Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 30, 2008

Obama and Declinism

Robert Kagan can’t understand why declinists, such as Fareed Zakaria and Francis Fukuyama, assume Barack Obama shares their pessimism about America. He writes of Obama: “His view of America’s future, at least as expressed in this campaign, has been appropriately optimistic, which is why he is doing well in the polls.”

It’s an interesting point. But Obama’s message is only optimistic in that it takes for granted that the U.S. has already hit rock bottom. You can pick an Obama stump speech at random and find multiple references to America’s broken promises, failed ideals, dejected citizens, and disappointed friends. Obama’s optimism is predicated on this:

. . . for the last eight years, we’ve failed to keep the fundamental promise that if you work hard you can live your own version of the American dream. Instead, folks are working harder for less. The cost of everything from gas, to groceries to tuition is skyrocketing. It’s harder to save, and harder to retire. At kitchen tables like Ryan and Jenny’s, it’s easy to feel like that dream of opportunity that should be the right of all Americans is slipping away.

This troubling story is written into communities across the country. It’s the story of empty factories shut down forever because the jobs were shipped overseas and nothing took their place. It’s the story of a mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child; a father who lost his job and can’t afford a tank of gas to look for another; a child facing a future where they’ll have to pay off hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to pay for George Bush’s tax cuts.

Kagan is right: That’s not declinism. It’s victimhood, the outgrowths of which have led to the true decline of one great power after another. When citizens start complaining that they’re not getting enough from their government without doing more for themselves, it means they’re done contributing to the dynamism of the state. Obama’s danger lies not in any conviction that America is on the way down, but in his apparent belief that its people can’t fend for themselves. In his estimation, American borrowers cannot read fine print, American business owners cannot be trusted to feed the economy, and American workers cannot find a way to improve their lots.

But there is a further reason declinists feel a kinship with Obama. His idea of national ascendancy is really a matter of the U.S.’s being accepted back into the international community. He believes a big-government, Euro-socialist approach will yield the double benefit of aiding America’s hapless citizens and creating harmony with other already-nationalized countries. To the extent that Obama is ready to snuff out individual pursuits in favor of government prescriptions, he is endorsing the end of America’s unique conception of liberty and industry. To the extent to which he will be able to mimic the failed political structures of other Western powers, he will effect the end of American exceptionalism. And there’s not much optimism in that.

Robert Kagan can’t understand why declinists, such as Fareed Zakaria and Francis Fukuyama, assume Barack Obama shares their pessimism about America. He writes of Obama: “His view of America’s future, at least as expressed in this campaign, has been appropriately optimistic, which is why he is doing well in the polls.”

It’s an interesting point. But Obama’s message is only optimistic in that it takes for granted that the U.S. has already hit rock bottom. You can pick an Obama stump speech at random and find multiple references to America’s broken promises, failed ideals, dejected citizens, and disappointed friends. Obama’s optimism is predicated on this:

. . . for the last eight years, we’ve failed to keep the fundamental promise that if you work hard you can live your own version of the American dream. Instead, folks are working harder for less. The cost of everything from gas, to groceries to tuition is skyrocketing. It’s harder to save, and harder to retire. At kitchen tables like Ryan and Jenny’s, it’s easy to feel like that dream of opportunity that should be the right of all Americans is slipping away.

This troubling story is written into communities across the country. It’s the story of empty factories shut down forever because the jobs were shipped overseas and nothing took their place. It’s the story of a mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child; a father who lost his job and can’t afford a tank of gas to look for another; a child facing a future where they’ll have to pay off hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to pay for George Bush’s tax cuts.

Kagan is right: That’s not declinism. It’s victimhood, the outgrowths of which have led to the true decline of one great power after another. When citizens start complaining that they’re not getting enough from their government without doing more for themselves, it means they’re done contributing to the dynamism of the state. Obama’s danger lies not in any conviction that America is on the way down, but in his apparent belief that its people can’t fend for themselves. In his estimation, American borrowers cannot read fine print, American business owners cannot be trusted to feed the economy, and American workers cannot find a way to improve their lots.

But there is a further reason declinists feel a kinship with Obama. His idea of national ascendancy is really a matter of the U.S.’s being accepted back into the international community. He believes a big-government, Euro-socialist approach will yield the double benefit of aiding America’s hapless citizens and creating harmony with other already-nationalized countries. To the extent that Obama is ready to snuff out individual pursuits in favor of government prescriptions, he is endorsing the end of America’s unique conception of liberty and industry. To the extent to which he will be able to mimic the failed political structures of other Western powers, he will effect the end of American exceptionalism. And there’s not much optimism in that.

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Commentary of the Day

Lawrence Kramer, on Jennifer Rubin:

I absolutely cringe when I see BO ask for a show of hands: “Who here makes less than $250k? Looks like most of you!” I guess he doesn’t ask who makes more than $250k because he doesn’t want the poor jerks who fess up to be stoned to death before he leaves the podium. (After he leaves would be all right, except that he needs to “ask” them to “contribute” a bit more to his programs.)

The appeal to class warfare, to the mob voting itself largesse, is stomach-turning. I’ve heard some pretty respectable people say some pretty nice things about Obama, but I cannot for the life of me get past the idea that tax policy should be based on who is easiest to demonize. The man clearly does not want to be the President of people making more than $250k. And yet. like lemmings. a bunch of them will vote for him. Fools and their money…

Lawrence Kramer, on Jennifer Rubin:

I absolutely cringe when I see BO ask for a show of hands: “Who here makes less than $250k? Looks like most of you!” I guess he doesn’t ask who makes more than $250k because he doesn’t want the poor jerks who fess up to be stoned to death before he leaves the podium. (After he leaves would be all right, except that he needs to “ask” them to “contribute” a bit more to his programs.)

