Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 14, 2008

Re: Too Big To Matter

John, like the invasion of Georgia, the grave financial uncertainty brought about by the collapse of two major financial institutions – the contours of which will become apparent as the week goes on –  will tend to make petty, mean political stunts look, well, petty and mean. To the extent Barack Obama thinks his task is to be as aggressive and antagonistic toward his opponent as possible, the intervention of real world events may disrupt his game plan.  If he persists in efforts to belittle both McCain and Palin (in the hopes of either reassuring his base or driving their negative ratings sky high), voters may find that downright odd and inappropriate. At the very least, all those negative messages and ads will be drowned out in the financial news.

To some extent, this may be a welcome interruption for Obama — an unexpected diversion from a path that wasn’t likely to help him steady his drifting campaign. The chance to talk about the “Bush economy” may be just what the doctor ordered. But there again is a trap: the public seems to have accepted that McCain is not in fact a clone of Bush, but rather is his own, mavericky self. If that is the case, a new round of “Bush The Horrid President” messaging from Obama may be irrelevant. (“Yes we agree Bush is horrid, but why should we vote for you?” may be the average voter’s response.)

In short, Obama is finally going to have to make the argument why voters should trust him and not McCain, why the Obama model of expanded government and higher taxes is the way to go. And McCain finally has his shot: to explain what his economic vision is and to make the case that high taxes, big governement, and protectionism is a recipe for disaster.

Hey, we might actually have a nice meaty policy argument. We’ll learn a lot about the two candidates’ level of confidence in their own message by which one welcomes that fight and which one turns tail.

John, like the invasion of Georgia, the grave financial uncertainty brought about by the collapse of two major financial institutions – the contours of which will become apparent as the week goes on –  will tend to make petty, mean political stunts look, well, petty and mean. To the extent Barack Obama thinks his task is to be as aggressive and antagonistic toward his opponent as possible, the intervention of real world events may disrupt his game plan.  If he persists in efforts to belittle both McCain and Palin (in the hopes of either reassuring his base or driving their negative ratings sky high), voters may find that downright odd and inappropriate. At the very least, all those negative messages and ads will be drowned out in the financial news.

To some extent, this may be a welcome interruption for Obama — an unexpected diversion from a path that wasn’t likely to help him steady his drifting campaign. The chance to talk about the “Bush economy” may be just what the doctor ordered. But there again is a trap: the public seems to have accepted that McCain is not in fact a clone of Bush, but rather is his own, mavericky self. If that is the case, a new round of “Bush The Horrid President” messaging from Obama may be irrelevant. (“Yes we agree Bush is horrid, but why should we vote for you?” may be the average voter’s response.)

In short, Obama is finally going to have to make the argument why voters should trust him and not McCain, why the Obama model of expanded government and higher taxes is the way to go. And McCain finally has his shot: to explain what his economic vision is and to make the case that high taxes, big governement, and protectionism is a recipe for disaster.

Hey, we might actually have a nice meaty policy argument. We’ll learn a lot about the two candidates’ level of confidence in their own message by which one welcomes that fight and which one turns tail.

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Scare Man of The Fed

Alan Greenspan is experiencing inflation:

Asked whether the crisis, which has seen the US government step in to bail out mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, was the worst of his career, Greenspan replied “Oh, by far.”

[...]

“And indeed, it will continue to be a corrosive force until the price of homes in the United States stabilizes.”

But as Donald Luskin points out in today’s Washington Post:

According to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home is up 8.5 percent from the low of last February. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median price of a new home is up 1.3 percent from the low of last December.

The housing crisis has now become one of those inverse-reality talking points, like fretting over defeat in Iraq as we win, and crying over global warming as the planet cools. Or like Alan Greenspan declaring a crisis the “worst of his career” when he’s no longer Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Alan Greenspan is experiencing inflation:

Asked whether the crisis, which has seen the US government step in to bail out mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, was the worst of his career, Greenspan replied “Oh, by far.”

[...]

“And indeed, it will continue to be a corrosive force until the price of homes in the United States stabilizes.”

But as Donald Luskin points out in today’s Washington Post:

According to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home is up 8.5 percent from the low of last February. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median price of a new home is up 1.3 percent from the low of last December.

The housing crisis has now become one of those inverse-reality talking points, like fretting over defeat in Iraq as we win, and crying over global warming as the planet cools. Or like Alan Greenspan declaring a crisis the “worst of his career” when he’s no longer Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

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Too Big To Matter?

You would think the likely market meltdown this week, with two of the oldest investment banks in the world about to close their doors, might have a huge effect on the presidential race. Assume the Dow Jones declines by 2,000 or 3,000 points in a week, let’s say. What then?

Obama, it is said, is the candidate who would stand to benefit from parlous economic news, since Democrats are the ones who have talking so much about the damage to the economy over the past eight years. But recent bits of data are confusing on this score. Since the conventions, Obama’s poll numbers on the economy have shrunk and McCain’s have grown, so now Obama enjoys only a three-point advantage in the Gallup poll over his Republican rival.

That may change with the Wall Street calamity. But it may not, and here’s why. If the public views this as a major crisis, a threat to the American way of life, then this becomes a question about crisis management and not about change. Crisis management is a leadership issue. And when people are asked who seems to them to be a strong leader, McCain outdistances Obama by an 11-point margin.

This provides McCain with an opening he might not otherwise have. But an opening is not a victory. He will have to use the opening to demonstrate the strong leadership skills by announcing some kind of plan on stabilizing markets, how they should be overseen and regulated in the future, and how to make sure that what happens isn’t just a bailout of people who took unforgivable risks. Those people have to lose their money. They have to become poor, and they have to lose their jobs and their licenses, so that they are not followed by others who will also believe either that there is no risk in risk or that in the end someone will bear the burden of their folly.

Obama will certainly have a lot to say on this matter, though most of it will probably be in the realm of the trial lawyer — i.e., the big guy on Wall Street doing harm to the little guy, there should be hearings, we must unmask the conspiracy, etc. The problem for him is that these are uncharted waters, and his populist rhetoric may not work the same magic when the people who stand to lose the most aren’t working stiffs but the investor class, which means the American upper middle class, those in the top 20 percent, earning as a household more than $92,000 in a year.

And the problem for both Obama and McCain is that they may not be able to come up with much to say, because these are uncharted waters, and so far, nobody knows what to do about them. You’ve heard about something being “too big to fail”? This may be a private-sector crisis that is just too big to matter when it comes to an election nine weeks from now.

You would think the likely market meltdown this week, with two of the oldest investment banks in the world about to close their doors, might have a huge effect on the presidential race. Assume the Dow Jones declines by 2,000 or 3,000 points in a week, let’s say. What then?

Obama, it is said, is the candidate who would stand to benefit from parlous economic news, since Democrats are the ones who have talking so much about the damage to the economy over the past eight years. But recent bits of data are confusing on this score. Since the conventions, Obama’s poll numbers on the economy have shrunk and McCain’s have grown, so now Obama enjoys only a three-point advantage in the Gallup poll over his Republican rival.

That may change with the Wall Street calamity. But it may not, and here’s why. If the public views this as a major crisis, a threat to the American way of life, then this becomes a question about crisis management and not about change. Crisis management is a leadership issue. And when people are asked who seems to them to be a strong leader, McCain outdistances Obama by an 11-point margin.

This provides McCain with an opening he might not otherwise have. But an opening is not a victory. He will have to use the opening to demonstrate the strong leadership skills by announcing some kind of plan on stabilizing markets, how they should be overseen and regulated in the future, and how to make sure that what happens isn’t just a bailout of people who took unforgivable risks. Those people have to lose their money. They have to become poor, and they have to lose their jobs and their licenses, so that they are not followed by others who will also believe either that there is no risk in risk or that in the end someone will bear the burden of their folly.

