Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 7, 2008

Commentary of the Day

A little late, today. John Russell on Jennifer Rubin:

Last week I paid $3.95 a gallon for gasoline…I had enough of high gas prices, so I immediately inflated my tires. The next day I again paid $3.95….so I again inflated my tires.

The next day I paid 3.95 , and again, I inflated my tires. I just don’t understand…Obama told me that this would bring the price of gas down….but, being a staunch democrat, I once again inflated my tires and BOOOOOMMMM! I found out the hard way that Obama is just FULL of HOT AIR! Now I need a new tire.

A little late, today. John Russell on Jennifer Rubin:

Last week I paid $3.95 a gallon for gasoline…I had enough of high gas prices, so I immediately inflated my tires. The next day I again paid $3.95….so I again inflated my tires.

The next day I paid 3.95 , and again, I inflated my tires. I just don’t understand…Obama told me that this would bring the price of gas down….but, being a staunch democrat, I once again inflated my tires and BOOOOOMMMM! I found out the hard way that Obama is just FULL of HOT AIR! Now I need a new tire.

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Nervous Liberals

The fretting on the Left continues about the drifting Barack Obama campaign. From Walter Shapiro today:

“In the next month, Obama will have twin opportunities to restore a sense of surprise and wonder to his campaign. A pedestrian vice-presidential rollout (especially if it is a make-no-waves selection like Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh) and an eloquent-but-empty convention speech could signal trouble. Obama needs to give independents and loosely affiliated voters new reasons to vote for him, since he appears to have reached a temporary ceiling a bit shy of 50 percent in most public polls. [Pollster Andrew]Kohut theorizes that the public’s boredom with the Obama story ‘may account for the way that the horse-race numbers are stalled.’

. . .

But now, with voters suddenly curious about McCain (judging from the Pew numbers), Obama may be a victim of too much too soon. As singers and comedians have known since the early days of vaudeville, the cardinal rule in show business is to leave the stage with the audience wanting more. “

Well, that’s a more credible analysis than Bob Beckel’s effort to convince us that Obama really does have a “moral compass” and he’s a fix-it, can-do “cable guy.” (That would seem to be lacking a key ingredient: any evidence that Obama has ever fixed anything.) Also cable guys usually don’t invite chanting, they just get to work. (Hint: Hillary was the cable gal.)

So should Obama disappear? Reinvent his persona? Talk about the economy? It is a measure of what gentle treatment and how little pressure has been applied to him that two weeks of mildly tough treatment by the McCain camp would leave him and his supporters so flummoxed.

The fretting on the Left continues about the drifting Barack Obama campaign. From Walter Shapiro today:

“In the next month, Obama will have twin opportunities to restore a sense of surprise and wonder to his campaign. A pedestrian vice-presidential rollout (especially if it is a make-no-waves selection like Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh) and an eloquent-but-empty convention speech could signal trouble. Obama needs to give independents and loosely affiliated voters new reasons to vote for him, since he appears to have reached a temporary ceiling a bit shy of 50 percent in most public polls. [Pollster Andrew]Kohut theorizes that the public’s boredom with the Obama story ‘may account for the way that the horse-race numbers are stalled.’

. . .

But now, with voters suddenly curious about McCain (judging from the Pew numbers), Obama may be a victim of too much too soon. As singers and comedians have known since the early days of vaudeville, the cardinal rule in show business is to leave the stage with the audience wanting more. “

Well, that’s a more credible analysis than Bob Beckel’s effort to convince us that Obama really does have a “moral compass” and he’s a fix-it, can-do “cable guy.” (That would seem to be lacking a key ingredient: any evidence that Obama has ever fixed anything.) Also cable guys usually don’t invite chanting, they just get to work. (Hint: Hillary was the cable gal.)

So should Obama disappear? Reinvent his persona? Talk about the economy? It is a measure of what gentle treatment and how little pressure has been applied to him that two weeks of mildly tough treatment by the McCain camp would leave him and his supporters so flummoxed.

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ANWR: A Flip-Flop McCain Ought to Attempt

John McCain is being ballasted in the polls in part because he has advocated a policy of finding oil reserves and bringing them to market. So successful has his advocacy of offshore drilling been that Barack Obama has felt compelled to suggest there might be some circumstances under which he, too, would allow offshore drilling — a position that is anathema to environmental groups aligned with the Democratic party.

With this populist issue working for him as no other issue is, McCain would be wise to double down on it. Either in a speech to be given in the next few weeks, or at the convention, he should announce loudly that he has changed his mind on the subject of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Such an announcement, after years of opposition to ANWR drilling, would be attacked as a flip flop, especially since he reiterated it two months ago on the campaign trail. But that, too, is something McCain could turn to his advantage — by saying, in essence, that the gas-price crisis is so great and the harm it is doing to American families is so vast that they have caused him to reevaluate his position in light of these new circumstances — that he is changing course because the American people need him to do so.

As a strategy, there are two advantages to this approach. First, it’s provocative and will make news. Second, it will mean that McCain has traveled to a point where Obama simply cannot follow — because while Obama has signaled some softening on offshore drilling, it will be impossible for him to reverse course on ANWR. And a public that has decided it wants offshore drilling will not mind drilling in ANWR either, once it is presented in the right way.

And this approach has another advantage, too: McCain is wrong about ANWR and primarily, I think, took the position he did back in 2002 both to enhance his own standing as a maverick within the Republican party and to give George W. Bush, at whom he was still furious over the 2000 primary, a zetz.

It is, I suppose, unlikely that McCain will take this step. But if he did it would demonstrate that he understands just how essential drawing bright-line distinctions between himself and Barack Obama really is.

John McCain is being ballasted in the polls in part because he has advocated a policy of finding oil reserves and bringing them to market. So successful has his advocacy of offshore drilling been that Barack Obama has felt compelled to suggest there might be some circumstances under which he, too, would allow offshore drilling — a position that is anathema to environmental groups aligned with the Democratic party.

With this populist issue working for him as no other issue is, McCain would be wise to double down on it. Either in a speech to be given in the next few weeks, or at the convention, he should announce loudly that he has changed his mind on the subject of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Such an announcement, after years of opposition to ANWR drilling, would be attacked as a flip flop, especially since he reiterated it two months ago on the campaign trail. But that, too, is something McCain could turn to his advantage — by saying, in essence, that the gas-price crisis is so great and the harm it is doing to American families is so vast that they have caused him to reevaluate his position in light of these new circumstances — that he is changing course because the American people need him to do so.

As a strategy, there are two advantages to this approach. First, it’s provocative and will make news. Second, it will mean that McCain has traveled to a point where Obama simply cannot follow — because while Obama has signaled some softening on offshore drilling, it will be impossible for him to reverse course on ANWR. And a public that has decided it wants offshore drilling will not mind drilling in ANWR either, once it is presented in the right way.

