Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 19, 2008

The Johnson Curse

Was the biggest mistake of his presidential campaign (after not taking Hillary Clinton as his VP, of course) Barack Obama’s decision to tap James Johnson as head of his VP selection committee? At the time, people scratched their heads as it became a minor to moderate issue based on Johnson’s association with Countrywide (which was then in the news). Observers wondered why Obama would choose someone so at odds with his “change” message. But Johnson was dumped and everyone moved on.

It took the financial meltdown to highlight just how awful a choice Johnson was, especially for someone who has premised his campaign on being the antidote to Washington insiderism. It would be one thing if he were merely a bundler but this was the fellow upon whom Obama was going to rely to advise him on his most important decision to date. Mickey Kaus notes:

Obama so deserves to, finally, take this hit for choosing Fannie Mae macher Jim Johnson to vet his VP prospects. . . . Did Obama tap Johnson because after two years in the Senate Obama had become part of the “Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling” as McCain charges–or because as a newcomer he was naive about that Washington culture and quickly got co-opted? Either way, it was an obvious, conventional, atrocious choice.

But the Johnson pick was really par for the course. Obama, contrary to his campaign shtick, has always accommodated himself to the power brokers within the Democratic Party. That was what he did in Chicago certainly. In Washington he did the same — falling into the liberal interest group phalanx, bellying up to the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae bar and loyally toeing the line within the Democratic caucus.

It is not that he is any more corrupt than the next politician, but that his modus operandi and core personality seem to abhor independent action and certainly confrontation. He simply has not had the nerve or the will to cross swords with his own base of support. Could there be any better example than immigration reform where he capitulated to the whims of Big Labor?

That political timidity would not normally be a problem — most candidates, after all, adhere to their party line. But in a presidential election year in which the entire country has just been educated about the dangers of “going along-ism” it is problematic.

There is no excusing or explaining away James Johnson — and he is fast becoming McCain’s best argument (and ad campaign star) for why he, not Obama, would be the best choice to come knock heads in Washington. It won’t be enough to undo Obama’s campaign, but it has made it somewhat more difficult.

Was the biggest mistake of his presidential campaign (after not taking Hillary Clinton as his VP, of course) Barack Obama’s decision to tap James Johnson as head of his VP selection committee? At the time, people scratched their heads as it became a minor to moderate issue based on Johnson’s association with Countrywide (which was then in the news). Observers wondered why Obama would choose someone so at odds with his “change” message. But Johnson was dumped and everyone moved on.

It took the financial meltdown to highlight just how awful a choice Johnson was, especially for someone who has premised his campaign on being the antidote to Washington insiderism. It would be one thing if he were merely a bundler but this was the fellow upon whom Obama was going to rely to advise him on his most important decision to date. Mickey Kaus notes:

Obama so deserves to, finally, take this hit for choosing Fannie Mae macher Jim Johnson to vet his VP prospects. . . . Did Obama tap Johnson because after two years in the Senate Obama had become part of the “Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling” as McCain charges–or because as a newcomer he was naive about that Washington culture and quickly got co-opted? Either way, it was an obvious, conventional, atrocious choice.

But the Johnson pick was really par for the course. Obama, contrary to his campaign shtick, has always accommodated himself to the power brokers within the Democratic Party. That was what he did in Chicago certainly. In Washington he did the same — falling into the liberal interest group phalanx, bellying up to the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae bar and loyally toeing the line within the Democratic caucus.

It is not that he is any more corrupt than the next politician, but that his modus operandi and core personality seem to abhor independent action and certainly confrontation. He simply has not had the nerve or the will to cross swords with his own base of support. Could there be any better example than immigration reform where he capitulated to the whims of Big Labor?

That political timidity would not normally be a problem — most candidates, after all, adhere to their party line. But in a presidential election year in which the entire country has just been educated about the dangers of “going along-ism” it is problematic.

There is no excusing or explaining away James Johnson — and he is fast becoming McCain’s best argument (and ad campaign star) for why he, not Obama, would be the best choice to come knock heads in Washington. It won’t be enough to undo Obama’s campaign, but it has made it somewhat more difficult.

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Selling Obama to the Early-Bird-Special Crowd

Writing from Fort Lauderdale, Joel Stein reports that a new pro-Obama organization is organizing Jewish youngsters to fly down to Florida to persuade their grandparents to vote for Obama:

The Jewish Council for Education and Research—a new pro-Obama political action committee—is organizing “The Great Schlep,” in which hundreds of Jews will make the Southern exodus on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 10-13. They will travel to the Fort Lauderdale area, where they will visit their grandparents, organize political salons in their condos, and eat incredibly bad food.

Alas, given the problems in a past Palm Beach County election, the article doesn’t say whether the grandkids will be instructing bubby and zaydie on how properly to mark a ballot.

Writing from Fort Lauderdale, Joel Stein reports that a new pro-Obama organization is organizing Jewish youngsters to fly down to Florida to persuade their grandparents to vote for Obama:

The Jewish Council for Education and Research—a new pro-Obama political action committee—is organizing “The Great Schlep,” in which hundreds of Jews will make the Southern exodus on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 10-13. They will travel to the Fort Lauderdale area, where they will visit their grandparents, organize political salons in their condos, and eat incredibly bad food.

Alas, given the problems in a past Palm Beach County election, the article doesn’t say whether the grandkids will be instructing bubby and zaydie on how properly to mark a ballot.

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‘Are We Fighting a Holy War?’

This video was produced by Newt Gingrich (hat tip: Ace of Spades).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hpwM4Jjyrs&eurl=http://ace.mu.nu/[/youtube]

This video was produced by Newt Gingrich (hat tip: Ace of Spades).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hpwM4Jjyrs&eurl=http://ace.mu.nu/[/youtube]

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Al Qaeda’s Defeat In Iraq

Senator Barack Obama’s answer to Katie Couric’s question a few days ago about why he thinks there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since September 11, 2001, was bizarre.

“Well,” he said, “I think that the initial invasion into Afghanistan disrupted al Qaeda. And that was the right thing to do. I mean, we had to knock out those safe havens. And that, I think, weakened them. We did some work in strengthening our homeland security apparatus here. Obviously, the average person knows that when they go to the airport, because they are goin’ through taking off their shoes … all that. The problem is when we got distracted by Iraq. We gave al Qaeda time to reconstitute itself.” [Emphasis added.]

Jennifer Rubin correctly noted that Couric asked Obama why the U.S. has not been attacked, but let’s leave that aside. The notion that “we gave Al Qaeda time to reconstitute itself” is breathtakingly ahistorical.

The U.S. and NATO have never let up in Afghanistan. At no time were American resources redeployed from Afghanistan to Iraq. (CORRECTION: The number of troops were not reduced in Afghanistan thanks to the war in Iraq, but some CIA agents and predator drones were redeployed.)

Obama could, perhaps, argue that fewer resources were available for the fight in Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq. That would be true. But that’s also true of Al Qaeda’s resources. They also deployed manpower and material to Iraq that otherwise could have been sent to Afghanistan.

The Al Qaeda leadership emphatically has not agreed with Obama that Iraq is a distraction. It has been their main event for years.

“The most important and serious issue today for the whole world,” Osama bin Laden said on December 28, 2004, “is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.”

It’s only natural that an Arab-led and mostly Arab-staffed terrorist group like Al Qaeda would be more concerned with a strategically critical country in the heart of the Arab Middle East than with a primitive non-Arab backwater in Central Asia.

Bin Laden’s lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri explicitly spelled out Al Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq on July 9, 2005. “The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq,” he said. “The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate—over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq.”

The war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq can plausibly be described as a distraction from the war against Al Qaeda. But the war against Al Qaeda in Iraq cannot possibly be accurately described as a distraction from the war against Al Qaeda.

And make no mistake: Al Qaeda’s manpower and resources have been thoroughly degraded from its disastrous fight with Americans and Iraqis, especially in Anbar Province which was briefly established as Al Qaeda’s “capital” of the so-called “Islamic State in Iraq.”

Last summer I met with U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province and also what until 2007 was Al Qaeda’s key stronghold.

“What’s the most important thing Americans need to know about Iraq that they don’t currently know?” I asked him.

“That we’re fighting Al Qaeda,” he said without hesitation. “[Abu Musab al] Zarqawi invented Al Qaeda in Iraq. The top leadership outside Iraq squawked and thought it was a bad idea. Then he blew up the Samarra mosque, triggered a civil war, and got the whole world’s attention. Then the Al Qaeda leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province. They poured everything they had into this place. The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world. And they lost.”

Al Qaeda lost in Iraq partly because American soldiers and Marines outsmarted and outfought them, but also, just as importantly, because the Iraqi people themselves rose up in resistance.

Iraqis aren’t the only ones who have soured on Al Qaeda lately.

Last year the Pew Research Center surveyed Muslims in 16 different countries. Support for suicide bombers has declined in nearly every country that was also surveyed in 2002, and the decline is dramatic almost everywhere. The only Muslim communities surveyed where support for suicide bombers remains at greater than 50 percent are, unsurprisingly, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

The United States could not have prudently allowed itself to yield the field to Al Qaeda in either Iraq or Afghanistan by being wholly distracted from one or the other. Both fronts were crucial for Al Qaeda, which means both were crucial for the United States. It doesn’t matter if we like the fact that we have been embroiled in a hot war with Al Qaeda in two countries at once. That’s just how it is.

