If people cared about a “working class” background, Rudy Giuliani would be a shoo-in for the presidency. He is the only candidate on both sides who a) has such a background and b) has actually brought about change. Maybe people don´t really want change either?
What counts is not income or upbringing but an appearance of humility, respect for people and the ability to speak their language (which is btw not the same as faking a regional accent).
It is smarter to be positioned as the imperfect servant (remember the great McCain ad?) than the messiah.
Posts For: August 22, 2008
Drudge calls it the a “Diss-Off” and Politico.com says Hillary Cinton was “stiffed.” With a Friday still lacking a VP confirmation that may be the biggest story and newest headache for Barack Obama. Why is the candidate who prides himself on empathy and plans on giving a “dignity promotion” to our enemies in this fix? Why not have the decency to lie and feign interest in her as VP? Because until now (and maybe even now) it likely has never dawned on Obama that he could lose. He never dreamt that he might need Hillary on the ticket. His arrogance is boundless and his judgment poor. It’s a deadly combination
I had the same question as Ann Althouse: if Barack Obama did have a law review article why conceal it and perpetuate the misconception he had gotten through his tenure as Harvard Law Review editor without writing anything? She surmises that he was so afraid of the abortion issue he would rather take the hit for doing nothing as law review editor than have the article come to light. But is that right? He is, after all (more than we ever knew), an absolutist on abortion rights so how could a nondescript law review article make it worse? (Note that when the chips are down this is one of those supposedly wildly popular liberal positions that invariably needs to be hidden from view for the candidate to win.)
There are two other explanations. First, the Obama team is shockingly unprepared and lacks the basic data that even their opposition has. This is what happened with the Infant Born Alive voting records. It seems incredible, but perhaps they never vetted their own candidate. They simply took his word on a variety of matters which turn out not to be exactly as The One recollected.
The second is Clinton-itis: the propensity to lie when telling the truth would be easier. As others point out, secrecy and abject terror about the candidate’s past seem to have infected the Obama team. So it may be that the default answer for any question about Obama’s past is, “We don’t have anything.” Even when that isn’t right and disclosure would do no harm they seem to prefer a blank slate. Considering what is there, that may be a wise course. But if there really isn’t much to worry about — or even if there are non-fatal things to explain — the concealment and evasion may create more concern than the potential damage from the underlying issue(s). Even some on the Left agree that “at some point–and I think the Obama campaign got there in this case–the evasiveness gets out of proportion to the significance of the document and becomes a little self-defeating.”
Now since the law review article does exist maybe there is reason to believe some of the other data (e.g. law clients, state legislative documents) do as well. And it would be nice if the voters got to find out what is in them before they have to vote.
In a neat juxtaposition, the front page of the New York Times today carries an article outlining a draft agreement on the removal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in 2011 right below another article which shows why it’s dangerous to rush for the
exits. This story focuses on tensions between the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and the largely Sunni members of the Awakening, many of them former insurgents who have allied with U.S. and Iraqi forces. The Iraqi government, it seems, is targeting some Awakening members for arrest while dragging its feet on hiring others into the Iraqi Security Forces (as Peter has noted).
The merits of the individual cases are hard to sort out, and in any case don’t matter that much. The broader point is to highlight how fragile recent gains have been and how easily they could evaporate if U.S. forces leave too soon. (A point that General David Petraeus, now departing Iraq after the most successful turnaround by any American general since Matthew Ridgeway in Korea, makes in this interview.) At the moment there is still great distrust between different ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq, and, aside from the role they still play in patrolling the streets, U.S. troops perform another invaluable function: Much as in Bosnia and Kosovo, they serve as an impartial peacekeeping force that can be trusted by all sides even when they don’t trust one another.
The accord on pulling out U.S. forces, if implemented along the lines described by the New York Times, would probably not jeopardize the progress that has been made. If the reports in the Times and other MSM outlets are accurate, the U.S. and Iraq have agreed that U.S. combat forces would pull out of Iraq’s urban areas by next summer and out of Iraq altogether by the end of 2011—but only if the current rate of progress continues. That’s a notable difference from Barack Obama’s 16-month withdrawal plan which would pull all U.S. combat forces out by mid-2010 regardless of conditions on the ground. Of course both the draft U.S.-Iraq document and the Obama plan leave a big loophole: they only apply to combat forces, allowing the possibility that U.S. advisory and support forces in substantial numbers could remain in Iraq for many years to come. (The line between combat and support forces isn’t hard and fast; it might be possible to stay within the letter of an accord by changing the name of a brigade from Brigade Combat Team to Brigade Training Team.)