The appeal to class warfare, to the mob voting itself largesse, is stomach-turning. I’ve heard some pretty respectable people say some pretty nice things about Obama, but I cannot for the life of me get past the idea that tax policy should be based on who is easiest to demonize. The man clearly does not want to be the President of people making more than $250k. And yet. like lemmings. a bunch of them will vote for him. Fools and their money…

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Finally Fit to Print

Could this be the most embarrassing correction the New York Times has ever published?:

Correction: October 30, 2008
An article in some editions on Wednesday about Fordham University’s plan to give an ethics prize to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer misspelled the surname of another Supreme Court justice who received the award in 2001. She is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, not Ginsberg. The Times has misspelled her name at least two dozen times since 1980; this is the first correction the paper has published.

Could this be the most embarrassing correction the New York Times has ever published?:

Correction: October 30, 2008
An article in some editions on Wednesday about Fordham University’s plan to give an ethics prize to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer misspelled the surname of another Supreme Court justice who received the award in 2001. She is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, not Ginsberg. The Times has misspelled her name at least two dozen times since 1980; this is the first correction the paper has published.

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McCain Up among Florida Early Birds

The L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll, which had Obama up by three points in Florida three days ago, is now reporting that McCain has a 49-45 lead among Floridians who have already voted. And this after Governor Charlie Crist extended early voting at the urging of Florida Democrats.

Obama supporters are always at the ready with some “effect” whenever McCain sees a downtick in numbers. So let’s play the same game: Could we be witnessing the Biden Effect? The Plumber Effect? The Khalidi Effect? The Wait, This Guy Has Said Some Scary Things Effect? The Infomercial Effect? The Who Exactly Does He Consider Rich Effect? Maybe it’s The Liberal Media Emotionally Blackmailed Us into Lying about Who We Were Going to Vote for Effect? They all have promise!

The L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll, which had Obama up by three points in Florida three days ago, is now reporting that McCain has a 49-45 lead among Floridians who have already voted. And this after Governor Charlie Crist extended early voting at the urging of Florida Democrats.

Obama supporters are always at the ready with some “effect” whenever McCain sees a downtick in numbers. So let’s play the same game: Could we be witnessing the Biden Effect? The Plumber Effect? The Khalidi Effect? The Wait, This Guy Has Said Some Scary Things Effect? The Infomercial Effect? The Who Exactly Does He Consider Rich Effect? Maybe it’s The Liberal Media Emotionally Blackmailed Us into Lying about Who We Were Going to Vote for Effect? They all have promise!

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Ditching the Dollar

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said that nations should move away from the American currency. “At the moment the world which is based on the dollar is suffering serious problems,” the Russian prime minister told a forum in Moscow. “In such conditions, we need to think about improving the payments system for bilateral trade, including the use of national currencies.” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in the Russian capital for a series of meetings, agreed. “We need to diversify the global currency system, to support its stability through the use of different currencies,” he said.

Wen’s comments were a more polite version of a series of anti-dollar comments that have appeared in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication. “The U.S. is, by taking advantage of its dollar hegemony, grabbing the global wealth,” said a commentary published on Friday. “Therefore, the dollar-pegged payments in the international trade transactions must be shattered.”

It’s besides the point that China and Russia cannot conduct trade with each other in either of their own currencies for a variety of legal, technical, and economic reasons. And it is also irrelevant that parties around the world, supposedly disadvantaged by the greenback, are rushing into the currency at this time, apparently looking for refuge from worldwide turmoil. The important point is that these two nations, which will participate in the mid-November discussions in Washington to reshape the global financial architecture, are trying to undermine the United States at a time of severe economic stress.

Of course, Russia and China, as sovereign states, have the right to seek short-term advantage, create instability, and act irresponsibly. Yet the Bush administration is ignoring their hostile moves and continues to treat them as friends, inviting the pair to help restructure the world’s currency system and review international regulation of the financial markets.

Russia and China have, in a very real sense, declared economic warfare on the United States. They obviously have no trouble acting in their own perceived interests. Yet Washington seems unable to stand up for ours. Our troubles, as serious as they may be, are not so great that we must invite our adversaries to help decide our future.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said that nations should move away from the American currency. “At the moment the world which is based on the dollar is suffering serious problems,” the Russian prime minister told a forum in Moscow. “In such conditions, we need to think about improving the payments system for bilateral trade, including the use of national currencies.” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in the Russian capital for a series of meetings, agreed. “We need to diversify the global currency system, to support its stability through the use of different currencies,” he said.

Wen’s comments were a more polite version of a series of anti-dollar comments that have appeared in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication. “The U.S. is, by taking advantage of its dollar hegemony, grabbing the global wealth,” said a commentary published on Friday. “Therefore, the dollar-pegged payments in the international trade transactions must be shattered.”

It’s besides the point that China and Russia cannot conduct trade with each other in either of their own currencies for a variety of legal, technical, and economic reasons. And it is also irrelevant that parties around the world, supposedly disadvantaged by the greenback, are rushing into the currency at this time, apparently looking for refuge from worldwide turmoil. The important point is that these two nations, which will participate in the mid-November discussions in Washington to reshape the global financial architecture, are trying to undermine the United States at a time of severe economic stress.

Of course, Russia and China, as sovereign states, have the right to seek short-term advantage, create instability, and act irresponsibly. Yet the Bush administration is ignoring their hostile moves and continues to treat them as friends, inviting the pair to help restructure the world’s currency system and review international regulation of the financial markets.

