This dissection of Barack Obama’s ad makes clear that Obama has reached Clintonion levels of exaggeration and deception. He led on welfare reform except he didn’t. He worked through school except he didn’t. Although there is no tale of sniper fire the syndrome is familiar: a fabulist’s tendency to embellish and invent tales which make him appear more accomplished and noble than he is.
Posts For: July 3, 2008
Rick Klein speculates that Barack Obama listened to Bill Kristol’s advice and incorporated more military references in his speech this week on public service. It would be nice if the sentiment came intuitively and not as an afterthought dragged out of him by conservative critics. Still, his excuse that he didn’t join the military because it was a voluntary force by the time he was old enough to serve seems especially lame. The point is of course that he could have chosen to serve. He need not have been defensive — he chose to pursue other avenues — but he could be more humble and honest. Voters might respect him more and scoff less if he came right out and said the physical danger and personal hardship of military service was not one that he undertook, but that is all the more reason for him to appreciate those who did. It would seem humility and gratitude are frowned upon by the Obama team. One wonders why — a healthy helping of each is sorely needed.
Reading a Seymour Hersh article is a bit like panning for gold: You have to dig through a lot of dirt to find any nuggets of possible value. Relying almost exclusively on vaguely described anonymous sources, he makes sweeping claims about top-secret operations that can only be known to a small number of people inside the government with access to the relevant “sensitive compartmented information” and “special access programs,” and they aren’t allowed to comment one way or the other. And his “reporting” is always colored by a sixties-leftist, anti-American, conspiratorial worldview.
To get my full read on Hersh’s latest red alert–this time about supposed U.S. plans to go to war with Iran–click here.
Christopher Hitchens has written a quintessentially Hitchens article in Vanity Fair. He decided he wanted to learn about the issue of waterboarding – so Hitchens, now 59 years old, traveled to North Carolina in order to be waterboarded. There are not many of us who take our research that seriously.
The result is a fascinating piece that describes waterboarding in a vivid and unforgettable manner.
It isn’t a pretty or happy experience.
Hitchens ultimately comes out against waterboarding and judges it to be torture, and he offers, as is his wont, some very persuasive reasons for his conclusion. There are certainly strong moral and utilitarian reasons to oppose waterboarding. But in the course of his piece, Hitchens does us the service of stating the strongest case for each side. And the case on behalf of those who hold views different than his is expressed this way:
The team who agreed to give me a hard time in the woods of North Carolina belong to a highly honorable group. This group regards itself as out on the front line in defense of a society that is too spoiled and too ungrateful to appreciate those solid, underpaid volunteers who guard us while we sleep. These heroes stay on the ramparts at all hours and in all weather, and if they make a mistake they may be arraigned in order to scratch some domestic political itch. Faced with appalling enemies who make horror videos of torture and beheadings, they feel that they are the ones who confront denunciation in our press, and possible prosecution. As they have just tried to demonstrate to me, a man who has been waterboarded may well emerge from the experience a bit shaky, but he is in a mood to surrender the relevant information and is unmarked and undamaged and indeed ready for another bout in quite a short time. When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.
What a welcome change in tone and argument from some of the more hysterical critics of the Bush Administration.
Hitchens includes an equally strong counter-argument, courtesy of Malcolm Nance, author of The Terrorists of Iraq and someone involved in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training since 1997.
Hitchens concludes his article this way:
Which returns us to my starting point, about the distinction between training for something and training to resist it. One used to be told-and surely with truth-that the lethal fanatics of al-Qaeda were schooled to lie, and instructed to claim that they had been tortured and maltreated whether they had been tortured and maltreated or not. Did we notice what a frontier we had crossed when we admitted and even proclaimed that their stories might in fact be true? I had only a very slight encounter on that frontier, but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words “waterboard” and “American” could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.
Hitchens may well be right; he captures the dilemma of the issue that many of us share. Regardless of what one concludes, Hitchens’s article and experience are certainly worth considering.
Yesterday, Barack Obama’s camp released a statement trying to slam John McCain’s current trip to South America. It read: “Senator McCain’s trip to Mexico and Colombia just underscores his insistence on continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies that have left nearly 2.5 million more workers unemployed, including unfair trade deals that have been written by lobbyists.”
