Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 27, 2008

Re: Democratic Gamesmanship

The latest from a Capitol Hill source who has proven to be entirely reliable:

“Negotiators took a break for dinner and are back at it now.  Some people think there could be an agreement tonight, others say sometime tomorrow. . . I’m told people were “befuddled” by the number of Democrats that showed up at the afternoon session. Paulson actually called Reid to ask why there were so many Senate Democrats in there instead of just Dodd and the other 3 principals. Amazingly, Reid told Paulson he couldn’t control them. Apparently this evening, the adults in the room got a little tired of the nonsense, and Dems and Republicans separated into two different rooms and are now conducting some shuttle diplomacy. Despite all this, people seem to believe progress is being made.”

This source made special mention of a particular Democrat who is being “unhelpful“: Senator Chuck Schumer.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: At about 10:00 p.m. I asked about the status of the so-called slush fund for ACORN. I was told by a GOP staffer: “On ACORN, we’re pushing hard to get rid of it, but Dems are fighting back.” And are the discussions on executive compensation limits just for firms getting government relief ? That seems to be the idea. Back on Wednesday Senator Mitch McConnell said as much when he opined “If weak companies are seeking government assistance, the taxpayers should expect no less than a firm limit on what kind of executive compensation might be possible for those involved in these distressed companies.” I am advised that “nothing is set in stone” on these and other points and that negotiations go on. A good summary of the ACORN controversy is here.

UPDATE 2: A deal appears to be reached, subject to drafting. If it is as described here then the negotiatiors — including House Republicans – seem to have done a commendable job of adding some oversight procedures, beating back the Democrats’ fee/taxs proposals, and putting limits on executive comp (for participating firms only). If the ACORN slush fund got killed the Republicans did a commendable job. Now the battle for credit and blame will begin. McCain will certainly claim that the above-mentioned items coincide with the items he previously listed as needed for a deal.

The latest from a Capitol Hill source who has proven to be entirely reliable:

“Negotiators took a break for dinner and are back at it now.  Some people think there could be an agreement tonight, others say sometime tomorrow. . . I’m told people were “befuddled” by the number of Democrats that showed up at the afternoon session. Paulson actually called Reid to ask why there were so many Senate Democrats in there instead of just Dodd and the other 3 principals. Amazingly, Reid told Paulson he couldn’t control them. Apparently this evening, the adults in the room got a little tired of the nonsense, and Dems and Republicans separated into two different rooms and are now conducting some shuttle diplomacy. Despite all this, people seem to believe progress is being made.”

This source made special mention of a particular Democrat who is being “unhelpful“: Senator Chuck Schumer.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: At about 10:00 p.m. I asked about the status of the so-called slush fund for ACORN. I was told by a GOP staffer: “On ACORN, we’re pushing hard to get rid of it, but Dems are fighting back.” And are the discussions on executive compensation limits just for firms getting government relief ? That seems to be the idea. Back on Wednesday Senator Mitch McConnell said as much when he opined “If weak companies are seeking government assistance, the taxpayers should expect no less than a firm limit on what kind of executive compensation might be possible for those involved in these distressed companies.” I am advised that “nothing is set in stone” on these and other points and that negotiations go on. A good summary of the ACORN controversy is here.

UPDATE 2: A deal appears to be reached, subject to drafting. If it is as described here then the negotiatiors — including House Republicans – seem to have done a commendable job of adding some oversight procedures, beating back the Democrats’ fee/taxs proposals, and putting limits on executive comp (for participating firms only). If the ACORN slush fund got killed the Republicans did a commendable job. Now the battle for credit and blame will begin. McCain will certainly claim that the above-mentioned items coincide with the items he previously listed as needed for a deal.

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How Could They Resist?

We get this nugget from Politico’s Crypt about Nancy Pelosi:

The speaker did sound a partisan note, complaining that Republicans were “unpatriotic” for missing a negotiating session on Thursday after the contentious White House meeting – both sides blamed the other afterward for that no-show.

Let me get this straight. Nancy Pelosi commands a majority of the House. She, the Senate and White House largely agree on a bailout bill. She, however, won’t vote on it because she wants the cover of House Republicans. Lots of them. These would be the people she calls unpatriotic. Who could resist such charm and flattery?

Really, the Democrats have Option “A” and Option “B”. “A” is make the darn deal themselves. “B” is get the Republicans on board. “B” requires that the Democrats extend a modicum of respect and flexibility to the opposition, solicit the views of the Republicans and maybe jettison the more egregious parts of their own package. They don’t want to do any of that. Well, Madam Speaker, there is always “A.” But she doesn’t want “A.” And so it goes.

At some point Pelosi will have to choose between “A” and “B.” If it’s “B” she should stop insulting the people whose help she needs.

