Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 14, 2008

Re: Winning More Than A Week

Just as liberal pundits have been in angst mode over Barack Obama’s record and fuzzy ideological firmness, they are now musing whether he has dug a deeper hole with his reaction this week to the Russian invasion. Howard Fineman denigrates as best he can the notion that John McCain’s “putting country first” can prevail. But then he describes a McCain town-hall stop at which the crowd cheered that very theme. Fineman then acknowledges:

He also portrayed himself as the man who understands who our enemies are in the world — including a renascent Russian bear. Obama, his aides said, was slow off the mark in his initial statements about the situation in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The cheering crowd not only loved McCain’s combativeness, but seemed almost glad to be facing a familiar old foe: the Russians. All in all, it was a good event for McCain. The crowd comprised a slice of America that McCain needs if he intends to win Pennsylvania and the election.

So McCain has a record of bipartisanship, he consistently has placed partisan concerns below matters of principle (as he defines them, of course), and he is better at handling an international crisis. Plus voters in a swing state seem to like what he has to say. So the message is suspect because . . . because why exactly?

In fact, Fineman lets on that each of these events — the success of the surge and the reaction to Russian aggression — highlights the saliency of McCain’s message. When there are no storms on the horizon and no difficult choices to be made ( e.g. Big labor or immigration reform, the left-wing base or embrace of a successful Iraq strategy) Barack Obama’s rhetorical appeal certainly can carry the day. But when real problems and international crises loom does he looks so appealing? It is dawning on even the MSM that the answer is: not so much.

Just as liberal pundits have been in angst mode over Barack Obama’s record and fuzzy ideological firmness, they are now musing whether he has dug a deeper hole with his reaction this week to the Russian invasion. Howard Fineman denigrates as best he can the notion that John McCain’s “putting country first” can prevail. But then he describes a McCain town-hall stop at which the crowd cheered that very theme. Fineman then acknowledges:

He also portrayed himself as the man who understands who our enemies are in the world — including a renascent Russian bear. Obama, his aides said, was slow off the mark in his initial statements about the situation in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The cheering crowd not only loved McCain’s combativeness, but seemed almost glad to be facing a familiar old foe: the Russians. All in all, it was a good event for McCain. The crowd comprised a slice of America that McCain needs if he intends to win Pennsylvania and the election.

So McCain has a record of bipartisanship, he consistently has placed partisan concerns below matters of principle (as he defines them, of course), and he is better at handling an international crisis. Plus voters in a swing state seem to like what he has to say. So the message is suspect because . . . because why exactly?

In fact, Fineman lets on that each of these events — the success of the surge and the reaction to Russian aggression — highlights the saliency of McCain’s message. When there are no storms on the horizon and no difficult choices to be made ( e.g. Big labor or immigration reform, the left-wing base or embrace of a successful Iraq strategy) Barack Obama’s rhetorical appeal certainly can carry the day. But when real problems and international crises loom does he looks so appealing? It is dawning on even the MSM that the answer is: not so much.

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Commentary of the Day

Ari, on Linda Chavez:

I couldn’t agree more. Fears of rampant cultural destruction are completely misplaced. If anything, this country needs a second language!

“You’re where you are from, and you incidentally happen to be an American”

I don’t think we say that. American culture is Americanizing such exotic locales as India and China – that Hispanic immigrants within America should somehow be spared its pervasive and encompassing reach is somewhat implausible.

“When you have ten different ethnicities in a city’s ghettos, you have competition for success. When you have *one* ethnicity in a city’s ghetto, you have an opportunity to avoid assimilation.”

Immigrants inevitably tend to cluster. When has there ever been racial competition in Chinatown? When was there competition in the Jewish section of the Lower East Side in the early 20th century? “Ethnic competition”? What do you mean? Besides, David, it’s not as though Mexicans are turning California into Mexico – illegal immigrants who speak only Spanish often cross the border just for work.

“as in, people with a cultural, social and even political identity to the country right next door, as opposed to the Ellis Island wave of immigrants, who had no choice but to leave the “old country” behind”

As I said, these people often don’t stay in this country. Those who do are no more malign than Jews or Chinese. There is no excess of Hispanics in America.

Ari, on Linda Chavez:

I couldn’t agree more. Fears of rampant cultural destruction are completely misplaced. If anything, this country needs a second language!

“You’re where you are from, and you incidentally happen to be an American”

I don’t think we say that. American culture is Americanizing such exotic locales as India and China – that Hispanic immigrants within America should somehow be spared its pervasive and encompassing reach is somewhat implausible.

“When you have ten different ethnicities in a city’s ghettos, you have competition for success. When you have *one* ethnicity in a city’s ghetto, you have an opportunity to avoid assimilation.”

Immigrants inevitably tend to cluster. When has there ever been racial competition in Chinatown? When was there competition in the Jewish section of the Lower East Side in the early 20th century? “Ethnic competition”? What do you mean? Besides, David, it’s not as though Mexicans are turning California into Mexico – illegal immigrants who speak only Spanish often cross the border just for work.

“as in, people with a cultural, social and even political identity to the country right next door, as opposed to the Ellis Island wave of immigrants, who had no choice but to leave the “old country” behind”

As I said, these people often don’t stay in this country. Those who do are no more malign than Jews or Chinese. There is no excess of Hispanics in America.

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The Argument for Lieberman

With John McCain’s vice presidential pick only a few weeks away and the race between him and Barack Obama far closer than either of them probably thought it would be at this point, the possibility of McCain choosing Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate suddenly seems both credible and plausible in a way it didn’t a few months ago.

It appears, from the consistency of McCain’s numbers in the polling data, that he has shored up the Republican base — or, perhaps, that the base has spent the spring and summer taking the measure of Barack Obama and has decided it must unite against him. The latest anecdotal evidence: two recently released anti-Obama books have shot to the top of the Amazon and New York Times bestseller lists. This may not seem like a big deal, but the conservative book market has been dead for two years now (with the exception of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism), and its sudden resurgence indicates something potentially significant.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

With John McCain’s vice presidential pick only a few weeks away and the race between him and Barack Obama far closer than either of them probably thought it would be at this point, the possibility of McCain choosing Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate suddenly seems both credible and plausible in a way it didn’t a few months ago.