I hope it will be politically possible, both in the U.S. and Iraq, to keep a substantial force in Iraq beyond 2011—not, I hope, to engage in combat operations, and certainly not to suffer casualties, but simply to provide reassurance of American commitment to Iraqi democracy and to prevent any ethno-sectarian group from oppressing the others. Or even to guard against a military coup. In a country as embattled as Iraq, any number of things can go wrong. Only an American commitment can safeguard this fragile democracy and thereby safeguard our own interests in the region.
Yesterday, Iran announced it will put a human in space in 10 years. “Within the next six months to one year, the exact date of this mission will be determined,” said Reza Taghipour, the head of Tehran’s space agency. The announcement followed Saturday’s launch of a two-stage rocket. Tehran hailed the test as a success, saying it put a satellite into space. The United States, on Tuesday, disagreed. “The vehicle failed shortly after liftoff and in no way reached its intended position,” said an intelligence official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It could be characterized as a dramatic failure.”
A failure? At Iran’s stage of rocket development, failures are almost as good as successes, because they provide valuable information. It appears, for example, that this week’s test showed Iran had learned much since its launch of the same rocket, named the Ambassador of Peace, in February. This time the second stage fired successfully, according to Charles Vick of GlobalSecurity.org. So we can conclude that Tehran is on its way to putting a satellite into orbit, an Iranian into space, and a warhead into a trajectory that can reach Great Satans and other enemies of the Islamic Republic.
“The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions,” said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, on Sunday. It’s a good sign that the Bush administration is paying attention, but is it actually intensifying diplomacy to stop the Iranians? So far, there is no visible sign that it is doing so. Understandably, the President has been preoccupied by Moscow’s invasion of Georgia. Yet the Russians are not only aggressors. They are, unfortunately, also proliferators of dangerous technologies. Taghipour, yesterday, noted that he is working with the Russians on his space program.
He is? Taghipour’s announcement should remind us we need a better Iranian policy, but, more important, we need a better Russia policy.
In his Swampland posting today, Joe Klein, reacting to a New York Times story that reports that the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols–groups of former insurgents who joined the American side and have been a major reason for the decline in violence around the nation–writes this:
This, of course, was the fallacy of McCain’s “We’re winning” argument from the start: Who are “we” at this point? It’s the reason why David Petraeus has never been as sanguine as the neocons about the situation on the ground. Without true political reconciliation, the success of the Surge is, by definition, temporary and ephemeral. So now there are three possible scenarios:
–the Maliki government comes to its senses and makes a major effort to reconcile with the Sunnis.
–there is renewed ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shi’ites.
–the Sunnis return to the insurgency (if not to the arms of the jihadis).
Options two and three are not mutually exclusive, of course, and the smart betting in Iraq has always been on the side of pessimism.
Fine. But just last month–not last year, but last month–Joe wrote this:
The reality is that neither Barack Obama nor Nouri al-Maliki nor most anybody else believes that the Iraq war can be ‘lost’ at this point.
This is what I mean about pundits who write with absolute certitude in The Moment. They take snapshots in time and assume what is shall ever be, and draw sweeping conclusions from it. This kind of thing happens a lot among the pundit class, though it rarely happens as often and with such glaring contradictions as we see with Klein. His analytical pendulum swings very widely and very quickly. That’s fine, if sometimes embarrassing, for a political commentator. But it’s exactly the kind of thing you don’t want in people who must actually govern a nation or run a war. Equanimity is an admirable trait, particularly in those who bear important responsibilities.
I hereby demand Russia withdraw her troops from Georgian territory.
That was easy. Now I can say I’ve done everything every Western statesperson and organizational spokesperson has done in response to the invasion of Georgia. I’m in the big leagues now! What’s more, I expect Moscow to treat my demand with the same degree of seriousness accorded those of presidents and prime-ministers. Take a look:
“We demand the withdrawal of the [Russian] occupation forces without delay. Let’s then start thinking, negotiating how can we prevent the definitive estrangement of our two countries.” –Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
Regardless of this action, the European Union (EU) will continue to force Russia to carry out all six items of the agreement. I demand it, Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, stated at the end of the meeting of the Council of NATO Foreign Ministers held in Brussels.
