Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 1, 2008

A Week Late

On July 9, 2008, I wrote:

Gas prices are now a top concern of voters and Barack Obama’s Dr. No approach to increasing domestic oil supply (and almost every other idea on the production side) has even Democrats nervous. So why not switch positions and come out for “responsible energy development” and “environmentally safe drilling”? It seems like a no-brainer. If he can change on FISA, NAFTA, Kyl-Lieberman, Iran, the surge (sort of), guns, abortion, campaign financing, corporate taxes, the payroll tax cap, his devotion to Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church, unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad, and an “undivided” Jerusalem, why not this? I figure it’ll take a couple of weeks (or until gas hits $5 a gallon, which ever comes first).

I must admit I was wrong. It took all the way until August 1 ( three weeks and two days) for Obama to reverse course. In a Florida newspaper interview he explained that he really had no objection to offshore drilling:

If it is part of an overarching package, then I am not going to be rigid in preventing an energy package that goes forward that is really thoughtful and is going to really solve the problem.

The report continues:

And what I’ve also said is, if people are expecting short-term relief because of offshore drilling, then they’re not going to find it because we won’t see a drop of oil for at least a decade.” Still, Obama’s willingness to go along with any new drilling off the U.S. coast is a marked shift from his previous statements. Earlier this summer, Obama sought to distinguish himself from GOP rival Sen. John McCain, who wants to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling.

There you go. The most important thing to remember about Obama? There is never a bottom line. On anything. He has a very low threshold for conflict with his base (or a very low tolerance for weathering politcal turbulence). So with enough time and enough political pressure he is likely to shift gears on just about anything. (The shifts always go in the direction of popular opinion, of course.) That’s why it was not hard to see this coming.

For people who are basing their votes on candidates’ positions on issues, they should be forewarned. Obama doesn’t really have any. Rather than positions, he has “pauses” along the political road where he briefly rests, makes speeches, and gains applause before one particular crowd and then moves on to the next position, effortlessly denying that anything different preceded it. And on he travels. The notion that he believes in any set agenda or fixed principles is, in the words of Bill Clinton, a “fairytale.”

On July 9, 2008, I wrote:

Gas prices are now a top concern of voters and Barack Obama’s Dr. No approach to increasing domestic oil supply (and almost every other idea on the production side) has even Democrats nervous. So why not switch positions and come out for “responsible energy development” and “environmentally safe drilling”? It seems like a no-brainer. If he can change on FISA, NAFTA, Kyl-Lieberman, Iran, the surge (sort of), guns, abortion, campaign financing, corporate taxes, the payroll tax cap, his devotion to Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church, unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad, and an “undivided” Jerusalem, why not this? I figure it’ll take a couple of weeks (or until gas hits $5 a gallon, which ever comes first).

I must admit I was wrong. It took all the way until August 1 ( three weeks and two days) for Obama to reverse course. In a Florida newspaper interview he explained that he really had no objection to offshore drilling:

If it is part of an overarching package, then I am not going to be rigid in preventing an energy package that goes forward that is really thoughtful and is going to really solve the problem.

The report continues:

And what I’ve also said is, if people are expecting short-term relief because of offshore drilling, then they’re not going to find it because we won’t see a drop of oil for at least a decade.” Still, Obama’s willingness to go along with any new drilling off the U.S. coast is a marked shift from his previous statements. Earlier this summer, Obama sought to distinguish himself from GOP rival Sen. John McCain, who wants to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling.

There you go. The most important thing to remember about Obama? There is never a bottom line. On anything. He has a very low threshold for conflict with his base (or a very low tolerance for weathering politcal turbulence). So with enough time and enough political pressure he is likely to shift gears on just about anything. (The shifts always go in the direction of popular opinion, of course.) That’s why it was not hard to see this coming.

For people who are basing their votes on candidates’ positions on issues, they should be forewarned. Obama doesn’t really have any. Rather than positions, he has “pauses” along the political road where he briefly rests, makes speeches, and gains applause before one particular crowd and then moves on to the next position, effortlessly denying that anything different preceded it. And on he travels. The notion that he believes in any set agenda or fixed principles is, in the words of Bill Clinton, a “fairytale.”

Read Less

It’s The Lying

Michael Medved emphasizes that one reason Barack Obama’s race gambit was so egregious is that it was a lie. John McCain hasn’t used Obama’s race or name against him. And then Obama’s campaign aides lied again by claiming that he hadn’t meant to invoke race. But this is a pattern we’ve seen before.

Obama gets caught doing or saying something he shouldn’t — canceling on a troop visit, reneging on his campaign financing pledge or sending out surrogates like Wesley Clark who defame John McCain’s military service. In each instance what snared him and made a one-day story into a multiple-day story were the multiple explanations and the bald-faced disregard for the truth. It was the spinning and lying that really gets the mainstream media steamed. (Even lying about changing his mind on a host of issues brought eye rolls from the press.)

In short, when he gets caught he doesn’t come clean and tends to further undermine his credibility by manufacturing unbelievable excuses that actually make him seem less competent than he is. (The Obama presser on James Johnson is a case in point.) Perhaps it comes from the belief that he is so charming and glib that any old excuse will fly. Or maybe he is just afraid to show weakness and admit error. But whatever the explanation it serves to further undermine his credibility with the increasingly skeptical media and provide McCain with another talking point on his opponent’s poor character.

