Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 6, 2008

Sunday Talkers Not Kind

There was much discussion this Sunday over whether Barack Obama is shifting ground. Over at This Week, Mark Halperin, Ted Koppel and host George Stephanopoulos were not shy about pointing out the divergence between the old and new Obama. Halperin termed an effort to adopt the surge “fundamentally at odds” with his primary stance. Stephanopoulos, sounding like another observer, noted: “He basically wants it both ways. He wants that position without getting accused of changing positions. I think he’s afraid if he gets accused of changing position that will communicate some uneasiness as commander in chief. ”

Mara Liasson, no right-wing critic, had this to say on Fox News Sunday:

LIASSON: Well, that’s the big question. And what I think is so interesting is how few people seem to know which one it is.
I mean, Paul Krugman, who’s a liberal columnist, wrote this week, “Gee, is he a centrist just masquerading as someone who’s a transformational progressive figure or is he really the opposite?” You know, people just don’t know. He’s a blank slate. Because he’s so new, he is a kind of Rorschach test. But I do think that of all these issues that Fred raised, the most important one is Iraq. I mean, yes, he’s moved on the death penalty and on guns and on a whole host of other things. Iraq is the big enchilada here. And I think that’s why he had two press conferences in three hours. And I think, you know, he said, “I would be a poor commander in chief if I didn’t take facts on the ground into account and of course I might change things.” I think that is the operative…

HUME: But is he on the verge of changing on his long-stated promise that says, “The mission is to get out and I’ll have them all out, all the forces out, in 16 months?”

LIASSON: I think the 16 months — he is trying to get himself out of that box. Look, Samantha Power got in a lot of trouble…

HUME: Who’s that?

LIASSON: His former foreign policy aide who gave interviews in Europe where she said, “Well, of course he’s not going to just stick to some campaign promise of 16 months. He’s going to look at the facts on the ground.” Well, that’s what the American people want a commander in chief to do. That might not be what his left-wing base does. The question for Obama now is what kind of Iraq does he want to leave behind. He said in that press conference the American people don’t want to see Iraq collapse. Well, what if the commanders on the ground say, “Hey, if we do it in 16 months, Iraq is going to collapse?” He’s going to have to take that into account.

Nor was Juan Williams any less restrained:

“Well, I mean, I think that he won against Hillary Clinton largely by running to the left and saying that he was firmly opposed to this war. She voted for it. He said he wasn’t in the Senate but he would have, even though he later voted to fund some of the war effort. My sense is, though, along the lines of the Wall Street Journal editorial this week that said who would have guessed that Barack Obama is legitimizing George Bush’s — and the whole notion of George Bush’s position on Iraq, and the whole notion of a third term for Bush, because he’s picked up not just on Iraq, but on things like faith- based initiative, even on the abortion question, which I — it was befuddling to me. He says suddenly, you know, mental distress is not a basis for a woman to have an abortion. I mean, that’s going to outrage people on the left. So what it seems to me is you could say on Iraq it’s a matter of emphasis. All along he has said he would take into consideration the position of the commanders in the field. But the heart and soul — I mean, the heart of his campaign has been to say, “This is an unpopular war. It’s a war that was ill- conceived. We never should have gone in there. We have put too much money in there. We have spent too much of our precious blood there.”And suddenly he’s saying, “No, no, you know what? I’m going to refine my position.”

And that I think is why Obama cannot make a clean break, announce he’s smarter than the average politician, and come right out and say the surge is now the bipartisan strategy of both parties. He simply isn’t willing, at least not yet, to face his base and admit his campaign was premised on the wrong policy.

But I think something else is at work here as well: his own belief that the war is still not winnable. As to the latter, in all the to and fro, we have yet to hear from Obama that he thinks the war can have a successful conclusion. The one constant in all the muddled and contradictory comments is his stated belief that we have to get out of Iraq to go fight elsewhere. Maybe that has changed too and we don’t yet know it. But until he embraces the notion that this is a winnable and worthwhile fight to complete I doubt we will hear a full-throated commitment to the surge. After all, the point of the surge is to avoid a horrid defeat for America, prevent ethnic genocide and regional chaos, and execute a successful transition to a self-sufficient Iraq which can build on the political and military progress resulting from the surge. Does Obama think that is possible? He has yet to say he does.

In the meantime, the “having it both ways strategy” seems like a bad idea and is causing further erosion of his New Politics image. Presumably there are people around him smart enough to figure that out and accelerate the transition to whatever new policy he is going to adopt. Stay tuned.

