Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 1, 2008

Stumbling . . .

Barack Obama can’t figure out why it should be a top priority to cough up an apology to John McCain for the Wesley Clark slur. Let’s see: 1) it is burying his patriotism defense and making a mockery of Monday’s speech; 2) it is convincing the political establishment that he is tone deaf or arrogant or both; 3) no one will believe his squishy words distancing him from this and future attacks; and 4) New Politics is now fodder for parody. Oh–and he turned a one day story into a week-long blunder.

Barack Obama can’t figure out why it should be a top priority to cough up an apology to John McCain for the Wesley Clark slur. Let’s see: 1) it is burying his patriotism defense and making a mockery of Monday’s speech; 2) it is convincing the political establishment that he is tone deaf or arrogant or both; 3) no one will believe his squishy words distancing him from this and future attacks; and 4) New Politics is now fodder for parody. Oh–and he turned a one day story into a week-long blunder.

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Judging Obama’s Judges

John McCain, in a speech before the National Sherrifs Association, got in a dig at a key inconsistency in Barack Obama’s newfound centrism: he is committed to nominating Supreme Court justices (and presumably lower court judges as well) who will repudiate the newly adopted Obama positions on everything from the Second Amendment to the death penalty. This is not a minor issue or one easily explained away. It is a fundamental contradiction which exposes that much of the New Politics is simply not credible. If McCain is looking for some help, he might borrow that “fairytale” line from Bill or the “just words” refrain from Hillary. They might not have been the most effective messengers. But their message was spot on.

John McCain, in a speech before the National Sherrifs Association, got in a dig at a key inconsistency in Barack Obama’s newfound centrism: he is committed to nominating Supreme Court justices (and presumably lower court judges as well) who will repudiate the newly adopted Obama positions on everything from the Second Amendment to the death penalty. This is not a minor issue or one easily explained away. It is a fundamental contradiction which exposes that much of the New Politics is simply not credible. If McCain is looking for some help, he might borrow that “fairytale” line from Bill or the “just words” refrain from Hillary. They might not have been the most effective messengers. But their message was spot on.

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It’s Coming Together

The Tawafuq Front, Iraq‘s main Sunni bloc, is about to rejoin the Iraq government after a boycott lasting almost a year. Here’s the Washington Post:

The bloc withdrew from the government in August over demands that included the release of Sunni detainees from Iraq‘s prisons and constitutional reforms.

Now, Sunni leaders said the government had done enough to address their core conditions, including passing an amnesty law that has freed thousands of Sunni detainees this year. The leaders said they were also encouraged by the government’s efforts in tackling Shiite militias, namely the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

“We feel that a great deal of them have been fulfilled,” said Salim Abdullah al-Jubori, a spokesmen for the Sunni alliance, known as the Tawafuq Front.

If the Sunni group returns, it would mark a political victory for Maliki as well achieve a key U.S. policy goal. Sunnis would have a greater voice in decision making on a cabinet currently dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Okay: who’s going to be the first Democrat (whose name is not Lieberman) to acknowledge political progress in Iraq? Awaiting predictions. . .

The Tawafuq Front, Iraq‘s main Sunni bloc, is about to rejoin the Iraq government after a boycott lasting almost a year. Here’s the Washington Post:

The bloc withdrew from the government in August over demands that included the release of Sunni detainees from Iraq‘s prisons and constitutional reforms.

Now, Sunni leaders said the government had done enough to address their core conditions, including passing an amnesty law that has freed thousands of Sunni detainees this year. The leaders said they were also encouraged by the government’s efforts in tackling Shiite militias, namely the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

“We feel that a great deal of them have been fulfilled,” said Salim Abdullah al-Jubori, a spokesmen for the Sunni alliance, known as the Tawafuq Front.

If the Sunni group returns, it would mark a political victory for Maliki as well achieve a key U.S. policy goal. Sunnis would have a greater voice in decision making on a cabinet currently dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Okay: who’s going to be the first Democrat (whose name is not Lieberman) to acknowledge political progress in Iraq? Awaiting predictions. . .

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Another Clark Fumble

It is not surprising that the McCain camp is going after Barack Obama on the continuing spectacle of Wesley Clark and the slurs on John McCain’s service. Letting Clark go out on the morning shows with non-apologies gave the unmistakable sign that Obama isn’t serious about halting this line of attack. Aside from wrecking his own patriotism message and giving the disillusioned MSM some more material to ponder, Obama has in a sense revived memories of the Reverend Wright affair. There, too, he was slow to react, indecisive and unwilling to denounce someone ostensibly on his side (until his sincerity was questioned).

