Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 2008

Try to Read This Article Without Tears Stinging Your Eyes

Bud Day tells a story about John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton, as reported by Karl Rove Cain in the Wall Street Journal. If that doesn’t get you, another story about Cindy McCain in an orphanage in South Asia will.

Bud Day tells a story about John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton, as reported by Karl Rove Cain in the Wall Street Journal. If that doesn’t get you, another story about Cindy McCain in an orphanage in South Asia will.

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Do Voters Care?

Liberal pundits who didn’t like the pre-Pennsylvania debate hollered that ABC’s moderators were talking about matters irrelevant to voters. Well, voters seem to care about some of the issues that have come up in the last couple of weeks. And I suspect it isn’t the particulars of the candidates’ respective capital gains tax plans that are riling them up.

In the latest Fox News poll, 44% of voters say Barack Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright makes them less likely to vote for him and 45% say they care a great deal or somewhat about the issue. 70% of voters, a huge majority, think Obama’s campaign has been damaged by Wright. Moreover, Obama’s favorable/unfavorable ratings are starting to look a lot like Clinton’s (barely positive). What about state polls, you ask? The last couple of Indiana polls look strong for Clinton and the race is narrowing in North Carolina.

How much of this is Wright specifically, how much is Clinton’s improved demeanor (as Abe noted), how much is a Pennsylvania bounce, how much is Obama being thrown off his game, and how much is the general sense that he is in essence a wimp (i.e., not strong enough in the debate, not forceful enough with Wright and not even willing to debate Clinton in two key states)? Hard to say, exactly. Things have changed a great deal since February, when Obama could do no wrong and the poll numbers were all tipping in his direction. We’ll find out on Tuesday whether the Democrats have, in fact, decided to change horses.

Liberal pundits who didn’t like the pre-Pennsylvania debate hollered that ABC’s moderators were talking about matters irrelevant to voters. Well, voters seem to care about some of the issues that have come up in the last couple of weeks. And I suspect it isn’t the particulars of the candidates’ respective capital gains tax plans that are riling them up.

In the latest Fox News poll, 44% of voters say Barack Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright makes them less likely to vote for him and 45% say they care a great deal or somewhat about the issue. 70% of voters, a huge majority, think Obama’s campaign has been damaged by Wright. Moreover, Obama’s favorable/unfavorable ratings are starting to look a lot like Clinton’s (barely positive). What about state polls, you ask? The last couple of Indiana polls look strong for Clinton and the race is narrowing in North Carolina.

How much of this is Wright specifically, how much is Clinton’s improved demeanor (as Abe noted), how much is a Pennsylvania bounce, how much is Obama being thrown off his game, and how much is the general sense that he is in essence a wimp (i.e., not strong enough in the debate, not forceful enough with Wright and not even willing to debate Clinton in two key states)? Hard to say, exactly. Things have changed a great deal since February, when Obama could do no wrong and the poll numbers were all tipping in his direction. We’ll find out on Tuesday whether the Democrats have, in fact, decided to change horses.

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I Am Not A Kook

Barack Obama, having embraced Reverend Wright in Philadelphia, is now stuck with three discrete but related problems.

First is the ideological problem. As Andy McCarthy smartly summarizes it: ” Obama’s problem is that these connections are all iterations of an activist, leftwing, America sucks, burn-down-the-house worldview, simmering under the smiley-face of ‘social justice.’” Second is the judgment problem: How could Obama not recognize the political peril Wright represented earlier? And finally there is the obliteration problem: Obama’s entire post-racial, anti-political message is getting destroyed by the Wright fiasco.

So what does he do now? For starters, he tries to convince voters that he and his wife aren’t leftist nuts. Today at an Indianapolis event Michelle offered this up:

[I] know that we are still so close to the lives that most American are living. And I don’t know about you, but for most of my lifetime, I’ve felt disconnected from Washington. That when decisions are made and things happen, you’re sort of left at your kitchen table scratching your head wondering, “Well, who’s that supposed to help.” Because that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. And part of me sort of said, “Well maybe it’s because the further up you go, and the longer you’re gone, the harder it is to remember the struggles on the ground.”

This is, of course, faux populism in its most transparent form. She and her husband (at $4M plus in 2007 income) aren’t close to anyone but other members of the top level of the highest economic quintile. The struggle to identify with ordinary people is no easy task. And trying to solve last week’s crisis (Snobgate) isn’t going to solve the problems he now has.

So what will? Right now, Obama has to hope that Clinton is so unliked by Democratic voters that they will take him, warts and all. From “Yes we can” to “She’s worse” in a matter of months. Remarkable.

Barack Obama, having embraced Reverend Wright in Philadelphia, is now stuck with three discrete but related problems.

First is the ideological problem. As Andy McCarthy smartly summarizes it: ” Obama’s problem is that these connections are all iterations of an activist, leftwing, America sucks, burn-down-the-house worldview, simmering under the smiley-face of ‘social justice.’” Second is the judgment problem: How could Obama not recognize the political peril Wright represented earlier? And finally there is the obliteration problem: Obama’s entire post-racial, anti-political message is getting destroyed by the Wright fiasco.

So what does he do now? For starters, he tries to convince voters that he and his wife aren’t leftist nuts. Today at an Indianapolis event Michelle offered this up:

[I] know that we are still so close to the lives that most American are living. And I don’t know about you, but for most of my lifetime, I’ve felt disconnected from Washington. That when decisions are made and things happen, you’re sort of left at your kitchen table scratching your head wondering, “Well, who’s that supposed to help.” Because that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. And part of me sort of said, “Well maybe it’s because the further up you go, and the longer you’re gone, the harder it is to remember the struggles on the ground.”

This is, of course, faux populism in its most transparent form. She and her husband (at $4M plus in 2007 income) aren’t close to anyone but other members of the top level of the highest economic quintile. The struggle to identify with ordinary people is no easy task. And trying to solve last week’s crisis (Snobgate) isn’t going to solve the problems he now has.

So what will? Right now, Obama has to hope that Clinton is so unliked by Democratic voters that they will take him, warts and all. From “Yes we can” to “She’s worse” in a matter of months. Remarkable.

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She Finally Gets It

Hillary Clinton is in uncharted territory. For the first time in this primary, Barack Obama has taken successive hits without Hillary somehow spoiling her own good luck.

Every previous Obama gaffe was quickly followed by a counterbalancing embarrassment from the Clinton camp that effectively reset the primary at a tie. If Obama’s wife said something offensive, Hillary’s husband popped up a day later to do the same. If Obama made a naïve statement about diplomacy, Hillary made an entitled statement about being treated unfairly. The tit-for-tat unfolded with relentless parity, so that the first thunderclap of Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous sermons was drowned out by the sniper fire of Hillary’s outrageous Bosnia tale.

But starting with her opponent’s ungenerous assessment of blue-collar Americans, Hillary has enjoyed the first string of Obama blunders not broken by her own reciprocal slips. Obama managed to insult the working class, give an abysmal debate performance, take a heavy loss in Pennsylvania, and fall back into the mud with Jeremiah Wright, all without any Clinton self-destruction to ease his pain. Hillary, by getting out of the way of her own good fortune, is now experiencing momentum by default.