Well, the crusty old warhorse may be gaining on Mr. International in the global community, after all. Contrary to what Obama wants you to believe, McCain got a healthy burst of support from Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe yesterday. Uribe, who’s made admirable progress on the issue of human rights in Colombia, said he wants John McCain to be the next president of the United States. No real surprise here, as Obama’s free trade-aversion would merely punish Columbia in the name of new Democratic isolationism. At a news conference in Cartagena, McCain said, “I would like to see a hemispheric free trade agreement. I would like to see our continued assistance to countries like Colombia.”
Obama seems unable to attack important McCain positions from an angle reflecting serious analysis. Railing against “unfair trade deals that have been written by lobbyists” may score Obama points among the anti-globalization fringe, but it doesn’t address the concerns of budding global economies looking to do business. Furthermore, it completely ignores the potential benefits such deals bring to U.S. companies and individuals. As McCain implied yesterday, if tariffs are dropped on U.S. exports more American jobs are created.
As we’ve seen on the questions of Iraq withdrawal and talk with Ahmadinejad, Obama has a hard time transitioning from slogans to policies, from the idea to the thing itself. Obama may be learning that postures are dangerous. An anti-free trade stance is more than a campus-friendly gesture; it’s a barrier to the pursuit of well-being the world over. And that’s not the kind of change the planet is looking for.
As the McCain camp notes in the never-ending game of “Guess Obama’s Next Iraq Policy,” Anthony Lake is hinting that Barack Obama will be back to his notion of a “strike force” — a vaguely defined residual force, in a yet to be determined location, with an unclear mission and an uncertain size. It really is nothing more than political cover for continuing to do what he has wanted to do all along — leave Iraq without regard to the consequences. So long as the (cue the music!) Strike Force is there we can leave with nothing to worry about, right?
Except for the fact that the Strike Force is hooey. What has succeeded and what is required if we are to have a decent outcome in Iraq are forces in Iraq sufficient to maintain security and promote the transition to political and military control by the Iraqi government. If the debacle in Somalia and the disastrous pre-surge Iraqi tactics taught us anything it is that a small force without a clearly defined objective (and a determination to restore order) quickly becomes fodder for the enemy.
We’ll await with interest whatever new and improved Iraqi position Obama has in mind. But candor should require that he acknowledge that the strategy which has succeeded was the one Obama opposed. Rather than figure out how to adhere to his old, failing policy — withdraw as fast as you can and hope for the best — Obama might consider how to align himself with what has worked. Better to forget transparent stunts like a “Strike Force” which avoid the real issue: how to successfully build upon the surge’s success and transition to an Iraq that can function independently of a substantial U.S. military presence.
One final observation: as he struggles to get in alignment with reality Obama is now playing the “listen to the commanders” card. But that has never been Obama’s view. Indeed, he has resisted at every turn since the surge began taking the advice of General Petraeus. From April’s Philadelphia debate:
GIBSON: And, Senator Obama, your campaign manager, David Plouffe, said, “When he is” — this is talking about you — “When he is elected president, we will be out of Iraq in 16 months at the most. There should be no confusion about that.” So you’d give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?
OBAMA: Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie. That’s not the role of the generals. And one of the things that’s been interesting about the president’s approach lately has been to say, “Well, I’m just taking cues from General Petraeus.” Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer. Now, I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with respect to tactics, once I’ve given them a new mission, that we are going to proceed deliberately, in an orderly fashion, out of Iraq, and we are going to have our combat troops out. We will not have permanent bases there. Once I have provided that mission, if they come to me and want to adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration. But, ultimately, the buck stops with me as the commander-in-chief.
The April Obama wasn’t taking cues from the military leaders but the July Obama is. Let’s hope the July one is the real and permanent Obama. And while he’s listening to the commanders he should ask them why the Strike Force is an unworkable and potentially dangerous idea.
