Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 23, 2008

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have nothing on Israel:

If Tzipi Livni forms a cabinet, Israel will be the only country in the world with women heading all three branches of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary.

Speaking of which, Ron Dermer has been doing spectacular work explaining the complexities of the Kadima primary and, now, the coalition-forming process. Click here to read his latest.

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have nothing on Israel:

If Tzipi Livni forms a cabinet, Israel will be the only country in the world with women heading all three branches of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary.

Speaking of which, Ron Dermer has been doing spectacular work explaining the complexities of the Kadima primary and, now, the coalition-forming process. Click here to read his latest.

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All Thumbs at the UN

What happens when an American president with three months left in office speaks to a worse-than-useless international body? Today, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly, an organization 50 years past its expiration date, and declared, “The United Nations is an organization of extraordinary potential.”

Hasn’t the UN realized its potential by now? An incomplete inventory of UN accomplishments includes: allowing for the slaughter of 800,000 innocents in Rwanda, criminalizing Zionism, permitting a few hundred thousand more innocents to perish in Sudan, promoting global anti-Semitism and racism, appointing Nazis and other assorted monsters to positions of moral authority, leveling the playing field so that democracies and tyrannies are made equal, stealing the food out of millions of Iraqis mouths so that diplomats can get rich, prohibiting humanitarian intervention in the name of multilateralism, giving a public platform to autocrats, and international veto power to war criminals.

If the UN has any more untapped potential, I’m not sure the world could endure it. At this point, the UN should hold an “extraordinary” fire sale and leave the potential to real estate visionaries who can make use of that Manhattan riverfront property.

Today, as Bush spoke of the “noble pledge” of the UN Charter and the need for international bodies to work together to combat extremists who “reject the words of the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or any standard of conscience or morality,” one such extremist–Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad–sat in the audience and gave the thumbs-down sign to the cameras. Other honored guests reacted to Bush’s speech differently. Netherlands Ambassador Frank Majoor said of Bush’s change toward more collaborative language: “It’s been sort of a gradual shift, but a very welcome one.” That Bush was able to polish his image in the eyes of a Dutch diplomat surely makes the disrespect of the Iranian president worth it, no?

And when Iran achieves its goal of attaining nuclear weapons in the next year or so, it will be thumbs-up from Ahmadinejad, thumbs-down from Mr. Majoor, a bunch of panicked looks directed America’s way, and another traffic jam in Manhattan to allow for the praise of the UN and its noble pledge.

What happens when an American president with three months left in office speaks to a worse-than-useless international body? Today, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly, an organization 50 years past its expiration date, and declared, “The United Nations is an organization of extraordinary potential.”

Hasn’t the UN realized its potential by now? An incomplete inventory of UN accomplishments includes: allowing for the slaughter of 800,000 innocents in Rwanda, criminalizing Zionism, permitting a few hundred thousand more innocents to perish in Sudan, promoting global anti-Semitism and racism, appointing Nazis and other assorted monsters to positions of moral authority, leveling the playing field so that democracies and tyrannies are made equal, stealing the food out of millions of Iraqis mouths so that diplomats can get rich, prohibiting humanitarian intervention in the name of multilateralism, giving a public platform to autocrats, and international veto power to war criminals.

If the UN has any more untapped potential, I’m not sure the world could endure it. At this point, the UN should hold an “extraordinary” fire sale and leave the potential to real estate visionaries who can make use of that Manhattan riverfront property.

Today, as Bush spoke of the “noble pledge” of the UN Charter and the need for international bodies to work together to combat extremists who “reject the words of the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or any standard of conscience or morality,” one such extremist–Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad–sat in the audience and gave the thumbs-down sign to the cameras. Other honored guests reacted to Bush’s speech differently. Netherlands Ambassador Frank Majoor said of Bush’s change toward more collaborative language: “It’s been sort of a gradual shift, but a very welcome one.” That Bush was able to polish his image in the eyes of a Dutch diplomat surely makes the disrespect of the Iranian president worth it, no?

And when Iran achieves its goal of attaining nuclear weapons in the next year or so, it will be thumbs-up from Ahmadinejad, thumbs-down from Mr. Majoor, a bunch of panicked looks directed America’s way, and another traffic jam in Manhattan to allow for the praise of the UN and its noble pledge.

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The Dropping Abortion Rate

Today’s Washington Post includes a story about a major shift in abortion demographics during the past 30 years. The lede of the story is this:

The face of women who have abortions has shifted significantly in the past 30 years, with relatively fewer white childless teenagers and more mothers of color in their 20s and 30s opting to terminate their pregnancies, according to a report being released today. In the first comprehensive analysis since 1974 of demographic characteristics of women who have abortions, researchers found that the overall drop in the abortion rate has been marked by a dramatic shift, declining more among white women and teenagers than among black and Hispanic and older women.

But as you continue to read, you’ll find this:

The analysis confirmed previous reports that the abortion rate fell to the lowest level since 1974, dropping 33 percent from a peak of 29 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1980 to 20 per 1,000 in 2004. [emphasis added]

From 1974-1989, the abortion rate increased 39 percent; from 1989-2004, it decreased 26 percent. In addition, while large disparities exist, with Hispanic and black women having the procedure at rates three to five times the rate of white women, abortion rates have declined among all racial and ethnic groups.

As my Ethics and Public Policy center colleague Yuval Levin and I discussed in our essay in the December 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, “Crime, Drugs, Welfare-and Other Good News,” the decrease in abortion seems to have been influenced less by policy than by the changing terms of public debate and by increasingly responsible attitudes among the young. Pro-life spokesmen changed their rhetorical tactics and began to choose their fights more carefully (for example, the partial-birth abortion debate colored the abortion debate throughout much of the 1990s and, in the process, created greater sympathy for a moderately pro-life position). Other factors played a role as well, including the efforts of pro-life groups to assist women with unwanted pregnancies, the greater availability of birth control, and advances in our scientific understanding of fetal development. Contributing to the re-thinking was the more widespread use of sonogram technology, which enables would-be parents to see the developing child and its human form at the very early stages. “All in all,” Yuval and I concluded, “not only has the public discussion of abortion been profoundly transformed, but younger Americans seem to have moved the farthest.”

This is, in other words, a tremendous social success story and part of the moral “re-norming” of America that has taken place during the last 15 years. That is, in every respect, a good thing, and an enormous tribute to those who have continued to fight for the life of unborn children even when it was unfashionable and when many people were pessimistic that progress could be made.

Today’s Washington Post includes a story about a major shift in abortion demographics during the past 30 years. The lede of the story is this:

The face of women who have abortions has shifted significantly in the past 30 years, with relatively fewer white childless teenagers and more mothers of color in their 20s and 30s opting to terminate their pregnancies, according to a report being released today. In the first comprehensive analysis since 1974 of demographic characteristics of women who have abortions, researchers found that the overall drop in the abortion rate has been marked by a dramatic shift, declining more among white women and teenagers than among black and Hispanic and older women.

But as you continue to read, you’ll find this:

The analysis confirmed previous reports that the abortion rate fell to the lowest level since 1974, dropping 33 percent from a peak of 29 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1980 to 20 per 1,000 in 2004. [emphasis added]

From 1974-1989, the abortion rate increased 39 percent; from 1989-2004, it decreased 26 percent. In addition, while large disparities exist, with Hispanic and black women having the procedure at rates three to five times the rate of white women, abortion rates have declined among all racial and ethnic groups.

As my Ethics and Public Policy center colleague Yuval Levin and I discussed in our essay in the December 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, “Crime, Drugs, Welfare-and Other Good News,” the decrease in abortion seems to have been influenced less by policy than by the changing terms of public debate and by increasingly responsible attitudes among the young. Pro-life spokesmen changed their rhetorical tactics and began to choose their fights more carefully (for example, the partial-birth abortion debate colored the abortion debate throughout much of the 1990s and, in the process, created greater sympathy for a moderately pro-life position). Other factors played a role as well, including the efforts of pro-life groups to assist women with unwanted pregnancies, the greater availability of birth control, and advances in our scientific understanding of fetal development. Contributing to the re-thinking was the more widespread use of sonogram technology, which enables would-be parents to see the developing child and its human form at the very early stages. “All in all,” Yuval and I concluded, “not only has the public discussion of abortion been profoundly transformed, but younger Americans seem to have moved the farthest.”

This is, in other words, a tremendous social success story and part of the moral “re-norming” of America that has taken place during the last 15 years. That is, in every respect, a good thing, and an enormous tribute to those who have continued to fight for the life of unborn children even when it was unfashionable and when many people were pessimistic that progress could be made.

