Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 26, 2008

An Exurban Memorial Day

At ten o’clock this morning, the town of North Salem, New York, held its annual Memorial Day Parade. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion led the way, followed by boy scouts and girl scouts, a fabulous old Packard convertible, the North Salem high school band, the 4-H club, the Ambulance Corps, the Lions Club, and a few other groups.  The fire trucks of the Croton Falls Volunteer Fire Department–each polished to within an inch of its life–took up the rear.

After the parade passed, the few hundred people, children, and dogs watching from the sidelines followed it up the hill to the old high school, where there is a monument to those who fought in the wars of the twentieth century. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited, those in uniform saluting, those not with their hands over their hearts. Several of the younger Boys Scouts–presumably southpaws–saluted left-handed, I noticed, and no one seemed to mind. The band played the Star-Spangled Banner surprisingly well. The commander of the local American Legion spoke briefly, as did the town supervisor and a few others. The names of locals who had fallen in the nation’s wars were read out.

And then it was over. The people walked back down the hill to the town ball field for hot dogs, potato salad, soda, and conversation and then slowly dispersed to go about their business on a perfect early summer day.

I was moved, as I always am, by this unaffected, unostentatious, unself-conscious and quintessentially American holiday celebration. My family has lived in North Salem for ninety years now. The town was deep in the countryside when my grandparents bought a farm here in 1919 to use as a summer place, and it is now on the outer fringes of New York’s suburbs. Many commute daily to the city. But only  about 5000 people live here and it is still very much a small town, like ten of thousands of other across this vast land, despite being only forty-odd miles from Grand Central. And the chords of memory bind it still. The names of my father and uncle, both long gone, are on the monument among those who fought in World War II. Some names of those who lost their lives in the Civil War are familiar today, because their families still live here.

As I both watched and participated in this Memorial Day celebration I found myself thinking about the election in November. Does Barack Obama and the urban chattering classes who have lionized him know this America at all, this small-town, God-fearing, country-loving, optimistic, friendly America? With his all-that-is-wrong-with-the-country-to-be-made-right-by-me stump speech and a wife who thinks this is a mean country with little for its citizens to be proud of, I doubt it.

But if he doesn’t know this America, doesn’t seek to connect with it, he will not win in November no matter how eloquent he is or how much water is carried for him in the media over the next few months.  For it is in the North Salems of America, not the Hyde Parks and Upper West Sides, where the nation’s political center of gravity is to be found.

At ten o’clock this morning, the town of North Salem, New York, held its annual Memorial Day Parade. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion led the way, followed by boy scouts and girl scouts, a fabulous old Packard convertible, the North Salem high school band, the 4-H club, the Ambulance Corps, the Lions Club, and a few other groups.  The fire trucks of the Croton Falls Volunteer Fire Department–each polished to within an inch of its life–took up the rear.

After the parade passed, the few hundred people, children, and dogs watching from the sidelines followed it up the hill to the old high school, where there is a monument to those who fought in the wars of the twentieth century. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited, those in uniform saluting, those not with their hands over their hearts. Several of the younger Boys Scouts–presumably southpaws–saluted left-handed, I noticed, and no one seemed to mind. The band played the Star-Spangled Banner surprisingly well. The commander of the local American Legion spoke briefly, as did the town supervisor and a few others. The names of locals who had fallen in the nation’s wars were read out.

And then it was over. The people walked back down the hill to the town ball field for hot dogs, potato salad, soda, and conversation and then slowly dispersed to go about their business on a perfect early summer day.

I was moved, as I always am, by this unaffected, unostentatious, unself-conscious and quintessentially American holiday celebration. My family has lived in North Salem for ninety years now. The town was deep in the countryside when my grandparents bought a farm here in 1919 to use as a summer place, and it is now on the outer fringes of New York’s suburbs. Many commute daily to the city. But only  about 5000 people live here and it is still very much a small town, like ten of thousands of other across this vast land, despite being only forty-odd miles from Grand Central. And the chords of memory bind it still. The names of my father and uncle, both long gone, are on the monument among those who fought in World War II. Some names of those who lost their lives in the Civil War are familiar today, because their families still live here.