Russia and China have, in a very real sense, declared economic warfare on the United States. They obviously have no trouble acting in their own perceived interests. Yet Washington seems unable to stand up for ours. Our troubles, as serious as they may be, are not so great that we must invite our adversaries to help decide our future.

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Staid in Taiwan

I guess we can scratch Taiwan off the list of Obama’s international advocates:

Like current President George W. Bush, Obama proposes working with China on economic and security goals while pushing Taipei and Beijing to settle their differences peacefully.

Because we all know how peacefully Beijing settles disputes.

“People in Taiwan tend to think McCain takes a rather conservative view toward China and his war veteran image appeals to them,” said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong.

You mean the Taiwanese–living in fear of Chinese aggression–are not in awe of Obama’s extraordinary “temperament”? Don’t they realize his indifference to their security and freedom is a sign of leadership? Don’t they know that McCain’s distaste for autocratic Beijing is evidence of his instability? Why would they actually weigh the ideology of American candidates? Americans don’t.

Derek Mitchell, Asia director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, concludes: “McCain and his people have more of a record on Taiwan.” And Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Japan, France, Venezuela, Canada . . .

I guess we can scratch Taiwan off the list of Obama’s international advocates:

Like current President George W. Bush, Obama proposes working with China on economic and security goals while pushing Taipei and Beijing to settle their differences peacefully.

Because we all know how peacefully Beijing settles disputes.

“People in Taiwan tend to think McCain takes a rather conservative view toward China and his war veteran image appeals to them,” said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong.

You mean the Taiwanese–living in fear of Chinese aggression–are not in awe of Obama’s extraordinary “temperament”? Don’t they realize his indifference to their security and freedom is a sign of leadership? Don’t they know that McCain’s distaste for autocratic Beijing is evidence of his instability? Why would they actually weigh the ideology of American candidates? Americans don’t.

Derek Mitchell, Asia director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, concludes: “McCain and his people have more of a record on Taiwan.” And Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Japan, France, Venezuela, Canada . . .

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Re: Obama On Taxes

John, the RNC has picked up on this point, done a quick turnaround, and released a fairly effective ad. With a little help from Joe Biden, the public may get the idea that the $250,000 number is “up for grabs.” Indeed, unless Barack Obama is going to scale back his spending plans radically, the number has to float down, in order to capture more and more taxpayers. There simply isn’t enough revenue to be gained from people making more than $250,000–or even $200,000–to pay for $4.3 trillion in new spending. Even the MSM has figured this out.

John, the RNC has picked up on this point, done a quick turnaround, and released a fairly effective ad. With a little help from Joe Biden, the public may get the idea that the $250,000 number is “up for grabs.” Indeed, unless Barack Obama is going to scale back his spending plans radically, the number has to float down, in order to capture more and more taxpayers. There simply isn’t enough revenue to be gained from people making more than $250,000–or even $200,000–to pay for $4.3 trillion in new spending. Even the MSM has figured this out.

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Puppy Love and the Press

On his blog at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg poses this thought experiment:

Imagine — and it doesn’t take much imagining — but imagine Dick Cheney showed up at a party for Ahmed Chalabi, and made a videotaped toast? Don’t you think the L.A. Times would try like hell to get that video posted on its website? Of course it would, and it would be performing a valuable service for its readers.

This follows up on an earlier post, in which he (rightly) refers to the Times as a “pro-censorship organization.” He uses this sobriquet because the Times has refused to release a videotape it obtained of a 2003 banquet, at which then-state Senator Barack Obama spoke of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian activist.

The Times first reported on this videotape in an April 2008 story, which included a detailed description of the tape’s contents. The explanation offered by the Times is that it did not release the tape itself “because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it.” So said the newspaper’s editor, Russ Stanton (who added that “The Times keeps its promises to sources”). But Goldberg points out the obvious: the tape has been described in detail in a Times story already, it quite obviously contains no state secrets, and it could be posted in such a way as to obscure its origins. So why the restraint?

This whole episode is quite extraordinary. But it’s just one more example of the remarkable one-sidedness of the media in this presidential campaign. The political and ideological biases of the press have been a constant as long as I’ve been alive. But I don’t think they have ever been this pronounced.

Many members of the media have not only an ideological but also an emotional investment in an Obama presidency. They desperately want an Obama victory. Some journalists, as we are discovering in the case of the Times, will violate the most basic professional standards to ensure that outcome. The journalistic landscape is scattered with people like (to take just one  example) Richard Wolffe of Newsweek, who speaks and writes about Obama in reverential, even worshipful, tones. What is far more widespread, though, is a slant in how the two campaigns are covered–which issues the press deems legitimate and illegitimate; how topics are framed; the tone and manner in which the two candidates are described. It is clear, for example, that many members of the press corps have decided that raising the issue of Obama’s past associations with radicals like Bill Ayers (to name just one of a number) is crude, unrefined, and off limits. When McCain brought it up, they portrayed him in the worst possible light. Raising the issue of Obama’s association with a domestic terrorist became worse than that association itself.

The press, then, in pursuing its pro-Obama agenda, has necessarily turned with a vengeance on McCain. He never stood a chance, it seems, against Barack Obama when it came to winning the affection and adoration of the press. The MSM’s enchantment with Obama has become so obvious that it’s slightly embarrassing. (Public demonstrations of puppy love usually are.) And I suspect that, even if Obama wins, the MSM will have accelerated its decline, both in terms of the respect it gets (already low) and the support it receives (i.e. in the number of its viewers and readers). John McCain, the CW says, will lose this election. But if he does, he’ll have some company along for the ride.