There was much discussion this Sunday over whether Barack Obama is shifting ground. Over at This Week, Mark Halperin, Ted Koppel and host George Stephanopoulos were not shy about pointing out the divergence between the old and new Obama. Halperin termed an effort to adopt the surge “fundamentally at odds” with his primary stance. Stephanopoulos, sounding like another observer, noted: “He basically wants it both ways. He wants that position without getting accused of changing positions. I think he’s afraid if he gets accused of changing position that will communicate some uneasiness as commander in chief. ”

Mara Liasson, no right-wing critic, had this to say on Fox News Sunday:

LIASSON: Well, that’s the big question. And what I think is so interesting is how few people seem to know which one it is.
I mean, Paul Krugman, who’s a liberal columnist, wrote this week, “Gee, is he a centrist just masquerading as someone who’s a transformational progressive figure or is he really the opposite?” You know, people just don’t know. He’s a blank slate. Because he’s so new, he is a kind of Rorschach test. But I do think that of all these issues that Fred raised, the most important one is Iraq. I mean, yes, he’s moved on the death penalty and on guns and on a whole host of other things. Iraq is the big enchilada here. And I think that’s why he had two press conferences in three hours. And I think, you know, he said, “I would be a poor commander in chief if I didn’t take facts on the ground into account and of course I might change things.” I think that is the operative…

HUME: But is he on the verge of changing on his long-stated promise that says, “The mission is to get out and I’ll have them all out, all the forces out, in 16 months?”

LIASSON: I think the 16 months — he is trying to get himself out of that box. Look, Samantha Power got in a lot of trouble…

HUME: Who’s that?

LIASSON: His former foreign policy aide who gave interviews in Europe where she said, “Well, of course he’s not going to just stick to some campaign promise of 16 months. He’s going to look at the facts on the ground.” Well, that’s what the American people want a commander in chief to do. That might not be what his left-wing base does. The question for Obama now is what kind of Iraq does he want to leave behind. He said in that press conference the American people don’t want to see Iraq collapse. Well, what if the commanders on the ground say, “Hey, if we do it in 16 months, Iraq is going to collapse?” He’s going to have to take that into account.

Nor was Juan Williams any less restrained:

“Well, I mean, I think that he won against Hillary Clinton largely by running to the left and saying that he was firmly opposed to this war. She voted for it. He said he wasn’t in the Senate but he would have, even though he later voted to fund some of the war effort. My sense is, though, along the lines of the Wall Street Journal editorial this week that said who would have guessed that Barack Obama is legitimizing George Bush’s — and the whole notion of George Bush’s position on Iraq, and the whole notion of a third term for Bush, because he’s picked up not just on Iraq, but on things like faith- based initiative, even on the abortion question, which I — it was befuddling to me. He says suddenly, you know, mental distress is not a basis for a woman to have an abortion. I mean, that’s going to outrage people on the left. So what it seems to me is you could say on Iraq it’s a matter of emphasis. All along he has said he would take into consideration the position of the commanders in the field. But the heart and soul — I mean, the heart of his campaign has been to say, “This is an unpopular war. It’s a war that was ill- conceived. We never should have gone in there. We have put too much money in there. We have spent too much of our precious blood there.”And suddenly he’s saying, “No, no, you know what? I’m going to refine my position.”

And that I think is why Obama cannot make a clean break, announce he’s smarter than the average politician, and come right out and say the surge is now the bipartisan strategy of both parties. He simply isn’t willing, at least not yet, to face his base and admit his campaign was premised on the wrong policy.

But I think something else is at work here as well: his own belief that the war is still not winnable. As to the latter, in all the to and fro, we have yet to hear from Obama that he thinks the war can have a successful conclusion. The one constant in all the muddled and contradictory comments is his stated belief that we have to get out of Iraq to go fight elsewhere. Maybe that has changed too and we don’t yet know it. But until he embraces the notion that this is a winnable and worthwhile fight to complete I doubt we will hear a full-throated commitment to the surge. After all, the point of the surge is to avoid a horrid defeat for America, prevent ethnic genocide and regional chaos, and execute a successful transition to a self-sufficient Iraq which can build on the political and military progress resulting from the surge. Does Obama think that is possible? He has yet to say he does.

In the meantime, the “having it both ways strategy” seems like a bad idea and is causing further erosion of his New Politics image. Presumably there are people around him smart enough to figure that out and accelerate the transition to whatever new policy he is going to adopt. Stay tuned.

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Clinton Goes There

Earlier this week, I wrote about a series of Obama surrogates who have made comments “alleging that McCain is an unhinged, mentally unstable warmonger who would deploy soldiers capriciously because he hasn’t truly experienced the horrors of ground battle.” The similar message of these comments and the short period of time in which they were all uttered, I wrote, means “that one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they were coordinated by the Obama campaign.” Lest anyone doubt the pattern, we can now add Bill Clinton to the list of people alleging that John McCain is psychologically unfit for the presidency.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg reported on a talk given by Clinton at the Aspen Ideas Festival, in which the former president said, “Every living soul on this planet has some highly-justified anger. Everyone. If you know anybody who was a P.O.W. for any time, they can be going on for years and all of a sudden something will happen that will trigger all those bad memories.”

Clinton, to say the least, is not the biggest fan of Obama. And for a while, I was convinced that he would never lift a finger to help Obama to win the general election, seeing that a McCain victory could pave the way for Hillary getting the 2012 Democratic nomination. Yet this is a pretty good sign that Bill Clinton, however hesitant he may be to endorse his wife’s erstwhile nemesis, is finally “on message.”