Like Richard Nixon learned, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover up that will do you in every time.

Michael Medved emphasizes that one reason Barack Obama’s race gambit was so egregious is that it was a lie. John McCain hasn’t used Obama’s race or name against him. And then Obama’s campaign aides lied again by claiming that he hadn’t meant to invoke race. But this is a pattern we’ve seen before.

Obama gets caught doing or saying something he shouldn’t — canceling on a troop visit, reneging on his campaign financing pledge or sending out surrogates like Wesley Clark who defame John McCain’s military service. In each instance what snared him and made a one-day story into a multiple-day story were the multiple explanations and the bald-faced disregard for the truth. It was the spinning and lying that really gets the mainstream media steamed. (Even lying about changing his mind on a host of issues brought eye rolls from the press.)

In short, when he gets caught he doesn’t come clean and tends to further undermine his credibility by manufacturing unbelievable excuses that actually make him seem less competent than he is. (The Obama presser on James Johnson is a case in point.) Perhaps it comes from the belief that he is so charming and glib that any old excuse will fly. Or maybe he is just afraid to show weakness and admit error. But whatever the explanation it serves to further undermine his credibility with the increasingly skeptical media and provide McCain with another talking point on his opponent’s poor character.

Like Richard Nixon learned, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover up that will do you in every time.

Read Less

A One-Man Army

It’s hard to imagine a more warped and callous statement about the Iraq War than this one made by Senator Charles Schumer, when asked whether he would support a troop surge in Afghanistan:

Yes. The bottom line is I think Obama’s trip was brilliant. Not in the short term, but in the long term, because it’s changed the whole debate. And the whole debate now is focused on Afghanistan more than on Iraq.

So: It’s not the U.S. troops who gave everything so that Iraq has a chance at a stable, viable future. It’s not the Iraqis who fought alongside coalition forces and drove al Qaeda, and Shi’ite militias out of their own country. It’s not David Petraeus who stepped into a nightmare and turned it, against all odds, into a triumph. None of those parties’ accomplishments allowed us to take some focus off Iraq and consider Afghanistan with a renewed sense of purpose. It was the Democratic nominee’s “brilliant” traveling media circus (only undertaken after being criticized by John McCain) in the Middle East that’s shifted the focus of America’s fight from Iraq to Afghanistan.

That’s good to know. This way if things flare up there once more, Obama can just make “brilliant” return trip and switch the focus all over again.

It’s hard to imagine a more warped and callous statement about the Iraq War than this one made by Senator Charles Schumer, when asked whether he would support a troop surge in Afghanistan:

Yes. The bottom line is I think Obama’s trip was brilliant. Not in the short term, but in the long term, because it’s changed the whole debate. And the whole debate now is focused on Afghanistan more than on Iraq.

So: It’s not the U.S. troops who gave everything so that Iraq has a chance at a stable, viable future. It’s not the Iraqis who fought alongside coalition forces and drove al Qaeda, and Shi’ite militias out of their own country. It’s not David Petraeus who stepped into a nightmare and turned it, against all odds, into a triumph. None of those parties’ accomplishments allowed us to take some focus off Iraq and consider Afghanistan with a renewed sense of purpose. It was the Democratic nominee’s “brilliant” traveling media circus (only undertaken after being criticized by John McCain) in the Middle East that’s shifted the focus of America’s fight from Iraq to Afghanistan.

That’s good to know. This way if things flare up there once more, Obama can just make “brilliant” return trip and switch the focus all over again.

Read Less

Orwell in China

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution urging China to improve its human rights record, end its oppression of ethnic minority groups and allow for greater domestic press freedom in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. The resolution passed 419-1 (guess who voted “nay”). The Chinese reaction was swift and denunciative:

The U.S. behaviour “exposes the malicious intention to politicize the Olympics and interfere with and ruin the Beijing Games,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site.

During a news conference, Mr. Liu described the House measure as “odious conduct” and said the United States should stop “making use of so-called religious and human rights” issues to score political points.

This part, however, is most amusing:

“The passing of the resolution at this time has fully exposed the attempt of the very few anti-China U.S. lawmakers to politicize the Olympics and their evil intention to disrupt and sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games,” an unnamed foreign affairs official with China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, told a state-run newspaper, China Daily.

“Very few” lawmakers? Well, given that China’s National People’s Congress has 2,987 deputies, I guess everything’s relative.

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution urging China to improve its human rights record, end its oppression of ethnic minority groups and allow for greater domestic press freedom in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. The resolution passed 419-1 (guess who voted “nay”). The Chinese reaction was swift and denunciative:

The U.S. behaviour “exposes the malicious intention to politicize the Olympics and interfere with and ruin the Beijing Games,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site.

During a news conference, Mr. Liu described the House measure as “odious conduct” and said the United States should stop “making use of so-called religious and human rights” issues to score political points.

