Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 22, 2008

What Is Left To Say?

Bill Clinton is Joseph McCarthy and Bill Richardson is Judas. That’s what Democrats are saying about each other. If this goes on for a few more months there will be little more for John McCain and the RNC to add that hasn’t been said already about either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ( or their spouses, supporters or potential advisors).

Indeed, McCain is trying hard not to add too much, even going so far as to suspend an aide for a rather innocuous video replaying the already familiar Reverend Wright vitriol. While this may seem overly cautious or even odd, there is a rationale for his insistence on a high-road approach.

In the wake of the Wright controversy, McCain may have gone a long way toward solving his residual problem in unifying the Republican base. (After getting an earful of Wright’s hate speech and Obama’s excuse mongering, the GOP base will be plenty energized on McCain’s behalf if Obama is the nominee.) So McCain’s pitch on both syle and substance can be focused increasingly on independent voters who will determine the election’s outcome. It is these voters McCain is hoping to secure, in large part on the basis of his record of bipartisanship, but also with his insistence on a gentlemanly tone. He is banking that these voters cringe when they hear the ever more hostile rhetoric and over-the-top accusations flying between Democrats. He intends to look and sound presidential, and in particular sell independents on the notion that the entire Democratic primary is just the latest example of the rancor and animosity which these voters have come to dread. For now, it seems to be working as an ever larger segment of independents, according to polls, lean toward McCain. With some help from the Democrats’ continued hysterical accusations, McCain hopes to cement that relationship.

Bill Clinton is Joseph McCarthy and Bill Richardson is Judas. That’s what Democrats are saying about each other. If this goes on for a few more months there will be little more for John McCain and the RNC to add that hasn’t been said already about either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ( or their spouses, supporters or potential advisors).

Indeed, McCain is trying hard not to add too much, even going so far as to suspend an aide for a rather innocuous video replaying the already familiar Reverend Wright vitriol. While this may seem overly cautious or even odd, there is a rationale for his insistence on a high-road approach.

In the wake of the Wright controversy, McCain may have gone a long way toward solving his residual problem in unifying the Republican base. (After getting an earful of Wright’s hate speech and Obama’s excuse mongering, the GOP base will be plenty energized on McCain’s behalf if Obama is the nominee.) So McCain’s pitch on both syle and substance can be focused increasingly on independent voters who will determine the election’s outcome. It is these voters McCain is hoping to secure, in large part on the basis of his record of bipartisanship, but also with his insistence on a gentlemanly tone. He is banking that these voters cringe when they hear the ever more hostile rhetoric and over-the-top accusations flying between Democrats. He intends to look and sound presidential, and in particular sell independents on the notion that the entire Democratic primary is just the latest example of the rancor and animosity which these voters have come to dread. For now, it seems to be working as an ever larger segment of independents, according to polls, lean toward McCain. With some help from the Democrats’ continued hysterical accusations, McCain hopes to cement that relationship.

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Once Again, The Media Declare the Democratic Race Over

As Abe and Jennifer have noted, this has been the worst week of Barack Obama’s candidacy by far. So it is interesting, to say the least, that three major political venues — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico — chose this week to publish  articles on why Hillary Clinton has almost no chance to win the nomination. What the articles say is certainly true enough: The delegate math doesn’t add up for her even if she does brilliantly from now until June. But where is the vaunted media hunger for the hot horse race? Surely, if she wins every state until the end of the primaries, that will suggest Obama has weakened wildly and will change the dynamic of the discussion in Democratic circles going into the summer. It’s a tall order, very tall, to be sure. But one thing is certain: Her path to the nomination actually looks better this week than it did last week, owing to Obama’s troubles. And yet the pieces all appear at once to say she’s through.

Why try to puncture a hole in Hillary’s balloon now? It is very nearly impossible not to think that, at least unconsciously, the pieces are an effort to limit the damage to Barack Obama among the undecided superdelegates and the like by reminding them of the trouble Hillary is in. The simultaneous or near-simultaneous publication here is not a mark of conspiracy, but of the peculiar way the mass media mind works at times.

Just remember this the next time somebody says the media love a good race and thrive on conflict. Whoever says it is almost always explaining away a liberal bias. In this case, it’s an Obama bias.

As Abe and Jennifer have noted, this has been the worst week of Barack Obama’s candidacy by far. So it is interesting, to say the least, that three major political venues — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico — chose this week to publish  articles on why Hillary Clinton has almost no chance to win the nomination. What the articles say is certainly true enough: The delegate math doesn’t add up for her even if she does brilliantly from now until June. But where is the vaunted media hunger for the hot horse race? Surely, if she wins every state until the end of the primaries, that will suggest Obama has weakened wildly and will change the dynamic of the discussion in Democratic circles going into the summer. It’s a tall order, very tall, to be sure. But one thing is certain: Her path to the nomination actually looks better this week than it did last week, owing to Obama’s troubles. And yet the pieces all appear at once to say she’s through.