As I both watched and participated in this Memorial Day celebration I found myself thinking about the election in November. Does Barack Obama and the urban chattering classes who have lionized him know this America at all, this small-town, God-fearing, country-loving, optimistic, friendly America? With his all-that-is-wrong-with-the-country-to-be-made-right-by-me stump speech and a wife who thinks this is a mean country with little for its citizens to be proud of, I doubt it.

But if he doesn’t know this America, doesn’t seek to connect with it, he will not win in November no matter how eloquent he is or how much water is carried for him in the media over the next few months.  For it is in the North Salems of America, not the Hyde Parks and Upper West Sides, where the nation’s political center of gravity is to be found.

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Laura, the Burmese Need You

Yesterday, diplomats from 51 nations, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, held a one-day donor conference in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. On Friday, the country’s junta said it would accept foreign assistance for desperate victims of Cyclone Nargis. About 78,000 Burmese have died according to official estimates. Another 56,000 are missing. Up to 2.4 million people need emergency aid. Previously, the nation’s generals had refused international help.

The conference began just hours after the expiration of a five-year detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader who won the last elections, which were held in 1990. She never took office and has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years. She is now kept inside her home, and there is no sign she will be released.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house, interestingly enough, sits on the other side of a lake from the hotel where the conference was held. Even though the participants could see her home, the subject of her detention did not come up during the gathering. “I feel also very much concerned and troubled by not being able to address completely this issue,” said Ban Ki-moon, referring to Suu Kyi’s detention. Completely, Mr. Secretary-General? You did not raise the issue at all when you met the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

The tragedy in Burma is not that Nargis struck–even all-powerful generals cannot physically move their nation to a more hospitable location. The tragedy is that so many people died because the generals not only insisted on keeping their society closed but also hindered internal relief efforts and hoarded aid.

It is certainly right for the international community to help the Burmese and it is probably correct not to condition aid on the release of any individual. Yet not to have said anything at all, especially in a public forum, is going too far in the other direction. For all the good the conference did, it nonetheless helped legitimize Burma’s political system, the source of so much misery.

Not everyone is so silent, however. Laura Bush has spoken out passionately on the issue of Burma. So here’s a suggestion for Mr. Ban. Until he finds his voice, perhaps he should let the First Lady take over the UN’s Burmese portfolio. After all, she knows what the real issue is.

Yesterday, diplomats from 51 nations, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, held a one-day donor conference in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. On Friday, the country’s junta said it would accept foreign assistance for desperate victims of Cyclone Nargis. About 78,000 Burmese have died according to official estimates. Another 56,000 are missing. Up to 2.4 million people need emergency aid. Previously, the nation’s generals had refused international help.

The conference began just hours after the expiration of a five-year detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader who won the last elections, which were held in 1990. She never took office and has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years. She is now kept inside her home, and there is no sign she will be released.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house, interestingly enough, sits on the other side of a lake from the hotel where the conference was held. Even though the participants could see her home, the subject of her detention did not come up during the gathering. “I feel also very much concerned and troubled by not being able to address completely this issue,” said Ban Ki-moon, referring to Suu Kyi’s detention. Completely, Mr. Secretary-General? You did not raise the issue at all when you met the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

The tragedy in Burma is not that Nargis struck–even all-powerful generals cannot physically move their nation to a more hospitable location. The tragedy is that so many people died because the generals not only insisted on keeping their society closed but also hindered internal relief efforts and hoarded aid.

It is certainly right for the international community to help the Burmese and it is probably correct not to condition aid on the release of any individual. Yet not to have said anything at all, especially in a public forum, is going too far in the other direction. For all the good the conference did, it nonetheless helped legitimize Burma’s political system, the source of so much misery.