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Honor-Shame Jihad

If you want to get a sense of one of the deep pathologies that afflicts Palestinian culture, look at one detail in particular of today’s terror attack in Jerusalem, in which an Arab resident of East Jerusalem drove his car into a crowd of Israelis:

The 19-year-old had wanted to marry his cousin, and when she refused his offer, he decided to carry out a terror attack, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

The terrorist was a rejected teenager. Well, so what? Isn’t that a universal phenomenon? In Arab culture, especially Palestinian, this kind of rejection — especially within the family, as this particular person experienced with his cousin — is a point of deep shame, and Arab culture is perhaps the greatest honor/shame culture on earth. When you are publicly shamed, you have to regain your honor. And Palestinians have been teaching their children for generations that one of the most honorable things in the world to do is murder Jews. Such killers, no matter how humiliating their existence before martyrdom, are instantly transformed into celebrities and hailed as the most honorable members of society. In a culture such as this, it should not be surprising that personal humiliation is so frequently translated into Jew-killing.

If you want to get a sense of one of the deep pathologies that afflicts Palestinian culture, look at one detail in particular of today’s terror attack in Jerusalem, in which an Arab resident of East Jerusalem drove his car into a crowd of Israelis:

The 19-year-old had wanted to marry his cousin, and when she refused his offer, he decided to carry out a terror attack, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

The terrorist was a rejected teenager. Well, so what? Isn’t that a universal phenomenon? In Arab culture, especially Palestinian, this kind of rejection — especially within the family, as this particular person experienced with his cousin — is a point of deep shame, and Arab culture is perhaps the greatest honor/shame culture on earth. When you are publicly shamed, you have to regain your honor. And Palestinians have been teaching their children for generations that one of the most honorable things in the world to do is murder Jews. Such killers, no matter how humiliating their existence before martyrdom, are instantly transformed into celebrities and hailed as the most honorable members of society. In a culture such as this, it should not be surprising that personal humiliation is so frequently translated into Jew-killing.

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Re: Reality Bites Obama

Yes, Abe, Barack Obama seems to have recognized that his grandiose spending plans may need to go on “hold.” But what about his tax plans to get the “rich” (or people who used to be rich before last week)? In the middle of a liquidity crisis and with a recession looming, does he still intend to hike payroll and income taxes? When the Fed is trying every mechanism available to pump money into the private sector, it seems just silly to suck it back out in the form of taxes. Yet we haven’t heard anything about him foregoing his tax hike plans.

At some point he needs to come clean: is he going to accept the flak that comes once people realize that both his spending and tax ideas have to be junked, or is he going to continue with his crusade to sock it to the (formerly) rich? It might be a good topic for the debates.

Yes, Abe, Barack Obama seems to have recognized that his grandiose spending plans may need to go on “hold.” But what about his tax plans to get the “rich” (or people who used to be rich before last week)? In the middle of a liquidity crisis and with a recession looming, does he still intend to hike payroll and income taxes? When the Fed is trying every mechanism available to pump money into the private sector, it seems just silly to suck it back out in the form of taxes. Yet we haven’t heard anything about him foregoing his tax hike plans.

At some point he needs to come clean: is he going to accept the flak that comes once people realize that both his spending and tax ideas have to be junked, or is he going to continue with his crusade to sock it to the (formerly) rich? It might be a good topic for the debates.

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It’s Getting Surreal

Joe Biden’s genius for communicative errors places him outside the realm of political gaffe-makers: He’s simply a fascinating social phenomenon. At least that’s the only excuse I can muster to justify my foisting yet another Biden blooper upon CONTENTIONS readers:

Joe Biden’s denunciation of his own campaign’s ad to Katie Couric got so much attention last night that another odd note in the interview slipped by.

He was speaking about the role of the White House in a financial crisis.

“When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed,” Biden told Couric. “He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”

As Reason’s Jesse Walker footnotes it: “And if you owned an experimental TV set in 1929, you would have seen him. And you would have said to yourself, ‘Who is that guy? What happened to President Hoover?’”

The problem for Barack Obama is: he’s already used up that excuse about the touched uncle who says whacky things you take with a grain of salt.

And, by the way, just imagine the cascade of charges, had a certain other VP candidate displayed such a psychedelic understanding of American history.

Joe Biden’s genius for communicative errors places him outside the realm of political gaffe-makers: He’s simply a fascinating social phenomenon. At least that’s the only excuse I can muster to justify my foisting yet another Biden blooper upon CONTENTIONS readers:

Joe Biden’s denunciation of his own campaign’s ad to Katie Couric got so much attention last night that another odd note in the interview slipped by.

He was speaking about the role of the White House in a financial crisis.

“When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed,” Biden told Couric. “He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”

As Reason’s Jesse Walker footnotes it: “And if you owned an experimental TV set in 1929, you would have seen him. And you would have said to yourself, ‘Who is that guy? What happened to President Hoover?’”

The problem for Barack Obama is: he’s already used up that excuse about the touched uncle who says whacky things you take with a grain of salt.

And, by the way, just imagine the cascade of charges, had a certain other VP candidate displayed such a psychedelic understanding of American history.

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She Didn’t Let In Cameras!?!?

Mark Halperin–of “[name of Republican nominee] is the bigger liar” fame–has this breathless headline: “Palin’s team bans reporters from day’s meetings with world leaders, allowing access only to photographers and a television crew.”

Hmmm. When “Land of Lincolner” (the pet name Halperin has coined for Barack Obama) did precisely the same thing on his world tours, was there a similarly horrified response? No. Some of us noticed, but not the MSM. This, in a nutshell, is the type of imbalance that drives conservatives nuts.

Mark Halperin–of “[name of Republican nominee] is the bigger liar” fame–has this breathless headline: “Palin’s team bans reporters from day’s meetings with world leaders, allowing access only to photographers and a television crew.”

Hmmm. When “Land of Lincolner” (the pet name Halperin has coined for Barack Obama) did precisely the same thing on his world tours, was there a similarly horrified response? No. Some of us noticed, but not the MSM. This, in a nutshell, is the type of imbalance that drives conservatives nuts.

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What I Really Said

It is no surprise, in theory, that journalistic accounts are often distorted. But it is nevertheless vexing when the distortions involve you. This weekend, I debated Middle Eastern policy at a conference sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in my capacity as a foreign policy adviser to John McCain. I argued opposite Richard Danzig, a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. (Later on, Rich Williamson, another McCain adviser, and Richard Clarke, another Obama adviser, also spoke separately.) Here is how Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on what transpired:

A McCain administration would discourage Israeli-Syrian peace talks and refrain from actively engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

That was the message delivered over the weekend by two McCain advisers — Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s special envoy to Sudan — during a retreat hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Lansdowne Resort in rural Virginia. . . .

Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks a mistake.
He also cast Israel’s talks with Syria as betraying the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

“John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon,” Boot said.

That distorted account was picked up gleefully by the usual suspects–i.e., leftist bloggers like Josh Marshall and Joe Klein, with Klein gleefully harrumphing “So the neoconservatives know what’s best for Israel better than the Israelis do.”

There’s only one minor problem: I never said what the JTA claims I said. Here is what I actually said regarding the U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian process (I’m quoting here from my opening remarks):

John McCain would also try to bring peace for Israel, but he realizes that there can be no lasting settlement until the Palestinians show they are interested in peaceful co-existence.

Later on, I was asked whether John McCain would appoint a special envoy for the peace process. I said I didn’t see a problem with that. But I also said that the McCain administration would not view the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as the most important issue facing the world and would not make it the main focus of its foreign policy–not when other pressing issues such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China, among others, cry out for attention. Moreover, I noted, even if the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were resolved, it would not solve all the problems of the Middle East. It would, for example, hardly make Al Qaeda give up its terrorism.

As for for the Israeli-Syrian negotiating process, here is what I had to say:

Syria is another one of those countries where Sen. Obama proposes to engage in unconditional presidential summitry. Many in his camp seem to believe that we should end attempts to isolate Syria and instead strike a deal with the Assad regime. . . .
What proponents of a deal with Syria don’t mention is the price we would have to pay-which likely would include the return of the Golan Heights and the betrayal of Lebanon’s democracy movement. And what would we get in return? Some nebulous promise not to support terrorism that Damascus could surreptitiously violate?

It’s up to Israel whether it gives up the Golan, but John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon.

In short, I definitely was not suggesting that the U.S. would nix a possible peace deal between Israel and Syria. In fact, I expressed no opinion at all on the advisability of Israel pursuing talks with Syria; that’s an issue for the Israeli government to decide. All I was saying was that President McCain would not pursue an American deal with Syria if the price were the betrayal of Lebanese democrats. That’s considerably different from what Klein et al. claim, but I don’t suppose they will let the facts stand in the way of their predictably intemperate attacks.

It is no surprise, in theory, that journalistic accounts are often distorted. But it is nevertheless vexing when the distortions involve you. This weekend, I debated Middle Eastern policy at a conference sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in my capacity as a foreign policy adviser to John McCain. I argued opposite Richard Danzig, a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. (Later on, Rich Williamson, another McCain adviser, and Richard Clarke, another Obama adviser, also spoke separately.) Here is how Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on what transpired:

A McCain administration would discourage Israeli-Syrian peace talks and refrain from actively engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

That was the message delivered over the weekend by two McCain advisers — Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s special envoy to Sudan — during a retreat hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Lansdowne Resort in rural Virginia. . . .

Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks a mistake.
He also cast Israel’s talks with Syria as betraying the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

“John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon,” Boot said.

That distorted account was picked up gleefully by the usual suspects–i.e., leftist bloggers like Josh Marshall and Joe Klein, with Klein gleefully harrumphing “So the neoconservatives know what’s best for Israel better than the Israelis do.”

There’s only one minor problem: I never said what the JTA claims I said. Here is what I actually said regarding the U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian process (I’m quoting here from my opening remarks):

John McCain would also try to bring peace for Israel, but he realizes that there can be no lasting settlement until the Palestinians show they are interested in peaceful co-existence.

Later on, I was asked whether John McCain would appoint a special envoy for the peace process. I said I didn’t see a problem with that. But I also said that the McCain administration would not view the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as the most important issue facing the world and would not make it the main focus of its foreign policy–not when other pressing issues such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China, among others, cry out for attention. Moreover, I noted, even if the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were resolved, it would not solve all the problems of the Middle East. It would, for example, hardly make Al Qaeda give up its terrorism.

As for for the Israeli-Syrian negotiating process, here is what I had to say:

Syria is another one of those countries where Sen. Obama proposes to engage in unconditional presidential summitry. Many in his camp seem to believe that we should end attempts to isolate Syria and instead strike a deal with the Assad regime. . . .
What proponents of a deal with Syria don’t mention is the price we would have to pay-which likely would include the return of the Golan Heights and the betrayal of Lebanon’s democracy movement. And what would we get in return? Some nebulous promise not to support terrorism that Damascus could surreptitiously violate?

It’s up to Israel whether it gives up the Golan, but John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon.

In short, I definitely was not suggesting that the U.S. would nix a possible peace deal between Israel and Syria. In fact, I expressed no opinion at all on the advisability of Israel pursuing talks with Syria; that’s an issue for the Israeli government to decide. All I was saying was that President McCain would not pursue an American deal with Syria if the price were the betrayal of Lebanese democrats. That’s considerably different from what Klein et al. claim, but I don’t suppose they will let the facts stand in the way of their predictably intemperate attacks.

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The Budget Deal Analogy

As the days pass, more and more people on the Right are voicing concerns about the Paulson bailout plan. One political operative, Patrick Ruffini, has even said:

Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout. God Himself couldn’t have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That’s why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House.

In 1990, the Elder Bush administration and a Democratic Congress came together to pass a budget deal that imposed spending caps and tax increases. The response by Republicans on Capitol Hill was unprecedented; the insurgent Newt Gingrich, who had just become a member of the GOP Congressional leadership, actually led more than 100 of his colleagues in outright opposition to the legislation being championed by the president, the titular head of his own party.

That fight, it might be said, was the foundational battle for the turnaround in Republican fortunes in Congress; the stand on principle against tax increases helped contain Republican losses in the midst of an economic downturn in the 1990 election and was essential to the change in strategy and philosophy that led to the tsunami of 1994.

So is this a parallel situation?

No. It’s not, because the budget deal was entirely optional — a piece of ideological theater in which Democrats got a Republican president to violate his core pledge on taxes in exchange for a nice piece of goo-goo policy in which their spending goals would theoretically be restrained. The 1990 deal raised taxes during a recession, which goes against every bit of sound thinking on economics we know about (even Barack Obama, schooled by the moderate economist Austan Goolsbee, is speaking cautiously about this now).

Everyone who is now talking about the potential horror of this new deal — we need to slow it down, how can Congress give the administration a $700 billion blank check, etc. — is kibitzing. By which I mean, they are complaining about it without offering much in the way of alternative options. Nobody thinks a bailout is avoidable. The question is whether there’s time to ruminate about it without causing a massive crisis of market confidence that simultaneously kills the credit market off entirely even as it drains liquidity from the world economy.

This is, of course, the worst conceivable time to be conducting a debate on the assumptions contained in the budget plan, five weeks before a election in which a third of the Senate and the entire House are up, not to mention the presidency.

There is one thing for certain: A piece of legislation, passed now to deal with the crisis, can be cleaned up and revisited early in the next Congress, in early February. Indeed, the officials who want it right now may themselves need such a clean-up because there will be technical reasons for one — drafting errors in the legislation and the like. There will have been four months to consider the longer-term effects of the bill. That is probably the best to be hoped for, and is, perhaps, the only responsible way to deal with the question of what needs to be done this week.

As the days pass, more and more people on the Right are voicing concerns about the Paulson bailout plan. One political operative, Patrick Ruffini, has even said:

Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout. God Himself couldn’t have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That’s why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House.

In 1990, the Elder Bush administration and a Democratic Congress came together to pass a budget deal that imposed spending caps and tax increases. The response by Republicans on Capitol Hill was unprecedented; the insurgent Newt Gingrich, who had just become a member of the GOP Congressional leadership, actually led more than 100 of his colleagues in outright opposition to the legislation being championed by the president, the titular head of his own party.

That fight, it might be said, was the foundational battle for the turnaround in Republican fortunes in Congress; the stand on principle against tax increases helped contain Republican losses in the midst of an economic downturn in the 1990 election and was essential to the change in strategy and philosophy that led to the tsunami of 1994.

So is this a parallel situation?

No. It’s not, because the budget deal was entirely optional — a piece of ideological theater in which Democrats got a Republican president to violate his core pledge on taxes in exchange for a nice piece of goo-goo policy in which their spending goals would theoretically be restrained. The 1990 deal raised taxes during a recession, which goes against every bit of sound thinking on economics we know about (even Barack Obama, schooled by the moderate economist Austan Goolsbee, is speaking cautiously about this now).

Everyone who is now talking about the potential horror of this new deal — we need to slow it down, how can Congress give the administration a $700 billion blank check, etc. — is kibitzing. By which I mean, they are complaining about it without offering much in the way of alternative options. Nobody thinks a bailout is avoidable. The question is whether there’s time to ruminate about it without causing a massive crisis of market confidence that simultaneously kills the credit market off entirely even as it drains liquidity from the world economy.

This is, of course, the worst conceivable time to be conducting a debate on the assumptions contained in the budget plan, five weeks before a election in which a third of the Senate and the entire House are up, not to mention the presidency.

There is one thing for certain: A piece of legislation, passed now to deal with the crisis, can be cleaned up and revisited early in the next Congress, in early February. Indeed, the officials who want it right now may themselves need such a clean-up because there will be technical reasons for one — drafting errors in the legislation and the like. There will have been four months to consider the longer-term effects of the bill. That is probably the best to be hoped for, and is, perhaps, the only responsible way to deal with the question of what needs to be done this week.

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Who’s To Blame?

Barack Obama would have us believe that lax regulation and deregulation in the form of the Glass-Steagall Act are at the root of the problem. He’s wrong on both counts.

First, as detailed by two AEI gurus, the answer is closer to home–or to the House and Senate, to be exact. The nub of the problem they argue in convincing fashion were Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae which jumped into the sub-prime mortgage market with abandon:

It is important to understand that, as GSEs [G0vernment-Sponsored Enterprises], Fannie and Freddie were viewed in the capital markets as government-backed buyers (a belief that has now been reduced to fact). Thus they were able to borrow as much as they wanted for the purpose of buying mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Their buying patterns and interests were followed closely in the markets. If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them. By late 2004, Fannie and Freddie very much wanted subprime and Alt-A loans. Their accounting had just been revealed as fraudulent, and they were under pressure from Congress to demonstrate that they deserved their considerable privileges. Among other problems, economists at the Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office had begun to study them in detail, and found that — despite their subsidized borrowing rates — they did not significantly reduce mortgage interest rates. In the wake of Freddie’s 2003 accounting scandal, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan became a powerful opponent, and began to call for stricter regulation of the GSEs and limitations on the growth of their highly profitable, but risky, retained portfolios.

If they were not making mortgages cheaper and were creating risks for the taxpayers and the economy, what value were they providing? The answer was their affordable-housing mission. So it was that, beginning in 2004, their portfolios of subprime and Alt-A loans and securities began to grow. Subprime and Alt-A originations in the U.S. rose from less than 8% of all mortgages in 2003 to over 20% in 2006. During this period the quality of subprime loans also declined, going from fixed rate, long-term amortizing loans to loans with low down payments and low (but adjustable) initial rates, indicating that originators were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find product for buyers like the GSEs.

When some Senators tried to rein in the GSEs, their Demcoratic patrons blocked the way:

In 2005, the Senate Banking Committee, then under Republican control, adopted a strong reform bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole, John Sununu and Chuck Hagel, and supported by then chairman Richard Shelby. The bill prohibited the GSEs from holding portfolios, and gave their regulator prudential authority (such as setting capital requirements) roughly equivalent to a bank regulator. In light of the current financial crisis, this bill was probably the most important piece of financial regulation before Congress in 2005 and 2006. All the Republicans on the Committee supported the bill, and all the Democrats voted against it. Mr. McCain endorsed the legislation in a speech on the Senate floor. Mr. Obama, like all other Democrats, remained silent.