Russia must withdraw its military forces from Georgia “now,” the White House demanded on Thursday, saying Moscow was in violation of a commitment to do so made earlier this month.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that Russian troops withdraw “without delay” from Georgia, adding that “this point is not negotiable in my eyes.”
[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel demanded that Russia withdraw all its troops from Georgia’s core territory when she met Medvedev in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Friday.
Earlier, Nato demanded that Russia pull out its troops from Georgia as agreed in an EU-brokered ceasefire plan signed by both parties at the weekend.
McCain demanded that Russia “withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.”
And after weighing the demands of various world leaders, Vladimir Putin has decided to dig into Georgia with tanks, missile launchers, and checkpoints; trickle out a few token troops; and throw a victory concert inside Georgia’s borders. Because demands, of course, don’t mean anything. Anyone can demand whatever they want. I demand the surrender of all Islamist terrorists, the immediate release of UIC’s Obama-Ayers records, a lifetime industry ban on Bill Maher, and a weekly dinner with Natalie Portman.
Demanding, with nothing to back you up, isn’t policy–it’s wishful thinking. Throughout this crisis, there have been several opportunities to hit Russia where it hurts. Concerned countries had options varying from sending weapons to Georgia, to kicking Russia out of the G8, to moving the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Sochi, to freezing Russian funds abroad. Instead, all those options were ignored in favor of the stern-sounding, but realistically laughable, demands. And when these demands not met?
Obama told the veterans Tuesday that, “I reiterate my demand that Russia abide by the cease-fire.” [Emphasis added.]
That‘ll show ‘em.
In this front-page New York Times “news analysis,” correspondent Peter Baker suggests that the U.S. needs Russia a lot more than Russia needs us. As one of his sources puts it, “Russia has all the leverage.” The implicit message: There isn’t much we can or should do to Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Georgia.
In point of fact, the story, if read carefully, offers plenty of evidence for the opposite conclusion: that we don’t have much to lose by getting tough with Russia because it’s already obstructing our goals at every turn.
Here is how Baker lays out the potential options for Russia to hurt us:
In addition to escalated arms sales to other anti-American states like Iran and Venezuela, policy makers and specialists in Washington envision a freeze on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation cooperation, manipulation of oil and natural gas supplies, pressure against United States military bases in Central Asia and the collapse of efforts to extend cold war-era arms control treaties.
Actually Russia has already done all of that and more, as Baker admits later on in the article:
Israeli and Western governments have already been alarmed about reports that the first elements of the Russian-built S-300 antiaircraft missile system are now being delivered to Iran, which could use them to shoot down any American or Israeli planes that seek to bomb nuclear facilities should that ever be attempted….The two sides (Russia and the U.S.) have already effectively suspended any military cooperation programs….. Just last month, Russia vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe’s government, a move seen as a slap at Washington…It already has suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty to protest American missile defense plans and threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Of course Russia can ratchet up the pressure even more—for instance by selling Syria, which already receives Russian arms, even more sophisticated missile systems, as Baker notes. But we are not without leverage as well, notably in frustrating the desire of the Putin gang to be given legitimacy on the international stage and the chance to stash their loot in Western bank accounts. More importantly, we can frustrate Russia’s imperial designs by helping to arm its fretful neighbors.
We should not refrain from such steps because we fear Russian retaliation. It seems a given that the current rulers in the Kremlin will do whatever they can to annoy and frustrate us. If we let them get away without paying any penalty for their aggression in Georgia, as we are now doing, they will only be emboldened toward greater aggression in the future.
This should come as no shock–Barack Obama never wanted Hillary Clinton on the ticket and never gave any indication that he did. But the news that he did not even go through the motions of considering her will stoke anger among her supporters.
Moreover, it shows the degree to which Obama’s pride–or fear of being overshadowed–prevented him from even considering the one person who would have been certain to create excitement and potentially deliver him demographic groups and states (e.g. Arkansas) he now badly needs. If he wins, this decision will be forgotten. But if he loses, it will be at the top of the list of reasons why the candidate who was supposed to be a shoo-in turned out not to be. One thing is for certain: the Hillary fans are going to need that catharsis. Big time.
Next Wednesday will mark the 100th birthday of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the first really pro-Israel U.S. president in terms of both word and deed.