And this approach has another advantage, too: McCain is wrong about ANWR and primarily, I think, took the position he did back in 2002 both to enhance his own standing as a maverick within the Republican party and to give George W. Bush, at whom he was still furious over the 2000 primary, a zetz.

It is, I suppose, unlikely that McCain will take this step. But if he did it would demonstrate that he understands just how essential drawing bright-line distinctions between himself and Barack Obama really is.

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Re: It’s Not a Gaffe

I wanted to add to your comments about Senator Obama’s statement, Jennifer, that “America is …, uh, is no longer, uh … what it could be, what it once was. And I say to myself, I don’t want that future for my children.”

Obama is right in one respect: America isn’t “what it once was.” In fact, in important respects it is much better than it once was.

As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin and I attempted to show in COMMENTARY in December, the United States, over the last decade-and-a-half, has made progress–and in some cases enormous progress — on social and cultural issues like welfare, crime, drug use, welfare, teen sexual activity, teen suicides, teen smoking, binge drinking, and others.

Obama is succumbing to a common temptation of challengers (which is what essentially Obama is) running for President, which is to wildly overstate the difficulties facing America. Ours is certainly not a nation without its flaws and challenges, and we have hit a rough patch with the economy. But by any reasonable historical standard, we live in an amazingly blessed time and nation.

The declinist view, which Obama appears to hold, is a species of Bush Derangement Syndrome. And it, in turn, is closely linked with the “America is Downright Mean” view, which Obama’s wife Michelle so ably represents. When the two are combined, it hardly equals “hope.”

Barack Obama seems to be taking up where Bob “let me build you a bridge to the past” Dole and Jimmy “we’re suffering a crisis of the American spirit” Carter left off. If Obama keeps it up, he may end up suffering a similar political fate.

I wanted to add to your comments about Senator Obama’s statement, Jennifer, that “America is …, uh, is no longer, uh … what it could be, what it once was. And I say to myself, I don’t want that future for my children.”

Obama is right in one respect: America isn’t “what it once was.” In fact, in important respects it is much better than it once was.

As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin and I attempted to show in COMMENTARY in December, the United States, over the last decade-and-a-half, has made progress–and in some cases enormous progress — on social and cultural issues like welfare, crime, drug use, welfare, teen sexual activity, teen suicides, teen smoking, binge drinking, and others.

Obama is succumbing to a common temptation of challengers (which is what essentially Obama is) running for President, which is to wildly overstate the difficulties facing America. Ours is certainly not a nation without its flaws and challenges, and we have hit a rough patch with the economy. But by any reasonable historical standard, we live in an amazingly blessed time and nation.

The declinist view, which Obama appears to hold, is a species of Bush Derangement Syndrome. And it, in turn, is closely linked with the “America is Downright Mean” view, which Obama’s wife Michelle so ably represents. When the two are combined, it hardly equals “hope.”

Barack Obama seems to be taking up where Bob “let me build you a bridge to the past” Dole and Jimmy “we’re suffering a crisis of the American spirit” Carter left off. If Obama keeps it up, he may end up suffering a similar political fate.

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Apologizing to Beijing

Yesterday, four American cyclists apologized to the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, the city of Beijing, and “the people of China” for wearing masks when they stepped off the plane in the Chinese capital.  “We deeply regret the nature of our choices,” they said, after explaining they only intended to protect themselves against the city’s notoriously polluted atmosphere.

If anyone should be making an apology, it should be the Chinese for the bad air.  After all, they promised a clean atmosphere for the Games, and they have already broken that pledge as the skies were hazy and gritty for the opening competitions in soccer this week.

And there’s another party who should be saying he’s sorry.  That’s the chief of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Jim Scherr.  He denied his organization asked the athletes to apologize, but he did say this: “We’re making sure the athletes understand how their actions are perceived by the host country.”  In fact, the cyclists drafted their apology after meeting with the USOC’s Steve Roush, chief of sport performance.  Some people evidently think the Olympics are being staged to please the magnificent Chinese state.  Memo to U.S. athletic officials: We’re going to Beijing to win sporting competitions.

Fortunately, there are some Americans who are not so craven.  They’re the Olympic athletes themselves.  Just hours after Beijing revoked the visa of 2006 gold medalist Joey Cheek, now trying to stop the slaughter in Sudan, the U.S. team chose Sudanese native Lopez Lomong to carry the American flag at tomorrow’s opening ceremony.  Lomong is a member of Cheek’s organization, Team Darfur.  China, as readers of this forum know, is the primary backer of the genocidal government in Khartoum.

Said Cheek on hearing the news of Lomong’s selection, “Every time I think I can’t be prouder of U.S. Olympians, those guys find a way to outdo themselves.”  Too bad we can’t say the same of our country’s sports officials.

Yesterday, four American cyclists apologized to the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, the city of Beijing, and “the people of China” for wearing masks when they stepped off the plane in the Chinese capital.  “We deeply regret the nature of our choices,” they said, after explaining they only intended to protect themselves against the city’s notoriously polluted atmosphere.

If anyone should be making an apology, it should be the Chinese for the bad air.  After all, they promised a clean atmosphere for the Games, and they have already broken that pledge as the skies were hazy and gritty for the opening competitions in soccer this week.

And there’s another party who should be saying he’s sorry.  That’s the chief of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Jim Scherr.  He denied his organization asked the athletes to apologize, but he did say this: “We’re making sure the athletes understand how their actions are perceived by the host country.”  In fact, the cyclists drafted their apology after meeting with the USOC’s Steve Roush, chief of sport performance.  Some people evidently think the Olympics are being staged to please the magnificent Chinese state.  Memo to U.S. athletic officials: We’re going to Beijing to win sporting competitions.

Fortunately, there are some Americans who are not so craven.  They’re the Olympic athletes themselves.  Just hours after Beijing revoked the visa of 2006 gold medalist Joey Cheek, now trying to stop the slaughter in Sudan, the U.S. team chose Sudanese native Lopez Lomong to carry the American flag at tomorrow’s opening ceremony.  Lomong is a member of Cheek’s organization, Team Darfur.  China, as readers of this forum know, is the primary backer of the genocidal government in Khartoum.

Said Cheek on hearing the news of Lomong’s selection, “Every time I think I can’t be prouder of U.S. Olympians, those guys find a way to outdo themselves.”  Too bad we can’t say the same of our country’s sports officials.

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It’s Not a Gaffe, It’s a Theme

The Right blogosphere is chuckling over the last Barack Obama ad lib suggesting that America has gone downhill. Combined with the Old Michelle ( e.g. America is mean, she’s never been proud of America) rather than the New Michelle, it revives the meme that Obama doesn’t think all that highly of the country and the fellow citizens he seeks to lead.