Not everyone is so silent, however. Laura Bush has spoken out passionately on the issue of Burma. So here’s a suggestion for Mr. Ban. Until he finds his voice, perhaps he should let the First Lady take over the UN’s Burmese portfolio. After all, she knows what the real issue is.

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Remember Iraq?

In today’s New York Times, David Carr has a piece about the dwindling media coverage of the Iraq War. Carr begins writing about war fatigue and soon descends into a lament about Pentagon restrictions on media and, of course, the human toll of the war. When a media expert cites the success of the troop surge as a possible cause for decreased coverage, Carr is quick to minimize the point:

“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories – like the economy and the election – have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.”

But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers.

(Anyone interested in “misconstruing” the definition of success to actually mean success, should go check out this Los Angeles Times article about the four-year-low in Iraq violence.)

The MSM has reasons beyond widespread anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment to keep post-surge good news out of the headlines. H. Fred Garcia, media consultant at Logos Consulting Group, cites the five C’s that make a story newsworthy: Conflict, Contradiction, Controversy, Cast of Characters and Colorful Language. With the progress made in the last year, the Iraq War has disappointed in delivering the five C’s to outlets like the New York Times. Let’s consider them one-by-one:

Conflict: A more stable Iraq means, by definition, less conflict. Where there was once talk of civil war, there is now talk of reconciliation. Stories about parliamentary sessions don’t contain body counts, and pictures of bill-signings don’t make it to the front page as frequently as battle scenes.

Contradiction: General David Petraeus is in the honorable habit of telling it like it is. Whereas jettisoned personalities like Donald Rumsfeld could be relied upon to observe setbacks and brag of successes, Gen. Petraeus is circumspect when testifying about hard-won progress. How can the media trip up a man who readily concedes that the success he’s seeing is “fragile and reversible”? Furthermore there’s greater public agreement coming out of the Pentagon and the State Department than there was in the early days of the war. The Petraeus plan has been settled upon and there’s very little in-fighting to leak out.

Controversy: If you go to google.com/news and type in “Iraq scandal”, you’ll get hits for Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo Bay, Walter Reed, insufficient body armor, and Blackwater. These are all years-old stories of varying merit. Try as they might, the MSM has been unable to make any fresh controversy stick to the coalition’s effort in Iraq.

Cast of Characters: Iraq isn’t a soap opera anymore. The days of Donald Rumsfeld and Baghdad Bob are over. There is no more hubristic overstatement, wise-cracking insouciance, or delusional ranting. On the American side Gen. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker don’t project primetime appeal. They appear before cameras to make their case and then go back to work. On the Iraqi side, there’s no more Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The classic villains have been slain. (The aged and puny Tariq Aziz is currently standing trial for war crimes and no one even notices.) The MSM salivates over Moqtada al-Sadr’s every bark and growl, but as he continues to be marginalized the effort to turn him into a larger-than-life personage grows evermore challenging. As Prime Minister al-Maliki goes about the unglamorous business of Iraqi statehood, he fails to cut the dashing image of, say, (one-time prime minister hopeful) Ahmed Chalibi.

Colorful language: The lexicon of battle is far more lurid than the lexicon of reconciliation. We’ve gone from the pyrotechnics of “Shock and Awe” and the exotic horror of exploding golden domes to the legalese of parliamentary decisions. The most hysterical effort at maintaining the electrified language of war can be found in the lede of a July 27 New York Times story about ice in Bagdhad: “Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad’s underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.” Blood can bake only so many times as violence decreases.

So: We’re left with the humdrum narrative of slow and steady progress. Happiness, they say, writes white. While no one would characterize Iraq as happy, there’s been more boring good news coming from Mesopotamia in the past year than the MSM knows what to do with.

