Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 4, 2008

Not His Finest Hour

His tone is sharp, his jab at McCain and Hillary odd and his speech a rerun of a dozen others we have heard. He tries to throw in some patriotism and appreciation for America material, but he looks, frankly, annoyed. He is not used to losing and not graceful in doing so. The MSNBC gang manages to gush nevertheless, but their hearts don’t seem to be in it.

His tone is sharp, his jab at McCain and Hillary odd and his speech a rerun of a dozen others we have heard. He tries to throw in some patriotism and appreciation for America material, but he looks, frankly, annoyed. He is not used to losing and not graceful in doing so. The MSNBC gang manages to gush nevertheless, but their hearts don’t seem to be in it.

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Obama: Vote for Me Because an Old Man In Uganda Is Watching This Speech

That is what he just said. I am not kidding.

That is what he just said. I am not kidding.

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Obama: Hillary and McCain Are Both Bad Because They Attacked My Speeches

An interesting but peculiar decision by Barack Obama to draw an explicit parallel between Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Perhaps you think their cardinal common sin was voting to authorize the war in Iraq. No. It is that they both said he was all words, no action. “You can call it many things,” he said, “but you can’t call it empty.” Yes we can!

An interesting but peculiar decision by Barack Obama to draw an explicit parallel between Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Perhaps you think their cardinal common sin was voting to authorize the war in Iraq. No. It is that they both said he was all words, no action. “You can call it many things,” he said, “but you can’t call it empty.” Yes we can!

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“This Nation Is Coming Back…

“and so is this campaign” says Hillary Clinton.  She’s going “all the way” she says, reeling off a list of states with a little more restraint than Howard Dean. She looks better than she has in days because winning, let’s face it, does wonders for your appearance. She hits the experience drum. Sorry media Obama fans, but the coronation has been cancelled.

“and so is this campaign” says Hillary Clinton.  She’s going “all the way” she says, reeling off a list of states with a little more restraint than Howard Dean. She looks better than she has in days because winning, let’s face it, does wonders for your appearance. She hits the experience drum. Sorry media Obama fans, but the coronation has been cancelled.

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Hillary Will Win Ohio

Hillary Clinton has won the state, even though no network will call it. With nearly 50 percent of precincts reporting, she’s up 15 points. Obama would have to win 60 to 65 percent of the vote from here on in to close the gap. He could, but he probably won’t –and if he is suddenly pushed over the top by a mysteriously large vote in Cleveland, that could look very dirty, and do something to spoil Obama’s clean-Gene image. UPDATE: Twenty minutes after I first posted this, the networks finally called it.

Hillary Clinton has won the state, even though no network will call it. With nearly 50 percent of precincts reporting, she’s up 15 points. Obama would have to win 60 to 65 percent of the vote from here on in to close the gap. He could, but he probably won’t –and if he is suddenly pushed over the top by a mysteriously large vote in Cleveland, that could look very dirty, and do something to spoil Obama’s clean-Gene image. UPDATE: Twenty minutes after I first posted this, the networks finally called it.

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A Tale Of Two Races

John McCain gave an impressive and optimistic victory speech, contrasting Democrats who want to refight the decision to go to war on Iraq with his own record of revising a losing war strategy. He jabbed them for advocating that we “abrogate” trade agreements. Despite a broken teleprompter, he was sunnier than usual and on message. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats are locked in close fights, which may turn even nastier. Fox News reports that there is quite a bit of gamesmanship in Ohio. The Obama team found a judge in Cuyahoga County to extend voting hours in selected precincts without much evidence of voting difficulties. According the the Clinton team, these precincts were pro-Obama locales with a large African American electorate. Meanwhile, she has pulled even in Texas riding the wave of late deciding voters, 66% of whom went for her.

John McCain gave an impressive and optimistic victory speech, contrasting Democrats who want to refight the decision to go to war on Iraq with his own record of revising a losing war strategy. He jabbed them for advocating that we “abrogate” trade agreements. Despite a broken teleprompter, he was sunnier than usual and on message. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats are locked in close fights, which may turn even nastier. Fox News reports that there is quite a bit of gamesmanship in Ohio. The Obama team found a judge in Cuyahoga County to extend voting hours in selected precincts without much evidence of voting difficulties. According the the Clinton team, these precincts were pro-Obama locales with a large African American electorate. Meanwhile, she has pulled even in Texas riding the wave of late deciding voters, 66% of whom went for her.

