Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2, 2008

All That In Fifteen Months?

In the joint interview with her husband on the Today show on Thursday, Michelle Obama had this to say:

The fundamental changes that he has made in just 15 months in the way people see themselves, the way people see their futures, the way young people are looking at their possibilities, the way we’re talking about politics, even though we slip sometimes and we still get pulled down into the old ways of playing the political game — changes have happened. And it makes every challenge, every frustration, worth it.

I must say, even for the Obamas, the arrogance is quite striking. Has his mere presence on the scene transformed the way people “see themselves”? Tony Robbins doesn’t get results like this. I haven’t noticed school achievement records soaring, divorces plummeting, addiction rates declining, teen pregnancy and drop-out rates abating, crime disappearing, or any other sign that we have transformed our culture or ourselves through the experience of Obamamania. We’ve seen a lot of enthusiastic young people at rallies and some impressive voter registration numbers, but let’s be honest: that’s not much in the grand scheme of things.

This type of talk suggests several things: the predilection to mistake feelings for concrete accomplishment, an absurd faith in the ability of untested political figures to effect serious social and personal change in a large, diverse population, and a jaw-dropping arrogance about Obama’s “accomplishments.” Heck, if you believe Michelle, he’s already done more than many two-term Presidents.

But aren’t all politicians allowed a little hyperbolic? Yes. But from the viewpoint of someone who’s never been proud of her country before now, this suggests that she, and likely he, actually buy into this notion of Obama’s greatness. That’s a remarkable (and perhaps troubling) dose of self-regard for a potential future President. And perhaps if they sounded less grandiose, they would not have the problem of debunking a “caricature” of themselves they don’t recognize.

In the joint interview with her husband on the Today show on Thursday, Michelle Obama had this to say:

The fundamental changes that he has made in just 15 months in the way people see themselves, the way people see their futures, the way young people are looking at their possibilities, the way we’re talking about politics, even though we slip sometimes and we still get pulled down into the old ways of playing the political game — changes have happened. And it makes every challenge, every frustration, worth it.

I must say, even for the Obamas, the arrogance is quite striking. Has his mere presence on the scene transformed the way people “see themselves”? Tony Robbins doesn’t get results like this. I haven’t noticed school achievement records soaring, divorces plummeting, addiction rates declining, teen pregnancy and drop-out rates abating, crime disappearing, or any other sign that we have transformed our culture or ourselves through the experience of Obamamania. We’ve seen a lot of enthusiastic young people at rallies and some impressive voter registration numbers, but let’s be honest: that’s not much in the grand scheme of things.

This type of talk suggests several things: the predilection to mistake feelings for concrete accomplishment, an absurd faith in the ability of untested political figures to effect serious social and personal change in a large, diverse population, and a jaw-dropping arrogance about Obama’s “accomplishments.” Heck, if you believe Michelle, he’s already done more than many two-term Presidents.

But aren’t all politicians allowed a little hyperbolic? Yes. But from the viewpoint of someone who’s never been proud of her country before now, this suggests that she, and likely he, actually buy into this notion of Obama’s greatness. That’s a remarkable (and perhaps troubling) dose of self-regard for a potential future President. And perhaps if they sounded less grandiose, they would not have the problem of debunking a “caricature” of themselves they don’t recognize.

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Socialism on the March

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

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Imbibing

In this post about how Barack Obama’s disposition plays out on national security and economic issues, I quibbled with Chris Matthew’s interpretation of Obama’s declining a cup of coffee in a diner. Andrew Sullivan linked to the piece and trenchantly exposed beverage choice as a less-than-critical campaign issue.

I agree, of course. Which is why the declined coffee (and the preferred juice) were mentioned only as an introductory launching point and the overwhelming majority of the post focused on Obama’s judgment in vital areas such as foreign policy, taxes, and crisis management.

But does Andrew Sullivan think beverage-talk is off limits for all candidates or only for his candidate? A few weeks back, when Hillary Clinton accepted a shot of whiskey in a Pennsylvania bar, Andrew cited the “cross-eyed boozing on a Saturday night” as evidence that “[h]er campaign has become worse than even I expected”.