Well, what about “banking deregulation”? That sounds ominous. Actually that’s the good part of the story–banks operated across state lines, offered new products and improved as financial institutions. You will note that, with the conversion of the last two investment banking firms, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, to bank holding companies, banks are once again king.

And don’t take my word for it. From the Washington Post:

Obama said McCain “has fought time and time again against the common-sense rules of the road that could’ve prevented this crisis,” neglecting to mention that his new brain trust on the crisis includes two Clinton administration Treasury secretaries, Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers, who helped negotiate the deregulation of the financial services industries in 1999. In an interview on Friday, Rubin said the law, named after its now-retired congressional sponsors — Phil Gramm (Tex.), a top McCain economic adviser; Jim Leach (Iowa), who heads Republicans for Obama; and Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (Va.) — “had no impact, zero,” on the current crisis.

There is plenty to debate about going forward–the shape and very existence of the bailout plan–but voters should at least be clear about how we got into the present mess.

Barack Obama would have us believe that lax regulation and deregulation in the form of the Glass-Steagall Act are at the root of the problem. He’s wrong on both counts.

First, as detailed by two AEI gurus, the answer is closer to home–or to the House and Senate, to be exact. The nub of the problem they argue in convincing fashion were Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae which jumped into the sub-prime mortgage market with abandon:

It is important to understand that, as GSEs [G0vernment-Sponsored Enterprises], Fannie and Freddie were viewed in the capital markets as government-backed buyers (a belief that has now been reduced to fact). Thus they were able to borrow as much as they wanted for the purpose of buying mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Their buying patterns and interests were followed closely in the markets. If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them. By late 2004, Fannie and Freddie very much wanted subprime and Alt-A loans. Their accounting had just been revealed as fraudulent, and they were under pressure from Congress to demonstrate that they deserved their considerable privileges. Among other problems, economists at the Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office had begun to study them in detail, and found that — despite their subsidized borrowing rates — they did not significantly reduce mortgage interest rates. In the wake of Freddie’s 2003 accounting scandal, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan became a powerful opponent, and began to call for stricter regulation of the GSEs and limitations on the growth of their highly profitable, but risky, retained portfolios.

If they were not making mortgages cheaper and were creating risks for the taxpayers and the economy, what value were they providing? The answer was their affordable-housing mission. So it was that, beginning in 2004, their portfolios of subprime and Alt-A loans and securities began to grow. Subprime and Alt-A originations in the U.S. rose from less than 8% of all mortgages in 2003 to over 20% in 2006. During this period the quality of subprime loans also declined, going from fixed rate, long-term amortizing loans to loans with low down payments and low (but adjustable) initial rates, indicating that originators were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find product for buyers like the GSEs.

When some Senators tried to rein in the GSEs, their Demcoratic patrons blocked the way:

In 2005, the Senate Banking Committee, then under Republican control, adopted a strong reform bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole, John Sununu and Chuck Hagel, and supported by then chairman Richard Shelby. The bill prohibited the GSEs from holding portfolios, and gave their regulator prudential authority (such as setting capital requirements) roughly equivalent to a bank regulator. In light of the current financial crisis, this bill was probably the most important piece of financial regulation before Congress in 2005 and 2006. All the Republicans on the Committee supported the bill, and all the Democrats voted against it. Mr. McCain endorsed the legislation in a speech on the Senate floor. Mr. Obama, like all other Democrats, remained silent.

Well, what about “banking deregulation”? That sounds ominous. Actually that’s the good part of the story–banks operated across state lines, offered new products and improved as financial institutions. You will note that, with the conversion of the last two investment banking firms, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, to bank holding companies, banks are once again king.

And don’t take my word for it. From the Washington Post:

Obama said McCain “has fought time and time again against the common-sense rules of the road that could’ve prevented this crisis,” neglecting to mention that his new brain trust on the crisis includes two Clinton administration Treasury secretaries, Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers, who helped negotiate the deregulation of the financial services industries in 1999. In an interview on Friday, Rubin said the law, named after its now-retired congressional sponsors — Phil Gramm (Tex.), a top McCain economic adviser; Jim Leach (Iowa), who heads Republicans for Obama; and Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (Va.) — “had no impact, zero,” on the current crisis.

There is plenty to debate about going forward–the shape and very existence of the bailout plan–but voters should at least be clear about how we got into the present mess.

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Judgment Time

The events of the last several months underscore why, in electing people to high public office–and especially to the presidency–one needs to make a careful assessment of the person’s character and judgment rather than simply on a set of position papers or even their experience. Life is fluid and ever-changing, and life in politics is doubly so. For example, when George W. Bush took office, he thought, as did most everyone else, that his presidency would be domestically focused. The attacks on September 11, 2001 completely altered that assumption. He became a wartime president.

Now consider the 2008 election. Not long ago, it was generally believed that this campaign would be centered on national security issues, given that America is at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But the success of the surge led to a staggering drop in violence in Iraq, thus draining the war of its political potency. The fact that America has not been attacked in more than seven years also made terrorism a less salient issue in the minds of many voters. Soon it was conventional wisdom that domestic issues like health care would play a pivotal role in the election.

Then, during the summer, gas reached more than $4 a gallon and drilling for oil moved to political center stage. It was assumed that the economy was the main issue in the election, and energy was at the core of the nation’s economic concerns.

Then Russia invaded Georgia, and national security issues once again dominated the headlines. We were reminded of what a dangerous world it is we live in, and how world events can intrude at any moment. Once again the criterion for electing a commander-in-chief was thought to be national security experience.

And then last week, we found ourselves dealing with a credit crisis that threatened to (and still may) transmute into a world-wide financial catastrophe. Markets seized up, lending stopped, confidence dropped through the floor, and the world held its breath.

Suddenly both campaigns, which have had to constantly readjust their focus throughout the campaign, have been forced to deal with an issue no one anticipated as recently as a couple of weeks ago: the intricacies and complexities of an unprecedented and complicated financial challenge. And who can possibly tell what other issues will emerge during the next 42 days?

There’s a useful lesson for voters in all of this. A prerequisite for political success, both in campaigns and in governing, is long-range planning. Without a strategic vision, actions turn into a series of unrelated decisions, ad-hoc, crisis-oriented, poorly planned, and ultimately unsuccessful. As Henry Kissinger has said, you become prisoner to events. And that’s a bad place to be.

On the other hand, we are reminded every day that we live in a world that is untidy and unpredictable. New issues burst onto the scene like a thunderbolt emerging out of the clear blue sky. It is simply not reasonable to expect public officials to be well versed in every possible issue that may emerge during a presidency.

The core point, as I tried to argue here, is that position papers matter, speechifying matters, and debate performances matter. But instincts and intuition, judgment and character, worldview and temperament matter more. They are a good deal harder to discern in a candidate than where he stands on taxing capital gains, and sometimes qualities of greatness (or failure) are easily masked. But they are immensely important.

In thinking all this through we can help ourselves by turning to Edmund Burke. In his speech to the electors of Bristol, Burke spoke about the qualities we should look for in a representative. Among the qualities Burke mentioned was “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience . . . not his industry only, but his judgment.”

That is what Burke believed representatives owe us; and mature judgment is what we ought to look for in them.

The events of the last several months underscore why, in electing people to high public office–and especially to the presidency–one needs to make a careful assessment of the person’s character and judgment rather than simply on a set of position papers or even their experience. Life is fluid and ever-changing, and life in politics is doubly so. For example, when George W. Bush took office, he thought, as did most everyone else, that his presidency would be domestically focused. The attacks on September 11, 2001 completely altered that assumption. He became a wartime president.

Now consider the 2008 election. Not long ago, it was generally believed that this campaign would be centered on national security issues, given that America is at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But the success of the surge led to a staggering drop in violence in Iraq, thus draining the war of its political potency. The fact that America has not been attacked in more than seven years also made terrorism a less salient issue in the minds of many voters. Soon it was conventional wisdom that domestic issues like health care would play a pivotal role in the election.

Then, during the summer, gas reached more than $4 a gallon and drilling for oil moved to political center stage. It was assumed that the economy was the main issue in the election, and energy was at the core of the nation’s economic concerns.

Then Russia invaded Georgia, and national security issues once again dominated the headlines. We were reminded of what a dangerous world it is we live in, and how world events can intrude at any moment. Once again the criterion for electing a commander-in-chief was thought to be national security experience.

And then last week, we found ourselves dealing with a credit crisis that threatened to (and still may) transmute into a world-wide financial catastrophe. Markets seized up, lending stopped, confidence dropped through the floor, and the world held its breath.

Suddenly both campaigns, which have had to constantly readjust their focus throughout the campaign, have been forced to deal with an issue no one anticipated as recently as a couple of weeks ago: the intricacies and complexities of an unprecedented and complicated financial challenge. And who can possibly tell what other issues will emerge during the next 42 days?