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So Sad

Howard Fineman has found a Hillary Clinton aide to whisper in his ear that “Ohio is not enough.” The gal may have the biggest night of her political life, but Fineman cannot wait to dish the dirt and explain how she drove her campaign into the ditch. The entire MSNBC crew looks glum, while Fineman concedes, gosh darn it, they’ll be no getting rid of her now.

Howard Fineman has found a Hillary Clinton aide to whisper in his ear that “Ohio is not enough.” The gal may have the biggest night of her political life, but Fineman cannot wait to dish the dirt and explain how she drove her campaign into the ditch. The entire MSNBC crew looks glum, while Fineman concedes, gosh darn it, they’ll be no getting rid of her now.

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Huckabee Will Leave The Race

According to Fox News, he will exit the race tonight, just ahead of an expected endorsement of John McCain tomorrow by President Bush. In the end, he did not excessively overstay his welcome. He is now a household name and will be a frontrunner in 2012 or 2016. For evangelical conservatives they have an attractive and engaging leader for the future.

To John’s point, it should not escape notice that immigration reform was not the killer issue it was painted to be. Indeed, McCain might credit his victory to those Florida Hispanic voters. So much for political gurus.

According to Fox News, he will exit the race tonight, just ahead of an expected endorsement of John McCain tomorrow by President Bush. In the end, he did not excessively overstay his welcome. He is now a household name and will be a frontrunner in 2012 or 2016. For evangelical conservatives they have an attractive and engaging leader for the future.

To John’s point, it should not escape notice that immigration reform was not the killer issue it was painted to be. Indeed, McCain might credit his victory to those Florida Hispanic voters. So much for political gurus.

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McCain Wins the Nomination

Can we just take a moment to remark on how extraordinary this victory really is? How McCain fired most of his staff last summer amid reports that he had run through a preposterous amount of money to no result? How very sensible political thinkers whose names I will not share with you assumed he was finished and would get out of the race in September 2007 at the latest?

In a year in which Republicans face terrific headwinds, party members who are presumed by the media to be a bunch of ideological maniacs seem to have walked backwards into nominating the only Republican candidate who could possibly win in November, given his potential to pull independent voters back into the GOP camp — and given the stark contrast he offers to the likely Democratic nominee.

Can we just take a moment to remark on how extraordinary this victory really is? How McCain fired most of his staff last summer amid reports that he had run through a preposterous amount of money to no result? How very sensible political thinkers whose names I will not share with you assumed he was finished and would get out of the race in September 2007 at the latest?

In a year in which Republicans face terrific headwinds, party members who are presumed by the media to be a bunch of ideological maniacs seem to have walked backwards into nominating the only Republican candidate who could possibly win in November, given his potential to pull independent voters back into the GOP camp — and given the stark contrast he offers to the likely Democratic nominee.

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McCain On His Way

With  winner-take-all Vermont and Ohio (already 58 of 85 delegates) called for him, John McCain is all but certain to be crowned the nominee tonight. At least one of the networks has moved McCain’s delegate count to over 1100. There is one fellow that would be delighted for the Obama-Clinton race to go on for weeks, indeed months, longer.

With  winner-take-all Vermont and Ohio (already 58 of 85 delegates) called for him, John McCain is all but certain to be crowned the nominee tonight. At least one of the networks has moved McCain’s delegate count to over 1100. There is one fellow that would be delighted for the Obama-Clinton race to go on for weeks, indeed months, longer.

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“Positively Nixonian In Her Innuendos”

Howard Fineman of Newsweek on Hillary Clinton just now on MSNBC, proving my point. This was in service to his larger purpose, which was to say: Howdare Hillary go negative on poor Obama!

