Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 31, 2008

Where’s the Reassessment of Joe Lieberman?

Now that John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, will the popular assessment of Joe Lieberman change? Lieberman was on McCain’s VP shortlist, an impressive feat for man who was the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2000. Given his appeal to moderate voters (and, considering his public religiosity, to the evangelicals who make up the part of the GOP base that would supposedly would have been so devastated by his pick as well) and his close friendship with McCain (a story in today’s New York Times says that McCain wanted to choose Lieberman but was ultimately dissuaded by advisors), it seems that the only thing preventing a Lieberman VP nod was his voting record, principally, his support for abortion rights. Picking Lieberman would have shaken up the race even more than the Palin choice did, if that’s imaginable.

Why should the fact that Lieberman isn’t today the presumptive GOP VP nominee force a reassessment of his character? Because ever since he decided to run against Ned Lamont after losing the 2006 Democratic Senate primary, the read on Lieberman in hostile quarters is that he’s a selfish and moralizing hack more concerned with his own personal fate than that of his political party or country (as opposed to every other politician…). Now, had Lieberman really wanted to further his own political career, wouldn’t he have done everything possible to become John McCain’s VP nominee? And to get the VP nod, he could have announced his reversal on abortion (or at least say that he would support conservative judicial appointees) and maybe a few other issues that conservatives view as deal-breakers as soon as it became clear that McCain would be the GOP nominee earlier this year. Indeed, a Lieberman flip-flop on abortion (and it seems that was the only issue the Republican base really cared enough about to oppose a Lieberman selection) would have been relatively convincing (in the realm of flip-floppery), given Lieberman’s Orthodox Judaism. John presented a strong case for Lieberman a few weeks ago, but the “Independent Democrat” was not going to be chosen as long as he supported pro-choice policies.

But Lieberman didn’t alter his position on any issue. Will the Left at least recognize Lieberman’s consistency on all the domestic issues — even as these stances arguably prevented him from becoming the Vice Presidential nominee, again — as a virtue? Given that their criticism of him has always been vicious and intellectually lazy (using the word “hack” to describe someone who holds onto the same views, some might even say stubbornly, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the epithet), don’t count on it.

Now that John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, will the popular assessment of Joe Lieberman change? Lieberman was on McCain’s VP shortlist, an impressive feat for man who was the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2000. Given his appeal to moderate voters (and, considering his public religiosity, to the evangelicals who make up the part of the GOP base that would supposedly would have been so devastated by his pick as well) and his close friendship with McCain (a story in today’s New York Times says that McCain wanted to choose Lieberman but was ultimately dissuaded by advisors), it seems that the only thing preventing a Lieberman VP nod was his voting record, principally, his support for abortion rights. Picking Lieberman would have shaken up the race even more than the Palin choice did, if that’s imaginable.

Why should the fact that Lieberman isn’t today the presumptive GOP VP nominee force a reassessment of his character? Because ever since he decided to run against Ned Lamont after losing the 2006 Democratic Senate primary, the read on Lieberman in hostile quarters is that he’s a selfish and moralizing hack more concerned with his own personal fate than that of his political party or country (as opposed to every other politician…). Now, had Lieberman really wanted to further his own political career, wouldn’t he have done everything possible to become John McCain’s VP nominee? And to get the VP nod, he could have announced his reversal on abortion (or at least say that he would support conservative judicial appointees) and maybe a few other issues that conservatives view as deal-breakers as soon as it became clear that McCain would be the GOP nominee earlier this year. Indeed, a Lieberman flip-flop on abortion (and it seems that was the only issue the Republican base really cared enough about to oppose a Lieberman selection) would have been relatively convincing (in the realm of flip-floppery), given Lieberman’s Orthodox Judaism. John presented a strong case for Lieberman a few weeks ago, but the “Independent Democrat” was not going to be chosen as long as he supported pro-choice policies.

But Lieberman didn’t alter his position on any issue. Will the Left at least recognize Lieberman’s consistency on all the domestic issues — even as these stances arguably prevented him from becoming the Vice Presidential nominee, again — as a virtue? Given that their criticism of him has always been vicious and intellectually lazy (using the word “hack” to describe someone who holds onto the same views, some might even say stubbornly, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the epithet), don’t count on it.

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The Old Man and the Presidency, Part 2

Jay Hogan, in the Comments section on my previous post, points out that William McKinley and Franklin Roosevelt both died early on in their second and fourth terms respectively, leaving the presidency to newly minted vice presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, in office only six months, and Harry Truman, in office less than three.

Neither had much in the way of foreign-policy experience when he inherited the presidency. TR had been assistant secretary of the navy for a year and Truman a United States Senator who rose to prominence investigating waste in the World War II defense program. Being briefly vice president didn’t add to their résumés much, as in those days vice presidents were the ultimate Washington nonentities. (“There once were two brothers. When they grew up, one went to sea and the other became vice president. Neither was ever heard of again.”)