Obama will certainly have a lot to say on this matter, though most of it will probably be in the realm of the trial lawyer — i.e., the big guy on Wall Street doing harm to the little guy, there should be hearings, we must unmask the conspiracy, etc. The problem for him is that these are uncharted waters, and his populist rhetoric may not work the same magic when the people who stand to lose the most aren’t working stiffs but the investor class, which means the American upper middle class, those in the top 20 percent, earning as a household more than $92,000 in a year.

And the problem for both Obama and McCain is that they may not be able to come up with much to say, because these are uncharted waters, and so far, nobody knows what to do about them. You’ve heard about something being “too big to fail”? This may be a private-sector crisis that is just too big to matter when it comes to an election nine weeks from now.

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If You Think Money Matters

I’m one of those who think money matters, but not as much as people believe, in a presidential race. At some point a candidate has “enough” to get out his message. Conversely, if you have a message or candidate the public isn’t buying, no amount of money will help (e.g. Mitt Romney, John Connally). And of course, if you are wasting the money, you bring in it does no good to collect more.

So where are we in the money race? Barack Obama took in $66 million in August and has $77M in cash on hand (COH). The DNC has about $17.5M COH. So that’s a total of $94.5M COH. Meanwhile McCain got $84M in campaign finance funds and the RNC has $110M. Bottom line: McCain’s side has about $100M COH more than Obama’s team. So if you think money matters a whole lot, then you think that number means a whole lot. (The team with the most money usually believes, not surprisingly, that it matters; until now the Democrats were convinced of their fundraising advantage but their faith that money is the key to success may now be tested.)

But let’s consider something else: Obama needs to keep raising money. Unlike McCain, who just got federal funds, Obama will need to keep replenishing his coffers. That means time and effort away from the campaign. That might mean something.

One thing is clear: it is looking like McCain’s decision to accept public financing (which happened to coincide with his public pledge) worked out much better for him than Obama’s decision to reject it ( which violated his public pledge).

I’m one of those who think money matters, but not as much as people believe, in a presidential race. At some point a candidate has “enough” to get out his message. Conversely, if you have a message or candidate the public isn’t buying, no amount of money will help (e.g. Mitt Romney, John Connally). And of course, if you are wasting the money, you bring in it does no good to collect more.

So where are we in the money race? Barack Obama took in $66 million in August and has $77M in cash on hand (COH). The DNC has about $17.5M COH. So that’s a total of $94.5M COH. Meanwhile McCain got $84M in campaign finance funds and the RNC has $110M. Bottom line: McCain’s side has about $100M COH more than Obama’s team. So if you think money matters a whole lot, then you think that number means a whole lot. (The team with the most money usually believes, not surprisingly, that it matters; until now the Democrats were convinced of their fundraising advantage but their faith that money is the key to success may now be tested.)

But let’s consider something else: Obama needs to keep raising money. Unlike McCain, who just got federal funds, Obama will need to keep replenishing his coffers. That means time and effort away from the campaign. That might mean something.

One thing is clear: it is looking like McCain’s decision to accept public financing (which happened to coincide with his public pledge) worked out much better for him than Obama’s decision to reject it ( which violated his public pledge).

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Have You No Sense of Decency?

That phrase, from a different time and place, is appropriately invoked now with regard to Barack Obama’s ad attempting to mock John McCain’s lack of computer skills. Two problems: the ad is not true (he’s a fairly computer-savvy guy) and to the extent McCain doesn’t use a computer personally it is due to war wounds. Jake Tapper is the latest to explain this:

Assuredly McCain isn’t comfortable talking about this — and the McCain campaign discouraged me from writing about this — but the reason the aged Arizonan doesn’t use a computer or send email is because of his war wounds.

I realize some of the nastier liberals in the blogosphere will see this as McCain once again “playing the POW card,” but it’s simply a fact: typing on a regular keyboard for any sustained period of time bothers McCain physically.

He can type, he occasionally does type, but in general the injuries he sustained as a POW — ones that make it impossible for him to raise his arms high enough to comb his hair — mean that small tasks make his shoulders ache, so he tries to avoid any repetitive exercise.

Again, it’s not that he can’t type, he just by habit avoids when he can repetitive exercise involving his arms. He does if he has to, as with handshaking or autographs.

It’s certainly possible that the Obama campaign did not know this, since McCain makes it sound in interviews as if this is a matter of choice, not discomfort because of his war wounds.

“I read my e-mails, but I don’t write any,” McCain told Fortune Magazine in 2006. “I’m a Neanderthal – I don’t even type. I do have rudimentary capabilities to call up some websites, like the New York Times online, that sort of stuff. No laptop. No PalmPilot. I prefer my schedule on notecards, which I keep in my jacket pocket.”

So does the Obama camp have the decency to apologize and take the ad down? Forget the snide remarks about their own lack of Google skills in not figuring this out before running the ad. Everyone makes mistakes. The question is whether the Obama team has gone so beyond the bend of civil discourse that even in this case they can’t fold and move on.

And finally, can you imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, if a McCain or any other Republican had mocked, even inadvertently, a Democrat’s physical handicap? The howls (both from the outrage industry of activists and from the MSM) would be deafening. Here, there is hardly a ripple in the pool.

But that’s the rub, you see. The voters do find out these things, as word bubbles up and out of the blogosphere. And then they wonder: “What the heck is wrong with Obama?” And some may even ask, “Why didn’t I learn about this from X [fill in the name of their favorite MSM outlet]?” Perhaps there is a decency deficit.

That phrase, from a different time and place, is appropriately invoked now with regard to Barack Obama’s ad attempting to mock John McCain’s lack of computer skills. Two problems: the ad is not true (he’s a fairly computer-savvy guy) and to the extent McCain doesn’t use a computer personally it is due to war wounds. Jake Tapper is the latest to explain this:

Assuredly McCain isn’t comfortable talking about this — and the McCain campaign discouraged me from writing about this — but the reason the aged Arizonan doesn’t use a computer or send email is because of his war wounds.

I realize some of the nastier liberals in the blogosphere will see this as McCain once again “playing the POW card,” but it’s simply a fact: typing on a regular keyboard for any sustained period of time bothers McCain physically.

He can type, he occasionally does type, but in general the injuries he sustained as a POW — ones that make it impossible for him to raise his arms high enough to comb his hair — mean that small tasks make his shoulders ache, so he tries to avoid any repetitive exercise.

Again, it’s not that he can’t type, he just by habit avoids when he can repetitive exercise involving his arms. He does if he has to, as with handshaking or autographs.

It’s certainly possible that the Obama campaign did not know this, since McCain makes it sound in interviews as if this is a matter of choice, not discomfort because of his war wounds.

“I read my e-mails, but I don’t write any,” McCain told Fortune Magazine in 2006. “I’m a Neanderthal – I don’t even type. I do have rudimentary capabilities to call up some websites, like the New York Times online, that sort of stuff. No laptop. No PalmPilot. I prefer my schedule on notecards, which I keep in my jacket pocket.”

So does the Obama camp have the decency to apologize and take the ad down? Forget the snide remarks about their own lack of Google skills in not figuring this out before running the ad. Everyone makes mistakes. The question is whether the Obama team has gone so beyond the bend of civil discourse that even in this case they can’t fold and move on.

And finally, can you imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, if a McCain or any other Republican had mocked, even inadvertently, a Democrat’s physical handicap? The howls (both from the outrage industry of activists and from the MSM) would be deafening. Here, there is hardly a ripple in the pool.

But that’s the rub, you see. The voters do find out these things, as word bubbles up and out of the blogosphere. And then they wonder: “What the heck is wrong with Obama?” And some may even ask, “Why didn’t I learn about this from X [fill in the name of their favorite MSM outlet]?” Perhaps there is a decency deficit.

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What About The Independents?

