All day Friday we saw the Jamie Rubin accusation — that John McCain previously supported direct talks with Hamas — play out in all the major news outlets. By day’s end the McCain camp had unearthered the entire interview in question showing McCain didn’t support unconditional talks with Hamas. In particular, McCain commented on how he believed the U.S. should treat the then-newly elected Hamas government:
I think the US should take a step back and see what they do when they form the government, see what their policies are and see the ways in which we can engage with them and if there aren’t any then there may be a hiatus but I think part of the relationship will be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the US acts.”
Jamie Rubin cries smear in Huffington Post –but reprints the above-quote, which doesn’t help his position at all. Indeed it bolsters McCain’s position that he has always believed that any engagement of Hamas depended on its behavior. CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Ben Smith of Politico say “whoops,” acknowledging the McCain team has made its point. What will the rest of the mainstream media do?
Could the key to a Democratic victory in November be found south of the Mason-Dixon line? The New York Times suggests so. Touting a surge in black turnout for Barack Obama, The Times points to Tuesday’s special election in Mississippi’s 1st District, where Democrat Travis Childers won a seat that had been held by Republicans since 1995, despite efforts to tie him to Obama. According to The Times, turnout in black precincts rose-in one case doubling-while voting dropped by nearly half in nearby white districts.
But blacks already represent a larger share of voters than their proportion of the population in some key states in the South, which has not helped Democrats much to date. In 2004, blacks in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina made up a bigger share of the electorate than they did the population eligible to vote, but those states went comfortably to George Bush.
The Times seems to miss the point that primary turnout isn’t a good predictor of what will happen in the fall. Democrats almost always hold an advantage in primary turnout over Republicans, but in only two of the last nine presidential elections where Democratic primary turnout exceeded that of Republicans did the Democrat actually win. As for the surge in black registration and turnout, we’ve been seeing a steady trend in this direction for years, but blacks still lag behind whites in voter turnout overall. A Black Southern Strategy won’t solve the Democrats’ major problem, which is their inability to attract enough white voters, especially working class white men, who have shown little affinity for Obama.
You can read the latest outburst from Barack Obama on the Hamas/Iran issue. It has all the markings of the New Politics we have come to expect from Obama. First, as he did in the “100 days” issue, he takes McCain’s words out of context. (This makes it clear that Jamie Rubin took McCain’s comments out of context and that McCain explicitly opposed dealing with Hamas until they renounced terrorism.) Second, any criticism of his own positions is per se intolerable, out of bounds, outrageous, etc. Third, he never addresses the specific issues. What was wrong with President Bush’s comments? Why shouldn’t voters be concerned about his promise to meet with rogue state leaders? What’s the difference between his desire to meet with Ahmejinedad and Jimmy Carter’s outreach to Hamas?
The McCain camp labeled Obama’s remarks a “hysterical diatribe” and repeated the basic facts:
Senator Obama has pledged to unconditionally meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who pledges to wipe Israel off the map, denies the Holocaust, sponsors terrorists, arms America’s enemies in Iraq and pursues nuclear weapons. What would Senator Obama talk about with such a man?
Later in the day McCain, speaking at the NRA convention, himself took on Obama:
Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a ‘stinking corpse’ and arms terrorist who kill Americans will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies. But that is not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment, and determination to keep us safe.
We’re not even out of the primary season and already we know that Obama’s campaign strategy will be built on misdirection, feigned outrage, and evasion. I guess the New Politics is exactly like the Old Politics. Plus ça change . . .
David Brooks reports today that, like a lot of other Democrats, Barack Obama has become a born-again believer in the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The Democratic candidate tells Brooks: “I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
This new-found admiration conveniently overlooks some decisions by the elder President Bush that were roundly and correctly criticized at the time by many liberals as well as conservatives: decisions such as the botched aftermath of the Gulf War, which resulted in Shiites and Kurds getting slaughtered after they heeded the President’s call to rise up; the notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech in which he urged Ukrainians to remain part of a dissolving Soviet Union; and the failure to intervene in Bosnia.
Instead, Obama focuses on a couple of the high points of the Bush presidency, even though the elder Bush’s realpolitik doctrine was as responsible for his failures as for his successes. But even taking Obama’s compliments at face value, how likely is it that he could or would replicate such achievements?