There’s a useful lesson for voters in all of this. A prerequisite for political success, both in campaigns and in governing, is long-range planning. Without a strategic vision, actions turn into a series of unrelated decisions, ad-hoc, crisis-oriented, poorly planned, and ultimately unsuccessful. As Henry Kissinger has said, you become prisoner to events. And that’s a bad place to be.

On the other hand, we are reminded every day that we live in a world that is untidy and unpredictable. New issues burst onto the scene like a thunderbolt emerging out of the clear blue sky. It is simply not reasonable to expect public officials to be well versed in every possible issue that may emerge during a presidency.

The core point, as I tried to argue here, is that position papers matter, speechifying matters, and debate performances matter. But instincts and intuition, judgment and character, worldview and temperament matter more. They are a good deal harder to discern in a candidate than where he stands on taxing capital gains, and sometimes qualities of greatness (or failure) are easily masked. But they are immensely important.

In thinking all this through we can help ourselves by turning to Edmund Burke. In his speech to the electors of Bristol, Burke spoke about the qualities we should look for in a representative. Among the qualities Burke mentioned was “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience . . . not his industry only, but his judgment.”

That is what Burke believed representatives owe us; and mature judgment is what we ought to look for in them.

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Reality Bites Obama

Apparently, this morning’s NBC interview with Matt Lauer (which Jennifer wrote about earlier) was rich in clues to the mindset of Barack Obama. Perhaps most interesting is that Obama set the stage for a veritable bazaar of fresh flip-flops. Here’s Mike Allen, at the Politico:

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in an interview aired Tuesday that the cost of the mortgage bailout plan may rein in his ambitious plans for health care, energy, education and infrastructure.

[...]

Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that he doesn’t expect the mortgage plan to cost the full $700 billion right away, and all the money won’t be lost.

“Does that mean that I can do everything that I’ve called for in this campaign right away?” Obama said. “Probably not. I think we’re going to have to phase it in. And a lot of it’s going to depend on what our tax revenues look like.”

Real-world contingencies have a way of impeding Obama’s utopian ambitions. But it would be a sign of the candidate’s seriousness if he could factor reality into his plans beforehand. And it would also clarify for voters just what they’re voting for. Whether it’s talking to America’s enemies, “ending” a war because it’s ugly, or showing restraint in off-shore drilling, Obama’s vows tend to get derailed on the way to fruition. And you can say that the current financial meltdown was an unforeseeable emergency (or a “game-changer,” as Obama likes to say). But what are leaders for, if not to put the country on the best possible footing should we be struck by an unforeseeable emergency? There will always, after all, be unforeseeable emergencies.

Barack Obama wants to quell the oceans, cool the planet, and feed the hungry. Who doesn’t? But it turns out the dispensing of miracles is “going to depend on what our tax revenues look like.” No matter what he told Matt Lauer, a revenue shortage doesn’t simply mean you slow the implementation of initiatives. Obama, should he become president, will have to engage in a vast restructuring of the programs he promised to deliver. If you’re going to stagger out certain energy, education, infrastructure, and health care policies, those policies need to be designed with a staggered timetable in mind. You can’t decide to build half a school or a quarter of a wind farm and then wait on revenue. This leaves Obama’s grand plans precisely nowhere. But he can probably cover over that frightening fact for the next month and a half with a little help from his friends in the press.

Apparently, this morning’s NBC interview with Matt Lauer (which Jennifer wrote about earlier) was rich in clues to the mindset of Barack Obama. Perhaps most interesting is that Obama set the stage for a veritable bazaar of fresh flip-flops. Here’s Mike Allen, at the Politico:

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in an interview aired Tuesday that the cost of the mortgage bailout plan may rein in his ambitious plans for health care, energy, education and infrastructure.

[...]

Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that he doesn’t expect the mortgage plan to cost the full $700 billion right away, and all the money won’t be lost.

“Does that mean that I can do everything that I’ve called for in this campaign right away?” Obama said. “Probably not. I think we’re going to have to phase it in. And a lot of it’s going to depend on what our tax revenues look like.”

Real-world contingencies have a way of impeding Obama’s utopian ambitions. But it would be a sign of the candidate’s seriousness if he could factor reality into his plans beforehand. And it would also clarify for voters just what they’re voting for. Whether it’s talking to America’s enemies, “ending” a war because it’s ugly, or showing restraint in off-shore drilling, Obama’s vows tend to get derailed on the way to fruition. And you can say that the current financial meltdown was an unforeseeable emergency (or a “game-changer,” as Obama likes to say). But what are leaders for, if not to put the country on the best possible footing should we be struck by an unforeseeable emergency? There will always, after all, be unforeseeable emergencies.

Barack Obama wants to quell the oceans, cool the planet, and feed the hungry. Who doesn’t? But it turns out the dispensing of miracles is “going to depend on what our tax revenues look like.” No matter what he told Matt Lauer, a revenue shortage doesn’t simply mean you slow the implementation of initiatives. Obama, should he become president, will have to engage in a vast restructuring of the programs he promised to deliver. If you’re going to stagger out certain energy, education, infrastructure, and health care policies, those policies need to be designed with a staggered timetable in mind. You can’t decide to build half a school or a quarter of a wind farm and then wait on revenue. This leaves Obama’s grand plans precisely nowhere. But he can probably cover over that frightening fact for the next month and a half with a little help from his friends in the press.

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Race-Baiting at the Times

An insidious tactic for backing Barack Obama’s candidacy is afoot at the New York Times: position Obama as the victim of bigotry to win voters’ sympathies.

In this vein, Nicholas Kristof (as Jennifer noted) dedicated his Sunday column to discrediting the long-ago-discredited Internet rumor that Obama is a Muslim, doing his damnedest to implicate the McCain campaign in the alleged “otherizing” of the Democratic presidential nominee. In turn, Kristof pointed to a McCain commercial that, in his estimation, “mimicked the words and imagery of the best-selling Christian ‘Left Behind’ book series in ways that would have set off alarm bells among evangelicals nervous about the Antichrist.” Despite failing to provide any evidence to support this outrageous accusation, Kristof boldly called on his fellow journalists to similarly “blow the whistle on such egregious fouls”–in other words, employ as many logical leaps as are necessary to read racism into the activities of the McCain campaign.

Yesterday, editorial observer Brent Staples heeded Kristof’s call. In a piece that represents a true achievement in journalistic dishonesty, Staples accused the McCain campaign of Jim Crow-like racism:

In the Old South, black men and women who were competent, confident speakers on matters of importance were termed “disrespectful,” the implication being that all good Negroes bowed, scraped, grinned and deferred to their white betters.

In what is probably a harbinger of things to come, the McCain campaign has already run a commercial that carries a similar intimation, accusing Mr. Obama of being “disrespectful” to Sarah Palin. The argument is muted, but its racial antecedents are very clear.

Of course, the accusation that Obama is disrespecting Palin– and he is–has nothing to do with his race, but with her gender. As Obama should have learned during his primary battle with Hillary Clinton, conventional political wisdom shows that male candidates provide their female opponents with ample fodder when they address them in patronizing tones. Indeed, the McCain campaign has raised similar objections to Joe Biden’s comment that Sarah Palin is good-looking, while Geraldine Ferraro once employed this line of attack against George H.W. Bush.

As the deeply flawed reasoning in Kristof’s and Staples’s op-eds suggests, the Times‘ race-baiting will not provide a sustainable argument against McCain. If anything, it merely demonstrates the ugly depths to which the Grey Lady will sink in support of Obama. Ultimately, this should hurt the Times more than it affects either of the two presidential contenders: as Americans increasingly distrust the liberal MSM, false cries of racism will only erode its standing further.

An insidious tactic for backing Barack Obama’s candidacy is afoot at the New York Times: position Obama as the victim of bigotry to win voters’ sympathies.

In this vein, Nicholas Kristof (as Jennifer noted) dedicated his Sunday column to discrediting the long-ago-discredited Internet rumor that Obama is a Muslim, doing his damnedest to implicate the McCain campaign in the alleged “otherizing” of the Democratic presidential nominee. In turn, Kristof pointed to a McCain commercial that, in his estimation, “mimicked the words and imagery of the best-selling Christian ‘Left Behind’ book series in ways that would have set off alarm bells among evangelicals nervous about the Antichrist.” Despite failing to provide any evidence to support this outrageous accusation, Kristof boldly called on his fellow journalists to similarly “blow the whistle on such egregious fouls”–in other words, employ as many logical leaps as are necessary to read racism into the activities of the McCain campaign.

Yesterday, editorial observer Brent Staples heeded Kristof’s call. In a piece that represents a true achievement in journalistic dishonesty, Staples accused the McCain campaign of Jim Crow-like racism:

In the Old South, black men and women who were competent, confident speakers on matters of importance were termed “disrespectful,” the implication being that all good Negroes bowed, scraped, grinned and deferred to their white betters.