But both Roosevelt and Truman became very successful foreign-policy presidents. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War and Harry Truman crafted the strategy that eventually led to victory in the Cold War.

This reveals a dirty little secret about foreign policy: experience actually counts for very little. It’s a bit like the game of chess. Anyone can learn the rules of the game in ten minutes flat. But if they don’t have the right instincts for the game they will never be any good at it no matter how much they play. If they do, they will become very good immediately. (An anecdote: Stephen Sondheim was not only taught how to write musicals by Oscar Hammerstein II, he was also taught to play chess by him when he was about 12 years old. Hammerstein was an avid and excellent game player, very aggressive, and cut kids no slack whatever. Sondheim beat him in the second chess game they played.)

Neither President Carter nor President Reagan had any foreign policy experience. Carter made an utter hash of it and Reagan a triumph. To be sure, Reagan had luck on his side more than Carter but, as Louis Pasteur explained, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

Jay Hogan, in the Comments section on my previous post, points out that William McKinley and Franklin Roosevelt both died early on in their second and fourth terms respectively, leaving the presidency to newly minted vice presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, in office only six months, and Harry Truman, in office less than three.

Neither had much in the way of foreign-policy experience when he inherited the presidency. TR had been assistant secretary of the navy for a year and Truman a United States Senator who rose to prominence investigating waste in the World War II defense program. Being briefly vice president didn’t add to their résumés much, as in those days vice presidents were the ultimate Washington nonentities. (“There once were two brothers. When they grew up, one went to sea and the other became vice president. Neither was ever heard of again.”)

But both Roosevelt and Truman became very successful foreign-policy presidents. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War and Harry Truman crafted the strategy that eventually led to victory in the Cold War.

This reveals a dirty little secret about foreign policy: experience actually counts for very little. It’s a bit like the game of chess. Anyone can learn the rules of the game in ten minutes flat. But if they don’t have the right instincts for the game they will never be any good at it no matter how much they play. If they do, they will become very good immediately. (An anecdote: Stephen Sondheim was not only taught how to write musicals by Oscar Hammerstein II, he was also taught to play chess by him when he was about 12 years old. Hammerstein was an avid and excellent game player, very aggressive, and cut kids no slack whatever. Sondheim beat him in the second chess game they played.)

Neither President Carter nor President Reagan had any foreign policy experience. Carter made an utter hash of it and Reagan a triumph. To be sure, Reagan had luck on his side more than Carter but, as Louis Pasteur explained, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

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The Word “Despicable” Is Too Nice For This

I can’t bring myself to link to it, because it is so hateful, but a certain blogger obsessed with beagles is now retailing a story about Sarah Palin with the broad hint that her recently born fifth child is actually the issue of her daughter. After posting his vile innuendo, he has continued to defend himself for hours on the grounds that it is up to Palin to prove him wrong. His intellectual degeneration has been on display for several years; now, evidently, it is being followed by a moral and spiritual degeneration twice as profound and vastly more meaningful.

I can’t bring myself to link to it, because it is so hateful, but a certain blogger obsessed with beagles is now retailing a story about Sarah Palin with the broad hint that her recently born fifth child is actually the issue of her daughter. After posting his vile innuendo, he has continued to defend himself for hours on the grounds that it is up to Palin to prove him wrong. His intellectual degeneration has been on display for several years; now, evidently, it is being followed by a moral and spiritual degeneration twice as profound and vastly more meaningful.

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The Benefit of Biden

Sarah Palin is not the first of the VP nominees to be caught with foot firmly in mouth. You guessed, gaffe-prone Joe Biden did the honors by citing Palin’s appearance as the characteristic which distinguished the two VP picks. But Barack Obama seemed to enjoy the yucks as well. Still, he didn’t call Palin “sweetie” as he did a newswoman earlier in the year.

This raises two points. First, to the extent some women aren’t angry enough over the Hillary Clinton snub more of this sort of thing may push them over the edge. Second, Biden is a gift to Palin — as John pointed out, more likely to embarrass his ticket than she hers. A few more of these and Palin will, by comparison, look like the seasoned pro and the model of discretion.

Sarah Palin is not the first of the VP nominees to be caught with foot firmly in mouth. You guessed, gaffe-prone Joe Biden did the honors by citing Palin’s appearance as the characteristic which distinguished the two VP picks. But Barack Obama seemed to enjoy the yucks as well. Still, he didn’t call Palin “sweetie” as he did a newswoman earlier in the year.

This raises two points. First, to the extent some women aren’t angry enough over the Hillary Clinton snub more of this sort of thing may push them over the edge. Second, Biden is a gift to Palin — as John pointed out, more likely to embarrass his ticket than she hers. A few more of these and Palin will, by comparison, look like the seasoned pro and the model of discretion.