If Al Qaeda hadn’t poured all those resources into Iraq, they likely would have poured them into Afghanistan. And the U.S. very well may have lost the war by this time. Afghanistan, at the very least, would be in much worse shape than it is. And it’s not looking good even now. Independent foreign correspondent Michael Yon, who is hardly known as a pessimistic defeatist, still insists we’re losing the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. has all but won the war in Iraq even though Iraq was in much worse shape recently and the war there did not last as long. Iraq, as it turned out, was an easier place to fight Al Qaeda and other sundry insurgent and terrorist groups than Afghanistan.

Obama is rightly worried about the safe havens Al Qaeda has created in Pakistan, and it’s to his credit that he refuses to let up about it. But for years he’s been entirely blasé about the safe havens Al Qaeda created in Iraq–in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baqubah, Mosul, and parts of Baghdad. For years he has aggressively promoted a policy of abandoning the fight in that country which quite obviously would have allowed Al Qaeda to preserve those safe havens and possibly even expand them.

He finally admitted the surge worked after wallowing in denial about it for a year and a half while those of us who actually worked in Iraq knew he was wrong. It’s time for him to admit that one of the results of the surge is that Al Qaeda lost its war in Iraq and was not given time to reconstitute.

Senator Barack Obama’s answer to Katie Couric’s question a few days ago about why he thinks there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since September 11, 2001, was bizarre.

“Well,” he said, “I think that the initial invasion into Afghanistan disrupted al Qaeda. And that was the right thing to do. I mean, we had to knock out those safe havens. And that, I think, weakened them. We did some work in strengthening our homeland security apparatus here. Obviously, the average person knows that when they go to the airport, because they are goin’ through taking off their shoes … all that. The problem is when we got distracted by Iraq. We gave al Qaeda time to reconstitute itself.” [Emphasis added.]

Jennifer Rubin correctly noted that Couric asked Obama why the U.S. has not been attacked, but let’s leave that aside. The notion that “we gave Al Qaeda time to reconstitute itself” is breathtakingly ahistorical.

The U.S. and NATO have never let up in Afghanistan. At no time were American resources redeployed from Afghanistan to Iraq. (CORRECTION: The number of troops were not reduced in Afghanistan thanks to the war in Iraq, but some CIA agents and predator drones were redeployed.)

Obama could, perhaps, argue that fewer resources were available for the fight in Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq. That would be true. But that’s also true of Al Qaeda’s resources. They also deployed manpower and material to Iraq that otherwise could have been sent to Afghanistan.

The Al Qaeda leadership emphatically has not agreed with Obama that Iraq is a distraction. It has been their main event for years.

“The most important and serious issue today for the whole world,” Osama bin Laden said on December 28, 2004, “is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.”

It’s only natural that an Arab-led and mostly Arab-staffed terrorist group like Al Qaeda would be more concerned with a strategically critical country in the heart of the Arab Middle East than with a primitive non-Arab backwater in Central Asia.

Bin Laden’s lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri explicitly spelled out Al Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq on July 9, 2005. “The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq,” he said. “The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate—over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq.”

The war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq can plausibly be described as a distraction from the war against Al Qaeda. But the war against Al Qaeda in Iraq cannot possibly be accurately described as a distraction from the war against Al Qaeda.

And make no mistake: Al Qaeda’s manpower and resources have been thoroughly degraded from its disastrous fight with Americans and Iraqis, especially in Anbar Province which was briefly established as Al Qaeda’s “capital” of the so-called “Islamic State in Iraq.”

Last summer I met with U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province and also what until 2007 was Al Qaeda’s key stronghold.

“What’s the most important thing Americans need to know about Iraq that they don’t currently know?” I asked him.

“That we’re fighting Al Qaeda,” he said without hesitation. “[Abu Musab al] Zarqawi invented Al Qaeda in Iraq. The top leadership outside Iraq squawked and thought it was a bad idea. Then he blew up the Samarra mosque, triggered a civil war, and got the whole world’s attention. Then the Al Qaeda leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province. They poured everything they had into this place. The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world. And they lost.”

Al Qaeda lost in Iraq partly because American soldiers and Marines outsmarted and outfought them, but also, just as importantly, because the Iraqi people themselves rose up in resistance.

Iraqis aren’t the only ones who have soured on Al Qaeda lately.

Last year the Pew Research Center surveyed Muslims in 16 different countries. Support for suicide bombers has declined in nearly every country that was also surveyed in 2002, and the decline is dramatic almost everywhere. The only Muslim communities surveyed where support for suicide bombers remains at greater than 50 percent are, unsurprisingly, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

The United States could not have prudently allowed itself to yield the field to Al Qaeda in either Iraq or Afghanistan by being wholly distracted from one or the other. Both fronts were crucial for Al Qaeda, which means both were crucial for the United States. It doesn’t matter if we like the fact that we have been embroiled in a hot war with Al Qaeda in two countries at once. That’s just how it is.

If Al Qaeda hadn’t poured all those resources into Iraq, they likely would have poured them into Afghanistan. And the U.S. very well may have lost the war by this time. Afghanistan, at the very least, would be in much worse shape than it is. And it’s not looking good even now. Independent foreign correspondent Michael Yon, who is hardly known as a pessimistic defeatist, still insists we’re losing the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. has all but won the war in Iraq even though Iraq was in much worse shape recently and the war there did not last as long. Iraq, as it turned out, was an easier place to fight Al Qaeda and other sundry insurgent and terrorist groups than Afghanistan.

Obama is rightly worried about the safe havens Al Qaeda has created in Pakistan, and it’s to his credit that he refuses to let up about it. But for years he’s been entirely blasé about the safe havens Al Qaeda created in Iraq–in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baqubah, Mosul, and parts of Baghdad. For years he has aggressively promoted a policy of abandoning the fight in that country which quite obviously would have allowed Al Qaeda to preserve those safe havens and possibly even expand them.

He finally admitted the surge worked after wallowing in denial about it for a year and a half while those of us who actually worked in Iraq knew he was wrong. It’s time for him to admit that one of the results of the surge is that Al Qaeda lost its war in Iraq and was not given time to reconstitute.

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Another Day, Another Affront

Joe Biden racks up two more entities he’s affronted: the Knights of Columbus and the state of Ohio. As to the former, they send him this letter objecting to his comments on Church abortion doctrine. As to the latter, he insulted Ohio State’s Buckeyes football which is akin to (or worse than) calling  the  Green Bay Packers’ home turf “Lombard  Field.”

Isn’t he living proof that time spent in the Senate has no relationship to common sense, street smarts, or the ability to stay out of trouble? If you were trying to disprove the notion that wisdom comes from experience, you couldn’t invent a better example than Biden.

Joe Biden racks up two more entities he’s affronted: the Knights of Columbus and the state of Ohio. As to the former, they send him this letter objecting to his comments on Church abortion doctrine. As to the latter, he insulted Ohio State’s Buckeyes football which is akin to (or worse than) calling  the  Green Bay Packers’ home turf “Lombard  Field.”

Isn’t he living proof that time spent in the Senate has no relationship to common sense, street smarts, or the ability to stay out of trouble? If you were trying to disprove the notion that wisdom comes from experience, you couldn’t invent a better example than Biden.

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Re: The Ahmadinejad Protests

Jennifer and David, you’re absolutely right about the disinvitation of Sarah Palin from the “Rally to Stop Iran.” But your criticism overlooks a major political side-effect of the controversy.

Yes, if the Obama-Biden campaign pressured the rally’s organizers to remove Palin from the speakers’ list, it deserves condemnation for making opposition to Iran a partisan issue.  In this vein, John McCain’s statement regarding this incident was entirely on-point.

But the organizations behind the National Coalition to Stop Iran Now deserve far greater condemnation–not only for giving in to the Obama-Biden campaign’s petty political demands, but for staging a rally that presents concerns regarding Iran as a strictly Jewish issue.  Indeed, this rally is now the exclusive enterprise of Jewish groups–The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, UJC, UJA, The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.  Meanwhile, the fact that the only public figure speaking at the rally is an Israeli parliamentarian–Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik–compounds this issue.

There can be no doubt that Iran is a source of special concern for Jews.  Ahmadinejad has made Holocaust denial more politically acceptable across the Muslim world than ever before; he has threatened Israel with destruction; and his regime has historically oppressed its Jewish community.  Yet these issues are a mere subset of the concerns relevant to Iranian ascendancy, and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities has encouraged a diverse group of states–including the United States, European Union, and a number of key Arab states–to unite as a (admittedly, somewhat shaky) coalition against its ambitions.

Given this reality, how has the National Coalition to Stop Iran Now failed so miserably to assemble a diverse front for protesting Ahmadinejad this week?  How could they fail to understand the extent to which excluding American political leaders from this demonstration would send the wrong message?

Let it not be forgotten: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s primary audience is not United Nations diplomats, but his millions of potential sympathizers throughout the Muslim world.  In turn, when the National Coalition to Stop Iran draws from Jews exclusively, it inadvertently confirms the conspiracy theories that Ahmadinejad has peddled for years in the eyes of his admirers.

I share Jennifer and David’s view that the Democrats demonstrated a lack of moral clarity in backing out of the protest.  But primary blame for the protest’s critical shortcomings–and its miserable effects–rests squarely with its organizers.