Howard Fineman of Newsweek on Hillary Clinton just now on MSNBC, proving my point. This was in service to his larger purpose, which was to say: Howdare Hillary go negative on poor Obama!

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A Stunning Victory In Ohio!!!

…for John McCain. (Got you!)

…for John McCain. (Got you!)

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Another Media Delusion Punctured

Journalists love a good story, right? Just love one. Love the competition. Love a good race, especially in politics. Yes, there’s nothing like conflict — that’s the bread and butter of modern-day journalism. What media bias?

The last month disproves this fantasy. The relentless hunger of the mainstream media to run Hillary Clinton out of the race is palpable — even though there exists a real possibility of a battle that will continue all the way to the Democratic convention in August. What’s more, this battle is generating excitement and ratings, with MSNBC crowing about the 8 million plus viewers it got for last week’s Obama-Clinton debate. That’s ten to fifteen times its ordinary rating on a weekday night.

The great story would be — Hillary stays in. She’s tough. Obama feels the heat. Neither one of them has it nailed down. The superdelegates are up for grabs. It’s a fight for every last superdelegate.

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, you will see, tomorrow and for the rest of the week, no matter what happens tonight, a constant drumbeat that Hillary must drop out. Politicians will be sought to deliver this message. Talking heads will talk themselves hoarse on MSNBC and others. Op-eds will be drafted on the nobility Hillary will show by giving way to Obama. And so on.

The night Obama slaughtered Hillary in Iowa, and delivered that brilliant stemwinder, media liberal hearts were lost to him forever. They want her gone because they want him. Oh, how they want him. And how they will fight, fiercely, the notion that it will be good for them that there be a hot race between Obama and John McCain. They won’t want that race. They want a coronation.

Journalists love a good story, right? Just love one. Love the competition. Love a good race, especially in politics. Yes, there’s nothing like conflict — that’s the bread and butter of modern-day journalism. What media bias?

The last month disproves this fantasy. The relentless hunger of the mainstream media to run Hillary Clinton out of the race is palpable — even though there exists a real possibility of a battle that will continue all the way to the Democratic convention in August. What’s more, this battle is generating excitement and ratings, with MSNBC crowing about the 8 million plus viewers it got for last week’s Obama-Clinton debate. That’s ten to fifteen times its ordinary rating on a weekday night.

The great story would be — Hillary stays in. She’s tough. Obama feels the heat. Neither one of them has it nailed down. The superdelegates are up for grabs. It’s a fight for every last superdelegate.

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, you will see, tomorrow and for the rest of the week, no matter what happens tonight, a constant drumbeat that Hillary must drop out. Politicians will be sought to deliver this message. Talking heads will talk themselves hoarse on MSNBC and others. Op-eds will be drafted on the nobility Hillary will show by giving way to Obama. And so on.

The night Obama slaughtered Hillary in Iowa, and delivered that brilliant stemwinder, media liberal hearts were lost to him forever. They want her gone because they want him. Oh, how they want him. And how they will fight, fiercely, the notion that it will be good for them that there be a hot race between Obama and John McCain. They won’t want that race. They want a coronation.

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Bang Up Job

I don’t know which Democratic candidate will win which state, but I can say they have both done a bang up job misinforming the voters on trade. By huge majorities, Democratic voters in Texas and Ohio, according to the exit polls, believe NAFTA has cost more jobs than it has created. This, of course, is pure poppycock. Perhaps if all those “autonomous individuals” are going to start working for the common good we should first stop bamboozling them with nonsense about the causes of their economic ills.

I don’t know which Democratic candidate will win which state, but I can say they have both done a bang up job misinforming the voters on trade. By huge majorities, Democratic voters in Texas and Ohio, according to the exit polls, believe NAFTA has cost more jobs than it has created. This, of course, is pure poppycock. Perhaps if all those “autonomous individuals” are going to start working for the common good we should first stop bamboozling them with nonsense about the causes of their economic ills.