John Avlon writes:

Obama’s campaign is confronting a political reality that Democrats have a difficult time dealing with: that America is essentially a center-right nation. Winning a national election comes down to winning over independents and centrists in swing states.

But that’s a reality which the Obama camp has tried to ignore throughout his campaign. In the primary he stitched together a coalition of ultra-liberals, young voters, African-Americans and urban elites. At the Convention he threw red meat to the netroots — going so far as to question John McCain desire to get Osama bin Laden — and revived the pre-Clinton vision of big government liberalism. This all was part of some misbegotten notion that Obama could win the election on turnout — an ironically Karl Rovian idea which has proved to be of questionable utility.

Now, as Obama falters he increases the screech factor (e.g. belittling Sarah Palin, hurling personal barbs at John McCain) which is virtually guaranteed to turn off the Independent voters. (Remember we already have seen the Red states come home to McCain, the swing states begin to shift to him and a fifteen point lead develop for McCain among Independents in the Gallup poll. ) So will this lunge for the jugular improve or worsen Obama’s predicament?

Time will tell. Provided he adheres to this strategy, we will be able to answer this question: can an urban liberal running a highly partisan campaign win in a right-center country?

John Avlon writes:

Obama’s campaign is confronting a political reality that Democrats have a difficult time dealing with: that America is essentially a center-right nation. Winning a national election comes down to winning over independents and centrists in swing states.

But that’s a reality which the Obama camp has tried to ignore throughout his campaign. In the primary he stitched together a coalition of ultra-liberals, young voters, African-Americans and urban elites. At the Convention he threw red meat to the netroots — going so far as to question John McCain desire to get Osama bin Laden — and revived the pre-Clinton vision of big government liberalism. This all was part of some misbegotten notion that Obama could win the election on turnout — an ironically Karl Rovian idea which has proved to be of questionable utility.

Now, as Obama falters he increases the screech factor (e.g. belittling Sarah Palin, hurling personal barbs at John McCain) which is virtually guaranteed to turn off the Independent voters. (Remember we already have seen the Red states come home to McCain, the swing states begin to shift to him and a fifteen point lead develop for McCain among Independents in the Gallup poll. ) So will this lunge for the jugular improve or worsen Obama’s predicament?

Time will tell. Provided he adheres to this strategy, we will be able to answer this question: can an urban liberal running a highly partisan campaign win in a right-center country?

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Russia, the Enemy

“Russia is developing a comprehensive strategy of bleeding American power around the globe,” writes Jim Hoagland today. The invasion of Georgia was not “an isolated retaliation against a troublesome small neighbor.” “It is,” he maintains, “part of a broader effort by the Kremlin to establish new rules for big-power relations on its own terms while U.S. forces are stretched to their limits in the greater Middle East.”

What should we do? The first thing is to listen to the Kremlin. “Let’s call things as they should be called,” President Dmitry Medvedev said the first week of this month. I agree. Hoagland believes this is not yet “a new Cold War.” It does not matter what we formally label this geopolitical era as long as we recognize we are again involved in a global struggle with the Russians.

Our first task is to say out loud that they are our adversary, not our friend or partner as we would like them to be. Moscow now helps those who wish us harm, from the Iranians to the Venezuelans. It is up to us, as we did in the second half of the last century, to cripple Russia’s vulnerable economy, humiliate its leaders, make it incapable of aggression. We must oppose its friends and help its adversaries. As first steps, we should stop every assistance and cooperative program aiding Russia, remove it from the G-8, oppose its World Trade Organization membership, support the independence of minorities who want out of the Russian Federation, and advocate the expansion of NATO on its eastern and southern flanks.

So far, we have allowed Prime Minister Putin to seize the initiative, and we have been reluctant to raise our voice about the new cycle of Russian expansionism. As Hoagland writes, “Russia is thinking strategically about world affairs while an expiring U.S. administration is not.” There is nothing inevitable about a victory of the West this time, especially because Washington and Brussels have been reluctant to understand the significance of obvious Russian threats.

We have tried to placate Putin over the course of years but have failed. By now, we should know his goals are incompatible with ours. He is working to undermine what is left of the international system and replace it with a lawless one where autocrats are free to do what they want. Let’s stop him while we still can.

We have to see the world as it is, not as we want it to be. And when we do that, we will recognize that Russia is an enemy once more.

“Russia is developing a comprehensive strategy of bleeding American power around the globe,” writes Jim Hoagland today. The invasion of Georgia was not “an isolated retaliation against a troublesome small neighbor.” “It is,” he maintains, “part of a broader effort by the Kremlin to establish new rules for big-power relations on its own terms while U.S. forces are stretched to their limits in the greater Middle East.”

What should we do? The first thing is to listen to the Kremlin. “Let’s call things as they should be called,” President Dmitry Medvedev said the first week of this month. I agree. Hoagland believes this is not yet “a new Cold War.” It does not matter what we formally label this geopolitical era as long as we recognize we are again involved in a global struggle with the Russians.

Our first task is to say out loud that they are our adversary, not our friend or partner as we would like them to be. Moscow now helps those who wish us harm, from the Iranians to the Venezuelans. It is up to us, as we did in the second half of the last century, to cripple Russia’s vulnerable economy, humiliate its leaders, make it incapable of aggression. We must oppose its friends and help its adversaries. As first steps, we should stop every assistance and cooperative program aiding Russia, remove it from the G-8, oppose its World Trade Organization membership, support the independence of minorities who want out of the Russian Federation, and advocate the expansion of NATO on its eastern and southern flanks.

So far, we have allowed Prime Minister Putin to seize the initiative, and we have been reluctant to raise our voice about the new cycle of Russian expansionism. As Hoagland writes, “Russia is thinking strategically about world affairs while an expiring U.S. administration is not.” There is nothing inevitable about a victory of the West this time, especially because Washington and Brussels have been reluctant to understand the significance of obvious Russian threats.

We have tried to placate Putin over the course of years but have failed. By now, we should know his goals are incompatible with ours. He is working to undermine what is left of the international system and replace it with a lawless one where autocrats are free to do what they want. Let’s stop him while we still can.

We have to see the world as it is, not as we want it to be. And when we do that, we will recognize that Russia is an enemy once more.

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The Blogger Weeps Into His Beagle

“Now I begin to understand the intimidation I have been subjected to for simply asking questions,” says the man whose “questions” led off with hey, did Sarah Palin gave birth to her own baby? And why isn’t the McCain campaign releasing the records of the birth of that baby? And why didn’t anyone ever see Sarah Palin pregnant? And if she were pregnant, why would she try to give birth to the kid in Alaska instead of in Texas? Why is the McCain campaign not answering my questions? How dare they!

How does he understand the “intimidation” to which he has been subjected — the intimidation that, among other things, led to him garnering more web traffic by a factor of three than he has ever received in his career? Because according to the ludicrous New York Times reporters’ notebook dump of a piece today, a frustrated and silly assistant’s of Sarah Palin’s in Alaska contacted a blogger writing hostile stuff about Palin and said, “Stop blogging!”

Wow. It’s kind of like Stalin, isn’t it?

“All I can reassure my readers is: I’m now more determined than ever to reveal the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about this dangerous, vindictive Christianist cipher being foisted on the United States,” says The Man of Beagle. Who knew that, among the gifts the Sarah Palin nomination has given us, there would also be the delightful spectacle of watching a writer who once prided himself on his real-world skepticism descend publicly into a state of preening, paranoid, credulous self-righteousness unprecedented in the annals of pseudo-intellection, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

“Now I begin to understand the intimidation I have been subjected to for simply asking questions,” says the man whose “questions” led off with hey, did Sarah Palin gave birth to her own baby? And why isn’t the McCain campaign releasing the records of the birth of that baby? And why didn’t anyone ever see Sarah Palin pregnant? And if she were pregnant, why would she try to give birth to the kid in Alaska instead of in Texas? Why is the McCain campaign not answering my questions? How dare they!