Earlier this week, I wrote about a series of Obama surrogates who have made comments “alleging that McCain is an unhinged, mentally unstable warmonger who would deploy soldiers capriciously because he hasn’t truly experienced the horrors of ground battle.” The similar message of these comments and the short period of time in which they were all uttered, I wrote, means “that one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they were coordinated by the Obama campaign.” Lest anyone doubt the pattern, we can now add Bill Clinton to the list of people alleging that John McCain is psychologically unfit for the presidency.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg reported on a talk given by Clinton at the Aspen Ideas Festival, in which the former president said, “Every living soul on this planet has some highly-justified anger. Everyone. If you know anybody who was a P.O.W. for any time, they can be going on for years and all of a sudden something will happen that will trigger all those bad memories.”

Clinton, to say the least, is not the biggest fan of Obama. And for a while, I was convinced that he would never lift a finger to help Obama to win the general election, seeing that a McCain victory could pave the way for Hillary getting the 2012 Democratic nomination. Yet this is a pretty good sign that Bill Clinton, however hesitant he may be to endorse his wife’s erstwhile nemesis, is finally “on message.”

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The New New Vietnam

With the change of fortunes in Iraq, where is the MSM going to find their new Vietnam comparison? Courtesy of today’s Washington Post, I give you the wave of the future:

The war in Afghanistan sometimes appears to suffer from a syndrome that also plagued the United States in Vietnam: incremental increases in troops that are never enough to turn the situation around.

So the die is cast. All we need is a few thousand placard-wielding “pacifists” and we have another marketable “quagmire.” Doubtless, the Moveon.org and Daily Kos folks are checking their calendars, planning marches and designing smear ads. There will be new speeches, new books, new documentaries and new viral campaigns about the unwinnable disaster of Afghanistan-the new Vietnam.

Because the Left must have their Vietnam. The self-righteous language of protest is too satisfying to do without. Vietnam is shorthand for everything a good modern liberal knows to be awful about America. The military-industrial complex, the meddlesomeness, the hubris, the indifference to lost soldiers. Vietnam is a buzzword employed to throw up this constellation of fear and doubt about America.

The fact that it works as intended makes it so dangerous. There are a great many challenges facing the coalition effort in Afghanistan. But to label the whole affair another Vietnam distracts from the critical problem-solving that needs to happen. The Washington Post’s criticism of the U.S.’s initial decision to send in only 5000 troops in 2002 is not without merit. But as an example of how counterproductive these reflexive Vietnam comparisons are, one only need recall that part of the motivation for starting out with such a light footprint was the specific desire to avoid a Vietnam-like scenario.

The U.S. military has made invaluable gains in counterinsurgency methods during the Iraq War, and throughout, we’ve heard daily about “another Vietnam.” While the comparisons echoed and echoed, the men and women in uniform turned the War around. What does the Left say then? Not much. Because if it’s not another Vietnam it’s not worth noticing. With General Petraeus in charge at CentCom and the potential application of Iraq-learned lessons, there’s more than a fighting chance we’ll see some changes come to Afghanistan. And there’s zero chance we’ll see any change on the Left.

With the change of fortunes in Iraq, where is the MSM going to find their new Vietnam comparison? Courtesy of today’s Washington Post, I give you the wave of the future:

The war in Afghanistan sometimes appears to suffer from a syndrome that also plagued the United States in Vietnam: incremental increases in troops that are never enough to turn the situation around.

So the die is cast. All we need is a few thousand placard-wielding “pacifists” and we have another marketable “quagmire.” Doubtless, the Moveon.org and Daily Kos folks are checking their calendars, planning marches and designing smear ads. There will be new speeches, new books, new documentaries and new viral campaigns about the unwinnable disaster of Afghanistan-the new Vietnam.

Because the Left must have their Vietnam. The self-righteous language of protest is too satisfying to do without. Vietnam is shorthand for everything a good modern liberal knows to be awful about America. The military-industrial complex, the meddlesomeness, the hubris, the indifference to lost soldiers. Vietnam is a buzzword employed to throw up this constellation of fear and doubt about America.

The fact that it works as intended makes it so dangerous. There are a great many challenges facing the coalition effort in Afghanistan. But to label the whole affair another Vietnam distracts from the critical problem-solving that needs to happen. The Washington Post’s criticism of the U.S.’s initial decision to send in only 5000 troops in 2002 is not without merit. But as an example of how counterproductive these reflexive Vietnam comparisons are, one only need recall that part of the motivation for starting out with such a light footprint was the specific desire to avoid a Vietnam-like scenario.

The U.S. military has made invaluable gains in counterinsurgency methods during the Iraq War, and throughout, we’ve heard daily about “another Vietnam.” While the comparisons echoed and echoed, the men and women in uniform turned the War around. What does the Left say then? Not much. Because if it’s not another Vietnam it’s not worth noticing. With General Petraeus in charge at CentCom and the potential application of Iraq-learned lessons, there’s more than a fighting chance we’ll see some changes come to Afghanistan. And there’s zero chance we’ll see any change on the Left.

