Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 10, 2008

Everything Is Fine, Perfectly Fine

There is a spate of “nothing has changed” analysis from mainstream and Obamaphile pundits. In one sense they are right: Obama remains narrowly ahead. But in another, these analysts seem indifferent to the two major developments of the summer. And both significantly help John McCain.

The first is the emergence of energy as a top issue, one on which John McCain has been continually on the offense. Congressional Republicans have done their part to keep the focus on the Democrats’ intransigence and Obama remains at odds with the overwhelming majority of Americans who see domestic oil and gas development as key part of a realistic energy policy. If McCain needed a policy advantage (besides national security) on an important issue, he certainly found it.

The other significant development is the puncturing of the Obama mythology. When late night comics are on to the Ego storyline, mainstream and liberal commentators focus on the flip-flop/lack of principle meme and Obama’s losing race card gambit is the subject of consternation then something has happened. Like the cartoon character who runs off the cliff but is held aloft only so long as there is a suspension of disbelief that he is in any peril, Obama’s candidacy depends on a mass consensus that The One is more than a carefully contrived artifice. What if his lofty rhetoric is no more than New Age buzz words? What happens if voters conclude that he isn’t much different that the other sweet-talking politicians? Those undependable young voters, not to mention undecided working class voters, aren’t going to be there when it counts on Election day if they conclude that the Emperor has no clothes.

And for McCain, all of this has occurred at relatively little financial cost. His success on the energy issue and his headway in scuffing up the Obama image have in large part been accomplished by virtue of Obama’s own missteps (e.g. opposing drilling, the overreach in Berlin) and the free media’s willingness to play and replay McCain’s humorous digs at The One. As he did in the primary, McCain is showing that the candidate with the most money doesn’t necessarily control the message.

None of this means that McCain has the upper hand or is the favorite in the race. What it does mean is that a McCain victory is conceivable. That wasn’t the case a month or so ago. Certainly that is a change in the state of the race.

There is a spate of “nothing has changed” analysis from mainstream and Obamaphile pundits. In one sense they are right: Obama remains narrowly ahead. But in another, these analysts seem indifferent to the two major developments of the summer. And both significantly help John McCain.

The first is the emergence of energy as a top issue, one on which John McCain has been continually on the offense. Congressional Republicans have done their part to keep the focus on the Democrats’ intransigence and Obama remains at odds with the overwhelming majority of Americans who see domestic oil and gas development as key part of a realistic energy policy. If McCain needed a policy advantage (besides national security) on an important issue, he certainly found it.

The other significant development is the puncturing of the Obama mythology. When late night comics are on to the Ego storyline, mainstream and liberal commentators focus on the flip-flop/lack of principle meme and Obama’s losing race card gambit is the subject of consternation then something has happened. Like the cartoon character who runs off the cliff but is held aloft only so long as there is a suspension of disbelief that he is in any peril, Obama’s candidacy depends on a mass consensus that The One is more than a carefully contrived artifice. What if his lofty rhetoric is no more than New Age buzz words? What happens if voters conclude that he isn’t much different that the other sweet-talking politicians? Those undependable young voters, not to mention undecided working class voters, aren’t going to be there when it counts on Election day if they conclude that the Emperor has no clothes.

And for McCain, all of this has occurred at relatively little financial cost. His success on the energy issue and his headway in scuffing up the Obama image have in large part been accomplished by virtue of Obama’s own missteps (e.g. opposing drilling, the overreach in Berlin) and the free media’s willingness to play and replay McCain’s humorous digs at The One. As he did in the primary, McCain is showing that the candidate with the most money doesn’t necessarily control the message.

None of this means that McCain has the upper hand or is the favorite in the race. What it does mean is that a McCain victory is conceivable. That wasn’t the case a month or so ago. Certainly that is a change in the state of the race.

Read Less

Learning to Be Meek

Has the Bush administration lost its will to defend the international community? “We’ve placed ourselves in a position that globally we don’t have the wherewithal to do anything,” notes George Friedman of Stratfor, the strategic analysis firm. “One would think under those circumstances, we’d shut up.” In response to this quote, a senior Bush administration official laughed and had this to say to the New York Times: “Well, maybe we’re learning to shut up now.”