In today’s New York Times, David Carr has a piece about the dwindling media coverage of the Iraq War. Carr begins writing about war fatigue and soon descends into a lament about Pentagon restrictions on media and, of course, the human toll of the war. When a media expert cites the success of the troop surge as a possible cause for decreased coverage, Carr is quick to minimize the point:

“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories – like the economy and the election – have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.”

But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers.

(Anyone interested in “misconstruing” the definition of success to actually mean success, should go check out this Los Angeles Times article about the four-year-low in Iraq violence.)

The MSM has reasons beyond widespread anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment to keep post-surge good news out of the headlines. H. Fred Garcia, media consultant at Logos Consulting Group, cites the five C’s that make a story newsworthy: Conflict, Contradiction, Controversy, Cast of Characters and Colorful Language. With the progress made in the last year, the Iraq War has disappointed in delivering the five C’s to outlets like the New York Times. Let’s consider them one-by-one:

Conflict: A more stable Iraq means, by definition, less conflict. Where there was once talk of civil war, there is now talk of reconciliation. Stories about parliamentary sessions don’t contain body counts, and pictures of bill-signings don’t make it to the front page as frequently as battle scenes.

Contradiction: General David Petraeus is in the honorable habit of telling it like it is. Whereas jettisoned personalities like Donald Rumsfeld could be relied upon to observe setbacks and brag of successes, Gen. Petraeus is circumspect when testifying about hard-won progress. How can the media trip up a man who readily concedes that the success he’s seeing is “fragile and reversible”? Furthermore there’s greater public agreement coming out of the Pentagon and the State Department than there was in the early days of the war. The Petraeus plan has been settled upon and there’s very little in-fighting to leak out.

Controversy: If you go to google.com/news and type in “Iraq scandal”, you’ll get hits for Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo Bay, Walter Reed, insufficient body armor, and Blackwater. These are all years-old stories of varying merit. Try as they might, the MSM has been unable to make any fresh controversy stick to the coalition’s effort in Iraq.

Cast of Characters: Iraq isn’t a soap opera anymore. The days of Donald Rumsfeld and Baghdad Bob are over. There is no more hubristic overstatement, wise-cracking insouciance, or delusional ranting. On the American side Gen. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker don’t project primetime appeal. They appear before cameras to make their case and then go back to work. On the Iraqi side, there’s no more Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The classic villains have been slain. (The aged and puny Tariq Aziz is currently standing trial for war crimes and no one even notices.) The MSM salivates over Moqtada al-Sadr’s every bark and growl, but as he continues to be marginalized the effort to turn him into a larger-than-life personage grows evermore challenging. As Prime Minister al-Maliki goes about the unglamorous business of Iraqi statehood, he fails to cut the dashing image of, say, (one-time prime minister hopeful) Ahmed Chalibi.

Colorful language: The lexicon of battle is far more lurid than the lexicon of reconciliation. We’ve gone from the pyrotechnics of “Shock and Awe” and the exotic horror of exploding golden domes to the legalese of parliamentary decisions. The most hysterical effort at maintaining the electrified language of war can be found in the lede of a July 27 New York Times story about ice in Bagdhad: “Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad’s underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.” Blood can bake only so many times as violence decreases.

So: We’re left with the humdrum narrative of slow and steady progress. Happiness, they say, writes white. While no one would characterize Iraq as happy, there’s been more boring good news coming from Mesopotamia in the past year than the MSM knows what to do with.

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Nervous Democrats

It is supposed to be the Democrats’ year. John McCain is George W. Bush’s clone, they tell us. The incumbent party can’t possibly hold the White House when over 80% of voters think we are on the wrong track, they inform us.

Yet there seems to be an outbreak of nervousness, if not second-guessing over Barack Obama’s nomination. Paul Krugman muses that “the nightmare Mr. Obama and his supporters should fear is that in an election year in which everything favors the Democrats, he will nonetheless manage to lose.” Others fret that Obama really doesn’t have the “A” foreign policy team. And will Hillary Clinton be the Al Gore of 2008 –the popular vote winner whose mere presence suggests the “real” winner is less than legitimate?