Jennifer and David, you’re absolutely right about the disinvitation of Sarah Palin from the “Rally to Stop Iran.” But your criticism overlooks a major political side-effect of the controversy.

Yes, if the Obama-Biden campaign pressured the rally’s organizers to remove Palin from the speakers’ list, it deserves condemnation for making opposition to Iran a partisan issue.  In this vein, John McCain’s statement regarding this incident was entirely on-point.

But the organizations behind the National Coalition to Stop Iran Now deserve far greater condemnation–not only for giving in to the Obama-Biden campaign’s petty political demands, but for staging a rally that presents concerns regarding Iran as a strictly Jewish issue.  Indeed, this rally is now the exclusive enterprise of Jewish groups–The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, UJC, UJA, The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.  Meanwhile, the fact that the only public figure speaking at the rally is an Israeli parliamentarian–Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik–compounds this issue.

There can be no doubt that Iran is a source of special concern for Jews.  Ahmadinejad has made Holocaust denial more politically acceptable across the Muslim world than ever before; he has threatened Israel with destruction; and his regime has historically oppressed its Jewish community.  Yet these issues are a mere subset of the concerns relevant to Iranian ascendancy, and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities has encouraged a diverse group of states–including the United States, European Union, and a number of key Arab states–to unite as a (admittedly, somewhat shaky) coalition against its ambitions.

Given this reality, how has the National Coalition to Stop Iran Now failed so miserably to assemble a diverse front for protesting Ahmadinejad this week?  How could they fail to understand the extent to which excluding American political leaders from this demonstration would send the wrong message?

Let it not be forgotten: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s primary audience is not United Nations diplomats, but his millions of potential sympathizers throughout the Muslim world.  In turn, when the National Coalition to Stop Iran draws from Jews exclusively, it inadvertently confirms the conspiracy theories that Ahmadinejad has peddled for years in the eyes of his admirers.

I share Jennifer and David’s view that the Democrats demonstrated a lack of moral clarity in backing out of the protest.  But primary blame for the protest’s critical shortcomings–and its miserable effects–rests squarely with its organizers.

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Weakened by Words

Throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush’s detractors on Capitol Hill and in the media have pushed the idea that America’s troubled war in Iraq has effectively weakened the U.S.’s standing in relation to all other countries. America has exposed itself as overconfident and incapable of standing up to committed enemies in complex regions of the world. The only way back to a position of global preeminence, goes this line of argument, is to move forward with a humble foreign policy. Rigorous diplomacy will alert the world to our readiness for fruitful partnerships once again. Our next president must let everyone know that we are done policing the world and done with our search for new enemies. As Bill Clinton put it in a recent endorsement of Barack Obama, “Our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation.” In Barack Obama, it is believed, we will have a leader who understands that America’s strength lies primarily in its willingness to work multilaterally and without the implicit threat of military action.

But with Iraq turning out rather differently from the way Bush’s critics suspected it would and with initiatives such as the Middle East “roadmap,” and multilateral talks with North Korea and Iran degenerating into farce, it’s time to ask the question: what has actually made the U.S. look weaker in the eyes of the world, our successful military campaign in Iraq or our string of miserable diplomatic failures? In 2003, Muammar Gaddafi gave up Libya’s WMD ambitions and agreed to full inspections and a dismantling of WMD programs. He did so because the spectacle of shock and awe in Iraq was not lost on him. And if after seeing America falter over the next few years of war he regretted his initial compliance, he was certainly over any misgivings by the summer of this year, when he warned Tehran, “In the event of a decision against Iran, this country [Iran] will suffer the same outcome as Iraq … Iran is not any stronger than Iraq and won’t have the means to resist (a military attack) on its own.” The former Libyan strongman finds the U.S. no “weaker” for having prevailed in Iraq.

He is not alone. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to re-integrate France into NATO’s command structure for the first time in four decades, did he do so because he believed America’s military protection is not what it used to be? When he pledged to commit thousands more French troops to the coalition fight in Afghanistan, was this because he decided the U.S. was a weakened power not worth the sacrifice of French troops? No: he is betting on the strong horse.

When Russia invaded Georgia last month, Poland didn’t decide to fast-track its agreement to host a battery of American intercept missiles because it thought American military might was a thing of the past. Rather, the Poles understood that America remains the best hope of free nations looking for protection against antagonists. And Russia’s neighbors are not clamoring to join NATO because they think the U.S. is a country of ineffective bullies.

However, when Tehran suckered the U.S. into sending William J. Burns, the third-ranking official at the State Department, to Geneva for talks with Iran’s “nuclear negotiator” and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, that was masterful exploitation of American weakness. Playing on the U.S.’s propensity to heed international opinion and on the State Department’s inclination for diplomacy at all costs, the mullahs snagged a little legitimacy on the world stage. And the U.S. slunk back home defeated.

And soon after the Geneva fiasco, when Pyongyang elicited from Washington a vow to be taken off the U.S. terror watch list in exchange for the false promise of ending its nuclear enrichment programs, there too was an example of an America weakened by the call to diplomacy. As Max Boot mentioned earlier, North Korea toyed with us so thoroughly in that exchange, they’re no longer even pretending they care if we take them off the watch list or not.

And of course, there’s Israel and the occupied territories: the ever-unresolved diplomatic quagmire that serves as a pallet for all nations looking to aggress through sham diplomacy while benefiting from American aid. As Iran arms Gaza, President Bush and Secretary Rice make pledge after pledge on the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The U.S.’s most immediate challenge is in Afghanistan. And we see there how the insistence on fruitless negotiations has cost the U.S. dearly. For years, we tried to cajole Islamabad to act against Islamist militants who were killing coalition forces from bases inside Pakistan’s tribal regions. This has led to an immeasurable setback in our fight against the Taliban. Only recently, having taken the fight to these militants ourselves, have we been given reason to hope for a change of fortunes.

It’s clear that global perceptions of a weakened U.S. under George W. Bush have come, not from temporary setbacks on the battlefield, but from lasting naiveté at negotiating tables. It’s also obvious that the leaders of the world recognize this, as our friends continue to seek out our military support and our enemies continue to request conversations. Yet, Democrats and the press remain unconvinced.

Throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush’s detractors on Capitol Hill and in the media have pushed the idea that America’s troubled war in Iraq has effectively weakened the U.S.’s standing in relation to all other countries. America has exposed itself as overconfident and incapable of standing up to committed enemies in complex regions of the world. The only way back to a position of global preeminence, goes this line of argument, is to move forward with a humble foreign policy. Rigorous diplomacy will alert the world to our readiness for fruitful partnerships once again. Our next president must let everyone know that we are done policing the world and done with our search for new enemies. As Bill Clinton put it in a recent endorsement of Barack Obama, “Our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation.” In Barack Obama, it is believed, we will have a leader who understands that America’s strength lies primarily in its willingness to work multilaterally and without the implicit threat of military action.

But with Iraq turning out rather differently from the way Bush’s critics suspected it would and with initiatives such as the Middle East “roadmap,” and multilateral talks with North Korea and Iran degenerating into farce, it’s time to ask the question: what has actually made the U.S. look weaker in the eyes of the world, our successful military campaign in Iraq or our string of miserable diplomatic failures? In 2003, Muammar Gaddafi gave up Libya’s WMD ambitions and agreed to full inspections and a dismantling of WMD programs. He did so because the spectacle of shock and awe in Iraq was not lost on him. And if after seeing America falter over the next few years of war he regretted his initial compliance, he was certainly over any misgivings by the summer of this year, when he warned Tehran, “In the event of a decision against Iran, this country [Iran] will suffer the same outcome as Iraq … Iran is not any stronger than Iraq and won’t have the means to resist (a military attack) on its own.” The former Libyan strongman finds the U.S. no “weaker” for having prevailed in Iraq.

He is not alone. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to re-integrate France into NATO’s command structure for the first time in four decades, did he do so because he believed America’s military protection is not what it used to be? When he pledged to commit thousands more French troops to the coalition fight in Afghanistan, was this because he decided the U.S. was a weakened power not worth the sacrifice of French troops? No: he is betting on the strong horse.

When Russia invaded Georgia last month, Poland didn’t decide to fast-track its agreement to host a battery of American intercept missiles because it thought American military might was a thing of the past. Rather, the Poles understood that America remains the best hope of free nations looking for protection against antagonists. And Russia’s neighbors are not clamoring to join NATO because they think the U.S. is a country of ineffective bullies.

However, when Tehran suckered the U.S. into sending William J. Burns, the third-ranking official at the State Department, to Geneva for talks with Iran’s “nuclear negotiator” and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, that was masterful exploitation of American weakness. Playing on the U.S.’s propensity to heed international opinion and on the State Department’s inclination for diplomacy at all costs, the mullahs snagged a little legitimacy on the world stage. And the U.S. slunk back home defeated.

And soon after the Geneva fiasco, when Pyongyang elicited from Washington a vow to be taken off the U.S. terror watch list in exchange for the false promise of ending its nuclear enrichment programs, there too was an example of an America weakened by the call to diplomacy. As Max Boot mentioned earlier, North Korea toyed with us so thoroughly in that exchange, they’re no longer even pretending they care if we take them off the watch list or not.