How does he understand the “intimidation” to which he has been subjected — the intimidation that, among other things, led to him garnering more web traffic by a factor of three than he has ever received in his career? Because according to the ludicrous New York Times reporters’ notebook dump of a piece today, a frustrated and silly assistant’s of Sarah Palin’s in Alaska contacted a blogger writing hostile stuff about Palin and said, “Stop blogging!”

Wow. It’s kind of like Stalin, isn’t it?

“All I can reassure my readers is: I’m now more determined than ever to reveal the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about this dangerous, vindictive Christianist cipher being foisted on the United States,” says The Man of Beagle. Who knew that, among the gifts the Sarah Palin nomination has given us, there would also be the delightful spectacle of watching a writer who once prided himself on his real-world skepticism descend publicly into a state of preening, paranoid, credulous self-righteousness unprecedented in the annals of pseudo-intellection, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

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Obama’s New Flip-Flop

At a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Friday, Barack Obama said, “You know, I’m not going to be making up lies about John McCain.” If true, this represents a new flip-flop in Obama policy, as he’s based a crucial tenet of his campaign on a big fat lie about his opponent. Namely, that John McCain is “willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq.”

McCain actually said he could envision American troops in Iraq for 100 years in a peacetime scenario where, “Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.” But that didn’t stop Obama from repeating the lie over and over again and it didn’t lead the mainstream media to declare Obama’s campaign the most unscrupulous and dishonest bid for the presidency they’ve ever seen. The lie simply gained traction as accepted fact.

As with Obama’s switcheroos on off-shore drilling, the Second Amendment, the embargo on Cuba, Jeremiah Wright, troop drawdowns in Iraq, and so much more, this policy reversal shows evidence of a sharp and ambitious mind learning about responsibility and reality. He should be applauded for adopting this new approach. Let’s hope he sticks to it.

At a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Friday, Barack Obama said, “You know, I’m not going to be making up lies about John McCain.” If true, this represents a new flip-flop in Obama policy, as he’s based a crucial tenet of his campaign on a big fat lie about his opponent. Namely, that John McCain is “willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq.”

McCain actually said he could envision American troops in Iraq for 100 years in a peacetime scenario where, “Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.” But that didn’t stop Obama from repeating the lie over and over again and it didn’t lead the mainstream media to declare Obama’s campaign the most unscrupulous and dishonest bid for the presidency they’ve ever seen. The lie simply gained traction as accepted fact.

As with Obama’s switcheroos on off-shore drilling, the Second Amendment, the embargo on Cuba, Jeremiah Wright, troop drawdowns in Iraq, and so much more, this policy reversal shows evidence of a sharp and ambitious mind learning about responsibility and reality. He should be applauded for adopting this new approach. Let’s hope he sticks to it.

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Wheels Off The Bus

If there were ever a sign that the Obama camp is in meltdown mode you only had to watch This Week on ABC where top surrogate Sen. Claire McCaskill dredged up John McCain’s age and cancer. So we have gone from New Politics to the political gutter in a matter of weeks.

Are the poll numbers that troubling that the Democrats would risk offending Independent voters (who supposedly hate sleaze) and forever sacrifice the moral high ground? It seems so.

If there were ever a sign that the Obama camp is in meltdown mode you only had to watch This Week on ABC where top surrogate Sen. Claire McCaskill dredged up John McCain’s age and cancer. So we have gone from New Politics to the political gutter in a matter of weeks.

Are the poll numbers that troubling that the Democrats would risk offending Independent voters (who supposedly hate sleaze) and forever sacrifice the moral high ground? It seems so.

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Bookshelf

Certain kinds of dishonesty give off a near-irresistible air of glamour, which is why the career of Han van Meegeren continues to exert a strange fascination on people who ought to know better. Fortunately, Jonathan Lopez’s “The Man Who Made Vermeer: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren” (Harcourt, 340 pp., $26) will disabuse all who read it of the notion that van Meegeren’s career was in any way glamorous. Fascinating, yes-but not in the way you might suppose.

Even if van Meegeren’s name rings only the faintest of bells, the subtitle of Lopez’s book will likely prompt you to remember that he was the Dutch art forger whose ersatz Vermeers were so plausible that they fooled Hermann Goering, who “bought” one for his celebrated collection of looted art, a purchase that briefly landed the artist in jail after the war. In order to prove to prosecutors that he was indeed capable of having painted “Christ and the Adulteress,” van Meegeren painted yet another fake Vermeer, and was duly set free.

All this is true enough, but there is a good deal more to van Meegeren’s unsavory story, starting with the fact that he was an ardent Nazi sympathizer whose liking for Adolf Hitler predated his palming “Christ and the Adulteress” off on Goering. And while his forgeries fooled a great many highly knowledgeable people and institutions-including the curators of the National Gallery of Art, which long took for granted the legitimacy of the two van Meegeren “Vermeers” left to the museum by Andrew Mellon-their phoniness is now obvious to all who see them.

How, then, did van Meegeren get away with it? As Lopez explains, he had the perversely ingenious idea of tailoring his fakes to suit the specific cultural interests of the dupes to whom he sold them. Because he was operating at a time when Vermeer’s work was not nearly so well known as it is today, this made it possible for him to confect out of thin air a whole series of late Vermeers whose subject matter was explicitly religious, as well as a portrait reproduced in “The Man Who Made Vermeers” that was far from spiritual:

A variation on “The Girl with the Red Hat,” it is sometimes known today as “The Greta Garbo Vermeer,” as the face of the sitter bears a striking resemblance to movie posters for “Anna Christie” and “Wild Orchids”-an interesting and apparently effective subliminal appeal to the eyes of the 1930s, since the anachronism blended in completely unnoticed with the prevailing tastes of the day. The great connoisseur Max Friedländer…wholeheartedly accepted this picture as a Vermeer when it was brought in for attribution, reportedly calling it “splendid.”

Therein lies the enduring appeal of van Meegeren: anyone with a touch of larceny in his heart cannot but thrill to hear of such feats of expert-foxing legerdemain. It is thus salutary to read in “The Man Who Made Vermeers” that he was not a charming rogue but a twisted, frustrated man whose technique far outstripped his creativity-and that many of the canvases he painted under his own name made explicit use of the same pro-Nazi symbolic imagery that can also be found in more subtle form in his later “Vermeers.”

The only good thing about van Meegeren, as Lopez explains, is that his forgeries have had the perverse effect of teaching a new generation of scholars to know better:

Older books on Vermeer…now make for perplexing-indeed, almost comical-reading because they contain so many weird and unfamiliar pictures. In contrast, pick up the catalogue of the 1996 Vermeer show at the National Gallery of Art, and you’ll find that the chaos has been swept away. With no more than thirty-six paintings now firmly attributed to the master, there are certainly fewer Vermeers, but Vermeer is much the better for it.

So, too, will anyone inclined to romanticize Han van Meegeren’s life and work be much the better for reading “The Man Who Made Vermeers.”

Certain kinds of dishonesty give off a near-irresistible air of glamour, which is why the career of Han van Meegeren continues to exert a strange fascination on people who ought to know better. Fortunately, Jonathan Lopez’s “The Man Who Made Vermeer: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren” (Harcourt, 340 pp., $26) will disabuse all who read it of the notion that van Meegeren’s career was in any way glamorous. Fascinating, yes-but not in the way you might suppose.

Even if van Meegeren’s name rings only the faintest of bells, the subtitle of Lopez’s book will likely prompt you to remember that he was the Dutch art forger whose ersatz Vermeers were so plausible that they fooled Hermann Goering, who “bought” one for his celebrated collection of looted art, a purchase that briefly landed the artist in jail after the war. In order to prove to prosecutors that he was indeed capable of having painted “Christ and the Adulteress,” van Meegeren painted yet another fake Vermeer, and was duly set free.