Why try to puncture a hole in Hillary’s balloon now? It is very nearly impossible not to think that, at least unconsciously, the pieces are an effort to limit the damage to Barack Obama among the undecided superdelegates and the like by reminding them of the trouble Hillary is in. The simultaneous or near-simultaneous publication here is not a mark of conspiracy, but of the peculiar way the mass media mind works at times.

Just remember this the next time somebody says the media love a good race and thrive on conflict. Whoever says it is almost always explaining away a liberal bias. In this case, it’s an Obama bias.

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“They Want to Destroy People”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

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False Equivalence

Only a media outlet devoted to soothing its liberal audience and rooting for Barack Obama could reach the conclusion that this past week was “a bad week for everyone.” Yeah, right. That conclusion may be more reassuring to people fretting over Obama’s recent travails, but it’s silly to declare that everyone had an equally tough time. (Ask John McCain whether that spike in his head-to-head poll numbers with both potential Democratic opponents left him despondent.)

Between Obama’s speech (which opened up more questions than answers and which, according to one poll, had a shockingly negative impact on voters, especially independents), the dig at his “typical white” grandmother, and his nose dive in general election and key state polls, it would be hard for an objective observer to conclude that this was anything but a really, really rotten week for Obama. But he got that Bill Richardson endorsement, you say. That would have been a 2 on the political Richter scale several weeks ago. Now it rates an announcement on Good Friday. Enough said.

The key issue is whether there are now a significant number of voters who simply will never vote for Obama. They may be Democratic primary voters, who could send the delegate balance sliding in Hillary Clinton’s favor. But they might be independent, Republican, or non-primary voting Democrats. Voters, that is, who might be less than forthcoming with pollsters, but won’t–after hearing Reverend Wright’s venom and Obama’s ineffective excuses–ever vote for Obama. Stunning as it may seem, the Democrats may have found a way to fritter away their 2008 election advantages.

Only a media outlet devoted to soothing its liberal audience and rooting for Barack Obama could reach the conclusion that this past week was “a bad week for everyone.” Yeah, right. That conclusion may be more reassuring to people fretting over Obama’s recent travails, but it’s silly to declare that everyone had an equally tough time. (Ask John McCain whether that spike in his head-to-head poll numbers with both potential Democratic opponents left him despondent.)

Between Obama’s speech (which opened up more questions than answers and which, according to one poll, had a shockingly negative impact on voters, especially independents), the dig at his “typical white” grandmother, and his nose dive in general election and key state polls, it would be hard for an objective observer to conclude that this was anything but a really, really rotten week for Obama. But he got that Bill Richardson endorsement, you say. That would have been a 2 on the political Richter scale several weeks ago. Now it rates an announcement on Good Friday. Enough said.

The key issue is whether there are now a significant number of voters who simply will never vote for Obama. They may be Democratic primary voters, who could send the delegate balance sliding in Hillary Clinton’s favor. But they might be independent, Republican, or non-primary voting Democrats. Voters, that is, who might be less than forthcoming with pollsters, but won’t–after hearing Reverend Wright’s venom and Obama’s ineffective excuses–ever vote for Obama. Stunning as it may seem, the Democrats may have found a way to fritter away their 2008 election advantages.

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Five Best?

What are the five best chess books? The Wall Street Journal solicited my opinion, and I offered it in today’s paper right here. For those of you don’t subscribe to the paper, I’ve pasted in a copy below. Just click on: Read More

What are the five best chess books? The Wall Street Journal solicited my opinion, and I offered it in today’s paper right here. For those of you don’t subscribe to the paper, I’ve pasted in a copy below. Just click on:

1. My 60 Memorable Games

By Bobby Fischer

Simon & Schuster, 1969

The great chess books are great less for their prose style than for their insight into the application of highly controlled violence. “My 60 Memorable Games” was written while Bobby Fischer was still on his steep ascent to the world-champion title — and long before the slide into madness that ended with his death in January. He recounts his eviscerations of some of the most brilliant minds of the mid-20th century. But Fischer was never content with victory alone; he aimed to inflict agony on his opponents — in his own words, “I like the moment when I break a man’s ego.” Where did such ferocity come from? Fischer, who never knew his own father, once explained that “children who grow up without a parent become wolves.”

2. Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors

By Garry Kasparov

Everyman, 2003-06

Before Garry Kasparov ended his playing career in 2005 to battle for democracy in Russia, he was rightly considered to be the greatest grandmaster of all time. But here he humbles himself charmingly before giants such as world champions Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) and José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942). In this comprehensive study of grandmaster play — from the “Italian school” of the 16th century to our current postmodern synthesis — Kasparov aims to connect his forebears’ playing style with “the values of the society in which they lived and worked” and the “geopolitical reality” of their respective eras. The result is a work of unparalleled depth, spirit and ambition — it already stretches into five volumes, and a sixth is on the way.