And of course, there’s Israel and the occupied territories: the ever-unresolved diplomatic quagmire that serves as a pallet for all nations looking to aggress through sham diplomacy while benefiting from American aid. As Iran arms Gaza, President Bush and Secretary Rice make pledge after pledge on the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The U.S.’s most immediate challenge is in Afghanistan. And we see there how the insistence on fruitless negotiations has cost the U.S. dearly. For years, we tried to cajole Islamabad to act against Islamist militants who were killing coalition forces from bases inside Pakistan’s tribal regions. This has led to an immeasurable setback in our fight against the Taliban. Only recently, having taken the fight to these militants ourselves, have we been given reason to hope for a change of fortunes.

It’s clear that global perceptions of a weakened U.S. under George W. Bush have come, not from temporary setbacks on the battlefield, but from lasting naiveté at negotiating tables. It’s also obvious that the leaders of the world recognize this, as our friends continue to seek out our military support and our enemies continue to request conversations. Yet, Democrats and the press remain unconvinced.

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Walking Away from the U.N.

Next week, the world’s leaders gather at the U.N. for the opening of the General Assembly. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while not defending himself from recent charges of ineffectiveness, will be trying to get the 192 members of the world organization to focus on the Millennium Development Goals, eight specific tasks to be accomplished by 2015.

The achievement of the Goals looks even more distant than it did just a week ago. The world economy is now facing what Alan Greenspan terms a “once-in-a-century type of event”-a collapse of the global financial system and the unprecedented destruction of wealth. Moreover, the impending failure of the Doha Trade Round signifies the end of the consensus behind free trade, which has done more than anything else to reduce poverty. So, in light of one disturbing development after another, maybe it is right for the U.N. to focus on eliminating poverty and improving education.

Unfortunately, the U.N. cannot do what it was intended to accomplish-providing a forum where nations can meet and solve the geopolitical issues of the day. There was a chance it might be able to fulfill that critical role immediately after the failure of the Soviet Union when unity appeared possible. Now, however, the great powers are dividing into camps and creating a new period of competition and turmoil.

Russia has signaled its contempt for the U.N. by not bothering to commit either its president or prime minister to going to New York next week. Like last year, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent the Kremlin.

And that raises the issue of why President Bush will be giving a speech to the General Assembly. By doing so, he is lending American support to the U.N. as an institution. But as the international community continues to splinter, the U.N. has lost whatever capacity it had to handle crucial matters, from North Korea to Iran and Burma to Zimbabwe.

Washington may or may not be able to solve problems on its own, but there is zero chance it can do so inside the halls of the U.N. So President Bush should stay in Washington next week and work on the important issues of the day. Send Condi Rice to give the American address to the General Assembly. And if the President feels he must attend and deliver what will be his last speech to the global body, he should just talk about the Millennium Development Goals. After all, by now we should know that discussing more contentious matters in the U.N. wastes time and is almost always counterproductive.

Next week, the world’s leaders gather at the U.N. for the opening of the General Assembly. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while not defending himself from recent charges of ineffectiveness, will be trying to get the 192 members of the world organization to focus on the Millennium Development Goals, eight specific tasks to be accomplished by 2015.

The achievement of the Goals looks even more distant than it did just a week ago. The world economy is now facing what Alan Greenspan terms a “once-in-a-century type of event”-a collapse of the global financial system and the unprecedented destruction of wealth. Moreover, the impending failure of the Doha Trade Round signifies the end of the consensus behind free trade, which has done more than anything else to reduce poverty. So, in light of one disturbing development after another, maybe it is right for the U.N. to focus on eliminating poverty and improving education.

Unfortunately, the U.N. cannot do what it was intended to accomplish-providing a forum where nations can meet and solve the geopolitical issues of the day. There was a chance it might be able to fulfill that critical role immediately after the failure of the Soviet Union when unity appeared possible. Now, however, the great powers are dividing into camps and creating a new period of competition and turmoil.

Russia has signaled its contempt for the U.N. by not bothering to commit either its president or prime minister to going to New York next week. Like last year, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent the Kremlin.

And that raises the issue of why President Bush will be giving a speech to the General Assembly. By doing so, he is lending American support to the U.N. as an institution. But as the international community continues to splinter, the U.N. has lost whatever capacity it had to handle crucial matters, from North Korea to Iran and Burma to Zimbabwe.

Washington may or may not be able to solve problems on its own, but there is zero chance it can do so inside the halls of the U.N. So President Bush should stay in Washington next week and work on the important issues of the day. Send Condi Rice to give the American address to the General Assembly. And if the President feels he must attend and deliver what will be his last speech to the global body, he should just talk about the Millennium Development Goals. After all, by now we should know that discussing more contentious matters in the U.N. wastes time and is almost always counterproductive.

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Bad News from North Korea

The Bush administration’s much-vaunted deal with North Korea seems to be collapsing faster than you can say “Condoleezza Rice.” According to this report, Pyongyang has lost interest in being taken off the list of terror-sponsoring states. This had been one of the big concessions that the U.S. was going to give in return for the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program. Now this:

“We neither wish nor expect to be delisted as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,” the North’s state-run news agency, KCNA, quoted a ministry spokesman as saying. “We can go our own way.”

Oh, and that nuclear reactor at Yongbyon that North Korea ceremoniously began destroying this summer, in a move heralded by the administration?

The North Korean Foreign Ministry also confirmed what the United States and South Korea have said already: it has begun to reassemble a nuclear complex that can produce weapons-grade plutonium.

It’s a shame that the “deal” with North Korea is unraveling–but hardly unexpected. The only surprise is that the administration was so willing to abandon its first-term principles in order to pursue an accord that was widely seen as doomed. Presumably this will free up Secretary Rice’s time for another quixotic undertaking–trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, more than sixty years in the making, by the end of this year.

The Bush administration’s much-vaunted deal with North Korea seems to be collapsing faster than you can say “Condoleezza Rice.” According to this report, Pyongyang has lost interest in being taken off the list of terror-sponsoring states. This had been one of the big concessions that the U.S. was going to give in return for the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program. Now this:

“We neither wish nor expect to be delisted as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,” the North’s state-run news agency, KCNA, quoted a ministry spokesman as saying. “We can go our own way.”

Oh, and that nuclear reactor at Yongbyon that North Korea ceremoniously began destroying this summer, in a move heralded by the administration?

The North Korean Foreign Ministry also confirmed what the United States and South Korea have said already: it has begun to reassemble a nuclear complex that can produce weapons-grade plutonium.

It’s a shame that the “deal” with North Korea is unraveling–but hardly unexpected. The only surprise is that the administration was so willing to abandon its first-term principles in order to pursue an accord that was widely seen as doomed. Presumably this will free up Secretary Rice’s time for another quixotic undertaking–trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, more than sixty years in the making, by the end of this year.

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Where Joe Biden’s ‘Patriotism’ Shtick Comes From

It turns out Joe Biden’s description of the acceptance of higher taxes as an act of patriotism wasn’t just a moment of excess enthusiasm on his part during his appearance on a morning talk show. Last night, on CBS with Katie Couric, he repeated it: “The people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break.”

In truth, this is not new language for Democrats. On February 15, 1993, in his first major address to the nation from the Oval Office, the newly inaugurated Bill Clinton attempted to make the case for tax hikes by likening his stimulus proposal to the New Deal, and suggested that a failure to support it would be an unpatriotic act:

Seventy percent of the new taxes I’ll propose, 70 percent, will be paid by those who make more than $100,000 a year…..Change this fundamental will not be easy, nor will it be quick. But at stake is the control of our economic destiny. Within minutes of the time I conclude my address to Congress Wednesday night the special interests will be out in force. Those who profited from the status quo will oppose the changes we seek….When I was a boy, we had a name for the belief that we should all pull together to build a better, stronger Nation. We called it patriotism.

Two days after Clinton’s speech, Thomas Friedman took to the pages of the New York Times to sound a note of caution and skepticism:

In telling Americans that it is their patriotic duty to support his economic program, President Clinton is trying to redefine “patriotism” from pulling together to face a mortal threat abroad to paying higher taxes to face an economic threat at home….While many Americans can understand an appeal to bipartisan support for an economic plan, they may balk at the notion that it is their patriotic duty to pay higher taxes….

Mr. Clinton’s personal poll taker, Stan Greenberg, said that also underlying Mr. Clinton’s use of patriotism is the President’s conviction that most Americans look back on the 1980’s as a period of frustration over the lack of priority given to American domestic affairs and interests.

“The notion that we are all in this together was lost as people sought their separate fortunes,” Mr. Greenberg said. “What the President was trying to do last night was an attempt to recreate an ethic where people begin to feel responsible again for their own country,” he added. “I think the public thinks the country is in crisis and that people have failed to pitch in and they are waiting to be called to duty.”

Clinton’s use of the “patriotism” line was dropped instantly, suggesting it must have polled disastrously. It is worth noting that Biden does not even attempt to frame his “patriotism” claim in the grand terms Clinton did — he merely says it would be patriotic for Americans to accept tax increases so that other Americans can get tax cuts. It may be nice of them to do so. It may be generous of them to do so. But patriotic?