Although everyone supported Operation Desert Storm after its success became evident, it was a different story when Bush asked Congress to authorize the mission. Even after winning United Nations approval, he had trouble getting a Democrat-dominated Congress to sign off. The vote in favor of the war resolution was 52-47 in the Senate, with 45 Democrats voting nay. Only 10 Democrats voted for the resolution, mostly conservative Southerners. Even such moderates as Sam Nunn opposed the use of force. How likely is it that if Barack Obama-the most liberal member of the Senate last year-had been in the Senate that year that he would have voted for the resolution?
As for the other Bush administration achievement that he cites-”their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall”-that was made possible by the long personal experience and contacts built up by the President over the course of many years on the international stage as an ambassador to China and the UN, CIA director, and vice president. That allowed Bush to conduct adroit diplomacy with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders. Obama has almost no experience in international affairs beyond having lived in Indonesia as a child; certainly he has never held a job in any field related to foreign affairs before entering the Senate three years ago. Granted, he is charming and charismatic. But what are the odds that he can replicate the kind of skilled diplomacy pursued by an old hand like George H.W. Bush?
The more likely comparison is not to Bush but to two previous Democratic nominees who had no experience in foreign policy before entering the White House: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In both cases they learned on the job and gradually improved, but the world paid a high price for their stumbles from Iran (Carter) to Somalia (Clinton).
James, the case before the California Supreme Court was not about other failed attempts by the legislature to legalize gay marriage or about comments by the governor that he would not oppose such measures. The Court had before it a specific statute, the best the elected branches could come up with on the topic. The Court decided they had a better idea, one which the elected branches could not collectively manage to reach. This is the slippery slope of judicial activism that concerns many legal conservatives.
As for John McCain, his aversion to talking about social issues (which some may welcome but social conservatives generally abhor) will certainly ensure that this issue won’t be demagogued on the merits (i.e. marriage). I do think, however, that he is likely to make a broader point, one that appeals not just to conservatives: controversial cultural issues are best not decided by courts.
After yesterday’s magnificent performance in front of the Knesset assailing “the false comfort of appeasement,” President Bush is in Saudi Arabia today to appease an Arab autocrat. Over tea, during meals, at a horse farm, our leader is humbling the United States.
He’s nominally there to celebrate 75 years of relations between Washington and Riyadh, but the real topic is the price of oil, which jumped more than three dollars today to hit a record high of $127.82 a barrel. For the second time this year, Bush has made a trip to the Saudi kingdom, which possesses the world’s largest reserves of this commodity, to ask King Abdullah to pump more of it. For the second time this year the monarch will politely refuse.
That does not mean that the Saudi will not take the offerings Bush has carried with him. The Kingdom will gladly accept American assistance to build a civilian nuclear energy program for the House of Saud, but this is not nearly sufficient to overcome its overwhelming interest in charging as high a price for oil as international markets will bear.
As we have seen, there is a high correlation between the possession of oil and authoritarianism. And at least for the foreseeable future, global economic development will only drive hydrocarbon prices higher. That means, if the world continues along its present course, democracies will become beholden to dictatorships, as today’s meeting in Riyadh suggests. If we want to avoid the spectacle of another president going hat in hand to Saudi Arabia–or worse, Russia, Venezuela, or Iran–then we have only one real option. We will, in short, need to further develop our own energy resources. We don’t need to achieve complete energy independence; we just need to do enough to affect prices at the margin.
So let’s be realistic. Appeasing oil producers, especially those who stand behind the OPEC cartel, is a dead end. The President can go to Riyadh seven more times before his term is out, and he still will not be able to convince the Saudis to drop prices. The solution to the energy crisis is within our own borders–and not in some horse farm in the middle of a faraway desert.
Ed Gillespie, adviser to the President, had this to say at a press gaggle today:
We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because it’s kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the President’s remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past relative to dealing with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda; relative to standing by Israel; relative to concerns about Iran developing the prospect of a nuclear weapon. And so there was really nothing new in the speech that anyone could point to that would indicate that. . . .
I would again encourage the media, whatever you want to do, it’s your editors — to ask them if maybe you might ask the Speaker of the House, or the leader of the Senate, or the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what sentence that the President uttered, what words do you disagree with in those comments in the Knesset?