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Before The Votes Are Even Counted

So far Hillary Clinton is ahead–not in votes, but complaints. She has the Ohio Secretary of State on Barack Obama’s case and she is setting up an argument that he is playing fast and loose with the Texas caucus rules. As to the latter, she put out a press release which reads:

Unfortunately, we have received numerous reports that the Obama campaign is violating Texas Democratic Party rules by circulating precinct convention sign in sheets in advance and are having them filled in now. These underhanded tactics undermine the process that all parties agreed to. The Texas Democratic Party has issued a memo this afternoon once again clarifying that these sign-in sheets are invalid and that this tactic is a violation of the rules. We want every Texas voter to know that sign in sheets distributed before the primary polls close, will not count. We encourage them to participate in their precinct convention by showing up at their polling location at 6:30pm.We call on the Obama campaign to join us in repudiating these tactics, and to work with us and the state party to ensure that the integrity of the process is maintained. We look forward to a tremendous turnout in both the primary and tonight’s precinct conventions.

However the voting comes out, be prepared to hear a lot of grousing about the other team’s tactics.

So far Hillary Clinton is ahead–not in votes, but complaints. She has the Ohio Secretary of State on Barack Obama’s case and she is setting up an argument that he is playing fast and loose with the Texas caucus rules. As to the latter, she put out a press release which reads:

Unfortunately, we have received numerous reports that the Obama campaign is violating Texas Democratic Party rules by circulating precinct convention sign in sheets in advance and are having them filled in now. These underhanded tactics undermine the process that all parties agreed to. The Texas Democratic Party has issued a memo this afternoon once again clarifying that these sign-in sheets are invalid and that this tactic is a violation of the rules. We want every Texas voter to know that sign in sheets distributed before the primary polls close, will not count. We encourage them to participate in their precinct convention by showing up at their polling location at 6:30pm.We call on the Obama campaign to join us in repudiating these tactics, and to work with us and the state party to ensure that the integrity of the process is maintained. We look forward to a tremendous turnout in both the primary and tonight’s precinct conventions.

However the voting comes out, be prepared to hear a lot of grousing about the other team’s tactics.

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When It’s Too Easy

Barack Obama’s faith in his own abilities seems as impressionistic and casual as that of his zombified acolytes. ABC News has some interesting quotes from Obama on his foreign policy experience and his proficiency to lead. On the former: “Look, I’ve lived overseas, I have family overseas. I have served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

The first two claims are undeniable, and also true of at least half of the Americans I know. Obama’s time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at least ranks as something more than owning a passport. However, his people have defended his somewhat lackadaisical approach to chairing a subcommittee on European matters by pointing to the Senator’s demanding campaign schedule. One gets the sense that Obama has dispensed with the idea of accountability altogether.

Which brings us to his thoughts on proficiency: “I think the question is, how do you know any president is ready? [Until] you’re president, you haven’t made these decisions.”

A few months back, when Bill Clinton went on Charlie Rose and compared a vote for Obama to a “roll of the dice,” it was considered a somewhat intemperate outburst. Now Obama offers it up as a selling point. This is a man who’s been led to believe that his own credentials are beside the point. Here’s more Obama on Obama:

One of the things that I’ve known about myself for a long time,” he said, “is that, in difficult or stressful moments, I don’t get rattled. And I don’t get rattled during campaigns. I don’t get rattled when things are up … and I don’t get too low when things are down.

There’s a hyperconfident cruise-control at work here, and if Hillary can pull off a two-state victory tonight, she should waste no time turning up the heat on Mr. Cool. The truth is, he hasn’t been rattled because he hasn’t experienced what it’s like “when things are down.”

Barack Obama’s faith in his own abilities seems as impressionistic and casual as that of his zombified acolytes. ABC News has some interesting quotes from Obama on his foreign policy experience and his proficiency to lead. On the former: “Look, I’ve lived overseas, I have family overseas. I have served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

The first two claims are undeniable, and also true of at least half of the Americans I know. Obama’s time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at least ranks as something more than owning a passport. However, his people have defended his somewhat lackadaisical approach to chairing a subcommittee on European matters by pointing to the Senator’s demanding campaign schedule. One gets the sense that Obama has dispensed with the idea of accountability altogether.

Which brings us to his thoughts on proficiency: “I think the question is, how do you know any president is ready? [Until] you’re president, you haven’t made these decisions.”