And isn’t it a little galling for Joe Biden to be lecturing people on giving up more of their money for essentially charitable reasons when he himself has never contributed more than one-third of one percent of his annual income to charity? (By contrast, as Greg Mankiw notes, the average giving of Americans who itemize their deductions is between 1.6 and 2.16 percent per year.)

It turns out Joe Biden’s description of the acceptance of higher taxes as an act of patriotism wasn’t just a moment of excess enthusiasm on his part during his appearance on a morning talk show. Last night, on CBS with Katie Couric, he repeated it: “The people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break.”

In truth, this is not new language for Democrats. On February 15, 1993, in his first major address to the nation from the Oval Office, the newly inaugurated Bill Clinton attempted to make the case for tax hikes by likening his stimulus proposal to the New Deal, and suggested that a failure to support it would be an unpatriotic act:

Seventy percent of the new taxes I’ll propose, 70 percent, will be paid by those who make more than $100,000 a year…..Change this fundamental will not be easy, nor will it be quick. But at stake is the control of our economic destiny. Within minutes of the time I conclude my address to Congress Wednesday night the special interests will be out in force. Those who profited from the status quo will oppose the changes we seek….When I was a boy, we had a name for the belief that we should all pull together to build a better, stronger Nation. We called it patriotism.

Two days after Clinton’s speech, Thomas Friedman took to the pages of the New York Times to sound a note of caution and skepticism:

In telling Americans that it is their patriotic duty to support his economic program, President Clinton is trying to redefine “patriotism” from pulling together to face a mortal threat abroad to paying higher taxes to face an economic threat at home….While many Americans can understand an appeal to bipartisan support for an economic plan, they may balk at the notion that it is their patriotic duty to pay higher taxes….

Mr. Clinton’s personal poll taker, Stan Greenberg, said that also underlying Mr. Clinton’s use of patriotism is the President’s conviction that most Americans look back on the 1980’s as a period of frustration over the lack of priority given to American domestic affairs and interests.

“The notion that we are all in this together was lost as people sought their separate fortunes,” Mr. Greenberg said. “What the President was trying to do last night was an attempt to recreate an ethic where people begin to feel responsible again for their own country,” he added. “I think the public thinks the country is in crisis and that people have failed to pitch in and they are waiting to be called to duty.”

Clinton’s use of the “patriotism” line was dropped instantly, suggesting it must have polled disastrously. It is worth noting that Biden does not even attempt to frame his “patriotism” claim in the grand terms Clinton did — he merely says it would be patriotic for Americans to accept tax increases so that other Americans can get tax cuts. It may be nice of them to do so. It may be generous of them to do so. But patriotic?

And isn’t it a little galling for Joe Biden to be lecturing people on giving up more of their money for essentially charitable reasons when he himself has never contributed more than one-third of one percent of his annual income to charity? (By contrast, as Greg Mankiw notes, the average giving of Americans who itemize their deductions is between 1.6 and 2.16 percent per year.)

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Taxes Matter Again

In every election since Ronald Reagan dramatically reduced marginal income-tax rates, Republicans have debated whether taxes are a potent issue. As more and more taxpayers come off the rolls altogether (over 30% of tax filers now pay no tax at all), some argue this has lost its punch. But there is nothing like a financial meltdown to focus attention on this issue.

As this report explains, John McCain is highlighting Barack Obama’s plan to hike taxes. What started as a general tax hike has become a tax on the “rich,” but in a limping economy even that is problematic:

Republicans are hoping that the old antitax strain remains strong this year. Sen. McCain is pushing for a permanent extension of the tax cuts enacted by Mr. Bush, which are set to expire at the end of 2010. Among other things, the plan would keep the top income-tax rate, paid by the wealthiest Americans, at 35%. Absent an extension, the top rate would rise to 39.6%. Sen. McCain is also pushing a new tax benefit for middle-class families, promising to double the exemption that can be claimed for dependents.

“The reality is raising taxes in a weak economy is a bad idea, and we don’t,” said McCain campaign policy chief Doug Holtz-Eakin, adding that higher individual rates would hit small businesses particularly hard.

Polls suggest Sen. McCain has room to exploit the issue. Even though Sen. Obama has vowed the middle class will get tax cuts, not tax increases, 49% of voters said they believed their taxes would go up if the Democrat wins, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News survey.

Moreover, voters are simply becoming more savvy (or cynical, depending on your perspective) and simply don’t think the “rich” will be the only ones hit:

At the McCain rally Thursday in Iowa, Kate Julicher, 25 years old, said she is not persuaded by Sen. Obama’s promise to cut taxes for people like her. She doesn’t believe he will raise taxes only on couples earning more than $250,000 a year. “I don’t believe him,” said Ms. Julicher, a software engineer from Cedar Rapids. “I have a feeling that $250,000 limit is going to come down when they realize they need more money to bail out whoever they bail out.”

There is an opening there. How large and how effectively McCain can exploit it remains to be seen. But tax-hikers haven’t done well in the past–Walter Mondale, anyone?–and it’s hard to see how that approach wins votes when Americans see major financial institutions teetering on the brink of collapse.

In every election since Ronald Reagan dramatically reduced marginal income-tax rates, Republicans have debated whether taxes are a potent issue. As more and more taxpayers come off the rolls altogether (over 30% of tax filers now pay no tax at all), some argue this has lost its punch. But there is nothing like a financial meltdown to focus attention on this issue.

As this report explains, John McCain is highlighting Barack Obama’s plan to hike taxes. What started as a general tax hike has become a tax on the “rich,” but in a limping economy even that is problematic:

Republicans are hoping that the old antitax strain remains strong this year. Sen. McCain is pushing for a permanent extension of the tax cuts enacted by Mr. Bush, which are set to expire at the end of 2010. Among other things, the plan would keep the top income-tax rate, paid by the wealthiest Americans, at 35%. Absent an extension, the top rate would rise to 39.6%. Sen. McCain is also pushing a new tax benefit for middle-class families, promising to double the exemption that can be claimed for dependents.

“The reality is raising taxes in a weak economy is a bad idea, and we don’t,” said McCain campaign policy chief Doug Holtz-Eakin, adding that higher individual rates would hit small businesses particularly hard.

Polls suggest Sen. McCain has room to exploit the issue. Even though Sen. Obama has vowed the middle class will get tax cuts, not tax increases, 49% of voters said they believed their taxes would go up if the Democrat wins, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News survey.

Moreover, voters are simply becoming more savvy (or cynical, depending on your perspective) and simply don’t think the “rich” will be the only ones hit:

At the McCain rally Thursday in Iowa, Kate Julicher, 25 years old, said she is not persuaded by Sen. Obama’s promise to cut taxes for people like her. She doesn’t believe he will raise taxes only on couples earning more than $250,000 a year. “I don’t believe him,” said Ms. Julicher, a software engineer from Cedar Rapids. “I have a feeling that $250,000 limit is going to come down when they realize they need more money to bail out whoever they bail out.”

There is an opening there. How large and how effectively McCain can exploit it remains to be seen. But tax-hikers haven’t done well in the past–Walter Mondale, anyone?–and it’s hard to see how that approach wins votes when Americans see major financial institutions teetering on the brink of collapse.

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The Big Bailout

This memo, by an experienced New York financial hand, offers an important and sobering perspective on the market events of the past week:

The government is working to “solve” the current financial crisis. From current information, it appears that the proposal taking shape is a large mistake as a matter of policy, politics and fairness.

A massive fund into which assets can be stuffed by companies, at prices that they make up and which are not tested by the marketplace, is inappropriate and unnecessary.

The recent AIG deal, involving a fully-secured lending facility and warrants for a controlling interest in the company, is the model of the deals that should be effectuated with problematic companies. That model would save the financial institutions, keep the system afloat, protect the taxpayers’ money, allocate losses to those who assumed them by contract, enable the government to toss out the managements responsible for the irresponsible behavior of the institutions, and give the institutions time to sell the troubled assets and de-lever down to sustainable levels of risk.

Of course, if the troubled assets make the institution insolvent, it will have to go through a restructuring several years down the road. But the government’s money will have been protected and losses will be properly allocated, and the company will be open for business throughout the period. The key point is that both the company’s equity and its unsecured debt must serve as a “cushion” to absorb losses before the taxpayer takes a hit.

The adequate security point is essential. That is the mechanism by which the government’s money is protected and losses are allocated properly. It also is the mechanism by which new private investors may be interested in investing alongside the government, reducing the government’s outlay and leaving room for future crises that require additional government loans.

The pure structure based on the model of the Resolution Trust Corporation would be the wrong choice. To enable troubled institutions to sell assets to the New RTC at prices that they make up and which are not tested by the marketplace leaves the government vulnerable to losing hundreds of billions of dollars that should be lost instead by the unsecured bondholders of the afflicted institutions. The pure RTC structure is a plan that rewards the wrongdoers, the careless risktakers, the greedy, all at the expense of the taxpayers.

It would generate one of the largest and most opaque political patronage operations in world history.

The issues are what assets we taxpayers buy and at what price. The answer is likely to be the mother of all earmarks, with lobbyists enriched beyond their wildest dreams. The original RTC did not have this problem because the transaction was very simple: the government took over the thrifts, paid off the depositors, and gathered the assets to be auctioned off. The “purchase price” was the deposit insurance.