This is hardly a model of moral leadership or an example of great executive management skills. It is however a gift to the McCain camp, which could not, with unlimited funds, have done nearly as good a job undermining Obama’s claim to offer an era of New Politics.

It is not surprising that the McCain camp is going after Barack Obama on the continuing spectacle of Wesley Clark and the slurs on John McCain’s service. Letting Clark go out on the morning shows with non-apologies gave the unmistakable sign that Obama isn’t serious about halting this line of attack. Aside from wrecking his own patriotism message and giving the disillusioned MSM some more material to ponder, Obama has in a sense revived memories of the Reverend Wright affair. There, too, he was slow to react, indecisive and unwilling to denounce someone ostensibly on his side (until his sincerity was questioned).

This is hardly a model of moral leadership or an example of great executive management skills. It is however a gift to the McCain camp, which could not, with unlimited funds, have done nearly as good a job undermining Obama’s claim to offer an era of New Politics.

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If Only He Were Pandering

Arianna Huffington is in a tizzy over Barack Obama’s recent centrist shift. She writes, “If you were within shouting distance of me, odds are we talked about it.” The NASA craft taking pictures on Mars is in shouting distance of Arianna Huffington. So let’s talk about it.

According to Huffington, “Tacking to the center is a losing strategy.” But she doesn’t realize that Obama needed to tack somewhere because so far his potpourri of rookie bleats, ego rants, and nanny-state threats, have left him sounding like a know-it-all freshman unloading his new mental wares onto his family over Christmas break.

Only he couldn’t rely on this family for unconditional love. When you say you want to talk to madman leaders, European heads of state don’t laugh it off as youth. When you say we can’t listen to phone calls from alleged terrorists in foreign countries, the intelligence community doesn’t pat you on the head and smile. When you shrug off the Second Amendment, average Americans don’t find it cute. When you call for winning troops to leave their work half-done, military brass don’t marvel at your idealist pacifism. So, Obama is finding out that he can’t bend the world to his freshman seminar sensibilities. He already earned himself months of heartache over the Ahmadinejad pledge. How many more gaffes could he afford to turn into policy and then into denial?

“Watering down that brand is the political equivalent of New Coke. Call it Obama Zero,” Huffington writes. But was there a brand or just a logo? He said “change” and threw out a spate of vague promises about the world loving America. When it came to specific policies and their implementation, he stayed non-committal on almost every campaign issue for the entirety of the primary. What worked on the Democratic electorate got him into hot water with the folks out there making decisions.

In truth, the spectacle of Obama’s shifting positions should concern everyone, not just progressive mouthpieces like Arianna Huffington. It’s obvious, and alarming, that the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States isn’t pandering. He’s learning.

Arianna Huffington is in a tizzy over Barack Obama’s recent centrist shift. She writes, “If you were within shouting distance of me, odds are we talked about it.” The NASA craft taking pictures on Mars is in shouting distance of Arianna Huffington. So let’s talk about it.

According to Huffington, “Tacking to the center is a losing strategy.” But she doesn’t realize that Obama needed to tack somewhere because so far his potpourri of rookie bleats, ego rants, and nanny-state threats, have left him sounding like a know-it-all freshman unloading his new mental wares onto his family over Christmas break.

Only he couldn’t rely on this family for unconditional love. When you say you want to talk to madman leaders, European heads of state don’t laugh it off as youth. When you say we can’t listen to phone calls from alleged terrorists in foreign countries, the intelligence community doesn’t pat you on the head and smile. When you shrug off the Second Amendment, average Americans don’t find it cute. When you call for winning troops to leave their work half-done, military brass don’t marvel at your idealist pacifism. So, Obama is finding out that he can’t bend the world to his freshman seminar sensibilities. He already earned himself months of heartache over the Ahmadinejad pledge. How many more gaffes could he afford to turn into policy and then into denial?

“Watering down that brand is the political equivalent of New Coke. Call it Obama Zero,” Huffington writes. But was there a brand or just a logo? He said “change” and threw out a spate of vague promises about the world loving America. When it came to specific policies and their implementation, he stayed non-committal on almost every campaign issue for the entirety of the primary. What worked on the Democratic electorate got him into hot water with the folks out there making decisions.