If Hillary’s whiskey is fair game and Obama’s juice isn’t, then surely it’s permissible to write about Andrew’s Kool-Aid.

In this post about how Barack Obama’s disposition plays out on national security and economic issues, I quibbled with Chris Matthew’s interpretation of Obama’s declining a cup of coffee in a diner. Andrew Sullivan linked to the piece and trenchantly exposed beverage choice as a less-than-critical campaign issue.

I agree, of course. Which is why the declined coffee (and the preferred juice) were mentioned only as an introductory launching point and the overwhelming majority of the post focused on Obama’s judgment in vital areas such as foreign policy, taxes, and crisis management.

But does Andrew Sullivan think beverage-talk is off limits for all candidates or only for his candidate? A few weeks back, when Hillary Clinton accepted a shot of whiskey in a Pennsylvania bar, Andrew cited the “cross-eyed boozing on a Saturday night” as evidence that “[h]er campaign has become worse than even I expected”.

If Hillary’s whiskey is fair game and Obama’s juice isn’t, then surely it’s permissible to write about Andrew’s Kool-Aid.

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Fantasy Candidate

In the face of considerable evidence that Barack Obama is a strangely passive, remote, and rather wimpy candidate, some have taken to fantasizing about what he “wishes he could say.” Wouldn’t it be great if he went after all of the Clintons’ sleazy associations like Marc Rich and Norman Hsu? Wouldn’t it be fun if he mentioned up her failed healthcare plan? Oh, and it would be great to see him say she is killing the Democrats’ chances by staying in the race, wouldn’t it?

Well, there are a couple of problems with all this. First, Obama does not express anger or fiery indignation over much of anything. His “cool” routine has gotten him through some testy debates, but it also leaves people wondering how deeply he cares about matters large and small. His rather odd interview with Meredith Viera yesterday suggested that he was vaguely irritated with the whole campaign and maybe resigned to the fact that his “improbable” campaign might in the end falter. So there’s about as much chance of him going after Clinton in personal terms (and sounding like he really means it) as there is of Michelle declaring she’s been a fool not to realize her good fortune to live in the freest country in the world. Not going to happen.

More importantly, the entire narrative of Obama’s camapign is that he is above all that. He’s not going to get “distracted” by petty politics. He’s the leader of the new politics, where elections are decided on sweeping appeals to our better selves, and who you are, what you’ve done, and who you associate with are all “irrelevant.” (This fits nicely, doesn’t it, with someone who lacks an impressive résumé and has a bizarre collection of radical associations?)

So hoping that Obama becomes a tougher, more aggressive, and perhaps more effective candidate is a good way to pass the time. But can he do it? No, he can’t.

In the face of considerable evidence that Barack Obama is a strangely passive, remote, and rather wimpy candidate, some have taken to fantasizing about what he “wishes he could say.” Wouldn’t it be great if he went after all of the Clintons’ sleazy associations like Marc Rich and Norman Hsu? Wouldn’t it be fun if he mentioned up her failed healthcare plan? Oh, and it would be great to see him say she is killing the Democrats’ chances by staying in the race, wouldn’t it?

Well, there are a couple of problems with all this. First, Obama does not express anger or fiery indignation over much of anything. His “cool” routine has gotten him through some testy debates, but it also leaves people wondering how deeply he cares about matters large and small. His rather odd interview with Meredith Viera yesterday suggested that he was vaguely irritated with the whole campaign and maybe resigned to the fact that his “improbable” campaign might in the end falter. So there’s about as much chance of him going after Clinton in personal terms (and sounding like he really means it) as there is of Michelle declaring she’s been a fool not to realize her good fortune to live in the freest country in the world. Not going to happen.

More importantly, the entire narrative of Obama’s camapign is that he is above all that. He’s not going to get “distracted” by petty politics. He’s the leader of the new politics, where elections are decided on sweeping appeals to our better selves, and who you are, what you’ve done, and who you associate with are all “irrelevant.” (This fits nicely, doesn’t it, with someone who lacks an impressive résumé and has a bizarre collection of radical associations?)

So hoping that Obama becomes a tougher, more aggressive, and perhaps more effective candidate is a good way to pass the time. But can he do it? No, he can’t.