If the afflicted institutions are solvent, the secured loans I recommend will enable the companies to liquidate the bad assets and remain viable during the liquidity squeeze period. If the institutions are not solvent, and are placing unrealistic values on the troubled assets, then my plan will demonstrate that and allocate the losses properly. In contrast, the RTC version will leave the taxpayer massively hanging, while the companies, their overpaid managements, and their stockholders and bondholders reap windfalls that they do not deserve.

Yes, it is a large crisis, and yes, strong steps must be taken to keep the system afloat. But taxpayers will be unforgiving (understandably so) if the solution imposes losses on them rather than those who have contractually assumed those losses. The system can be saved with much less cost and risk by secured loans which give the afflicted institutions time to sell down the assets which have overleveraged their balance sheets and made them subject to these runs.

It is that widespread failure of risk management, not abusive short-selling, which has brought these institutions to (and in some case beyond) the brink of failure. The institutions have needed to deleverage for a long time, but have refused to do so. They claim they cannot sell assets, that markets are illiquid, and that there are no bids. This is not true. There are investors and traders who wish to buy discounted debt securities and derivatives, but who find that the sellers are steeped in denial. The sellers simply do not like the prices that prevail in the marketplace, and wish that those prices didn’t exist. But those are the prices, and only wishful thinking imagines that they are going back to par.

The taxpayer should not fill in this gap that should be plugged by the existing stockholders and bondholders of the afflicted institutions.

This memo, by an experienced New York financial hand, offers an important and sobering perspective on the market events of the past week:

The government is working to “solve” the current financial crisis. From current information, it appears that the proposal taking shape is a large mistake as a matter of policy, politics and fairness.

A massive fund into which assets can be stuffed by companies, at prices that they make up and which are not tested by the marketplace, is inappropriate and unnecessary.

The recent AIG deal, involving a fully-secured lending facility and warrants for a controlling interest in the company, is the model of the deals that should be effectuated with problematic companies. That model would save the financial institutions, keep the system afloat, protect the taxpayers’ money, allocate losses to those who assumed them by contract, enable the government to toss out the managements responsible for the irresponsible behavior of the institutions, and give the institutions time to sell the troubled assets and de-lever down to sustainable levels of risk.

Of course, if the troubled assets make the institution insolvent, it will have to go through a restructuring several years down the road. But the government’s money will have been protected and losses will be properly allocated, and the company will be open for business throughout the period. The key point is that both the company’s equity and its unsecured debt must serve as a “cushion” to absorb losses before the taxpayer takes a hit.

The adequate security point is essential. That is the mechanism by which the government’s money is protected and losses are allocated properly. It also is the mechanism by which new private investors may be interested in investing alongside the government, reducing the government’s outlay and leaving room for future crises that require additional government loans.

The pure structure based on the model of the Resolution Trust Corporation would be the wrong choice. To enable troubled institutions to sell assets to the New RTC at prices that they make up and which are not tested by the marketplace leaves the government vulnerable to losing hundreds of billions of dollars that should be lost instead by the unsecured bondholders of the afflicted institutions. The pure RTC structure is a plan that rewards the wrongdoers, the careless risktakers, the greedy, all at the expense of the taxpayers.

It would generate one of the largest and most opaque political patronage operations in world history.

The issues are what assets we taxpayers buy and at what price. The answer is likely to be the mother of all earmarks, with lobbyists enriched beyond their wildest dreams. The original RTC did not have this problem because the transaction was very simple: the government took over the thrifts, paid off the depositors, and gathered the assets to be auctioned off. The “purchase price” was the deposit insurance.

If the afflicted institutions are solvent, the secured loans I recommend will enable the companies to liquidate the bad assets and remain viable during the liquidity squeeze period. If the institutions are not solvent, and are placing unrealistic values on the troubled assets, then my plan will demonstrate that and allocate the losses properly. In contrast, the RTC version will leave the taxpayer massively hanging, while the companies, their overpaid managements, and their stockholders and bondholders reap windfalls that they do not deserve.

Yes, it is a large crisis, and yes, strong steps must be taken to keep the system afloat. But taxpayers will be unforgiving (understandably so) if the solution imposes losses on them rather than those who have contractually assumed those losses. The system can be saved with much less cost and risk by secured loans which give the afflicted institutions time to sell down the assets which have overleveraged their balance sheets and made them subject to these runs.

It is that widespread failure of risk management, not abusive short-selling, which has brought these institutions to (and in some case beyond) the brink of failure. The institutions have needed to deleverage for a long time, but have refused to do so. They claim they cannot sell assets, that markets are illiquid, and that there are no bids. This is not true. There are investors and traders who wish to buy discounted debt securities and derivatives, but who find that the sellers are steeped in denial. The sellers simply do not like the prices that prevail in the marketplace, and wish that those prices didn’t exist. But those are the prices, and only wishful thinking imagines that they are going back to par.

The taxpayer should not fill in this gap that should be plugged by the existing stockholders and bondholders of the afflicted institutions.

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The Middle Class Contra Democracy?

Writing in the Boston Globe, Joshua Kurlantzick argues that current anti-democratic back-sliding in countries such as Thailand helps disprove the reigning academic view of democratization:

Traditional theories of democratization, such as those of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, predict a story of middle class heroics: As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. Eventually, as the size of the middle class grows, those demands become so overwhelming that democracy is inevitable. But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don’t care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.

He goes so far as to conclude, “The pattern has become so noticeable—repeated in Venezuela, Russia, Bangladesh, and other states—that one must even wonder about democracy’s future itself.”

I think it’s fair to say that Kurlantzick arrives at his unduly pessimistic conclusion because he fails to grasp fully Huntington’s views on democratization, which the political scientist laid in his 1991 book The Third Wave: Democratization at the End of the Twentieth Century.  Contra to Kurlantzick’s characterization of him, Huntington does not attribute increasing democratization to middle class “heroics,” but rather to an enlarging and enriching middle class acting in its economic and political self-interest.  More important, he does not see trend toward democracy as being “inevitable.”  In fact, Huntington identifies three patterns of regime change common to the “third wave” of democratization, which started in 1974:

1) a “cyclical” pattern—i.e., unceasing alternation between democratic and authoritarian regimes;

2) a “second-try” pattern—i.e., the replacement of weak democratic regime with an authoritarian regime that is itself replaced with a lasting, strong democratic regime; and

3) an “interrupted” pattern—i.e., the temporary suspension of democracy before it is resumed for the long haul.

Furthermore, Huntington identifies factors that contributed to undemocratic reverses in the first and second waves of democratization, and says that these might also cause the third wave to slow down or halt completely.  These factors include “the weakness of democratic values among key elite groups and the general public,” “severe economic setbacks,” “social and political polarization, often produced by leftist governments seeking the rapid introduction of major social and economic reforms,” and “the determination of conservative middle-class and upper-class groups to exclude populist and leftist movements and lower-class groups from political power.”

In sum, Huntington accounts for and anticipates the very possibilities that Kurlantzick implicitly accuses him of ignoring.  What remains to be seen is whether recent anti-democratic developments are temporary, permanent, or the first phases of a cycle.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Joshua Kurlantzick argues that current anti-democratic back-sliding in countries such as Thailand helps disprove the reigning academic view of democratization:

Traditional theories of democratization, such as those of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, predict a story of middle class heroics: As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. Eventually, as the size of the middle class grows, those demands become so overwhelming that democracy is inevitable. But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don’t care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.

He goes so far as to conclude, “The pattern has become so noticeable—repeated in Venezuela, Russia, Bangladesh, and other states—that one must even wonder about democracy’s future itself.”

I think it’s fair to say that Kurlantzick arrives at his unduly pessimistic conclusion because he fails to grasp fully Huntington’s views on democratization, which the political scientist laid in his 1991 book The Third Wave: Democratization at the End of the Twentieth Century.  Contra to Kurlantzick’s characterization of him, Huntington does not attribute increasing democratization to middle class “heroics,” but rather to an enlarging and enriching middle class acting in its economic and political self-interest.  More important, he does not see trend toward democracy as being “inevitable.”  In fact, Huntington identifies three patterns of regime change common to the “third wave” of democratization, which started in 1974:

1) a “cyclical” pattern—i.e., unceasing alternation between democratic and authoritarian regimes;

2) a “second-try” pattern—i.e., the replacement of weak democratic regime with an authoritarian regime that is itself replaced with a lasting, strong democratic regime; and

3) an “interrupted” pattern—i.e., the temporary suspension of democracy before it is resumed for the long haul.

Furthermore, Huntington identifies factors that contributed to undemocratic reverses in the first and second waves of democratization, and says that these might also cause the third wave to slow down or halt completely.  These factors include “the weakness of democratic values among key elite groups and the general public,” “severe economic setbacks,” “social and political polarization, often produced by leftist governments seeking the rapid introduction of major social and economic reforms,” and “the determination of conservative middle-class and upper-class groups to exclude populist and leftist movements and lower-class groups from political power.”

In sum, Huntington accounts for and anticipates the very possibilities that Kurlantzick implicitly accuses him of ignoring.  What remains to be seen is whether recent anti-democratic developments are temporary, permanent, or the first phases of a cycle.

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Feminist Triumph in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times has a great story (with great photos) about Iraq’s newest addition to its swelling police force: women. As you read this excerpt about 21 female graduates of a police training course in Diyala, keep in mind that under Saddam women were not allowed to become cops:

The women in Diyala went through the same grueling 240 hours of basic training as their male counterparts, learning to fire machine guns and pistols, to slap handcuffs on suspects, and to search vehicles and individuals. When certificates were handed out, the women and men graduates, clad in their blue police uniforms, leaped into the air with joy.