In truth, the spectacle of Obama’s shifting positions should concern everyone, not just progressive mouthpieces like Arianna Huffington. It’s obvious, and alarming, that the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States isn’t pandering. He’s learning.

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Again with the POW Slurs?

Eight times is no coincidence. It is fair to say that the Obama camp has used up its benefit of the doubt with regard to surrogates attacking McCain’s military service. This time it is Rand Beers, no novice to government service or campaigns, slamming McCain for missing out on key foreign policy training and knowledge because of his time as a POW. First, the comment is plain ignorant. A reading of McCain’s account of his years in captivity would have told Beers just how valuable a lesson it was in understanding the nature of totalitarian evil. Beers might consider what experience his own candidate has that is remotely equivalent.

Second, once again a surrogate shows that the Obama camp attracts the very worst of the Left–sneering, disrespectful, and ignorant of the value of military service. The inference is becoming inescapable that this swarm of anti-McCain venom is countenanced by the Obama camp. They simply can’t be this awful at corralling their troops, can they?

For now it sounds like Obama is the darling of those who have little understanding or appreciation of the military and its sacrifices. And once again Obama’s surrogates get only mild disapproval or encouragement from the liberal punditocracy, which comes up with ludicrous reasons not to condemn the attacks.

So despite a defensive speech Monday on his patriotic bona fides, Obama has proven that he really doesn’t care enough, or doesn’t think it important enough, to do something (e.g. declare Clark and Beers and others who would follow their lead to be unfit for his administration) about those who defame heroic service. That, far more than reciting a prepared speech, may tell the voters where his campaign is coming from.

Eight times is no coincidence. It is fair to say that the Obama camp has used up its benefit of the doubt with regard to surrogates attacking McCain’s military service. This time it is Rand Beers, no novice to government service or campaigns, slamming McCain for missing out on key foreign policy training and knowledge because of his time as a POW. First, the comment is plain ignorant. A reading of McCain’s account of his years in captivity would have told Beers just how valuable a lesson it was in understanding the nature of totalitarian evil. Beers might consider what experience his own candidate has that is remotely equivalent.

Second, once again a surrogate shows that the Obama camp attracts the very worst of the Left–sneering, disrespectful, and ignorant of the value of military service. The inference is becoming inescapable that this swarm of anti-McCain venom is countenanced by the Obama camp. They simply can’t be this awful at corralling their troops, can they?

For now it sounds like Obama is the darling of those who have little understanding or appreciation of the military and its sacrifices. And once again Obama’s surrogates get only mild disapproval or encouragement from the liberal punditocracy, which comes up with ludicrous reasons not to condemn the attacks.

So despite a defensive speech Monday on his patriotic bona fides, Obama has proven that he really doesn’t care enough, or doesn’t think it important enough, to do something (e.g. declare Clark and Beers and others who would follow their lead to be unfit for his administration) about those who defame heroic service. That, far more than reciting a prepared speech, may tell the voters where his campaign is coming from.

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Obama’s Divisive Unity

Senator Barack Obama has announced his opposition to a California ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriages–a decision that was forced on the citizens of California by the state’s Supreme Court. In a letter expressing his support for extending “fully equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples under both state and federal law,” Obama wrote that he opposes “the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”

Why is it that Obama, who promises to be “post-polarizing” figure, is using this issue to attack the motivations and integrity of those with whom he disagrees? This is the embodiment of the kind of politics we were told Obama stands against. If Obama believes same-sex unions are the right position, let him make his arguments. But to portray those who want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage–particularly in response to an imperial court’s efforts to reshape our culture–as “divisive and discriminatory” is itself divisive and deeply unfair. It is an effort to sideline an important discussion of the issue by branding the advocates of traditional marriage as bigoted.

With each passing day, it seems, the original conceit of the Obama candidacy–that he is an agent of “change” who will “turn the page” on the “old politics” and act as a uniquely unifying figure in American politics–looks more and more absurd. He turns out to be an exceptionally skilled and ambitious politician who uses the old playbook even as he pretends to have discarded it. It’s a neat trick if you can get away with it.