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Can We Question His Patriotism Now?

On July 4th, Matthew Yglesias writes:

My sense every July 4 is that I could get more jazzed up about independence if it were more plausible for Americans to work ourselves up into a fury of anti-British sentiment. In the real world, however, America’s two closest allies are the former colonial power and the segments of British North America that didn’t join in our rebellion. Ultimately, I think the United States is a pretty awesome country but it very plausibly would have been even awesomer had English and American political leaders in the late 18th century been farsighted enough to find compromises that would have held the empire together.

Mark Hemingway titles this sentiment, “Give Me Compromise or Give Me Death.” Can we question Yglesias’s patriotism now?

On July 4th, Matthew Yglesias writes:

My sense every July 4 is that I could get more jazzed up about independence if it were more plausible for Americans to work ourselves up into a fury of anti-British sentiment. In the real world, however, America’s two closest allies are the former colonial power and the segments of British North America that didn’t join in our rebellion. Ultimately, I think the United States is a pretty awesome country but it very plausibly would have been even awesomer had English and American political leaders in the late 18th century been farsighted enough to find compromises that would have held the empire together.

Mark Hemingway titles this sentiment, “Give Me Compromise or Give Me Death.” Can we question Yglesias’s patriotism now?

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Re: What Does Barack Obama Really Think About Abortion?

Jan Crawford Greenburg, author of an invaluable book on the Supreme Court (Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States) and possibly the best mainstream Supreme Court reporter anywhere, got into Barack Obama’s abortion comments. The entire piece is must-reading, but here is the nub:

[T]here’s no mistaking that Obama says he no longer will support what’s long been a cornerstone of the abortion rights debate: The Court’s insistence that laws banning abortions after the fetus is viable (now about 22 weeks) contain an exception to allow doctors to perform them if necessary to protect a pregnant woman’s mental health. . . Wow. This has been a central battleground issue in the Supreme Court going back 35 years, to Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, when the Court ruled a woman had a constitutional right to abortion. The decisions said state’s can ban all abortions after the fetus is viable — but that any restrictions must include exceptions to protect a woman’s physical and emotional health. In the years since, anti-abortion groups have fought hard against mental health exceptions, arguing that they create giant loopholes that make abortion bans meaningless. Doctors, they argue, can always find a “mental health” exception. But abortion rights groups just as strongly argue the mental health exception is critical to preserving a woman’s right to an abortion—and that the woman and her doctor must be allowed to make those decisions about her health without government interference. . . Obama’s comments that he does not support mental health exceptions in so-called post-viability abortions (after 22 weeks) is squarely at odds with that holding, which remains the law of the land today. So here are some questions for the Obama campaign: Does Obama still support the Freedom of Choice Act? Would he appoint justices like Ginsburg — or like Thomas, Scalia, etc.? Would he direct his Solicitor General to file a brief supporting state abortion bans that did not include a mental health exception?

Now is it possible that Obama, a self-proclaimed constitutional law expert, had no idea what he was saying when he indicated that he disapproved of the mental health exception? I suppose. Or was he once again betting that no one would call him on a glaring instance of intellectual inconsistency? Ah, that’s a workable theory. But if there were ever an issue in which both sides hang on every word and look for winks, nods and body language this is it.

Then comes a “clarification” which is too mind-numbing to summarize. It’s only real distress or depression which should be used to justify late term abortions, is I think what he means. Listen, you either are for or against the legal regime of Roe v. Wade. And if you are against a mental health justification (which is reduced to abortion on demand in the real world) you are against Roe. Obama, in an effort to pander to value voters made a hash of this, and I think has now retreated to his embrace of Roe as inviolate. This is lame for a non-lawyer — it’s embarrassing for a so-called constitutional law guru.

Jan Crawford Greenburg, author of an invaluable book on the Supreme Court (Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States) and possibly the best mainstream Supreme Court reporter anywhere, got into Barack Obama’s abortion comments. The entire piece is must-reading, but here is the nub:

[T]here’s no mistaking that Obama says he no longer will support what’s long been a cornerstone of the abortion rights debate: The Court’s insistence that laws banning abortions after the fetus is viable (now about 22 weeks) contain an exception to allow doctors to perform them if necessary to protect a pregnant woman’s mental health. . . Wow. This has been a central battleground issue in the Supreme Court going back 35 years, to Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, when the Court ruled a woman had a constitutional right to abortion. The decisions said state’s can ban all abortions after the fetus is viable — but that any restrictions must include exceptions to protect a woman’s physical and emotional health. In the years since, anti-abortion groups have fought hard against mental health exceptions, arguing that they create giant loopholes that make abortion bans meaningless. Doctors, they argue, can always find a “mental health” exception. But abortion rights groups just as strongly argue the mental health exception is critical to preserving a woman’s right to an abortion—and that the woman and her doctor must be allowed to make those decisions about her health without government interference. . . Obama’s comments that he does not support mental health exceptions in so-called post-viability abortions (after 22 weeks) is squarely at odds with that holding, which remains the law of the land today. So here are some questions for the Obama campaign: Does Obama still support the Freedom of Choice Act? Would he appoint justices like Ginsburg — or like Thomas, Scalia, etc.? Would he direct his Solicitor General to file a brief supporting state abortion bans that did not include a mental health exception?