And with Obama’s breakdown doing all the work, Hillary has at last grasped the concept of moderation. According to the Trail:

In recent days, Clinton’s jabs at Obama have been gentle and often unnamed, far from her “meet me in Ohio” and “shame on you, Barack Obama” blasts on the eve of the vote in Ohio. She spent the weekend challenging him to debates, but even dropped that this week to criticize Obama for not supporting a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.”

If she can continue to resist the urge to scold or crow, and if she can keep her husband’s seemingly inevitable tantrums to a minimum, Obama’s campaign just might implode completely. At U.S. News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe suggests it’s time for Obama to consider dropping out. That’s not going to happen. But if the purpose of superdelegates is to have Democratic leadership steer the party out of trouble, their moment is now. While all the drama unfolds among them, Hillary should just cool her heels.

Hillary Clinton is in uncharted territory. For the first time in this primary, Barack Obama has taken successive hits without Hillary somehow spoiling her own good luck.

Every previous Obama gaffe was quickly followed by a counterbalancing embarrassment from the Clinton camp that effectively reset the primary at a tie. If Obama’s wife said something offensive, Hillary’s husband popped up a day later to do the same. If Obama made a naïve statement about diplomacy, Hillary made an entitled statement about being treated unfairly. The tit-for-tat unfolded with relentless parity, so that the first thunderclap of Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous sermons was drowned out by the sniper fire of Hillary’s outrageous Bosnia tale.

But starting with her opponent’s ungenerous assessment of blue-collar Americans, Hillary has enjoyed the first string of Obama blunders not broken by her own reciprocal slips. Obama managed to insult the working class, give an abysmal debate performance, take a heavy loss in Pennsylvania, and fall back into the mud with Jeremiah Wright, all without any Clinton self-destruction to ease his pain. Hillary, by getting out of the way of her own good fortune, is now experiencing momentum by default.

And with Obama’s breakdown doing all the work, Hillary has at last grasped the concept of moderation. According to the Trail:

In recent days, Clinton’s jabs at Obama have been gentle and often unnamed, far from her “meet me in Ohio” and “shame on you, Barack Obama” blasts on the eve of the vote in Ohio. She spent the weekend challenging him to debates, but even dropped that this week to criticize Obama for not supporting a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.”

If she can continue to resist the urge to scold or crow, and if she can keep her husband’s seemingly inevitable tantrums to a minimum, Obama’s campaign just might implode completely. At U.S. News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe suggests it’s time for Obama to consider dropping out. That’s not going to happen. But if the purpose of superdelegates is to have Democratic leadership steer the party out of trouble, their moment is now. While all the drama unfolds among them, Hillary should just cool her heels.

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Giving Away the (Nuclear) Store

A Reuters report states that the Bush administration will, within a month, send to Congress a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia. The agreement will take effect within 90 legislative days unless Congress votes it down. The President discussed the arrangement with Vladimir Putin at their summit earlier this month in Sochi.

Should the United States cooperate with Russia on civilian nuclear technology? In general, that’s a wonderful concept. In this particular case, however, the idea is fundamentally flawed. The Bush administration apparently thinks the proposed deal would support Russia’s plan to enrich uranium for Iran. “We can’t isolate ourselves from Russia and then expect that these are the proposals that are going to be the solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” says an unnamed State Department official.

I, on the other hand, am all for isolating ourselves from counterproductive concepts. There will one day be a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but it will not run through Moscow. Moscow, we should remember, is a huge part the problem. It has been blocking effective action against Iran at the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, it has supplied the reactors at Iran’s Bushehr generating station and delivered its uranium fuel, and it has sold Iran air-defense systems to protect its nuclear sites. And all this against the express wishes of . . . the Bush administration. So why does the President think the Russians are going to be any more cooperative in the future? I have stared into Putin’s soul and seen–among other things–an unrepentant proliferator.

Moscow’s fuel bank proposal is tailored to help Tehran. Iranians will undoubtedly end up working at the Russian facility. As they do so, they will pick up critical expertise that can be used back home in covert locations. So why should we help Iran obtain advanced nuclear technology? President Bush needs to come up with a better explanation if he wants to ink this stinker of a deal.

A Reuters report states that the Bush administration will, within a month, send to Congress a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia. The agreement will take effect within 90 legislative days unless Congress votes it down. The President discussed the arrangement with Vladimir Putin at their summit earlier this month in Sochi.

Should the United States cooperate with Russia on civilian nuclear technology? In general, that’s a wonderful concept. In this particular case, however, the idea is fundamentally flawed. The Bush administration apparently thinks the proposed deal would support Russia’s plan to enrich uranium for Iran. “We can’t isolate ourselves from Russia and then expect that these are the proposals that are going to be the solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” says an unnamed State Department official.

I, on the other hand, am all for isolating ourselves from counterproductive concepts. There will one day be a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but it will not run through Moscow. Moscow, we should remember, is a huge part the problem. It has been blocking effective action against Iran at the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, it has supplied the reactors at Iran’s Bushehr generating station and delivered its uranium fuel, and it has sold Iran air-defense systems to protect its nuclear sites. And all this against the express wishes of . . . the Bush administration. So why does the President think the Russians are going to be any more cooperative in the future? I have stared into Putin’s soul and seen–among other things–an unrepentant proliferator.

Moscow’s fuel bank proposal is tailored to help Tehran. Iranians will undoubtedly end up working at the Russian facility. As they do so, they will pick up critical expertise that can be used back home in covert locations. So why should we help Iran obtain advanced nuclear technology? President Bush needs to come up with a better explanation if he wants to ink this stinker of a deal.

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Pansygate

As if we did not have enough outrage over real and semi-real issues, we now have Pansygate.  Indignation has gripped some over this comment by Governor Mike Easley at Tuesday’s endorsement presser for Hillary Clinton: “This lady right here makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy.”

He did not, it should be noted, say Barack Obama was a pansy. He said Rocky was, in comparison to Hillary. And sometimes a dainty flower is just a flower, and a weakling is just a weakling (two commonly accepted meanings). But some–including a pleading Keith Olbermann, who tried unsuccessfully on MSNBC last night to badger a poor Roll Call reporter into conceding this was a discriminatory remark–will not be persuaded.

Suffice it to say that on a day when Obama was the focus of a storm of negative attention, the last thing Clinton would have wanted would be to get involved in anything controversial or suggestive of intolerance. She is now, you see, auditioning as the Uniter. That’s how far we’ve come.

As if we did not have enough outrage over real and semi-real issues, we now have Pansygate.  Indignation has gripped some over this comment by Governor Mike Easley at Tuesday’s endorsement presser for Hillary Clinton: “This lady right here makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy.”