Yesterday the New York Times ran a story about Medicare fraud in which it was reported that not only was fraud rife in the system, but that Medicare officials had done their considerable best to prevent the truth from coming out. The report specifically covered Medicare claims involving durable medical equipment, which means such things as walkers, wheelchairs, hospital beds, etc.
You’ve probably seen the ads on television promising that Medicare will pay for it, so you should order your motorized wheelchair or diabetes kit now. Medicare officials boasted that fraud in this area had been reduced to only $700 million, a mere bagatelle by federal bureaucratic standards. The inspector general has now determined that it was $2.8 billion, four times what Medicare had reported, and involved a staggering 31.5 percent of all claims for durable medical equipment.
One claim in three, in other words, shouldn’t have been paid. No private, profit-seeking insurance company would be solvent for a week with such massive amounts of fraudulent claims.
Today, the Times’s lead editorial quite properly demands action to correct this mess and points out that Congress is hardly blameless here, having “postponed a new competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment that would require a more intense look at the qualifications and integrity of the suppliers.”
I’m glad the Times is demanding action on this. But I have one question. If the federal government can’t run a program providing healthcare for those over 65, why is the Times in favor of turning everyone’s healthcare–and one-sixth of the American economy–over to those wonderful folks who have brought you Medicare?
A barrage of new polls in Israel demonstrates one thing: Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in big trouble. If elections were held today, his party would barely count.
Barak has been struggling for a long while now. In fact, he never recovered from the political defeat he suffered back in the year 2000, when Ariel Sharon was elected and Barak was ousted from the Prime Minister’s office. His explanation, essentially, is that he’s still being blamed for being the messenger–namely, exposing Arafat’s duplicity at Camp David. That’s a nice way of trying to make a failure seem like an achievement. The Israeli public, to its credit, does not buy it.
Barak was embarrassed this week by reports showing that his wife was taking advantage of his position in business dealings. She was forced into closing her business down, but the negative reports kept coming. “This is part of an attempt to delegitimize me,” Barak said. It’s probably true–but hey, that’s a politician’s life.
Since the atmosphere in Israel is not very hospitable now to politicians’ business shenanigans, Barak’s will be a burden, making the next election a possible nightmare for Labor. So much so that the headline in this morning’s Haaretz was: “Barak: I’m not worried about being removed before elections.” And parsing a new poll by Prof. Camil Fuchs, Israel’s most prolific pollster, Haaretz‘s Yossi Verter explained what would happen if elections were held today:
This week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni continues to maintain a comfortable lead over her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and is the only politician threatening Netanyahu’s prospects of returning to the Prime Minister’s Office. But the Kadima voters whose support affords Livni 28 seats tend to treat her only like an electoral profit-bearing share. When asked which candidate they rely on most to manage the country’s affairs, only 21 percent of Kadima voters want her to be the one that “answers the red phone at 3 A.M.” When it comes to this, Mofaz gets 33 percent, whereas Netanyahu gets 22 percent from Kadima voters – 1 percent more than Livni.
Among Likud voters, 74 percent support Netanyahu when it comes to the question, “Who do you rely on most?” By comparison, Barak gets only 58 percent from Labor voters. Among the entire public, Livni gets 18 percent support and Netanyahu 28 percent; the highest rate of support goes to “no one” (29 percent) – further evidence of the leadership crisis in Israel.
Crisis of leadership? Indeed. Here’s something I wrote a long time ago:
[W]hen the shift to a younger generation is no longer a luxury, it’s not yet clear where the leaders will come from. The military, which was once a reliable source, lost steam and glory; professional politicians aren’t popular in Israel; academics even less so; and businessmen tend to stay out of public life.
And a short time ago:
Olmert was the accidental successor who just happened to be there when Sharon slipped off stage. Olmert inspired no awe–but whoever succeeds him will have the same problem. Livni, Mofaz, Netanyahu, Barak-none will have the benefit of personal dominance; all will find it difficult to win over voters. One of them will become prime minister–but only because the country has to have someone playing that role.
It’s Bush and Obama on one side, and McCain on the other. When it comes to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Barack Obama is firmly behind what George W. Bush has been doing. (Which makes sense, because all the President has been doing is talking.) John McCain, on the other hand, advocates isolating Russia in concrete ways, such as kicking it out of the G8.