This part, however, is most amusing:

“The passing of the resolution at this time has fully exposed the attempt of the very few anti-China U.S. lawmakers to politicize the Olympics and their evil intention to disrupt and sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games,” an unnamed foreign affairs official with China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, told a state-run newspaper, China Daily.

“Very few” lawmakers? Well, given that China’s National People’s Congress has 2,987 deputies, I guess everything’s relative.

Read Less

Bonding With The Base

It is no secret: John McCain and the conservative base have a rocky relationship. McCain’s ideological unorthodoxy is a never ending source of angst for the base. But more than that, conservatives have always been irked by McCain’s predilection to consort with conservatives’ political enemies — primarily the media, but also Democrats. It drove the conservative base up the wall in 2000 when the “Straight Talk Express” opened itself up to the mainstream media, and McCain became the Republican reporters seemed to like best.

Furthermore, every time McCain’s name is affixed to legislation with one of the foes of conservatism (Kennedy, Feingold, etc.), conservatives cringe. Each time that McCain says “my Democratic friend . . .” it is like nails on a chalkboard for those who consider Democrats the opponents of all they hold dear.

But presidential elections have a way of clarifying things. In the last week or so we have seen McCain bond with the base in new and substantial ways. Why? He took up common cause with them against two things they loathe: the mainstream media and accusations of racism. McCain’s team, smartly I think, has figured out that one way to defuse the media bias is to mock its love affair with Barack Obama, much the way Saturday Night Live did during the primary. So we saw the “media’s got a crush on Obama” ad and the very overt, almost daily digs at the media’s contribution to Obama’s “celebrity” status. McCain is broadcasting a welcome message to conservatives who bemoan that he doesn’t know who his friends are.

But when McCain called out Obama for playing the race card, conservatives really cheered. How often have their views (on everything from opposing racial quotas to insisting on anti-fraud voting measures) been labeled “racist” ? They have noted with a mixture of wry amusement and irritation as Obama declared each and every argument against him to be “inappropriate” or “unacceptable.” So when McCain blew the whistle and said, in effect, “You’re the only guy playing racial politics, Senator Obama,” the base gave a collective whoop. Finally, someone had said “enough.”

The cliché that politics makes strange bedfellows usually applies to politicians of different parties. But in this case it’s an apt description of the bonding that is taking place between McCain and his fellow Republicans in the furnace of a presidential election. The base and McCain need each other and they finally found common ground. There will be plenty of fights and irritations ahead, but for now they are joined in a common defense. And McCain has to thank the astounding overreach by both MSM and Obama for that.

It is no secret: John McCain and the conservative base have a rocky relationship. McCain’s ideological unorthodoxy is a never ending source of angst for the base. But more than that, conservatives have always been irked by McCain’s predilection to consort with conservatives’ political enemies — primarily the media, but also Democrats. It drove the conservative base up the wall in 2000 when the “Straight Talk Express” opened itself up to the mainstream media, and McCain became the Republican reporters seemed to like best.

Furthermore, every time McCain’s name is affixed to legislation with one of the foes of conservatism (Kennedy, Feingold, etc.), conservatives cringe. Each time that McCain says “my Democratic friend . . .” it is like nails on a chalkboard for those who consider Democrats the opponents of all they hold dear.

But presidential elections have a way of clarifying things. In the last week or so we have seen McCain bond with the base in new and substantial ways. Why? He took up common cause with them against two things they loathe: the mainstream media and accusations of racism. McCain’s team, smartly I think, has figured out that one way to defuse the media bias is to mock its love affair with Barack Obama, much the way Saturday Night Live did during the primary. So we saw the “media’s got a crush on Obama” ad and the very overt, almost daily digs at the media’s contribution to Obama’s “celebrity” status. McCain is broadcasting a welcome message to conservatives who bemoan that he doesn’t know who his friends are.

But when McCain called out Obama for playing the race card, conservatives really cheered. How often have their views (on everything from opposing racial quotas to insisting on anti-fraud voting measures) been labeled “racist” ? They have noted with a mixture of wry amusement and irritation as Obama declared each and every argument against him to be “inappropriate” or “unacceptable.” So when McCain blew the whistle and said, in effect, “You’re the only guy playing racial politics, Senator Obama,” the base gave a collective whoop. Finally, someone had said “enough.”

The cliché that politics makes strange bedfellows usually applies to politicians of different parties. But in this case it’s an apt description of the bonding that is taking place between McCain and his fellow Republicans in the furnace of a presidential election. The base and McCain need each other and they finally found common ground. There will be plenty of fights and irritations ahead, but for now they are joined in a common defense. And McCain has to thank the astounding overreach by both MSM and Obama for that.

Read Less

The Cairo Files: Is There a Ghad?

In the run-up to Egypt’s first-ever multiparty presidential election in 2005, the Ghad (Tomorrow) party emerged as the west’s great hope for promoting liberal reform. Led by its charismatic leader, Ayman Nour, el-Ghad attacked the Mubarak regime’s incompetence with unprecedented fervor, promoting a platform that demanded a democratic constitution, embraced free-market capitalism, and supported a strong relationship with the United States unabashedly. The optimism that el-Ghad’s rise engendered, however, was short-lived: the regime rigged the presidential election and imprisoned Nour – who officially received a paltry 7.3% of the vote to Hosni Mubarak’s 88.6% – dubiously claiming that he forged signatures on party registration documents.