He did not, it should be noted, say Barack Obama was a pansy. He said Rocky was, in comparison to Hillary. And sometimes a dainty flower is just a flower, and a weakling is just a weakling (two commonly accepted meanings). But some–including a pleading Keith Olbermann, who tried unsuccessfully on MSNBC last night to badger a poor Roll Call reporter into conceding this was a discriminatory remark–will not be persuaded.

Suffice it to say that on a day when Obama was the focus of a storm of negative attention, the last thing Clinton would have wanted would be to get involved in anything controversial or suggestive of intolerance. She is now, you see, auditioning as the Uniter. That’s how far we’ve come.

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They Are Jihadists

While Barack Obama is shapeshifting from a polished JFK into a befuddled Richard Nixon with each successive appearance, the chronically inarticulate George W. Bush seems–in Hillary’s terminology–to have found his voice. At a White House press conference yesterday, the President defied the State Department’s new and Orwellian prohibition on describing Islamist terrorists as having anything at all to do with Islam:

And so in Afghanistan, yes, we’re making progress. Does that mean that it’s over? No, it doesn’t mean it’s over. We’re in a long struggle, as I’ve told you many a time, against these jihadists. You defeat them ultimately by the advance of democracy. See, this is an ideological struggle. These aren’t isolated, law-enforcement moments. We’re dealing with a group of ideologues who use asymmetrical warfare — that means killing innocent people — to try to achieve their objectives. And one objective is to drive us out of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, or anywhere else where we try to confront them.

Last week, the AP quoted the new State Department directive:

Regarding ‘jihad,’ even if it is accurate to reference the term, it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have and damages relations with Muslims around the world.

When watching the video of the exchange, you can see Bush pause before settling on “jihadists.” In that pause, the President measured the dubious cost of “glamoriz[ing] terrorism” against the deadly cost of inaccuracy. For a man usually tortured in his effort to find the right word, he came through admirably.

While Barack Obama is shapeshifting from a polished JFK into a befuddled Richard Nixon with each successive appearance, the chronically inarticulate George W. Bush seems–in Hillary’s terminology–to have found his voice. At a White House press conference yesterday, the President defied the State Department’s new and Orwellian prohibition on describing Islamist terrorists as having anything at all to do with Islam:

And so in Afghanistan, yes, we’re making progress. Does that mean that it’s over? No, it doesn’t mean it’s over. We’re in a long struggle, as I’ve told you many a time, against these jihadists. You defeat them ultimately by the advance of democracy. See, this is an ideological struggle. These aren’t isolated, law-enforcement moments. We’re dealing with a group of ideologues who use asymmetrical warfare — that means killing innocent people — to try to achieve their objectives. And one objective is to drive us out of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, or anywhere else where we try to confront them.

Last week, the AP quoted the new State Department directive:

Regarding ‘jihad,’ even if it is accurate to reference the term, it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have and damages relations with Muslims around the world.

When watching the video of the exchange, you can see Bush pause before settling on “jihadists.” In that pause, the President measured the dubious cost of “glamoriz[ing] terrorism” against the deadly cost of inaccuracy. For a man usually tortured in his effort to find the right word, he came through admirably.

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The Friends of Jeremiah Wright

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

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Reactions To Obama Damage Control

Among the pundits, opinion on yesterday’s Obama damage-control efforts varies. It runs the spectrum from “ we want to see him succeed more than ever” to disbelief that Obama expects the public to buy the pirouette from Philadelphia to post-National Press Club. Once again (remarkably) it’s hard to quibble with Dowd’s take:

Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.

So far, the mainstream media isn’t terribly impressed with the belated effort (“strategists raised significant doubts about whether even Obama’s blistering words could immediately quell the crisis”). This is typical:

Clearly the Obama camp deemed that effort not enough and the decision to speak out again seems designed to quell concerns among Democrats — including superdelegates — about some of Wright’s more inflammatory remarks. But it also raises additional questions for Obama — including why he maintained a 20-year spiritual relationship with Wright, and why he chose not to denounce Wright when the story first spread six weeks ago.

The AP’s story carries a steady tone of skepticism:

His strong words come just six weeks after Obama delivered a sweeping speech on race in which he sharply condemned Wright’s remarks but did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member. . . Obama stated flatly that he doesn’t share the views of the man who officiated at his wedding, baptized his two daughters and been his pastor for 20 years. The title of Obama’s second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” came from a Wright sermon.

Some aren’t buying that this is all news to Obama:

Despite his appropriate outrage over Wright’s performances of late, Obama’s claim that his longtime pastor is exhibiting new behavior is certain to come under scrutiny. “The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago,” Obama insisted today. That comment, and any suggestion that the relationship between the two men was never as close as portrayed, are questionable.

The national and Chicago media detect a pattern of avoiding problems. Others say flat out that Obama’s credibility is now at issue:

It seems to us that the whole sorry episode raises legitimate questions about his judgment. Given the long and close relationship between Mr. Obama and the Rev. Wright, voters will ask: How could Mr. Obama have been surprised by the Rev. Wright’s views? How could he not have seen this coming? Mr. Obama didn’t help matters much by initially seeming to dismiss the furor building over the Rev. Wright’s Washington performance, just as he did with the initial uproar last month. At a media availability at an airport Monday afternoon, he displayed none of the anger and sorrow that etched his face in North Carolina one day later.

And here’s an honest, troubled liberal voice (h/t The Caucus):

There are a couple problems that this press conference aren’t likely to assuage. First is Obama’s statement that he guesses he didn’t know Wright as well as he thought he did. “The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I had come to know over 20 years.” That’s a big problem for someone running on judgment. Secondly, yesterday Obama pointed to Wright’s off-message press tour as proof that the his campaign was not managing or coordinating with Wright, I suppose to distance himself from Wright prove to people that he is indeed Obama’s former pastor. What is does for me is call into question his fitness to run a general.

So this will likely go on for days more as we creep closer to next Tuesday’s primaries. And just as the Pennsylvania voters had the final say on Snobgate, the Indiana and North Carolina voters will tell us whether this is the beginning of the end of Obama-mania, or merely a bump on his path to the nomination.

Among the pundits, opinion on yesterday’s Obama damage-control efforts varies. It runs the spectrum from “ we want to see him succeed more than ever” to disbelief that Obama expects the public to buy the pirouette from Philadelphia to post-National Press Club. Once again (remarkably) it’s hard to quibble with Dowd’s take:

Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.

So far, the mainstream media isn’t terribly impressed with the belated effort (“strategists raised significant doubts about whether even Obama’s blistering words could immediately quell the crisis”). This is typical:

Clearly the Obama camp deemed that effort not enough and the decision to speak out again seems designed to quell concerns among Democrats — including superdelegates — about some of Wright’s more inflammatory remarks. But it also raises additional questions for Obama — including why he maintained a 20-year spiritual relationship with Wright, and why he chose not to denounce Wright when the story first spread six weeks ago.

The AP’s story carries a steady tone of skepticism:

His strong words come just six weeks after Obama delivered a sweeping speech on race in which he sharply condemned Wright’s remarks but did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member. . . Obama stated flatly that he doesn’t share the views of the man who officiated at his wedding, baptized his two daughters and been his pastor for 20 years. The title of Obama’s second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” came from a Wright sermon.