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Bookshelf

• One of the many sins for which the baby boomers must someday answer is the extent to which their chronic self-absorption has devalued the memoir as a literary genre. Fortunately, it is still possible to write a good book about an unhappy childhood, and Alyse Myers has done just that with Who Do You Think You Are? (Touchstone, 250 pp., $24).

Part of what is so paradoxically interesting about Myers’ book is that it contains none of the can-you-top-this horror stories (many of which later prove to be fictionalized) that are the stock-in-trade of so many contemporary memoirists. Nor does she write of her youthful sorrows with the chop-licking lasciviousness that is no less endemic to the genre. Her story is simple and straightforward, and she tells it with the laconic, unadorned directness of a hurt child. Born into a working-class family of Jews from Queens who failed to make the economic grade, Myers knew the quotidian heartbreak of being raised by a hard-hearted, seemingly loveless mother and a disillusioned father who had withdrawn his affections from his spouse to seek romantic consolation elsewhere. He died of cancer when Myers was eleven, leaving her in the hands of a now-single parent whose coldness was as puzzling as it was painful.

It is, in short, the old, old story, only ennobled by Myers’ transparent style and given further value by the fact that Who Do You Think You Are? is as much a tale of upward mobility as it is a chronicle of disorder and early sorrow. Such tales are growing less and less common in literary America–most of our writers, it seems, now come from comfortable backgrounds and board the new-class escalator in elementary school–which makes it all the more profitable to read about the way things used to be not so very long ago:

I counted the days until my eighteenth birthday, when I would legally be able to move out and rent my own apartment. And the more I traveled away from her, from her apartment, from her life and into Manhattan-to go to high school, to go to museums, to explore the streets and neighborhoods-the more confident I became and the more I felt I deserved everything my mother thought was out of her league.

That last phrase, it seems to me, is the key to understanding Myers’ mother: she had gone as far as she thought she could go, landing a dull job as a switchboard operator at a girdle factory, and her daughter’s modest ambitions filled her with a volatile mixture of fear and resentment. Not until her daughter had a daughter did Myers mère find it possible to express a kind of love for her own child, and not until she died did Alyse Myers make a discovery that helped her to understand the source of her mother’s angry disappointment. Again, there is nothing especially unusual about all this–Tolstoy was wrong about the alleged variety in the lives of unhappy families–but the art of a memoir is in the telling, not what is told, and the unselfconscious simplicity with which Myers tells her tale conceals no small amount of artfulness.

• By a fortunate coincidence, I read Who Do You Think You Are? immediately after finishing Jeanne Safer’s Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life-For The Better (Basic Books, 227 pp., $25). The author is a New York-based psychotherapist who already has three exceedingly readable books under her belt, and this one, like its predecessors, is both sensible and thought-provoking. Don’t be thrown by the honest but macabre-sounding subtitle: Dr. Safer has brought off the hard task of casting a cold eye on the feelings of relief that so often follow upon losing a parent in one’s own adulthood, acknowledging that “the death of a parent-any parent-can set us free” and offering practical suggestions for acting on that insight. I don’t usually go in for self-help books, but Death Benefits is an exception.

• One of the many sins for which the baby boomers must someday answer is the extent to which their chronic self-absorption has devalued the memoir as a literary genre. Fortunately, it is still possible to write a good book about an unhappy childhood, and Alyse Myers has done just that with Who Do You Think You Are? (Touchstone, 250 pp., $24).

Part of what is so paradoxically interesting about Myers’ book is that it contains none of the can-you-top-this horror stories (many of which later prove to be fictionalized) that are the stock-in-trade of so many contemporary memoirists. Nor does she write of her youthful sorrows with the chop-licking lasciviousness that is no less endemic to the genre. Her story is simple and straightforward, and she tells it with the laconic, unadorned directness of a hurt child. Born into a working-class family of Jews from Queens who failed to make the economic grade, Myers knew the quotidian heartbreak of being raised by a hard-hearted, seemingly loveless mother and a disillusioned father who had withdrawn his affections from his spouse to seek romantic consolation elsewhere. He died of cancer when Myers was eleven, leaving her in the hands of a now-single parent whose coldness was as puzzling as it was painful.