The Left blogosphere has gone bonkers once again on the issue of “dual loyalty”– this time claiming that my piece in the Jerusalem Post explaining why many Jews concerned about Israel aren’t buying Barack Obama’s candidacy is an example of such “dual loyalty.” Well, that would be true only if you assume that the interests of the U.S. and Israel are antithetical. But leaders of both political parties have recognized for 6o years that support for Israel in no way requires sacrificing one’s concerns for America’s interests. The opposite is true of course: Israel’s survival is indisputably in the interest of the U.S. The example which is the basis for my piece in the Post — Richard Nixon’s support for Israel at a crucial time in the 1973 Yom Kippur War — illustrates that very point. Nixon was not a traitor to America — he was defending our vital national interests — when he stood with Israel and prevented her destruction. It is entirely fair to ask if similar circumstances arose in the future which candidate would most likely do the same.
I do think it is interesting that the Left has become so invested in diminishing and questioning support for Israel and the motives of those — from me to Richard Nixon, I suppose — who understand that Israel’s fate is linked to ours. It was after all Barack Obama who explained:
Our job is to renew the United States’ efforts to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this vision. . . That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point. And when we see all of the growing threats in the region: from Iran to Iraq to the resurgence of al-Qaeda to the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah, that loyalty and that friendship will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace and security.
It is then only appropriate to assess both candidates’ credibility and past records of resoluteness in determining who can best achieve that goal. (Presumably that is why both John McCain and Barack Obama showed up at AIPAC, but perhaps the Left thinks that act is also an unacceptable appeal to “dual loyalty.”) But rather than examine the relative records of the candidates’ and the implications of their past relationships, statements and policy positions, it is far easier to bellow that the effort to identify the candidate most resolute and most capable of defending Israel is itself improper or disloyal.
The vast majority of leaders in both political parties understand that there is nothing untoward in the least in evaluating candidates’ determination to defend Israel. That the Left blogosphere seems befuddled and enraged on this point is not surprising, but nevertheless disappointing.
If you are amazed and confused as to why Barack Obama didn’t nip the Wesley Clark story in the bud you need look no further than this example of liberal punditry. The Clark comment wasn’t an insult, or it was true, or no one cares or it’s a holiday week — pick your excuse for doing nothing. At most there is a concession that that tactics were poor:
[I]s this the best possible line of attack for an Obama supporter to take, when Barack’s only big claim to executive leadership was being a community organizer? Not generally a job that involves ordering bombs to fall.
Because Obama, his advisors and those on the Left who apparently reflect and shape Obama’s views don’t hear and understand the comments of a Clark as disrespectful and insulting there is no need to alter course. It’s okay to intimate that getting shot down and permanently maimed for your country is no big deal and being tortured as a POW just proves you missed out on vital foreign policy education. Yawn. Ho-hum.
There is no better example, I think, of the difference between Obama and the Clintons. As products of middle America and politicians from a Red state it is not an error, for all their many faults, that either Bill or Hillary would have made or allowed their surrogates to make. They (like the conservative critics and even many mainstream media reporters who expressed shock this week) understand that there are just certain things one does not say without leaving the impression that you are indifferent to military valor. The man who is already viewed with suspicion on matters of national security and whose affections for America have rightly or wrongly been called into doubt shouldn’t be seen as winking and nodding while Clark (and then Rand Beers) used McCain’s war service as political fodder.
However, Obama did just that and ordinary Americans will judge whether that reflects well on him or not. But the reaction from the liberal pundits does explain, if there was any doubt remaining, just how divorced from regular Americans’ sensibilities the Left’s candidate can be. Those gun clinging, religious types just get worked up over the darnedest things, don’t they?
At a UN press conference in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters, “constructive statements and approaches had “paved the way for creating a new sort of atmosphere,” in talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
Sure, but “constructive” toward what end? And creating what sort of new atmosphere? From
On behalf of several nations, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana gave Tehran the incentive offer on June 14 and yesterday Mottaki said, “Very soon I will respond to the letter given to me by the six foreign ministers.”
Mottaki said he’s confident that neither the
If you ignore the obvious straining by the New York Times to suggest Karl Rove’s evil influence is somehow permeating the John McCain camp, this account of the expected changes and reasons behind the elevation of Steve Schmidt to effective campaign chief is illuminating. It suggests that, as he did when his campaign ran aground after immigration reform, McCain can assess a situation (e.g. the campaign was adrift) and readjust. He is not so isolated or impervious to input as some might have portrayed him to be.