Some aren’t buying that this is all news to Obama:

Despite his appropriate outrage over Wright’s performances of late, Obama’s claim that his longtime pastor is exhibiting new behavior is certain to come under scrutiny. “The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago,” Obama insisted today. That comment, and any suggestion that the relationship between the two men was never as close as portrayed, are questionable.

The national and Chicago media detect a pattern of avoiding problems. Others say flat out that Obama’s credibility is now at issue:

It seems to us that the whole sorry episode raises legitimate questions about his judgment. Given the long and close relationship between Mr. Obama and the Rev. Wright, voters will ask: How could Mr. Obama have been surprised by the Rev. Wright’s views? How could he not have seen this coming? Mr. Obama didn’t help matters much by initially seeming to dismiss the furor building over the Rev. Wright’s Washington performance, just as he did with the initial uproar last month. At a media availability at an airport Monday afternoon, he displayed none of the anger and sorrow that etched his face in North Carolina one day later.

And here’s an honest, troubled liberal voice (h/t The Caucus):

There are a couple problems that this press conference aren’t likely to assuage. First is Obama’s statement that he guesses he didn’t know Wright as well as he thought he did. “The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I had come to know over 20 years.” That’s a big problem for someone running on judgment. Secondly, yesterday Obama pointed to Wright’s off-message press tour as proof that the his campaign was not managing or coordinating with Wright, I suppose to distance himself from Wright prove to people that he is indeed Obama’s former pastor. What is does for me is call into question his fitness to run a general.

So this will likely go on for days more as we creep closer to next Tuesday’s primaries. And just as the Pennsylvania voters had the final say on Snobgate, the Indiana and North Carolina voters will tell us whether this is the beginning of the end of Obama-mania, or merely a bump on his path to the nomination.

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Why Worry, It’s Only Plutonium

The Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, headed by David Albright, has issued an “update” on the Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel on September 6, 2007 and it contains plenty of good news — but only if one willingly suspends belief and takes their analysis seriously.

To begin with, reports ISIS, “the United States does not have any indication of how Syria would fuel this reactor, and no information that North Korea had already, or intended to provide the reactor’s fuel.”

True enough. But does that offer reason for comfort or prove anything at all? After all, up until the U.S. discovered that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor, it also had “no information” that this particular proliferation activity was going on.

“The lack of any identified source of this fuel,” continues the ISIS study, “raises questions about when the reactor could have operated.” Furthermore, neither the U.S. nor Israel has “identified any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities.

Also true enough. But what do these gaps in the picture mean? If a country expends the resources, and takes the considerable risk, of building a secret plutonium-producing reactor, is it likely to be doing so to turn it into a museum? That seems to be ISIS’s conclusion: “[t]he apparent absence of fuel, whether imported or indigenously produced, . . . lowers confidence that Syria has an active nuclear weapons program.”

ISIS also calls attention to some other encouraging news: “North Korea has committed to end its proliferation activities.” But even if the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il says cross my heart and hope to die, is this a promise one can take to the bank? According to ISIS — yes — and moreover there is this heart-warming fact, “[t]here is no evidence that nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor.”

All told, Pyongyand has been a paragon of non-proliferation virtue: “engagement is working and is increasing U.S. and regional security.”

ISIS’s motto is “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace.” Perhaps a better motto would be “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace at Any Price.”

The Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, headed by David Albright, has issued an “update” on the Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel on September 6, 2007 and it contains plenty of good news — but only if one willingly suspends belief and takes their analysis seriously.

To begin with, reports ISIS, “the United States does not have any indication of how Syria would fuel this reactor, and no information that North Korea had already, or intended to provide the reactor’s fuel.”

True enough. But does that offer reason for comfort or prove anything at all? After all, up until the U.S. discovered that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor, it also had “no information” that this particular proliferation activity was going on.

“The lack of any identified source of this fuel,” continues the ISIS study, “raises questions about when the reactor could have operated.” Furthermore, neither the U.S. nor Israel has “identified any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities.

Also true enough. But what do these gaps in the picture mean? If a country expends the resources, and takes the considerable risk, of building a secret plutonium-producing reactor, is it likely to be doing so to turn it into a museum? That seems to be ISIS’s conclusion: “[t]he apparent absence of fuel, whether imported or indigenously produced, . . . lowers confidence that Syria has an active nuclear weapons program.”

ISIS also calls attention to some other encouraging news: “North Korea has committed to end its proliferation activities.” But even if the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il says cross my heart and hope to die, is this a promise one can take to the bank? According to ISIS — yes — and moreover there is this heart-warming fact, “[t]here is no evidence that nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor.”

All told, Pyongyand has been a paragon of non-proliferation virtue: “engagement is working and is increasing U.S. and regional security.”

ISIS’s motto is “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace.” Perhaps a better motto would be “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace at Any Price.”

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Obama’s Instincts

One of the things we’re learning about Barack Obama is that while he is brilliantly skilled in many ways, he is not especially adept. He bought himself weeks of trouble he didn’t need by refusing to repudiate Jeremiah Wright before today, and there are reasons to think he repudiated him in the worst possible way. It seems like a crass political move, a desperation play, rather than what it might have seemed like when the Wright problem first surfaced for real, as the principled act by someone deeply pained to be forced into renouncing someone who had meant so much to him.

It may be that Obama came to believe he could talk his way out of anything, and he did not want to disavow Wright — not, it would be my guess, because he loves him so dearly but because he understands that the kind of energy generated by Wright and the Wrights of this country has done him a great deal of good over the past few months and he didn’t want to jeopardize it. Which would be another mark of his political short-sightedness. As the Democratic frontrunner, Obama should have begun to pivot to the center, and the perfect moment for doing that would have been to kick Wright to the curb weeks before the Pennsylvania primary. Instead, he has allowed Hillary Clinton to become the candidate of the Democratic center.

I still suspect it’s just too late for Hillary, and I think the Wright crisis has broken too early for it to play an important role in November. But Obama is demonstrating he has problematic political instincts, and that is a liability that John McCain (whose own political instincts aren’t the greatest either) can exploit.

One of the things we’re learning about Barack Obama is that while he is brilliantly skilled in many ways, he is not especially adept. He bought himself weeks of trouble he didn’t need by refusing to repudiate Jeremiah Wright before today, and there are reasons to think he repudiated him in the worst possible way. It seems like a crass political move, a desperation play, rather than what it might have seemed like when the Wright problem first surfaced for real, as the principled act by someone deeply pained to be forced into renouncing someone who had meant so much to him.

It may be that Obama came to believe he could talk his way out of anything, and he did not want to disavow Wright — not, it would be my guess, because he loves him so dearly but because he understands that the kind of energy generated by Wright and the Wrights of this country has done him a great deal of good over the past few months and he didn’t want to jeopardize it. Which would be another mark of his political short-sightedness. As the Democratic frontrunner, Obama should have begun to pivot to the center, and the perfect moment for doing that would have been to kick Wright to the curb weeks before the Pennsylvania primary. Instead, he has allowed Hillary Clinton to become the candidate of the Democratic center.