It appears, from the consistency of McCain’s numbers in the polling data, that he has shored up the Republican base — or, perhaps, that the base has spent the spring and summer taking the measure of Barack Obama and has decided it must unite against him. The latest anecdotal evidence: two recently released anti-Obama books have shot to the top of the Amazon and New York Times bestseller lists. This may not seem like a big deal, but the conservative book market has been dead for two years now (with the exception of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism), and its sudden resurgence indicates something potentially significant.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

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Russia’s Ultimatum

Yesterday, Moscow’s foreign minister gave the United States an ultimatum to choose between Russia and Georgia. After calling the young democracy “a special project for the United States,” Sergei Lavrov said this: “A choice will have to be made someday between considerations of prestige related to an illusory project and a real partnership in matters which indeed require collective efforts.”

Condoleezza Rice, to her credit, replied that Washington was choosing “the democratically elected government of Georgia.” While making her welcome pronouncement, the secretary of state dismissed Russia’s threat of withdrawing assistance. “Let’s be very clear whose interests are being served by the partnership that Russia and the United States have engaged in on Iran or North Korea,” Dr. Rice said.

Yes, we must be clear. The miscreants who run the North Korean and Iranian states must be enjoying this falling out between Moscow and Washington because Russia will be an even more difficult “partner” for the United States in the days and months ahead. Moscow can, and probably will, go to even greater lengths to undermine American diplomacy. But we shouldn’t be overly concerned. Russia has barely lifted a finger when it has come to disarming Pyongyang, both before and during the ongoing six-party talks. On Iran, it has been the theocracy’s primary backer and consistently acted with bad motive.

So let’s consider Lavrov’s ultimatum a favor. He is, without this being his intention, forcing us to confront reality. We all want the major powers to be able to work cooperatively in dealing with the urgent problems of the day. Yet we have, in our desire to see a united international community, failed to recognize that Russia has interests incompatible with ours. No use of words like “partnership” can hide that fact. As painful as this may be, we need to start dealing with the world as it actually is, not the way we want it to be.

In the world as it actually exists, we will have to give up accepting lowest-common-denominator solutions that Russia–and China–demand and start implementing effective strategies. We will get nowhere unless we recognize that we are no longer the leader of the world. We are, however, the leader of the free world.

Starting last Friday with the Russian invasion of Georgia, we have learned that our policy of engagement has failed to encourage Russia to move in positive directions. It’s time to stop placating autocrats, whether they be Russian or otherwise, and start confronting them. After all, they are confronting us.

Yesterday, Moscow’s foreign minister gave the United States an ultimatum to choose between Russia and Georgia. After calling the young democracy “a special project for the United States,” Sergei Lavrov said this: “A choice will have to be made someday between considerations of prestige related to an illusory project and a real partnership in matters which indeed require collective efforts.”

Condoleezza Rice, to her credit, replied that Washington was choosing “the democratically elected government of Georgia.” While making her welcome pronouncement, the secretary of state dismissed Russia’s threat of withdrawing assistance. “Let’s be very clear whose interests are being served by the partnership that Russia and the United States have engaged in on Iran or North Korea,” Dr. Rice said.

Yes, we must be clear. The miscreants who run the North Korean and Iranian states must be enjoying this falling out between Moscow and Washington because Russia will be an even more difficult “partner” for the United States in the days and months ahead. Moscow can, and probably will, go to even greater lengths to undermine American diplomacy. But we shouldn’t be overly concerned. Russia has barely lifted a finger when it has come to disarming Pyongyang, both before and during the ongoing six-party talks. On Iran, it has been the theocracy’s primary backer and consistently acted with bad motive.

So let’s consider Lavrov’s ultimatum a favor. He is, without this being his intention, forcing us to confront reality. We all want the major powers to be able to work cooperatively in dealing with the urgent problems of the day. Yet we have, in our desire to see a united international community, failed to recognize that Russia has interests incompatible with ours. No use of words like “partnership” can hide that fact. As painful as this may be, we need to start dealing with the world as it actually is, not the way we want it to be.

In the world as it actually exists, we will have to give up accepting lowest-common-denominator solutions that Russia–and China–demand and start implementing effective strategies. We will get nowhere unless we recognize that we are no longer the leader of the world. We are, however, the leader of the free world.

Starting last Friday with the Russian invasion of Georgia, we have learned that our policy of engagement has failed to encourage Russia to move in positive directions. It’s time to stop placating autocrats, whether they be Russian or otherwise, and start confronting them. After all, they are confronting us.

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“The Passing of the Great Race”

The Census Bureau’s projections, released today, estimate that minorities will be the majority by 2042, nearly a decade earlier than previously projected. Expect much hand-wringing from some quarters, and, of course, calls for limiting immigration. There are plenty of re-incarnated Madison Grants out there predicting doom and gloom for America’s posterity.

But Grant, the Yale-educated eugenicist whose book The Passing of the Great Race was published in 1916, turned out to be spectacularly wrong. He warned: “The result of unlimited immigration is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian, and the Jew.”I suppose Grant would be pleased to know that “Nordic” peoples haven’t disappeared in the United States. The largest ethnic group in America in the last Census was German, followed by Irish, English, African American, and plain old American. But, of course, his predictions that southern and eastern European immigrants would despoil America turned out to be spectacularly wrong. The progeny of those immigrants not only successfully integrated into the social and economic mainstream, but have become among the most successful Americans as measured by education and earnings. And the cultural contributions of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Poles, and others have enriched the American Melting Pot immeasurably.

Part of the problem with projections like the one issued today is that it does not adequately take account of the effect of intermarriage. Officially, Hispanics-now at 15 percent of the population but predicted to rise to 30 percent by 2050-include not only individuals like me but my children and grandchildren. My father’s ancestors came from Spain to New Mexico in 1601; my mother’s came from England sometime before 1800 and from Ireland in the mid 19th Century. I married a Jew whose ancestors came from Russia and Poland in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. One of our sons married a woman whose ancestry is probably Scots Irish (they came so long ago, no one in the family knows or cares where from); another married a woman whose mother was born in Ecuador and whose father came from Cuba. But the government is happy to count all eight of our grandchildren in the Hispanic column.