Well, is that what American officials really want the world to hear? The frightening aspect of this comment is that it reveals that there is a new mentality at the White House. To his credit, President Bush sponsored the surge in Iraq. Yet balanced against this bold plan is his lack of a sufficient response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, his feeble diplomacy in the face of North Korea’s nuclearization, and his commitment to unproductive talks with an increasingly defiant Iran. Russian tanks roll into the territory of an ally, and the President of the United States engages in friendly conversation in public with Prime Minister Putin. It’s evident that the United States has lost the will to exercise its traditional role as the power of last resort.

Of course, there are things that even a superpower cannot do, especially when China and Russia are gaining strength and developing a common agenda. One can perhaps forgive Bush for failing to achieve objectives in a changing global environment. Yet his White House is not even providing leadership or speaking with a clear voice. Instead, his officials joke about American helplessness. It’s not quite right to say the Bush administration has shifted tactics or has lowered its ambitions. It has simply given up.

Has the Bush administration lost its will to defend the international community? “We’ve placed ourselves in a position that globally we don’t have the wherewithal to do anything,” notes George Friedman of Stratfor, the strategic analysis firm. “One would think under those circumstances, we’d shut up.” In response to this quote, a senior Bush administration official laughed and had this to say to the New York Times: “Well, maybe we’re learning to shut up now.”

Well, is that what American officials really want the world to hear? The frightening aspect of this comment is that it reveals that there is a new mentality at the White House. To his credit, President Bush sponsored the surge in Iraq. Yet balanced against this bold plan is his lack of a sufficient response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, his feeble diplomacy in the face of North Korea’s nuclearization, and his commitment to unproductive talks with an increasingly defiant Iran. Russian tanks roll into the territory of an ally, and the President of the United States engages in friendly conversation in public with Prime Minister Putin. It’s evident that the United States has lost the will to exercise its traditional role as the power of last resort.

Of course, there are things that even a superpower cannot do, especially when China and Russia are gaining strength and developing a common agenda. One can perhaps forgive Bush for failing to achieve objectives in a changing global environment. Yet his White House is not even providing leadership or speaking with a clear voice. Instead, his officials joke about American helplessness. It’s not quite right to say the Bush administration has shifted tactics or has lowered its ambitions. It has simply given up.

Read Less

Georgia On Their Minds

We were not the only ones to notice that Barack Obama had to reverse course and race to catch up to John McCain on Georgia. Could this be a big deal? It depends on how this is resolved and on the McCain camp frames this incident. If the argument is over a break-away province in Georgia and the matter is quickly put to bed, then it is hard to see how it matters. But if this, as it appears now, is a serious international crisis and evidence of the danger of revived Russian imperialistic designs then it potentially is a major foreign policy issue. It is one more reminder that we live in unstable and dangerous times. That’s a reminder the Obama camp would rather voters not have.

Moreover, McCain can claim that for the second time since Obama has been in office, the surge being the first, Obama failed to appreciate the need for decisive U.S. action and revealed that he is ill-equipped to deal with an international incident. By contrast McCain has been onto Putin for some time. Obama is scrambling quickly to correct course, but his surrogates aren’t helping much in this regard.

And who can blame them? Obama’s bizarre initial reaction (George Will explains well at the five-minute mark) and even stranger decision to attack a McCain advisor using Russian talking points suggests that he and his staff of 300 seriously misread the situation. A day or two lag in getting up to speed is not bad for a candidate; but it’s crucial for a President. As Will said, what this showed about Obama is that “his first responses are not good enough.”

Whether McCain can explain that and revive the “3 a.m.” questions remains an open question. The advantage that he has: he’s not on a nine day vacation in Hawaii. And the second advantage: on a Sunday talk show day, plenty of reporters are noticing.

We were not the only ones to notice that Barack Obama had to reverse course and race to catch up to John McCain on Georgia. Could this be a big deal? It depends on how this is resolved and on the McCain camp frames this incident. If the argument is over a break-away province in Georgia and the matter is quickly put to bed, then it is hard to see how it matters. But if this, as it appears now, is a serious international crisis and evidence of the danger of revived Russian imperialistic designs then it potentially is a major foreign policy issue. It is one more reminder that we live in unstable and dangerous times. That’s a reminder the Obama camp would rather voters not have.

Moreover, McCain can claim that for the second time since Obama has been in office, the surge being the first, Obama failed to appreciate the need for decisive U.S. action and revealed that he is ill-equipped to deal with an international incident. By contrast McCain has been onto Putin for some time. Obama is scrambling quickly to correct course, but his surrogates aren’t helping much in this regard.