In what is probably a harbinger of things to come, the McCain campaign has already run a commercial that carries a similar intimation, accusing Mr. Obama of being “disrespectful” to Sarah Palin. The argument is muted, but its racial antecedents are very clear.

Of course, the accusation that Obama is disrespecting Palin– and he is–has nothing to do with his race, but with her gender. As Obama should have learned during his primary battle with Hillary Clinton, conventional political wisdom shows that male candidates provide their female opponents with ample fodder when they address them in patronizing tones. Indeed, the McCain campaign has raised similar objections to Joe Biden’s comment that Sarah Palin is good-looking, while Geraldine Ferraro once employed this line of attack against George H.W. Bush.

As the deeply flawed reasoning in Kristof’s and Staples’s op-eds suggests, the Times‘ race-baiting will not provide a sustainable argument against McCain. If anything, it merely demonstrates the ugly depths to which the Grey Lady will sink in support of Obama. Ultimately, this should hurt the Times more than it affects either of the two presidential contenders: as Americans increasingly distrust the liberal MSM, false cries of racism will only erode its standing further.

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Bookshelf

Richard M. Sudhalter, the jazz historian (and sometime COMMENTARY contributor) who died last Friday after a long illness, was that rarity of rarities, a first-class musical scholar who played as well as he wrote. His trumpet playing was renowned for its elegance and wit, and the fact that-unlike most critics-he understood jazz from the inside out added immeasurably to the lucidity with which he wrote about it. Alas, Sudhalter was only able to complete three books before a stroke brought an untimely end to his writing career, but all of them were important.I discussed “Bix: Man and Legend” (1974), the biography of Bix Beiderbecke that Sudhalter co-wrote with Philip Evans, in a 2001 COMMENTARY essay called “Jazz and Its Explainers.” On that occasion I praised it as

a landmark in the development of fully professional jazz scholarship….No previous book about a jazz musician had been so extensively documented, and none had been based exclusively on primary sources. Although few if any contemporary reviewers appreciated its significance, this was the first time the life story of a major jazz artist had been told in the kind of exhaustive detail that would be taken for granted in a scholarly biography of a major classical composer.

The furious controversy attending the publication in 1999 of “Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945″ (about which I will be writing in the November issue of COMMENTARY) made it all but impossible for laymen to appreciate the book’s significance, and so it mostly failed to receive the thoughtful appraisals it deserved. Nine years later, though, this groundbreaking critical study, in which Sudhalter wrote with acute penetration about the work of such noted white jazz musicians as Beiderbecke, Connie Boswell, Bud Freeman, Benny Goodman, Bobby Hackett, Red Nichols, Red Norvo, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Pee Wee Russell, Artie Shaw and Jack Teagarden, has finally won widespread recognition from well-informed scholars as a major contribution to the literature of jazz.

Not only is “Lost Chords” unfailingly insightful, but it is written with a journalistic flair rarely to be found in scholarly studies. Take, for example, Sudhalter’s description of the way the trombonist Miff Mole looked in 1960, not long before his death:

Just an old-looking guy in an old-looking overcoat, standing there beside his big, old-looking trombone case. No mistaking him, though: wire-rimmed glasses just a little askew on a leathery, seamed face. The look-still, so many years later-of a slightly quizzical owl….He was sixty-two and hadn’t played regularly in ten years. Repeated operations on an infected hip had undercut his health and depleted what savings he had. The jazz world of his time, embroiled in its usual intramural squabbling, neither knew of him nor gave a damn.

Vicious attacks on “Lost Chords” by race-obsessed critics incompetent to evaluate its merits were undoubtedly responsible for the fact that Sudhalter’s last book, “Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael” (2003), received so little attention in the popular press. Even though it was the first full-length biography of the composer of such familiar and beloved standards as “Georgia on My Mind,” “Skylark” and “Stardust,” the New York Times Book Review took no note of its publication. Yet “Stardust Melody,” like “Bix: Man and Legend” and “Lost Chords” before it, is a book of the highest significance, one of the very few high-quality biographies ever to be written about a popular songwriter. Biographies are rarely definitive, but this one is unlikely to be bettered.

“Stardust Melody” is still in print from Oxford University Press, and used copies of “Bix: Man and Legend” and “Lost Chords” are readily available via Amazon and other online booksellers. Anyone interested in the history of jazz and American popular song should own all three.

Richard M. Sudhalter, the jazz historian (and sometime COMMENTARY contributor) who died last Friday after a long illness, was that rarity of rarities, a first-class musical scholar who played as well as he wrote. His trumpet playing was renowned for its elegance and wit, and the fact that-unlike most critics-he understood jazz from the inside out added immeasurably to the lucidity with which he wrote about it. Alas, Sudhalter was only able to complete three books before a stroke brought an untimely end to his writing career, but all of them were important.I discussed “Bix: Man and Legend” (1974), the biography of Bix Beiderbecke that Sudhalter co-wrote with Philip Evans, in a 2001 COMMENTARY essay called “Jazz and Its Explainers.” On that occasion I praised it as

a landmark in the development of fully professional jazz scholarship….No previous book about a jazz musician had been so extensively documented, and none had been based exclusively on primary sources. Although few if any contemporary reviewers appreciated its significance, this was the first time the life story of a major jazz artist had been told in the kind of exhaustive detail that would be taken for granted in a scholarly biography of a major classical composer.

The furious controversy attending the publication in 1999 of “Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945″ (about which I will be writing in the November issue of COMMENTARY) made it all but impossible for laymen to appreciate the book’s significance, and so it mostly failed to receive the thoughtful appraisals it deserved. Nine years later, though, this groundbreaking critical study, in which Sudhalter wrote with acute penetration about the work of such noted white jazz musicians as Beiderbecke, Connie Boswell, Bud Freeman, Benny Goodman, Bobby Hackett, Red Nichols, Red Norvo, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Pee Wee Russell, Artie Shaw and Jack Teagarden, has finally won widespread recognition from well-informed scholars as a major contribution to the literature of jazz.

Not only is “Lost Chords” unfailingly insightful, but it is written with a journalistic flair rarely to be found in scholarly studies. Take, for example, Sudhalter’s description of the way the trombonist Miff Mole looked in 1960, not long before his death:

Just an old-looking guy in an old-looking overcoat, standing there beside his big, old-looking trombone case. No mistaking him, though: wire-rimmed glasses just a little askew on a leathery, seamed face. The look-still, so many years later-of a slightly quizzical owl….He was sixty-two and hadn’t played regularly in ten years. Repeated operations on an infected hip had undercut his health and depleted what savings he had. The jazz world of his time, embroiled in its usual intramural squabbling, neither knew of him nor gave a damn.

Vicious attacks on “Lost Chords” by race-obsessed critics incompetent to evaluate its merits were undoubtedly responsible for the fact that Sudhalter’s last book, “Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael” (2003), received so little attention in the popular press. Even though it was the first full-length biography of the composer of such familiar and beloved standards as “Georgia on My Mind,” “Skylark” and “Stardust,” the New York Times Book Review took no note of its publication. Yet “Stardust Melody,” like “Bix: Man and Legend” and “Lost Chords” before it, is a book of the highest significance, one of the very few high-quality biographies ever to be written about a popular songwriter. Biographies are rarely definitive, but this one is unlikely to be bettered.

“Stardust Melody” is still in print from Oxford University Press, and used copies of “Bix: Man and Legend” and “Lost Chords” are readily available via Amazon and other online booksellers. Anyone interested in the history of jazz and American popular song should own all three.

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Majority of Palestinians Reject Two-State Solution

A new poll conducted by An-Najah University finds that a majority of Palestinians reject the concept of two states living side by side in peace and security, as the saying goes.

Do you support or reject the creation of two states on the historic land of Palestine (a Palestinian state and Israel)?

42.5% I support
54.3% I reject
3.2% No opinion/I do not know

If a poll found that the majority of Israelis rejected the two-state solution, it would make headlines around the world. Yet when repeated polls of Palestinians find solid majority support for terrorism against Israel and rejection of peace with Israel, nobody even has the chance to bat an eye, because nobody hears about it. Such information is not viewed as newsworthy. Remarkable.

A new poll conducted by An-Najah University finds that a majority of Palestinians reject the concept of two states living side by side in peace and security, as the saying goes.

Do you support or reject the creation of two states on the historic land of Palestine (a Palestinian state and Israel)?

42.5% I support
54.3% I reject
3.2% No opinion/I do not know

If a poll found that the majority of Israelis rejected the two-state solution, it would make headlines around the world. Yet when repeated polls of Palestinians find solid majority support for terrorism against Israel and rejection of peace with Israel, nobody even has the chance to bat an eye, because nobody hears about it. Such information is not viewed as newsworthy. Remarkable.