A few months back, when Bill Clinton went on Charlie Rose and compared a vote for Obama to a “roll of the dice,” it was considered a somewhat intemperate outburst. Now Obama offers it up as a selling point. This is a man who’s been led to believe that his own credentials are beside the point. Here’s more Obama on Obama:

One of the things that I’ve known about myself for a long time,” he said, “is that, in difficult or stressful moments, I don’t get rattled. And I don’t get rattled during campaigns. I don’t get rattled when things are up … and I don’t get too low when things are down.

There’s a hyperconfident cruise-control at work here, and if Hillary can pull off a two-state victory tonight, she should waste no time turning up the heat on Mr. Cool. The truth is, he hasn’t been rattled because he hasn’t experienced what it’s like “when things are down.”

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Gaza Confidential

The exciting piece of foreign policy reportage to hit the presses this week is David Rose’s account in Vanity Fair of the covert strategy the Bush administration pursued to undermine Hamas after the group came to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The administration’s idea was to use an old Fatah security strongman, Muhammad Dahlan, to head up a new security force that would serve two U.S. policy goals: the unification and reform of the byzantine PA security services, and the assemblage of a Fatah force that would be able to put Hamas in its place.

As Rose reports,

A State Department official adds, “Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown.”

As everyone knows by now, there was no military showdown in Gaza — there was a rout of Fatah’s forces by Hamas.

On one level, this story can be filed away as a smaller example of the failure of American state-building among the Palestinians. No matter how many different and creative ways successive American administrations have arranged incentives, disincentives, aid packages, diplomatic agreements, and the like, little is to show for it but Palestinian violence — whether the 2000-2004 terror war that followed Oslo, or Hamas’ rocket war today. Relying on Palestinian strongmen/terrorists has been a disaster (Arafat); relying on Palestinian elections has been a disaster (Hamas); and now we have evidence that an even finer-grained involvement in Palestinian internal affairs — assigning a Palestinian strongman the task of dispatching with a democratically-elected terror group — helped precipitate the Hamas coup in Gaza. More disaster.

On another level, there is something irreconcilable in all of this furious gamesmanship: The Bush administration wishes to promote democratic Palestinian statehood, yet refuses to make an honest assessment of the political ambitions of the Palestinian people. There does not seem to be a great deal of appreciation for the idea that Hamas represents something genuine about the worldview of a large faction of Palestinians — a refusal to accept Israel; a choice of violence over diplomacy; and a desire in governance for the Islamic over the secular. Given this level of self-deceit, it is not surprising that Condi Rice’s skulduggery only served to worsen the situation.

The exciting piece of foreign policy reportage to hit the presses this week is David Rose’s account in Vanity Fair of the covert strategy the Bush administration pursued to undermine Hamas after the group came to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The administration’s idea was to use an old Fatah security strongman, Muhammad Dahlan, to head up a new security force that would serve two U.S. policy goals: the unification and reform of the byzantine PA security services, and the assemblage of a Fatah force that would be able to put Hamas in its place.

As Rose reports,

A State Department official adds, “Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown.”

As everyone knows by now, there was no military showdown in Gaza — there was a rout of Fatah’s forces by Hamas.

On one level, this story can be filed away as a smaller example of the failure of American state-building among the Palestinians. No matter how many different and creative ways successive American administrations have arranged incentives, disincentives, aid packages, diplomatic agreements, and the like, little is to show for it but Palestinian violence — whether the 2000-2004 terror war that followed Oslo, or Hamas’ rocket war today. Relying on Palestinian strongmen/terrorists has been a disaster (Arafat); relying on Palestinian elections has been a disaster (Hamas); and now we have evidence that an even finer-grained involvement in Palestinian internal affairs — assigning a Palestinian strongman the task of dispatching with a democratically-elected terror group — helped precipitate the Hamas coup in Gaza. More disaster.