All this is true enough, but there is a good deal more to van Meegeren’s unsavory story, starting with the fact that he was an ardent Nazi sympathizer whose liking for Adolf Hitler predated his palming “Christ and the Adulteress” off on Goering. And while his forgeries fooled a great many highly knowledgeable people and institutions-including the curators of the National Gallery of Art, which long took for granted the legitimacy of the two van Meegeren “Vermeers” left to the museum by Andrew Mellon-their phoniness is now obvious to all who see them.

How, then, did van Meegeren get away with it? As Lopez explains, he had the perversely ingenious idea of tailoring his fakes to suit the specific cultural interests of the dupes to whom he sold them. Because he was operating at a time when Vermeer’s work was not nearly so well known as it is today, this made it possible for him to confect out of thin air a whole series of late Vermeers whose subject matter was explicitly religious, as well as a portrait reproduced in “The Man Who Made Vermeers” that was far from spiritual:

A variation on “The Girl with the Red Hat,” it is sometimes known today as “The Greta Garbo Vermeer,” as the face of the sitter bears a striking resemblance to movie posters for “Anna Christie” and “Wild Orchids”-an interesting and apparently effective subliminal appeal to the eyes of the 1930s, since the anachronism blended in completely unnoticed with the prevailing tastes of the day. The great connoisseur Max Friedländer…wholeheartedly accepted this picture as a Vermeer when it was brought in for attribution, reportedly calling it “splendid.”

Therein lies the enduring appeal of van Meegeren: anyone with a touch of larceny in his heart cannot but thrill to hear of such feats of expert-foxing legerdemain. It is thus salutary to read in “The Man Who Made Vermeers” that he was not a charming rogue but a twisted, frustrated man whose technique far outstripped his creativity-and that many of the canvases he painted under his own name made explicit use of the same pro-Nazi symbolic imagery that can also be found in more subtle form in his later “Vermeers.”

The only good thing about van Meegeren, as Lopez explains, is that his forgeries have had the perverse effect of teaching a new generation of scholars to know better:

Older books on Vermeer…now make for perplexing-indeed, almost comical-reading because they contain so many weird and unfamiliar pictures. In contrast, pick up the catalogue of the 1996 Vermeer show at the National Gallery of Art, and you’ll find that the chaos has been swept away. With no more than thirty-six paintings now firmly attributed to the master, there are certainly fewer Vermeers, but Vermeer is much the better for it.

So, too, will anyone inclined to romanticize Han van Meegeren’s life and work be much the better for reading “The Man Who Made Vermeers.”

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No More Mr. Nice Guy

Michael Goodwin thinks the promised ballistic counterattack by Barack Obama is a bad idea:

That rant might be comfort food for the nervous base, but will likely alarm independents who already aren’t sure about Obama. By further scaring them with scorched-earth partisanship, the Obama team will only cede to McCain the label of the real independent. Indeed, even as Sarah Palin has rallied the GOP base, McCain himself has ramped up efforts to secure his brand as a maverick willing to cross party lines. Obama’s response appears to be surrender of the high ground. The decision to stick with a mostly-nasty approach should finally end the myth that the Obama campaign is a flawless machine. It had an extraordinarily appealing candidate, a message of change to an unhappy nation and made brilliant tactical decisions that defeated the Clintons.

This latest offensive by Obama does seem to be a repeat of the error of his Denver speech : too negative and nasty and devoid of a message which would appeal to the key Independent voters in swing states. Perhaps the Democrats have convinced themselves that it was Sarah Palin who snuffed out the Obama Convention bounce. But the reality is that Obama’s bounce even pre-Palin was minimal, evidence that the firework drenched Denver message didn’t really do the task of reaching beyond Obama’s natural base of ultra-liberal voters. So why double down now?

Three factors are at play. First, the Democrats have convinced themselves that absent Palin they would be doing fine. Denial is a powerful political narcotic and has the unfortunate effect of depriving one of the self-awareness needed to correct course. Second, the Obama camp is under tremendous pressure to avoid — you know what’s coming — being Swfitboated. The demand to “fight back” and not be”bullied” is deafening no doubt so the Obama camp complies, fearing that their base will otherwise complete its emotional breakdown. Finally, Obama doesn’t have many options. The “Bush clone” tactic is of limited use, the “change” message has been stolen and his own economic program is a mish-mash of big government programs and flip-flops (e.g. this week his tax increases are on hold).

The irony is that the guy with the supposed problem with temperament is riding above the fray. The New Politician looks like he is channeling Bob Dole. You can guess which of them is resting easier at night.

Michael Goodwin thinks the promised ballistic counterattack by Barack Obama is a bad idea:

That rant might be comfort food for the nervous base, but will likely alarm independents who already aren’t sure about Obama. By further scaring them with scorched-earth partisanship, the Obama team will only cede to McCain the label of the real independent. Indeed, even as Sarah Palin has rallied the GOP base, McCain himself has ramped up efforts to secure his brand as a maverick willing to cross party lines. Obama’s response appears to be surrender of the high ground. The decision to stick with a mostly-nasty approach should finally end the myth that the Obama campaign is a flawless machine. It had an extraordinarily appealing candidate, a message of change to an unhappy nation and made brilliant tactical decisions that defeated the Clintons.

This latest offensive by Obama does seem to be a repeat of the error of his Denver speech : too negative and nasty and devoid of a message which would appeal to the key Independent voters in swing states. Perhaps the Democrats have convinced themselves that it was Sarah Palin who snuffed out the Obama Convention bounce. But the reality is that Obama’s bounce even pre-Palin was minimal, evidence that the firework drenched Denver message didn’t really do the task of reaching beyond Obama’s natural base of ultra-liberal voters. So why double down now?

Three factors are at play. First, the Democrats have convinced themselves that absent Palin they would be doing fine. Denial is a powerful political narcotic and has the unfortunate effect of depriving one of the self-awareness needed to correct course. Second, the Obama camp is under tremendous pressure to avoid — you know what’s coming — being Swfitboated. The demand to “fight back” and not be”bullied” is deafening no doubt so the Obama camp complies, fearing that their base will otherwise complete its emotional breakdown. Finally, Obama doesn’t have many options. The “Bush clone” tactic is of limited use, the “change” message has been stolen and his own economic program is a mish-mash of big government programs and flip-flops (e.g. this week his tax increases are on hold).

The irony is that the guy with the supposed problem with temperament is riding above the fray. The New Politician looks like he is channeling Bob Dole. You can guess which of them is resting easier at night.

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The Tipping Point

No one makes fun of the powerful if they know what’s good for them. That’s why when people start to do so, it is a sure sign that the powerful are losing their power and a tipping point is at hand.

I thought this twenty-five years ago when I first saw the now-Classic Wendy’s commercial remembered as  “The Russian Fashion Show.” I’d love to know what the Soviet embassy cabled home about that when they saw it. But within a few years the Soviet Union no longer existed.

This year, I think, we have witnessed another tipping point. It was the “Saturday Night Live” parody last spring of the Democratic debates that spoofed not the debates but the mainstream media’s naked infatuation with–and water carrying for–Barack Obama. While many had complained about media bias over the years, those who needed the media, such as politicians, very rarely if ever noted a systemic problem. But Hillary Clinton had no hesitation in doing so at the very next real debate.

It is, again, a sign that the once overwhelmingly powerful are losing, if they have not already lost, their power. Another, perhaps, is how nasty much of the MSM has become and how careless with the facts. It is an old axiom in the study of international affairs that “Great Powers shuffle on and off the stage of history noisily.” The MSM, like the Soviet Union, is dying.