On a substantive level: Senator Obama now opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton; the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; and an effort by the citizens of California to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We will see if the McCain campaign deems this issue worthy of debate and their attention–and if so, whether, and to what degree, this issue helps or hurts Obama. He has now taken a position that strikes me as fairly extreme: same-sex marriages ought to be imposed by the courts, even if the citizens of that state object–thereby making an already-contentious social issue even more contentious. (One of the reasons abortion has been such a disruptive and unsettled issue in American politics is that the Supreme Court, in manufacturing a “fundamental right” to abortion, decided it was a topic in which the will of the people and their representatives was simply irrelevant.) And if the citizens of California, or any other state, attempt to restore marriage to its time-honored definition, they are not merely wrong; they are by definition agents of division and discrimination.

In a debate in which all sides should make an extra effort to argue in a calm and reasonable way, this is ugly stuff. Welcome to the Obama campaign 2008.

Senator Barack Obama has announced his opposition to a California ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriages–a decision that was forced on the citizens of California by the state’s Supreme Court. In a letter expressing his support for extending “fully equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples under both state and federal law,” Obama wrote that he opposes “the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”

Why is it that Obama, who promises to be “post-polarizing” figure, is using this issue to attack the motivations and integrity of those with whom he disagrees? This is the embodiment of the kind of politics we were told Obama stands against. If Obama believes same-sex unions are the right position, let him make his arguments. But to portray those who want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage–particularly in response to an imperial court’s efforts to reshape our culture–as “divisive and discriminatory” is itself divisive and deeply unfair. It is an effort to sideline an important discussion of the issue by branding the advocates of traditional marriage as bigoted.

With each passing day, it seems, the original conceit of the Obama candidacy–that he is an agent of “change” who will “turn the page” on the “old politics” and act as a uniquely unifying figure in American politics–looks more and more absurd. He turns out to be an exceptionally skilled and ambitious politician who uses the old playbook even as he pretends to have discarded it. It’s a neat trick if you can get away with it.

On a substantive level: Senator Obama now opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton; the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; and an effort by the citizens of California to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We will see if the McCain campaign deems this issue worthy of debate and their attention–and if so, whether, and to what degree, this issue helps or hurts Obama. He has now taken a position that strikes me as fairly extreme: same-sex marriages ought to be imposed by the courts, even if the citizens of that state object–thereby making an already-contentious social issue even more contentious. (One of the reasons abortion has been such a disruptive and unsettled issue in American politics is that the Supreme Court, in manufacturing a “fundamental right” to abortion, decided it was a topic in which the will of the people and their representatives was simply irrelevant.) And if the citizens of California, or any other state, attempt to restore marriage to its time-honored definition, they are not merely wrong; they are by definition agents of division and discrimination.

In a debate in which all sides should make an extra effort to argue in a calm and reasonable way, this is ugly stuff. Welcome to the Obama campaign 2008.

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Obama’s Afghanistan Challenge

What does Barack Obama propose to do about the continued setbacks in the war? (Not that war. The war in Afghanistan!) Today, CNN reports that June has been the second consecutive month during which coalition troop deaths in Afghanistan outnumbered those in Iraq. Moreover, June saw more troop deaths than any month since the start of the war in 2001. According to a new Pentagon report, Taliban violence has spread from isolated pockets into larger, previously calm, areas of the country. Furthermore, the Taliban is challenging local government authority in the East and the South.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates places partial blame on the recent ceasefire arrangements between the Pakistan government and Taliban members in tribal regions of that country. With no crackdown from Pakistan’s military, Taliban fighters have free passage into Afghanistan.

If getting Pakistan’s government to help in the fight against the Taliban is the most pressing issue of the war, Barack Obama is in trouble. His indelicately phrased chest-thump about sending troops into Pakistan has done long-term damage to his credibility in that country. The AP reported:

Obama, however, has made himself unpopular in Pakistan by saying the United States should act alone on information about terrorist targets within the country’s national borders, leading some to believe he will not be any different from Bush.

“Obama has threatened attacks against us even before becoming the president, and he will be more dangerous compared to Bush,” said Ibrar Ahmad, 34, a lecturer at the Government College in Multan.

This could make for an additional problem, as part of Obama’s plan for Afghanistan involves deploying more Special Operations forces to the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Also, when it comes to confronting the strategic and tactical challenges of hot wars, it’s McCain 1, Obama 0. John McCain’s support for the troop surge in Iraq and Obama’s stand against it are just about all Americans have to go on in this regard, and McCain was proved right.