I still suspect it’s just too late for Hillary, and I think the Wright crisis has broken too early for it to play an important role in November. But Obama is demonstrating he has problematic political instincts, and that is a liability that John McCain (whose own political instincts aren’t the greatest either) can exploit.

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Obama Got His Dander Up When Wright Came After Him

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)

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McCain Health Care Conference Call

Doug Holtz-Eakin, senior policy advisor, and Carly Fiorina, RNC Victory 2008 Chair and former Hewlett-Packard CEO, held a conference call today as part of John McCain’s healthcare rollout.

There’s good in the McCain plan. Both advisors stressed that McCain’s plan puts “patients in charge,” and they both emphasized that under the McCain plan drug importation would be permitted. McCain has broken with many Republicans and drug industry interests in pushing to allow drug imports from places like Canada.

But there are real problems with the plan as well. Skeptical questioners on the call asked how McCain is going to compete with Democratic plans that guarantee health insurance universally. This is an intractable problem. McCain will need to convince people that the Democratic plan is either unrealistic (see the Massachusetts example), too expensive, or will impair the good things in the American health care system (e.g. doctor choice innovation). And we have yet to see McCain get fired up on a domestic issue to the extent he can sell something like this, which is not at first glance better than what the Democrats are offering.

There is also a fair amount of fudging going on. Where are all the cost savings going to come from? In large part, says the McCain team, from innovation. But, as they revealed in response to a question, these are things that private companies (e.g. insurers or employers) do. So where is government going to get money to cover or subsidize all those hard-to-insure people in the GAP plan? Not clear.

And isn’t GAP really another entitlement? The McCain campaign said in response to my follow-up question after the call that the GAP plan is “an effort to work with states to develop approaches to establishing a market to assure coverage for higher-risk folks who find it hard to get insurance.” That is thin gruel for those advocating universal coverage, and ominous for fiscal conservatives concerned this will be a drain on taxpayers. So the McCain team has its work cut out for it. But it is best to start practicing healthcare salesmanship now, on a day when the media is consumed with Obama-Wright coverage.

Doug Holtz-Eakin, senior policy advisor, and Carly Fiorina, RNC Victory 2008 Chair and former Hewlett-Packard CEO, held a conference call today as part of John McCain’s healthcare rollout.

There’s good in the McCain plan. Both advisors stressed that McCain’s plan puts “patients in charge,” and they both emphasized that under the McCain plan drug importation would be permitted. McCain has broken with many Republicans and drug industry interests in pushing to allow drug imports from places like Canada.

But there are real problems with the plan as well. Skeptical questioners on the call asked how McCain is going to compete with Democratic plans that guarantee health insurance universally. This is an intractable problem. McCain will need to convince people that the Democratic plan is either unrealistic (see the Massachusetts example), too expensive, or will impair the good things in the American health care system (e.g. doctor choice innovation). And we have yet to see McCain get fired up on a domestic issue to the extent he can sell something like this, which is not at first glance better than what the Democrats are offering.

There is also a fair amount of fudging going on. Where are all the cost savings going to come from? In large part, says the McCain team, from innovation. But, as they revealed in response to a question, these are things that private companies (e.g. insurers or employers) do. So where is government going to get money to cover or subsidize all those hard-to-insure people in the GAP plan? Not clear.

And isn’t GAP really another entitlement? The McCain campaign said in response to my follow-up question after the call that the GAP plan is “an effort to work with states to develop approaches to establishing a market to assure coverage for higher-risk folks who find it hard to get insurance.” That is thin gruel for those advocating universal coverage, and ominous for fiscal conservatives concerned this will be a drain on taxpayers. So the McCain team has its work cut out for it. But it is best to start practicing healthcare salesmanship now, on a day when the media is consumed with Obama-Wright coverage.

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Puh-leez!

Barack Obama has finally, finally thrown Reverend Wright under the proverbial bus. How low did the poll numbers go? How many superdelegates had to warn him? What finally changed his mind? Because, as anyone following the story knows, Wright has been remarkably consistent. His sermons, his NAACP speech and his performance at the National Press Club are all of one piece: ranting, anti-white, anti-American. So we now have some questions to ponder.

Is Obama going to stick with the “I am the worst judge of character on the planet” excuse? After all, if millions of non-congregants could figure out Wright, why couldn’t he? And if the issue now is not “Does Obama believe all this loony Wright inspired stuff?” but “Has he been duplicitous?”, then what happens to his Agent of Change, post-racial-uniter routine? Will this be enough to push some Democrats (like the Edwards duo) over the edge and conclude: Enough? (Certainly many Democrats must be wondering what they would be in for in a general election contest with him.)

In the end, the chickens did come home to roost. Just not the ones Wright had in mind.

Barack Obama has finally, finally thrown Reverend Wright under the proverbial bus. How low did the poll numbers go? How many superdelegates had to warn him? What finally changed his mind? Because, as anyone following the story knows, Wright has been remarkably consistent. His sermons, his NAACP speech and his performance at the National Press Club are all of one piece: ranting, anti-white, anti-American. So we now have some questions to ponder.

Is Obama going to stick with the “I am the worst judge of character on the planet” excuse? After all, if millions of non-congregants could figure out Wright, why couldn’t he? And if the issue now is not “Does Obama believe all this loony Wright inspired stuff?” but “Has he been duplicitous?”, then what happens to his Agent of Change, post-racial-uniter routine? Will this be enough to push some Democrats (like the Edwards duo) over the edge and conclude: Enough? (Certainly many Democrats must be wondering what they would be in for in a general election contest with him.)

In the end, the chickens did come home to roost. Just not the ones Wright had in mind.

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Iran in India

Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New Delhi on his first official visit there. On the agenda is the 1,625-mile gas pipeline that will connect supplier Iran to consumers India and Pakistan. Yesterday, the Iranian president was in Islamabad, where he and his Pakistani hosts said they had resolved “all issues” regarding the proposed link.

Iran is making headway in implementing its “Look East” strategy, and in India Tehran has found a willing partner. The Bush administration, to put pressure on Iran, has opposed the pipeline, but New Delhi, famed for its independence, is pushing back. “India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries,” the Indian foreign ministry said last week. “Neither country needs any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations.”

Of course. There are many reasons why New Delhi wants to improve ties with Tehran. Among them are New Delhi’s desire to show that it is not dependent on Washington, India’s need for Iran’s energy, and the Indian government’s concern about the country’s Shiites, who look to Tehran.

Fortunately for Washington, Iran and India have yet to settle their differences over the pipeline. Among the outstanding problems is something that Tehran has no power to solve: New Delhi’s concern about relying on energy that has to travel through archrival Pakistan. Nonetheless, some believe construction on the US$7.6 billion project could begin next year. Consequently, the Bush administration does not have much time to figure out how to keep India from joining Iran.