In the aftermath of Nour’s imprisonment, el-Ghad split into two entities: the legally recognized Ghad party, which is chaired by businessman Moussa Mustafa Moussa; and another iteration of the Ghad party comprised of Nour’s allies, which is chaired by lawyer Ihab el-Kholy. The differences between these two Ghad factions suggest a high level of regime intervention in fomenting this split. Some analysts allege that Moussa’s Ghad faction is a puppet party that, in effect, blocks for the regime.

My visits to both Ghad offices – which are located within a short walking distance of one another in Cairo’s Taalat Harb Square area – lend support to this theory. For starters, while a small group of police officers sit outside the el-Kholy faction’s unmarked headquarters, the building that houses Moussa’s faction has a large, orange “el-Ghad” sign outside its door, and no visible police presence. Also, while posters demanding Ayman Nour’s release are ubiquitous in el-Kholy’s offices, Moussa sides with the regime in calling Nour a criminal. In addition, while el-Kholy’s faction remains involved in various demonstrations against the regime – a typical undertaking of Egyptian opposition parties – Moussa opposes involvement in demonstrations that are not authorized by the regime. Furthermore, while el-Kholy’s faction supports strong relations with the west, Moussa emphasizes Nour’s meeting with the U.S. Ambassador as a key catalyst of his rift with the jailed Ghad leader. In this vein, Moussa rails against any American role in pressuring the regime to promote democratic reforms.

But just in case Moussa hasn’t done enough to discredit the Ghad brand name in the international community in accordance with the Mubarak regime’s best wishes, his latest undertaking should represent the final nail in the coffin. In the aftermath of the International Criminal Court’s call for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s arrest, Moussa announced his intention to lead a solidarity mission of Egyptian opposition leaders to Khartoum. “I don’t like the idea that any Arab president can be taken to jail,” he said. “Why don’t you take President Bush into prison also?” (In sharp contrast, Ihab el-Kholy’s Ghad faction has often spoken out on Darfur.)

Indeed, the outlook for el-Ghad – Egypt’s most prominent liberal opposition party only three years ago – is bleak. Although Egyptians overwhelmingly associate el-Ghad with Ayman Nour, his faction is largely distracted from its political work as it fights for his release. Meanwhile, Moussa has announced that he will take el-Kholy and his associates to court, charging them with fraud for using the Ghad name without official status.

“They will face jail very soon,” Moussa said with unnerving confidence.

In the run-up to Egypt’s first-ever multiparty presidential election in 2005, the Ghad (Tomorrow) party emerged as the west’s great hope for promoting liberal reform. Led by its charismatic leader, Ayman Nour, el-Ghad attacked the Mubarak regime’s incompetence with unprecedented fervor, promoting a platform that demanded a democratic constitution, embraced free-market capitalism, and supported a strong relationship with the United States unabashedly. The optimism that el-Ghad’s rise engendered, however, was short-lived: the regime rigged the presidential election and imprisoned Nour – who officially received a paltry 7.3% of the vote to Hosni Mubarak’s 88.6% – dubiously claiming that he forged signatures on party registration documents.

In the aftermath of Nour’s imprisonment, el-Ghad split into two entities: the legally recognized Ghad party, which is chaired by businessman Moussa Mustafa Moussa; and another iteration of the Ghad party comprised of Nour’s allies, which is chaired by lawyer Ihab el-Kholy. The differences between these two Ghad factions suggest a high level of regime intervention in fomenting this split. Some analysts allege that Moussa’s Ghad faction is a puppet party that, in effect, blocks for the regime.

My visits to both Ghad offices – which are located within a short walking distance of one another in Cairo’s Taalat Harb Square area – lend support to this theory. For starters, while a small group of police officers sit outside the el-Kholy faction’s unmarked headquarters, the building that houses Moussa’s faction has a large, orange “el-Ghad” sign outside its door, and no visible police presence. Also, while posters demanding Ayman Nour’s release are ubiquitous in el-Kholy’s offices, Moussa sides with the regime in calling Nour a criminal. In addition, while el-Kholy’s faction remains involved in various demonstrations against the regime – a typical undertaking of Egyptian opposition parties – Moussa opposes involvement in demonstrations that are not authorized by the regime. Furthermore, while el-Kholy’s faction supports strong relations with the west, Moussa emphasizes Nour’s meeting with the U.S. Ambassador as a key catalyst of his rift with the jailed Ghad leader. In this vein, Moussa rails against any American role in pressuring the regime to promote democratic reforms.

But just in case Moussa hasn’t done enough to discredit the Ghad brand name in the international community in accordance with the Mubarak regime’s best wishes, his latest undertaking should represent the final nail in the coffin. In the aftermath of the International Criminal Court’s call for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s arrest, Moussa announced his intention to lead a solidarity mission of Egyptian opposition leaders to Khartoum. “I don’t like the idea that any Arab president can be taken to jail,” he said. “Why don’t you take President Bush into prison also?” (In sharp contrast, Ihab el-Kholy’s Ghad faction has often spoken out on Darfur.)