Moreover, Schmidt seems focused on the right things: establishing a credible economic message and fighting like heck to get the campaign’s version of Barack Obama’s flaws before the voters. Goodness knows, they have a ton of material to work with.
For all the griping McCain could be much worse situated than he already is. His national poll numbers are within the margin of error. And purely because of his opponent’s errors (and the Obama team’s overestimation of the media’s tolerance for its candidate’s hypocrisy), Obama has done a darn good job starting several adverse storylines: arrogance, phoniness and lack of appreciation or understanding of military service.
Obama has not only initiated some self-destructive narratives, he has considerably damaged his standing with the mainstream media. I’m not talking about Left-leaning blogs or cable show partisans (who will never lose faith in the Agent of Change), but the political reporters who cover the campaigns on a daily basis and the center/liberal pundits for news networks and major newspapers. It is the latter group — those not impervious to evidence and reason — who have become more sober-minded, aggressive and skeptical of the Obama campaign and the entire pretense that he is a New Politician. The coverage has become increasingly more harsh and critical as Obama has stumbled, bumbled and fumbled through reversals on campaign financing and a host of issues and elevated Wesley Clark to the first major blunder of the general election.
What does this have to do with Schmidt? He’s been around long enough to know that public whining about the mainstream media — the favorite excuse and pastime of much of the McCain team to date — is utterly counterproductive. McCain, more than any other candidate, gives the mainstream media what they crave and what Obama does not: access, authenticity and candor. (And if this is correct, getting McCain into the political fight of his life would be an added benefit from Schmidt’s promotion.) Schmidt should figure out how to make the most of that and to re-establish the media’s respect, if not affection, for McCain. While Obama is at low ebb with the media, the opportunity is ripe. McCain need not become the darling of the media –but he can recalibrate the relationship which once was, and again can be, an advantage.
The rise of the Internet has transformed the way in which I use the reference books that I keep within arm’s reach of my desk. I own, for instance, the two-volume New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, but I can’t remember the last time I opened it. When I want to look up a word, I use an online dictionary. By the same token, my Bible and Complete Works of Shakespeare have long since been relegated to the living-room bookshelves, not because they’re any less valuable under the aspect of postmodernity but because the texts of these oft-consulted books have been made available in searchable online versions that make it possible for me to hunt down half-remembered passages with the greatest of ease.
I still keep Fowler’s Modern English Usage on my desk, though mostly for sentimental reasons, and a half-dozen more books are shelved where I can get at them without rising from my chair. They are Dostoevsky’s Demons, a Modern Library edition of Montaigne’s essays and four ancient hardbound Viking Portables: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Conrad, Henry James and Johnson and Boswell. (Once you reach middle age, Boswell’s Life of Johnson is better read in an abridged version.) Again, though, these books are more talismans than tools, and I keep them nearby as a gesture, much as Whittaker Chambers kept copies of Demons, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and Franz Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes in the top drawer of his desk at Time. My real “reference library” is my MacBook, with which I can consult anything from the 24,000 public-domain texts that Project Gutenberg has made available in electronic “editions” to a searchable version of the complete run of Time, starting in 1923 and extending forward to this week’s issue.
The only two reference books on my desk that I still consult with fair regularity are David Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film and H.L. Mencken’s New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, both of which are more idiosyncratic than their titles suggest. Thomson’s book is a fat collection of essayettes about major figures in film, all written with a strongly personal slant from which a true lexicographer would gallop at full speed. Here, for instance, is Thomson on Humphrey Bogart:
He made few wholly satisfactory films-High Sierra, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, In a Lonely Place-and failed in a variety of parts outside the narrow range he saw fit for himself. But within that range he had the impact of Garbo or James Dean. Like them, he was a great Romantic. It is harder to see him as such because of the efforts he made to appear anti-Romantic. The implications of his work-as a comment on self-dramatization-are rather more daunting and disturbing than he ever realized.