I don’t think the solution for Washington to this particular problem can be found in New Delhi, however. As the Indians see it, they cannot afford to help the Americans in opposing the Iranians as long as the Iranians retain the support of the Chinese. This same dynamic drives India’s unattractive policy of assisting the junta in Burma-it does so to counter China’s influence there.

So if Washington wants to stop Iran with diplomacy, it will have to work magic in Beijing. If it fails to do so soon, the pipeline will reach India and extend crucial support to the mullahs-and their nuclear weapons program.

Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New Delhi on his first official visit there. On the agenda is the 1,625-mile gas pipeline that will connect supplier Iran to consumers India and Pakistan. Yesterday, the Iranian president was in Islamabad, where he and his Pakistani hosts said they had resolved “all issues” regarding the proposed link.

Iran is making headway in implementing its “Look East” strategy, and in India Tehran has found a willing partner. The Bush administration, to put pressure on Iran, has opposed the pipeline, but New Delhi, famed for its independence, is pushing back. “India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries,” the Indian foreign ministry said last week. “Neither country needs any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations.”

Of course. There are many reasons why New Delhi wants to improve ties with Tehran. Among them are New Delhi’s desire to show that it is not dependent on Washington, India’s need for Iran’s energy, and the Indian government’s concern about the country’s Shiites, who look to Tehran.

Fortunately for Washington, Iran and India have yet to settle their differences over the pipeline. Among the outstanding problems is something that Tehran has no power to solve: New Delhi’s concern about relying on energy that has to travel through archrival Pakistan. Nonetheless, some believe construction on the US$7.6 billion project could begin next year. Consequently, the Bush administration does not have much time to figure out how to keep India from joining Iran.

I don’t think the solution for Washington to this particular problem can be found in New Delhi, however. As the Indians see it, they cannot afford to help the Americans in opposing the Iranians as long as the Iranians retain the support of the Chinese. This same dynamic drives India’s unattractive policy of assisting the junta in Burma-it does so to counter China’s influence there.

So if Washington wants to stop Iran with diplomacy, it will have to work magic in Beijing. If it fails to do so soon, the pipeline will reach India and extend crucial support to the mullahs-and their nuclear weapons program.

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The Reverend Archie Bunker

We’ve all been overreacting to Jeremiah Wright. He’s not a dangerously influential peddler of paranoia and hate. He’s just a goofy TV character. At least that’s how Alessandra Stanley describes him in today’s New York Times:

. . . Mr. Wright’s monomania over the last three days has helped prove the point Mr. Obama made about his former pastor last month in his speech on race, in which he described Mr. Wright as “imperfect” but having also been “like family to me.” Mr. Wright revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention.

Yeah! He’s just like that slightly wacky uncle of yours! You know:  the one who flew with Louis Farrakhan to meet Moammar Khaddafi? The one who thinks Zionism is a “gutter religion”? That’s the lovable old goof we’re talking about here. Not anyone of consequence. Stanley thinks it’s time to reassess the entertaining old fellow:

Now it turns out that Mr. Wright doesn’t hate America, he loves the sound of his own voice.

Yep, those two qualities sure are mutually exclusive. People who hate America never, ever speak out about it. There’s no tradition of anti-American celebrity culture whatsoever.

Stanley also manages to make the fast-talking Chicagoan sound like a character out of Saul Bellow. Wright is

a voluble, vain and erudite entertainer, a born televangelist who quotes Ralph Ellison as well as the Bible and mixes highfalutin academic trope with salty street talk.

And also a Warholian phenomenon:

He is not out of touch with the American culture, he is the avatar of the American celebrity principle: he grabbed his 30-second spots of infamy and turned them into 15 minutes of fame.

Never mind his decades of influence on his church and on a man who may well be the next President.

We’ve all been overreacting to Jeremiah Wright. He’s not a dangerously influential peddler of paranoia and hate. He’s just a goofy TV character. At least that’s how Alessandra Stanley describes him in today’s New York Times:

. . . Mr. Wright’s monomania over the last three days has helped prove the point Mr. Obama made about his former pastor last month in his speech on race, in which he described Mr. Wright as “imperfect” but having also been “like family to me.” Mr. Wright revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention.

Yeah! He’s just like that slightly wacky uncle of yours! You know:  the one who flew with Louis Farrakhan to meet Moammar Khaddafi? The one who thinks Zionism is a “gutter religion”? That’s the lovable old goof we’re talking about here. Not anyone of consequence. Stanley thinks it’s time to reassess the entertaining old fellow:

Now it turns out that Mr. Wright doesn’t hate America, he loves the sound of his own voice.

Yep, those two qualities sure are mutually exclusive. People who hate America never, ever speak out about it. There’s no tradition of anti-American celebrity culture whatsoever.

Stanley also manages to make the fast-talking Chicagoan sound like a character out of Saul Bellow. Wright is

a voluble, vain and erudite entertainer, a born televangelist who quotes Ralph Ellison as well as the Bible and mixes highfalutin academic trope with salty street talk.

And also a Warholian phenomenon:

He is not out of touch with the American culture, he is the avatar of the American celebrity principle: he grabbed his 30-second spots of infamy and turned them into 15 minutes of fame.

Never mind his decades of influence on his church and on a man who may well be the next President.

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You Want Domestic Policy?

John McCain is trying his best to shift from his single-minded focus on foreign policy to a broader agenda that will appeal to key independent voters. His topic this week is health care, about which he offered a detailed speech and a new ad.

His approach borrows from George W. Bush’s ill-fated healthcare plan (and from Rudy Giuliani’s as well). The basic idea is to shift from employer-based plans (in which the consumer/patient is not responsible for costs) to individually-purchased healthcare plans (where consumers will be in charge). By ending the employer benefit tax exemption and providing a tax credit instead, allowing interstate insurance purchases, and throwing in some tort reform, this proposal aims to decrease cost and increase availability.

But McCain has a ways to go if he’s going to sell it. One troubling aspect of the proposal, his GAP plan, is in bad shape. It’s aimed at a vaguely defined pool of hard-to-insure and needy healthcare consumers, and it sounds like little more than an adjunct to Medicare and Medicaid. McCain says:

I will work with Congress, the governors, and industry to make sure that it is funded adequately and has the right incentives to reduce costs such as disease management, individual case management, and health and wellness programs. These programs reach out to people who are at risk for different diseases and chronic conditions and provide them with nurse care managers to make sure they receive the proper care and avoid unnecessary treatments and emergency room visits. The details of a Guaranteed Access Plan will be worked out with the collaboration and consent of the states.

Although he disclaims any intention to create a new entitlement program, he says that the GAP plan would put “reasonable limits on premiums, and assistance would be available for Americans below a certain income level.” That said, McCain’s plan is as market-based an approach as a politician who doesn’t want to risk running on a platform of “Buy your own darn insurance!” is going to offer

John McCain is trying his best to shift from his single-minded focus on foreign policy to a broader agenda that will appeal to key independent voters. His topic this week is health care, about which he offered a detailed speech and a new ad.