On his blog at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg poses this thought experiment:

Imagine — and it doesn’t take much imagining — but imagine Dick Cheney showed up at a party for Ahmed Chalabi, and made a videotaped toast? Don’t you think the L.A. Times would try like hell to get that video posted on its website? Of course it would, and it would be performing a valuable service for its readers.

This follows up on an earlier post, in which he (rightly) refers to the Times as a “pro-censorship organization.” He uses this sobriquet because the Times has refused to release a videotape it obtained of a 2003 banquet, at which then-state Senator Barack Obama spoke of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian activist.

The Times first reported on this videotape in an April 2008 story, which included a detailed description of the tape’s contents. The explanation offered by the Times is that it did not release the tape itself “because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it.” So said the newspaper’s editor, Russ Stanton (who added that “The Times keeps its promises to sources”). But Goldberg points out the obvious: the tape has been described in detail in a Times story already, it quite obviously contains no state secrets, and it could be posted in such a way as to obscure its origins. So why the restraint?

This whole episode is quite extraordinary. But it’s just one more example of the remarkable one-sidedness of the media in this presidential campaign. The political and ideological biases of the press have been a constant as long as I’ve been alive. But I don’t think they have ever been this pronounced.

Many members of the media have not only an ideological but also an emotional investment in an Obama presidency. They desperately want an Obama victory. Some journalists, as we are discovering in the case of the Times, will violate the most basic professional standards to ensure that outcome. The journalistic landscape is scattered with people like (to take just one  example) Richard Wolffe of Newsweek, who speaks and writes about Obama in reverential, even worshipful, tones. What is far more widespread, though, is a slant in how the two campaigns are covered–which issues the press deems legitimate and illegitimate; how topics are framed; the tone and manner in which the two candidates are described. It is clear, for example, that many members of the press corps have decided that raising the issue of Obama’s past associations with radicals like Bill Ayers (to name just one of a number) is crude, unrefined, and off limits. When McCain brought it up, they portrayed him in the worst possible light. Raising the issue of Obama’s association with a domestic terrorist became worse than that association itself.

The press, then, in pursuing its pro-Obama agenda, has necessarily turned with a vengeance on McCain. He never stood a chance, it seems, against Barack Obama when it came to winning the affection and adoration of the press. The MSM’s enchantment with Obama has become so obvious that it’s slightly embarrassing. (Public demonstrations of puppy love usually are.) And I suspect that, even if Obama wins, the MSM will have accelerated its decline, both in terms of the respect it gets (already low) and the support it receives (i.e. in the number of its viewers and readers). John McCain, the CW says, will lose this election. But if he does, he’ll have some company along for the ride.

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Obama on Taxes

Last week, John McCain made a big deal out of the fact that Joe Biden suddenly lowered the annual salary number below which no one would be taxed under the Obama plan from $250,000 to $150,000. That gave added heft to his argument that Obama is pursuing redistributionist policies that will have a negative effect on efforts to help the economy grow. But that was Biden mouthing off, after all, something it’s easy to take not all that seriously. What is more serious, and more telling, is that without making any admissions of a change, the Obama campaign as a whole is now explicitly acknowledging the $250,000 floor for tax increases is no longer operative. Instead, both in a commercial released last week and in last night’s infomercial, the number that is now being used is $200,000.

Granted, the absolute number of people in this country who make between $200,000 and $250,000 is relatively small, but that is not the issue. What this suggests is that these plans are subject to downward revision in a way that will take in far more taxpayers than Obama spent more than a year promising they would. It’s not clear why he didn’t just continue to prevaricate about this until Election Day, but facts are facts, a changed policy is a changed policy, and taxpayers under that $200,000 threshold will have to judge whether the promise to increase taxes on others but not on them is to be believed.

Last week, John McCain made a big deal out of the fact that Joe Biden suddenly lowered the annual salary number below which no one would be taxed under the Obama plan from $250,000 to $150,000. That gave added heft to his argument that Obama is pursuing redistributionist policies that will have a negative effect on efforts to help the economy grow. But that was Biden mouthing off, after all, something it’s easy to take not all that seriously. What is more serious, and more telling, is that without making any admissions of a change, the Obama campaign as a whole is now explicitly acknowledging the $250,000 floor for tax increases is no longer operative. Instead, both in a commercial released last week and in last night’s infomercial, the number that is now being used is $200,000.

Granted, the absolute number of people in this country who make between $200,000 and $250,000 is relatively small, but that is not the issue. What this suggests is that these plans are subject to downward revision in a way that will take in far more taxpayers than Obama spent more than a year promising they would. It’s not clear why he didn’t just continue to prevaricate about this until Election Day, but facts are facts, a changed policy is a changed policy, and taxpayers under that $200,000 threshold will have to judge whether the promise to increase taxes on others but not on them is to be believed.

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A Small Silver Lining

The Wall Street Journal reports:

While many parents and students have long emphasized getting into a top school over financial considerations, families in recent months have seen the value of their homes decline, their investments dramatically shrink and sometimes monthly incomes lost due to layoffs. Other students who in the past would have taken on thousands of dollars in debt, are being stymied as lenders tighten access to loans amid the global credit crunch.

Many college-age kids are setting their sights on less prestigious and lower-cost colleges or adding “financial-safety” schools to their lists as a backup. Some students are considering spending their first two years at a community college, while others are focusing on schools closer to home to save on fuel and housing costs. Students stuck on going to their top-choice colleges are trying to help out by getting after-school jobs and increasingly applying for scholarships.