Indeed, the outlook for el-Ghad – Egypt’s most prominent liberal opposition party only three years ago – is bleak. Although Egyptians overwhelmingly associate el-Ghad with Ayman Nour, his faction is largely distracted from its political work as it fights for his release. Meanwhile, Moussa has announced that he will take el-Kholy and his associates to court, charging them with fraud for using the Ghad name without official status.

“They will face jail very soon,” Moussa said with unnerving confidence.

Read Less

He Is an Experienced Victim of Racism

John McCain pledged to run a respectable general election campaign, and he has just about managed to do it. McCain’s remark about Barack Obama’s preferring to lose a war in favor of winning an election was, I think, an unfortunate exception. Obama is certainly comfortable denying American military progress in order to win an election and that itself offers enough fodder for an attack. But overwhelmingly, and certainly in comparison to his opponent, McCain has stuck to the substantive issues that divide the two candidates.

In April, when McCain expressed his disgust over that race-baiting North Carolina GOP ad, he set the tone for his campaign, and that makes Obama’s fabrication of a McCain race issue particularly abhorrent. What’s more poetically unjust, still, is that McCain himself once lost a Republican primary to race-baiting tactics. In 2000, when McCain was running against George W. Bush, Karl Rove [UPDATE: whose involvement is contested by some -- including some commenters below] devised a push-polling scheme whereby South Carolina voters were asked the following question with a fictional premise: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” McCain’s subsequent South Carolina defeat was the end of his campaign.

Doubtless that experience has contributed to McCain’s distaste for below-the-belt politics. On the other hand, the Obama camp is coming off a victory over the Clinton slime machine. They got a crash course in the dirty stuff and want to use their newly acquired expertise. If McCain won’t run a sleazy campaign, the Obama people are sure going to try and make it look like he is. While Obama is eerily adept at overriding the public’s perceptions about his own lack of experience and poor judgment, his influence surely stops at his ability to turn his opponent’s campaign into something it is not.

John McCain pledged to run a respectable general election campaign, and he has just about managed to do it. McCain’s remark about Barack Obama’s preferring to lose a war in favor of winning an election was, I think, an unfortunate exception. Obama is certainly comfortable denying American military progress in order to win an election and that itself offers enough fodder for an attack. But overwhelmingly, and certainly in comparison to his opponent, McCain has stuck to the substantive issues that divide the two candidates.

In April, when McCain expressed his disgust over that race-baiting North Carolina GOP ad, he set the tone for his campaign, and that makes Obama’s fabrication of a McCain race issue particularly abhorrent. What’s more poetically unjust, still, is that McCain himself once lost a Republican primary to race-baiting tactics. In 2000, when McCain was running against George W. Bush, Karl Rove [UPDATE: whose involvement is contested by some -- including some commenters below] devised a push-polling scheme whereby South Carolina voters were asked the following question with a fictional premise: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” McCain’s subsequent South Carolina defeat was the end of his campaign.

Doubtless that experience has contributed to McCain’s distaste for below-the-belt politics. On the other hand, the Obama camp is coming off a victory over the Clinton slime machine. They got a crash course in the dirty stuff and want to use their newly acquired expertise. If McCain won’t run a sleazy campaign, the Obama people are sure going to try and make it look like he is. While Obama is eerily adept at overriding the public’s perceptions about his own lack of experience and poor judgment, his influence surely stops at his ability to turn his opponent’s campaign into something it is not.

Read Less

Stepping Up and Stopping Short

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill described North Korea‘s human rights record as “abysmal” and claimed that the issue will be emphasized during future nuclear weapons discussions with North Korea. This can mean only one thing: North Korea’s human rights issues will be glossed over in future nuclear weapons discussions with North Korea.

Like supporting the troops or standing by Israel, defending North Koreans from the abuses of Kim Jong Il is one of those things you don’t have to do as long as you say you do it. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on Hill’s statement:

Under pressure from political conservatives, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea agreed Thursday to step up the Bush administration’s emphasis on human rights issues during nuclear weapons talks, but stopped short of saying an improved record would be a precondition for normalized relations.

He “stepped up” but “stopped short.” This, as North Koreans face their worst hunger crisis in a decade. Reuters reports: “Many people are resorting to scavenging for wild fruits and vegetables, including seaweed, grass and roots, contributing to an apparent rise in malnutrition.” How’s that for stepping up, Mr. Hill? Malnutrition in North Korea has already cut the population’s average height by three to four inches. How’s that for stopping short?

Since the Bush administration has softened its stand on the Kim regime, Pyongyang is more readily accepting foreign aid. The U.S. has pledged 500,000 tons of food to help starving North Koreans. In the short term, this is of course a good thing. But it also allows North Korea to indefinitely avoid a much better thing: good governance.

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill described North Korea‘s human rights record as “abysmal” and claimed that the issue will be emphasized during future nuclear weapons discussions with North Korea. This can mean only one thing: North Korea’s human rights issues will be glossed over in future nuclear weapons discussions with North Korea.