3. Tal-Botvinnik, 1960

By Mikhail Tal

Russell Enterprises, 1970

How exactly do grandmasters think? Mikhail Tal’s account of his struggle for the world championship title nearly a half-century ago is not merely an analysis of 21 thrilling games. It is an intimate view of the chessboard fantasies of a supreme tactical genius. Tal (1936-92) was pitted against Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-95), the world’s foremost “scientific” player, the defending title-holder and the dean of the Soviet school of chess. In the resulting clash of styles, Tal prevailed by a convincing margin. His victory was a vindication of unfettered imagination and a demonstration that chess can be scientific only in the way that Soviet socialism was scientific, which is to say not at all.

4. My System

By Aron Nimzowitsch

1925

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) described “My System” as a “chess manual” based “on entirely new principles.” His idea that pawn masses at the center of the board might be a liability — vulnerable to attack from the flanks — was revolutionary, toppling verities and generating fierce resistance. “The reward for my new ideas consisted of abuse,” he wrote bitterly, “or at best systematic silence.” Today, nearly a century later, he would delight to know that his “hypermodern” approach is widely accepted. But if Nimzowitsch’s “My System” aimed at rationalizing chess, as the title suggests, its premise was supremely romantic: “For me,” he wrote in a characteristic passage, “the passed pawn possesses a soul, just like a human being; it has unrecognized desires which slumber deep inside it and it has fears, the very existence of which it can but scarcely divine.”

5. Lasker’s Manual of Chess

By Emanuel Lasker

Dutton, 1927

The German mathematician Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) wrote in his “Manual of Chess” that the game “would be laughable, were it not so serious.” After decades of studying philosophy, he came to believe that truth could be found only in mathematics and chess. Of the contest of wills between two players manipulating 32 wooden pieces on 64 squares, he wrote: “Lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.” Lasker, a close friend of Albert Einstein’s, won the world championship in 1894 and held the title for 27 years, the longest reign so far.

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Honor Among Superdelegates?

At the Politico, Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen say that, unless superdelegates pledged to Hillary Clinton essentially veto the will of the Democratic electorate in August, Hillary Clinton’s bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination is over. As best I can tell, the reasoning in this is air-tight, though I disagree with their conclusion. Every best-case scenario for Clinton still leaves her behind Obama in delegates. (Unless she can get do-overs in Michigan and Florida, which Vandehei and Allen rightly say “would take a political miracle.”) Barring that (or something literally disqualifying Obama), Hillary’s chances rest on the hopes of a superdelegate coup.

Where Vandehei and Allen are mistaken is in their conviction that such a coup won’t occur. They think that some sense of  decorum or party unity will prevent superdelegates from jumping Obama’s ship and boarding Hillary’s.

If this Democratic race has shown us anything, it’s that no such sense of decorum or unity exists. And if superdelegates merely served the purpose of seconding the will of the electorate, their position in the Democratic party would never have been created. The whole purpose of superdelegates is to strengthen the influence of party leadership, precisely so that votes cast throughout the primaries don’t hold too much sway. They are, in other words, designed to do exactly what the Politico piece claims they never would.

This isn’t an argument for the rightness of their function, only a reminder of the reasoning behind it. I’ll leave it to Hillary to make speeches about the valuable guidance and critical balance provided by this loose body of bigshots whose silly name I can’t bear to type any more.

At the Politico, Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen say that, unless superdelegates pledged to Hillary Clinton essentially veto the will of the Democratic electorate in August, Hillary Clinton’s bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination is over. As best I can tell, the reasoning in this is air-tight, though I disagree with their conclusion. Every best-case scenario for Clinton still leaves her behind Obama in delegates. (Unless she can get do-overs in Michigan and Florida, which Vandehei and Allen rightly say “would take a political miracle.”) Barring that (or something literally disqualifying Obama), Hillary’s chances rest on the hopes of a superdelegate coup.

Where Vandehei and Allen are mistaken is in their conviction that such a coup won’t occur. They think that some sense of  decorum or party unity will prevent superdelegates from jumping Obama’s ship and boarding Hillary’s.

If this Democratic race has shown us anything, it’s that no such sense of decorum or unity exists. And if superdelegates merely served the purpose of seconding the will of the electorate, their position in the Democratic party would never have been created. The whole purpose of superdelegates is to strengthen the influence of party leadership, precisely so that votes cast throughout the primaries don’t hold too much sway. They are, in other words, designed to do exactly what the Politico piece claims they never would.

This isn’t an argument for the rightness of their function, only a reminder of the reasoning behind it. I’ll leave it to Hillary to make speeches about the valuable guidance and critical balance provided by this loose body of bigshots whose silly name I can’t bear to type any more.

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