A little less obsession over race and ethnicity would be good not only for the Left but the Right as well.

The Census Bureau’s projections, released today, estimate that minorities will be the majority by 2042, nearly a decade earlier than previously projected. Expect much hand-wringing from some quarters, and, of course, calls for limiting immigration. There are plenty of re-incarnated Madison Grants out there predicting doom and gloom for America’s posterity.

But Grant, the Yale-educated eugenicist whose book The Passing of the Great Race was published in 1916, turned out to be spectacularly wrong. He warned: “The result of unlimited immigration is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian, and the Jew.”I suppose Grant would be pleased to know that “Nordic” peoples haven’t disappeared in the United States. The largest ethnic group in America in the last Census was German, followed by Irish, English, African American, and plain old American. But, of course, his predictions that southern and eastern European immigrants would despoil America turned out to be spectacularly wrong. The progeny of those immigrants not only successfully integrated into the social and economic mainstream, but have become among the most successful Americans as measured by education and earnings. And the cultural contributions of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Poles, and others have enriched the American Melting Pot immeasurably.

Part of the problem with projections like the one issued today is that it does not adequately take account of the effect of intermarriage. Officially, Hispanics-now at 15 percent of the population but predicted to rise to 30 percent by 2050-include not only individuals like me but my children and grandchildren. My father’s ancestors came from Spain to New Mexico in 1601; my mother’s came from England sometime before 1800 and from Ireland in the mid 19th Century. I married a Jew whose ancestors came from Russia and Poland in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. One of our sons married a woman whose ancestry is probably Scots Irish (they came so long ago, no one in the family knows or cares where from); another married a woman whose mother was born in Ecuador and whose father came from Cuba. But the government is happy to count all eight of our grandchildren in the Hispanic column.

A little less obsession over race and ethnicity would be good not only for the Left but the Right as well.

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How Keen Is Their Judgment?

The mainstream media, not content to manufacture reasons for having avoided the John Edwards story, now goes into confessional mode. (h/t Dean Barnett). Apparently, they never saw through Edwards’ cloying appeals for the little girl with no coat, never realized he was a manipulative trial lawyer, and didn’t really seem bothered by other signs that his lifestyle and actions conflicted with his high-minded rhetoric.

But wait. They are essentially telling us they lack judgment and are particularly prone to valuing rhetoric over action, and emotion over factual evidence. Hmmm. We do have a presidential race going on. Are these people really qualified to opine on the candidates? Haven’t we just heard that they go weak in the knees with sappy, counter-factual arguments (e.g. the little girl lacks a coat because of lobbyists or mean oil companies, not because of bad life choices her parents made)?

Walter Shapiro explains the lesson he learned:

[I]t is about the need for humility when writing about a candidate’s marriage, his religious beliefs and other deeply personal matters. There are things that reporters and readers simply cannot know for certain without empowering journalistic gumshoes to do bed checks. My mistake about John Edwards was believing all his public boasts about his nearly perfect marriage. I allowed myself to judge him through the prism of his union with Elizabeth when I would have reached a far different conclusion if I had gazed through the lens of his dalliance with Rielle Hunter.

But really, isn’t the lesson deeper than this? Edwards — of the 28,000 square foot house, the $600 haircut, and the hedge fund job — was a hypocritical charlatan long before anyone knew about Ms. Hunter. Yet the media played along, robotically attesting to his “devotion” to the cause of poverty and never really questioning the substance of what he was saying.

Let’s face it: the media have a soft-spot for class warfare and emotional claptrap. The fact that they were also conned, and unwilling to investigate, his personal failings only goes to show how remarkable uncritical they are of politicians who mouth pleasing platitudes. Voters should keep that in mind as they watch and read the 2008 presidential coverage.

The mainstream media, not content to manufacture reasons for having avoided the John Edwards story, now goes into confessional mode. (h/t Dean Barnett). Apparently, they never saw through Edwards’ cloying appeals for the little girl with no coat, never realized he was a manipulative trial lawyer, and didn’t really seem bothered by other signs that his lifestyle and actions conflicted with his high-minded rhetoric.

But wait. They are essentially telling us they lack judgment and are particularly prone to valuing rhetoric over action, and emotion over factual evidence. Hmmm. We do have a presidential race going on. Are these people really qualified to opine on the candidates? Haven’t we just heard that they go weak in the knees with sappy, counter-factual arguments (e.g. the little girl lacks a coat because of lobbyists or mean oil companies, not because of bad life choices her parents made)?

Walter Shapiro explains the lesson he learned:

[I]t is about the need for humility when writing about a candidate’s marriage, his religious beliefs and other deeply personal matters. There are things that reporters and readers simply cannot know for certain without empowering journalistic gumshoes to do bed checks. My mistake about John Edwards was believing all his public boasts about his nearly perfect marriage. I allowed myself to judge him through the prism of his union with Elizabeth when I would have reached a far different conclusion if I had gazed through the lens of his dalliance with Rielle Hunter.

But really, isn’t the lesson deeper than this? Edwards — of the 28,000 square foot house, the $600 haircut, and the hedge fund job — was a hypocritical charlatan long before anyone knew about Ms. Hunter. Yet the media played along, robotically attesting to his “devotion” to the cause of poverty and never really questioning the substance of what he was saying.

Let’s face it: the media have a soft-spot for class warfare and emotional claptrap. The fact that they were also conned, and unwilling to investigate, his personal failings only goes to show how remarkable uncritical they are of politicians who mouth pleasing platitudes. Voters should keep that in mind as they watch and read the 2008 presidential coverage.