Like supporting the troops or standing by Israel, defending North Koreans from the abuses of Kim Jong Il is one of those things you don’t have to do as long as you say you do it. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on Hill’s statement:

Under pressure from political conservatives, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea agreed Thursday to step up the Bush administration’s emphasis on human rights issues during nuclear weapons talks, but stopped short of saying an improved record would be a precondition for normalized relations.

He “stepped up” but “stopped short.” This, as North Koreans face their worst hunger crisis in a decade. Reuters reports: “Many people are resorting to scavenging for wild fruits and vegetables, including seaweed, grass and roots, contributing to an apparent rise in malnutrition.” How’s that for stepping up, Mr. Hill? Malnutrition in North Korea has already cut the population’s average height by three to four inches. How’s that for stopping short?

Since the Bush administration has softened its stand on the Kim regime, Pyongyang is more readily accepting foreign aid. The U.S. has pledged 500,000 tons of food to help starving North Koreans. In the short term, this is of course a good thing. But it also allows North Korea to indefinitely avoid a much better thing: good governance.

Read Less

Time To Change, His Campaign That Is

One of the downsides of living in the bubble of the MSM and the warm embrace of most of the punditocracy is that you think everyone buys what you are selling, or at the very least is too polite to mention that you are making a fool of yourself. When the McCain camp called Barack Obama out for playing the race card, I imagine the Obama camp was stunned. But by the end of the day on Thursday it became apparent that Obama’s gambit was failing, and creating far more problems than the Obama team anticipated.

Obama’s Bill Burton tried to take back the race card. (But whoops– not in sufficient time to prevent the New York Times from looking foolish. Yes, yes you have to get up very early in the day to do that.) When The New Republic calls Obama’s move a “blunder” and the Hardball panel unanimously calls out Obama, it’s time to fold your hand.

What lasting impact, if any, does this have? Well for starters I think Obama will stop overtly playing the racial victim. And that frankly is likely a good thing for him since few voters in the undecided camp are going to be swayed by that sort of thing. (The opposite is more likely.)

But the more lasting impact is the sense that one by one the lofty premises of the Obama campaign are crumbling. New Politics? He dumped public financing and shifted on a dozen issues. Post-racial? Reverend Wright and now amateurish race baiting. (Victor Davis Hanson dissects the utter message confusion on this score here.) A new era in international relations? An embarrassing overreach in Berlin.

Why isn’t it working? What’s wrong? You can imagine Hillary Clinton and her supporters banging their heads on their desks and emailing one another (“We told them!” “No one believed us!”) Time it appears has not been Obama’s friend. It has given more and more people time to think and discover that there may not be much behind the grand rhetoric. Others have figured out the degree to which Obama has concealed, evaded and fudged in setting out his political views. What does he believe? It’s unnerving to know so little and to realize he is perhaps the least forthright candidate in recent memory. And, of course, The Ego has just grown and grown so not even the MSM can ignore it. A smart Jonathan Chait has figured out that if the election is about Obama he loses. (Wow. From savior to drag on the Democratic brand in six months.)

But McCain supporters shouldn’t get their hopes up quite yet. Obama is adaptable if nothing else. And he is entirely capable of navigating back to bread-and- butter issues and effectively tying McCain to the Bush administration. Whether he can pour the old wine into new bottles — that is, find forums and language that are appropriately proportioned and are not open to ridicule –is what remains to be seen.

When you’ve been creating a “movement” that morphed into a cult, it is hard to dial it back. But if he does and gets back to talking about something other than himself, it is still his election to lose. It is remarkable, though, stunning really, that there is some possibility that he might do just that.

One of the downsides of living in the bubble of the MSM and the warm embrace of most of the punditocracy is that you think everyone buys what you are selling, or at the very least is too polite to mention that you are making a fool of yourself. When the McCain camp called Barack Obama out for playing the race card, I imagine the Obama camp was stunned. But by the end of the day on Thursday it became apparent that Obama’s gambit was failing, and creating far more problems than the Obama team anticipated.

Obama’s Bill Burton tried to take back the race card. (But whoops– not in sufficient time to prevent the New York Times from looking foolish. Yes, yes you have to get up very early in the day to do that.) When The New Republic calls Obama’s move a “blunder” and the Hardball panel unanimously calls out Obama, it’s time to fold your hand.

What lasting impact, if any, does this have? Well for starters I think Obama will stop overtly playing the racial victim. And that frankly is likely a good thing for him since few voters in the undecided camp are going to be swayed by that sort of thing. (The opposite is more likely.)

But the more lasting impact is the sense that one by one the lofty premises of the Obama campaign are crumbling. New Politics? He dumped public financing and shifted on a dozen issues. Post-racial? Reverend Wright and now amateurish race baiting. (Victor Davis Hanson dissects the utter message confusion on this score here.) A new era in international relations? An embarrassing overreach in Berlin.

Why isn’t it working? What’s wrong? You can imagine Hillary Clinton and her supporters banging their heads on their desks and emailing one another (“We told them!” “No one believed us!”) Time it appears has not been Obama’s friend. It has given more and more people time to think and discover that there may not be much behind the grand rhetoric. Others have figured out the degree to which Obama has concealed, evaded and fudged in setting out his political views. What does he believe? It’s unnerving to know so little and to realize he is perhaps the least forthright candidate in recent memory. And, of course, The Ego has just grown and grown so not even the MSM can ignore it. A smart Jonathan Chait has figured out that if the election is about Obama he loses. (Wow. From savior to drag on the Democratic brand in six months.)