There is, it seems, a world of difference between a “generic” Democrat and the one they have settled on. The degree of risk which the Democrats have undertaken by selecting an extremely lightly experienced, ultra-liberal and demographically-challenged (h/t Instapundit) candidate is beginning to hit home. Had the Democrats managed to come up with an experienced, middle-of-the-road Democrat (e.g. Mark Warner or Evan Bayh) wouldn’t the polls look a whole lot closer to those generic Democrat vs. Republican numbers?

It may be that the Democrats stumbled into the weakest choice and the Republicans the strongest in terms of electability. Still, it will be a marvel of electoral incompetence if the Democrats manage to fritter away their advantages.

It is supposed to be the Democrats’ year. John McCain is George W. Bush’s clone, they tell us. The incumbent party can’t possibly hold the White House when over 80% of voters think we are on the wrong track, they inform us.

Yet there seems to be an outbreak of nervousness, if not second-guessing over Barack Obama’s nomination. Paul Krugman muses that “the nightmare Mr. Obama and his supporters should fear is that in an election year in which everything favors the Democrats, he will nonetheless manage to lose.” Others fret that Obama really doesn’t have the “A” foreign policy team. And will Hillary Clinton be the Al Gore of 2008 –the popular vote winner whose mere presence suggests the “real” winner is less than legitimate?

There is, it seems, a world of difference between a “generic” Democrat and the one they have settled on. The degree of risk which the Democrats have undertaken by selecting an extremely lightly experienced, ultra-liberal and demographically-challenged (h/t Instapundit) candidate is beginning to hit home. Had the Democrats managed to come up with an experienced, middle-of-the-road Democrat (e.g. Mark Warner or Evan Bayh) wouldn’t the polls look a whole lot closer to those generic Democrat vs. Republican numbers?

It may be that the Democrats stumbled into the weakest choice and the Republicans the strongest in terms of electability. Still, it will be a marvel of electoral incompetence if the Democrats manage to fritter away their advantages.

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A Memorial Day Thank You

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Arnold Garcia Jr recounts a less-known chapter of the Allies’ slow and bloody advance across war-ravaged Italy in 1944 – The Rapido River battle. In the Allied Italian campaign there were countless such episodes of mass casualties and slaughter, where thousands of American soldiers lost their lives while liberating Italy – and the rest of Europe – from the totalitarian plague of Nazi-Fascism. At the Rapido River battle shows, the Allies were not always victorious – and the conflicts were rarely bloodless.

Today, memories of World War Two have faded – and Europe has adopted a different, less appreciative, view of the United States. It should not be so – the resolve of wartime America to come to Europe’s rescue and the heroism of US soldiers in countless battles should never be forgotten. America is routinely accused of imperialism – and yet, countless fields silently bear witness to a simple fact: the only land ‘imperial’ America ever claimed from other countries is the one needed to bury its fallen heroes.

Had it not been for their sacrifice, Europe would not be what it is today – peaceful, prosperous, and free. On such a day then, I offer thanks to America for saving us from tyranny. Do not pay attention to the anti-Americanism of our chattering classes – Europe is forever indebted to America and its fallen soldiers.

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Arnold Garcia Jr recounts a less-known chapter of the Allies’ slow and bloody advance across war-ravaged Italy in 1944 – The Rapido River battle. In the Allied Italian campaign there were countless such episodes of mass casualties and slaughter, where thousands of American soldiers lost their lives while liberating Italy – and the rest of Europe – from the totalitarian plague of Nazi-Fascism. At the Rapido River battle shows, the Allies were not always victorious – and the conflicts were rarely bloodless.