His approach borrows from George W. Bush’s ill-fated healthcare plan (and from Rudy Giuliani’s as well). The basic idea is to shift from employer-based plans (in which the consumer/patient is not responsible for costs) to individually-purchased healthcare plans (where consumers will be in charge). By ending the employer benefit tax exemption and providing a tax credit instead, allowing interstate insurance purchases, and throwing in some tort reform, this proposal aims to decrease cost and increase availability.

But McCain has a ways to go if he’s going to sell it. One troubling aspect of the proposal, his GAP plan, is in bad shape. It’s aimed at a vaguely defined pool of hard-to-insure and needy healthcare consumers, and it sounds like little more than an adjunct to Medicare and Medicaid. McCain says:

I will work with Congress, the governors, and industry to make sure that it is funded adequately and has the right incentives to reduce costs such as disease management, individual case management, and health and wellness programs. These programs reach out to people who are at risk for different diseases and chronic conditions and provide them with nurse care managers to make sure they receive the proper care and avoid unnecessary treatments and emergency room visits. The details of a Guaranteed Access Plan will be worked out with the collaboration and consent of the states.

Although he disclaims any intention to create a new entitlement program, he says that the GAP plan would put “reasonable limits on premiums, and assistance would be available for Americans below a certain income level.” That said, McCain’s plan is as market-based an approach as a politician who doesn’t want to risk running on a platform of “Buy your own darn insurance!” is going to offer

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When Satire Fails

In order for satire to work, it must exaggerate the faults and foibles of its subject. Which is why this satirical piece appearing today at the British comedy site the Spoof is a failure:

The Iranian Foreign Trade Commission has banned the import and sale of Barbie Dolls within the country. Stating that this doll, one of the most popular and best selling toys in the world, was an evil influence on the Iranian people, the government stopped a Mattel delivery shipment at a port.

Official state that the doll has many un-Moslem qualities, such as visible hair, a figure, drives an automobile, owns possessions, and “flaunts her large, big American breasts to the illicit excitement of men and boys.”

Mattel has offered to make an Iranian version of the doll, where the clothing cannot be removed by anyone, only the eyes are visible, no form or figure can be revealed under the robes, and the doll is “unbending.”

That could be funny (sort of). If, that is, Muslim countries had not already shelved and redesigned dolls on these very grounds–and if Mattel hadn’t gone along with them. From a 2005 article in the New York Times:

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 21 – In the last year or so, Barbie dolls have all but disappeared from the shelves of many toy stores in the Middle East. In their place, there is Fulla, a dark-eyed doll with, as her creator puts it, “Muslim values.”

Fulla roughly shares Barbie’s size and proportions, but steps out of her shiny pink box wearing a black abaya and matching head scarf. She is named after a type of jasmine that grows in the Levant, and although she has an extensive and beautiful wardrobe (sold separately, of course), Fulla is usually displayed wearing her modest “outdoor fashion.”

[...]

Fulla is not the first doll to wear the hijab, a traditional Islamic head covering worn outside the house so a woman’s hair cannot be seen by men outside her family. Mattel markets a group of collectors’ dolls that include a Moroccan Barbie and a doll called Leila, intended to represent a Muslim slave girl in an Ottoman court. In Iran, toy shops sell a veiled doll called Sara. A Michigan-based company markets a veiled doll called Razanne, selling primarily to Muslims in the United States and Britain.

And in 2003, Saudi religious police declared “Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful posture” a threat to Muslim morals. Moreover, depending on the particular  doctrine in question, playing with any dolls–Jewish Barbies, Muslim Fullas, or Evangelical G.I. Joes–may be forbidden altogether, as they all violate the prohibition on images of humans.

That the clever writers at the Spoof set out to satirize and ended up reporting years-old news tells you two things. First, Islamic extremism defies exaggeration. And second, sometimes even the most educated Westerners don’t know what they’re dealing with.

In order for satire to work, it must exaggerate the faults and foibles of its subject. Which is why this satirical piece appearing today at the British comedy site the Spoof is a failure:

The Iranian Foreign Trade Commission has banned the import and sale of Barbie Dolls within the country. Stating that this doll, one of the most popular and best selling toys in the world, was an evil influence on the Iranian people, the government stopped a Mattel delivery shipment at a port.

Official state that the doll has many un-Moslem qualities, such as visible hair, a figure, drives an automobile, owns possessions, and “flaunts her large, big American breasts to the illicit excitement of men and boys.”

Mattel has offered to make an Iranian version of the doll, where the clothing cannot be removed by anyone, only the eyes are visible, no form or figure can be revealed under the robes, and the doll is “unbending.”

That could be funny (sort of). If, that is, Muslim countries had not already shelved and redesigned dolls on these very grounds–and if Mattel hadn’t gone along with them. From a 2005 article in the New York Times:

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 21 – In the last year or so, Barbie dolls have all but disappeared from the shelves of many toy stores in the Middle East. In their place, there is Fulla, a dark-eyed doll with, as her creator puts it, “Muslim values.”

Fulla roughly shares Barbie’s size and proportions, but steps out of her shiny pink box wearing a black abaya and matching head scarf. She is named after a type of jasmine that grows in the Levant, and although she has an extensive and beautiful wardrobe (sold separately, of course), Fulla is usually displayed wearing her modest “outdoor fashion.”

[...]

Fulla is not the first doll to wear the hijab, a traditional Islamic head covering worn outside the house so a woman’s hair cannot be seen by men outside her family. Mattel markets a group of collectors’ dolls that include a Moroccan Barbie and a doll called Leila, intended to represent a Muslim slave girl in an Ottoman court. In Iran, toy shops sell a veiled doll called Sara. A Michigan-based company markets a veiled doll called Razanne, selling primarily to Muslims in the United States and Britain.

And in 2003, Saudi religious police declared “Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful posture” a threat to Muslim morals. Moreover, depending on the particular  doctrine in question, playing with any dolls–Jewish Barbies, Muslim Fullas, or Evangelical G.I. Joes–may be forbidden altogether, as they all violate the prohibition on images of humans.

That the clever writers at the Spoof set out to satirize and ended up reporting years-old news tells you two things. First, Islamic extremism defies exaggeration. And second, sometimes even the most educated Westerners don’t know what they’re dealing with.

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Russia Threatens Georgia–Again

Last Friday, Moscow warned Georgia that it would use force to protect its “compatriots” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that have essentially broken away from Tbilisi. “If a military conflict develops, then we will have to react, including with military means,” said Valery Kenyaikin, a Russian foreign ministry official. “We are ready to defend our citizens.”

Russian citizens in Georgia? Vladimir Putin has recently taken steps that essentially annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia, including issuing Russian passports to their residents. Worse, Moscow’s planes are patrolling the airspace over them. Tensions remain high after Georgia announced that a Russian MiG shot down one of its drones over Abkhazia on the 20th of this month. Moscow denied the charge, saying that separatists were responsible. A video of the incident backs up the Georgian assertion.