But McCain supporters shouldn’t get their hopes up quite yet. Obama is adaptable if nothing else. And he is entirely capable of navigating back to bread-and- butter issues and effectively tying McCain to the Bush administration. Whether he can pour the old wine into new bottles — that is, find forums and language that are appropriately proportioned and are not open to ridicule –is what remains to be seen.

When you’ve been creating a “movement” that morphed into a cult, it is hard to dial it back. But if he does and gets back to talking about something other than himself, it is still his election to lose. It is remarkable, though, stunning really, that there is some possibility that he might do just that.

Read Less

Why Shoes Don’t Make The Man

Some on the Left are puzzled why expensive shoes don’t make John McCain into an elitist and the object of ridicule. After all, Phil Gramm used to advise him and he’s in favor of tax cuts so why isn’t he the out-of-touch rich guy? (Regarding for the claim that he “has no connection to working people on a personal level,” we’ll put aside for the moment the debate as to whether military veterans or Hyde Park academics better fit the definition of “working people.”)

The Left and its chosen candidates continually make the same error. We saw it in Bittergate in spades and during the damage control in which Obama and his wife set out to explain that they were really of modest means. It is not the wealth of the candidate that matters. It is the worldview, the disdain for the little guy and the cultural condescension that riles those voters in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania and lots of other places. McCain doesn’t psychoanalyze voters or ridicule their value system. He invokes and praises the same cultural values, some say old-fashioned values, which these voters take seriously.

Nor should the manner in which a candidate runs his campaign and interacts with voters be ignored. There is no better way to lose the common touch and sever bonds with ordinary voters than for a political candidate to elevate himself to messianic proportions, claim that he is unlike any other politician ever to come on the scene, surround him with creepy iconography and venture overseas to revel in the adoration of his fellow world citizens. Contrast that with the candidate who invokes the virtues of participatory democracy and delights in town hall Q and A’s with ordinary voters, and you understand why the former might be considered the strange, distant one and the latter a regular guy.

As to the substance of the candidates’ message,the Left’s persists in arguing that Americans don’t know what’s good for them. We’ve seen this “false consciousness” critique (by way of What’s The Matter With Kansas?) many times before. Aside from missing the degree to which Democrats continually find a way to make themselves “odious to vast swathes of Middle America,” it assumes that the message of high taxes, huge government spending, and protectionism is inherently more appealing to average voters. What’s not to like in all that? Well, lots and the track record of that agenda is not impressive, either in the U.S. or abroad.

But it is just this puzzlement which sends Democrats again and again back to the well of weak candidates. There is every reason to expect that any Democrat should be able to win this year. Yet the Democrats have a knack of finding the very one who can’t. That may or may not hold true this year, but they would have a better track record overall if they found candidates who understood and related to average voters rather than citizens of the world. And it really doesn’t matter how much money they have in the bank.

Some on the Left are puzzled why expensive shoes don’t make John McCain into an elitist and the object of ridicule. After all, Phil Gramm used to advise him and he’s in favor of tax cuts so why isn’t he the out-of-touch rich guy? (Regarding for the claim that he “has no connection to working people on a personal level,” we’ll put aside for the moment the debate as to whether military veterans or Hyde Park academics better fit the definition of “working people.”)

The Left and its chosen candidates continually make the same error. We saw it in Bittergate in spades and during the damage control in which Obama and his wife set out to explain that they were really of modest means. It is not the wealth of the candidate that matters. It is the worldview, the disdain for the little guy and the cultural condescension that riles those voters in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania and lots of other places. McCain doesn’t psychoanalyze voters or ridicule their value system. He invokes and praises the same cultural values, some say old-fashioned values, which these voters take seriously.

Nor should the manner in which a candidate runs his campaign and interacts with voters be ignored. There is no better way to lose the common touch and sever bonds with ordinary voters than for a political candidate to elevate himself to messianic proportions, claim that he is unlike any other politician ever to come on the scene, surround him with creepy iconography and venture overseas to revel in the adoration of his fellow world citizens. Contrast that with the candidate who invokes the virtues of participatory democracy and delights in town hall Q and A’s with ordinary voters, and you understand why the former might be considered the strange, distant one and the latter a regular guy.

As to the substance of the candidates’ message,the Left’s persists in arguing that Americans don’t know what’s good for them. We’ve seen this “false consciousness” critique (by way of What’s The Matter With Kansas?) many times before. Aside from missing the degree to which Democrats continually find a way to make themselves “odious to vast swathes of Middle America,” it assumes that the message of high taxes, huge government spending, and protectionism is inherently more appealing to average voters. What’s not to like in all that? Well, lots and the track record of that agenda is not impressive, either in the U.S. or abroad.