It is, in short, the old, old story, only ennobled by Myers’ transparent style and given further value by the fact that Who Do You Think You Are? is as much a tale of upward mobility as it is a chronicle of disorder and early sorrow. Such tales are growing less and less common in literary America–most of our writers, it seems, now come from comfortable backgrounds and board the new-class escalator in elementary school–which makes it all the more profitable to read about the way things used to be not so very long ago:

I counted the days until my eighteenth birthday, when I would legally be able to move out and rent my own apartment. And the more I traveled away from her, from her apartment, from her life and into Manhattan-to go to high school, to go to museums, to explore the streets and neighborhoods-the more confident I became and the more I felt I deserved everything my mother thought was out of her league.

That last phrase, it seems to me, is the key to understanding Myers’ mother: she had gone as far as she thought she could go, landing a dull job as a switchboard operator at a girdle factory, and her daughter’s modest ambitions filled her with a volatile mixture of fear and resentment. Not until her daughter had a daughter did Myers mère find it possible to express a kind of love for her own child, and not until she died did Alyse Myers make a discovery that helped her to understand the source of her mother’s angry disappointment. Again, there is nothing especially unusual about all this–Tolstoy was wrong about the alleged variety in the lives of unhappy families–but the art of a memoir is in the telling, not what is told, and the unselfconscious simplicity with which Myers tells her tale conceals no small amount of artfulness.

• By a fortunate coincidence, I read Who Do You Think You Are? immediately after finishing Jeanne Safer’s Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life-For The Better (Basic Books, 227 pp., $25). The author is a New York-based psychotherapist who already has three exceedingly readable books under her belt, and this one, like its predecessors, is both sensible and thought-provoking. Don’t be thrown by the honest but macabre-sounding subtitle: Dr. Safer has brought off the hard task of casting a cold eye on the feelings of relief that so often follow upon losing a parent in one’s own adulthood, acknowledging that “the death of a parent-any parent-can set us free” and offering practical suggestions for acting on that insight. I don’t usually go in for self-help books, but Death Benefits is an exception.

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Hillary’s Iraq

It’s important to consider Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on Iraq in the larger context of her Iraq rhetoric over the past five years. There’s a widely held contention among Republicans that, while Hillary may be disastrous on any number of issues, she understands what’s at stake in America’s fight against terrorism. All her withdrawal talk, so this theory goes, is nothing but an attempt to pander to Democratic voters. Compared to Barack Obama, Hillary “at least” knows that we need to fight.

But is Hillary genuinely against pressing on in Iraq or is she privately for it? The biggest challenge in answering this comes from the premise of the question itself. It assumes Hillary has a conviction about the war one way or the other. From her statements about Iraq, it’s plain as day she’s merely trying to negotiate the shifting waves of public opinion–not to act in accordance with principle.

Before Hillary signed on to the “George Bush’s war” movement, she was among the most outspoken proponents of forceful regime change in Iraq. The public support for the war was overwhelming, and Hillary wasn’t about to stand in opposition.

Hillary often talks about how her vote to support the war was the hardest decision she’s ever had to make. But in truth she didn’t even read the 2003 NIE (suspect as it was) challenging the administration’s assertions about Saddam and WMD. In the run-up to the war Hillary said

It is clear . . . that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.

And on Iraq’s terrorist ties: “Saddam has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

When public opinion started to sour, Hillary dutifully followed. She started her (still-ongoing) campaign of double-talk meant to court public favor while leaving open the possibility of attaching herself to a future victory in Iraq. In late 2005, she said that we couldn’t withdraw immediately and we couldn’t stay forever. Not exactly the conviction of two years earlier. In time, that fifty-fifty split tipped with the further decline in public support for Iraq, so that by June of 2007 the whole bloody mess was “George Bush’s war.”

But just as she had decided that a full disowning of the war was in order, it became clear that the troop surge started to show some real results. Moreover, there was a correlative renewal of public confidence, and Hillary had to respond. In one of her most ridiculous attempts to walk back in from the ledge, she declared in August of 2007:

It’s working. We’re just years too late in our tactics . . . We can’t be fighting the last war. We have to keep preparing to fight the new war. . . I think the best way of honoring [U.S. troops'] service is bringing them home.