On another level, there is something irreconcilable in all of this furious gamesmanship: The Bush administration wishes to promote democratic Palestinian statehood, yet refuses to make an honest assessment of the political ambitions of the Palestinian people. There does not seem to be a great deal of appreciation for the idea that Hamas represents something genuine about the worldview of a large faction of Palestinians — a refusal to accept Israel; a choice of violence over diplomacy; and a desire in governance for the Islamic over the secular. Given this level of self-deceit, it is not surprising that Condi Rice’s skulduggery only served to worsen the situation.

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McCain and the Autism Wars

Last week at a campaign event, John McCain was asked to comment on the connection between Autism and the presence of mercury in childhood vaccines. His response, according to ABC News, was: “It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

McCain thus marched headlong into the bitter autism wars of the last few years, and placed himself firmly on the wrong side. There has certainly been a sharp rise in autism diagnoses in the last thirty years, though it is actually far from clear whether this is because the condition has become more common or tests for it have become more frequent and advanced. Either way there is no evidence-none, zero-connecting autism to vaccines.

The preservative McCain mentioned is called Thimerosal. Thimerosal does contain a form of mercury, though it is a form called ethyl mercury which metabolizes very quickly and does not remain in the body. But Thimerosal has been removed from childhood vaccines, with the exception of the flu vaccine, in an effort to reduce the overall exposure of children to mercury, which in very high concentrations (very much higher than those ever found in vaccines) can of course be harmful.

The decision to remove Thimerosal from vaccines was not motivated by any connection to autism, and indeed, despite years of intense study, no such connection has ever been shown. On the contrary, studies conducted since the removal of Thimerosal from vaccines have shown no consequent decrease in autism diagnoses.

The supposed connection was proposed in the 1990s by a study that has since been shown both methodologically and ethically flawed (as detailed by Caitrin Nicol in a recent issue of The New Atlantis). But unfortunately some parents of autistic children latched on to the theory, and have engaged in an intense public effort to link vaccines and autism in the public mind.

The effort has included a lobbying campaign in Washington, which relies on the energy and devotion of the parents involved. In 2005, while serving as the White House staffer charged with such issues, I received thousands upon thousands of faxes from one autism group demanding that the government immediately remove any vaccines containing Thimerosal from the market. Several members of Congress have been persuaded, and in fact one early version of the 2008 budget bill covering the department of Health and Human Services included a provision prohibiting funds in the federal Vaccines for Children program from paying for vaccines that contain Thimerosal. The Bush administration strongly opposed the provision, arguing it “could result in children not receiving any flu vaccine,” and it was eventually removed.

But well beyond politics, the campaign has real consequences. By planting baseless fears in the minds of parents, it has caused a real decline in the number of children being vaccinated, which could contribute to the resurgence of some diseases thought to be things of the past, like mumps.

Autism is a very sensitive issue, and getting past the vaccine debate will require real care, and serious attention to the facts. Unfortunately John McCain showed neither in this instance, and his comment will no doubt needlessly extend the debate, as advocates of the vaccines-autism link point to his words for support, and (if he is elected) demand that he follow up with restrictions on vaccine availability. McCain should correct himself, and soon.

Last week at a campaign event, John McCain was asked to comment on the connection between Autism and the presence of mercury in childhood vaccines. His response, according to ABC News, was: “It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

McCain thus marched headlong into the bitter autism wars of the last few years, and placed himself firmly on the wrong side. There has certainly been a sharp rise in autism diagnoses in the last thirty years, though it is actually far from clear whether this is because the condition has become more common or tests for it have become more frequent and advanced. Either way there is no evidence-none, zero-connecting autism to vaccines.

The preservative McCain mentioned is called Thimerosal. Thimerosal does contain a form of mercury, though it is a form called ethyl mercury which metabolizes very quickly and does not remain in the body. But Thimerosal has been removed from childhood vaccines, with the exception of the flu vaccine, in an effort to reduce the overall exposure of children to mercury, which in very high concentrations (very much higher than those ever found in vaccines) can of course be harmful.

The decision to remove Thimerosal from vaccines was not motivated by any connection to autism, and indeed, despite years of intense study, no such connection has ever been shown. On the contrary, studies conducted since the removal of Thimerosal from vaccines have shown no consequent decrease in autism diagnoses.