But it is just this puzzlement which sends Democrats again and again back to the well of weak candidates. There is every reason to expect that any Democrat should be able to win this year. Yet the Democrats have a knack of finding the very one who can’t. That may or may not hold true this year, but they would have a better track record overall if they found candidates who understood and related to average voters rather than citizens of the world. And it really doesn’t matter how much money they have in the bank.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Grouchy conservatives were out in force tut-tutting about the “Celebrity” ad. But when was the last time the McCain message of the day was on Letterman’s Top 10? (If there’s a campaign that’s criticized for whatever it does, this is it.)

A tie for the week? (I think he needs to start waiting past Wednesday to score the week.). Obama had the soldier snub, the failed race card gambit, the Ego meme hit pop culture and an 8 points drop in Gallup. If McCain has this many “tied weeks” he’ll eventually be ahead by double digits.

Disapproving the standing ovation for Barack Obama by minority journalists, John Leo writes “this was a convention of journalists, not a rally of groupies for Obama.” Well, both right?

But now McCain’s really done it: Hollywood celebrities didn’t like the celebrity ad. You don’t think it hit too close to home, do you? Supporting the Iraq war is one thing but mocking vapid starlets– outrageous!

This seems right on both counts.

It seems AEI has chosen wisely. (“If you’re not grateful to live in America, you’re not paying attention.”)

Voters in three battleground states (including Florida) favor offshore drilling by margins ranging from 20 to 27 points. Could that be why polling is so close?

In eleven years no one noticed that he didn’t live there?

Lindsey Graham gets it: “fame without portfolio.”

Is Obama losing the Huffington Post crowd? An honest Marty Kaplan (h/t Greg Pollowitz) confesses: “I believed in ‘I still believe in a place called Hope’ until the blue dress. Do I still believe in the ‘audacity of hope’”? (What’s weird is the scandal the MSM won’t talk about is what provoked the soul searching.)

A blast from the past and a lesson about losing your moral gyroscope.

This is very bad news, especially when you consider that without the trade number we would be in negative growth.

Ouch. (And they better watch how the Denver football rally comes across too. Tip: keep chanting to a bare minimum and no torches.)

Not everyone sympathetic to Obama buys the lunacy coming out of the Left blogosphere.

An etiquette book is amusing; what’s not amusing is how the Chinese government may treat infractions.

But the punditocracy is convinced there’s bias going on in McCain’s camp — maybe it’s homophobia, that’s the ticket!

Apparently the New York Times got one big fact wrong about Obama’s time as a law lecturer: he was never offered a tenured position. But the question remains: did Obama (or his campaign) pad the story or did the reporter just make a mistake?

U.S. troop and Iraqi civilian deaths are dramatically reduced. Remember all those failed Democratic resolutions on reducing the length of tours of duty and on withdrawing troops? With success on the ground, President Bush is able to deliver on both.

Remarkable advice coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee chair: run against the GOP!

Grouchy conservatives were out in force tut-tutting about the “Celebrity” ad. But when was the last time the McCain message of the day was on Letterman’s Top 10? (If there’s a campaign that’s criticized for whatever it does, this is it.)

A tie for the week? (I think he needs to start waiting past Wednesday to score the week.). Obama had the soldier snub, the failed race card gambit, the Ego meme hit pop culture and an 8 points drop in Gallup. If McCain has this many “tied weeks” he’ll eventually be ahead by double digits.

Disapproving the standing ovation for Barack Obama by minority journalists, John Leo writes “this was a convention of journalists, not a rally of groupies for Obama.” Well, both right?

But now McCain’s really done it: Hollywood celebrities didn’t like the celebrity ad. You don’t think it hit too close to home, do you? Supporting the Iraq war is one thing but mocking vapid starlets– outrageous!

This seems right on both counts.

It seems AEI has chosen wisely. (“If you’re not grateful to live in America, you’re not paying attention.”)

Voters in three battleground states (including Florida) favor offshore drilling by margins ranging from 20 to 27 points. Could that be why polling is so close?

In eleven years no one noticed that he didn’t live there?

Lindsey Graham gets it: “fame without portfolio.”

Is Obama losing the Huffington Post crowd? An honest Marty Kaplan (h/t Greg Pollowitz) confesses: “I believed in ‘I still believe in a place called Hope’ until the blue dress. Do I still believe in the ‘audacity of hope’”? (What’s weird is the scandal the MSM won’t talk about is what provoked the soul searching.)

A blast from the past and a lesson about losing your moral gyroscope.

This is very bad news, especially when you consider that without the trade number we would be in negative growth.

Ouch. (And they better watch how the Denver football rally comes across too. Tip: keep chanting to a bare minimum and no torches.)

Not everyone sympathetic to Obama buys the lunacy coming out of the Left blogosphere.

An etiquette book is amusing; what’s not amusing is how the Chinese government may treat infractions.

But the punditocracy is convinced there’s bias going on in McCain’s camp — maybe it’s homophobia, that’s the ticket!

Apparently the New York Times got one big fact wrong about Obama’s time as a law lecturer: he was never offered a tenured position. But the question remains: did Obama (or his campaign) pad the story or did the reporter just make a mistake?

U.S. troop and Iraqi civilian deaths are dramatically reduced. Remember all those failed Democratic resolutions on reducing the length of tours of duty and on withdrawing troops? With success on the ground, President Bush is able to deliver on both.

Remarkable advice coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee chair: run against the GOP!

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.