Obama has couched his support for ineffective policy in lofty talk of a united America front. “There will be a time later for politics. I’m a big believer that when you’re in a crisis, America speaks with one voice,” he said. As if America hasn’t been in a national security crisis for the past seven years. As if during that entire period Obama and the majority of his Democrat buddies haven’t been accusing the President of everything from stupidity, to deception, to treason, to war crimes.
People in Obama’s camp certainly do have time for politics. They’ve labeled McCain’s position “trigger-happy,” and “reckless,” even though McCain has not advocated the pulling of a single trigger, or the loading of one rifle, and the implementation of his plan requires the cooperation of other G8 members. Meanwhile, Obama threatens to “suspend a whole range of international talks.” Of course, any and all threats against Russia have only served as invertebrate provocations for fully realized Putin counter-responses, shaped to match the original threat. NATO warns Moscow that they’ll cut off cooperation with Russia? Putin calls their bluff and severs ties himself. Poland signs on to missile defense? Putin vows to respond with military action. And after assessing this disaster, Obama states “I’m supportive of what George Bush has been doing.”
This ad from John McCain aims not just to obliterate his opponent’s housing attack, but turn it to McCain’s advantage. Although on the road, I did manage to touch base with a McCain official who responded succinctly to my observation that the ad took no prisoners: ” The Obama camp will come to regret the decision they made.” From that I took away two things. First, the McCain camp saw the Obama slam at his multiple homes as a low blow aimed at his wife’s property holdings. Second, they were itching for an opening on Tony Rezko and were more than happy, on the eve of Obama’s convention, to walk through the door his campaign opened.
I agree entirely with Jonathan Martin–this isn’t the last we have heard about Rezko. The McCain camp isn’t going to fire a closing shot now. Stay tuned for more in October. (Rezko’s sentencing is now a week before the election.)
Meanwhile, the McCain camp put out another ad about The One. A few additions to the last version include Obama body surfing during his ill-timed vacation and potential VP Tim Kaine bizarrely and inaccurately praising the Russian withdrawal from Georgia at Obama’s urging. (That will come in handy if he’s the VP pick.)
All of this says something about where the race is heading: straight for Obama’s soft spots. The McCain team is aiming not just to minimize the impact of the Democratic Convention, but to use it as the next installation of their Obama-debunking ad offensive.
The message from these two ads is clear: Obama is a phony, one with sleazy relationships and a weirdly arrogant self-regard. Will this work? It has helped pull McCain into a tie, when most voters were only dimly paying attention. If the message permeates to the rest of the electorate and McCain continues to press his advantage on national security and energy, the summer may well end on a high note for the McCain camp. And suddenly the Obama team that could do no wrong against the Clinton campaign now looks like the gang that can’t quite shoot straight–or rather one that has handed over all the ammunition its opponents could possibly want.
There was a report last night that “Romney is the pick.” I suppose that is eventually possible (although the “housing war” may have put a stake in Romney’s chances), but this strikes me as wrong in the sense that John McCain has no reason to make his final decision now–let alone to tell a bunch of people. (It is interesting that the sources are “Republicans” and not McCain officials.) VP candidates, like Tim Kaine, sometimes make the fatal error of having overly enthusiastic backers. The result is that the candidate appears too grasping, too indiscreet, and plain untrustworthy. The VP contenders’ backers would do better to pipe down and let the process work, but the temptation is overwhelming to blab and try to create a groundswell of excitement for their guy.
It rarely works, but it can confirm the worst suspicions about a potential pick.
David Brooks names all the qualities which would make Joe Biden a good VP: working class roots, honesty (OK, there was that plagiarism thing, but a that’s a small quibble), loyalty, and experience. But what is noteworthy about the checklist is how poorly Barack Obama does on the listed items.
You can argue all you like about Obama’s income as a child, but the man is no more a product and a creature of the working class than Mitt Romney. Obama is a pure academic elitist, who lived in Hyde Park after years of Ivy League education. If he understood working-class people (let alone was one of them), we wouldn’t have had Bittergate. Strike one. Let’s move on to honesty. That is becoming more of an issue with each passing day, as we examine his fictionalized life story, his attempted revisionism about his legislative record, and his broken pledge on campaign financing. He seems slightly below average for most politicians in that department. Strike two. Loyalty? Well, it’s getting crowded under the proverbial bus with those who “aren’t the X” Obama knew–Reverend Wright and James Johnson included. A foul ball at best. And experience? Enough said. Strike three.