John McCain wants to expand NATO’s role in Afghanistan, establish long-term U.S. bases there, and step-up the effort to train Afghan forces. Nothing about any of that is easy. But McCain might have the edge here. Despite all the stories about Europe’s love for Obama, McCain may have a better shot at getting NATO on board. Obama’s dovish talk and promises of unconditional diplomacy with Tehran have European leaders worried. Additionally, McCain is already involved in the business of establishing long term military bases–in Iraq. Finally, cooperation with and training of foreign troops has been a key part of the surge, something McCain’s been in on from the ground up.

Obama likes to complain that Iraq has been a distraction from Afghanistan, but blaming everything on Iraq has allowed Obama to buy time. As long as he could champion some vague, shifting form of retreat, he’d never have to address the problems involved in fighting a large-scale deadly war. With progress continuing apace in Iraq, and Afghanistan backsliding, Americans need to know what the next president is going to do about a war that we’re clearly not getting out of anytime soon.

What does Barack Obama propose to do about the continued setbacks in the war? (Not that war. The war in Afghanistan!) Today, CNN reports that June has been the second consecutive month during which coalition troop deaths in Afghanistan outnumbered those in Iraq. Moreover, June saw more troop deaths than any month since the start of the war in 2001. According to a new Pentagon report, Taliban violence has spread from isolated pockets into larger, previously calm, areas of the country. Furthermore, the Taliban is challenging local government authority in the East and the South.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates places partial blame on the recent ceasefire arrangements between the Pakistan government and Taliban members in tribal regions of that country. With no crackdown from Pakistan’s military, Taliban fighters have free passage into Afghanistan.

If getting Pakistan’s government to help in the fight against the Taliban is the most pressing issue of the war, Barack Obama is in trouble. His indelicately phrased chest-thump about sending troops into Pakistan has done long-term damage to his credibility in that country. The AP reported:

Obama, however, has made himself unpopular in Pakistan by saying the United States should act alone on information about terrorist targets within the country’s national borders, leading some to believe he will not be any different from Bush.

“Obama has threatened attacks against us even before becoming the president, and he will be more dangerous compared to Bush,” said Ibrar Ahmad, 34, a lecturer at the Government College in Multan.

This could make for an additional problem, as part of Obama’s plan for Afghanistan involves deploying more Special Operations forces to the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Also, when it comes to confronting the strategic and tactical challenges of hot wars, it’s McCain 1, Obama 0. John McCain’s support for the troop surge in Iraq and Obama’s stand against it are just about all Americans have to go on in this regard, and McCain was proved right.

John McCain wants to expand NATO’s role in Afghanistan, establish long-term U.S. bases there, and step-up the effort to train Afghan forces. Nothing about any of that is easy. But McCain might have the edge here. Despite all the stories about Europe’s love for Obama, McCain may have a better shot at getting NATO on board. Obama’s dovish talk and promises of unconditional diplomacy with Tehran have European leaders worried. Additionally, McCain is already involved in the business of establishing long term military bases–in Iraq. Finally, cooperation with and training of foreign troops has been a key part of the surge, something McCain’s been in on from the ground up.

Obama likes to complain that Iraq has been a distraction from Afghanistan, but blaming everything on Iraq has allowed Obama to buy time. As long as he could champion some vague, shifting form of retreat, he’d never have to address the problems involved in fighting a large-scale deadly war. With progress continuing apace in Iraq, and Afghanistan backsliding, Americans need to know what the next president is going to do about a war that we’re clearly not getting out of anytime soon.

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Welfare Too

Barack Obama has an ad out touting welfare reform. The problem? He opposed welfare reform most of his career. ABC lays it out here. ABC isn’t alone. Marc Ambinder said of the ad:

Notice how the careful omission of a pronoun makes it sound like Obama himself “slashed” welfare — a nice and defensible trick of the trade. Actually, the word “passed” here is a bit out of context. As other news organizations have noted, Obama co-sponsored the bill, which brought Illinois into compliance with the ’96 federal law; legislators don’t pass anything. And it passed overwhelmingly — Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois Senate supported it; there was only one no vote And Obama glosses over his opposition to the ’96 federal welfare reform law.

Howard Kurtz writes:

The commercial, like an earlier biographical ad, is designed to neutralize perceptions of Obama as an Ivy League elitist by playing up his background as a Chicago community organizer. Obama did, however, work as a New York financial consultant before that, and by his own admission had little success helping Chicago neighborhoods cope with plant closings. While Obama sponsored or co-sponsored measures involving welfare, health care and tax cuts in the Illinois legislature, to say he “passed” the laws, as if he were in a leadership post, overstates his role.