No one makes fun of the powerful if they know what’s good for them. That’s why when people start to do so, it is a sure sign that the powerful are losing their power and a tipping point is at hand.

I thought this twenty-five years ago when I first saw the now-Classic Wendy’s commercial remembered as  “The Russian Fashion Show.” I’d love to know what the Soviet embassy cabled home about that when they saw it. But within a few years the Soviet Union no longer existed.

This year, I think, we have witnessed another tipping point. It was the “Saturday Night Live” parody last spring of the Democratic debates that spoofed not the debates but the mainstream media’s naked infatuation with–and water carrying for–Barack Obama. While many had complained about media bias over the years, those who needed the media, such as politicians, very rarely if ever noted a systemic problem. But Hillary Clinton had no hesitation in doing so at the very next real debate.

It is, again, a sign that the once overwhelmingly powerful are losing, if they have not already lost, their power. Another, perhaps, is how nasty much of the MSM has become and how careless with the facts. It is an old axiom in the study of international affairs that “Great Powers shuffle on and off the stage of history noisily.” The MSM, like the Soviet Union, is dying.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not a headline you want to see if you are a Barack Obama fan: “Oops, Obama ad mocks McCain’s inability to send e-mail. Trouble is, he can’t due to tortured fingers.” In the Los Angeles Times, no less. (The Boston Globe is on his case as well.)

More from blogosphere: “Obama has inadvertantly insulted old people and handicapped people who don’t or can’t use the computer. Oh, and in a classic rubber-glue situation, his attempt to belittle McCain’s being out of touch on technology backfires because, as half the blogosphere has pointed out, he’s demonstrated that he’s managed to hire a huge staff, none of whom apparently know how to use the Google.”

The Democrats seem to have turned the Alaskan trooper investigation into a three-ring partisan circus. But you won’t read about that in the MSM.

I am not the only one to be underwhelmed by the New York Times trip through Alaskan trivia. There does seem to be a disconnect in the MSM storyline: is Sarah Palin a savvy political operator or an unqualified rube? They really need to pick one narrative and stick to it.

From the Onion: “Although I like Matthews and Olbermann, I think it’s a good idea to let some older, more experienced anchors interrupt people.”

You really want to believe the media acts in good faith. But when you get into the weeds it’s clear that the opposite is true.

Now that’s governance. And quick — which of the presidential tickets would be more inclined to do something like that?

Boy is this the truth: “Is there a line connecting Laura Bush to Sarah Palin? I think so. It is the line of unglamorous people who didn’t go to the right schools and who never had famous friends. If only Matt Damon would promise to trash Sarah Palin every day between now and Nov. 4, the election would be McCain’s to lose.” (Psst: if not Damon others will.)

Even TIME noticed Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have made trouble for themselves by mangling Catholic doctrine: “Catholic Democrats can’t afford to look like the kids in the corner who don’t know their Catechism. In the future, they might want to resist the temptation to wade into theology and stay firmly in the world of policy.”

Biden is to play a more prominent role in the Obama campaign? They’re kidding right? Must be Karl Rove mind tricks at work.

The Palin effect in North and South Dakota and Montana? I think so. And 10,000 people show up in Carson City to see her — so put Nevada on the list too. But tied in Minnesota?

Newt Gingrich is correct: “Gov. Palin tried to explain to Mr. Gibson last night she was paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. But you could tell on the look from Gibson’s face that the idea was just beyond him.” It is not, I think, that Gibson intentionally misrepresented her words; it is that in his mind there is no difference between praying you are on a task from God and declaring that you are. “Pray” in his worldview is a figure of speech.

Cliff May finds a gotcha example on the gotcha question.

A very informative exchange between David Frum and Lynn Sweet (who knows Obama better than almost any MSM reporter).

Ahmadinejad is coming back to New York again. He is like an Osama bin Laden tape — every sign of him helps the Republican nominee. And that reinforces a central problem for Obama which John Kerry experienced: voters really don’t trust him to stand up to the world’s “evil doers.”

Palin buzz in Nevada. If she did no more than help secure the Mountain West and bring in Nevada and New Mexico that would be big.

Man magnet“? Makes sense, you have to admit.

Not a headline you want to see if you are a Barack Obama fan: “Oops, Obama ad mocks McCain’s inability to send e-mail. Trouble is, he can’t due to tortured fingers.” In the Los Angeles Times, no less. (The Boston Globe is on his case as well.)

More from blogosphere: “Obama has inadvertantly insulted old people and handicapped people who don’t or can’t use the computer. Oh, and in a classic rubber-glue situation, his attempt to belittle McCain’s being out of touch on technology backfires because, as half the blogosphere has pointed out, he’s demonstrated that he’s managed to hire a huge staff, none of whom apparently know how to use the Google.”

The Democrats seem to have turned the Alaskan trooper investigation into a three-ring partisan circus. But you won’t read about that in the MSM.

I am not the only one to be underwhelmed by the New York Times trip through Alaskan trivia. There does seem to be a disconnect in the MSM storyline: is Sarah Palin a savvy political operator or an unqualified rube? They really need to pick one narrative and stick to it.

From the Onion: “Although I like Matthews and Olbermann, I think it’s a good idea to let some older, more experienced anchors interrupt people.”

You really want to believe the media acts in good faith. But when you get into the weeds it’s clear that the opposite is true.

Now that’s governance. And quick — which of the presidential tickets would be more inclined to do something like that?

Boy is this the truth: “Is there a line connecting Laura Bush to Sarah Palin? I think so. It is the line of unglamorous people who didn’t go to the right schools and who never had famous friends. If only Matt Damon would promise to trash Sarah Palin every day between now and Nov. 4, the election would be McCain’s to lose.” (Psst: if not Damon others will.)

Even TIME noticed Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have made trouble for themselves by mangling Catholic doctrine: “Catholic Democrats can’t afford to look like the kids in the corner who don’t know their Catechism. In the future, they might want to resist the temptation to wade into theology and stay firmly in the world of policy.”

Biden is to play a more prominent role in the Obama campaign? They’re kidding right? Must be Karl Rove mind tricks at work.

The Palin effect in North and South Dakota and Montana? I think so. And 10,000 people show up in Carson City to see her — so put Nevada on the list too. But tied in Minnesota?

Newt Gingrich is correct: “Gov. Palin tried to explain to Mr. Gibson last night she was paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. But you could tell on the look from Gibson’s face that the idea was just beyond him.” It is not, I think, that Gibson intentionally misrepresented her words; it is that in his mind there is no difference between praying you are on a task from God and declaring that you are. “Pray” in his worldview is a figure of speech.

Cliff May finds a gotcha example on the gotcha question.

A very informative exchange between David Frum and Lynn Sweet (who knows Obama better than almost any MSM reporter).

Ahmadinejad is coming back to New York again. He is like an Osama bin Laden tape — every sign of him helps the Republican nominee. And that reinforces a central problem for Obama which John Kerry experienced: voters really don’t trust him to stand up to the world’s “evil doers.”

Palin buzz in Nevada. If she did no more than help secure the Mountain West and bring in Nevada and New Mexico that would be big.

Man magnet“? Makes sense, you have to admit.

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Decision Time for Europe

Ian Buruma, professor of human rights at Bard College, writes in the Los Angeles Times:

West Europeans after World War II drew conclusions that were closer to Chamberlain’s thinking in 1938 than Churchill’s. After two catastrophic wars, Europeans decided to build institutions that would make military conflict redundant. Henceforth, diplomacy, compromise and shared sovereignty would be the norm, and romantic nationalism based on military prowess would be a thing of the past.[...]

In the United States, meanwhile, Munich has had a very different resonance. Here it has fed the Churchillian illusions of many a “war president,” men who dreamed of going down in history as the heroic defenders of freedom against tyranny. Munich has been invoked over and over to explain why we had to stop communism, to stop Saddam Hussein, and why we have to stop Iran and “terrorism.”