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The Unraveling

Yesterday morning Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and head of the Labor Party, gave an interview on IDF radio that set off a firestorm. His target: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is running for chairmanship of the Kadima party to replace Ehud Olmert — a position that would make her Prime Minister, in the event that she could put together a government. Barak called the Kadima party a “refugee camp” and a “one-time party” It’s hard to translate that one–just know that paper cups and plates are called “one-time” in Hebrew, and you’ll get the point. (Barak also referred to Livni using her formal first name, Tzipora, which was taken as an insult, though nobody seemed to know exactly why.) Livni’s supporters returned fire, with a Kadima spokesman calling Barak’s attack “hysterical.”

Beyond the name-calling, however, there are two deeper issues at stake. One is a more substantive trading of barbs between Barak and Livni, over which of them is less qualified to address tough defense issues. Barak is probably right in citing Livni’s serious inexperience in defense matters and the questionable gains of UN resolution 1701, which has become a framework for the rearmament of Hizbullah. But Barak has a mixed record as well. Though he is (I believe) the most-decorated soldier in Israeli history, he attained notoriety for his hasty withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon when he was Prime Minister in 2000, in which the Israelis booked in the middle of the night, Baltimore-Colts-style, leaving their Lebanese allies the SLA high and dry. Worse yet was his defense record as Prime Minister: For months, beginning in September 2000 and lasting until Ariel Sharon replaced him and ordered Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, Barak was utterly helpless against the Second Intifada.

The second point is this: If we thought Israel’s government was dysfunctional prior to Olmert’s dramatic statement earlier this month that he will end his tenure when Kadima selects a new party head next month, things now appear to have come completely undone. Livni and Barak hold the two most important cabinet positions after the prime minister. And while Livni is battling Barak in an apparent pre-campaign in advance of the as-yet-undeclared general election, she is actively campaigning against the current Transportation Minister, Shaul Mofaz, for the leadership of her party.

Livni represents the more dovish half of Kadima, and it is fair to assume that both she and Barak see themselves as appealing to a strongly overlapping voter pool. Who benefits from all this? The more hawkish Mofaz, for one, who can sit back and let his fellow-general Barak do the dirty work for him. But the real beneficiary is Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s the only major prime ministerial candidate not affiliated with this exceptionally unpopular government.

Yesterday morning Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and head of the Labor Party, gave an interview on IDF radio that set off a firestorm. His target: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is running for chairmanship of the Kadima party to replace Ehud Olmert — a position that would make her Prime Minister, in the event that she could put together a government. Barak called the Kadima party a “refugee camp” and a “one-time party” It’s hard to translate that one–just know that paper cups and plates are called “one-time” in Hebrew, and you’ll get the point. (Barak also referred to Livni using her formal first name, Tzipora, which was taken as an insult, though nobody seemed to know exactly why.) Livni’s supporters returned fire, with a Kadima spokesman calling Barak’s attack “hysterical.”

Beyond the name-calling, however, there are two deeper issues at stake. One is a more substantive trading of barbs between Barak and Livni, over which of them is less qualified to address tough defense issues. Barak is probably right in citing Livni’s serious inexperience in defense matters and the questionable gains of UN resolution 1701, which has become a framework for the rearmament of Hizbullah. But Barak has a mixed record as well. Though he is (I believe) the most-decorated soldier in Israeli history, he attained notoriety for his hasty withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon when he was Prime Minister in 2000, in which the Israelis booked in the middle of the night, Baltimore-Colts-style, leaving their Lebanese allies the SLA high and dry. Worse yet was his defense record as Prime Minister: For months, beginning in September 2000 and lasting until Ariel Sharon replaced him and ordered Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, Barak was utterly helpless against the Second Intifada.

The second point is this: If we thought Israel’s government was dysfunctional prior to Olmert’s dramatic statement earlier this month that he will end his tenure when Kadima selects a new party head next month, things now appear to have come completely undone. Livni and Barak hold the two most important cabinet positions after the prime minister. And while Livni is battling Barak in an apparent pre-campaign in advance of the as-yet-undeclared general election, she is actively campaigning against the current Transportation Minister, Shaul Mofaz, for the leadership of her party.

Livni represents the more dovish half of Kadima, and it is fair to assume that both she and Barak see themselves as appealing to a strongly overlapping voter pool. Who benefits from all this? The more hawkish Mofaz, for one, who can sit back and let his fellow-general Barak do the dirty work for him. But the real beneficiary is Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s the only major prime ministerial candidate not affiliated with this exceptionally unpopular government.

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Her Moment In The Sun

Barack Obama is giving Hillary Clinton her Convention roll call with details to follow. This strikes me as typical of Obama. He had a problem: soothing Clinton supporters’ feelings. He delayed, making a bigger issue of it than it might have been (every other second place finisher in recent memory got the same “honor”), and then essentially capitulated. Even if he never intended to withhold the chit, he gave every appearance for a long time of being unwilling to do so. That only made things worse — Clinton supporters got angrier and everyone else now sees a common courtesy as a sign of weakness.

We saw this Obama modus operandi before — on Wright and on James Johnson. He denies or ignores a problem and then caves after elevating a medium problem to a major news story. It is not an effective or encouraging managerial approach. Put in either the domestic or international context, it’s a style that combines the worst features of an ineffective president: procrastination, equivocation, and the lack of any bottom line.

Really, if you are going to give your foes everything they want do it quickly, get it out of the way and get credit for being magnanimous.

Barack Obama is giving Hillary Clinton her Convention roll call with details to follow. This strikes me as typical of Obama. He had a problem: soothing Clinton supporters’ feelings. He delayed, making a bigger issue of it than it might have been (every other second place finisher in recent memory got the same “honor”), and then essentially capitulated. Even if he never intended to withhold the chit, he gave every appearance for a long time of being unwilling to do so. That only made things worse — Clinton supporters got angrier and everyone else now sees a common courtesy as a sign of weakness.

We saw this Obama modus operandi before — on Wright and on James Johnson. He denies or ignores a problem and then caves after elevating a medium problem to a major news story. It is not an effective or encouraging managerial approach. Put in either the domestic or international context, it’s a style that combines the worst features of an ineffective president: procrastination, equivocation, and the lack of any bottom line.

Really, if you are going to give your foes everything they want do it quickly, get it out of the way and get credit for being magnanimous.