But an ad that says “I was one of a crowd of people who voted for an implementation bill in Illinois after opposing welfare reform” wouldn’t really work, would it? It would be accurate. But it wouldn’t work. And that’s the rub when you have a candidate who never held an executive position and never led any national legislative effort. So if you have fistfuls of money, you make stuff up and hope you don’t get caught. And even if you do, more people end up hearing the deceptive ad than the criticisms of it. There was a fellow from Massachusetts who did that in the Republican primary. He got a reputation for hitting below the belt and for lack of candor. The Obama team might keep that in mind.

I would add that it is always better to have money than not to in politics, and it is crucial to get out the vote and organizational efforts. But I wonder if political advertising is what it used to be. We’re all awash in ads and the public has grown increasingly skeptical and cynical. Unless the ad is a doozy (I’m thinking of the “3 a.m.” ad by Hillary Clinton or the Apple computer ad aimed at her early in the primary), I suspect the average ad has less impact than it used to (and that’s even apart from the TIVO effect.) The temptation is great, I imagine, to push the envelope, but the last thing at this point which Obama needs (both because voters read it and because the media is getting more fed up with him by the minute) is more comments by MSM reporters like this:

Obama’s transformation from opponent to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center. Since capturing the Democratic nomination, Obama has altered his stances on Social Security taxes, meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, and the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.’s, sweeping gun ban. . . Now, with the Democratic nomination firmly in hand, Obama is going one step further. In an ad airing in 18 states, including 14 carried by President Bush in 2004, Obama is celebrating a reduction in the welfare caseload made possible by legislation he originally opposed. . . By glossing over his early opposition to welfare reform, Obama is stepping closer to the political mainstream. But by undergoing this transformation only once it became politically convenient, Obama’s critics will charge that he puts calculation ahead of conviction.

Barack Obama has an ad out touting welfare reform. The problem? He opposed welfare reform most of his career. ABC lays it out here. ABC isn’t alone. Marc Ambinder said of the ad:

Notice how the careful omission of a pronoun makes it sound like Obama himself “slashed” welfare — a nice and defensible trick of the trade. Actually, the word “passed” here is a bit out of context. As other news organizations have noted, Obama co-sponsored the bill, which brought Illinois into compliance with the ’96 federal law; legislators don’t pass anything. And it passed overwhelmingly — Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois Senate supported it; there was only one no vote And Obama glosses over his opposition to the ’96 federal welfare reform law.

Howard Kurtz writes:

The commercial, like an earlier biographical ad, is designed to neutralize perceptions of Obama as an Ivy League elitist by playing up his background as a Chicago community organizer. Obama did, however, work as a New York financial consultant before that, and by his own admission had little success helping Chicago neighborhoods cope with plant closings. While Obama sponsored or co-sponsored measures involving welfare, health care and tax cuts in the Illinois legislature, to say he “passed” the laws, as if he were in a leadership post, overstates his role.

But an ad that says “I was one of a crowd of people who voted for an implementation bill in Illinois after opposing welfare reform” wouldn’t really work, would it? It would be accurate. But it wouldn’t work. And that’s the rub when you have a candidate who never held an executive position and never led any national legislative effort. So if you have fistfuls of money, you make stuff up and hope you don’t get caught. And even if you do, more people end up hearing the deceptive ad than the criticisms of it. There was a fellow from Massachusetts who did that in the Republican primary. He got a reputation for hitting below the belt and for lack of candor. The Obama team might keep that in mind.

I would add that it is always better to have money than not to in politics, and it is crucial to get out the vote and organizational efforts. But I wonder if political advertising is what it used to be. We’re all awash in ads and the public has grown increasingly skeptical and cynical. Unless the ad is a doozy (I’m thinking of the “3 a.m.” ad by Hillary Clinton or the Apple computer ad aimed at her early in the primary), I suspect the average ad has less impact than it used to (and that’s even apart from the TIVO effect.) The temptation is great, I imagine, to push the envelope, but the last thing at this point which Obama needs (both because voters read it and because the media is getting more fed up with him by the minute) is more comments by MSM reporters like this:

Obama’s transformation from opponent to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center. Since capturing the Democratic nomination, Obama has altered his stances on Social Security taxes, meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, and the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.’s, sweeping gun ban. . . Now, with the Democratic nomination firmly in hand, Obama is going one step further. In an ad airing in 18 states, including 14 carried by President Bush in 2004, Obama is celebrating a reduction in the welfare caseload made possible by legislation he originally opposed. . . By glossing over his early opposition to welfare reform, Obama is stepping closer to the political mainstream. But by undergoing this transformation only once it became politically convenient, Obama’s critics will charge that he puts calculation ahead of conviction.