Meanwhile we get a look at the clear-eyed advice which McCain imparted on his House colleagues:

On Friday morning, McCain paid Boehner a follow-up visit in the leader’s large Capitol suite. They were joined by Putnam, Blunt – the GOP whip — and his chief deputy, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, who played a central role crafting the Republicans’ alternative.The presidential candidate told the assembled congressional leaders that he was initially skeptical about Paulson’s grave economic warnings, but that he became convinced after a series of briefings that the need was very real. Congress had to pass something over the weekend, McCain said. But he told the group that Peloi had a choice: She could either allow her negotiators to craft a package that Republicans would accept, or she could make it a partisan vote by attaching the plan to a must-pass stop-gap funding bill that lawmakers from both parties would be compelled to support.If she chose the latter category, McCain told the Republican leaders that they could vote against the hugely unpopular measure and he would help them make that vote a campaign issue on the trail.Before he left, he told the group that he needed to fly to Mississippi for the first presidential debate, so he wouldn’t be sticking around either way. But, he told them, “You guys need a negotiator.”

That strikes me as a bit of tough-love, cold-hard realism and personal support. Republicans can’t complain they didn’t get solid advice and a measure of personal sacrifice. McCain after all could have easily abandoned them and capitulated to the Democratic-Paulson plan with no additions or modifications. Whether he acted out of personal loyalty or because he understood that when all was said and done Option “B” would be the only way to go is unknowable.

What we do know is that only one of the presidential candidates understood the political and personal dynamic at work and the way forward. That explains why Reid and Paulson called McCain: they wanted a deal and couldn’t get there on their own.

We get this nugget from Politico’s Crypt about Nancy Pelosi:

The speaker did sound a partisan note, complaining that Republicans were “unpatriotic” for missing a negotiating session on Thursday after the contentious White House meeting – both sides blamed the other afterward for that no-show.

Let me get this straight. Nancy Pelosi commands a majority of the House. She, the Senate and White House largely agree on a bailout bill. She, however, won’t vote on it because she wants the cover of House Republicans. Lots of them. These would be the people she calls unpatriotic. Who could resist such charm and flattery?

Really, the Democrats have Option “A” and Option “B”. “A” is make the darn deal themselves. “B” is get the Republicans on board. “B” requires that the Democrats extend a modicum of respect and flexibility to the opposition, solicit the views of the Republicans and maybe jettison the more egregious parts of their own package. They don’t want to do any of that. Well, Madam Speaker, there is always “A.” But she doesn’t want “A.” And so it goes.

At some point Pelosi will have to choose between “A” and “B.” If it’s “B” she should stop insulting the people whose help she needs.

Meanwhile we get a look at the clear-eyed advice which McCain imparted on his House colleagues:

On Friday morning, McCain paid Boehner a follow-up visit in the leader’s large Capitol suite. They were joined by Putnam, Blunt – the GOP whip — and his chief deputy, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, who played a central role crafting the Republicans’ alternative.The presidential candidate told the assembled congressional leaders that he was initially skeptical about Paulson’s grave economic warnings, but that he became convinced after a series of briefings that the need was very real. Congress had to pass something over the weekend, McCain said. But he told the group that Peloi had a choice: She could either allow her negotiators to craft a package that Republicans would accept, or she could make it a partisan vote by attaching the plan to a must-pass stop-gap funding bill that lawmakers from both parties would be compelled to support.If she chose the latter category, McCain told the Republican leaders that they could vote against the hugely unpopular measure and he would help them make that vote a campaign issue on the trail.Before he left, he told the group that he needed to fly to Mississippi for the first presidential debate, so he wouldn’t be sticking around either way. But, he told them, “You guys need a negotiator.”

That strikes me as a bit of tough-love, cold-hard realism and personal support. Republicans can’t complain they didn’t get solid advice and a measure of personal sacrifice. McCain after all could have easily abandoned them and capitulated to the Democratic-Paulson plan with no additions or modifications. Whether he acted out of personal loyalty or because he understood that when all was said and done Option “B” would be the only way to go is unknowable.

What we do know is that only one of the presidential candidates understood the political and personal dynamic at work and the way forward. That explains why Reid and Paulson called McCain: they wanted a deal and couldn’t get there on their own.

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Democratic Gamesmanship

The latest doesn’t sound too promising. A GOP Capitol Hill source is “hearing some frustrating things out of the negotiations over the Paulson bill. For the last day or so, there have been just 4 principal negotiators: Dodd, Frank, Blunt, and Gregg. But now apparently, 9 Democrats invited themselves to a meeting intended for the 4 main negotiators, including Schumer and Rangel and Rahm Emanuel.” The Democrats are now, it seems, “making all sorts of demands, including a new across-the-board tax on securities firms.” It is getting heated with yelling from two of the Democratic Senate interlopers and the ever-helpful Senator Schumer apparently telling his colleagues that this vote “will be like voting for the Iraq War.” 