And who can blame them? Obama’s bizarre initial reaction (George Will explains well at the five-minute mark) and even stranger decision to attack a McCain advisor using Russian talking points suggests that he and his staff of 300 seriously misread the situation. A day or two lag in getting up to speed is not bad for a candidate; but it’s crucial for a President. As Will said, what this showed about Obama is that “his first responses are not good enough.”

Whether McCain can explain that and revive the “3 a.m.” questions remains an open question. The advantage that he has: he’s not on a nine day vacation in Hawaii. And the second advantage: on a Sunday talk show day, plenty of reporters are noticing.

Read Less

The MSM’s Latest Embarrassment

Tim Rutten, taking to task his own Los Angeles Times and other MSM outlets, writes:

When John Edwards admitted Friday that he lied about his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter, a former employee of his campaign, he may have ended his public life but he certainly ratified an end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism. From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it — reporting that turns out to be largely correct — and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion. . . It’s interesting that what finally forced Edwards into telling the truth was a mainstream media organization. ABC News began investigating the Edwards affair in October, but really began to push after the Beverly Hilton allegations. When ABC confronted Edwards with its story (which confirmed “95% to 96%” of the tabloid’s reporting, according to the network), he admitted his deception. With that admission, the illusion that traditional print and broadcast news organizations can establish the limits of acceptable political journalism joined the passenger pigeon on the roster of extinct Americana.

We also have the obligatory column from Clark Hoyt admitting that the New York Times was wrong, but denying that their reticence to cover the Edward story was the result of liberal bias. Yes, who could imagine such a thing of the paper which ran a front-page, uncorroborated story of the Republican nominee’s alleged relationship with a lobbyist some nine years ago?

The Edwards mess is the most recent and visible, but hardly unique, example of the mainstream media’s hear no evil/see no evil approach to newsgathering. How many other stories has the MSM missed, denied or avoided? From Rathergate to Reverend Wright to the success of the surge, the pattern is the same: MSM stalls, shuffles its collective feet, and doggedly ignores information for as long as possible until they can no longer do so with a straight face. The fact that these stories without exception work to the detriment of Democrats is apparently a grand coincidence.

And the notion that they are upholding some “journalistic standard” is rendered absurd. Edwards’ story wasn’t important on Thursday, but it was on Friday because he confessed? No, the level of proof changed, but the story’s relevance did not. If it wasn’t worthy of investigation before the ABC interview then it was unworthy of mention afterwards. Their explanation for their editorial decision-making is no more credible than . . . well than Edwards himself.

There is a reason why the news media’s trustworthiness is rated so low. MSM news reporting by and large has not improved or become more rigorous with the advent of so many alternative news outlets. (To the contrary, the 24-hour landscape of cable news has sent them scurrying for their niche audience, wary of any mildly opposing views that might offend their target audience.)

However, because of this and other similar episodes, the public now fully appreciates just how deficient most of the MSM outlets are. That’s generally a good thing (the public should know what they’re reading and watching is a pale and shaded immitation of reality), but it would be even better if the MSM engaged in some real introspection and cleaned up their act.

Tim Rutten, taking to task his own Los Angeles Times and other MSM outlets, writes:

When John Edwards admitted Friday that he lied about his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter, a former employee of his campaign, he may have ended his public life but he certainly ratified an end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism. From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it — reporting that turns out to be largely correct — and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion. . . It’s interesting that what finally forced Edwards into telling the truth was a mainstream media organization. ABC News began investigating the Edwards affair in October, but really began to push after the Beverly Hilton allegations. When ABC confronted Edwards with its story (which confirmed “95% to 96%” of the tabloid’s reporting, according to the network), he admitted his deception. With that admission, the illusion that traditional print and broadcast news organizations can establish the limits of acceptable political journalism joined the passenger pigeon on the roster of extinct Americana.

We also have the obligatory column from Clark Hoyt admitting that the New York Times was wrong, but denying that their reticence to cover the Edward story was the result of liberal bias. Yes, who could imagine such a thing of the paper which ran a front-page, uncorroborated story of the Republican nominee’s alleged relationship with a lobbyist some nine years ago?

The Edwards mess is the most recent and visible, but hardly unique, example of the mainstream media’s hear no evil/see no evil approach to newsgathering. How many other stories has the MSM missed, denied or avoided? From Rathergate to Reverend Wright to the success of the surge, the pattern is the same: MSM stalls, shuffles its collective feet, and doggedly ignores information for as long as possible until they can no longer do so with a straight face. The fact that these stories without exception work to the detriment of Democrats is apparently a grand coincidence.