And if it is Biden (maybe it will be by the time this posts), that is the biggest problem he poses. You have to wonder what criteria could lead to his selection, yet not rule out Obama for the top of the ticket. The explanation, if it comes to that, will be interesting to hear.
Joe Klein has a piece in Time in which he points out that in recent days, Senator Obama has decided to portray himself as passionate, mad, angry, and (when it comes to America’s wage disparities) a man of boiling blood. Klein, upon hearing these words, immediately (and rightly) thought, “Uh-oh.” The reason, as Klein points out, is that
one of the great strengths of the Obama candidacy has been the sense that this is a guy whose blood doesn’t boil, who carefully considers the options before he reacts – and that his reaction is always measured and rational.
When candidates, particularly Presidential candidates, begin to act in an affected way, it almost always backfires. It creates unease in voters, making them wonder if the candidate is unanchored and, at his core, hollow. (This impression was a lethal one for Al Gore in 2000.)
It’s hard for me to even imagine what a mad, angry, I’m-so-furious-my-blood-is-boiling Obama would look like. (I suspect he would look slightly comical and totally unbelievable.) But that Obama appears to be taking such transparently silly advice from his campaign aides underscores how rattled they all must be. Obama, after all, has made no obvious errors and everything has been working in his favor. And yet his lead over McCain has dwindled to nothing. McCain looks as sharp as he has during the entire campaign, while Obama seems to be less imposing, less eloquent, and off stride.
One of the attractive qualities of Obama has been that he seemed to be a man of impressive self-possession, confident in who he is and who he isn’t. But Obama has faced very little sustained pressure in a campaign before. His Senate races against Jack Ryan and Alan Keyes were essentially forfeited to him. And the race against Hillary Clinton, while long, was basically over in February, when Obama rolled up eleven straight primary victories. The Clinton campaign, while certainly critical of Obama, never really went after him hard, fearful that in doing so they would cause a rupture among her own Democratic supporters. So Obama has never really been on the defensive before.
Obama is now in the campaign inferno, which will only get hotter in the ten weeks ahead. The question is whether Senator Obama will, as well. If he does, I predict he’ll badly hurt himself and his chances.
Peggy Noonan raises a few intriguing points. First, the Rick Warren forum came, as she says, just as most voters were tuning in. The takeaway was stark and simple. She writes:
This is what it looked like by the end of the night: Mr. McCain, normal. Mr. Obama, not normal. You’ve seen this discussed elsewhere. Mr. McCain was direct and clear, Mr. Obama both more careful and more scattered. But on abortion in particular, Mr. McCain seemed old-time conservative, which is something we all understand, whether we like such a stance or not, and Mr. Obama seemed either radical or dodgy. He wouldn’t vote to ban partial-birth abortions because we must contemplate a rigorous legal parsing of any and all possible implications regarding emanations and of the viability of Roe v. Wade?
Most politicians are not particularly “normal.” But there is a level of intellectual abstraction and emotional distance which exaggerates the problem of seeming “not normal” for Obama. He doesn’t seem like the guy in the thick of things who makes the tough calls, gets roughed up, dishes it out, and comes back to make a deal. By being so far above the fray he conveys not that he is “cool,” but that he is aloof, unemotional, and uncommitted.
Noonan also puts the conventions is perspective. Obama’s speech will be good and uplifting (although the McCain camp has done an extraordinary job of blunting the impact by implanting the Britney Spears ad in everyone’s brain). But as he often does, McCain could surprise the pundits and thereby have the most impact. She explains:
He’s the one with the real opportunity, because no one expects anything. He’s never been especially good at making speeches. (The number of men who’ve made it to the top of the GOP who don’t particularly like making speeches, both Bushes and Mr. McCain, is astonishing, and at odds with the presumed requirements of the media age. The first Bush saw speeches as show biz, part of the weary requirement of leadership, and the second’s approach reflects a sense that words, though interesting, were not his friend.) But Mr. McCain provided, in 2004, one of the most exciting and certainly the most charged moment of the Republican Convention, when he looked up at Michael Moore in the press stands and said, “Our choice wasn’t between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war, it was between war and a greater threat. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. . . . And certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam’s Iraq was an oasis of peace.” It blew the roof off. And the smile he gave Mr. Moore was one of pure, delighted malice. When Mr. McCain comes to play, he comes to play.