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Where It Counts

Karl Rove takes us on a fascinating tour the four key states he believes are essential to the 2008 election: Colorado, Virginia, Michigan and Ohio. His bottom line: “Mr. Obama must carry Colorado or Virginia and add another small state to his column. If Mr. McCain carries Michigan as well as Ohio, it would make Mr. Obama’s Electoral College math very difficult.”

Rove’s analysis should put much of partisan punditry into proper perspective. First, national polls are fun but largely irrelevant. Remember Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani’s double-digit leads months before the first votes were cast?

Second, we might get a better sense of the race if we seriously consider the voters in these particular states. Are Michigan voters going to be impressed by a Berlin rally or will they roll their eyes in disgust? Does Barack Obama’s record on the Seond Amendment mean more than his rhetorical appeal for “change”? Will recent events in Georgia and the success of the surge give John McCain extra help where he needs it most–among Colorado and Virginia military families, for example? And do voters in any of these states like Obama’s race card gambit? In short, when one starts thinking about actual voters, in specific states, it gives one a newfound appreciation for what matters and what doesn’t.

And one thing stands out: there are a lot of older voters in all four of these states. Perhaps age really does matter.

Finally, if we look at current polling in these states we can see how terribly tight a race it is. Virginia and Ohio are virtually tied. Colorado shows less than a two-point lead for Obama. Obama is up by an average of three, still within the margin of error, in Michigan.

I’m inclined to follow Rove’s advice and keep an eye on those states and evaluate much of what goes on in the race in light of the importance of these hot spots. As weak a candidate and as thin a record as he might have, Tim Kaine might hold the key to Virginia. So he’s likely the prohibitive favorite for VP. Michigan’s calamitous Democratic reign may have more to do with the outcome in 2008 than any other factor. And so it goes if you remember that the only number that matters is 270.

Karl Rove takes us on a fascinating tour the four key states he believes are essential to the 2008 election: Colorado, Virginia, Michigan and Ohio. His bottom line: “Mr. Obama must carry Colorado or Virginia and add another small state to his column. If Mr. McCain carries Michigan as well as Ohio, it would make Mr. Obama’s Electoral College math very difficult.”

Rove’s analysis should put much of partisan punditry into proper perspective. First, national polls are fun but largely irrelevant. Remember Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani’s double-digit leads months before the first votes were cast?

Second, we might get a better sense of the race if we seriously consider the voters in these particular states. Are Michigan voters going to be impressed by a Berlin rally or will they roll their eyes in disgust? Does Barack Obama’s record on the Seond Amendment mean more than his rhetorical appeal for “change”? Will recent events in Georgia and the success of the surge give John McCain extra help where he needs it most–among Colorado and Virginia military families, for example? And do voters in any of these states like Obama’s race card gambit? In short, when one starts thinking about actual voters, in specific states, it gives one a newfound appreciation for what matters and what doesn’t.

And one thing stands out: there are a lot of older voters in all four of these states. Perhaps age really does matter.

Finally, if we look at current polling in these states we can see how terribly tight a race it is. Virginia and Ohio are virtually tied. Colorado shows less than a two-point lead for Obama. Obama is up by an average of three, still within the margin of error, in Michigan.

I’m inclined to follow Rove’s advice and keep an eye on those states and evaluate much of what goes on in the race in light of the importance of these hot spots. As weak a candidate and as thin a record as he might have, Tim Kaine might hold the key to Virginia. So he’s likely the prohibitive favorite for VP. Michigan’s calamitous Democratic reign may have more to do with the outcome in 2008 than any other factor. And so it goes if you remember that the only number that matters is 270.

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Did Russia Lose?

We do not yet know whether Russia will really pull its troops out of Georgia, or whether this is just the beginning of a wave of separatist conflicts that Russia is trying to foment in former-Soviet republics in an effort to rebuild the Eastern Bloc. But there’s at least one commentator out there who is convinced that by the very act of sending in its troops, Russia has already revealed how little influence it wields in its former empire. Here’s veteran Israeli commentator Sever Plocker on Ynet:

Russia did not win in Georgia. Indeed, Georgia lost this short war, but Russia also lost. I become more convinced of this the more I read and see what former Sovietologists have to say, Western experts who made colossal mistakes in overestimating the Soviet empire in the past, and now are again rushing from one TV studio to the next; again, they have something to talk about: The Russian threat.

The Russian threat? When a superpower needs to utilize brutal military force in order to punish a rebellious tiny neighbor, it does not prove its power – in fact, it proves its weakness. By invading Georgia, Russia proved that it does not even have the power to deter a tiny country from provoking it.

Those who think that Russia’s neighbors were scared by the sight of 50 airplanes and 100 tanks pushing the Georgian army out of south Ossetia and Abkhazia are wrong. “Conquering” Ossetia is not the same as conquering Ukraine.

Whether Plocker is right or not depends, of course, on what happens next, in other former Soviet republics. For more than a decade, Russia has continued to lose the Cold War, as nations increasingly adopt Western-style regimes and elect more pro-American governments. But even if the Georgia war slows this process a bit, it seems unlikely to stop it.

Unlikely, that is, unless the West encourages further belligerence by letting the Russians off the hook. The ball is now in the West’s court.

We do not yet know whether Russia will really pull its troops out of Georgia, or whether this is just the beginning of a wave of separatist conflicts that Russia is trying to foment in former-Soviet republics in an effort to rebuild the Eastern Bloc. But there’s at least one commentator out there who is convinced that by the very act of sending in its troops, Russia has already revealed how little influence it wields in its former empire. Here’s veteran Israeli commentator Sever Plocker on Ynet:

Russia did not win in Georgia. Indeed, Georgia lost this short war, but Russia also lost. I become more convinced of this the more I read and see what former Sovietologists have to say, Western experts who made colossal mistakes in overestimating the Soviet empire in the past, and now are again rushing from one TV studio to the next; again, they have something to talk about: The Russian threat.

The Russian threat? When a superpower needs to utilize brutal military force in order to punish a rebellious tiny neighbor, it does not prove its power – in fact, it proves its weakness. By invading Georgia, Russia proved that it does not even have the power to deter a tiny country from provoking it.