Buruma writes that European tendencies, coupled with their reliance on American power made the alliance “incoherent.” It is time for Europe, he writes, to make up its mind:

They can remain dependent on the protection of the U.S. and stop complaining, or they can develop the capacity to defend Europe, however they wish to define it, themselves. The first option may not be feasible for very much longer in the twilight days of Pax Americana. And the second will be expensive and risky. Given the many divisions inside the EU, Europeans will probably just muddle on until a serious crisis forces them to act, by which time it could well be too late.

The Georgian crisis serves to highlight the problem Buruma analyzes, as the New York Times demonstrated in its uncharacteristically aggressive editorial two days ago:

The European Union is divided between the desperately frightened and the myopically complacent. In the first group are former Soviet satellites, like Poland and the Baltic states, which have earned their fear, joined by Britain. In the second are Germany, Italy and France (Mr. Sarkozy is the exception), which have put trade and a thirst for Russian energy ahead of everything else.

If the second group believes that they are somehow immune – because of history or geography – from Moscow’s bullying, then they should take another look at their dependence on Russian energy supplies.

The New York Times‘s – not COMMENTARY’s – conclusion: More complacency will only feed Russia’s ambitions.

Wow. Will Europe take note?

Ian Buruma, professor of human rights at Bard College, writes in the Los Angeles Times:

West Europeans after World War II drew conclusions that were closer to Chamberlain’s thinking in 1938 than Churchill’s. After two catastrophic wars, Europeans decided to build institutions that would make military conflict redundant. Henceforth, diplomacy, compromise and shared sovereignty would be the norm, and romantic nationalism based on military prowess would be a thing of the past.[...]

In the United States, meanwhile, Munich has had a very different resonance. Here it has fed the Churchillian illusions of many a “war president,” men who dreamed of going down in history as the heroic defenders of freedom against tyranny. Munich has been invoked over and over to explain why we had to stop communism, to stop Saddam Hussein, and why we have to stop Iran and “terrorism.”

Buruma writes that European tendencies, coupled with their reliance on American power made the alliance “incoherent.” It is time for Europe, he writes, to make up its mind:

They can remain dependent on the protection of the U.S. and stop complaining, or they can develop the capacity to defend Europe, however they wish to define it, themselves. The first option may not be feasible for very much longer in the twilight days of Pax Americana. And the second will be expensive and risky. Given the many divisions inside the EU, Europeans will probably just muddle on until a serious crisis forces them to act, by which time it could well be too late.

The Georgian crisis serves to highlight the problem Buruma analyzes, as the New York Times demonstrated in its uncharacteristically aggressive editorial two days ago:

The European Union is divided between the desperately frightened and the myopically complacent. In the first group are former Soviet satellites, like Poland and the Baltic states, which have earned their fear, joined by Britain. In the second are Germany, Italy and France (Mr. Sarkozy is the exception), which have put trade and a thirst for Russian energy ahead of everything else.

If the second group believes that they are somehow immune – because of history or geography – from Moscow’s bullying, then they should take another look at their dependence on Russian energy supplies.

The New York Times‘s – not COMMENTARY’s – conclusion: More complacency will only feed Russia’s ambitions.

Wow. Will Europe take note?

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The Hysteria

I’m trying to puzzle out just what it is about this campaign that would justify, even as a raw political matter, Obama spokesman Bill Burton’s statement that McCain “is cynically running the sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history. His discredited ads with disgusting lies are running all over the country today. He runs a campaign not worthy of the office he is seeking.”

As far as I can tell, the only McCain ad that might even begin to approach an approximate 500-mile distance to Burton’s rhetoric is one concerning a vote by Obama in the Illinois State Senate for a sex-education bill:

Obama’s one accomplishment?
Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners.
Learning about sex before learning to read?
Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.

This is unquestionably a tough ad. But is it beyond the bounds? The language in the bill Obama voted for would have provided for sex education for children as young as 5, as its text demonstrates:

Each  class  or  course  in  comprehensive  sex education offered in any of  grades  K through  12  shall include…

The term “comprehensive sex education” is the governing phrase in the statute, and governs “grade K,” i.e., kindergarten.

After he cast the vote, Obama quickly clarified that he supported giving children enough information to protect themselves from predators and that the education should be “age-appropriate.” This is the reason people like E.J. Dionne have declared the McCain ad “disgusting.” But even here the language of the statute raises questions about the nature of the information on these matters and the problem of sharing it with a five year-old:

Course  material  and  instruction  shall  teach  pupils  to  not  make unwanted physical and verbal  sexual advances and how to  say  no  to  unwanted  sexual advances  and  shall  include  information  about verbal,  physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without  limitation nonconsensual sexual  advances,  nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance.

My guess is that Obama voted for the statute in ignorance, based entirely on his supposition that sex education is an unalloyedly good thing, and when objections were raised to it, he sought to limit the damage at the time — and thought he had succeeded for all time, because when Alan Keyes raised the matter in Keyes’s preposterous Senate campaign against Obama, it just seemed like more of Keyes’s craziness.

But the fact remains. There was a piece of legislation. Obama voted for it (or, rather, voted for it in its first form; it was never made into law and so he didn’t vote for final passage). The legislation said such-and-such. The fact that the legislation dealt with an issue regarding sexuality is Obama’s responsibility, not McCain’s. Running an ad about what it said, without taking note of Obama’s post-hoc clarifications, is entirely within bounds.

The only real problem with the ad is that it suggests it was Obama’s “one accomplishment,” thus suggesting it was Obama’s legislation. That is misleading. Nothing else is.

I’m trying to puzzle out just what it is about this campaign that would justify, even as a raw political matter, Obama spokesman Bill Burton’s statement that McCain “is cynically running the sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history. His discredited ads with disgusting lies are running all over the country today. He runs a campaign not worthy of the office he is seeking.”

As far as I can tell, the only McCain ad that might even begin to approach an approximate 500-mile distance to Burton’s rhetoric is one concerning a vote by Obama in the Illinois State Senate for a sex-education bill:

Obama’s one accomplishment?
Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners.
Learning about sex before learning to read?
Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.

This is unquestionably a tough ad. But is it beyond the bounds? The language in the bill Obama voted for would have provided for sex education for children as young as 5, as its text demonstrates:

Each  class  or  course  in  comprehensive  sex education offered in any of  grades  K through  12  shall include…

The term “comprehensive sex education” is the governing phrase in the statute, and governs “grade K,” i.e., kindergarten.

After he cast the vote, Obama quickly clarified that he supported giving children enough information to protect themselves from predators and that the education should be “age-appropriate.” This is the reason people like E.J. Dionne have declared the McCain ad “disgusting.” But even here the language of the statute raises questions about the nature of the information on these matters and the problem of sharing it with a five year-old:

Course  material  and  instruction  shall  teach  pupils  to  not  make unwanted physical and verbal  sexual advances and how to  say  no  to  unwanted  sexual advances  and  shall  include  information  about verbal,  physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without  limitation nonconsensual sexual  advances,  nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance.

My guess is that Obama voted for the statute in ignorance, based entirely on his supposition that sex education is an unalloyedly good thing, and when objections were raised to it, he sought to limit the damage at the time — and thought he had succeeded for all time, because when Alan Keyes raised the matter in Keyes’s preposterous Senate campaign against Obama, it just seemed like more of Keyes’s craziness.

But the fact remains. There was a piece of legislation. Obama voted for it (or, rather, voted for it in its first form; it was never made into law and so he didn’t vote for final passage). The legislation said such-and-such. The fact that the legislation dealt with an issue regarding sexuality is Obama’s responsibility, not McCain’s. Running an ad about what it said, without taking note of Obama’s post-hoc clarifications, is entirely within bounds.