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Re: Trouble In Paradise

Could things get worse for Joe Biden, the one-man wrecking crew of the Democratic ticket? Oh, yes they can. In response to a question in Ohio, Biden got into a discussion about clean coal. Ben Smith recounts Biden’s answer:

He supports clean coal for China, but not for the United States.”No coal plants here in America,” he said. “Build them, if they’re going to build them, over there. Make them clean.” “We’re not supporting clean coal,” he said of himself and Obama. They do, on paper, support clean coal.The answer seems to play into John McCain’s case that Obama has been saying “no” to new sources of energy. In the primary, Biden opposed Obama’s push for clean coal, which is seen as a way of maintaining or expanding America’s coal-burning power plants — many of which are in rust belt swing states.

Then, for good measure, Biden bragged in good Al Gore fashion that he was the first person to introduce a global warming bill and support solar power. Worse still: there is video. Got that? “No coal plants in America.”

This is very amusing for pundits and a hoot for the McCain camp. For Obama it’s a nightmare and further proof he messed up–badly–in his decision to pick Biden. And the upcoming VP debate might just be the best TV of the campaign season.

UPDATE: Sometimes you get lucky. John McCain is in Ohio today. His campaign is already circulating these remarks from his appearance today:

I am going to put in place the priorities and policies that will create jobs in Ohio. One important way that we are going to create jobs here is with the development of additional nuclear plants and through investments in clean coal technology.

Not only will investment in our energy infrastructure create millions of new jobs across the country, it will help lead our nation toward the important goal of energy independence. My opponent is against the expansion of nuclear power. His running mate here in Ohio recently said that they weren’t supporting clean coal either. And the fact is that their billions of dollars in higher taxes would kill jobs here in Ohio. That’s not what Ohio needs and that’s not what America needs.

I wonder what will be on the front pages of the Ohio and Pennsylvania papers tomorrow morning and the top of the local news tonight?

Could things get worse for Joe Biden, the one-man wrecking crew of the Democratic ticket? Oh, yes they can. In response to a question in Ohio, Biden got into a discussion about clean coal. Ben Smith recounts Biden’s answer:

He supports clean coal for China, but not for the United States.”No coal plants here in America,” he said. “Build them, if they’re going to build them, over there. Make them clean.” “We’re not supporting clean coal,” he said of himself and Obama. They do, on paper, support clean coal.The answer seems to play into John McCain’s case that Obama has been saying “no” to new sources of energy. In the primary, Biden opposed Obama’s push for clean coal, which is seen as a way of maintaining or expanding America’s coal-burning power plants — many of which are in rust belt swing states.

Then, for good measure, Biden bragged in good Al Gore fashion that he was the first person to introduce a global warming bill and support solar power. Worse still: there is video. Got that? “No coal plants in America.”

This is very amusing for pundits and a hoot for the McCain camp. For Obama it’s a nightmare and further proof he messed up–badly–in his decision to pick Biden. And the upcoming VP debate might just be the best TV of the campaign season.

UPDATE: Sometimes you get lucky. John McCain is in Ohio today. His campaign is already circulating these remarks from his appearance today:

I am going to put in place the priorities and policies that will create jobs in Ohio. One important way that we are going to create jobs here is with the development of additional nuclear plants and through investments in clean coal technology.

Not only will investment in our energy infrastructure create millions of new jobs across the country, it will help lead our nation toward the important goal of energy independence. My opponent is against the expansion of nuclear power. His running mate here in Ohio recently said that they weren’t supporting clean coal either. And the fact is that their billions of dollars in higher taxes would kill jobs here in Ohio. That’s not what Ohio needs and that’s not what America needs.

I wonder what will be on the front pages of the Ohio and Pennsylvania papers tomorrow morning and the top of the local news tonight?

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Re: Re: McCain’s Challenge

Jennifer, I concur with John; McCain has been flailing around during a moment when steadiness is called for. Last week McCain seemed like a political pinball, arguing one thing and then another in a matter of hours. He then went into, and remains in, his hyper-populist mode, attacking at every stop, and seemingly at every moment, the “greed” and “corruption” of Wall Street. The problem is that he rarely offered any real insight into the causes and solutions of the credit crisis we face.

McCain then carelessly attacked SEC chairman Christopher Cox, causing many conservatives to rally to Cox’s defense (see this Wall Street Journal editorial here, and George Will’s scorching column here). McCain went after Cox in typical fashion; rather than confining his disagreements to policy differences, he accused Cox of “betray[ing] the public trust,” which is one of the worst charges you can make against a public official.

One might think that McCain, having been on the receiving end of unfair attacks on his honor during the Keating Five scandal, would be more careful when impugning the character and honor of others. McCain then compounded his error by saying on “60 Minutes” that he would consider Andrew Cuomo as Cox’s replacement.

This whole week underscored the concerns many conservatives have had about McCain over the years, including the sense that he is philosophically unanchored, impulsive, and constantly tempted to put down the party he has now been chosen to lead.

It’s been argued by others that McCain sees politics not so much in terms of policy and philosophy, but through his own interpretation of honor. In small doses, and directed the right way, McCain’s quests can be admirable. But when it is used promiscuously and in an undisciplined fashion, it causes McCain trouble. There are enough real dragons to slay without having to manufacture imaginary ones.

McCain had done a great deal to help himself with conservatives with the pick of Sarah Palin. But his actions over the last week have had a deflating effect, which he can ill afford.

The damage that’s been done can be undone by a strong debate performance. But Senator McCain has now placed himself in a position in which he needs to do very well. Otherwise, this election–always an uphill struggle–may begin to slip away from him. John McCain is not in a position where he can sustain many more self-inflicted wounds.

Jennifer, I concur with John; McCain has been flailing around during a moment when steadiness is called for. Last week McCain seemed like a political pinball, arguing one thing and then another in a matter of hours. He then went into, and remains in, his hyper-populist mode, attacking at every stop, and seemingly at every moment, the “greed” and “corruption” of Wall Street. The problem is that he rarely offered any real insight into the causes and solutions of the credit crisis we face.

McCain then carelessly attacked SEC chairman Christopher Cox, causing many conservatives to rally to Cox’s defense (see this Wall Street Journal editorial here, and George Will’s scorching column here). McCain went after Cox in typical fashion; rather than confining his disagreements to policy differences, he accused Cox of “betray[ing] the public trust,” which is one of the worst charges you can make against a public official.

One might think that McCain, having been on the receiving end of unfair attacks on his honor during the Keating Five scandal, would be more careful when impugning the character and honor of others. McCain then compounded his error by saying on “60 Minutes” that he would consider Andrew Cuomo as Cox’s replacement.

This whole week underscored the concerns many conservatives have had about McCain over the years, including the sense that he is philosophically unanchored, impulsive, and constantly tempted to put down the party he has now been chosen to lead.

It’s been argued by others that McCain sees politics not so much in terms of policy and philosophy, but through his own interpretation of honor. In small doses, and directed the right way, McCain’s quests can be admirable. But when it is used promiscuously and in an undisciplined fashion, it causes McCain trouble. There are enough real dragons to slay without having to manufacture imaginary ones.

McCain had done a great deal to help himself with conservatives with the pick of Sarah Palin. But his actions over the last week have had a deflating effect, which he can ill afford.

The damage that’s been done can be undone by a strong debate performance. But Senator McCain has now placed himself in a position in which he needs to do very well. Otherwise, this election–always an uphill struggle–may begin to slip away from him. John McCain is not in a position where he can sustain many more self-inflicted wounds.

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Re: McCain’s Challenge

John, McCain’s performance last week wasn’t all bad. He did manage to come up with a concrete idea for purchasing bad debt and provide reasoned opposition (beginning over the weekend) to the Paulson “blank check” plan. (And while I think the call to fire Chris Cox was excessive, McCain is not the only one to find that the SEC as been less than a paragon of regulatory acumen under Cox’s watch.)

And after a market meltdown and the missteps you outlined, he’s still in the race (all caveats apply to all polls). He must be downright giddy to be within the margin of error in places like Pennsylvania and ahead by a tad in Florida and Ohio. (As a political matter, his attacks on Obama’s affiliations with Freddie, Fannie and Rezko and his partial success in shifting the argument from the economy to reform–not to mention an absence of any impressive action by Obama, which McCain is now exploiting in ads–likely account for his ability to hang tight.)

With a race still close, you are right that the debates take on enormous significance. It is no surprise that the expectations-lowering game is already in full swing. The New York Times helpfully lowers them for Barack Obama:

Mr. Obama has a tendency to overintellectualize and to lecture, befitting his training as a lawyer and law professor. He exudes disdain for the quips and sound bites that some deride as trivializing political debates but that have become a central part of scoring them. He tends to the earnest and humorless when audiences seem to crave passion and personality. He frequently rises above the mire of political combat when the battle calls for engagement.