Those who think that Russia’s neighbors were scared by the sight of 50 airplanes and 100 tanks pushing the Georgian army out of south Ossetia and Abkhazia are wrong. “Conquering” Ossetia is not the same as conquering Ukraine.

Whether Plocker is right or not depends, of course, on what happens next, in other former Soviet republics. For more than a decade, Russia has continued to lose the Cold War, as nations increasingly adopt Western-style regimes and elect more pro-American governments. But even if the Georgia war slows this process a bit, it seems unlikely to stop it.

Unlikely, that is, unless the West encourages further belligerence by letting the Russians off the hook. The ball is now in the West’s court.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Remember when the Left used to come to the defense of oppressed victims of violence? Now they debate whether even nice words of support are too much. As Marty Pertez describes their view: Russia is “a great power. . . so shut up.”

Whose voice is missing from the daily discussion about American policy? Hint: the fellow who can’t decide whether to criticize or agree with his opponent. But he’s got more pressing things to do. (Even CNN noticed.)

The Washington Post editors nail it: when did support for democracy (real indigenous democracy) and self-determination become so unfashionable? The Left is so consumed by Bush Derangement Syndrome that it has abandoned its historic posture of opposition to imperialistic bullies.

It’s not the issue, it’s the dishonesty that will get you. Like the “present” votes, it bespeaks an unwillingness to take the heat for his own votes.

More “celebrity” ad material.

A compelling critique by John McCain of his opponent: “It’s just an example–they politicize these issues without understanding that national security is not something that’s a political issue. Same thing with the surge. It’s in keeping with sort of the path that they’ve been on–to politicize national security for their perceived short term political interests.” Barack Obama has brought this on himself with his odd approach to international affairs (e.g. reject success Iraq and blame McCain, of all people, for Russian aggression), making him look simultaneously craven and irresolute.

So far Tim Kaine and Evan Bayh lack speaking spots at the Convention, suggesting one of them will get the VP nod. Compensate for lack of experience or double down on the lack of credentials and hope voters really don’t care? Things might look different after the invasion of Georgia. But only the most-shortsighted candidate would have assumed that the next four years would be without serious international challenges, right?

Wise words from Ross Douthat: don’t delude yourself about the candidates’ positions on abortion. Obama, as we know now from his Illinois voting record and from his stringent opposition to the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, is a pro-choice absolutist. McCain is equally forthright on the type of judges he will appoint (although it is not at all clear whether his model Justices Roberts and Alito will be inclined to reverse Roe v. Wade.)

If Andrew Sullivan is depressed maybe Obama should rethink his ads.

Every conservative writer’s dream: have the New York Times bash your book.

One problem with playing the race card in the election: voters fear there will be no end to it.

Remember when the Left used to come to the defense of oppressed victims of violence? Now they debate whether even nice words of support are too much. As Marty Pertez describes their view: Russia is “a great power. . . so shut up.”

Whose voice is missing from the daily discussion about American policy? Hint: the fellow who can’t decide whether to criticize or agree with his opponent. But he’s got more pressing things to do. (Even CNN noticed.)

The Washington Post editors nail it: when did support for democracy (real indigenous democracy) and self-determination become so unfashionable? The Left is so consumed by Bush Derangement Syndrome that it has abandoned its historic posture of opposition to imperialistic bullies.

It’s not the issue, it’s the dishonesty that will get you. Like the “present” votes, it bespeaks an unwillingness to take the heat for his own votes.

More “celebrity” ad material.

A compelling critique by John McCain of his opponent: “It’s just an example–they politicize these issues without understanding that national security is not something that’s a political issue. Same thing with the surge. It’s in keeping with sort of the path that they’ve been on–to politicize national security for their perceived short term political interests.” Barack Obama has brought this on himself with his odd approach to international affairs (e.g. reject success Iraq and blame McCain, of all people, for Russian aggression), making him look simultaneously craven and irresolute.

So far Tim Kaine and Evan Bayh lack speaking spots at the Convention, suggesting one of them will get the VP nod. Compensate for lack of experience or double down on the lack of credentials and hope voters really don’t care? Things might look different after the invasion of Georgia. But only the most-shortsighted candidate would have assumed that the next four years would be without serious international challenges, right?

Wise words from Ross Douthat: don’t delude yourself about the candidates’ positions on abortion. Obama, as we know now from his Illinois voting record and from his stringent opposition to the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, is a pro-choice absolutist. McCain is equally forthright on the type of judges he will appoint (although it is not at all clear whether his model Justices Roberts and Alito will be inclined to reverse Roe v. Wade.)

If Andrew Sullivan is depressed maybe Obama should rethink his ads.

Every conservative writer’s dream: have the New York Times bash your book.

One problem with playing the race card in the election: voters fear there will be no end to it.

Read Less

Bush’s Olmert Dilemma

A piece I published today in Haaretz (with my colleague Aluf Benn) reveals that Israel’s Prime Minister agreed to the absorption of some 20,000 Palestinians in Israel as part of the “shelf agreement” he’s been working on with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. Olmert’s position on this matter is very controversial, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni opposes it vehemently, saying this can be seen as de facto acknowledgment of a Palestinian “right of return.”

To be honest, I always thought the “shelf agreement” was not the brightest idea. However, its conclusion (if Olmert and Abbas can actually achieve such thing) can become a very tricky issue for the Bush administration. Here’s what Aluf and I wrote today:

Washington’s position is that the refugee issue is a matter for the Israelis and Palestinians to discuss, but Bush might have a problem if Olmert brings for his government’s approval an agreement unacceptable to most ministers. Bush would have to decide whether to bless the agreement before it has been approved – and thereby enable Olmert to pressure ministers to support the agreement – or refrain from a sympathetic public response. This would signal to the Israeli cabinet that Olmert does not have the automatic backing of the American administration.