Now is it possible that Obama, a self-proclaimed constitutional law expert, had no idea what he was saying when he indicated that he disapproved of the mental health exception? I suppose. Or was he once again betting that no one would call him on a glaring instance of intellectual inconsistency? Ah, that’s a workable theory. But if there were ever an issue in which both sides hang on every word and look for winks, nods and body language this is it.

Then comes a “clarification” which is too mind-numbing to summarize. It’s only real distress or depression which should be used to justify late term abortions, is I think what he means. Listen, you either are for or against the legal regime of Roe v. Wade. And if you are against a mental health justification (which is reduced to abortion on demand in the real world) you are against Roe. Obama, in an effort to pander to value voters made a hash of this, and I think has now retreated to his embrace of Roe as inviolate. This is lame for a non-lawyer — it’s embarrassing for a so-called constitutional law guru.

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Hands Off Iran, Part II

“The Threat to Iran.”

That’s the title of this Thomas Powers essay which spans the top cover of the current New York Review of Books. And to think, all this time I had been worried that it was “The Threat of Iran,” what with its killing our soldiers in Iraq, its unabated attempt to enrich uranium, and its support for international terrorism. Silly me. Apparently, all this time, the real threat has been one pointed at Iran, not from it.

By playing down the supposed dangers of a nuclear Iran, Powers all but makes the case that the mullahs should get a nuclear bomb. After all, he says, “the world’s experience with nuclear weapons to date has shown that nuclear powers do not use them, and they seriously threaten to use them only to deter attack.” Rather, “what changes is that nuclear powers have to be treated differently; in particular they cannot be casually threatened.” Take that, BushCheney! No more “casual threats” to Iran. They deserve better.

“The Threat to Iran.”

That’s the title of this Thomas Powers essay which spans the top cover of the current New York Review of Books. And to think, all this time I had been worried that it was “The Threat of Iran,” what with its killing our soldiers in Iraq, its unabated attempt to enrich uranium, and its support for international terrorism. Silly me. Apparently, all this time, the real threat has been one pointed at Iran, not from it.

By playing down the supposed dangers of a nuclear Iran, Powers all but makes the case that the mullahs should get a nuclear bomb. After all, he says, “the world’s experience with nuclear weapons to date has shown that nuclear powers do not use them, and they seriously threaten to use them only to deter attack.” Rather, “what changes is that nuclear powers have to be treated differently; in particular they cannot be casually threatened.” Take that, BushCheney! No more “casual threats” to Iran. They deserve better.

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Then Again

Barack Obama is now “puzzled” by the firestorm set off by his remarks on Thursday suggesting he was revising his Iraq policy. ABC reports:

He continued, “The tactics of how we ensure our troops are safe as we pull out, how we execute the withdrawal. Those are things that are all based on facts and conditions, and you know I’m not somebody who, unlike George Bush, is willing to ignore facts on the basis of my preconceived notions. I want to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground.” Sen. Obama — who plans a trip to Iraq this month — took issue with reporters who “finely calibrated” his statements, and specific words, on his Iraq War plan. “I wasn’t saying anything that I hadn’t said before,” Obama said. “I don’t think in anyway it is inconsistent with prior statements and doesn’t change my strategic view that this war has to end and that I am going to end it as president,” he repeated again.

The McCain camp is a bit flummoxed –and you can hardly blame them, or anyone else, for being confused.

If Obama’s Thursday comments are consistent with his prior pronouncements are we then to assume he really isn’t taking into account an entirely different set of facts on the ground and changing policy accordingly? At least this version doesn’t sound much like he has rethought the success of the surge and recognizes the need to push through to a positive outcome. Rather, it sounds more like: ” Okay, I may shift the speed of my withdrawal plans.” Or then again, maybe the New York Times scared him and he’s just afraid to tell us what he told the Iraqi foreign minister.

It is very hard to do two diametrically opposed things simultaneously: convince the voters he’s not changed his Iraq stance and actually change course because his prior position is untenable and out of touch with new realities. So what we get is a muddled mess of conflicting comments. This most recent incarnation may calm his netroot base (i.e. never admit error and persist in a policy based on withdrawal and not success), but it throws into doubt what, if anything, he really means to do differently.

It is not clear at all what he’s up to at this point and the appearance that he is nervously tacking with the political winds only increases with every equivocal statement. You wish someone would grab him by the lapel and tell him, “Say what you mean, Senator!” As we traipse after him on his meandering journey to discover what he really intends to do, each day we will find out how much more he is willing to reveal and if he is finally going to spit out a new policy. Not exactly a profile in courage. Definitely not the New Politics.