The supposed connection was proposed in the 1990s by a study that has since been shown both methodologically and ethically flawed (as detailed by Caitrin Nicol in a recent issue of The New Atlantis). But unfortunately some parents of autistic children latched on to the theory, and have engaged in an intense public effort to link vaccines and autism in the public mind.

The effort has included a lobbying campaign in Washington, which relies on the energy and devotion of the parents involved. In 2005, while serving as the White House staffer charged with such issues, I received thousands upon thousands of faxes from one autism group demanding that the government immediately remove any vaccines containing Thimerosal from the market. Several members of Congress have been persuaded, and in fact one early version of the 2008 budget bill covering the department of Health and Human Services included a provision prohibiting funds in the federal Vaccines for Children program from paying for vaccines that contain Thimerosal. The Bush administration strongly opposed the provision, arguing it “could result in children not receiving any flu vaccine,” and it was eventually removed.

But well beyond politics, the campaign has real consequences. By planting baseless fears in the minds of parents, it has caused a real decline in the number of children being vaccinated, which could contribute to the resurgence of some diseases thought to be things of the past, like mumps.

Autism is a very sensitive issue, and getting past the vaccine debate will require real care, and serious attention to the facts. Unfortunately John McCain showed neither in this instance, and his comment will no doubt needlessly extend the debate, as advocates of the vaccines-autism link point to his words for support, and (if he is elected) demand that he follow up with restrictions on vaccine availability. McCain should correct himself, and soon.

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The Politics Of Mush

David Brooks smartly analyzes the difference between Barack Obama’s politics and Hillary Clinton’s, recollecting their very distinct styles at Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November:

But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns. Clinton had sounded like Old Politics, but Obama created a vision of New Politics. And the past several months have revolved around the choice he framed there that night. Some people are enthralled by the New Politics, and we see their vapors every day. Others think it is a mirage and a delusion. There’s only one politics, and, tragically, it’s the old kind, filled with conflict and bad choices.

You do not have to be a fan of Hillary Clinton to say, “How the heck does Obama-speak work in the real world?” It’s nice for ideas to bubble up from below, indeed we have an institutionalized system of such bubbling in America called “federalism” (which I imagine Obama is not too fond of). However, when push comes to shove, presidents have agendas, fight with and cajole Congress, occasionally go over their heads to the public, and eventually settle for what they can get. In all that, there is not much room for people to come together in a nice fuzzy group hug. That is, after all, what elections are for: to debate the issues and, if the race has been focused on real issues, invest the winner with a mandate to take the country in a certain direction.

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but after the election there won’t be a lot of space for “autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.” If the good people of Ohio or Texas can figure this out, more power to them. If there are more people who have a “huh?” reaction, I suspect Hillary Clinton will do just fine.

David Brooks smartly analyzes the difference between Barack Obama’s politics and Hillary Clinton’s, recollecting their very distinct styles at Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November:

But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns. Clinton had sounded like Old Politics, but Obama created a vision of New Politics. And the past several months have revolved around the choice he framed there that night. Some people are enthralled by the New Politics, and we see their vapors every day. Others think it is a mirage and a delusion. There’s only one politics, and, tragically, it’s the old kind, filled with conflict and bad choices.

You do not have to be a fan of Hillary Clinton to say, “How the heck does Obama-speak work in the real world?” It’s nice for ideas to bubble up from below, indeed we have an institutionalized system of such bubbling in America called “federalism” (which I imagine Obama is not too fond of). However, when push comes to shove, presidents have agendas, fight with and cajole Congress, occasionally go over their heads to the public, and eventually settle for what they can get. In all that, there is not much room for people to come together in a nice fuzzy group hug. That is, after all, what elections are for: to debate the issues and, if the race has been focused on real issues, invest the winner with a mandate to take the country in a certain direction.

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but after the election there won’t be a lot of space for “autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.” If the good people of Ohio or Texas can figure this out, more power to them. If there are more people who have a “huh?” reaction, I suspect Hillary Clinton will do just fine.

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The Weak, Silent Type

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

Read Less




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