I know we are supposed to feel sympathy for those going to (gasp) state schools or (double gasp) finding jobs. But is this such a bad thing? Perhaps the difference in cost between Harvard and Ohio State can be put to better use. And the Ivies might stop gouging students–if the latter figure out they can get an identical education at half the price. If the recession gives thousands of teenagers the idea that money isn’t unlimited, choices need to be made, and more expensive isn’t necessarily “better,” then it’s not the worst thing to befall them.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

While many parents and students have long emphasized getting into a top school over financial considerations, families in recent months have seen the value of their homes decline, their investments dramatically shrink and sometimes monthly incomes lost due to layoffs. Other students who in the past would have taken on thousands of dollars in debt, are being stymied as lenders tighten access to loans amid the global credit crunch.

Many college-age kids are setting their sights on less prestigious and lower-cost colleges or adding “financial-safety” schools to their lists as a backup. Some students are considering spending their first two years at a community college, while others are focusing on schools closer to home to save on fuel and housing costs. Students stuck on going to their top-choice colleges are trying to help out by getting after-school jobs and increasingly applying for scholarships.

I know we are supposed to feel sympathy for those going to (gasp) state schools or (double gasp) finding jobs. But is this such a bad thing? Perhaps the difference in cost between Harvard and Ohio State can be put to better use. And the Ivies might stop gouging students–if the latter figure out they can get an identical education at half the price. If the recession gives thousands of teenagers the idea that money isn’t unlimited, choices need to be made, and more expensive isn’t necessarily “better,” then it’s not the worst thing to befall them.

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So, Who Is His Friend?

Martin Kramer notes that Barack Obama places suspicious emphasis on the influence of benign nobodies, while buttoning up about his many conversations with Rashid Khalidi:

For example, Obama, in an interview and in his spring AIPAC speech, recalled conversations with a Jewish-American camp counselor he encountered-when he was all of eleven years old. “During the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted.” (In the same interview, Obama said Israel “speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus.”)

Of course, the story of someone like Khalidi could have just as readily spoken to Obama’s history of uprootedness, exodus, preserving a culture, and longing to return home. (So too would the story of the late Edward Said, who was photographed seated at a dinner with Obama in 1998, and who entitled his memoir Out of Place. Obama has never said anything about the impact, if any, of that conversation.) And indeed, it stretches credulity to believe that a two-week childhood encounter at a summer camp was more significant to Obama that his decade-long association, as a mature adult, with his senior university colleague, Khalidi.

It’s true. In Obama lore, camp counselors shape your politics, while terrorists are just guys in the neighborhood, and terrorist mouthpieces are babysitters. As Kramer points out, the Obamas’ babysitter said the following about the start of the Iraq War:

This war will be fought because these neoconservatives desire to make the Middle East safe not for democracy, but for Israeli hegemony. They are convinced that the Middle East is irremediably hostile to both the United States and Israel; and they firmly hold the racist view that Middle Easterners understand only force. For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts, sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel’s enemies.

Which, Kramer notes, sounds a lot like Obama’s own October 2002 antiwar speech:

“What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.” No mention of Cheney or Rumsfeld-and no need to mention them, to a constituency that knew who was really behind the push for war, and why. (Later, the same argument would figure prominently in The Israel Lobby, co-authored by another Chicago professor, John Mearsheimer.)

Funny–none of the sage words of Obama’s camp counselor seemed to make it into that speech.

Martin Kramer notes that Barack Obama places suspicious emphasis on the influence of benign nobodies, while buttoning up about his many conversations with Rashid Khalidi:

For example, Obama, in an interview and in his spring AIPAC speech, recalled conversations with a Jewish-American camp counselor he encountered-when he was all of eleven years old. “During the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted.” (In the same interview, Obama said Israel “speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus.”)

Of course, the story of someone like Khalidi could have just as readily spoken to Obama’s history of uprootedness, exodus, preserving a culture, and longing to return home. (So too would the story of the late Edward Said, who was photographed seated at a dinner with Obama in 1998, and who entitled his memoir Out of Place. Obama has never said anything about the impact, if any, of that conversation.) And indeed, it stretches credulity to believe that a two-week childhood encounter at a summer camp was more significant to Obama that his decade-long association, as a mature adult, with his senior university colleague, Khalidi.

It’s true. In Obama lore, camp counselors shape your politics, while terrorists are just guys in the neighborhood, and terrorist mouthpieces are babysitters. As Kramer points out, the Obamas’ babysitter said the following about the start of the Iraq War:

This war will be fought because these neoconservatives desire to make the Middle East safe not for democracy, but for Israeli hegemony. They are convinced that the Middle East is irremediably hostile to both the United States and Israel; and they firmly hold the racist view that Middle Easterners understand only force. For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts, sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel’s enemies.

Which, Kramer notes, sounds a lot like Obama’s own October 2002 antiwar speech:

“What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.” No mention of Cheney or Rumsfeld-and no need to mention them, to a constituency that knew who was really behind the push for war, and why. (Later, the same argument would figure prominently in The Israel Lobby, co-authored by another Chicago professor, John Mearsheimer.)

Funny–none of the sage words of Obama’s camp counselor seemed to make it into that speech.