What’s up? Well perhaps this is a tactic to back the House GOP-ers off their demands. Maybe it is becoming evident that a nice bipartisan compromise with John McCain’s imprint would be a trophy for him. But if we are headed for a Monday market meltdown all incumbents will need to think seriously about the consequences — for the country and themselves — if the talks break down.

The latest doesn’t sound too promising. A GOP Capitol Hill source is “hearing some frustrating things out of the negotiations over the Paulson bill. For the last day or so, there have been just 4 principal negotiators: Dodd, Frank, Blunt, and Gregg. But now apparently, 9 Democrats invited themselves to a meeting intended for the 4 main negotiators, including Schumer and Rangel and Rahm Emanuel.” The Democrats are now, it seems, “making all sorts of demands, including a new across-the-board tax on securities firms.” It is getting heated with yelling from two of the Democratic Senate interlopers and the ever-helpful Senator Schumer apparently telling his colleagues that this vote “will be like voting for the Iraq War.” 

What’s up? Well perhaps this is a tactic to back the House GOP-ers off their demands. Maybe it is becoming evident that a nice bipartisan compromise with John McCain’s imprint would be a trophy for him. But if we are headed for a Monday market meltdown all incumbents will need to think seriously about the consequences — for the country and themselves — if the talks break down.

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Re: CNN’s Spin

Noah, these polls on “who won the debate” are notoriously unscientific. But if the Democrats want to play the game here are two with HUGE samples. Drudge has more than 350,000 responses and shows John McCain way ahead. Or there is the AOL poll with over 15,000 responses that also shows McCain besting Barack Obama by an enormous margin.

Unlike CNN, however, you don’t see conservatives touting these as “proof” McCain won. Perhaps one side is more desperate than the other to justify its spin.

Noah, these polls on “who won the debate” are notoriously unscientific. But if the Democrats want to play the game here are two with HUGE samples. Drudge has more than 350,000 responses and shows John McCain way ahead. Or there is the AOL poll with over 15,000 responses that also shows McCain besting Barack Obama by an enormous margin.

Unlike CNN, however, you don’t see conservatives touting these as “proof” McCain won. Perhaps one side is more desperate than the other to justify its spin.

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Maybe They Should Ask About It At The Debate

Most political ads, I think, soar over the heads of viewers, or get tuned out. This one may not. In part, voters may be taken aback because the footage shows Joe Biden to be such a forceful opponent and bear such obvious disdain for his own running mate, or at least Barack Obama’s actions — and that of other Democrats — in voting to cut off troop funding. The script doesn’t do the ad justice, but here it is:

ANNCR: In the midst of war, Senator Obama voted to cut off funding for our troops. What did Biden say?

JOE BIDEN: “They said they voted against the money to make a political point.”

ANNCR: He added…

JOE BIDEN: “This is cutting off support that will save the lives of thousands of American troops.”

ANNCR: Barack Obama.

Playing politics. Risking lives.

Not ready to lead.

The contempt just pours from Biden’s lips. Coincidence that we are seeing it now just before the VP debate? I think not.

Most political ads, I think, soar over the heads of viewers, or get tuned out. This one may not. In part, voters may be taken aback because the footage shows Joe Biden to be such a forceful opponent and bear such obvious disdain for his own running mate, or at least Barack Obama’s actions — and that of other Democrats — in voting to cut off troop funding. The script doesn’t do the ad justice, but here it is:

ANNCR: In the midst of war, Senator Obama voted to cut off funding for our troops. What did Biden say?

JOE BIDEN: “They said they voted against the money to make a political point.”

ANNCR: He added…

JOE BIDEN: “This is cutting off support that will save the lives of thousands of American troops.”

ANNCR: Barack Obama.

Playing politics. Risking lives.

Not ready to lead.

The contempt just pours from Biden’s lips. Coincidence that we are seeing it now just before the VP debate? I think not.

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Ratings Shock — Last Night’s Audience Smaller than Bush-Kerry’s

After predictions that these Obama-McCain debates would earn record audiences in the 80-100 million range, the “overnights” from the five broadcast networks are in — and at least where they are concerned, the viewership for last night’s debate was surprisingly low.

As I read the raw numbers, there were somewhere between 20-22 million households tuned in to the debate across the four networks that showed it (CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox). That means perhaps 30 million people tuned in, which would be a colossal audience for a single show on a single network, but across all four, only adds up to something like 28 percent of the overall television audience. ABC did the best, but last week, one of the lowest-rated weeks in the history of prime time, the number-one show was a football game, and it alone scored 22 million viewers.

Now, these numbers don’t include the cable news networks or PBS, which have scored record ratings this year during these events; it is to be expected that as many as 20 million people will have tuned in to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, which would bring the total viewership north of 50 million. That’s big, to be sure, but nowhere near the size of the audience in 2004, when the first Bush-Kerry debate scored 62 million.