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Commentary of the Day

still bitter, on John Podhoretz:

The Democrats are going to try to scare you about Sarah Palin. They’ll say she’s from a small town and a small state. They’ll say she’s too young. She’s inexperienced. She has a funny sounding name that’s hard to pronounce. And, have you noticed, she’s a WOMAN!!! And they will say all that and try to keep a straight face, and refuse to admit their hypocrisy. Obama could have chosen Hillary. And if not Hillary, he could have chose Kathleen Sebelius or Janet Napolitano or Jennifer Granholm. Instead he chose Joe Biden, one of the ultimate Washington insiders and a life member of the Good Old Boys Club. McCain chose Sarah Palin. Not Romney or Pawlenty or Huckabee or Portman. SARAH PALIN. Now we get to choose.

still bitter, on John Podhoretz:

The Democrats are going to try to scare you about Sarah Palin. They’ll say she’s from a small town and a small state. They’ll say she’s too young. She’s inexperienced. She has a funny sounding name that’s hard to pronounce. And, have you noticed, she’s a WOMAN!!! And they will say all that and try to keep a straight face, and refuse to admit their hypocrisy. Obama could have chosen Hillary. And if not Hillary, he could have chose Kathleen Sebelius or Janet Napolitano or Jennifer Granholm. Instead he chose Joe Biden, one of the ultimate Washington insiders and a life member of the Good Old Boys Club. McCain chose Sarah Palin. Not Romney or Pawlenty or Huckabee or Portman. SARAH PALIN. Now we get to choose.

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A “Wolf” in East’s Clothing

Naomi Wolf, the great mind who has charged Condoleezza Rice with sex crimes, and who is currently peddling a book about America’s supposed descent into fascism, is now championing the Muslim laws that require women to cover themselves – while getting a few things off her chest about western liberation, of course:

She writes in the Sydney Morning Herald:

But are we in the West radically misinterpreting Muslim sexual mores, particularly the meaning to many Muslim women of being veiled or wearing the chador? And are we blind to our own markers of the oppression and control of women?

It shouldn’t be hard to guess the answers:

The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I travelled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only settings within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women’s appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband.

In other words, the veil isn’t about the woman’s repression but about the husband’s ownership. Well, let’s break out the champagne!

Wolf goes on:

I experienced it myself. I put on a shalwar kameez and a headscarf in Morocco for a trip to the bazaar. Yes, some of the warmth I encountered was probably from the novelty of seeing a Westerner so clothed; but, as I moved about the market – the curve of my breasts covered, the shape of my legs obscured, my long hair not flying about me – I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.

Because she is free. Free to experiment with burka tourism for an hour and then put on make-up and a skirt and write about the evils of the bikini back here in the oppressive West.

Her closing point: “Westerners should recognise that when a woman in France or Britain chooses a veil, it is not necessarily a sign of her repression.” What cognizant Westerner does not recognize this? What traditionally liberal minded person objects to women (or men) choosing whatever means of worship they wish – so long as their practices don’t infringe on the rights of others or pose a security threat? Wolf’s piece is an exercise in red herringism. She adduces the choice of free Muslim women to argue against criticism of Islamist oppression.

And since she’s been newly liberated by the laws of Islam, what do you suppose are the chances Wolf will be sporting a chador for her next C-SPAN tirade against the oppression of the Bush administration?

Naomi Wolf, the great mind who has charged Condoleezza Rice with sex crimes, and who is currently peddling a book about America’s supposed descent into fascism, is now championing the Muslim laws that require women to cover themselves – while getting a few things off her chest about western liberation, of course:

She writes in the Sydney Morning Herald:

But are we in the West radically misinterpreting Muslim sexual mores, particularly the meaning to many Muslim women of being veiled or wearing the chador? And are we blind to our own markers of the oppression and control of women?

It shouldn’t be hard to guess the answers:

The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I travelled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only settings within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women’s appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband.

In other words, the veil isn’t about the woman’s repression but about the husband’s ownership. Well, let’s break out the champagne!

Wolf goes on:

I experienced it myself. I put on a shalwar kameez and a headscarf in Morocco for a trip to the bazaar. Yes, some of the warmth I encountered was probably from the novelty of seeing a Westerner so clothed; but, as I moved about the market – the curve of my breasts covered, the shape of my legs obscured, my long hair not flying about me – I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.

Because she is free. Free to experiment with burka tourism for an hour and then put on make-up and a skirt and write about the evils of the bikini back here in the oppressive West.

Her closing point: “Westerners should recognise that when a woman in France or Britain chooses a veil, it is not necessarily a sign of her repression.” What cognizant Westerner does not recognize this? What traditionally liberal minded person objects to women (or men) choosing whatever means of worship they wish – so long as their practices don’t infringe on the rights of others or pose a security threat? Wolf’s piece is an exercise in red herringism. She adduces the choice of free Muslim women to argue against criticism of Islamist oppression.