Today, memories of World War Two have faded – and Europe has adopted a different, less appreciative, view of the United States. It should not be so – the resolve of wartime America to come to Europe’s rescue and the heroism of US soldiers in countless battles should never be forgotten. America is routinely accused of imperialism – and yet, countless fields silently bear witness to a simple fact: the only land ‘imperial’ America ever claimed from other countries is the one needed to bury its fallen heroes.

Had it not been for their sacrifice, Europe would not be what it is today – peaceful, prosperous, and free. On such a day then, I offer thanks to America for saving us from tyranny. Do not pay attention to the anti-Americanism of our chattering classes – Europe is forever indebted to America and its fallen soldiers.

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You Can Hardly Blame Him

It is hard to think that the “You’re nuts to take her” faction of Barack Obama’s advisors didn’t get a boost with Hillary Clinton’s Kennedy assassination gaffe. As one who knows the Clintons’ pathology all too well pointed out:

Obama now has the perfect excuse not to pick Hillary as his running mate. She has been too unseemly in her desire to be on the scene if he trips, or gets hit with a devastating story. She may want to take a cue from the Miss America contest: make a graceful, magnanimous exit and wait in the wings.

Really, it is one thing to live through a year of campaigning while the Clintonian attack machine directed barbs his way (he had no choice in the matter), but to voluntarily sign up for four or eight years of life with the Clintons would take an act of masochism or unparalled naïveté. Would any Democratic establishment figure really begrudge him the luxury of choosing someone who didn’t muse, even indirectly, about the prospect of a presidential assassination?

Yes, it is true Clinton may manage to get more popular votes than he, and she has been the superior campaigner in the second half of the race. Oh, and yes, as compared to her he really does have some demographic disadvantages. But bringing her along for the rest of the campaign seems designed only to highlight his own dependencies and weaknesses. “She can help him with white voters” and “He would have risked the female vote without her” are the type of semi-insulting observations which surely would follow if he tapped her as VP. Moreover, would there be a better way to demonstrate that he will tolerate virtually any insulting, obnoxious behavior?

So I suspect Obama’s graciousness over the assassination gaffe is thinly disguised relief. He can finally get out of a shotgun wedding he must have dreaded.

It is hard to think that the “You’re nuts to take her” faction of Barack Obama’s advisors didn’t get a boost with Hillary Clinton’s Kennedy assassination gaffe. As one who knows the Clintons’ pathology all too well pointed out:

Obama now has the perfect excuse not to pick Hillary as his running mate. She has been too unseemly in her desire to be on the scene if he trips, or gets hit with a devastating story. She may want to take a cue from the Miss America contest: make a graceful, magnanimous exit and wait in the wings.

Really, it is one thing to live through a year of campaigning while the Clintonian attack machine directed barbs his way (he had no choice in the matter), but to voluntarily sign up for four or eight years of life with the Clintons would take an act of masochism or unparalled naïveté. Would any Democratic establishment figure really begrudge him the luxury of choosing someone who didn’t muse, even indirectly, about the prospect of a presidential assassination?

Yes, it is true Clinton may manage to get more popular votes than he, and she has been the superior campaigner in the second half of the race. Oh, and yes, as compared to her he really does have some demographic disadvantages. But bringing her along for the rest of the campaign seems designed only to highlight his own dependencies and weaknesses. “She can help him with white voters” and “He would have risked the female vote without her” are the type of semi-insulting observations which surely would follow if he tapped her as VP. Moreover, would there be a better way to demonstrate that he will tolerate virtually any insulting, obnoxious behavior?

So I suspect Obama’s graciousness over the assassination gaffe is thinly disguised relief. He can finally get out of a shotgun wedding he must have dreaded.

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Another Mazel Tov

It is a happy May for commentarymagazine.com. As you may have read, CONTENTIONS blogger Eric Trager got married yesterday. And Kyle Smith, whose blogging also appears on CONTENTIONS and whose most recent piece for the website can be found here, has become a father for the first time. He ruminates on the matter in a delightful letter to his newborn daughter that appears in the New York Post today.