The overnight ratings aren’t the final tabulation; they are a sample, and the numbers can grow when the whole nation is factored in. Even so, at best, it appears this debate will still trail Bush-Kerry’s. That is surprising, considering the historic nature of this election and the supposed universe of engaged new voters we’ve been hearing about all year.

After predictions that these Obama-McCain debates would earn record audiences in the 80-100 million range, the “overnights” from the five broadcast networks are in — and at least where they are concerned, the viewership for last night’s debate was surprisingly low.

As I read the raw numbers, there were somewhere between 20-22 million households tuned in to the debate across the four networks that showed it (CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox). That means perhaps 30 million people tuned in, which would be a colossal audience for a single show on a single network, but across all four, only adds up to something like 28 percent of the overall television audience. ABC did the best, but last week, one of the lowest-rated weeks in the history of prime time, the number-one show was a football game, and it alone scored 22 million viewers.

Now, these numbers don’t include the cable news networks or PBS, which have scored record ratings this year during these events; it is to be expected that as many as 20 million people will have tuned in to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, which would bring the total viewership north of 50 million. That’s big, to be sure, but nowhere near the size of the audience in 2004, when the first Bush-Kerry debate scored 62 million.

The overnight ratings aren’t the final tabulation; they are a sample, and the numbers can grow when the whole nation is factored in. Even so, at best, it appears this debate will still trail Bush-Kerry’s. That is surprising, considering the historic nature of this election and the supposed universe of engaged new voters we’ve been hearing about all year.

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Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Forests will be decimated in tribute to Newman, who died this morning. One thought occurs to me: Was there ever before, and will there ever be after, a movie performer more sheerly pleasurable to watch than Newman?

Forests will be decimated in tribute to Newman, who died this morning. One thought occurs to me: Was there ever before, and will there ever be after, a movie performer more sheerly pleasurable to watch than Newman?

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Making A Deal

The headline on this Washington Post article — “How McCain Stirred A Simmering Pot” — is quite misleading. The article itself confirms that the House GOP-ers were never on board — a deal-killer in the eyes of the Democrats who wanted them firmly on board for a major piece of highly controversial legislation. It also vividly shows that John McCain, without embracing their views specifically, realized he had to give  the House Republicans their say and let them help shape the Paulson buyout, even slightly, to make a deal.  The money quote is well buried:

“McCain has been trying to help the House guys, trying to get their ideas into the broader bill,” said a senior Republican Senate aide. “If McCain can do that, he can bring 50 to 100 House Republicans to the bill. That would be a big damn deal.”

And why is a big deal? Because Nancy Pelosi won’t make the deal and pass the deal without the House GOP. Again, that is why Harry Reid and Hank Paulson called McCain. If there is a deal, it will be hard to deny that McCain played a critical role.

The headline on this Washington Post article — “How McCain Stirred A Simmering Pot” — is quite misleading. The article itself confirms that the House GOP-ers were never on board — a deal-killer in the eyes of the Democrats who wanted them firmly on board for a major piece of highly controversial legislation. It also vividly shows that John McCain, without embracing their views specifically, realized he had to give  the House Republicans their say and let them help shape the Paulson buyout, even slightly, to make a deal.  The money quote is well buried:

“McCain has been trying to help the House guys, trying to get their ideas into the broader bill,” said a senior Republican Senate aide. “If McCain can do that, he can bring 50 to 100 House Republicans to the bill. That would be a big damn deal.”

And why is a big deal? Because Nancy Pelosi won’t make the deal and pass the deal without the House GOP. Again, that is why Harry Reid and Hank Paulson called McCain. If there is a deal, it will be hard to deny that McCain played a critical role.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Well now is no time for truth-telling it seems. When even the Washington Post calls Joe Biden a liar, you know things have gotten out of hand.

Ronald Reagan had “there you go.” What about John McCain: “The two signature lines of the night were, ‘Senator Obama doesn’t understand,’ and, ‘John is right.’” On such things elections turn.

When Chris Matthews is mad it’s a good thing for John McCain.

But if the Republican is always the biggest liar how can it be that: “Top Obama strategist Tommy Vietor unable to defend lie-filled Obama advertisements”? And when it rains it pours — are there any accurate Barack Obama ads?

Mickey Kaus nails it: “Does Keith Olbermann’s show make it seem like their guy must have lost because their guy lost–they sound like the Politburo meeting after the Cuban Missile Crisis–or would Keith Olbermann’s show make it seem like their guy must have lost even when their guy won?”

Did we have another wrist moment? George H.W. Bush had a watch but Barack Obama had a bracelet from . . . er. . you get the idea.

A fair take: “This was not a rout. Obama had some moments that will probably please his supporters. But in all, it was not his best night. Obama vacillated between a desire to appear merely antithetical to McCain and Bush at all costs and a desire to position himself as a prescient and independent thinker on foreign policy. . .McCain may not be, as he put it, Miss Congeniality in the Senate or with the current administration. But in this game at least, he made the case for captain of the football team.”