Mencken’s New Dictionary is a similarly deft piece of literary prestidigitation, a 1,347-page commonplace book disguised as a sober-looking dictionary of quotations, though you don’t have to peruse it much more than casually to realize that the quotations Mencken painstakingly assembled and organized by topic were intended to reflect his own dark skepticism about mankind. One reviewer, Morton Dauwen Zabel, saw at once what Mencken had been up to when the book was published in 1942: “The impression soon becomes inescapable that what Mencken has produced as a ‘Dictionary of Quotations’ is really a transcendend ‘Prejudices: Seventh Series,’ a ‘Notes on Humanity,’ or more expressly ‘Mencken’s Philosophical Dictionary, Written by Others.’”
Now that it’s possible to search the archives of Time on line, I looked up that magazine’s original review of the New Dictionary the other day, and was not disappointed:
The reader may thus trace from start to semi-finish a concentrated history of thumbnail memoranda on such subjects as God, boredom, marriage, work, Government, lawyers, shoals of others. He may learn the Golden Rule not only from the New Testament but from Confucius, Isocrates, Tobit, the Mahabharata, Hillel Ha-Babli; such shy self-revelations as the U.S. proverb: “Do others or they will do you,” or Bernard Shaw’s “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” The reader can observe that, whereas there is much respectful talk about law itself, human experience with lawyers has been bilious. He can get every sort of opinion of work, from Hippocrates’ sound advice “Never work when hungry” to the African proverb: “Work only tires a woman, but it ruins a man.”
Would that Mencken’s New Dictionary were still in print, but used copies are easy to find and worth acquiring. Rarely does a week go by that I don’t have occasion to consult it, always with profit and often with amusement.
It is not every election that Republicans complain that the Democrats are out to buy an election, but this is no ordinary year and Karl Rove does just that. After observing Barack Obama’s money advantage (but also the vast sums already spent by Obama), Rove observes:
Mr. Obama’s ads show he’s aware of his vulnerability on two fronts: his liberal values and his meager achievements. Yet he should be more cautious with these weaknesses. His bio ad says he was raised with “values straight from the Kansas heartland,” though he grew up in Hawaii. He claims to have passed three bills, but fails to mention that two were in the Illinois state Senate and that he didn’t vote on the third in the U.S. Senate. His new ad praises welfare reform, yet he opposed the legislation when a Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed it.
While that is true (and it is equally true that running political ads in July may not be optimal use of Obama’s funds), it is worth observing that Obama can get away with a number of these inconsistencies and untruths because even a critical media fact checker doesn’t reach as many eyes as the original ads. Moreover, McCain doesn’t have the funds to run counter-ads pointing all this out. It is up to McCain to do more with less and use free media more effectively. So while it is true, as Rove notes, that “Cash matters, but being a good candidate and right on the issues matters even more,” people don’t always figure out on their own who is right on the issues.
More importantly, just as Republicans used to roll their eyes and the public yawned when Democrats complained that their opponents were out to “buy voters,” the complaint about an imbalance in funding isn’t likely to engender any sympathy or interest when Republicans do it. And the funding imbalance, let’s face it, also bespeaks an enthusiasm imbalance. That’s something Steve Schmidt might put on his “things to work on” list.
Aside from further fodder for those who find Michelle’s bossing of her husband in public a bit cringe-inducing, this account on potential dogs for the Obama family provides some fun and a few thoughts. (I am a dog nut so I speak from some canine experience.) First, under no circumstances should the Obamas choose this breed, which the AKC apparently recommended. Obama doesn’t have enough problem with folks who think he’s not a “regular guy”? (Yeah, walk that around in the Rust Belt and listen to the comments.) Second, say what you will about chastising her spouse in public, Michelle is right: two little girls won’t be taking care of a dog so the parents (okay, the staff of the parents in this case) will be. Finally, the McCain menagerie is a good sign — if you can tolerate mess, noise, a certain level of chaos and love animals enough to have that many you can’t be all bad — and you have had good training for Washington.
And, yes, how people treat their animals does tell us a little something about their personality. (You will recall the irresponsible Clintons who couldn’t manage to keep Buddy alive.) My recommendation for the Obamas? A nice mutt from the pound.