McCain has not been a cheerleader for many of the Bush positions which Obama will attack — e.g. energy policy, torture.) Second, he will talk about leaving Iraq. Or will he? If military and political progress continue, does his insistence that everything is just a mess begin to look as out of touch with reality as he is accusing the Bush administration of being? At some point it may be better to say as little as possible. Third, he can talk about all the things he wants to do. However, unless he is content with trimming and hedging ( not a good thing for a “change” guy) it is going to sound fairly far Left. He does not have much that is not out of the liberal playbook and that rarely wins elections.
So, we are back to taking shots at McCain — on age, on lobbyists, on anything he thinks plausible. Those who are expecting a high minded campaign may be sorely disappointed.
Hillary Clinton has a week to save her campaign, if it is salvageable. (According to the latest polls, her national numbers have plummeted and her Texas lead is gone.) Yesterday’s Drudge costume story feeding frenzy was another example of what Jon Stewart has described as the “six-year-old soccer style” of media coverage: there goes the ball, now everyone swarm. (I will assume for the moment that the Clinton camp has not gone utterly insane and that a low level staffer forwarded the photo to someone who forwarded it to the master of self-promotion, Matt Drudge.) The result was that Clinton’s set-up speech (the message being Barack Obama is weak and inexperienced) for the debate was lost in the shuffle.
So what does she do now? Another debate filled with “Oh, there really is very little difference on this issue between me and Barack” will get her nowhere. Maybe that is where she is content to go. But then why give the speech and raise the issue of Obama’s unreadiness to be commander-in-chief? My guess is that she is going to give it one last shot to throw him off his game and give voters second thoughts about the man who wants to start “penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions.”