Well now is no time for truth-telling it seems. When even the Washington Post calls Joe Biden a liar, you know things have gotten out of hand.

Ronald Reagan had “there you go.” What about John McCain: “The two signature lines of the night were, ‘Senator Obama doesn’t understand,’ and, ‘John is right.’” On such things elections turn.

When Chris Matthews is mad it’s a good thing for John McCain.

But if the Republican is always the biggest liar how can it be that: “Top Obama strategist Tommy Vietor unable to defend lie-filled Obama advertisements”? And when it rains it pours — are there any accurate Barack Obama ads?

Mickey Kaus nails it: “Does Keith Olbermann’s show make it seem like their guy must have lost because their guy lost–they sound like the Politburo meeting after the Cuban Missile Crisis–or would Keith Olbermann’s show make it seem like their guy must have lost even when their guy won?”

Did we have another wrist moment? George H.W. Bush had a watch but Barack Obama had a bracelet from . . . er. . you get the idea.

A fair take: “This was not a rout. Obama had some moments that will probably please his supporters. But in all, it was not his best night. Obama vacillated between a desire to appear merely antithetical to McCain and Bush at all costs and a desire to position himself as a prescient and independent thinker on foreign policy. . .McCain may not be, as he put it, Miss Congeniality in the Senate or with the current administration. But in this game at least, he made the case for captain of the football team.”

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SEC Report Blasts Agency– McCain Vindicated?

John McCain took plenty of flak for proposing to fire Chris Cox of the SEC. Now there is reason to think he was on the money. This Wall Street Journal story (subscription required) tells the story:

The Securities and Exchange Commission missed “numerous potential red flags” leading up to the shotgun sale of Bear Stearns Cos., and failed to require the investment bank to rein in its risk taking, according to a scathing report from the agency’s inspector general. Inspector General David Kotz said it is “undisputable” that the SEC “failed to carry out its mission in its oversight of Bear Stearns.” Bear Stearns, one of the most aggressive investment banks, agreed to be sold to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in March after the firm’s clients fled and it was running out of cash.

. . .

“These reports could be the nails in the coffin for the agency, said Jacob Frenkel, a former SEC enforcement attorney. . . According to the inspector general’s report, the SEC “made no efforts” to require Bear Stearns to reduce its debt or raise money, failed to take steps after identifying “numerous shortcomings” in the Bear Stearns’ risk management of mortgages and also “missed opportunities” to push Bear management to address the problems.”

Cox, the report says, defended his actions and contended that he lacked sufficient authority.

But let’s be clear: McCain’s ire was not without a lot of merit and there is voluminous information to confirm his position. Perhaps pundits who were unduly harsh about McCain might reconsider in light of the available facts.

John McCain took plenty of flak for proposing to fire Chris Cox of the SEC. Now there is reason to think he was on the money. This Wall Street Journal story (subscription required) tells the story:

The Securities and Exchange Commission missed “numerous potential red flags” leading up to the shotgun sale of Bear Stearns Cos., and failed to require the investment bank to rein in its risk taking, according to a scathing report from the agency’s inspector general. Inspector General David Kotz said it is “undisputable” that the SEC “failed to carry out its mission in its oversight of Bear Stearns.” Bear Stearns, one of the most aggressive investment banks, agreed to be sold to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in March after the firm’s clients fled and it was running out of cash.

. . .

“These reports could be the nails in the coffin for the agency, said Jacob Frenkel, a former SEC enforcement attorney. . . According to the inspector general’s report, the SEC “made no efforts” to require Bear Stearns to reduce its debt or raise money, failed to take steps after identifying “numerous shortcomings” in the Bear Stearns’ risk management of mortgages and also “missed opportunities” to push Bear management to address the problems.”

Cox, the report says, defended his actions and contended that he lacked sufficient authority.

But let’s be clear: McCain’s ire was not without a lot of merit and there is voluminous information to confirm his position. Perhaps pundits who were unduly harsh about McCain might reconsider in light of the available facts.

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Misquoting McCain

Joe Klein has weighed in with a flattering assessment of Barack Obama’s performance in last night’s debate. That, no doubt, was on his to-write list for weeks. But here’s the interesting part:

McCain seemed more prudent and thoughtful than he has since he uttered the most important line of the campaign so far, “the fundamentals of the economy are good.”

If it were the most important line of the campaign, you’d think Joe Klein would have gotten it right. What McCain actually said was, “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” which is a very different thing. As McCain later expanded, American entrepreneurship, and the innovation employed by small business owners are the fundamental components of American enterprise, and while a few big guys go down, the entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized operations remain resilient. No one wanted to hear that at the time, and it’s fair to go after McCain for tone-deafness there.