Olmert once made a habit of showing off his good personal relations with Bush, but in recent months there’s been a growing tendency in the White House to signal that it is Israel Bush supports–not a specific Prime Minister. In an interview at the Oval Office the President said: “[T]his is not an Olmert plan; this is a plan of a government. Tzipi Livni is handling the negotiations — I’m not telling you anything you don’t know — Barak is involved. And on the Palestinian side, there’s more than one person involved.”

Bush was clear: the peace process will continue whether Olmert stays in office or not. But that’s the easy answer to an easy question. What Bush will do if that Olmert–a lame duck, unpopular leader–makes the questionable move of putting on the table an agreement that Israel does not want?

This will present Bush with an interesting dilemma–and not because of any “personal relations” with Olmert. By supporting Olmert’s position prior to Israeli government approval, Bush has done something he didn’t (I hope) intend: he’s applied pressure to Israel to accept position that’s not in its best interest (according to the polled opinion of most Israelis). But by opposing–or refraining from supporting–Olmert’s position, Bush might hurt his own credentials as a primary author of the two-state solution.

This will be a delicate maneuver.

A piece I published today in Haaretz (with my colleague Aluf Benn) reveals that Israel’s Prime Minister agreed to the absorption of some 20,000 Palestinians in Israel as part of the “shelf agreement” he’s been working on with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. Olmert’s position on this matter is very controversial, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni opposes it vehemently, saying this can be seen as de facto acknowledgment of a Palestinian “right of return.”

To be honest, I always thought the “shelf agreement” was not the brightest idea. However, its conclusion (if Olmert and Abbas can actually achieve such thing) can become a very tricky issue for the Bush administration. Here’s what Aluf and I wrote today:

Washington’s position is that the refugee issue is a matter for the Israelis and Palestinians to discuss, but Bush might have a problem if Olmert brings for his government’s approval an agreement unacceptable to most ministers. Bush would have to decide whether to bless the agreement before it has been approved – and thereby enable Olmert to pressure ministers to support the agreement – or refrain from a sympathetic public response. This would signal to the Israeli cabinet that Olmert does not have the automatic backing of the American administration.

Olmert once made a habit of showing off his good personal relations with Bush, but in recent months there’s been a growing tendency in the White House to signal that it is Israel Bush supports–not a specific Prime Minister. In an interview at the Oval Office the President said: “[T]his is not an Olmert plan; this is a plan of a government. Tzipi Livni is handling the negotiations — I’m not telling you anything you don’t know — Barak is involved. And on the Palestinian side, there’s more than one person involved.”

Bush was clear: the peace process will continue whether Olmert stays in office or not. But that’s the easy answer to an easy question. What Bush will do if that Olmert–a lame duck, unpopular leader–makes the questionable move of putting on the table an agreement that Israel does not want?

This will present Bush with an interesting dilemma–and not because of any “personal relations” with Olmert. By supporting Olmert’s position prior to Israeli government approval, Bush has done something he didn’t (I hope) intend: he’s applied pressure to Israel to accept position that’s not in its best interest (according to the polled opinion of most Israelis). But by opposing–or refraining from supporting–Olmert’s position, Bush might hurt his own credentials as a primary author of the two-state solution.

This will be a delicate maneuver.

Read Less

Winning More Than A Week?

The guru of the MSM awards another week to John McCain. (He’s won a few lately.) But there may be more than a week at stake.

Earlier this summer McCain had tried his best, and to some extent succeeded, in elevating the surge to a test of overall presidential fitness and judgment. His argument was two-fold: 1) Barack Obama blew it when he opposed the surge to begin with and 2) He blew it again, demonstrating poor character and stubbornness, bordering on close-mindedness, in opposing the surge even after it has succeeded beyond all expectation. McCain outpolls Obama by a wide margin on national security and the war on terror, and the surge has clearly contributed to this. But Iraq has limited saliency for many voters. They simply don’t want to hear any more and are yet to be convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Now we are in the midst of another round of public education about national security. The Russia-Georgia War may, as John suggested, be a game-changer. It reminds us yet again that the world is fraught with danger and that a President’s first reaction better be right. But it is not simply the elevation of national security or the sense that we need an experienced hand which has benefited McCain this week. It is that Obama stumbled out of the gate by failing to recognize the danger of Russian aggression and then essentially hid from view. His supporters bounced between isolationism and grudging respect for McCain’s prescient evaluation of Putin. By week’s end it was very easy to imagine McCain in the role of commander-in-chief and increasingly difficult to see how Obama would fill that role.

Hillary Clinton must be viewing these events with a mixture of bitterness and wistfulness. She was, among other things, the victim of poor timing. She had the right “3 a.m.” ad but no current crisis which could illustrate to Democratic primary voters just how unprepared her opponent was. (And it didn’t help that her own national security credentials were thin.) But events have caught up with the political race. We all can plainly see how the two general election candidates might operate when the crisis is theirs. It simply came too late to help Clinton in her race against Obama, who when spared from reacting to an immediate international crisis, floated effortlessly above the fray.

The Georgian crisis did something else helpful to McCain’s cause: it separated him from the Bush administration. McCain can rightly claim that his assessment of Russian ambitions was more accurate than that of President Bush. Moreover, it appears that the Bush Administration has taken days to catch up to the McCain rhetoric and even some of his recommended actions (e.g. threatening Russia’s G-8 status). It is always a good thing for McCain, both with the conservative base and with independents, when he can explain that his election will not mean a continuation of the Bush administration.

Finally, we know that Obama is universally credited as the more eloquent and rhetorically polished of the two candidates. But McCain hit his stride this week in defending an ally, the cause of democracy and the country’s vital interests. In a finely crafted op-ed in the Wall Street Journal he wrote: “This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals. As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians.” By contrast, Obama’s mushy appeals to unity and world citizenship served up in Berlin seem absurdly naive and entirely lacking in substance by comparison. McCain had something important to say and said it well.

All this may fade, of course, as time goes on. But it is equally possible that the number of international stand-offs and confrontations will actually increase between now and Election Day. McCain wants voters to think hard about the world and everything that could go wrong in the years ahead. “Who’s the right guy at the helm?” is what he wants voters to contemplate. We’ll see in November if this was the week which answered that question.