But really, it is not just a matter of an off-the-cuff remark. (By the way can you imagine that if Joe Biden is selected as VP he might actually be the less gaffe-prone of the two?) That gloomy assessment and glum world outlook is essential to his message. Remember: if the country is not in dire straits then no ordinary, experienced politician will do. We have to throw away the playbook, take a leap of faith and elect the One Who Is Like No Other. So of course everything must be worse than before — why else would we need Him?

The Right blogosphere is chuckling over the last Barack Obama ad lib suggesting that America has gone downhill. Combined with the Old Michelle ( e.g. America is mean, she’s never been proud of America) rather than the New Michelle, it revives the meme that Obama doesn’t think all that highly of the country and the fellow citizens he seeks to lead.

But really, it is not just a matter of an off-the-cuff remark. (By the way can you imagine that if Joe Biden is selected as VP he might actually be the less gaffe-prone of the two?) That gloomy assessment and glum world outlook is essential to his message. Remember: if the country is not in dire straits then no ordinary, experienced politician will do. We have to throw away the playbook, take a leap of faith and elect the One Who Is Like No Other. So of course everything must be worse than before — why else would we need Him?

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Say What?

After Iran submitted its post-modernist reply to the P5+1+Burns, the State Department, echoing the European countries, said that

“We are very disappointed that Iran has failed yet again to give Javier Solana a clear answer to the P5+1′s generous incentives package,” Acting State Department Spokesman Gonzo Gallegos said, calling Iran’s response sent Tuesday to the European Union a “stalling tactic.”

Gallegos said the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1, “are agreed that we have no choice but to pursue further sanctions against Iran.”

Oh really? Here is the Russian response:

Russia on Wednesday contradicted the United States and Britain, saying there was no agreement among six major powers on whether to pursue new U.N. sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters: “There have been no firm agreements or understandings or any kind of concerted work in this regard.”

Far be it from me to accuse the State Department of wishing to promote a false portrait of international unity. But really — this is embarrassing.

After Iran submitted its post-modernist reply to the P5+1+Burns, the State Department, echoing the European countries, said that

“We are very disappointed that Iran has failed yet again to give Javier Solana a clear answer to the P5+1′s generous incentives package,” Acting State Department Spokesman Gonzo Gallegos said, calling Iran’s response sent Tuesday to the European Union a “stalling tactic.”

Gallegos said the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1, “are agreed that we have no choice but to pursue further sanctions against Iran.”

Oh really? Here is the Russian response:

Russia on Wednesday contradicted the United States and Britain, saying there was no agreement among six major powers on whether to pursue new U.N. sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters: “There have been no firm agreements or understandings or any kind of concerted work in this regard.”

Far be it from me to accuse the State Department of wishing to promote a false portrait of international unity. But really — this is embarrassing.

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The Next Switcheroo?

Let’s play “Predict Obama’s Next Flip-Flop.” Here’s my prediction: U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe. So far, Obama has refused to endorse the construction of a radar base in the Czech Republic, but with Iranian diplomacy now a demonstrable farce, the defense shield is pretty much the only alternative to an attack on Iran. As Reuel Marc Gerecht points out in the Weekly Standard,

For a presidential candidate who spends so much time talking about the growing Iranian threat, his failure to back European missile defense–a position the Democratic party will eventually embrace since it will have nowhere else to go short of preemptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities–shows the strategically underdeveloped nature of the Obama political team.

In July, John McCain issued a statement saying,

Iran’s missile tests also demonstrate the need for effective missile defense now and in the future, and this includes missile defense in Europe as is planned with the Czech Republic and Poland.

This situation has strong flip-flop potential. Months back, Obama appeared in a video to announce,

I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.

That’s the kind of embarrassingly naïve claim he will be made to revisit at some point. As Obama has called for talks with Tehran and Tehran has turned talks into mush, that point may come sooner than expected. Can’t you just hear Obama now? “I’ve been consistent about this all along. I said I wouldn’t back unproven missile defense systems,” or “It is my understanding that the missile shield as proposed is not strictly speaking a ‘combat system.’”

Let’s play “Predict Obama’s Next Flip-Flop.” Here’s my prediction: U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe. So far, Obama has refused to endorse the construction of a radar base in the Czech Republic, but with Iranian diplomacy now a demonstrable farce, the defense shield is pretty much the only alternative to an attack on Iran. As Reuel Marc Gerecht points out in the Weekly Standard,

For a presidential candidate who spends so much time talking about the growing Iranian threat, his failure to back European missile defense–a position the Democratic party will eventually embrace since it will have nowhere else to go short of preemptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities–shows the strategically underdeveloped nature of the Obama political team.

In July, John McCain issued a statement saying,

Iran’s missile tests also demonstrate the need for effective missile defense now and in the future, and this includes missile defense in Europe as is planned with the Czech Republic and Poland.

This situation has strong flip-flop potential. Months back, Obama appeared in a video to announce,

I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.

That’s the kind of embarrassingly naïve claim he will be made to revisit at some point. As Obama has called for talks with Tehran and Tehran has turned talks into mush, that point may come sooner than expected. Can’t you just hear Obama now? “I’ve been consistent about this all along. I said I wouldn’t back unproven missile defense systems,” or “It is my understanding that the missile shield as proposed is not strictly speaking a ‘combat system.’”

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Let the Sun Shine in

Byron York reports on an interesting development among the not-so-fever swamps of the Left: the call among some prominent, liberal legal scholars for “Nuremberg-style” trials of Bush administration officials. Last month at “Netroots Nation,” the annual convention of the left-wing blogosphere, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick said that, while “Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunals” may be too much, “possibly a truth commission” (on the South African model) might be appropriate. Because, after all, what the United States has “endured” over the past eight years is morally identical to over four decades of violent white supremacy.

If the McCain campaign were smart, they would be talking about this.

Byron York reports on an interesting development among the not-so-fever swamps of the Left: the call among some prominent, liberal legal scholars for “Nuremberg-style” trials of Bush administration officials. Last month at “Netroots Nation,” the annual convention of the left-wing blogosphere, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick said that, while “Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunals” may be too much, “possibly a truth commission” (on the South African model) might be appropriate. Because, after all, what the United States has “endured” over the past eight years is morally identical to over four decades of violent white supremacy.

If the McCain campaign were smart, they would be talking about this.

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Bookshelf

Earlier this year I wrote admiringly in this space about “Dirty Money,” the latest thriller from Richard Stark, the pseudonym that comic crime novelist Donald E. Westlake adopts when writing about Parker, a professional burglar with a heart of flint who will do anything to anybody in order to get what he wants:

I wouldn’t care to speculate about what it is in Westlake’s psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written.