It is a happy May for commentarymagazine.com. As you may have read, CONTENTIONS blogger Eric Trager got married yesterday. And Kyle Smith, whose blogging also appears on CONTENTIONS and whose most recent piece for the website can be found here, has become a father for the first time. He ruminates on the matter in a delightful letter to his newborn daughter that appears in the New York Post today.

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Not The Best Of Times for Obama

The New York Times and other mainstream media pundits are convinced that John McCain is in dire straits and everything is going swimmingly for their favorite son Barack Obama. But is this right?

It is hard to ignore the stream of Obama gaffes. The Cuban community in Florida is unimpressed. Foreign leaders continue to express concern about Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements. And for someone who is now the certain nominee of the party “destined” to win in November his poll numbers are mediocre at best. Why after all this supposedly horrible news for McCain would Obama only be tied with him (and Clinton only slightly ahead of McCain) in the last Newsweek poll? (In Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls McCain is up slightly over Obama.)

Meanwhile, McCain’s medical records seem to have removed concern about his health. And he even managed to slip out a year of his wife’s tax returns to quell concern over that issue.

Now, pundits may be right that the McCain camp has a way to go in sprucing up its money and communications apparatus. He does in fact need a better defined agenda and a “narrative,” as Karl Rove explained on Sunday. Still, with all that, it is hard to make the case that Obama has been improving his standing with the public and surging to a dominating position in the general election since he was crowned the presumptive nominee.

It is easy to figure out why. In part, Obama simply does not win the news cycle when the topic is foreign policy, and specifically his own ever-shifting statements. And in part, the Obama-mania novelty is wearing off. (The latest graduation speech sounds eerily reminiscent of a dozen stump speeches we have all heard before.) Finally, it is a truism that the public likes a winner, and the weekly drubbings he has received at the hands of the already declared runner-up have likely dimmed his allure.

None of this is to suggest that Obama is not the favorite or that McCain doesn’t face tough challenges. But the conventional wisdom that recent events have been helpful to Obama’s cause seems wrong. Put differently, Obama is likely anxious not to repeat the controversies, gaffes and foreign policy scrutiny – not to mention the election losses – that have dominated the news. So maybe, this is not exactly the best of times for Obama.

The New York Times and other mainstream media pundits are convinced that John McCain is in dire straits and everything is going swimmingly for their favorite son Barack Obama. But is this right?

It is hard to ignore the stream of Obama gaffes. The Cuban community in Florida is unimpressed. Foreign leaders continue to express concern about Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements. And for someone who is now the certain nominee of the party “destined” to win in November his poll numbers are mediocre at best. Why after all this supposedly horrible news for McCain would Obama only be tied with him (and Clinton only slightly ahead of McCain) in the last Newsweek poll? (In Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls McCain is up slightly over Obama.)

Meanwhile, McCain’s medical records seem to have removed concern about his health. And he even managed to slip out a year of his wife’s tax returns to quell concern over that issue.

Now, pundits may be right that the McCain camp has a way to go in sprucing up its money and communications apparatus. He does in fact need a better defined agenda and a “narrative,” as Karl Rove explained on Sunday. Still, with all that, it is hard to make the case that Obama has been improving his standing with the public and surging to a dominating position in the general election since he was crowned the presumptive nominee.

It is easy to figure out why. In part, Obama simply does not win the news cycle when the topic is foreign policy, and specifically his own ever-shifting statements. And in part, the Obama-mania novelty is wearing off. (The latest graduation speech sounds eerily reminiscent of a dozen stump speeches we have all heard before.) Finally, it is a truism that the public likes a winner, and the weekly drubbings he has received at the hands of the already declared runner-up have likely dimmed his allure.