And since she’s been newly liberated by the laws of Islam, what do you suppose are the chances Wolf will be sporting a chador for her next C-SPAN tirade against the oppression of the Bush administration?

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The Old Man and the Presidency

John McCain is 72 and actuarially has a higher risk of dying in office than a younger man. But he is in good health (he’s released over 1,000 pages of his medical records; Obama, with typical parsimony, has released one page) and 72 is a good deal younger than it was in earlier times.  He is hardly likely to shuffle off this mortal coil immediately after the inauguration.

Out of 43 presidencies, only two ended in the very early days of the administration. William Henry Harrison, age 70, took the oath of office on March 4th, 1841, gave the longest inaugural address in the history of the Republic, caught pneumonia as a result, and died a month later. (Joe Biden might want to note this example of the hazards of oratorical prolixity.) James Garfield, age 49, took the oath on March 4th, 1881, and was shot by an assassin on July 2 that year. He lingered for two and a half months until his incompetent doctors finally managed to kill him.

With modern medicine, both Harrison and Garfield would have been back at work within two weeks.

The fact is, if John McCain were to die after only a year in office, Vice President Sarah Palin would have more foreign policy experience, by far, upon entering the presidency, than four of the last five presidents, who were, like her, all governors and had never held federal office.

John McCain is 72 and actuarially has a higher risk of dying in office than a younger man. But he is in good health (he’s released over 1,000 pages of his medical records; Obama, with typical parsimony, has released one page) and 72 is a good deal younger than it was in earlier times.  He is hardly likely to shuffle off this mortal coil immediately after the inauguration.

Out of 43 presidencies, only two ended in the very early days of the administration. William Henry Harrison, age 70, took the oath of office on March 4th, 1841, gave the longest inaugural address in the history of the Republic, caught pneumonia as a result, and died a month later. (Joe Biden might want to note this example of the hazards of oratorical prolixity.) James Garfield, age 49, took the oath on March 4th, 1881, and was shot by an assassin on July 2 that year. He lingered for two and a half months until his incompetent doctors finally managed to kill him.

With modern medicine, both Harrison and Garfield would have been back at work within two weeks.

The fact is, if John McCain were to die after only a year in office, Vice President Sarah Palin would have more foreign policy experience, by far, upon entering the presidency, than four of the last five presidents, who were, like her, all governors and had never held federal office.

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Krauthammer’s Not On Board

At least when I dissent I do it in good company. Here’s Krauthammer:

McCain had been steadily gaining on Obama (before the inevitable convention bounce) and had the race in a dead heat in a year in which the generic Democrat is running ten points ahead of the generic Republican. He had succeeded in making this a referendum on Obama. The devastating line of attack was, “Is he ready to lead?”

The Palin selection completely undercuts the argument about Obama’s inexperience and readiness to lead — on the theory that because Palin is a maverick and a corruption fighter, she bolsters McCain’s claim to be the reformer in this campaign. In her rollout today, Palin spoke a lot about change. McCain is now trying to steal “change” from Obama, a contest McCain will lose in an overwhelmingly Democratic year with an overwhelmingly unpopular incumbent Republican administration. At the same time, he’s weakening his strong suit — readiness vs. unreadiness.

The McCain campaign is reveling in the fact that Palin is a game changer. But why a game changer when you’ve been gaining? To gratuitously undercut the remarkably successful “Is he ready to lead” line of attack seems near suicidal.

It could be near genius as well. But whether or not Palin turns out to be a remarkably capable superstar, it should at least be recognized that her late introduction into this campaign was, above all, cosmetic.

At least when I dissent I do it in good company. Here’s Krauthammer:

McCain had been steadily gaining on Obama (before the inevitable convention bounce) and had the race in a dead heat in a year in which the generic Democrat is running ten points ahead of the generic Republican. He had succeeded in making this a referendum on Obama. The devastating line of attack was, “Is he ready to lead?”

The Palin selection completely undercuts the argument about Obama’s inexperience and readiness to lead — on the theory that because Palin is a maverick and a corruption fighter, she bolsters McCain’s claim to be the reformer in this campaign. In her rollout today, Palin spoke a lot about change. McCain is now trying to steal “change” from Obama, a contest McCain will lose in an overwhelmingly Democratic year with an overwhelmingly unpopular incumbent Republican administration. At the same time, he’s weakening his strong suit — readiness vs. unreadiness.

The McCain campaign is reveling in the fact that Palin is a game changer. But why a game changer when you’ve been gaining? To gratuitously undercut the remarkably successful “Is he ready to lead” line of attack seems near suicidal.

It could be near genius as well. But whether or not Palin turns out to be a remarkably capable superstar, it should at least be recognized that her late introduction into this campaign was, above all, cosmetic.