Back then I pointed out that most of the twenty-four Parker novels are out of print–the earlier ones were published as paperback originals that are now hard to find–and that certain titles in the series, “Butcher’s Moon” foremost among them, fetch alarmingly stiff prices on the used-book market. So I’m delighted to advise readers in need of tough-minded vacation fare that the University of Chicago Press has decided to publish a uniform edition of the first 17 Parker novels, and that the first three volumes are now available.

“The Hunter” (208 pp., $14 paper), “The Man with the Getaway Face” (224 pp., $14 paper) and “The Outfit” (224 pp., $14 paper) can and should be read in sequence as a trilogy–I would have published them in an omnibus volume–rather than separately. In these hard, laconic novels, published in 1962 and 1963, we first make the acquaintance of Parker, who has broken out of a California jail and made his way to New York City to settle a score with a woman who sold him out and left him for dead. We never learn much more about his personal history than that, nor should we, for Parker is a man devoid of introspection who lives exclusively in the present moment, never looking back and thinking ahead only far enough to plan his next crime. He is, I suppose, a sociopath, if you go in for labels like that, and it is the frightening charm of the novels in which he figures that you quickly find yourself cheering him on in his relentless quest to redistribute the wealth of America into his own bottomless pockets by any means necessary, up to and very much including murder.

The early Parker novels are somewhat coarser in literary tone than the ones that came later, but they are still of a piece with the rest of the series. Once you start reading them, my guess is that you’ll find it impossible to stop, for Stark/Westlake is a virtuoso craftsman who knows how to seize and hold the reader’s attention. Each Parker novel, for instance, opens in medias res with a sentence that begins with the word “when”:

When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.

When the bandages came off, Parker looked in the mirror at a stranger.

When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed.

How can you quit there?

“The Hunter,” “The Man with the Getaway Face” and “The Outfit” are handsomely designed, tightly bound trade-paperback volumes that have been freshly set from new type rather than reprinted from older editions. All of this strongly suggests that the University of Chicago Press is in it for the long haul, which is a good thing, since the uniform Parker is a multi-year project whose subsequent installments are to be published at unspecified intervals. Be patient.

Earlier this year I wrote admiringly in this space about “Dirty Money,” the latest thriller from Richard Stark, the pseudonym that comic crime novelist Donald E. Westlake adopts when writing about Parker, a professional burglar with a heart of flint who will do anything to anybody in order to get what he wants:

I wouldn’t care to speculate about what it is in Westlake’s psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written.

Back then I pointed out that most of the twenty-four Parker novels are out of print–the earlier ones were published as paperback originals that are now hard to find–and that certain titles in the series, “Butcher’s Moon” foremost among them, fetch alarmingly stiff prices on the used-book market. So I’m delighted to advise readers in need of tough-minded vacation fare that the University of Chicago Press has decided to publish a uniform edition of the first 17 Parker novels, and that the first three volumes are now available.

“The Hunter” (208 pp., $14 paper), “The Man with the Getaway Face” (224 pp., $14 paper) and “The Outfit” (224 pp., $14 paper) can and should be read in sequence as a trilogy–I would have published them in an omnibus volume–rather than separately. In these hard, laconic novels, published in 1962 and 1963, we first make the acquaintance of Parker, who has broken out of a California jail and made his way to New York City to settle a score with a woman who sold him out and left him for dead. We never learn much more about his personal history than that, nor should we, for Parker is a man devoid of introspection who lives exclusively in the present moment, never looking back and thinking ahead only far enough to plan his next crime. He is, I suppose, a sociopath, if you go in for labels like that, and it is the frightening charm of the novels in which he figures that you quickly find yourself cheering him on in his relentless quest to redistribute the wealth of America into his own bottomless pockets by any means necessary, up to and very much including murder.

The early Parker novels are somewhat coarser in literary tone than the ones that came later, but they are still of a piece with the rest of the series. Once you start reading them, my guess is that you’ll find it impossible to stop, for Stark/Westlake is a virtuoso craftsman who knows how to seize and hold the reader’s attention. Each Parker novel, for instance, opens in medias res with a sentence that begins with the word “when”:

When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.

When the bandages came off, Parker looked in the mirror at a stranger.

When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed.

How can you quit there?

“The Hunter,” “The Man with the Getaway Face” and “The Outfit” are handsomely designed, tightly bound trade-paperback volumes that have been freshly set from new type rather than reprinted from older editions. All of this strongly suggests that the University of Chicago Press is in it for the long haul, which is a good thing, since the uniform Parker is a multi-year project whose subsequent installments are to be published at unspecified intervals. Be patient.

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McCain’s New Ad

Back on June 5, I wrote:

To be frank, McCain won in spite of, and not because of, his maverick and iconoclastic views and attitudes. Conservative Republicans still bristle that he gives them too little respect. That very quality is now his ticket to competitiveness in the general election. Remember the Mitt Romney ad depicting McCain as the Democrats’ best friend? McCain could practically run that as his own ad in the general election.

Today John McCain has a new ad. Hmmm. It’s not that far off the Romney ad. Here, though, I suspect that the intent is not just to burnish McCain’s bipartisan credentials but to inoculate him against what may be a barrage of “hitting back” ads and comments from frustrated Democrats. But we know the Barack Obama line by now, right? “He’s not the John McCain I knew.”

Back on June 5, I wrote:

To be frank, McCain won in spite of, and not because of, his maverick and iconoclastic views and attitudes. Conservative Republicans still bristle that he gives them too little respect. That very quality is now his ticket to competitiveness in the general election. Remember the Mitt Romney ad depicting McCain as the Democrats’ best friend? McCain could practically run that as his own ad in the general election.

Today John McCain has a new ad. Hmmm. It’s not that far off the Romney ad. Here, though, I suspect that the intent is not just to burnish McCain’s bipartisan credentials but to inoculate him against what may be a barrage of “hitting back” ads and comments from frustrated Democrats. But we know the Barack Obama line by now, right? “He’s not the John McCain I knew.”

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Interpreting the Great One

If you want to understand why Barack Obama is “underperforming” (to use a popular phrase) in his race for the presidency, consider the recent words of two prominent Obama supporters, made on the same day and almost at the same time, on the same issue.

During an interview last Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Senator John Kerry said

Barack Obama doesn’t want to drill offshore, doesn’t believe it’s the thing to do. There’s a very–there’s a four-state carefully circumscribed proposal in that, that, in that initiative that, that could conceivably allow some drilling. He doesn’t want to do that.

But in a “Fox News Sunday” interview, former Majority Leader Tom Daschle said

Barack Obama has always been in favor of offshore drilling.

There you have it: two prominent and well-connected Obama supporters saying, on the same issue, completely opposite things regarding Obama’s position. When Obama’s own insiders can’t discern his position on a key issue–when they argue Obama holds mutually exclusive positions–then the public can be excused for being confused as well.