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Patriotism and Dissent

As the world debates the meaning of Barack Obama’s interesting speech yesterday about patriotism, a few thoughts on what patriotism is and what it is not.

There is nothing particularly virtuous about patriotism. It is a form of love. Love can be requited and unrequited, deserved and undeserved. Love is a wonderful thing, and you’re lucky to feel it and have it returned to you; but it is not noble. You are not required to love your country; any requirement that you feel a certain way is totalitarian.

There is a deep truth in the notion that America is more deserving of the love of its people than any other nation because of the freedom we the people have been granted by the foundational documents of this nation to dissent from our government’s decisions and to band together to change our nation’s political direction through lobbying, persuasion, or at the polls.

The ability to dissent, to hold a minority opinion and seek to influence the nation nonetheless, makes America as a nation and a civilization more worthy of the love that people naturally feel for their country of origin. (A child is almost intrinsically unable not to love the father who beats him, but we certainly consider a father who is loving toward his child more worthy of that child’s love.)

But to liken dissent to patriotism is nonsensical. Dissent is dissent — it is a political act. Patriotism is a feeling, an emotion, a condition of soul.

As the world debates the meaning of Barack Obama’s interesting speech yesterday about patriotism, a few thoughts on what patriotism is and what it is not.

There is nothing particularly virtuous about patriotism. It is a form of love. Love can be requited and unrequited, deserved and undeserved. Love is a wonderful thing, and you’re lucky to feel it and have it returned to you; but it is not noble. You are not required to love your country; any requirement that you feel a certain way is totalitarian.

There is a deep truth in the notion that America is more deserving of the love of its people than any other nation because of the freedom we the people have been granted by the foundational documents of this nation to dissent from our government’s decisions and to band together to change our nation’s political direction through lobbying, persuasion, or at the polls.

The ability to dissent, to hold a minority opinion and seek to influence the nation nonetheless, makes America as a nation and a civilization more worthy of the love that people naturally feel for their country of origin. (A child is almost intrinsically unable not to love the father who beats him, but we certainly consider a father who is loving toward his child more worthy of that child’s love.)

But to liken dissent to patriotism is nonsensical. Dissent is dissent — it is a political act. Patriotism is a feeling, an emotion, a condition of soul.

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The Ground Zero Disaster

New York papers are properly full of incredulous indignation this morning because the new head of the agency with primary responsibility for Ground Zero has now acknowledged that there is no longer any timetable for either the beginning or the completion of the rebuilding. It will be more than a decade from the moment the planes hit the towers for there to be anything meaningful finished on the site — even, it is almost too shocking to say, any 9/11 memorial. America will note the tenth anniversary of the attack with yet another ceremony in a concrete hole.

The primary reason nothing got done is this: The responsibility for the site was divided among so many different agencies, players, and state officials that no one seemed to have enough power to herd the cats and get it done. Timidity of every sort was the order of the decade: Bureaucratic, aesthetic, political, moral, you name it. Whatever might have been put up would have come under so much attack that there seemed to be an incentive for everyone involved to have tons of meetings and stroke everybody’s ego and only make moves by consensus. The delays piled up during a decade when the cost of raw materials and construction and the like were increasing by 20 to 30 percent a year. Any pricetag for the work will now be something like five times what it would have been if building had begun in 2002.

Meanwhile, a grotesque notion came into play — the notion that, really, the original World Trade Center complex was a planning disaster and therefore the construction provided a wonderful opportunity to fix all kinds of things. Wish-list projects that had no reason to be included in the matter of defying the attackers and reestablishing the place they destroyed as a working American concern began to muddy the waters. There should be a theater devoted to the arts! There should be an opera house! Maybe there could be a one-stop train line built to JFK Airport! Most astonishing was the devotion of billions of dollars to a mammoth project to create a commuter train station in Lower Manhattan — with a stunning but entirely unworkable design by the brilliant Santiago Calavatra– that will never be built. Not to mention the destruction by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of nearly an entire city block of buildings to create an entirely unnecessary mass transit hub. Part of Lower Manhattan  was torn down for the purpose of saving Lower Manhattan, and now all of that is lost.