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She’s Palin by Comparison

The twist-yourself-in-knots-to-oppose-Palin-on-grounds-of-inexperience exercise being indulged in by those otherwise ecstatic about Barack Obama and indifferent to his lack of experience is truly astounding to behold. It is leading them into some fascinating mistakes. For example, Andrew Sullivan – who is quickly displacing David Gergen as the most ideologically elastic person in the annals of recent history — this morning: “It’s the most irresponsible decision by any leading presidential candidate since Bush picked Quayle.”

The thing is, if you were going by “experience” as your guide, Dan Quayle was eminently qualified to be president according to the standards of our time, at least. He had been elected twice to the Senate and once to the House. He had drafted major domestic-policy legislation on job retraining, and was a leading light on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Quayle had served twelve years in Washington, which is what led to him accurately saying in debate that he had the same level of experience as John F. Kennedy when Kennedy was elected president (the line that set Lloyd Bentsen up to say, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”).

The problem with Quayle wasn’t that his resume was lousy. It wasn’t. He was, perhaps, the most politically accomplished 41 year-old in the United States at the time. It was that his behavior — first in his introductory appearance as Veep and then with the malapropisms that dogged him throughout his tenure in the White House — made him seem like a lightweight, and thereby called his judgment into question.

Judgment, comportment, the largeness that seems necessary to hold high office without questionable baggage — these are the qualities that matter. There are, recall, no Constitutional qualifications to occupy the presidency other than being 35 years of age and a native-born American. It is voters who determine the qualifications of their president, which is why having an arguments over experience is the sort of thing that delights those of us who spend our time traveling to conferences in other countries and reading foreign-policy journals, but means absolutely nothing to voters. Nor should it. If it did, Richard Holbrooke might be installed as president, or Bob Kagan.

Palin will be a failed pick if her conduct between now and November 4 reveals that she does not have the judgment to be a heartbeat away; that her comportment is not what we would wish of our leaders; and that she does not seem large enough for the office. A great many things will go into determining all of those things, as they are right now with Barack Obama — and, incidentally, John McCain, who has every qualification for the presidency one could imagine except that he hasn’t won an election for it yet.

The effort to pre-determine her unfitness is not only a losing proposition; there is something fundamentally foolish, about it. Even un-American, in the sense that it suggests rule by wonk rather than popular fiat. Ask Bill Clinton, who tried his best to make the case against Barack Obama and then stood on stage on Wednesday night explaining to America that people were saying about Barack Obama just what they had said about him, Bill Clinton, 16 years ago. That is what interesting elections do. They up-end expectations. 

The twist-yourself-in-knots-to-oppose-Palin-on-grounds-of-inexperience exercise being indulged in by those otherwise ecstatic about Barack Obama and indifferent to his lack of experience is truly astounding to behold. It is leading them into some fascinating mistakes. For example, Andrew Sullivan – who is quickly displacing David Gergen as the most ideologically elastic person in the annals of recent history — this morning: “It’s the most irresponsible decision by any leading presidential candidate since Bush picked Quayle.”

The thing is, if you were going by “experience” as your guide, Dan Quayle was eminently qualified to be president according to the standards of our time, at least. He had been elected twice to the Senate and once to the House. He had drafted major domestic-policy legislation on job retraining, and was a leading light on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Quayle had served twelve years in Washington, which is what led to him accurately saying in debate that he had the same level of experience as John F. Kennedy when Kennedy was elected president (the line that set Lloyd Bentsen up to say, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”).

The problem with Quayle wasn’t that his resume was lousy. It wasn’t. He was, perhaps, the most politically accomplished 41 year-old in the United States at the time. It was that his behavior — first in his introductory appearance as Veep and then with the malapropisms that dogged him throughout his tenure in the White House — made him seem like a lightweight, and thereby called his judgment into question.

Judgment, comportment, the largeness that seems necessary to hold high office without questionable baggage — these are the qualities that matter. There are, recall, no Constitutional qualifications to occupy the presidency other than being 35 years of age and a native-born American. It is voters who determine the qualifications of their president, which is why having an arguments over experience is the sort of thing that delights those of us who spend our time traveling to conferences in other countries and reading foreign-policy journals, but means absolutely nothing to voters. Nor should it. If it did, Richard Holbrooke might be installed as president, or Bob Kagan.

Palin will be a failed pick if her conduct between now and November 4 reveals that she does not have the judgment to be a heartbeat away; that her comportment is not what we would wish of our leaders; and that she does not seem large enough for the office. A great many things will go into determining all of those things, as they are right now with Barack Obama — and, incidentally, John McCain, who has every qualification for the presidency one could imagine except that he hasn’t won an election for it yet.

The effort to pre-determine her unfitness is not only a losing proposition; there is something fundamentally foolish, about it. Even un-American, in the sense that it suggests rule by wonk rather than popular fiat. Ask Bill Clinton, who tried his best to make the case against Barack Obama and then stood on stage on Wednesday night explaining to America that people were saying about Barack Obama just what they had said about him, Bill Clinton, 16 years ago. That is what interesting elections do. They up-end expectations. 