I agree: what precisely was wrong with what Bush said? Bush has been saying these “unprecedented” things about the perils of appeasement for years. So why did Obama get so upset? The Republican Jewish Coalition has an idea:
Why, when Barack Obama hears the word “appeasement,” does he think it applies to him? Why when it comes to standing with Israel is Barack Obama so defensive? It is Barack Obama’s promise to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that causes great nervousness in the Jewish community.
What’s hard for me to understand here is why Obama would meet with Ahmejinedad, but not Hamas. After all, if you’ll sit down with the don, why not break bread with his hitmen?
With regard to Barack Obama’s chances in Florida, there has been much focus on his problems with Jewish voters. But his stance on Cuba is just as problematic. Florida’s he large Cuban American population voted overwhelmingly in the GOP primary McCain (and arguably made the difference in outcome). Next week both candidates will speak before the Cuban American National Foundation, and Obama (presumably) will have to explain his stance on direct, unconditional talks with Raul Castro.
But that’s not the only Florida community that may have problems with Obama’s foreign policy views. His aversion to the Colombia Free Trade agreement and his willingness to meet with Hugo Chavez unconditionally may not sit well with other Hispanics in Florida (or elsewhere for that matter). With Chavez back in the news and further evidence of his mischief-making emerging, McCain is likely to continue his emphasis on regional security threats. (He has frequently raised these issues when campaigning in Florida.)
This, coupled with Obama’s unrealistic and provocative threat to rip up NAFTA, has given McCain an opening to argue that he, not Obama, would improve relations in our hemisphere. What were popular positions for Obama in Rust Belt states and with left-leaning Democratic primary audiences may turn out to be far less appealing in a general election–and in Florida specifically.
Commenting on Matthew Yglesias’s new book, National Review’s Robert VerBruggen tartly observed, “Unfortunately, Yglesias’s blog has a higher hit-to-miss ratio, and it’s free.” Apparently, most readers agree.
Maybe the Obama-inspired tremor that began in Chris Matthews’ leg has traveled up to his head and done some damage.
Last night on Hardball, Matthews was discussing–what else?–President Bush’s unconscionable Obama attack in the Knesset. The conversation with conservative radio host Kevin James wended round to the career of Neville Chamberlain, and Matthews began to excoriate James for being ignorant of history. Things got very heated, and James fired back, recounting recent historical examples of America’s failure to counter terrorist acts against the U.S. When James mentioned Bill Clinton’s lackadaisical response to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, Matthews’s chimed in:
Wasn’t the USS Cole under Bush? . . . Kevin, when you’re trying to make a historic reference, get it straight.
Of course, the USS Cole was not attacked during George Bush’s presidency, but during Bill Clinton’s. However, the mistake is understandable. While the attack occurred during the Clinton administration, it was under George Bush (in 2002) that the U.S. fired a missile on Yemeni soil and took out the attack’s planner Abu Ali al-Harithi. I’m sure that’s what Matthews was referring to. . .
Jenn, I should make clear that I am a supporter of gay marriage, though, like you, I remain uneasy about attempts to enact it via judicial fiat as opposed to legislative agreement. That said, what I take issue with is your assertion that yesterday’s court decision represented “clever judges” trumping “the will of the elected legislature.” That’s just factually incorrect. “The will of the elected legislature,” after all, has been expressed clearly on two occasions, and the California Supreme Court is in agreement with the state assembly, not “trumping” it.
Of course, this decision does, as you point out, reach above the “constitutional and democratic system in place in California” in that it voids the vetoes of Governor Schwarzenegger. Yet Schwarzenegger, who vetoed both gay marriage bills, has stated (prior to the decision) that not only would he fight any and all attempts to amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage, but that he will “respect” the ruling of the state’s highest court. Frankly, I think it’s clear that Schwarzenegger has no problem with gay marriage, he was just uneasy about being the first Governor in the country to sign it into law. Either way, rhetoric like “judicial activism,” “discovering a right,” and “trumping the will” is misplaced.
Moreover, from an electoral perspective, I don’t think it makes sense for John McCain or the GOP to demagogue this issue. There are far graver problems facing this country than the threat of gay weddings, and using this state-level decision as a national campaign issue could backfire on Republicans and make them look desperate. Fortunately, John McCain realizes this. I’m not so sure the same can be said about the GOP.