Most egregious was the tale of the design competition for the “Freedom Tower” intended to replace the Twin Towers, a preposterous folly with a public voting scheme that ended up being won by the ludicrous Daniel Liebeskind, who based his  concept around preserving the underground retaining walls (the so-called slurry walls that created a “bathtub” in which the Twin Towers sat) and using them as the key elements of a memorial. Because, you know, when people think of the World Trade Center, they think first and foremost of retaining walls 70 feet below street level.

The failure here was not merely one of bureaucracy or imagination. It was a failure of will.

New York papers are properly full of incredulous indignation this morning because the new head of the agency with primary responsibility for Ground Zero has now acknowledged that there is no longer any timetable for either the beginning or the completion of the rebuilding. It will be more than a decade from the moment the planes hit the towers for there to be anything meaningful finished on the site — even, it is almost too shocking to say, any 9/11 memorial. America will note the tenth anniversary of the attack with yet another ceremony in a concrete hole.

The primary reason nothing got done is this: The responsibility for the site was divided among so many different agencies, players, and state officials that no one seemed to have enough power to herd the cats and get it done. Timidity of every sort was the order of the decade: Bureaucratic, aesthetic, political, moral, you name it. Whatever might have been put up would have come under so much attack that there seemed to be an incentive for everyone involved to have tons of meetings and stroke everybody’s ego and only make moves by consensus. The delays piled up during a decade when the cost of raw materials and construction and the like were increasing by 20 to 30 percent a year. Any pricetag for the work will now be something like five times what it would have been if building had begun in 2002.

Meanwhile, a grotesque notion came into play — the notion that, really, the original World Trade Center complex was a planning disaster and therefore the construction provided a wonderful opportunity to fix all kinds of things. Wish-list projects that had no reason to be included in the matter of defying the attackers and reestablishing the place they destroyed as a working American concern began to muddy the waters. There should be a theater devoted to the arts! There should be an opera house! Maybe there could be a one-stop train line built to JFK Airport! Most astonishing was the devotion of billions of dollars to a mammoth project to create a commuter train station in Lower Manhattan — with a stunning but entirely unworkable design by the brilliant Santiago Calavatra– that will never be built. Not to mention the destruction by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of nearly an entire city block of buildings to create an entirely unnecessary mass transit hub. Part of Lower Manhattan  was torn down for the purpose of saving Lower Manhattan, and now all of that is lost.

Most egregious was the tale of the design competition for the “Freedom Tower” intended to replace the Twin Towers, a preposterous folly with a public voting scheme that ended up being won by the ludicrous Daniel Liebeskind, who based his  concept around preserving the underground retaining walls (the so-called slurry walls that created a “bathtub” in which the Twin Towers sat) and using them as the key elements of a memorial. Because, you know, when people think of the World Trade Center, they think first and foremost of retaining walls 70 feet below street level.

The failure here was not merely one of bureaucracy or imagination. It was a failure of will.

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Who Cares?

A conversation between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton has the mainstream media all abuzz. But it is hard to see what possible relevance this has to the election–or anything else. We are supposed to believe that Hillary’s wounded followers will be encouraged because Bill–the source of many of her woes–had some phone chatter with Obama? We’re supposed to see this as a great act of healing within the Democratic Party? (And Clinton’s fundraising and organizational prowess have obviously been entirely upstaged by the Obama team, so it’s hard to see at this point what Bill Clinton could even offer his wife’s former opponent.)

At best you can say the whole episode was a lame attempt to distract attention from the Wesley Clark fiasco. Which probably explains why the Obama camp (and its media friends) made such a big deal over nothing.

A conversation between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton has the mainstream media all abuzz. But it is hard to see what possible relevance this has to the election–or anything else. We are supposed to believe that Hillary’s wounded followers will be encouraged because Bill–the source of many of her woes–had some phone chatter with Obama? We’re supposed to see this as a great act of healing within the Democratic Party? (And Clinton’s fundraising and organizational prowess have obviously been entirely upstaged by the Obama team, so it’s hard to see at this point what Bill Clinton could even offer his wife’s former opponent.)

At best you can say the whole episode was a lame attempt to distract attention from the Wesley Clark fiasco. Which probably explains why the Obama camp (and its media friends) made such a big deal over nothing.

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