So, we’re winning–but the timing is off. And it was: Hillary’s renunciation was to supposed to coincide with defeat. The preposterous disconnect between her rhetoric and reality grew out of the fact that Hillary was reading trends, while the military had been trying to beat the enemy.

Now, the surge has not only continued to root out and kill the enemies of a free Iraq, but genuine political progress is being made. Still murky on how this will play out in the court of public opinion, Hillary wants to have it both ways. Last night, in her interview with Bill O’Reilly, she said

I believe that our military has fulfilled all their military missions . . .There’s no doubt in my mind. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, which they were asked to do. They gave the Iraqis free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the space and time to make the decisions that only the Iraqis can make for themselves . . . There is no military solution to what we face in Iraq, which is unprecedented. It is dangerous, it is unstable.

Mission, umm, fulfilled? This is more rhetorical sleight-of-hand intended to gloss over the chasm between what is really happening in Iraq and what Hillary thinks she needs to claim is happening. In this last move, Hillary has gone from saying “we can win, but why bother,” to “we have won, but so what?” There is nothing reassuring about her failed articulations on Iraq. She doesn’t believe in the war and she doesn’t not believe in the war. She practices a weather-vane national security approach. “At least” Obama is for troop withdrawal. He’s wrong. But he’s made a decision.

It’s important to consider Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on Iraq in the larger context of her Iraq rhetoric over the past five years. There’s a widely held contention among Republicans that, while Hillary may be disastrous on any number of issues, she understands what’s at stake in America’s fight against terrorism. All her withdrawal talk, so this theory goes, is nothing but an attempt to pander to Democratic voters. Compared to Barack Obama, Hillary “at least” knows that we need to fight.

But is Hillary genuinely against pressing on in Iraq or is she privately for it? The biggest challenge in answering this comes from the premise of the question itself. It assumes Hillary has a conviction about the war one way or the other. From her statements about Iraq, it’s plain as day she’s merely trying to negotiate the shifting waves of public opinion–not to act in accordance with principle.

Before Hillary signed on to the “George Bush’s war” movement, she was among the most outspoken proponents of forceful regime change in Iraq. The public support for the war was overwhelming, and Hillary wasn’t about to stand in opposition.

Hillary often talks about how her vote to support the war was the hardest decision she’s ever had to make. But in truth she didn’t even read the 2003 NIE (suspect as it was) challenging the administration’s assertions about Saddam and WMD. In the run-up to the war Hillary said

It is clear . . . that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.

And on Iraq’s terrorist ties: “Saddam has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

When public opinion started to sour, Hillary dutifully followed. She started her (still-ongoing) campaign of double-talk meant to court public favor while leaving open the possibility of attaching herself to a future victory in Iraq. In late 2005, she said that we couldn’t withdraw immediately and we couldn’t stay forever. Not exactly the conviction of two years earlier. In time, that fifty-fifty split tipped with the further decline in public support for Iraq, so that by June of 2007 the whole bloody mess was “George Bush’s war.”

But just as she had decided that a full disowning of the war was in order, it became clear that the troop surge started to show some real results. Moreover, there was a correlative renewal of public confidence, and Hillary had to respond. In one of her most ridiculous attempts to walk back in from the ledge, she declared in August of 2007:

It’s working. We’re just years too late in our tactics . . . We can’t be fighting the last war. We have to keep preparing to fight the new war. . . I think the best way of honoring [U.S. troops'] service is bringing them home.

So, we’re winning–but the timing is off. And it was: Hillary’s renunciation was to supposed to coincide with defeat. The preposterous disconnect between her rhetoric and reality grew out of the fact that Hillary was reading trends, while the military had been trying to beat the enemy.

Now, the surge has not only continued to root out and kill the enemies of a free Iraq, but genuine political progress is being made. Still murky on how this will play out in the court of public opinion, Hillary wants to have it both ways. Last night, in her interview with Bill O’Reilly, she said

I believe that our military has fulfilled all their military missions . . .There’s no doubt in my mind. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, which they were asked to do. They gave the Iraqis free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the space and time to make the decisions that only the Iraqis can make for themselves . . . There is no military solution to what we face in Iraq, which is unprecedented. It is dangerous, it is unstable.