Former State Department Spokesman Jamie Rubin (no relation) penned an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he quotes John McCain saying of Hamas: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another. . . ” Many in the mainstream media and the left blogosphere have jumped on this as “evidence” of some great inconsistency in McCain’s views on Hamas.
This is supposed to be a gotcha quote? It doesn’t appear that McCain was saying we should talk to Hamas immediately and without preconditions, or that we should talk directly to their state sponsor Iran (the latter has been the real point of contention of late). It should also be noted that Jamie Rubin was a spokesman for Madeline Albright and a supporter of Hillary Clinton, both whom have excoriated Obama for his position on holding direct, unconditional talks with the leader of Iran and other countries. But what’s a little inconsistency between friends?
Since John McCain’s “2013 speech,” in which he mentioned wanting to have troops home from Iraq within four years, the media is now trying to draw comparisons between McCain’s plan and Obama’s.
Here’s today’s Los Angeles Times:
After launching their candidacies with opposite positions on the Iraq war, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama seem to be edging toward a middle ground between them.
McCain has long denounced timetables for withdrawal, but said for the first time Thursday that he would like to see most U.S. troops out of Iraq by a specific date: 2013.
Obama has emphasized his plan to withdraw all combat brigades within 16 months of taking office, but also has carefully hedged, leaving the option of taking more time — and leaving more troops — if events require.
The positioning is noteworthy because McCain and Obama have made Iraq war policy a core element of their campaigns. But McCain has bowed to the political reality that American impatience with the war is growing, and Obama to the fact that a poorly executed exit would risk damage to other vital U.S. interests.
When McCain spoke of keeping peacetime troops in Iraq after the war, it was seized upon as his plan for a hundred-year battle. Now, when he talks about his hopes for a victorious exit in four years, he’s accused of setting timetables for withdrawal. McCain was very clear on this point yesterday. Answering questions after the speech, he stated that an early exit of troops is predicated on an American victory.
As for Obama, he’s been loath to share the specifics of a comprehensive Iraq plan for a long time. He’s pledged to get troops out of combat within sixteen months, but he talks about leaving “residual” troops behind to protect the American embassy and our diplomats. And he’s equally vague about his plans for a “strike force” to be sent back into Iraq as needed. Of course, this kind of hazy Iraq policy makes it easy to compare Obama to any number of people who have said any number of things about the future of the war.
Even so, drawing parallels between his war plan and John McCain’s is a stretch. But then, the stretch has become the guiding narrative of this election. If President Bush’s denouncement of appeasement is an attack on Obama, then McCain’s stated hopes for victory might as well be a “tilt” toward Obama’s drawdown plan.
Negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear-weapons program are lumbering on, with the United States playing the part of eager suitor and Pyongyang the part of the reluctant bride. This a bizarre state of affairs if one considers the relative power of the two states.
Like his father, the Great Leader, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, has insisted on an economic strategy of autarky. This has perhaps bolstered his rule, insulating the country from foreign influences. But as an approach to well-being — as an approach to even bare self-sufficiency — it has been a complete flop.
The Peterson Institute reports on the food situation:
North Korea is highly dependent on aid. The country has effectively become a ward of the international community, receiving large amounts of food aid year after year.
The willingness of donors to support the regime has declined. In addition to the country’s provocative foreign policy behavior, North Korea has proven unwilling to guarantee the integrity of its aid programs and as a result aid relations have repeatedly been roiled by evidence of diversion of aid to both the military and the market.
The regime has proven unwilling and in the current juncture perhaps also unable to adequately tap commercial sources of supply. Until the last several years, aid has consistently outstripped commercial imports. Now the country is more dependent on commercial imports just as prices are spiraling upwards. Moreover, the country’s lack of creditworthiness and foreign exchange earnings and reserves makes it a highly unreliable partner.
The bottom line: “North Korea is once again headed toward widespread food shortages, hunger, and famine.”
What if any leverage does this give us in the nuclear negotiations? None, it seems. If anything, we are going to have to beg them to let us help them feed themselves, even as we also beg them to give up their nuclear weapons.
James, there is a constitutional and democratic system in place in California, as there is in all states and at the federal level, which generally provides that if the elected branches–i.e., both the legislature and the executive branch–it becomes law. If the two elected branches in California want to legalize gay marriage, I don’t think it’s the court’s job to stop them. Conversely, I don’t think it’s the court’s job to leap in and legalize gay marriage when there has been no consensus from elected policy makers.