Senator Obama has a large and growing issue with his public character, in part because he looks, even for a politician, unusually unprincipled. He bends with every political breeze, it seems, and changes his stances with head-snapping speed. When it gets to the point that his own surrogates end up contradicting each other on national television, you know he has a problem.

Obama often preaches against cynicism and manipulation. It would help his case if he did a little less of both.

If you want to understand why Barack Obama is “underperforming” (to use a popular phrase) in his race for the presidency, consider the recent words of two prominent Obama supporters, made on the same day and almost at the same time, on the same issue.

During an interview last Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Senator John Kerry said

Barack Obama doesn’t want to drill offshore, doesn’t believe it’s the thing to do. There’s a very–there’s a four-state carefully circumscribed proposal in that, that, in that initiative that, that could conceivably allow some drilling. He doesn’t want to do that.

But in a “Fox News Sunday” interview, former Majority Leader Tom Daschle said

Barack Obama has always been in favor of offshore drilling.

There you have it: two prominent and well-connected Obama supporters saying, on the same issue, completely opposite things regarding Obama’s position. When Obama’s own insiders can’t discern his position on a key issue–when they argue Obama holds mutually exclusive positions–then the public can be excused for being confused as well.

Senator Obama has a large and growing issue with his public character, in part because he looks, even for a politician, unusually unprincipled. He bends with every political breeze, it seems, and changes his stances with head-snapping speed. When it gets to the point that his own surrogates end up contradicting each other on national television, you know he has a problem.

Obama often preaches against cynicism and manipulation. It would help his case if he did a little less of both.

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That’s The Ticket

It is accepted wisdom in Democratic circles and the mainstream media that Democrats lose presidential races because they aren’t “tough enough.” John Kerry didn’t lose because he was an out-of-touch, flip-flopping, snob; he lost because he didn’t debunk the Swift Boat Vets. Michael Dukakis didn’t lose because he was a robotic ultra-liberal; he lost because of those nasty Willie Horton ads. And so it goes. Democrats and the media have built a pantheon of diabolical Republican strategists from Lee Atwater to Karl Rove who are responsible for their failures. It’s never the candidates the Democrats have selected or the policies they advocate. And now, they are at it again.

Democrats fret that Barack Obama is not being tough enough and not attacking John McCain hard enough. That’s a less unnerving explanation for the closeness of the race (and the sense that momentum has shifted) than more prosaic explanations (e.g. the Ego Trip was a horrid miscalculation, Obama has blown it on energy policy, the Obama-mania has become an embarrassment, experience is turning out to be an issue after all). But I’m sure the McCain camp would be thrilled if the Obama camp accepted this excuse and the accompanying advice (Be meaner!).

Why? Well, attributing their difficulties to those nasty Republicans prevents self-evaluation and self-reflection by the Obama team: Are the candidate’s policies credible? Is the candidate not good without a script? Have they lost their message? In short, it distracts them from fixing real problems.

But even more critically here, encouraging Obama to go whole-hog negative will, if the advice is accepted, essentially kill off whatever is left of the New Politics, holier-than-thou Obama brand. It already was weakened with the multiple flip-flops and reneging on public financing. But a barrage of negative ads and anti-McCain attacks from The One’s own lips will be final straw.

Now the fact that Obama is getting his share of conflicting, bad advice (which the McCain camp has heretofore had a monopoly on) is some indication that all is not well in Obama-land. And if McCain is really lucky, Obama will listen to the voices urging him to be meaner. Better that, than fixing what really ails a campaign knocked off course by the first serious bout of head-to-head combat.

It is accepted wisdom in Democratic circles and the mainstream media that Democrats lose presidential races because they aren’t “tough enough.” John Kerry didn’t lose because he was an out-of-touch, flip-flopping, snob; he lost because he didn’t debunk the Swift Boat Vets. Michael Dukakis didn’t lose because he was a robotic ultra-liberal; he lost because of those nasty Willie Horton ads. And so it goes. Democrats and the media have built a pantheon of diabolical Republican strategists from Lee Atwater to Karl Rove who are responsible for their failures. It’s never the candidates the Democrats have selected or the policies they advocate. And now, they are at it again.

Democrats fret that Barack Obama is not being tough enough and not attacking John McCain hard enough. That’s a less unnerving explanation for the closeness of the race (and the sense that momentum has shifted) than more prosaic explanations (e.g. the Ego Trip was a horrid miscalculation, Obama has blown it on energy policy, the Obama-mania has become an embarrassment, experience is turning out to be an issue after all). But I’m sure the McCain camp would be thrilled if the Obama camp accepted this excuse and the accompanying advice (Be meaner!).

Why? Well, attributing their difficulties to those nasty Republicans prevents self-evaluation and self-reflection by the Obama team: Are the candidate’s policies credible? Is the candidate not good without a script? Have they lost their message? In short, it distracts them from fixing real problems.

But even more critically here, encouraging Obama to go whole-hog negative will, if the advice is accepted, essentially kill off whatever is left of the New Politics, holier-than-thou Obama brand. It already was weakened with the multiple flip-flops and reneging on public financing. But a barrage of negative ads and anti-McCain attacks from The One’s own lips will be final straw.

Now the fact that Obama is getting his share of conflicting, bad advice (which the McCain camp has heretofore had a monopoly on) is some indication that all is not well in Obama-land. And if McCain is really lucky, Obama will listen to the voices urging him to be meaner. Better that, than fixing what really ails a campaign knocked off course by the first serious bout of head-to-head combat.

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And So It Begins

The New York Times, at a loss for bad news from Iraq, is mining Afghanistan for tragedy and defeat. Today’s front page bears the headline, “500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War.” The piece, by Kirk Semple and Andrew W. Lehren, contains heart-wrenching stories of young life cut short, and the online edition contains interactive features with graphs showing casualty breakdowns and mini-bios of lost troops. With this bit of morbidity, the Times has sent out a signal to left-wing media outlets, progressive bloggers, and activists looking for a march: It’s time to switch from death in Iraq to death in Afghanistan.

Running tallies of American causalities in Afghanistan can now go up on websites; Digital collages of Americans killed by the Taliban arranged to form George W. Bush’s face are sure to follow.

The thing about the Times’ milestone is — it’s completely artificial. The casualty count for Americans in Afghanistan passed 500 months ago. On June 13, the AP reported: “In the Afghan campaign, which began in October 2001, the U.S. death total is just over 500, including 313 killed in action.” The number now stands at 563. The “milestone” framework is just a pretense for the paper to shift its gruesome focus onto a new front. And in making up a fake milestone and exploiting it, the Times doesn’t forget to congratulate themselves on being virtuous. The piece includes this quote from a mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, “If anything good is coming out of that media attention, it’s that people see that they are truly human. It’s not just numbers. It’s actually brothers and sons and fathers. They’re human.”