Mission, umm, fulfilled? This is more rhetorical sleight-of-hand intended to gloss over the chasm between what is really happening in Iraq and what Hillary thinks she needs to claim is happening. In this last move, Hillary has gone from saying “we can win, but why bother,” to “we have won, but so what?” There is nothing reassuring about her failed articulations on Iraq. She doesn’t believe in the war and she doesn’t not believe in the war. She practices a weather-vane national security approach. “At least” Obama is for troop withdrawal. He’s wrong. But he’s made a decision.

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The World’s Smallest Violin

If you’re like me, you probably don’t see enough of Arianna Huffington. Or hear her voice as much as you’d like. Even with her website, her (semi-annual, clip-job) books, and her near-hourly appearances on radio talk shows and television gabfests, I’ve come to realize that I don’t get enough histrionic screeching in my life, and the only prescription is more Arianna Huffington.

And so it was with disappointment and shock that I read in Keith Kelly’s New York Post column the allegation that NBC and MSNBC have banned Arianna from appearing on air because she criticizes Tim Russert in her new book and at the HuffPo. (Kelly attributes the item to “sources.” Hmmmm. Any guesses as to who those “sources” were? ) Apparently, this awful news was delivered to Arianna while she dined with–who else?–Barbara Walters.

Arianna needn’t worry. She looks pretty busy this month. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t see enough of Arianna Huffington. Or hear her voice as much as you’d like. Even with her website, her (semi-annual, clip-job) books, and her near-hourly appearances on radio talk shows and television gabfests, I’ve come to realize that I don’t get enough histrionic screeching in my life, and the only prescription is more Arianna Huffington.

And so it was with disappointment and shock that I read in Keith Kelly’s New York Post column the allegation that NBC and MSNBC have banned Arianna from appearing on air because she criticizes Tim Russert in her new book and at the HuffPo. (Kelly attributes the item to “sources.” Hmmmm. Any guesses as to who those “sources” were? ) Apparently, this awful news was delivered to Arianna while she dined with–who else?–Barbara Walters.

Arianna needn’t worry. She looks pretty busy this month. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

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A Key Endorsement

Hillary Clinton snags the endorsement of perhaps the most important Indiana paper, the Indianapolis Star. In an endorsement which is quite useful in spelling out the candidates’ fundamental differences (and mutual problems), two points stand out.

First, the editors write “Clinton offers a clear-eyed view of the way things are.” That is not a bad encapsulation of the difference between her and her opponent. She does believe that there are bad guys in the world impervious to our charms, that politics is a tough and conflict-ridden business, that $75,000 isn’t “rich” if you live in expensive places, and that sometimes it’s best not to be specific about intractable problems (e.g. social security) which in the end are going to get decided by hard bargaining at midnight in a conference room in the Capitol.

This may seem cynical or pedestrian to some, or lack high-mindedness or “vision.” But it is grounded in reality. Perhaps it’s the difference between a battle-worn political animal and a neophyte who is brash enough to say he can change an entire political culture. If Democrats want the former (or at least think their agenda will get further along with the former) then Clinton’s their candidate. If they are think a transformation is possible, then Obama’s their man. (Is it any wonder older voters who have been in the world for awhile like her, while idealistic college kids unscarred by the real world love him?)

Second, the Star praises her “nuance.” That got me thinking as to whether, despite all the rhetoric and fluff, she is actually the candidate more amenable to compromise and reasoned resolutions of sticky problems. Certainly, there’s not much nuance in suing OPEC or mandated health care. And Obama’s rhetorical nods to bipartisanship sound like he’s open to compromise. But there are glimmers now and then suggesting she at least understands that disparate factions and viewpoints must be addressed to deal with issues the public cares about. Her stance on immigration (let illegal aliens report crimes without retribution, imprison or deport those who are criminals, build a fence where needed and deal rationally with 12 million people here) is a case in point. She also knows better than to promise to “throw out all the lobbyists” and “get rid of special interests.”