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A Good Sunday Indeed

In route to the Republican Convention, I see that the day is a good one so far for John McCain. First, he must be grateful for the presence of John Kerry. Everytime he speaks I suspect another thousand votes switch to John McCain. Next we see another indication that Barack Obama’s Convention bounce is kaput. We’ll see what things look like in a few days. And finally due to Gustav, neither George W. Bush or Dick Cheney will be able to attend the Republican Convention on Monday. It would be impolitic to say this is a blessing for McCain. But it is.

Election victories are not entirely determined by the relative merit of the candidates. They are also the result of unexpected events, little bits of luck, and good strategic decisions.

In route to the Republican Convention, I see that the day is a good one so far for John McCain. First, he must be grateful for the presence of John Kerry. Everytime he speaks I suspect another thousand votes switch to John McCain. Next we see another indication that Barack Obama’s Convention bounce is kaput. We’ll see what things look like in a few days. And finally due to Gustav, neither George W. Bush or Dick Cheney will be able to attend the Republican Convention on Monday. It would be impolitic to say this is a blessing for McCain. But it is.

Election victories are not entirely determined by the relative merit of the candidates. They are also the result of unexpected events, little bits of luck, and good strategic decisions.

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Darn Right

Maureen Dowd goes on a roll. And despite the double dose of condescension she actually gets the Sarah Palin phenomenon right. What’s the Obama-Biden team up against? It’s a sappy movie plot:

The movie ends with the former beauty queen shaking out her pinned-up hair, taking off her glasses, slipping on ruby red peep-toe platform heels that reveal a pink French-style pedicure, and facing down Vladimir Putin in an island in the Bering Strait. Putting away her breast pump, she points her rifle and informs him frostily that she has some expertise in Russia because it’s close to Alaska. “Back off, Commie dude,” she says. “I’m a much better shot than Cheney.”

The McCain camp’s response (I would assume): “Darn right.”

The advantage that Palin has is that there will be more than enough colorful anecdotes to fill up the days between now and Election Day. Provided she doesn’t stumble in the VP debate or make fatal gaffes, she can keep the media, and much of the public, entranced for a couple months. Suddenly, the elite, eastern urbanite Democratic ticket seems sort of dull. Who would have thought?

Maureen Dowd goes on a roll. And despite the double dose of condescension she actually gets the Sarah Palin phenomenon right. What’s the Obama-Biden team up against? It’s a sappy movie plot:

The movie ends with the former beauty queen shaking out her pinned-up hair, taking off her glasses, slipping on ruby red peep-toe platform heels that reveal a pink French-style pedicure, and facing down Vladimir Putin in an island in the Bering Strait. Putting away her breast pump, she points her rifle and informs him frostily that she has some expertise in Russia because it’s close to Alaska. “Back off, Commie dude,” she says. “I’m a much better shot than Cheney.”

The McCain camp’s response (I would assume): “Darn right.”

The advantage that Palin has is that there will be more than enough colorful anecdotes to fill up the days between now and Election Day. Provided she doesn’t stumble in the VP debate or make fatal gaffes, she can keep the media, and much of the public, entranced for a couple months. Suddenly, the elite, eastern urbanite Democratic ticket seems sort of dull. Who would have thought?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This poll could be an outlier but wow if it’s duplicated elsewhere. (Could it be that the appearance of “Biden” on a ticket is not a plus at all?)

Gustav preparations pronounced “good” by The One. Naturally, there is a competent Governor (Jindal) in charge this time. The Republican team goes off to Mississippi to observes preparations while the Democrats continue to campaign through the Rust Belt. We’ll see if the latter is another “on the beach while the Russians invade” episode — an instance which highlights The One’s obtuseness and lack of crisis management skills and knowledge.

Reality seeps out into the MSM: one reason why John McCain isn’t trailing badly in the polls is that “the economy is not actually all that bad.” Heresy! It’s the Great Depression, lights are flickering, and everyone is getting knocked down –isn’t that what Joe Biden told us?

Like his contemporary David Broder, William Safire doesn’t think much of Barack Obama’s Denver speech. For one thing it was “personal and mean.” But the setting doomed it from the start: “The pretension of the fake Grecian temple setting clashed with the high-decibel, rock-star format and overwhelmed the history implicit in the event. Ancient Greeks had a word for it: hubris.”

There is a lesson to be learned about a candidate who continually blames the little people. Who can forget John Kerry’s “I don’t fall down!” More than anything, it shows the Obama team is stymied each time the McCain crew throws something new their way.

Rich Lowry is right — the McCain campaign isn’t a Bob Dole redux. Not by a long shot.

You can joke all you like about 10 a.m./3 a.m. calls, but it seems the Obama team never quite gets the first reaction right (e.g. Georgia). That’s not a good quality in a chief executive.