But are things good? McCain never said they were. And this isn’t a dismissible case of faulty memory. A veteran reporter like Joe Klein knows the universe of difference between the two terms and thinks he can get away with implanting a stealthily devastating meme-change in the American mind. Against the din of the financial crisis and the campaign on the whole, this is nothing. But it’s the kind of seemingly subtle mischaracterization that irresponsible and slanted members of the media elite have been employing to consistently chip away at the McCain campaign. And it stinks. That Klein embedded it in that Trojan horse of a compliment makes it even less worth refuting for the McCain camp. If people like Joe Klein were “more prudent and thoughtful,” the American public would be assessing two candidates on the basis of who they are and what they’ve done.

Joe Klein has weighed in with a flattering assessment of Barack Obama’s performance in last night’s debate. That, no doubt, was on his to-write list for weeks. But here’s the interesting part:

McCain seemed more prudent and thoughtful than he has since he uttered the most important line of the campaign so far, “the fundamentals of the economy are good.”

If it were the most important line of the campaign, you’d think Joe Klein would have gotten it right. What McCain actually said was, “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” which is a very different thing. As McCain later expanded, American entrepreneurship, and the innovation employed by small business owners are the fundamental components of American enterprise, and while a few big guys go down, the entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized operations remain resilient. No one wanted to hear that at the time, and it’s fair to go after McCain for tone-deafness there.

But are things good? McCain never said they were. And this isn’t a dismissible case of faulty memory. A veteran reporter like Joe Klein knows the universe of difference between the two terms and thinks he can get away with implanting a stealthily devastating meme-change in the American mind. Against the din of the financial crisis and the campaign on the whole, this is nothing. But it’s the kind of seemingly subtle mischaracterization that irresponsible and slanted members of the media elite have been employing to consistently chip away at the McCain campaign. And it stinks. That Klein embedded it in that Trojan horse of a compliment makes it even less worth refuting for the McCain camp. If people like Joe Klein were “more prudent and thoughtful,” the American public would be assessing two candidates on the basis of who they are and what they’ve done.

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CNN’s Poll vs. CNN’s Spin

CNN’s poll of debate viewers blares a puzzling headline: “Round 1 in debate goes to Obama, poll says.”

But the poll itself actually doesn’t say that. This is blatant editorializing on the part of CNN. The first problem is the numbers:

Fifty-one percent of those polled thought Obama did the better job in Friday night’s debate, while 38 percent said John McCain did better.

Buried way, way down at the bottom of the story — hopefully, one surmises, past the point where anyone would read — is the following:

The results may be favoring Obama simply because more Democrats than Republicans tuned in to the debate. Of the debate-watchers questioned in this poll, 41 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans and 30 percent as independents.

I’m far from being a polling expert, but this is obviously a slanted poll. A 14-point split between Republican and Democrat respondents? And what percentage of those “independents” were leaners for Obama?

That’s bad enough, but the really egregious part is CNN’s blatant reportage of opinion as fact, which allowed the creation of a news story announcing Obama’s victory.

“It can be reasonably concluded, especially after accounting for the slight Democratic bias in the survey, that we witnessed a tie in Mississippi tonight,” CNN Senior Political Researcher Alan Silverleib said. “But given the direction of the campaign over the last couple of weeks, a tie translates to a win for Obama.”

Oh, so actually the debate was a tie. But according to somebody named Alan Silverleib, a tie means a win for Obama — ergo: “Round 1 in debates goes to Obama, poll says.” But even CNN’s “Senior Political Researcher” says that the poll didn’t say that! The headline should have been written, “Round 1 in debates goes to Obama, Silverleib says.”

And now we can write: Round 1 in the contest to see who’s most in the tank for Obama goes to CNN.

CNN’s poll of debate viewers blares a puzzling headline: “Round 1 in debate goes to Obama, poll says.”

But the poll itself actually doesn’t say that. This is blatant editorializing on the part of CNN. The first problem is the numbers:

Fifty-one percent of those polled thought Obama did the better job in Friday night’s debate, while 38 percent said John McCain did better.

Buried way, way down at the bottom of the story — hopefully, one surmises, past the point where anyone would read — is the following:

The results may be favoring Obama simply because more Democrats than Republicans tuned in to the debate. Of the debate-watchers questioned in this poll, 41 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans and 30 percent as independents.

I’m far from being a polling expert, but this is obviously a slanted poll. A 14-point split between Republican and Democrat respondents? And what percentage of those “independents” were leaners for Obama?

That’s bad enough, but the really egregious part is CNN’s blatant reportage of opinion as fact, which allowed the creation of a news story announcing Obama’s victory.

“It can be reasonably concluded, especially after accounting for the slight Democratic bias in the survey, that we witnessed a tie in Mississippi tonight,” CNN Senior Political Researcher Alan Silverleib said. “But given the direction of the campaign over the last couple of weeks, a tie translates to a win for Obama.”

Oh, so actually the debate was a tie. But according to somebody named Alan Silverleib, a tie means a win for Obama — ergo: “Round 1 in debates goes to Obama, poll says.” But even CNN’s “Senior Political Researcher” says that the poll didn’t say that! The headline should have been written, “Round 1 in debates goes to Obama, Silverleib says.”

