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.
Posts For: April 30, 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”