Indeed. And exemplary human beings, at that. The New York Times staff? Not so much.

The New York Times, at a loss for bad news from Iraq, is mining Afghanistan for tragedy and defeat. Today’s front page bears the headline, “500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War.” The piece, by Kirk Semple and Andrew W. Lehren, contains heart-wrenching stories of young life cut short, and the online edition contains interactive features with graphs showing casualty breakdowns and mini-bios of lost troops. With this bit of morbidity, the Times has sent out a signal to left-wing media outlets, progressive bloggers, and activists looking for a march: It’s time to switch from death in Iraq to death in Afghanistan.

Running tallies of American causalities in Afghanistan can now go up on websites; Digital collages of Americans killed by the Taliban arranged to form George W. Bush’s face are sure to follow.

The thing about the Times’ milestone is — it’s completely artificial. The casualty count for Americans in Afghanistan passed 500 months ago. On June 13, the AP reported: “In the Afghan campaign, which began in October 2001, the U.S. death total is just over 500, including 313 killed in action.” The number now stands at 563. The “milestone” framework is just a pretense for the paper to shift its gruesome focus onto a new front. And in making up a fake milestone and exploiting it, the Times doesn’t forget to congratulate themselves on being virtuous. The piece includes this quote from a mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, “If anything good is coming out of that media attention, it’s that people see that they are truly human. It’s not just numbers. It’s actually brothers and sons and fathers. They’re human.”

Indeed. And exemplary human beings, at that. The New York Times staff? Not so much.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hard to argue with this: “My mother in-law can nag me about my tire pressure. But my mother-in-law lacks the ability to green-light more nuclear power plants or offshore drilling. ”

Good grief–Geneva?? If The One (“L’Un”?) goes, we know Karl Rove has infiltrated the Obama camp.

The Washington Post gets everything but the word “the” wrong. If they insist on sticking with the reporter who got two stories wrong (oddly, both anti-McCain pieces–who’d have thought?) perhaps they can hire Amanda Carpenter as his editor.

Did the Ego Trip help Barack Obama’s poll numbers on Iraq and the war on terror? Nope. The opposite.

I am not sure why people are confused: Obama was for Dick Cheney before he was against him.

Wow — it’s almost like a democracy. If this whole epsiode doesn’t save half a dozen or more seats for the Republicans nothing will. And now they’re talking two more weeks. Imagine if they had been this effective for the last 18 months.

Liberal bloggers discover that “big moneymen” are keeping Obama afloat. How exactly are his politics any newer than the Clintons’?

Will those poll numbers send Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats rushing back to Washington? In August? During the Olympics? Not a chance.

An “Economic Surge.” Not many people thought “surge” would be a good metaphor for McCain.

From blog readers and mainstream media outlets we learn that Mr. Suskind’s book might not have gotten everything right. Or any of it.

Only half of those polled have heard too much about Obama? Must mean the other half is dying for more. Time to cut some new rock videos, do another European tour and pack some more arenas, right? Only in the fondest dreams of the anti-celebrity brigade at McCain headquarters.

This seems like a pretty big deal to be left to the sports page. And this one too: now they are banning chaplains (other than employees of the Chines government) from the Olympic village? But really, no one should be surprised.

Yeah, lots of politicians have an ego. But then there is the Ego. I don’t recall George W. Bush or Al Gore in 2000 imprinting their campaign airplane chair with “President,” setting up a transition team in July, doing a campaign rally in Europe, or unleashing a weird personality cult.

Hard to argue with this: “My mother in-law can nag me about my tire pressure. But my mother-in-law lacks the ability to green-light more nuclear power plants or offshore drilling. ”

Good grief–Geneva?? If The One (“L’Un”?) goes, we know Karl Rove has infiltrated the Obama camp.

The Washington Post gets everything but the word “the” wrong. If they insist on sticking with the reporter who got two stories wrong (oddly, both anti-McCain pieces–who’d have thought?) perhaps they can hire Amanda Carpenter as his editor.

Did the Ego Trip help Barack Obama’s poll numbers on Iraq and the war on terror? Nope. The opposite.

I am not sure why people are confused: Obama was for Dick Cheney before he was against him.

Wow — it’s almost like a democracy. If this whole epsiode doesn’t save half a dozen or more seats for the Republicans nothing will. And now they’re talking two more weeks. Imagine if they had been this effective for the last 18 months.

Liberal bloggers discover that “big moneymen” are keeping Obama afloat. How exactly are his politics any newer than the Clintons’?

Will those poll numbers send Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats rushing back to Washington? In August? During the Olympics? Not a chance.

An “Economic Surge.” Not many people thought “surge” would be a good metaphor for McCain.

From blog readers and mainstream media outlets we learn that Mr. Suskind’s book might not have gotten everything right. Or any of it.

Only half of those polled have heard too much about Obama? Must mean the other half is dying for more. Time to cut some new rock videos, do another European tour and pack some more arenas, right? Only in the fondest dreams of the anti-celebrity brigade at McCain headquarters.

This seems like a pretty big deal to be left to the sports page. And this one too: now they are banning chaplains (other than employees of the Chines government) from the Olympic village? But really, no one should be surprised.

Yeah, lots of politicians have an ego. But then there is the Ego. I don’t recall George W. Bush or Al Gore in 2000 imprinting their campaign airplane chair with “President,” setting up a transition team in July, doing a campaign rally in Europe, or unleashing a weird personality cult.

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How Did Engagement Work, Again?

The complaint we have been hearing for oh-so-long, from the lowliest bloggers of the “reality-based community” all the way up to Barack Obama, is that the missing ingredient to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear standoff has been the absence of the United States at the negotiating table. Two weeks ago there was just such an American presence, in the form of William Burns, the third-highest ranking diplomat at the State Department.

And thanks to Le Monde, we now have a transcript of the words Burns spoke directly to Saeed Jalili, Iran’s nuclear “negotiator” (my translation):

I am happy to transmit a simple message. The United States is serious in its support of its offering of cooperation and a way forward. We are serious in the search for a diplomatic solution. The relations between our two countries have been based on profound mistrust for 30 years. I hope that my presence today is a step in a good direction and that you seize this opportunity.

We also now have a copy of Iran’s schizophrenic reply to the P5+1(+Burns), which reads as if its drafting was an assignment in a post-structuralist creative writing class at Tehran University:

Now the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to provide a ‘clear response’ to your proposal at the earliest opportunity while simultaneously expecting to receive your ‘clear response’ to our questions and ambiguities as well.

Undoubtedly such mutual clarification can pave the way for a speedy and transparent negotiating process with a bright prospect and provide grounds for cooperation.

The second phase in negotiations can commence as early as possible if there is such willingness on your side.