Gee, with this record, you wonder why the Times didn’t raise his appalling debating skills earlier:

One of Mr. Obama’s worst moments came in the first Democratic debate, in South Carolina in April 2007. The candidates were asked how they would respond to a new series of terrorist attacks. Mrs. Clinton gave a short answer, ending, “Let’s focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them.” But Mr. Obama gave a rambling reply on emergency response, intelligence flaws and the importance of engaging “the international community.” He had to ask for a second chance to answer the question in order to say he would go after the terrorists. Two months later he was on the defensive over a question of meeting without preconditions with the leaders of hostile states. He said that he would do so and that he disagreed with the Bush administration’s approach of not engaging with Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea. His rivals cited this as evidence of his naïveté in foreign affairs. Perhaps Mr. Obama’s single worst debate moment came early this January in New Hampshire, where Mrs. Clinton was asked why some people found her less likable than some of her rivals. She adopted a hurt tone and said of Mr. Obama: “He’s very likable, I agree with that. But I don’t think I’m that bad.” Mr. Obama looked at her and said coldly, “You’re likable enough.”

But the reality is that both candidates need to do well. Obama needs to do what Ronald Reagan did in 1980–convince voters he’s not a nut and can be trusted as commander-in-chief. And McCain needs to convince voters the opposite is true. McCain will never have a better chance with more viewers and less media filter to make his case.

One final point on winning the race: the big question is which and how many people turn out. Are the anecdotal bits of evidence of huge Palin-induced crowds a reliable indicator that the base has come home and will show up in huge numbers as they did in 2004? Will Obama be able to turn out all those college kids? (On turnout, my own sense is that the McCain death-struggle with the media and food fight with the Obama camp generally benefit him–by engaging angry conservatives and depressing young voters who hoped for so much more from their guy than nasty ads which not even the MSM can stomach any longer.) On that issue polls are generally of little use.

John, McCain’s performance last week wasn’t all bad. He did manage to come up with a concrete idea for purchasing bad debt and provide reasoned opposition (beginning over the weekend) to the Paulson “blank check” plan. (And while I think the call to fire Chris Cox was excessive, McCain is not the only one to find that the SEC as been less than a paragon of regulatory acumen under Cox’s watch.)

And after a market meltdown and the missteps you outlined, he’s still in the race (all caveats apply to all polls). He must be downright giddy to be within the margin of error in places like Pennsylvania and ahead by a tad in Florida and Ohio. (As a political matter, his attacks on Obama’s affiliations with Freddie, Fannie and Rezko and his partial success in shifting the argument from the economy to reform–not to mention an absence of any impressive action by Obama, which McCain is now exploiting in ads–likely account for his ability to hang tight.)

With a race still close, you are right that the debates take on enormous significance. It is no surprise that the expectations-lowering game is already in full swing. The New York Times helpfully lowers them for Barack Obama:

Mr. Obama has a tendency to overintellectualize and to lecture, befitting his training as a lawyer and law professor. He exudes disdain for the quips and sound bites that some deride as trivializing political debates but that have become a central part of scoring them. He tends to the earnest and humorless when audiences seem to crave passion and personality. He frequently rises above the mire of political combat when the battle calls for engagement.

Gee, with this record, you wonder why the Times didn’t raise his appalling debating skills earlier:

One of Mr. Obama’s worst moments came in the first Democratic debate, in South Carolina in April 2007. The candidates were asked how they would respond to a new series of terrorist attacks. Mrs. Clinton gave a short answer, ending, “Let’s focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them.” But Mr. Obama gave a rambling reply on emergency response, intelligence flaws and the importance of engaging “the international community.” He had to ask for a second chance to answer the question in order to say he would go after the terrorists. Two months later he was on the defensive over a question of meeting without preconditions with the leaders of hostile states. He said that he would do so and that he disagreed with the Bush administration’s approach of not engaging with Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea. His rivals cited this as evidence of his naïveté in foreign affairs. Perhaps Mr. Obama’s single worst debate moment came early this January in New Hampshire, where Mrs. Clinton was asked why some people found her less likable than some of her rivals. She adopted a hurt tone and said of Mr. Obama: “He’s very likable, I agree with that. But I don’t think I’m that bad.” Mr. Obama looked at her and said coldly, “You’re likable enough.”

But the reality is that both candidates need to do well. Obama needs to do what Ronald Reagan did in 1980–convince voters he’s not a nut and can be trusted as commander-in-chief. And McCain needs to convince voters the opposite is true. McCain will never have a better chance with more viewers and less media filter to make his case.

One final point on winning the race: the big question is which and how many people turn out. Are the anecdotal bits of evidence of huge Palin-induced crowds a reliable indicator that the base has come home and will show up in huge numbers as they did in 2004? Will Obama be able to turn out all those college kids? (On turnout, my own sense is that the McCain death-struggle with the media and food fight with the Obama camp generally benefit him–by engaging angry conservatives and depressing young voters who hoped for so much more from their guy than nasty ads which not even the MSM can stomach any longer.) On that issue polls are generally of little use.

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So, What Isn’t Like Iraq?

Whether or not the federal bailout is ultimately beneficial, one should be wary of partisan absurdity masquerading as concerned criticism. I refer to the absurdity exemplified by New Jersey Governor John Corzine this morning in an appearance on Fox News. The Democrat Corzine said the bailout’s lack of built-in oversight reflects, “really, almost a use of force in Iraq kind of authorization–do whatever you think is responsible. You got a carte blanche.”

It’s always Iraq if you’re a Democrat. And it’s always either Iraq 2003, when you were supposedly suckered into supporting a war that later scared you silly, or it’s Iraq 2006, when the war seemed forever lost. It’s never ever Iraq 2008, when America is poised to claim a massive victory.

Hyperbole aside, Corzine’s main point–”Speed is not the answer”–is as ridiculous as the war comparison, coming as it does from a guy who almost killed himself doing 91 MPH on the Garden State Parkway last year.

Whether or not the federal bailout is ultimately beneficial, one should be wary of partisan absurdity masquerading as concerned criticism. I refer to the absurdity exemplified by New Jersey Governor John Corzine this morning in an appearance on Fox News. The Democrat Corzine said the bailout’s lack of built-in oversight reflects, “really, almost a use of force in Iraq kind of authorization–do whatever you think is responsible. You got a carte blanche.”

It’s always Iraq if you’re a Democrat. And it’s always either Iraq 2003, when you were supposedly suckered into supporting a war that later scared you silly, or it’s Iraq 2006, when the war seemed forever lost. It’s never ever Iraq 2008, when America is poised to claim a massive victory.

Hyperbole aside, Corzine’s main point–”Speed is not the answer”–is as ridiculous as the war comparison, coming as it does from a guy who almost killed himself doing 91 MPH on the Garden State Parkway last year.

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Trouble In Paradise

On Today, Matt Lauer pounced (oh yes, the MSM is flexing its “we are not in the tank” credentials) in an interview with Barack Obama. Here’s the exchange:

NBC’s Matt Lauer: “Three minutes later in an interview with Meredith Vieira, Joe Biden, your running mate was asked the exact same question, ‘should the federal government bailout AIG?’ And he said, ‘No, the federal government should not bailout AIG.’”

Barack Obama: “I think that in that situation, I think Joe should have waited as well.”

Lauer: “But it’s the kind of thing that drives people crazy about politics. Sounds like you were trying to score some political points against John McCain using his words, when your own running mate had used very similar words.”

Yikes. In the wake of last night’s flap (in which Biden slammed the ill-conceived computer ad), it is becoming apparent that these guys are not on the same page. For a candidate who repeatedly stressed that we should judge him by how he conducts his campaign, it is ironic that his most important hiring decision (the VP) and his first supervisory role (corralling Biden) are going so poorly.

One additional point: in the same interview, Obama waved off the Sarah Palin phenomenon, saying that although she was drawing big crowds “those were probably not my voters.” While probably true, it is not a New Politics–or even an old politics –thing to say. Political gurus will tell you that you never write off voters. You never want to send out the message that you don’t care about a segment of the electorate. Once upon a time Obama said these words:

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

On Today, Matt Lauer pounced (oh yes, the MSM is flexing its “we are not in the tank” credentials) in an interview with Barack Obama. Here’s the exchange:

NBC’s Matt Lauer: “Three minutes later in an interview with Meredith Vieira, Joe Biden, your running mate was asked the exact same question, ‘should the federal government bailout AIG?’ And he said, ‘No, the federal government should not bailout AIG.’”

Barack Obama: “I think that in that situation, I think Joe should have waited as well.”

Lauer: “But it’s the kind of thing that drives people crazy about politics. Sounds like you were trying to score some political points against John McCain using his words, when your own running mate had used very similar words.”

Yikes. In the wake of last night’s flap (in which Biden slammed the ill-conceived computer ad), it is becoming apparent that these guys are not on the same page. For a candidate who repeatedly stressed that we should judge him by how he conducts his campaign, it is ironic that his most important hiring decision (the VP) and his first supervisory role (corralling Biden) are going so poorly.

One additional point: in the same interview, Obama waved off the Sarah Palin phenomenon, saying that although she was drawing big crowds “those were probably not my voters.” While probably true, it is not a New Politics–or even an old politics –thing to say. Political gurus will tell you that you never write off voters. You never want to send out the message that you don’t care about a segment of the electorate. Once upon a time Obama said these words:

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

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