Barack Obama is now “puzzled” by the firestorm set off by his remarks on Thursday suggesting he was revising his Iraq policy. ABC reports:

He continued, “The tactics of how we ensure our troops are safe as we pull out, how we execute the withdrawal. Those are things that are all based on facts and conditions, and you know I’m not somebody who, unlike George Bush, is willing to ignore facts on the basis of my preconceived notions. I want to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground.” Sen. Obama — who plans a trip to Iraq this month — took issue with reporters who “finely calibrated” his statements, and specific words, on his Iraq War plan. “I wasn’t saying anything that I hadn’t said before,” Obama said. “I don’t think in anyway it is inconsistent with prior statements and doesn’t change my strategic view that this war has to end and that I am going to end it as president,” he repeated again.

The McCain camp is a bit flummoxed –and you can hardly blame them, or anyone else, for being confused.

If Obama’s Thursday comments are consistent with his prior pronouncements are we then to assume he really isn’t taking into account an entirely different set of facts on the ground and changing policy accordingly? At least this version doesn’t sound much like he has rethought the success of the surge and recognizes the need to push through to a positive outcome. Rather, it sounds more like: ” Okay, I may shift the speed of my withdrawal plans.” Or then again, maybe the New York Times scared him and he’s just afraid to tell us what he told the Iraqi foreign minister.

It is very hard to do two diametrically opposed things simultaneously: convince the voters he’s not changed his Iraq stance and actually change course because his prior position is untenable and out of touch with new realities. So what we get is a muddled mess of conflicting comments. This most recent incarnation may calm his netroot base (i.e. never admit error and persist in a policy based on withdrawal and not success), but it throws into doubt what, if anything, he really means to do differently.

It is not clear at all what he’s up to at this point and the appearance that he is nervously tacking with the political winds only increases with every equivocal statement. You wish someone would grab him by the lapel and tell him, “Say what you mean, Senator!” As we traipse after him on his meandering journey to discover what he really intends to do, each day we will find out how much more he is willing to reveal and if he is finally going to spit out a new policy. Not exactly a profile in courage. Definitely not the New Politics.

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In Remembrance: Charles Horner On Jesse Helms

On July 4, Jesse Helms, the former five-term United States Senator from North Carolina, passed away. His controversial political career has been chronicled in numerous obituaries, but few recall the severity of the demonization to which Helms was subjected by many liberals–who accused him of being a one-man “pantheon of evil.” These radical characterizations served to stifle honest political debate, argued Charles Horner in the January 1992 issue of COMMENTARY:

From time to time, American political figures become convenient symbols of the evil against which all enlightened people are automatically ranged. In this rogue’s gallery, the late Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin is still the greatest villain-his name has even entered into the language but he is being challenged for pride of place in our own day by another U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms.

A Republican from North Carolina, first elected in 1972 and in November 1990 reelected to a fourth term, Helms enjoys a longstanding popularity in his own state which is seldom if ever reflected in the accounts of him that appear in the press. There he is invariably seen as an ogre, a man with a “dark view of the world,” “the Grand Old Man of the Far Right,” or sometimes just “an angry old man.” He is “irrational,” an “extremist”; he appeals to the darker side of the national character.”

But the Left’s vilification of Helms, according to Horner, successfully achieved its aim:

These initiatives [to curb funding for AIDS and the NEA] have earned for Helms an enmity unique in the ongoing political debate. And it is obvious that the vilification is working. It partly explains why Helms has been left virtually alone in a battle that everyone who seeks reversal in the drift toward domestic decadence would be expected to help him fight. Of course, “enlightened” people were late converts to other causes identified with the Right; one thinks of its foreign-policy crusades to “rollback” Communism in Eastern Europe, free the Baltics, recover Russia for civilization, and ostracize the regime in Beijing. But for all that the Reagan revolution managed to do all these things, our cultural and moral order here at home is scarcely Reaganesque. Indeed, the decade which began with fretful breastbeating that Khomeniism was coming to America in the guise of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority ended with Robert Mapplethorpe’s becoming the most famous “artist” in the land–and Jesse Helms his only consequential political nemesis. No wonder that he has been demonized by the liberal culture.

Horner also relates this telling footnote:

A group of people calling themselves the Treatment Action Guerrillas spent $3,500 to secure a giant replica of a condom which they then managed to place on the chimney atop the roof of Helms’s Arlington, Virginia, home. They inflated the contraption and attached a placard to it explaining that the device was meant to prevent the spread of “unsafe politics.”

Politicians of all stripes face criticism in America and the nation’s political health depends on such scrutiny. But in the end the senator’s ideas and policies were not what was contested; instead, Helms’s detractors have reduced his legacy to, as Matthew Yglesias put it, an exemplification of “bigotry, lunatic notions about foreign policy, and tobacco subsidies.”