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They Should Have Thought This Through

In a spasm of buyer’s remorse, the Washington Post editors seemed troubled that, if their endorsee Barack Obama wins, we’ll have one-party rule. Who knew? This disturbs the Post because the Democrats might not listen to the other side if they run everything. No, it’s true! And that may even be a bad thing, the Post editors concede:

But we don’t believe either party has a monopoly on policy wisdom. We liked Mr. Bush’s insistence on accountability in education, tempered by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s reminder that you couldn’t fix urban schools without some money. We don’t support the Democrats’ plan to allow unionization without secret ballots, but we agree with them that National Labor Relations Board rules have tipped too far toward management. And so on. We like to think, in other words, that a process in which both parties play a role can sometimes lead to better outcomes and not always to dead ends.

It’s worse than that, of course. It is not just that Republicans won’t to get to shape legislation, it is that the Democrats will push through a raft of extreme and damaging legislation–abolition of secret ballots for union elections, protectionist legislation, and the Freedom of Choice Act (invalidating any restriction on abortion including limits on public funding).

But that’s the rub. An Obama presidency will have a Democratic Congressional majority to push it to its logical and ideological extreme on every issue. The only issue will be how large a majority. You really can’t both decry the dangers of undivided government and support Obama’s candidacy. Well, you can, I suppose. But people will figure out quite easily that you must not really be too serious about the former.

In a spasm of buyer’s remorse, the Washington Post editors seemed troubled that, if their endorsee Barack Obama wins, we’ll have one-party rule. Who knew? This disturbs the Post because the Democrats might not listen to the other side if they run everything. No, it’s true! And that may even be a bad thing, the Post editors concede:

But we don’t believe either party has a monopoly on policy wisdom. We liked Mr. Bush’s insistence on accountability in education, tempered by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s reminder that you couldn’t fix urban schools without some money. We don’t support the Democrats’ plan to allow unionization without secret ballots, but we agree with them that National Labor Relations Board rules have tipped too far toward management. And so on. We like to think, in other words, that a process in which both parties play a role can sometimes lead to better outcomes and not always to dead ends.

It’s worse than that, of course. It is not just that Republicans won’t to get to shape legislation, it is that the Democrats will push through a raft of extreme and damaging legislation–abolition of secret ballots for union elections, protectionist legislation, and the Freedom of Choice Act (invalidating any restriction on abortion including limits on public funding).

But that’s the rub. An Obama presidency will have a Democratic Congressional majority to push it to its logical and ideological extreme on every issue. The only issue will be how large a majority. You really can’t both decry the dangers of undivided government and support Obama’s candidacy. Well, you can, I suppose. But people will figure out quite easily that you must not really be too serious about the former.

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Another Cafferty Moment

CNN’s Jack Cafferty may have the easiest job on television, if not in the world. All he has to do is ask viewers one–just one!–broadly relevant political opinion question every night during The Situation Room‘s three-hour broadcast, and then read a handful of the answers on the air shortly thereafter.

Naturally, it’s a task that requires minimal research–particularly for someone who works at CNN, where they presumably have CNN on in the background all day long. But even if Cafferty typically arrives at the office only a few minutes before he goes on the air, one might expect that he could come up with a reasonable question just by reading the headlines off of newsstands on his way to work, or–if he’s really in a bind–by eavesdropping on fellow commuters’ small talk.

Well–despite my best efforts–it seems that I’ve given Cafferty too much credit. Get a load of last night’s “Cafferty File” question:

After his appearance with Barack Obama tonight at a rally in Kissimmee, Florida, former president Bill Clinton plans to criss-cross the country on behalf of Obama in the closing days of the campaign. . . .

But what about John McCain? He has a sitting president in his party. President Bush has been dubbed “the invisible man” when it comes to campaigning for his dear friend and fellow Republican, John McCain.

Here’s my question to you: President Clinton is campaigning for Barack Obama. Why isn’t President Bush campaigning for John McCain?

One is forced to wonder whether Cafferty lives in a well. Still, the competitor in me feels compelled to try and match the incredible political ignorance that this question exemplifies with an ignorant question of my own.

So, here’s my question to you: John McCain has been constantly accompanied on the campaign trail by old friends from the Senate, including Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Why aren’t Barack Obama’s old friends from Chicago, such as Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, similarly accompanying him?

Send your comments to the Trager File.

CNN’s Jack Cafferty may have the easiest job on television, if not in the world. All he has to do is ask viewers one–just one!–broadly relevant political opinion question every night during The Situation Room‘s three-hour broadcast, and then read a handful of the answers on the air shortly thereafter.

Naturally, it’s a task that requires minimal research–particularly for someone who works at CNN, where they presumably have CNN on in the background all day long. But even if Cafferty typically arrives at the office only a few minutes before he goes on the air, one might expect that he could come up with a reasonable question just by reading the headlines off of newsstands on his way to work, or–if he’s really in a bind–by eavesdropping on fellow commuters’ small talk.

Well–despite my best efforts–it seems that I’ve given Cafferty too much credit. Get a load of last night’s “Cafferty File” question:

After his appearance with Barack Obama tonight at a rally in Kissimmee, Florida, former president Bill Clinton plans to criss-cross the country on behalf of Obama in the closing days of the campaign. . . .

But what about John McCain? He has a sitting president in his party. President Bush has been dubbed “the invisible man” when it comes to campaigning for his dear friend and fellow Republican, John McCain.

Here’s my question to you: President Clinton is campaigning for Barack Obama. Why isn’t President Bush campaigning for John McCain?

One is forced to wonder whether Cafferty lives in a well. Still, the competitor in me feels compelled to try and match the incredible political ignorance that this question exemplifies with an ignorant question of my own.

So, here’s my question to you: John McCain has been constantly accompanied on the campaign trail by old friends from the Senate, including Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Why aren’t Barack Obama’s old friends from Chicago, such as Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, similarly accompanying him?