[…]

Tradition runs deep in Iraq, particularly in rural areas, and the idea of women being on the front lines, weapons in hand, facing down possible terrorists is not something a lot of Iraqi men can accept.

But if the numbers of aspiring female cops are anything to go by, men won’t be able to control the tide much longer. There were about 300 female applicants for the available spots in the Diyala class. At least some of them will join the next class starting in October.

It’s not all good news. The necessity for policewomen has arisen from the recent increase in female Iraqi suicide bombers. (There were 30 cases this year, as compared to eight last year. ) But Iraqi women have wanted to play an active role in their country’s security since long before that trend emerged and the fact that they are now able to do so is historic and due in large part to those who fought to liberate Iraqis from Saddam’s regime.

When Islamists first filled the power vacuum left by the ousted Ba’athists, critics of the war were only too happy to point to the repression of females as another unintended consequence of a great American blunder. Left-wing NGO’s put out reports claiming that under Saddam, “women could go out to work, university, and get married or divorced in civil courts. But at the moment women have lost almost all their rights and are being pushed back into the corner of their house.”

But now that women have been entrusted with maintaining Iraqi security, the biggest feminist story in the region is sure to go ignored. And anyway, there’s no room for these headlines next to the ones announcing “Women’s Lives Worse Than Ever” — in Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times has a great story (with great photos) about Iraq’s newest addition to its swelling police force: women. As you read this excerpt about 21 female graduates of a police training course in Diyala, keep in mind that under Saddam women were not allowed to become cops:

The women in Diyala went through the same grueling 240 hours of basic training as their male counterparts, learning to fire machine guns and pistols, to slap handcuffs on suspects, and to search vehicles and individuals. When certificates were handed out, the women and men graduates, clad in their blue police uniforms, leaped into the air with joy.

[…]

Tradition runs deep in Iraq, particularly in rural areas, and the idea of women being on the front lines, weapons in hand, facing down possible terrorists is not something a lot of Iraqi men can accept.

But if the numbers of aspiring female cops are anything to go by, men won’t be able to control the tide much longer. There were about 300 female applicants for the available spots in the Diyala class. At least some of them will join the next class starting in October.

It’s not all good news. The necessity for policewomen has arisen from the recent increase in female Iraqi suicide bombers. (There were 30 cases this year, as compared to eight last year. ) But Iraqi women have wanted to play an active role in their country’s security since long before that trend emerged and the fact that they are now able to do so is historic and due in large part to those who fought to liberate Iraqis from Saddam’s regime.

When Islamists first filled the power vacuum left by the ousted Ba’athists, critics of the war were only too happy to point to the repression of females as another unintended consequence of a great American blunder. Left-wing NGO’s put out reports claiming that under Saddam, “women could go out to work, university, and get married or divorced in civil courts. But at the moment women have lost almost all their rights and are being pushed back into the corner of their house.”

But now that women have been entrusted with maintaining Iraqi security, the biggest feminist story in the region is sure to go ignored. And anyway, there’s no room for these headlines next to the ones announcing “Women’s Lives Worse Than Ever” — in Afghanistan.

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Krauthammer on Bush

Charles Krauthammer is in my opinion the finest columnist of his generation and one of the finest columnists America has ever produced. His pieces are always worth reading, but his climate-changing piece in today’s Washington Post, on the Bush legacy, is especially so.

Krauthammer argues that George W. Bush is a wartime president, and that this is how history will both remember and judge him. Krauthammer then offers a brief assessment of the President’s record on–among other topics–Iraq. The war turned out to be longer and more costly than expected, Krauthammer argues, but

the question remains as to whether the now-likely outcome — transforming a virulently aggressive enemy state in the heart of the Middle East into a strategic ally in the war on terror — was worth it. I suspect the ultimate answer will be far more favorable than it is today.

Krauthammer writes about the President’s “one unambiguous achievement, keeping us safe for seven years–about 6 1/2 years longer than anybody thought possible at the time of 9/11.” And he writes about Bush “bequeathing to his successor the kinds of powers and institutions the next president will need to prevent further attack and successfully prosecute the long war. ”

In this sense, Krauthammer argues, Bush is much like Truman, who left office as unpopular and out of favor, but about whom history has revised that verdict. “I have little doubt that Bush will be the subject of a similar reconsideration,” Krauthammer concludes.

The other thing Krauthammer picks up on, based on his hour-long interview with the President, is his equanimity. As it happens, that is precisely the quality that I have increasingly come to admire and place a premium on based on my experiences serving in three different Administrations (Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43).

Composure, an inner calmness, self-possession, and the capacity to remain grounded and unruffled by the buffeting that accompanies life in high public office are enormously important qualities. They are not by themselves sufficient to guarantee success, but they important nonetheless. And in a media culture in which minor issues explode on the scene for a few days and then evaporate and are forgotten, in which reporters and pundits often speak in sweeping, careless, and apocalyptic terms, and in which there exist an unrelenting intensity and wide mood swings, equanimity is an especially important character trait.

President Bush has that, and he has, if not a flawless record, then quite an impressive one. Charles Krauthammer is right, I suspect: history will treat America’s 43rd president well. George W. Bush understands that, and I imagine he takes some comfort in it.

Charles Krauthammer is in my opinion the finest columnist of his generation and one of the finest columnists America has ever produced. His pieces are always worth reading, but his climate-changing piece in today’s Washington Post, on the Bush legacy, is especially so.

Krauthammer argues that George W. Bush is a wartime president, and that this is how history will both remember and judge him. Krauthammer then offers a brief assessment of the President’s record on–among other topics–Iraq. The war turned out to be longer and more costly than expected, Krauthammer argues, but

the question remains as to whether the now-likely outcome — transforming a virulently aggressive enemy state in the heart of the Middle East into a strategic ally in the war on terror — was worth it. I suspect the ultimate answer will be far more favorable than it is today.

Krauthammer writes about the President’s “one unambiguous achievement, keeping us safe for seven years–about 6 1/2 years longer than anybody thought possible at the time of 9/11.” And he writes about Bush “bequeathing to his successor the kinds of powers and institutions the next president will need to prevent further attack and successfully prosecute the long war. ”

In this sense, Krauthammer argues, Bush is much like Truman, who left office as unpopular and out of favor, but about whom history has revised that verdict. “I have little doubt that Bush will be the subject of a similar reconsideration,” Krauthammer concludes.

The other thing Krauthammer picks up on, based on his hour-long interview with the President, is his equanimity. As it happens, that is precisely the quality that I have increasingly come to admire and place a premium on based on my experiences serving in three different Administrations (Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43).

Composure, an inner calmness, self-possession, and the capacity to remain grounded and unruffled by the buffeting that accompanies life in high public office are enormously important qualities. They are not by themselves sufficient to guarantee success, but they important nonetheless. And in a media culture in which minor issues explode on the scene for a few days and then evaporate and are forgotten, in which reporters and pundits often speak in sweeping, careless, and apocalyptic terms, and in which there exist an unrelenting intensity and wide mood swings, equanimity is an especially important character trait.

President Bush has that, and he has, if not a flawless record, then quite an impressive one. Charles Krauthammer is right, I suspect: history will treat America’s 43rd president well. George W. Bush understands that, and I imagine he takes some comfort in it.

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Re: Somebody Ate His Wheaties

As the week progressed, John McCain–on both tactics and substance–steadily improved. His speech in Green Bay today was smart on a few fronts.

First, he has figured out how to make a financial crisis into an ethics scandal while casting his opponent as a villain. In his analysis Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae play a major role:

Two years ago, I called for reform of this corruption at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Congress did nothing. The Administration did nothing. Senator Obama did nothing, and actually profited from this system of abuse and scandal. While Fannie and Freddie were working to keep Congress away from their house of cards, Senator Obama was taking their money. He got more, in fact, than any other member of Congress, except for the Democratic chairmen of the committee that oversees them. And while Fannie Mae was betraying the public trust, somehow its former CEO had managed to gain my opponent’s trust to the point that Senator Obama actually put him in charge of his vice presidential search.

Second, McCain laid out a series of policy steps, some of which are generic (e.g. more transparency and a new regulatory system) but some some which are more specific than anything his opponent has come up with–e.g. a Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust. Most promisingly, he has this to say:

[T]he Federal Reserve should get back to its core business of responsibly managing our money supply and inflation. It needs to get out of the business of bailouts. The Fed needs to return to protecting the purchasing power of the dollar. A strong dollar will reduce energy and food prices. It will stimulate sustainable economic growth and get this economy moving again.

That is likely to hearten fiscal conservatives–those who were looking for leadership on this issue will be pleased indeed.

And then McCain laid out his tax and energy plans with more brevity and clarity than we have seen:

I will give every family a $5,000 credit to buy their own health insurance policy and let them chose their own doctor. This will make insurance affordable to every American. I will double the child exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 to help families pay for the rising cost of living. Under my plan, a married couple with two children making $35,000 will get $5,000 to pay for health insurance and additional medical expenses. This family would get another $1,050 from my child exemption. That adds up to over $6,000. That is a lot more than what any hardworking middle class family, gets under the Obama plan. Business taxes will be cut from the second highest in the world at 35 percent to 25 percent.