The Democrats can never resist the urge to overreach. And they never learn that people are always listening.

And if the Convention was shortened a day or two it might be a blessing in disguise. How many of those speakers at the Democratic Convention were unwatchable? And how much of the dead time was filled with negative and “off message” media chatter? Two nights packed with Sarah Palin, John McCain and some bio films might be punchier and more effective. Others agree.

So funny it could be a McCain ad.

Jonathan Martin is right — the GOP base is juiced. Doing that while simultaneously making a play for the Hillary voters is, if nothing else, a political coup. But she has to swim past the sharks. (She probably hunts sharks for a hobby, right? Well, she does have a grizzly bear hide on her couch.)

This headline is right, but before you win them over you have to get their attention.

Palin brought in a ton of dough after her pick. She clearly has multiple uses: fundraising, reaching out to the base, securing the western and mountain states and grabbing the undecided women voters. Was the McCain this smart or did they get lucky? We’ll see how lucky after she performs under pressure for a few weeks.

One benefit of a surprise pick is that you catch your opposition flat-footed. Think of all that wasted Romney and Pawlenty oppo research!

This poll could be an outlier but wow if it’s duplicated elsewhere. (Could it be that the appearance of “Biden” on a ticket is not a plus at all?)

Gustav preparations pronounced “good” by The One. Naturally, there is a competent Governor (Jindal) in charge this time. The Republican team goes off to Mississippi to observes preparations while the Democrats continue to campaign through the Rust Belt. We’ll see if the latter is another “on the beach while the Russians invade” episode — an instance which highlights The One’s obtuseness and lack of crisis management skills and knowledge.

Reality seeps out into the MSM: one reason why John McCain isn’t trailing badly in the polls is that “the economy is not actually all that bad.” Heresy! It’s the Great Depression, lights are flickering, and everyone is getting knocked down –isn’t that what Joe Biden told us?

Like his contemporary David Broder, William Safire doesn’t think much of Barack Obama’s Denver speech. For one thing it was “personal and mean.” But the setting doomed it from the start: “The pretension of the fake Grecian temple setting clashed with the high-decibel, rock-star format and overwhelmed the history implicit in the event. Ancient Greeks had a word for it: hubris.”

There is a lesson to be learned about a candidate who continually blames the little people. Who can forget John Kerry’s “I don’t fall down!” More than anything, it shows the Obama team is stymied each time the McCain crew throws something new their way.

Rich Lowry is right — the McCain campaign isn’t a Bob Dole redux. Not by a long shot.

You can joke all you like about 10 a.m./3 a.m. calls, but it seems the Obama team never quite gets the first reaction right (e.g. Georgia). That’s not a good quality in a chief executive.

The Democrats can never resist the urge to overreach. And they never learn that people are always listening.

And if the Convention was shortened a day or two it might be a blessing in disguise. How many of those speakers at the Democratic Convention were unwatchable? And how much of the dead time was filled with negative and “off message” media chatter? Two nights packed with Sarah Palin, John McCain and some bio films might be punchier and more effective. Others agree.

So funny it could be a McCain ad.

Jonathan Martin is right — the GOP base is juiced. Doing that while simultaneously making a play for the Hillary voters is, if nothing else, a political coup. But she has to swim past the sharks. (She probably hunts sharks for a hobby, right? Well, she does have a grizzly bear hide on her couch.)

This headline is right, but before you win them over you have to get their attention.

Palin brought in a ton of dough after her pick. She clearly has multiple uses: fundraising, reaching out to the base, securing the western and mountain states and grabbing the undecided women voters. Was the McCain this smart or did they get lucky? We’ll see how lucky after she performs under pressure for a few weeks.

One benefit of a surprise pick is that you catch your opposition flat-footed. Think of all that wasted Romney and Pawlenty oppo research!

Read Less

Democrats and the Carter legacy

Former president Jimmy Carter played just a minor role at the Democratic convention, and this, apparently, was not a fluke:

The 83-year-old Carter seems genuinely fond of Obama, but the former president’s outspoken support for Palestinian aspirations has allowed the right (and even some on the left) to caricature Carter as an extremist and terrorist-coddler. This hardly seems fair given Carter’s history, but fair doesn’t matter here: Obama, who delivered his first speech after securing the Democratic nomination at the annual AIPAC convention, is particularly sensitive to being compared to Carter. So while Carter’s old foe, Ted Kennedy (who refused, in defeat, to shake Carter’s hand at the 1980 Democratic convention) will be saluted in the peak viewing hour tonight, few Americans will even know that Carter was in Denver.

A Democratic organizer even bragged about it to the Jewish Forward (that’s a paper whose readership is responsible for sidelining Carter):

“What more could we do to diss Jimmy Carter?” said a Democratic official who was involved in deliberations on how to handle the former president’s presence at the convention. The treatment Carter received, the official added, “reflects the bare minimum that could be done for a former president.”