Send your comments to the Trager File.

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Did It Have To Be So Hard?

David Broder aptly summarizes two faults that have plagued John McCain. The first is organizational:

We suspected, and soon confirmed, that he had limited interest in, and capacity for, organization and management of large enterprises. His first effort at building a structure for the 2008 presidential race collapsed in near-bankruptcy, costing him the service of many longtime aides. From beginning to end, the campaign that followed has been plagued by internal feuds and by McCain’s inability to resolve them.

Even his biggest defenders would not mistake the McCain camp for the finely-honed Romney operation. At times in the last few weeks, his team has come to resemble Hillary’s — feuding, defensive, disorganized. So is there a method in the chaos? Or could they be doing better if all the ducks were in a row, the campaign travel schedule didn’t appear to have been set by a blindfolded dart thrower, and the aides had piped down? We don’t know, because there is no control group in which a perfectly calibrated McCain campaign operates in a parallel campaign.

Broder then gets to the nub of the matter. Like many conservatives, he finds there’s a deficit in vision:

The shortcoming was intellectual as well as bureaucratic. Like Jimmy Carter, the only Naval Academy graduate to reach the Oval Office, McCain had an engineer’s approach to policymaking. He had no large principles that he could apply to specific problems; each fresh question set off a search for a “practical” solution. He instinctively looked back to Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive era, with its high-mindedness and disdain for the politics of doling out favors to interest groups. But those instincts coexisted uneasily with his adherence to traditional, Reagan-era conservatism — a muscular foreign policy, a penchant for tax-cutting and a fondness for business.
McCain was handed a terrible political environment by the outgoing Bush administration — a legacy of war, debt and scandal that would have defeated any of the other aspirants for the nomination. But because McCain could not create a coherent philosophy or vision of his own, he allowed Obama and the Democrats to convince voters of a falsehood: that electing McCain would in effect reward Bush with a third term.

It is only in the closing couple of weeks of the campaign that McCain has found his footing. And it hasn’t come from his own camp, but from an ordinary citizen (“It’s the socialism, stupid”) and his opponents ( Joe Biden’s prediction of crisis and Obama’s confession of redistributive designs). But so it was in the primary as well: he hit his stride at the last possible moment, primarily as a counterpuncher to Romney.

Again, it is unknowable if a well-defined economic philosophy would have grounded his campaign. But it was the absence of a defined vision that left him grasping for ideas and gestures when the financial crisis hit. And he’s now trying to claw back as time ticks away.

Despite these failures, McCain still remains viable. That may be a tribute to the extremism of his opponents’ views, the close political division in the country, the esteem with which many voters regard McCain, or some combination of all of these. But he could have saved himself a world of hurt had he addressed these two shortcomings. As Broder sums up:

Should McCain still win the election, it will demonstrate even more vividly than the earlier episodes in his life the survival instincts and capacity for overcoming the odds of this remarkably engaging man. If he becomes president, the country would have to hope this campaign has honed his leadership skills.

Hard to argue with that.

David Broder aptly summarizes two faults that have plagued John McCain. The first is organizational:

We suspected, and soon confirmed, that he had limited interest in, and capacity for, organization and management of large enterprises. His first effort at building a structure for the 2008 presidential race collapsed in near-bankruptcy, costing him the service of many longtime aides. From beginning to end, the campaign that followed has been plagued by internal feuds and by McCain’s inability to resolve them.

Even his biggest defenders would not mistake the McCain camp for the finely-honed Romney operation. At times in the last few weeks, his team has come to resemble Hillary’s — feuding, defensive, disorganized. So is there a method in the chaos? Or could they be doing better if all the ducks were in a row, the campaign travel schedule didn’t appear to have been set by a blindfolded dart thrower, and the aides had piped down? We don’t know, because there is no control group in which a perfectly calibrated McCain campaign operates in a parallel campaign.

Broder then gets to the nub of the matter. Like many conservatives, he finds there’s a deficit in vision:

The shortcoming was intellectual as well as bureaucratic. Like Jimmy Carter, the only Naval Academy graduate to reach the Oval Office, McCain had an engineer’s approach to policymaking. He had no large principles that he could apply to specific problems; each fresh question set off a search for a “practical” solution. He instinctively looked back to Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive era, with its high-mindedness and disdain for the politics of doling out favors to interest groups. But those instincts coexisted uneasily with his adherence to traditional, Reagan-era conservatism — a muscular foreign policy, a penchant for tax-cutting and a fondness for business.
McCain was handed a terrible political environment by the outgoing Bush administration — a legacy of war, debt and scandal that would have defeated any of the other aspirants for the nomination. But because McCain could not create a coherent philosophy or vision of his own, he allowed Obama and the Democrats to convince voters of a falsehood: that electing McCain would in effect reward Bush with a third term.

It is only in the closing couple of weeks of the campaign that McCain has found his footing. And it hasn’t come from his own camp, but from an ordinary citizen (“It’s the socialism, stupid”) and his opponents ( Joe Biden’s prediction of crisis and Obama’s confession of redistributive designs). But so it was in the primary as well: he hit his stride at the last possible moment, primarily as a counterpuncher to Romney.

Again, it is unknowable if a well-defined economic philosophy would have grounded his campaign. But it was the absence of a defined vision that left him grasping for ideas and gestures when the financial crisis hit. And he’s now trying to claw back as time ticks away.