The only real problem with the ad is that it suggests it was Obama’s “one accomplishment,” thus suggesting it was Obama’s legislation. That is misleading. Nothing else is.

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MSM Games

If you talk to MSM reporters and pundits, they will tell you that the McCain camp complains too much about adverse press. “They whine,” is what you hear. Let’s put aside the whole, glaring issue of MSM bias for one moment – whether it isn’t legitmate to “whine” when the coverage is so appallingly unbalanced and inaccurate. Is it smart to do so?

Jonathan Martin gets the dynamic:

Little energizes conservatives like grievance toward a media they perceive as being liberal or out to get Republicans. The pick of Palin, the derisive response to her by Democrats and the coverage of her — real, imagined and exaggerated — has done something McCain hadn’t been able to do for himself: rouse a long-depressed party base and give them something to be for instead of just against.

Couple that with the grievances that former Hillary Clinton supporters harbor toward the MSM (which they believe helped submarine their gal) and you have the making of a counter-intuitive but very favorable dynamic for the GOP ticket: the worse the MSM coverage, the more support the McCain-Palin ticket builds. That is not to say any campaign “likes” hostile coverage, but the McCain camp certainly is using it to its advantage. When the MSM goes into overdrive — as they did in the days following the Palin  selection — the base responds with fury (e.g. shouting “NBC!” at the Convention). With each clumsy attempt by the MSM to distort and attack, the GOP base (and even less committed Independent voters) become angrier at the coverage and  more inured to the MSM’s message –whatever the underlying merits of the particular issue.

Sound familiar? The McCain camp couldn’t (pre-Palin) match Obama’s “celebrity” status  so they turned it against him with mocking humor. Now they are using the MSM’s hostility — to diffuse the criticism they receive and bolster their popular support. In both cases, they have used their opponents’ excesses to their own advantage. They often don’t even bother to respond (e.g. the Washington Post’s front page hit piece on Cindy McCain) because the revulsion of the average voter is almost assured.

The McCain camp has done many things well in the last couple of months, but none better than convincing the voters that their opponents — Obama and the MSM — are not to be taken seriously. For now, voters seem to be buying it.

If you talk to MSM reporters and pundits, they will tell you that the McCain camp complains too much about adverse press. “They whine,” is what you hear. Let’s put aside the whole, glaring issue of MSM bias for one moment – whether it isn’t legitmate to “whine” when the coverage is so appallingly unbalanced and inaccurate. Is it smart to do so?

Jonathan Martin gets the dynamic:

Little energizes conservatives like grievance toward a media they perceive as being liberal or out to get Republicans. The pick of Palin, the derisive response to her by Democrats and the coverage of her — real, imagined and exaggerated — has done something McCain hadn’t been able to do for himself: rouse a long-depressed party base and give them something to be for instead of just against.

Couple that with the grievances that former Hillary Clinton supporters harbor toward the MSM (which they believe helped submarine their gal) and you have the making of a counter-intuitive but very favorable dynamic for the GOP ticket: the worse the MSM coverage, the more support the McCain-Palin ticket builds. That is not to say any campaign “likes” hostile coverage, but the McCain camp certainly is using it to its advantage. When the MSM goes into overdrive — as they did in the days following the Palin  selection — the base responds with fury (e.g. shouting “NBC!” at the Convention). With each clumsy attempt by the MSM to distort and attack, the GOP base (and even less committed Independent voters) become angrier at the coverage and  more inured to the MSM’s message –whatever the underlying merits of the particular issue.

Sound familiar? The McCain camp couldn’t (pre-Palin) match Obama’s “celebrity” status  so they turned it against him with mocking humor. Now they are using the MSM’s hostility — to diffuse the criticism they receive and bolster their popular support. In both cases, they have used their opponents’ excesses to their own advantage. They often don’t even bother to respond (e.g. the Washington Post’s front page hit piece on Cindy McCain) because the revulsion of the average voter is almost assured.

The McCain camp has done many things well in the last couple of months, but none better than convincing the voters that their opponents — Obama and the MSM — are not to be taken seriously. For now, voters seem to be buying it.

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Deja Vu All Over Again

Jim Wooten thinks it’s getting close to the tipping point for Barack Obama:

Democrats know something, and desperation is setting in. They have a novice campaigner who wanders off message. With every advantage in the primaries, Obama couldn’t win the big states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania — against Hillary Clinton, even when he got to define the rules for running against him. She could never risk alienating the base she’ll need in 2012; John McCain and Sarah Palin have no such constraints — hence the panic.

For a “change” candidate, Obama appears to be a man locked in time, unable to move past criticism, unable to move from the grip of the Democratic left, unable to adapt to the changed reality that the campaign is not the referendum on the war in Iraq or on the administration of George W. Bush that he’d envisioned.

He’s begun to sound dated. Last week, for example, he devoted valuable campaign days — less than two months remain — into explaining a silly “lipstick on a pig” line. The McCain campaign had reacted, accusing him of making the reference to Palin. “I don’t care what they say about me,” Obama responded. “But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and ‘Swiftboat politics.’ Enough is enough,” he said. (The Swiftboat reference is from the 2004 campaign of John Kerry).

He is certainly right in this regard: most everything about Obama seems predictable and old. The policies — multilateralism above all else and big government at home — are a mix of Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson. His insistence that John McCain stop “lying” about his record is vintage Bob Dole.  His “woe is me, beset by mean Republicans” is warmed-over John Kerry. And because this campaign has gone on forever, his own message (“change we can believe in”) is so dated and hackneyed he can hardly use it any longer.

It is ironic that John McCain seems fresher, in part because of his very unconventional Convention speech (sounding very unRepublican in front of Republicans) and in part because of his VP pick. He is also benefiting now, ironically, from the minimal coverage he received previously. Many people literally haven’t heard his message before.

This doesn’t mean the race is done. Not by a long shot. But if Obama loses his lead for good, there will be plenty of similarities with past Democrats — Mondale, Kerry, and Dukakis, to name a few.

Jim Wooten thinks it’s getting close to the tipping point for Barack Obama:

Democrats know something, and desperation is setting in. They have a novice campaigner who wanders off message. With every advantage in the primaries, Obama couldn’t win the big states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania — against Hillary Clinton, even when he got to define the rules for running against him. She could never risk alienating the base she’ll need in 2012; John McCain and Sarah Palin have no such constraints — hence the panic.

For a “change” candidate, Obama appears to be a man locked in time, unable to move past criticism, unable to move from the grip of the Democratic left, unable to adapt to the changed reality that the campaign is not the referendum on the war in Iraq or on the administration of George W. Bush that he’d envisioned.

He’s begun to sound dated. Last week, for example, he devoted valuable campaign days — less than two months remain — into explaining a silly “lipstick on a pig” line. The McCain campaign had reacted, accusing him of making the reference to Palin. “I don’t care what they say about me,” Obama responded. “But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and ‘Swiftboat politics.’ Enough is enough,” he said. (The Swiftboat reference is from the 2004 campaign of John Kerry).

He is certainly right in this regard: most everything about Obama seems predictable and old. The policies — multilateralism above all else and big government at home — are a mix of Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson. His insistence that John McCain stop “lying” about his record is vintage Bob Dole.  His “woe is me, beset by mean Republicans” is warmed-over John Kerry. And because this campaign has gone on forever, his own message (“change we can believe in”) is so dated and hackneyed he can hardly use it any longer.

It is ironic that John McCain seems fresher, in part because of his very unconventional Convention speech (sounding very unRepublican in front of Republicans) and in part because of his VP pick. He is also benefiting now, ironically, from the minimal coverage he received previously. Many people literally haven’t heard his message before.

This doesn’t mean the race is done. Not by a long shot. But if Obama loses his lead for good, there will be plenty of similarities with past Democrats — Mondale, Kerry, and Dukakis, to name a few.

Read Less




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