There is a clear distinction between legal conservatism and social conservatism. As a strong proponent of the former, I generally think that on controversial cultural matters it is invariably better to avoid court-imposed “solutions.” If the good people of California, either by a statute passed successfully through the legislature and signed by the executive or by constitutional initiative, want to pass a gay marriage bill, you will hear no complaint from me. But stop and think: the result of this decision–a court-imposed decision backed by no popular consensus–may well be a constitutional gay marriage ban. The last thing, in other words, that supporters of the decision want.
Gordon, I think you’re wrong about Thomas Friedman. Despite my massive disagreements with Friedman on other subjects, I do think it’s productive to focus on Iran as our opponent in a new Cold War. (In fact, I advanced a similar thesis over a year ago.)
The bottom line is that Iran is operating on the very same logic that the Soviets did: Expand your country’s power through (a) a totalizing ideology that rejects freedom; (b) massively upgrading your military; (c) fighting proxy wars against America and its allies; (d) technological advancement; (e) justifying the suffering of your people by pointing to the enemy as the real cause–you get the point.
I’m not saying–and neither is Friedman–that Iran can or will ever be a threat of the magnitude that the Soviet Union was, even if it gets nuclear weapons. That’s just silly. What I am saying is that it’s useless to assume that negotiation or appeasement will ever help, and we shouldn’t just wait for Iran to keep accumulating power until it’s stronger and more belligerent.
Given the results in Tuesday’s Mississippi Congressional race, there is plenty of warranted worrying on the part of Republicans about the November Congressional elections. (An agenda might improve the GOP’s chances.) John McCain might have some coattails (or Barack Obama some negative ones) in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida–if everything falls into place just right.
But chances are that there will be an even larger Democratic Congressional majority come next year. One consequence of this very safe projection might be that McCain will start running on that old crowd-pleaser, divided government. The prospect of a large Democratic Congressional majority unchecked by the power of the veto pen and free to pass all types of bills (from tax increases to abolishing secret ballot union elections to immigration reform devoid of border control measures) might make voters think twice about giving Democrats both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And Congress currently has an approval rating even worse President Bush’s. So why not run against the Democratic Congress?
McCain has already done some of this, vowing he will veto any pork-barrel spending the Democratic Congress sends. And as the projected Democratic gains are adjusted upward, McCain might consider making this a significant part of his message. Who is going to slow down Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? If he can get moderate voters to ponder that, he might make some headway.
Jennifer, is it fair to say that yesterday’s California Supreme Court decision represents “clever judges” “trump[ing] the will of the elected legislature?” The California Assembly has twice passed laws that would have extended marriage to gays, in September of 2005 and again in September 2007. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed both bills, yet he has made it clear he will oppose any attempts to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. There are many criticisms one can make of the events that transpired yesterday in California. But I say the “activist courts” line isn’t going to work.
The California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a statutory ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Barack Obama does not favor gay marriage, so he issued a nonresponsive statement saying all sorts of nice things without saying he liked the idea of gay marriage. He was, of course, silent on the notion that clever judges could trump the will of the elected legislature.
John McCain does not favor a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage, so his response was not everything social conservatives would have liked. But he was smart enough to see the real issue here: judicial activism. His campaign released a statement saying: “John McCain supports the right of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution sanctioning the union between a man and a woman, just as he did in his home state of Arizona. John McCain doesn’t believe judges should be making these decisions.”
What does this mean? It means there will be an initiative on the California ballot in November seeking to amend the state constitution and ban gay marriage. Hmmm. Didn’t something similar happen in Ohio in 2004? But before conservatives get too excited about flipping California from Blue to Red, they should keep in mind that California isn’t Ohio.
That said, I still think this matters. Any development connecting activist courts and results that offend social conservative and many independent voters is going to hurt Obama. McCain’s view is that activist judges make bad law and will impose results most Americans don’t like. Obama would rather not have too many specific examples of social policy by judicial fiat and keep the discussion of the courts on a lofty and vague basis.
The conservative base may not be too thrilled with McCain’s talk about global warming or with his emphasis on bipartisanism, but they understand that their goals are threatened by a liberal judiciary. Events like this help McCain calm frayed nerves on the Right and give conservatives a reason to turn out in November. So bottom line: this is bad for Obama and good for McCain.