This bizarre and completely worthless document is exactly in keeping with Iran’s previous offerings. The only difference this time was the presence of a high-ranking U.S. official at the negotiations. I think it can now be uncontroversially said that precisely the development that liberals have been clamoring for and insisting on has had a sum total effect of — zero.

So, did all those members of the “reality-based community” really believe that the appearance of a U.S. envoy would change Iranian behavior? I doubt it. Rather, I suspect that such assurances were made by people who are so deeply invested in the universal applicability of diplomacy that they are incapable of identifying the moment when diplomacy shifts from being part of the solution to part of the problem. The conclusion that the reality-based community will draw from the fruitlessness of Burns’ presence is not that the United States has nothing to offer Iran in exchange for the cessation of its nuclear program. It will simply be said that the U.S. got involved too late, or not passionately enough, or didn’t employ the right words, or that Bush has already forfeited any international credibility. Anything to keep the narrative going.

The complaint we have been hearing for oh-so-long, from the lowliest bloggers of the “reality-based community” all the way up to Barack Obama, is that the missing ingredient to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear standoff has been the absence of the United States at the negotiating table. Two weeks ago there was just such an American presence, in the form of William Burns, the third-highest ranking diplomat at the State Department.

And thanks to Le Monde, we now have a transcript of the words Burns spoke directly to Saeed Jalili, Iran’s nuclear “negotiator” (my translation):

I am happy to transmit a simple message. The United States is serious in its support of its offering of cooperation and a way forward. We are serious in the search for a diplomatic solution. The relations between our two countries have been based on profound mistrust for 30 years. I hope that my presence today is a step in a good direction and that you seize this opportunity.

We also now have a copy of Iran’s schizophrenic reply to the P5+1(+Burns), which reads as if its drafting was an assignment in a post-structuralist creative writing class at Tehran University:

Now the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to provide a ‘clear response’ to your proposal at the earliest opportunity while simultaneously expecting to receive your ‘clear response’ to our questions and ambiguities as well.

Undoubtedly such mutual clarification can pave the way for a speedy and transparent negotiating process with a bright prospect and provide grounds for cooperation.

The second phase in negotiations can commence as early as possible if there is such willingness on your side.

This bizarre and completely worthless document is exactly in keeping with Iran’s previous offerings. The only difference this time was the presence of a high-ranking U.S. official at the negotiations. I think it can now be uncontroversially said that precisely the development that liberals have been clamoring for and insisting on has had a sum total effect of — zero.

So, did all those members of the “reality-based community” really believe that the appearance of a U.S. envoy would change Iranian behavior? I doubt it. Rather, I suspect that such assurances were made by people who are so deeply invested in the universal applicability of diplomacy that they are incapable of identifying the moment when diplomacy shifts from being part of the solution to part of the problem. The conclusion that the reality-based community will draw from the fruitlessness of Burns’ presence is not that the United States has nothing to offer Iran in exchange for the cessation of its nuclear program. It will simply be said that the U.S. got involved too late, or not passionately enough, or didn’t employ the right words, or that Bush has already forfeited any international credibility. Anything to keep the narrative going.

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After Hamdan

Unlike nearly every news report (and Barack Obama’s own pronouncement), this discussion of the Hamdan trial actually reveals what happened at the proceedings. Moreover, we are reminded that Hamdan received far more procedural rights and the prosecutors operated with far more restrictions than at Nuremberg (or for that matter many more recent international tribunals). But those are inconvenient facts for both Obama and the media.

After all, the dark and sinister picture of the Bush administration doesn’t quite seem to fit with a procedure in which a suspected terrorist has counsel, introduces exculpatory evidence, and beats the rap on some charges. Not much of a gulag, is it? Moreover, by ignoring the details of the proceeding, critics beg and avoid the question of where we go now. Are terrorist defendants with civilian juries now to be de rigeur in federal courts? Unlike the Hamdan judge, will judges in these proceedings be throwing out evidence which was obtained without a search warrant and without Miranda warnings? And why was it that Obama voted against the very sensible legislative scheme which created the military tribunal system?

These are all uncomfortable and disagreeable questions for the Hamdan critics so it is far better to blithely condemn the unnamed “flaws” (Which would those be?) in the Hamdan trial and military tribunal system. At some point in the presidential race — would it be too much to ask that it be a topic during a presidential debate ? — some enterprising member of the media might ask Obama what precisely is his gripe with the Hamdan trial, why he thinks full blown civilian trials are a good idea, and exactly how he’s going to carve out an exception (or will he?) if we should be so fortunate to capture Osama bin Laden. And the reporters get bonus points if they ask how he squares his support for “Nuremberg” trials with his opposition to a system that is far more generous to Islamic terrorists than those proceeding were to the Nazi defendants.

Unlike nearly every news report (and Barack Obama’s own pronouncement), this discussion of the Hamdan trial actually reveals what happened at the proceedings. Moreover, we are reminded that Hamdan received far more procedural rights and the prosecutors operated with far more restrictions than at Nuremberg (or for that matter many more recent international tribunals). But those are inconvenient facts for both Obama and the media.

After all, the dark and sinister picture of the Bush administration doesn’t quite seem to fit with a procedure in which a suspected terrorist has counsel, introduces exculpatory evidence, and beats the rap on some charges. Not much of a gulag, is it? Moreover, by ignoring the details of the proceeding, critics beg and avoid the question of where we go now. Are terrorist defendants with civilian juries now to be de rigeur in federal courts? Unlike the Hamdan judge, will judges in these proceedings be throwing out evidence which was obtained without a search warrant and without Miranda warnings? And why was it that Obama voted against the very sensible legislative scheme which created the military tribunal system?

These are all uncomfortable and disagreeable questions for the Hamdan critics so it is far better to blithely condemn the unnamed “flaws” (Which would those be?) in the Hamdan trial and military tribunal system. At some point in the presidential race — would it be too much to ask that it be a topic during a presidential debate ? — some enterprising member of the media might ask Obama what precisely is his gripe with the Hamdan trial, why he thinks full blown civilian trials are a good idea, and exactly how he’s going to carve out an exception (or will he?) if we should be so fortunate to capture Osama bin Laden. And the reporters get bonus points if they ask how he squares his support for “Nuremberg” trials with his opposition to a system that is far more generous to Islamic terrorists than those proceeding were to the Nazi defendants.

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Check It Out. . .

From bloggingheads: Our own Noah Pollak v. Wonk Room’s Matthew Duss.

From bloggingheads: Our own Noah Pollak v. Wonk Room’s Matthew Duss.

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Reaching out to the Clintonites

This gripping and somewhat sad tale of the Clintons says more in some respects about Barack Obama than it does about Bill and Hillary. The One doesn’t keep simple promises — raise money for Hillary and have dinner with Bill — which are the sort of decent gestures and savvy touches that political opponents remember. And what the Clintons most want — absolution from the racist label — he is unable or unwilling to give. There is no doubt that the Clintons haven’t forgiven or forgotten, and chances are many of their supporters have not either.