Apparently, Barack Obama and his team made a reasonable political calculation: sidelining a former president who’s generally considered one of the worst-ever American presidents – in order not to annoy an important Democratic constituency with which Obama already has some problems.

But look at this little-noticed poll from last week, and you might be amazed to discover that Carter is the most popular political leader among Democrats. More than Hillary Clinton, more than Al Gore, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, more than Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (Barack Obama and Bill Clinton weren’t on the list). With 63% favorability points and a reasonable 36% un-favorability points – Carter seems to be doing quite well.

Fifty-three percent of Democratic voters have a Very Favorable view of former President Carter versus only seven percent (7%) who say their view of him is Very Unfavorable.

What does it mean? There’s more than one option – you can pick yours:

1. Jewish Democrats, powerful politically but few in number, weren’t able (or weren’t trying hard enough) to sway public opinion against Carter.

2. Jewish Democrats are believed to be unsympathetic to Carter, but aren’t really that hostile.

3. Democrats in general respect Carter regardless of his kooky views on the Middle East – because they don’t see it as a significant part of his overall achievements.

4. Democrats in general agree with Carter on Middle East issues much more than they are willing to acknowledge (there’s a lot of data contradicting such a premise).

5. Democrats are still a long way from being in sync with the general population – and the rating of Carter reveals this gap even in the favorable-for-Democrats-2008-political-season.

6. Like G.W. Bush, Carter can also hope that being labeled one of the worst by most Americans is reversible.

7. Carter’s really not that bad.

Former president Jimmy Carter played just a minor role at the Democratic convention, and this, apparently, was not a fluke:

The 83-year-old Carter seems genuinely fond of Obama, but the former president’s outspoken support for Palestinian aspirations has allowed the right (and even some on the left) to caricature Carter as an extremist and terrorist-coddler. This hardly seems fair given Carter’s history, but fair doesn’t matter here: Obama, who delivered his first speech after securing the Democratic nomination at the annual AIPAC convention, is particularly sensitive to being compared to Carter. So while Carter’s old foe, Ted Kennedy (who refused, in defeat, to shake Carter’s hand at the 1980 Democratic convention) will be saluted in the peak viewing hour tonight, few Americans will even know that Carter was in Denver.

A Democratic organizer even bragged about it to the Jewish Forward (that’s a paper whose readership is responsible for sidelining Carter):

“What more could we do to diss Jimmy Carter?” said a Democratic official who was involved in deliberations on how to handle the former president’s presence at the convention. The treatment Carter received, the official added, “reflects the bare minimum that could be done for a former president.”

Apparently, Barack Obama and his team made a reasonable political calculation: sidelining a former president who’s generally considered one of the worst-ever American presidents – in order not to annoy an important Democratic constituency with which Obama already has some problems.

But look at this little-noticed poll from last week, and you might be amazed to discover that Carter is the most popular political leader among Democrats. More than Hillary Clinton, more than Al Gore, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, more than Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (Barack Obama and Bill Clinton weren’t on the list). With 63% favorability points and a reasonable 36% un-favorability points – Carter seems to be doing quite well.

Fifty-three percent of Democratic voters have a Very Favorable view of former President Carter versus only seven percent (7%) who say their view of him is Very Unfavorable.

What does it mean? There’s more than one option – you can pick yours:

1. Jewish Democrats, powerful politically but few in number, weren’t able (or weren’t trying hard enough) to sway public opinion against Carter.

2. Jewish Democrats are believed to be unsympathetic to Carter, but aren’t really that hostile.

3. Democrats in general respect Carter regardless of his kooky views on the Middle East – because they don’t see it as a significant part of his overall achievements.

4. Democrats in general agree with Carter on Middle East issues much more than they are willing to acknowledge (there’s a lot of data contradicting such a premise).

5. Democrats are still a long way from being in sync with the general population – and the rating of Carter reveals this gap even in the favorable-for-Democrats-2008-political-season.

6. Like G.W. Bush, Carter can also hope that being labeled one of the worst by most Americans is reversible.

7. Carter’s really not that bad.

Read Less

The Tick Tock

This is a fascinating step-by-step account of Sarah Palin’s selection as VP. It is intriguing, in part, because it shows us how little the media got right and how easy it is to keep a secret — if you don’t tell anyone. All the wrong information (“Romney has it!”) we now can see was either overactive spinning by hopeful VPs’ surrogates or was simply media invention.

It is a helpful reminder that when in doubt, and the MSM was in doubt, they make stuff up.

This is a fascinating step-by-step account of Sarah Palin’s selection as VP. It is intriguing, in part, because it shows us how little the media got right and how easy it is to keep a secret — if you don’t tell anyone. All the wrong information (“Romney has it!”) we now can see was either overactive spinning by hopeful VPs’ surrogates or was simply media invention.

It is a helpful reminder that when in doubt, and the MSM was in doubt, they make stuff up.

Read Less




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