So, without weighing in on the wisdom of their choice, I think the Star’s conclusion on this particular point is well taken: the nuanced one is not the guy spouting grand visions of a remodeled political system.

Hillary Clinton snags the endorsement of perhaps the most important Indiana paper, the Indianapolis Star. In an endorsement which is quite useful in spelling out the candidates’ fundamental differences (and mutual problems), two points stand out.

First, the editors write “Clinton offers a clear-eyed view of the way things are.” That is not a bad encapsulation of the difference between her and her opponent. She does believe that there are bad guys in the world impervious to our charms, that politics is a tough and conflict-ridden business, that $75,000 isn’t “rich” if you live in expensive places, and that sometimes it’s best not to be specific about intractable problems (e.g. social security) which in the end are going to get decided by hard bargaining at midnight in a conference room in the Capitol.

This may seem cynical or pedestrian to some, or lack high-mindedness or “vision.” But it is grounded in reality. Perhaps it’s the difference between a battle-worn political animal and a neophyte who is brash enough to say he can change an entire political culture. If Democrats want the former (or at least think their agenda will get further along with the former) then Clinton’s their candidate. If they are think a transformation is possible, then Obama’s their man. (Is it any wonder older voters who have been in the world for awhile like her, while idealistic college kids unscarred by the real world love him?)

Second, the Star praises her “nuance.” That got me thinking as to whether, despite all the rhetoric and fluff, she is actually the candidate more amenable to compromise and reasoned resolutions of sticky problems. Certainly, there’s not much nuance in suing OPEC or mandated health care. And Obama’s rhetorical nods to bipartisanship sound like he’s open to compromise. But there are glimmers now and then suggesting she at least understands that disparate factions and viewpoints must be addressed to deal with issues the public cares about. Her stance on immigration (let illegal aliens report crimes without retribution, imprison or deport those who are criminals, build a fence where needed and deal rationally with 12 million people here) is a case in point. She also knows better than to promise to “throw out all the lobbyists” and “get rid of special interests.”

So, without weighing in on the wisdom of their choice, I think the Star’s conclusion on this particular point is well taken: the nuanced one is not the guy spouting grand visions of a remodeled political system.

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Close Gitmo, Open the National Security Court

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

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Bigot Bowl

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

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Still Apologizing?

Barack Obama’s greatest cheerleader writes:

“Wright is doubtless a complex figure: you cannot deny his theological depth, his intellectual gifts, his service in the Marines, his contribution to his community. But he is also clearly an ego-maniac, as some preachers often are. And he has succumbed to bitterness, envy, paranoia and racial polarization.”

I beg to differ! I certainly can deny his theological depth and intellectual gifts. Even a cursory read through his sermons, his National Press Club tirade, and his NAACP speech should remove any doubt. Wright’s assertions that AIDS was created to destroy African-Americans, that Israel has created an ethnic bomb, that African-American brains are wired differently to be more musical, and that Israel is a “dirty word” show that he is not theologically deep but a crank. Even Obama now says:

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS; when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century; when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

So if Obama can now admit Wright is spouting “a bunch of rants that aren’t grounded in truth,” isn’t it time for Obama apologists to stop making excuses? But that would be to admit that their candidate had been an atrocious judge of intellect and character.

Barack Obama’s greatest cheerleader writes:

“Wright is doubtless a complex figure: you cannot deny his theological depth, his intellectual gifts, his service in the Marines, his contribution to his community. But he is also clearly an ego-maniac, as some preachers often are. And he has succumbed to bitterness, envy, paranoia and racial polarization.”

I beg to differ! I certainly can deny his theological depth and intellectual gifts. Even a cursory read through his sermons, his National Press Club tirade, and his NAACP speech should remove any doubt. Wright’s assertions that AIDS was created to destroy African-Americans, that Israel has created an ethnic bomb, that African-American brains are wired differently to be more musical, and that Israel is a “dirty word” show that he is not theologically deep but a crank. Even Obama now says:

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS; when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century; when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

So if Obama can now admit Wright is spouting “a bunch of rants that aren’t grounded in truth,” isn’t it time for Obama apologists to stop making excuses? But that would be to admit that their candidate had been an atrocious judge of intellect and character.

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