But does it matter? Only if Hillary’s supporters stay home, write her in, or vote for John McCain. In that regard, I wonder if it is coincidental that McCain’s most successful pitches of late (including his push back on the race card gambit, his attacks on media infatuation with Obama and his mocking of the cult of Obama-mania) seem eerily in sync with the simmering resentments of the Clintons and their supporters. Perhaps it is happenstance, but maybe there is a deliberate effort to pinpoint exactly those themes which will resonate with ex-Hillary supporters (as well as Independents).

But there is one thing that would certainly shake things up and really get the Clinton supporters’ attention: a pledge from McCain and his VP for one term only. If McCain were to do that, a number of Republican grumblers would kick up their heels. ( Some in the base have been knocking around the idea for awhile.) But the real impact would be on the Democrats who aren’t ready to give up on the Clinton renaissance quite yet. If McCain is elected with a one-term pledge, the 2012 election race would start November 5. And there would be every incentive in the world for the Clinton contingent to sit on their hands between now and November 4. Heck, they could be back campaigning for Hillary in five short months if McCain is elected.

But for now the ball is in Obama’s court. Where are his vaunted diplomatic skills and his ability to charm the opposition? He is the Great Uniter and this seems to be the first real test. He seems to be struggling to find a spot for Hillary at the Convention. Next he might schedule that dinner with Bill.

This gripping and somewhat sad tale of the Clintons says more in some respects about Barack Obama than it does about Bill and Hillary. The One doesn’t keep simple promises — raise money for Hillary and have dinner with Bill — which are the sort of decent gestures and savvy touches that political opponents remember. And what the Clintons most want — absolution from the racist label — he is unable or unwilling to give. There is no doubt that the Clintons haven’t forgiven or forgotten, and chances are many of their supporters have not either.

But does it matter? Only if Hillary’s supporters stay home, write her in, or vote for John McCain. In that regard, I wonder if it is coincidental that McCain’s most successful pitches of late (including his push back on the race card gambit, his attacks on media infatuation with Obama and his mocking of the cult of Obama-mania) seem eerily in sync with the simmering resentments of the Clintons and their supporters. Perhaps it is happenstance, but maybe there is a deliberate effort to pinpoint exactly those themes which will resonate with ex-Hillary supporters (as well as Independents).

But there is one thing that would certainly shake things up and really get the Clinton supporters’ attention: a pledge from McCain and his VP for one term only. If McCain were to do that, a number of Republican grumblers would kick up their heels. ( Some in the base have been knocking around the idea for awhile.) But the real impact would be on the Democrats who aren’t ready to give up on the Clinton renaissance quite yet. If McCain is elected with a one-term pledge, the 2012 election race would start November 5. And there would be every incentive in the world for the Clinton contingent to sit on their hands between now and November 4. Heck, they could be back campaigning for Hillary in five short months if McCain is elected.

But for now the ball is in Obama’s court. Where are his vaunted diplomatic skills and his ability to charm the opposition? He is the Great Uniter and this seems to be the first real test. He seems to be struggling to find a spot for Hillary at the Convention. Next he might schedule that dinner with Bill.

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Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

You don’t have to agree with him on the merits of the drilling issue to appreciate this reporter’s take on the politics:

Of course, the Democrats are also (supposedly) the masters of the blown political save, experts at devising new and ever more elaborate means of snatching electoral defeat from the jaws of victory. So it’s only fitting that now, just as energy assumes unprecedented prominence in a presidential campaign, they’ve gone and adopted a maddeningly incomprehensible message that threatens to forfeit the powerful emotional advantage they’ve enjoyed on the subject for decades. . . Making matters worse, the party’s presidential nominee, who showed admirable courage on the issue of a gas tax holiday back in the primary season (for which he was rewarded by the voters), has opted mostly to defer to his Congressional colleagues this summer, parroting their counterproductive rhetoric and allowing John McCain to gain an edge on the issue that wouldn’t have been imaginable a few months ago.

Will it matter? He says:

In the end, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid probably won’t pay a price for this stupidity. Their House and Senate candidates still have enormous built-in advantages, and Democrats will almost certainly increase their numbers in both chambers significantly. But the presidential race is a different story. Obama is playing the Big Oil card that has worked so well in the past for his party, but it’s McCain who’s on the offensive on energy and gas prices.

The bad news for McCain is that the Democrats have time to wander back to work well before by Election Day, fudge on a compromise measure, and change the subject. But the politics is instructive. Obama did not get out in front of this issue, failed to anticipate the groundswell of public opinion, and now is facing a more critical media environment. (And he really should never talk off the cuff — how much time has he spent playing defense on a silly throwaway line on tire inflation?)

And for McCain the lesson is clear: the more aggressive he is, the more innovative his barbs and the more he focuses on what Obama is actually saying and proposing, the better McCain does. Might he do the same on the economy? Stay tuned.

You don’t have to agree with him on the merits of the drilling issue to appreciate this reporter’s take on the politics:

Of course, the Democrats are also (supposedly) the masters of the blown political save, experts at devising new and ever more elaborate means of snatching electoral defeat from the jaws of victory. So it’s only fitting that now, just as energy assumes unprecedented prominence in a presidential campaign, they’ve gone and adopted a maddeningly incomprehensible message that threatens to forfeit the powerful emotional advantage they’ve enjoyed on the subject for decades. . . Making matters worse, the party’s presidential nominee, who showed admirable courage on the issue of a gas tax holiday back in the primary season (for which he was rewarded by the voters), has opted mostly to defer to his Congressional colleagues this summer, parroting their counterproductive rhetoric and allowing John McCain to gain an edge on the issue that wouldn’t have been imaginable a few months ago.

Will it matter? He says:

In the end, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid probably won’t pay a price for this stupidity. Their House and Senate candidates still have enormous built-in advantages, and Democrats will almost certainly increase their numbers in both chambers significantly. But the presidential race is a different story. Obama is playing the Big Oil card that has worked so well in the past for his party, but it’s McCain who’s on the offensive on energy and gas prices.

The bad news for McCain is that the Democrats have time to wander back to work well before by Election Day, fudge on a compromise measure, and change the subject. But the politics is instructive. Obama did not get out in front of this issue, failed to anticipate the groundswell of public opinion, and now is facing a more critical media environment. (And he really should never talk off the cuff — how much time has he spent playing defense on a silly throwaway line on tire inflation?)

And for McCain the lesson is clear: the more aggressive he is, the more innovative his barbs and the more he focuses on what Obama is actually saying and proposing, the better McCain does. Might he do the same on the economy? Stay tuned.

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