And now we can write: Round 1 in the contest to see who’s most in the tank for Obama goes to CNN.

Read Less

The Kitty Dukakis Moment

Everyone now recalls the cringe-inducing moment when Michael Dukakis was asked in the 1988 debate by Bernie Shaw if his view on capital punishment would change if his wife was raped and murdered. Dukakis’ non-reaction and clinical response (who even remembers what it was?) seemed to confirm the sense that he was a passionless, liberal technocrat.

We had a non-moment moment last night. It was on Israel. Remarkably Barack Obama again and again gave John McCain the chance to bash him on his notion that we should meet directly with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. McCain was able to describe with passion why this was a bad idea. There was this:

My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well. Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let’s just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I’ve had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let’s be clear and let’s have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council. I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people – a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world’s economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect. The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior. But have no doubt, but have no doubt that the Iranians continue on the path to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon as we speak tonight. And it is a threat not only in this region but around the world. What I’d also like to point out the Iranians are putting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq which are killing young Americans, there are special groups in Iran coming into Iraq and are being trained in Iran. There is the Republican Guard in Iran, which Senator Kyl had an amendment in order to declare them a sponsor of terror. Senator Obama said that would be provocative. So this is a serious threat. This is a serious threat to security in the world, and I believe we can act and we can act with our friends and allies and reduce that threat as quickly as possible, but have no doubt about the ultimate result of them acquiring nuclear weapons.

And this:

Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene [mispronunciation], Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we’re going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying, they’ve probably been doing the right thing, because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior. The point is that throughout history, whether it be Ronald Reagan, who wouldn’t sit down with Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko until Gorbachev was ready with glasnost and perestroika. Or whether it be Nixon’s trip to China, which was preceded by Henry Kissinger, many times before he went. Look, I’ll sit down with anybody, but there’s got to be pre-conditions. Those pre-conditions would apply that we wouldn’t legitimize with a face to face meeting, a person like Ahmadinejad. Now, Senator Obama said, without preconditions.

But the key zingers were:

“What Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a “stinking corpse,” and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments.”

And:

So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” and we say, “No, you’re not”? Oh, please.

What was Obama’s response? To methodically repeat the mantra that we should talk, talk, talk. He had this:

If we can’t meet with our friends, I don’t know how we’re going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.

And:

Look, I mean, Senator McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the president would just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks. Nobody’s been talking about that, and Senator McCain knows it. This is a mischaracterization of my position.

When we talk about preconditions — and Henry Kissinger did say we should have contacts without preconditions — the idea is that we do not expect to solve every problem before we initiate talks.

And, you know, the Bush administration has come to recognize that it hasn’t worked, this notion that we are simply silent when it comes to our enemies. And the notion that we would sit with Ahmadinejad and not say anything while he’s spewing his nonsense and his vile comments is ridiculous. Nobody is even talking about that.

We know that the Kissinger claim was inaccurate now. The actual quote was this:

Kissinger: “Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we — we know we’re dealing with authentic…”

Sesno: “Put at a very high level right out of the box?”

Kissinger: “Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are — what the outcome is that you’re trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They’ve never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we’re trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can’t achieve what we’re talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government.”

But the real problem in all of this is Obama never says anything that reveals any sense that he grasps the gravity of the threat and the evil of Ahmadinejad. To the contrary he dismisses his language as “spewing his nonsense.” But it is not nonsense to threaten to wipe out Israel? Is it nonsense to sponsor terror groups that kill Americans? Where is there a sense of emotional engagement, a hint that Obama recognizes the stakes and feels deeply about the heinous nature of a Holocaust denier? Absent. Totally absent.

I’m not the only one to make this observation. Noam Scheiber thinks it wasn’t quite a Kitty Dukakis moment, but he does have this to say:

My biggest problem with Obama is that he cedes almost all the emotional ground to McCain. For my money, the exchange that defined the debate was McCain sarcastically suggesting Obama would just tell Ahmadinejad “no” when he threatens to annihilate Israel. Obama tried to interrupt McCain several times during this mini-rant, then just kind of let the matter drop when he had a chance to respond. What he needed to do was look straight into the camera and inject a little emotion of his own. Something like, “Israel is one of our most loyal allies in the world. Their security is absolutely sacred to me. And if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any other tin-pot dictator thinks he can threaten Israel in my presence or anywhere else, he’s in for a rude awakening. I would leave absolutely no doubt in his mind how we treat countries looking for fights with our allies.”

Obama does not come across as someone whose righteous anger will be source of solace to friends and fear to enemies. And that problem goes beyond Israel — to his willingness to recognize and defeat evil wherever it exists and to protect American interests to the ends of the earth. Some like his “cool” persona — but sometimes “cool” is intellectual disengagement and a clinical approach which lacks the emotional grit we need and expect in a president.