The guru of the MSM awards another week to John McCain. (He’s won a few lately.) But there may be more than a week at stake.

Earlier this summer McCain had tried his best, and to some extent succeeded, in elevating the surge to a test of overall presidential fitness and judgment. His argument was two-fold: 1) Barack Obama blew it when he opposed the surge to begin with and 2) He blew it again, demonstrating poor character and stubbornness, bordering on close-mindedness, in opposing the surge even after it has succeeded beyond all expectation. McCain outpolls Obama by a wide margin on national security and the war on terror, and the surge has clearly contributed to this. But Iraq has limited saliency for many voters. They simply don’t want to hear any more and are yet to be convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Now we are in the midst of another round of public education about national security. The Russia-Georgia War may, as John suggested, be a game-changer. It reminds us yet again that the world is fraught with danger and that a President’s first reaction better be right. But it is not simply the elevation of national security or the sense that we need an experienced hand which has benefited McCain this week. It is that Obama stumbled out of the gate by failing to recognize the danger of Russian aggression and then essentially hid from view. His supporters bounced between isolationism and grudging respect for McCain’s prescient evaluation of Putin. By week’s end it was very easy to imagine McCain in the role of commander-in-chief and increasingly difficult to see how Obama would fill that role.

Hillary Clinton must be viewing these events with a mixture of bitterness and wistfulness. She was, among other things, the victim of poor timing. She had the right “3 a.m.” ad but no current crisis which could illustrate to Democratic primary voters just how unprepared her opponent was. (And it didn’t help that her own national security credentials were thin.) But events have caught up with the political race. We all can plainly see how the two general election candidates might operate when the crisis is theirs. It simply came too late to help Clinton in her race against Obama, who when spared from reacting to an immediate international crisis, floated effortlessly above the fray.

The Georgian crisis did something else helpful to McCain’s cause: it separated him from the Bush administration. McCain can rightly claim that his assessment of Russian ambitions was more accurate than that of President Bush. Moreover, it appears that the Bush Administration has taken days to catch up to the McCain rhetoric and even some of his recommended actions (e.g. threatening Russia’s G-8 status). It is always a good thing for McCain, both with the conservative base and with independents, when he can explain that his election will not mean a continuation of the Bush administration.

Finally, we know that Obama is universally credited as the more eloquent and rhetorically polished of the two candidates. But McCain hit his stride this week in defending an ally, the cause of democracy and the country’s vital interests. In a finely crafted op-ed in the Wall Street Journal he wrote: “This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals. As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians.” By contrast, Obama’s mushy appeals to unity and world citizenship served up in Berlin seem absurdly naive and entirely lacking in substance by comparison. McCain had something important to say and said it well.

All this may fade, of course, as time goes on. But it is equally possible that the number of international stand-offs and confrontations will actually increase between now and Election Day. McCain wants voters to think hard about the world and everything that could go wrong in the years ahead. “Who’s the right guy at the helm?” is what he wants voters to contemplate. We’ll see in November if this was the week which answered that question.

Read Less

We Don’t Need Any New Books, Thank You

The latest round of “Barack Obama is being smeared” stories share a couple of objectionable premises. First, they conveniently ignore that Obama’s version of his life is fictionalized – by his and his editors’ own admission. Nevertheless, the Obama defenders represent Obama’s tales as objective “truth” and the anti-Obama books as political spin.

Second, the Obama defenders take a tone of defiance. They have all the data they need and they like the self-congratulatory narrative just fine, thank you. But, of course, Obama’s version of reality makes little or no effort to explain his troubling relationships with liberation theology and left-wing ideology. (Stanley Kurtz is fast becoming the authority on such matters.) So it is not simply that Obama shaves the truth, it is that he ignores and hopes that we will ignore large, troubling chunks of his life, and that the mainstream media hasn’t shown much interest in reporting on it.

If there are inaccuracies or exaggerations in these latest accounts that is fair game. But what is inexcusable is that the mainstream media itself has done such a putrid job of exploring Obama’s roots, interviewing friends and colleagues and getting to the bottom of very problematic relationships (from Father Plfeger to Reverend Wright to the Woods Fund). The guardians of media propriety (these would be the ones who haven’t yet decided on their excuse for not covering the John Edwards story) are naturally peeved that non-mainstream reporters have stepped into the breach.

Bottom line: Obama’s view of his life is sugar-coated and highly romanticized at best. The mainstream press, rather than carp at the latest Obama critics, would do well to perform the function they have for every other candidate in recent memory: vet him. But they show no interest in that — they have nasty book reviews to dole out instead.

The latest round of “Barack Obama is being smeared” stories share a couple of objectionable premises. First, they conveniently ignore that Obama’s version of his life is fictionalized – by his and his editors’ own admission. Nevertheless, the Obama defenders represent Obama’s tales as objective “truth” and the anti-Obama books as political spin.

Second, the Obama defenders take a tone of defiance. They have all the data they need and they like the self-congratulatory narrative just fine, thank you. But, of course, Obama’s version of reality makes little or no effort to explain his troubling relationships with liberation theology and left-wing ideology. (Stanley Kurtz is fast becoming the authority on such matters.) So it is not simply that Obama shaves the truth, it is that he ignores and hopes that we will ignore large, troubling chunks of his life, and that the mainstream media hasn’t shown much interest in reporting on it.

If there are inaccuracies or exaggerations in these latest accounts that is fair game. But what is inexcusable is that the mainstream media itself has done such a putrid job of exploring Obama’s roots, interviewing friends and colleagues and getting to the bottom of very problematic relationships (from Father Plfeger to Reverend Wright to the Woods Fund). The guardians of media propriety (these would be the ones who haven’t yet decided on their excuse for not covering the John Edwards story) are naturally peeved that non-mainstream reporters have stepped into the breach.

Bottom line: Obama’s view of his life is sugar-coated and highly romanticized at best. The mainstream press, rather than carp at the latest Obama critics, would do well to perform the function they have for every other candidate in recent memory: vet him. But they show no interest in that — they have nasty book reviews to dole out instead.

Read Less




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