And the notion that they are upholding some “journalistic standard” is rendered absurd. Edwards’ story wasn’t important on Thursday, but it was on Friday because he confessed? No, the level of proof changed, but the story’s relevance did not. If it wasn’t worthy of investigation before the ABC interview then it was unworthy of mention afterwards. Their explanation for their editorial decision-making is no more credible than . . . well than Edwards himself.

There is a reason why the news media’s trustworthiness is rated so low. MSM news reporting by and large has not improved or become more rigorous with the advent of so many alternative news outlets. (To the contrary, the 24-hour landscape of cable news has sent them scurrying for their niche audience, wary of any mildly opposing views that might offend their target audience.)

However, because of this and other similar episodes, the public now fully appreciates just how deficient most of the MSM outlets are. That’s generally a good thing (the public should know what they’re reading and watching is a pale and shaded immitation of reality), but it would be even better if the MSM engaged in some real introspection and cleaned up their act.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

This says it all.

A really good question: when exactly were things so great in Barack Obama’s mind? (Oh, the last fifteen or so months.)

John McCain has figured out that unlimited access with national mainstream media doesn’t pay off; local media is a different story. But the double standard for MSM huffiness is plain: how much time does Obama give them? The MSM can’t even bestir themselves to insist on basic information about Obama’s past.

McCain isn’t easing up on the surge: “The surge has succeeded. Yet Senator Obama … commits a grave error by insisting that, even in hindsight, he would oppose the surge. Even in retrospect, he would chose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory.”

It’s not bile, it’s planning ahead. The 2012 campaign starts in three months if The One loses.

For a campaign heavily dependent on the youth vote, you have to keep the mystique of The One going. What happens if he’s like every other flip-flopping, promise-breaking politician?

A must-read from Peter Mansoor who concludes: “The surge has created the space and time for the competition for power and resources in Iraq to play out in the political realm, with words instead of bombs. Success is not guaranteed, but such an outcome would be a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of the men and women of Multi-National Force-Iraq and their ongoing efforts, along with their Iraqi partners, to turn around a war that was nearly lost less than two years ago. ” It seems excusable not to have foreseen this, but inexcusable not to understand it in hindsight. Unless you are engaged in willful ignorance.

Dog bites man: Obama runs an old-style attack ad.

And more evidence that civility and nonpartisanship is for other people, not The One.

David Broder intones: “McCain’s offer of weekly joint town meetings still stands. It is not too late for Obama to change his mind and take up this historic offer.” It is more likely The One really never intended to give voters further opportunity to see him in off-the-cuff, unscripted settings with his rival. If you’ve ever seen an Obama press conference you know why.

This says it all.

A really good question: when exactly were things so great in Barack Obama’s mind? (Oh, the last fifteen or so months.)

John McCain has figured out that unlimited access with national mainstream media doesn’t pay off; local media is a different story. But the double standard for MSM huffiness is plain: how much time does Obama give them? The MSM can’t even bestir themselves to insist on basic information about Obama’s past.

McCain isn’t easing up on the surge: “The surge has succeeded. Yet Senator Obama … commits a grave error by insisting that, even in hindsight, he would oppose the surge. Even in retrospect, he would chose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory.”

It’s not bile, it’s planning ahead. The 2012 campaign starts in three months if The One loses.

For a campaign heavily dependent on the youth vote, you have to keep the mystique of The One going. What happens if he’s like every other flip-flopping, promise-breaking politician?

A must-read from Peter Mansoor who concludes: “The surge has created the space and time for the competition for power and resources in Iraq to play out in the political realm, with words instead of bombs. Success is not guaranteed, but such an outcome would be a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of the men and women of Multi-National Force-Iraq and their ongoing efforts, along with their Iraqi partners, to turn around a war that was nearly lost less than two years ago. ” It seems excusable not to have foreseen this, but inexcusable not to understand it in hindsight. Unless you are engaged in willful ignorance.

Dog bites man: Obama runs an old-style attack ad.

And more evidence that civility and nonpartisanship is for other people, not The One.

David Broder intones: “McCain’s offer of weekly joint town meetings still stands. It is not too late for Obama to change his mind and take up this historic offer.” It is more likely The One really never intended to give voters further opportunity to see him in off-the-cuff, unscripted settings with his rival. If you’ve ever seen an Obama press conference you know why.

Read Less