On July 4, Jesse Helms, the former five-term United States Senator from North Carolina, passed away. His controversial political career has been chronicled in numerous obituaries, but few recall the severity of the demonization to which Helms was subjected by many liberals–who accused him of being a one-man “pantheon of evil.” These radical characterizations served to stifle honest political debate, argued Charles Horner in the January 1992 issue of COMMENTARY:

From time to time, American political figures become convenient symbols of the evil against which all enlightened people are automatically ranged. In this rogue’s gallery, the late Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin is still the greatest villain-his name has even entered into the language but he is being challenged for pride of place in our own day by another U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms.

A Republican from North Carolina, first elected in 1972 and in November 1990 reelected to a fourth term, Helms enjoys a longstanding popularity in his own state which is seldom if ever reflected in the accounts of him that appear in the press. There he is invariably seen as an ogre, a man with a “dark view of the world,” “the Grand Old Man of the Far Right,” or sometimes just “an angry old man.” He is “irrational,” an “extremist”; he appeals to the darker side of the national character.”

But the Left’s vilification of Helms, according to Horner, successfully achieved its aim:

These initiatives [to curb funding for AIDS and the NEA] have earned for Helms an enmity unique in the ongoing political debate. And it is obvious that the vilification is working. It partly explains why Helms has been left virtually alone in a battle that everyone who seeks reversal in the drift toward domestic decadence would be expected to help him fight. Of course, “enlightened” people were late converts to other causes identified with the Right; one thinks of its foreign-policy crusades to “rollback” Communism in Eastern Europe, free the Baltics, recover Russia for civilization, and ostracize the regime in Beijing. But for all that the Reagan revolution managed to do all these things, our cultural and moral order here at home is scarcely Reaganesque. Indeed, the decade which began with fretful breastbeating that Khomeniism was coming to America in the guise of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority ended with Robert Mapplethorpe’s becoming the most famous “artist” in the land–and Jesse Helms his only consequential political nemesis. No wonder that he has been demonized by the liberal culture.

Horner also relates this telling footnote:

A group of people calling themselves the Treatment Action Guerrillas spent $3,500 to secure a giant replica of a condom which they then managed to place on the chimney atop the roof of Helms’s Arlington, Virginia, home. They inflated the contraption and attached a placard to it explaining that the device was meant to prevent the spread of “unsafe politics.”

Politicians of all stripes face criticism in America and the nation’s political health depends on such scrutiny. But in the end the senator’s ideas and policies were not what was contested; instead, Helms’s detractors have reduced his legacy to, as Matthew Yglesias put it, an exemplification of “bigotry, lunatic notions about foreign policy, and tobacco subsidies.”

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Barack-E

In addition to persuading me not to see Wall-E and the gratuitous swipes at John McCain, Frank Rich’s column offers further proof that the bloom is off the Barack Obama rose for liberals. Rich comments:

For me, Mr. Obama showed signs of jumping the shark two weeks back, when he appeared at a podium affixed with his own pompous faux-presidential seal. It could have been a Pixar sight gag. In fact, it is a gag in “Wall-E,” where, in a flashback, we see that the original do-nothing chief executive of Buy N Large (prone to pronouncements like “stay the course”) boasted his own ersatz presidential podium. For all the hyperventilation on the left about Mr. Obama’s rush to the center — some warranted, some not — what’s more alarming is how small-bore and defensive his campaign has become. Whether he’s reaffirming his long-held belief in faith-based programs or fudging his core convictions about government snooping, he is drifting away from the leadership he promised and into the focus-group-tested calculation patented by Mark Penn in his disastrous campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama’s Wednesday address calling for renewed public service is unassailable in principle but inadequate to the daunting size of the serious American crisis at hand. The speech could have been — and has been — delivered by any candidate of either party in any election year since 1960.

Well, there is nothing new about politicians drifting to the center in the general election and there is nothing new about spouting political clichés. There also is nothing new about arrogant politicians or ones who talk out of both sides of their mouth on key issues from war to abortion. Indeed, all these are time-honored traditions. But Obama was supposed to be new, right?

Making up for his lack of experience was his stunning political virtue (we could finally be proud of our country because he had arrived), blazing insight ( ah– Washington is where good ideas go to die!) and sterling judgment. But if he breaks promises right and left, tosses his reform mantle away (for millions in cold hard cash), reveals himself to be Clintonian in lack of attachment to core beliefs, and is sort-of, kinda about to prove (if not admit) he was wrong on the most important national security judgment (the surge) he faced on the national stage, what exactly is his selling point?

In addition to persuading me not to see Wall-E and the gratuitous swipes at John McCain, Frank Rich’s column offers further proof that the bloom is off the Barack Obama rose for liberals. Rich comments:

For me, Mr. Obama showed signs of jumping the shark two weeks back, when he appeared at a podium affixed with his own pompous faux-presidential seal. It could have been a Pixar sight gag. In fact, it is a gag in “Wall-E,” where, in a flashback, we see that the original do-nothing chief executive of Buy N Large (prone to pronouncements like “stay the course”) boasted his own ersatz presidential podium. For all the hyperventilation on the left about Mr. Obama’s rush to the center — some warranted, some not — what’s more alarming is how small-bore and defensive his campaign has become. Whether he’s reaffirming his long-held belief in faith-based programs or fudging his core convictions about government snooping, he is drifting away from the leadership he promised and into the focus-group-tested calculation patented by Mark Penn in his disastrous campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama’s Wednesday address calling for renewed public service is unassailable in principle but inadequate to the daunting size of the serious American crisis at hand. The speech could have been — and has been — delivered by any candidate of either party in any election year since 1960.