None of this is to suggest that Obama is not the favorite or that McCain doesn’t face tough challenges. But the conventional wisdom that recent events have been helpful to Obama’s cause seems wrong. Put differently, Obama is likely anxious not to repeat the controversies, gaffes and foreign policy scrutiny – not to mention the election losses – that have dominated the news. So maybe, this is not exactly the best of times for Obama.

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Something New for McCain

Matt Dowd, the former strategist for George W. Bush’s election who later broke very publically with Bush, suggested that John McCain himself needs to break dramatically with the President. Dowd suggested a speech criticizing Bush for the growth of the federal government. Accepting that McCain will need to demonstrate some distance between himself and the hobbled President, Dowd has offered advice with a startling lack of pizzazz. Much as small-government conservatives would like to think otherwise, eliminating chunks of the federal government does not seem to be a winning message, especially with independent voters.

McCain actually has tried a few breaks with Bush — on global warming and on the general subject of competency (Katrina and the management of the Iraq War). But perhaps on the economy he might, if not break with Bush, at least escape his shadow. McCain’s embrace of the “Bush” tax cuts has always been problematic. It raised issues of consistency since he initially opposed the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. His adherence to them now forever links him to the unpopular President.

So what to do? McCain need not embrace the Democratic position of massive tax increases. But why not a new tax plan as the ultimate goal of a McCain presidency? There are no shortage of ideas. Mitt Romney raised the notion of tax-free capital gains for the middle class. There are interesting “pro-family” conservative tax plans. And there are any number of variations of the flat tax.

If McCain is in fact going to blunt the argument that his election would be a third Bush term there seems to be every incentive to adopt as a central plank of his domestic agenda something other than “retention of the Bush tax cuts.” Global warming proposals, earmark reform, increased managerial competency and some populist flourishes on health care and the housing crisis are all efforts to distinguish McCain from the incumbent administration. But it may be time for something more dramatic and more innovative.

It would require attention and focus on domestic policy development, a communications efforts to explain it and McCain’s commitment to sell it. And, yes, there are doubts about whether those are within the grasp of the McCain team. But the payoff could be great. At the very least, McCain would have his chance to explain why he is a different kind of Republican.

Matt Dowd, the former strategist for George W. Bush’s election who later broke very publically with Bush, suggested that John McCain himself needs to break dramatically with the President. Dowd suggested a speech criticizing Bush for the growth of the federal government. Accepting that McCain will need to demonstrate some distance between himself and the hobbled President, Dowd has offered advice with a startling lack of pizzazz. Much as small-government conservatives would like to think otherwise, eliminating chunks of the federal government does not seem to be a winning message, especially with independent voters.

McCain actually has tried a few breaks with Bush — on global warming and on the general subject of competency (Katrina and the management of the Iraq War). But perhaps on the economy he might, if not break with Bush, at least escape his shadow. McCain’s embrace of the “Bush” tax cuts has always been problematic. It raised issues of consistency since he initially opposed the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. His adherence to them now forever links him to the unpopular President.

So what to do? McCain need not embrace the Democratic position of massive tax increases. But why not a new tax plan as the ultimate goal of a McCain presidency? There are no shortage of ideas. Mitt Romney raised the notion of tax-free capital gains for the middle class. There are interesting “pro-family” conservative tax plans. And there are any number of variations of the flat tax.

If McCain is in fact going to blunt the argument that his election would be a third Bush term there seems to be every incentive to adopt as a central plank of his domestic agenda something other than “retention of the Bush tax cuts.” Global warming proposals, earmark reform, increased managerial competency and some populist flourishes on health care and the housing crisis are all efforts to distinguish McCain from the incumbent administration. But it may be time for something more dramatic and more innovative.

It would require attention and focus on domestic policy development, a communications efforts to explain it and McCain’s commitment to sell it. And, yes, there are doubts about whether those are within the grasp of the McCain team. But the payoff could be great. At the very least, McCain would have his chance to explain why he is a different kind of Republican.

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