Despite these failures, McCain still remains viable. That may be a tribute to the extremism of his opponents’ views, the close political division in the country, the esteem with which many voters regard McCain, or some combination of all of these. But he could have saved himself a world of hurt had he addressed these two shortcomings. As Broder sums up:

Should McCain still win the election, it will demonstrate even more vividly than the earlier episodes in his life the survival instincts and capacity for overcoming the odds of this remarkably engaging man. If he becomes president, the country would have to hope this campaign has honed his leadership skills.

Hard to argue with that.

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Nothing Is Yet Decided

Karl Rove reminds us of the polling errors of 2000 and 2004 and advises:

The last national poll that showed Mr. McCain ahead came out Sept. 25 and the 232 polls since then have all shown Mr. Obama leading. Only one time in the past 14 presidential elections has a candidate won the popular vote and the Electoral College after trailing in the Gallup Poll the week before the election: Ronald Reagan in 1980.

But the question that matters is the margin. If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he’s down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided.

You might say this is the ultimate spin, trying to give desperate Republicans a lifeline. Perhaps. But if so, it is a mild counterweight to the hours and hours of MSM spin telling Republicans to pack it in.

And while the Presidential race gets most of the attention, there are Senate races that will determine whether there is a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. The North Carolina, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Georgia, Oregon, and Kentucky Senate races, to name a few, will be decided by masses of people who know that nothing is decided. Will there be union secret ballot elections in this country? Will the Hyde Amendment be repealed? Will we have Hillarycare? To a large degree, the answers turn on the outcome of these races.

The temptation to extract clues, scan the horizon for signals, and create certainty out of chaos is great. But this time, there is more chaos than certainty — which is why Rove’s advice rings true.

Karl Rove reminds us of the polling errors of 2000 and 2004 and advises:

The last national poll that showed Mr. McCain ahead came out Sept. 25 and the 232 polls since then have all shown Mr. Obama leading. Only one time in the past 14 presidential elections has a candidate won the popular vote and the Electoral College after trailing in the Gallup Poll the week before the election: Ronald Reagan in 1980.

But the question that matters is the margin. If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he’s down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided.

You might say this is the ultimate spin, trying to give desperate Republicans a lifeline. Perhaps. But if so, it is a mild counterweight to the hours and hours of MSM spin telling Republicans to pack it in.

And while the Presidential race gets most of the attention, there are Senate races that will determine whether there is a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. The North Carolina, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Georgia, Oregon, and Kentucky Senate races, to name a few, will be decided by masses of people who know that nothing is decided. Will there be union secret ballot elections in this country? Will the Hyde Amendment be repealed? Will we have Hillarycare? To a large degree, the answers turn on the outcome of these races.

The temptation to extract clues, scan the horizon for signals, and create certainty out of chaos is great. But this time, there is more chaos than certainty — which is why Rove’s advice rings true.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You’d think, by now, all the Obama surrogates would have the “what has he done?” answer down pat. But no. And win or lose,  if sixty million or so Americans vote against him, how is that “bringing us together”?

A video report on Rashid Khalidi. Not the video.

Ben Smith called the Obama info-mercial “a dramatic gesture executed in a very safe fashion.” I think the translation is: “I was bored silly.” But maybe it is the defining moment of the campaign, when people realize Obama is all about grand gestures. And only about them.

The AP finds that Obama’s commercial didn’t add up.

Did Obama just subtract $50,000 off the definition of “rich“?

Nicole Wallace does an interview. But it seems designed, in large part, to restore her own reputation and pave the way for her return to CBS. Really, sometimes staff needs to be invisible.

“Astonishing” this race isn’t over, says Howard Fineman. Sort of like those darn Democratic primary voters who kept casting ballots for Hillary Clinton after being told she had lost. Pesky voters. Always think they have choices. Hrrumph.

McCain is still jabbing at Obama: “He offers government run health care, an energy plan guaranteed to work without drilling and an automatic wealth spreader that folds neatly and fits under any bed.”

Is Norm Coleman pulling this out? If so, perhaps it is not the Blue tidal wave some predicted.

Rashid Khalidi only a guy in the neighborhood and a respected scholar? “After all, what’s a free press for, if not to withhold news that people don’t really need, or that might cause discomfort just a few days before an election?” It’s hard to keep reality and parody straight.

You’d think, by now, all the Obama surrogates would have the “what has he done?” answer down pat. But no. And win or lose,  if sixty million or so Americans vote against him, how is that “bringing us together”?

A video report on Rashid Khalidi. Not the video.

Ben Smith called the Obama info-mercial “a dramatic gesture executed in a very safe fashion.” I think the translation is: “I was bored silly.” But maybe it is the defining moment of the campaign, when people realize Obama is all about grand gestures. And only about them.

The AP finds that Obama’s commercial didn’t add up.

Did Obama just subtract $50,000 off the definition of “rich“?

Nicole Wallace does an interview. But it seems designed, in large part, to restore her own reputation and pave the way for her return to CBS. Really, sometimes staff needs to be invisible.

“Astonishing” this race isn’t over, says Howard Fineman. Sort of like those darn Democratic primary voters who kept casting ballots for Hillary Clinton after being told she had lost. Pesky voters. Always think they have choices. Hrrumph.

McCain is still jabbing at Obama: “He offers government run health care, an energy plan guaranteed to work without drilling and an automatic wealth spreader that folds neatly and fits under any bed.”

Is Norm Coleman pulling this out? If so, perhaps it is not the Blue tidal wave some predicted.

Rashid Khalidi only a guy in the neighborhood and a respected scholar? “After all, what’s a free press for, if not to withhold news that people don’t really need, or that might cause discomfort just a few days before an election?” It’s hard to keep reality and parody straight.

Read Less




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