And that is the common thread here: McCain has come to play and Obama thinks — or thought — he already won. McCain has been a fighter his entire life, sometimes to his own detriment and to the dismay of his party. Obama, who climbed from job to job almost effortlessly through much of his career, no doubt believed his greatest triumph was unseating the Clintons. But they did much of the work for him. He failed to appreciate that he had never met an adversary so undaunted by odds as McCain.
So if the race is down to the academic who literally is already planning his transition and the pugnacious, prickly guy (who didn’t give up when there was more at stake for him than an election), the voters might just choose the one who seems like he’s not above duking it out and putting himself on the line.
Of all the data included in yesterday’s WSJ poll, the number I found to be the most intriguing was not even mentioned in the news coverage. Buried in question number 21, we find the fact that 51%–a majority of Americans–say they believe Barack Obama would be the “riskier choice for president.”
This is not the first time such a question has been asked. Two weeks ago, in a CNN poll, 57% of respondents said Obama would be a risky choice. But in that poll, 54% said the same about McCain. The difference between the two polls is significant, but it was caused by structural differences. In the CNN poll, the voters were asked separately about the two candidates and gave the obvious answer: any choice of a new president can be risky. You can never know for sure what’s going to happen in a new administration. But the new WSJ poll asked the better question–which candidate is the greater risk.
There’s an interesting parallel here between the primary process and the general elections.
In the primaries, Democrats were well aware that Obama was the riskier choice (see here) and Clinton the safer one. But, as a group, they were in a gambling mood. The key words being “As a group”: not all of them voted for Obama, and according to polls those thinking Obama was riskier were more likely to vote for Clinton. The problem for them was that there weren’t enough thinking alike.
However, there’s a big difference between the “risky” of yesterday and that of today. Although the wording is identical, the question facing Democrats in the primary season was essentially political: who has the better chance to beat the Republican nominee? Democrats realized that Obama was “riskier,” but the Party still voted for him. Their desire for a certain candidate trumped even their desire to win the election safely.
But for today’s voter, the question of “risk” is different. It’s about substance rather than politics: who’s more likely to be a terrible President? Apparently, most voters think Obama is more likely to be a bad President. Which to me says a lot about the shrinking gap between the candidates. Come November, we might discover that the mood for gambling decreases when the question of “risk” becomes more substantial, and the decision more consequential.
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to “turn the page” on the “old politics.” He was, we were assured, the antidote to trivial, low-road campaigns. The former teacher of constitutional law was going to elevate the debate in American politics; he was a man of subtle intelligence, intellectually serious and high-minded, and allergic to the “Washington game.” Rather than divide Americans, he would become a rallying point for us, a unifying figure, a healer not only of the planet but of deep and old political divisions.
Then came the campaign of ’08, when Obama became the embodiment of all he said he stood against. I was reminded of this yesterday, in watching Obama criticize Senator McCain for not answering how many houses he and his wife Cindy owned and then turning McCain’s words into an ad.
So this is what the New Politics is all about?
I have no idea if Obama’s tactics will succeed or not; I suspect they won’t be nearly as effective as the Obama campaign hopes. And given Obama’s links to the corrupt Tony Rezko, I’m not sure he should be terribly eager to get into a discussion about houses. But whether Obama’s tactics are effective or not, they are undoubtedly trivial. In fact, they are exactly the kind of silliness that is (and almost always has been) commonplace in American politics.
That Obama is doing what virtually every Presidential candidate has done is not, by itself, problematic. Campaigns are, by their nature, filled with both moments of inspiration and exasperation, high drama and banality, charges and countercharges.
What is problematic for Obama is the fact that he consciously and persistently insisted he was above politics as usual. He was the figure we had been waiting for, the candidate who would magically transcend the “old politics” and replace them with a high-tone, non-stop national conversation that would lead us to broad, sunlit uplands.
Obama, in other words, is the person who set the enormously high expectations about his candidacy and made the promise of a new kind of politics central to his Presidential run. Without it, Obama would look like just another conventional politician–which is what he is, and how he now appears. And that explains in part why, in a year that should overwhelmingly favor a Democrat, the race is basically tied and Obama, in going “negative,” has stepped into a trap of his own making. It’s dangerous to portray yourself as a political Messiah when you’re not.