Well, there is nothing new about politicians drifting to the center in the general election and there is nothing new about spouting political clichés. There also is nothing new about arrogant politicians or ones who talk out of both sides of their mouth on key issues from war to abortion. Indeed, all these are time-honored traditions. But Obama was supposed to be new, right?

Making up for his lack of experience was his stunning political virtue (we could finally be proud of our country because he had arrived), blazing insight ( ah– Washington is where good ideas go to die!) and sterling judgment. But if he breaks promises right and left, tosses his reform mantle away (for millions in cold hard cash), reveals himself to be Clintonian in lack of attachment to core beliefs, and is sort-of, kinda about to prove (if not admit) he was wrong on the most important national security judgment (the surge) he faced on the national stage, what exactly is his selling point?

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There Really Is No Magic

After traveling during the holiday week I just caught up with this column by Howard Kurtz in which he muses about the reasons for the wall-to-wall coverage of Tim Russert’s death. Kurtz wrote:

And so the emotional farewells to Russert, which ultimately came to feel excessive, seemed rooted in journalism’s crisis of confidence. Russert was a popular figure in a field whose practitioners are often mocked and derided, a credible commentator in a widely distrusted profession. Journalists of all stripes wanted to be associated with him, perhaps hoping a little of the magic dust would rub off.

But they really can’t be so confused about what made Russert unusual — in fact, they all discussed it for a week. To name just a few keys to Russert’s success: 1) He asked questions, did not interrupt and did not speechify when asking what someone else thought. 2) He put in time to research and present what the interviewee had actually said and done in the past. 3) He was not rude or personally unkind to those he interviewed and did not attack his competitors. 4) He proved you can be even-handed. 5) He was an unabashed patriot, and 6) He realized that he was not the story and his opinions were not what should guide viewers in reaching their judgments about issues and candidates.

Each of these rules is routinely violated by most of the cable news outlets and the major mainstream newspapers and news magazines. Abe’s dissection of the New York Times’ use of language in reporting on Iraq is just one example. It has become an ingrained habit of many MSM outlets to put their thumbs on the scale –never quite putting all the facts out without spin and using loaded language to manipulate their readers. Likewise, the propensity to ignore facts altogether if they spell trouble for their favorite candidate or a particular agenda often puts the mainstream media in the position of racing to catch up to a story. Sooner or later they must reveal their own agenda when finally forced to come clean.

That is not to say all outlets are equally blameworthy. Some are clearly trying and some reporters are dogged in their fair and exacting coverage. But there is really no magic to this and no reason why they all couldn’t be better. They may not be as skilled as Russert, but they could be as honest and straight-shooting.

After traveling during the holiday week I just caught up with this column by Howard Kurtz in which he muses about the reasons for the wall-to-wall coverage of Tim Russert’s death. Kurtz wrote:

And so the emotional farewells to Russert, which ultimately came to feel excessive, seemed rooted in journalism’s crisis of confidence. Russert was a popular figure in a field whose practitioners are often mocked and derided, a credible commentator in a widely distrusted profession. Journalists of all stripes wanted to be associated with him, perhaps hoping a little of the magic dust would rub off.

But they really can’t be so confused about what made Russert unusual — in fact, they all discussed it for a week. To name just a few keys to Russert’s success: 1) He asked questions, did not interrupt and did not speechify when asking what someone else thought. 2) He put in time to research and present what the interviewee had actually said and done in the past. 3) He was not rude or personally unkind to those he interviewed and did not attack his competitors. 4) He proved you can be even-handed. 5) He was an unabashed patriot, and 6) He realized that he was not the story and his opinions were not what should guide viewers in reaching their judgments about issues and candidates.

Each of these rules is routinely violated by most of the cable news outlets and the major mainstream newspapers and news magazines. Abe’s dissection of the New York Times’ use of language in reporting on Iraq is just one example. It has become an ingrained habit of many MSM outlets to put their thumbs on the scale –never quite putting all the facts out without spin and using loaded language to manipulate their readers. Likewise, the propensity to ignore facts altogether if they spell trouble for their favorite candidate or a particular agenda often puts the mainstream media in the position of racing to catch up to a story. Sooner or later they must reveal their own agenda when finally forced to come clean.

That is not to say all outlets are equally blameworthy. Some are clearly trying and some reporters are dogged in their fair and exacting coverage. But there is really no magic to this and no reason why they all couldn’t be better. They may not be as skilled as Russert, but they could be as honest and straight-shooting.

Read Less