And what is the Atlantic Alliance doing while this drama unfolds? Western diplomats say they hope relations between Tbilisi and Moscow will improve, but tensions have tended to increase over time. The situation is bound to deteriorate even further because NATO, at German and French insistence, declined this month to put Georgia and Ukraine on the path to full membership. Putin evidently took this failure as a green light for the shootdown.

No one in Washington seems to be too concerned, however. Any resemblance to Germany’s 1938 absorption of Austria is either ignored or seen as purely coincidental. The West looks weak to Moscow, and Putin’s next moves are bound to be even more aggressive.

In the meantime, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has promised to reassert control over both areas. The residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a right to self-determination, yet at this moment the issue is not their wishes but Moscow’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign neighbor. Yes, it will be inconvenient to defend Georgia if that is what is required. But the biggest lesson of the last century is obviously applicable to this obscure conflict.

Last Friday, Moscow warned Georgia that it would use force to protect its “compatriots” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that have essentially broken away from Tbilisi. “If a military conflict develops, then we will have to react, including with military means,” said Valery Kenyaikin, a Russian foreign ministry official. “We are ready to defend our citizens.”

Russian citizens in Georgia? Vladimir Putin has recently taken steps that essentially annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia, including issuing Russian passports to their residents. Worse, Moscow’s planes are patrolling the airspace over them. Tensions remain high after Georgia announced that a Russian MiG shot down one of its drones over Abkhazia on the 20th of this month. Moscow denied the charge, saying that separatists were responsible. A video of the incident backs up the Georgian assertion.

And what is the Atlantic Alliance doing while this drama unfolds? Western diplomats say they hope relations between Tbilisi and Moscow will improve, but tensions have tended to increase over time. The situation is bound to deteriorate even further because NATO, at German and French insistence, declined this month to put Georgia and Ukraine on the path to full membership. Putin evidently took this failure as a green light for the shootdown.

No one in Washington seems to be too concerned, however. Any resemblance to Germany’s 1938 absorption of Austria is either ignored or seen as purely coincidental. The West looks weak to Moscow, and Putin’s next moves are bound to be even more aggressive.

In the meantime, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has promised to reassert control over both areas. The residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a right to self-determination, yet at this moment the issue is not their wishes but Moscow’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign neighbor. Yes, it will be inconvenient to defend Georgia if that is what is required. But the biggest lesson of the last century is obviously applicable to this obscure conflict.

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Obama’s Interpersonal Diplomacy Crisis

You have to give Barack Obama credit for one thing. He practices what he preaches. He has said he wants America to engage in unqualified talks with her enemies. Can there now be any doubt that Jeremiah Wright, the man Barack Obama has been talking to for twenty years, is his enemy?

At yesterday’s National Press Club event, the spiritual mentor whom Obama refused to renounce unleashed a stream of ugly paranoia that could only do damage to Obama’s bid for the presidency. What we’re seeing play out are the disastrous results of Obama’s group-hug diplomacy when applied to the realm of the interpersonal.

In February, Obama said, “If we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time.” But friendship is a privilege and does have to be earned. Obama’s very problem is that, because he’s extended his unqualified friendship to a vitriolic kook like Wright, people are finding it hard to see how he “stands above” his ex-pastor. If Obama is truly such a fan of equivalence, he should be thrilled to learn that he’s increasingly seen as being no better than Jeremiah Wright. Parity achieved!

A modern liberal can renounce no one, because everyone’s grievance deserves equal sympathy and every viewpoint is valid. If this is how it works out when Obama has to deal with the self-serving motives of one unhinged man, consider the implications when this policy is applied globally. Obama sits down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he’s already said he hopes to do. He listens to the Iranian president’s “valid” points: Israel has the bomb, Iran just wants nuclear energy, the U.S. is killing Shiites in a neighboring country, etc. Obama flies back to the U.S. and makes a beautiful and exhaustive speech about the long and troubled history of U.S.-Iran relations. He disagrees with many things the Iranian president has said, but he can no sooner sever ties with him than he could refuse to engage with the Israeli government that continues to allow the building of settlements in occupied Palestine.

The speech is an international hit, a landmark moment in geopolitical candor. Emboldened and under the protective umbrella of world sympathy, Ahmadinejad and the mullahs ratchet up the hegemonic machinery and the Armageddon talk. Within a year they brazenly test their first nuke. Obama makes a shorter, slightly less beautiful speech about the hurdles of diplomacy, Iran is off the hook, and the next proto-nuclear state gets to work.

In the Wright affair we see a microcosmic portrayal of America’s president in the role of world dupe. The most worrisome thing about the whole episode is not that Obama may share Wright’s bizarre convictions. It’s that the code of modern liberalism has allowed someone a calendar page away from being the Democratic presidential nominee to be thoroughly manipulated by a third-rate huckster.

You have to give Barack Obama credit for one thing. He practices what he preaches. He has said he wants America to engage in unqualified talks with her enemies. Can there now be any doubt that Jeremiah Wright, the man Barack Obama has been talking to for twenty years, is his enemy?

At yesterday’s National Press Club event, the spiritual mentor whom Obama refused to renounce unleashed a stream of ugly paranoia that could only do damage to Obama’s bid for the presidency. What we’re seeing play out are the disastrous results of Obama’s group-hug diplomacy when applied to the realm of the interpersonal.

In February, Obama said, “If we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time.” But friendship is a privilege and does have to be earned. Obama’s very problem is that, because he’s extended his unqualified friendship to a vitriolic kook like Wright, people are finding it hard to see how he “stands above” his ex-pastor. If Obama is truly such a fan of equivalence, he should be thrilled to learn that he’s increasingly seen as being no better than Jeremiah Wright. Parity achieved!

A modern liberal can renounce no one, because everyone’s grievance deserves equal sympathy and every viewpoint is valid. If this is how it works out when Obama has to deal with the self-serving motives of one unhinged man, consider the implications when this policy is applied globally. Obama sits down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he’s already said he hopes to do. He listens to the Iranian president’s “valid” points: Israel has the bomb, Iran just wants nuclear energy, the U.S. is killing Shiites in a neighboring country, etc. Obama flies back to the U.S. and makes a beautiful and exhaustive speech about the long and troubled history of U.S.-Iran relations. He disagrees with many things the Iranian president has said, but he can no sooner sever ties with him than he could refuse to engage with the Israeli government that continues to allow the building of settlements in occupied Palestine.

The speech is an international hit, a landmark moment in geopolitical candor. Emboldened and under the protective umbrella of world sympathy, Ahmadinejad and the mullahs ratchet up the hegemonic machinery and the Armageddon talk. Within a year they brazenly test their first nuke. Obama makes a shorter, slightly less beautiful speech about the hurdles of diplomacy, Iran is off the hook, and the next proto-nuclear state gets to work.

In the Wright affair we see a microcosmic portrayal of America’s president in the role of world dupe. The most worrisome thing about the whole episode is not that Obama may share Wright’s bizarre convictions. It’s that the code of modern liberalism has allowed someone a calendar page away from being the Democratic presidential nominee to be thoroughly manipulated by a third-rate huckster.

Read Less




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