So it wasn’t Kitty Dukakis, but it was darn close.

Everyone now recalls the cringe-inducing moment when Michael Dukakis was asked in the 1988 debate by Bernie Shaw if his view on capital punishment would change if his wife was raped and murdered. Dukakis’ non-reaction and clinical response (who even remembers what it was?) seemed to confirm the sense that he was a passionless, liberal technocrat.

We had a non-moment moment last night. It was on Israel. Remarkably Barack Obama again and again gave John McCain the chance to bash him on his notion that we should meet directly with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. McCain was able to describe with passion why this was a bad idea. There was this:

My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well. Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let’s just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I’ve had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let’s be clear and let’s have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council. I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people – a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world’s economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect. The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior. But have no doubt, but have no doubt that the Iranians continue on the path to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon as we speak tonight. And it is a threat not only in this region but around the world. What I’d also like to point out the Iranians are putting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq which are killing young Americans, there are special groups in Iran coming into Iraq and are being trained in Iran. There is the Republican Guard in Iran, which Senator Kyl had an amendment in order to declare them a sponsor of terror. Senator Obama said that would be provocative. So this is a serious threat. This is a serious threat to security in the world, and I believe we can act and we can act with our friends and allies and reduce that threat as quickly as possible, but have no doubt about the ultimate result of them acquiring nuclear weapons.

And this:

Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene [mispronunciation], Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we’re going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying, they’ve probably been doing the right thing, because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior. The point is that throughout history, whether it be Ronald Reagan, who wouldn’t sit down with Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko until Gorbachev was ready with glasnost and perestroika. Or whether it be Nixon’s trip to China, which was preceded by Henry Kissinger, many times before he went. Look, I’ll sit down with anybody, but there’s got to be pre-conditions. Those pre-conditions would apply that we wouldn’t legitimize with a face to face meeting, a person like Ahmadinejad. Now, Senator Obama said, without preconditions.

But the key zingers were:

“What Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a “stinking corpse,” and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments.”

And:

So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” and we say, “No, you’re not”? Oh, please.

What was Obama’s response? To methodically repeat the mantra that we should talk, talk, talk. He had this:

If we can’t meet with our friends, I don’t know how we’re going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.

And:

Look, I mean, Senator McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the president would just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks. Nobody’s been talking about that, and Senator McCain knows it. This is a mischaracterization of my position.

When we talk about preconditions — and Henry Kissinger did say we should have contacts without preconditions — the idea is that we do not expect to solve every problem before we initiate talks.

And, you know, the Bush administration has come to recognize that it hasn’t worked, this notion that we are simply silent when it comes to our enemies. And the notion that we would sit with Ahmadinejad and not say anything while he’s spewing his nonsense and his vile comments is ridiculous. Nobody is even talking about that.

We know that the Kissinger claim was inaccurate now. The actual quote was this:

Kissinger: “Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we — we know we’re dealing with authentic…”

Sesno: “Put at a very high level right out of the box?”

Kissinger: “Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are — what the outcome is that you’re trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They’ve never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we’re trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can’t achieve what we’re talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government.”

But the real problem in all of this is Obama never says anything that reveals any sense that he grasps the gravity of the threat and the evil of Ahmadinejad. To the contrary he dismisses his language as “spewing his nonsense.” But it is not nonsense to threaten to wipe out Israel? Is it nonsense to sponsor terror groups that kill Americans? Where is there a sense of emotional engagement, a hint that Obama recognizes the stakes and feels deeply about the heinous nature of a Holocaust denier? Absent. Totally absent.

I’m not the only one to make this observation. Noam Scheiber thinks it wasn’t quite a Kitty Dukakis moment, but he does have this to say:

My biggest problem with Obama is that he cedes almost all the emotional ground to McCain. For my money, the exchange that defined the debate was McCain sarcastically suggesting Obama would just tell Ahmadinejad “no” when he threatens to annihilate Israel. Obama tried to interrupt McCain several times during this mini-rant, then just kind of let the matter drop when he had a chance to respond. What he needed to do was look straight into the camera and inject a little emotion of his own. Something like, “Israel is one of our most loyal allies in the world. Their security is absolutely sacred to me. And if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any other tin-pot dictator thinks he can threaten Israel in my presence or anywhere else, he’s in for a rude awakening. I would leave absolutely no doubt in his mind how we treat countries looking for fights with our allies.”

Obama does not come across as someone whose righteous anger will be source of solace to friends and fear to enemies. And that problem goes beyond Israel — to his willingness to recognize and defeat evil wherever it exists and to protect American interests to the ends of the earth. Some like his “cool” persona — but sometimes “cool” is intellectual disengagement and a clinical approach which lacks the emotional grit we need and expect in a president.

So it wasn’t Kitty Dukakis, but it was darn close.

Read Less




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