The real issue for McCain is whether the message communicated here, not just the substance, but the impression of a decisive leader with a defined gameplan (and of his opponent as part of the culture of corrupt self-dealing and an advocate of higher taxes) can gain traction. The media din certainly is loud. His real opportunity is the debate next week, when his audience will be huge and there will be no media filter. He may not get another such chance.

As the week progressed, John McCain–on both tactics and substance–steadily improved. His speech in Green Bay today was smart on a few fronts.

First, he has figured out how to make a financial crisis into an ethics scandal while casting his opponent as a villain. In his analysis Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae play a major role:

Two years ago, I called for reform of this corruption at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Congress did nothing. The Administration did nothing. Senator Obama did nothing, and actually profited from this system of abuse and scandal. While Fannie and Freddie were working to keep Congress away from their house of cards, Senator Obama was taking their money. He got more, in fact, than any other member of Congress, except for the Democratic chairmen of the committee that oversees them. And while Fannie Mae was betraying the public trust, somehow its former CEO had managed to gain my opponent’s trust to the point that Senator Obama actually put him in charge of his vice presidential search.

Second, McCain laid out a series of policy steps, some of which are generic (e.g. more transparency and a new regulatory system) but some some which are more specific than anything his opponent has come up with–e.g. a Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust. Most promisingly, he has this to say:

[T]he Federal Reserve should get back to its core business of responsibly managing our money supply and inflation. It needs to get out of the business of bailouts. The Fed needs to return to protecting the purchasing power of the dollar. A strong dollar will reduce energy and food prices. It will stimulate sustainable economic growth and get this economy moving again.

That is likely to hearten fiscal conservatives–those who were looking for leadership on this issue will be pleased indeed.

And then McCain laid out his tax and energy plans with more brevity and clarity than we have seen:

I will give every family a $5,000 credit to buy their own health insurance policy and let them chose their own doctor. This will make insurance affordable to every American. I will double the child exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 to help families pay for the rising cost of living. Under my plan, a married couple with two children making $35,000 will get $5,000 to pay for health insurance and additional medical expenses. This family would get another $1,050 from my child exemption. That adds up to over $6,000. That is a lot more than what any hardworking middle class family, gets under the Obama plan. Business taxes will be cut from the second highest in the world at 35 percent to 25 percent.

The real issue for McCain is whether the message communicated here, not just the substance, but the impression of a decisive leader with a defined gameplan (and of his opponent as part of the culture of corrupt self-dealing and an advocate of higher taxes) can gain traction. The media din certainly is loud. His real opportunity is the debate next week, when his audience will be huge and there will be no media filter. He may not get another such chance.

Read Less

Reading Bin Laden

It’s been a couple of days since Secrecy News published the official U.S. compilation of the “Bin Laden Statements, 1994-2004″:

The 289-page collection has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Compilation of Usama Bin Laden Statements, 1994 – January 2004,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service, January 2004.

Not exactly the most entertaining way to pass a free afternoon, but valuable nonetheless.

It’s been a couple of days since Secrecy News published the official U.S. compilation of the “Bin Laden Statements, 1994-2004″:

The 289-page collection has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Compilation of Usama Bin Laden Statements, 1994 – January 2004,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service, January 2004.

Not exactly the most entertaining way to pass a free afternoon, but valuable nonetheless.

Read Less

In Case You Were Wondering

If you suspect the Clintons do not have Barack Obama’s best interests at heart, this story from ABC News won’t change your mind:

On a day when Obama sought to convince voters that he’s best able to handle the economic crisis, the former president said it was his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, who gave today “the most detailed position.”

In an interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Clinton, who has tried to put to rest rumors of tensions between himself and Obama said, “I’ve never concealed my admiration and affection for Senator McCain. I think he’s a great man.

“But, I think on the issues that matter to our future, the Obama-Biden team is, is more right,” Clinton said of the Democratic ticket. “And I believe they’re gonna win. But, I think that it will be competitive until the end.”

A ringing endorsement it wasn’t.

Then Bill had this to say about Sarah Palin and whether he was surprised at the lift she gave the Republicans:

No, she’s a– she’s an instinctively– effective candidate. And with a compelling story. And– and I think it was exciting to some– that– that she was a woman. It was exciting that she was from Alaska. It was exciting that she’s sort of like the person she is. And she grew up in a– came up in a political culture and a religious culture that is probably well to the right of the American center. But, she didn’t basically define herself in those terms. She’s basically said, “Look, this is where I’m from. I’m not gonna impose this on you. This is what I wanna do that I think we can all be a part of.” So, she handled herself very well. So, I– no, I wasn’t surprised. I think that– you know, I disagree with them on a lot of these issues. And that’s why aside from party affiliation, that’s why I would be for Senator Obama and Senator Biden anyway. But– but, I think she– I– I get why she’s done so well. She– she’s– it’s a mistake to underestimate her. She’s got good in– sorry– intuitive skills. They’re significant.

And Bill Clinton knows a thing or two about small-town and rural America and the tendency of media elites to underestimate people who don’t come from their own milieu.

If you suspect the Clintons do not have Barack Obama’s best interests at heart, this story from ABC News won’t change your mind:

On a day when Obama sought to convince voters that he’s best able to handle the economic crisis, the former president said it was his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, who gave today “the most detailed position.”

In an interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Clinton, who has tried to put to rest rumors of tensions between himself and Obama said, “I’ve never concealed my admiration and affection for Senator McCain. I think he’s a great man.

“But, I think on the issues that matter to our future, the Obama-Biden team is, is more right,” Clinton said of the Democratic ticket. “And I believe they’re gonna win. But, I think that it will be competitive until the end.”

A ringing endorsement it wasn’t.

Then Bill had this to say about Sarah Palin and whether he was surprised at the lift she gave the Republicans:

No, she’s a– she’s an instinctively– effective candidate. And with a compelling story. And– and I think it was exciting to some– that– that she was a woman. It was exciting that she was from Alaska. It was exciting that she’s sort of like the person she is. And she grew up in a– came up in a political culture and a religious culture that is probably well to the right of the American center. But, she didn’t basically define herself in those terms. She’s basically said, “Look, this is where I’m from. I’m not gonna impose this on you. This is what I wanna do that I think we can all be a part of.” So, she handled herself very well. So, I– no, I wasn’t surprised. I think that– you know, I disagree with them on a lot of these issues. And that’s why aside from party affiliation, that’s why I would be for Senator Obama and Senator Biden anyway. But– but, I think she– I– I get why she’s done so well. She– she’s– it’s a mistake to underestimate her. She’s got good in– sorry– intuitive skills. They’re significant.

And Bill Clinton knows a thing or two about small-town and rural America and the tendency of media elites to underestimate people who don’t come from their own milieu.

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They’re Trying

The New York Times headline for their story connecting Sarah Palin to Ted Stevens: “Alaska Star May Add  Luster to Tarnished Senator”

By which they hope to convey: “Alaska Senator May Tarnish Star Governor.”

The New York Times headline for their story connecting Sarah Palin to Ted Stevens: “Alaska Star May Add  Luster to Tarnished Senator”

By which they hope to convey: “Alaska Senator May Tarnish Star Governor.”

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Re: Biden’s Refusal to Appear

Jennifer, the dissing of Sarah Palin may be more interesting not for what really went on inside the various organizations, but for the potential blowback such a move has. The problem is not just that the Obama campagin has acted to deligitimize radically the elected governor of one of the 50 United States and a duly chosen candidate for the vice presidency. This they could have achieved just through their own boycotting of the event. The problem is that mainstream Jewish organizations, widely known to be in Obama’s pocket, have publicly humiliated a woman whose only crime was to agree to speak out together with them against a common enemy.

Granted, rally organizers were put in a tough spot by Hillary’s Gran Rifiuto. But what they have done is to reinforce the stereotype that Democrats cannot handle ordinary people; they have cast themselves as the ultimate insiders, using power rather than argument to shape the debate; they have made American Jewry look far more partisan than it probably is; they have turned the fight against Iran into a partisan issue; and they have given a powerful reason for both energizing the Right and disaffecting many American Jews who either support McCain-Palin or at least believe she had a right to speak. You’re dead on. We really haven’t heard the end of this story.

Jennifer, the dissing of Sarah Palin may be more interesting not for what really went on inside the various organizations, but for the potential blowback such a move has. The problem is not just that the Obama campagin has acted to deligitimize radically the elected governor of one of the 50 United States and a duly chosen candidate for the vice presidency. This they could have achieved just through their own boycotting of the event. The problem is that mainstream Jewish organizations, widely known to be in Obama’s pocket, have publicly humiliated a woman whose only crime was to agree to speak out together with them against a common enemy.

Granted, rally organizers were put in a tough spot by Hillary’s Gran Rifiuto. But what they have done is to reinforce the stereotype that Democrats cannot handle ordinary people; they have cast themselves as the ultimate insiders, using power rather than argument to shape the debate; they have made American Jewry look far more partisan than it probably is; they have turned the fight against Iran into a partisan issue; and they have given a powerful reason for both energizing the Right and disaffecting many American Jews who either support McCain-Palin or at least believe she had a right to speak. You’re dead on. We really haven’t heard the end of this story.

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