Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 3, 2008

On Walt and Wright

An academic who has devoted his recent “research” to exposing the “Israel lobby” applauds Barack Obama’s March 18 speech on race and Jeremiah Wright for being the most memorable moment of this presidential election. Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard University, writes:

It came at a crucial moment in the campaign, when Obama’s past association with Reverend Wright seemed like it might derail his campaign completely. There are a thousand ways he might have mishandled it, which would have ended his chances. Instead, he gave a speech that confronted America’s most sensitive issue with sophistication, grace, balance and forgiveness. He did what every successful candidate for President must do: he held out a vision of America to which we all can aspire, and made it seem within reach. 

Never mind that Walt does not condemn Reverend Wright or his politics or his egregious rhetoric, and never mind that Walt does not question Obama’s relationship with his self-proclaimed “spiritual mentor”; but is the Harvard professor able to recall a single line from Obama’s much acclaimed speech on race?

Obama’s vision of America, one could infer from the speech, is that it remains a racist nation (as exemplified by his grandmother and his preacher, according to Obama); or, at least, that America remains a nation rife with racial prejudice. It’s not a pretty picture.  But this is the vision of America “to which we all can aspire,” according to Walt.

Walt’s analysis inadvertently shines light on another aspect of Obama’s race speech. Obama was successfully able to argue that any condemnation of Wright would be akin to inciting racial prejudices among the electorate; he was warning that talk of Wright would be considered race baiting. As Jen notes, Jeremiah Wright has been only a tangential issue in this presidential race because John McCain has refused to make it an issue. In that sense, Obama’s speech was the most effective political act of 2008.

An academic who has devoted his recent “research” to exposing the “Israel lobby” applauds Barack Obama’s March 18 speech on race and Jeremiah Wright for being the most memorable moment of this presidential election. Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard University, writes:

It came at a crucial moment in the campaign, when Obama’s past association with Reverend Wright seemed like it might derail his campaign completely. There are a thousand ways he might have mishandled it, which would have ended his chances. Instead, he gave a speech that confronted America’s most sensitive issue with sophistication, grace, balance and forgiveness. He did what every successful candidate for President must do: he held out a vision of America to which we all can aspire, and made it seem within reach. 

Never mind that Walt does not condemn Reverend Wright or his politics or his egregious rhetoric, and never mind that Walt does not question Obama’s relationship with his self-proclaimed “spiritual mentor”; but is the Harvard professor able to recall a single line from Obama’s much acclaimed speech on race?

Obama’s vision of America, one could infer from the speech, is that it remains a racist nation (as exemplified by his grandmother and his preacher, according to Obama); or, at least, that America remains a nation rife with racial prejudice. It’s not a pretty picture.  But this is the vision of America “to which we all can aspire,” according to Walt.

Walt’s analysis inadvertently shines light on another aspect of Obama’s race speech. Obama was successfully able to argue that any condemnation of Wright would be akin to inciting racial prejudices among the electorate; he was warning that talk of Wright would be considered race baiting. As Jen notes, Jeremiah Wright has been only a tangential issue in this presidential race because John McCain has refused to make it an issue. In that sense, Obama’s speech was the most effective political act of 2008.

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Biden’s True Role: The Clown

He surely didn’t plan it this way, but one sign of Barack Obama’s political genius — even if accidental — is the developing role of Joe Biden. Not as wise counselor, or sage guide to foreign policy, or as the Man of Great Experience, but rather as the Appointed Administration Clown.

Biden will draw the fire, the ire, and the satirical scorn of the late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live” — indeed, Biden has now twice been the butt of the joke on “SNL.” (Yes, my wife works for the show, but I have no inside knowledge of how  sketches as brilliant as this one get written.) Consider today’s head-spinning Biden blatherfest:

You know why I think Jill likes Claire McCaskill so well, Senator McCaskill? Jill is one of five sisters, Claire is one of three sisters. And I tell you what, you women raised with sisters are different than women raised with brothers. My sister is smart, runs every one of my campaigns; is beautiful; graduated with honors from college; is homecoming queen. But she’s a … she is what I call a “girl-boy” growing up, you know what I mean? And I tell you what? Girl-girls are tougher than girl-boys.

But there’s one important thing I noticed. The great thing about marrying into a family with five sisters, there’s always one that loves you. ‘Cause you can count on splitting them a bit. You know what I mean? I shouldn’t be going off like this, but — hey, folks, 37 more hours, 37 more hours…

It has proved impossible, so far, for the comedy world to come up with a take on Obama, because a) its members love him and don’t want to make fun of him and b) they have had it so impressed on them over time to be careful on matters of race that, unless they are black themselves, comedy writers and performers mostly shy away from humor that pokes fun at blacks. And black comedians and performers are, right now, feeling even more passionately about Obama than their white counterparts.

At this point in the game in 1992, comedy types loved Clinton too, but at least they had something trivial on him — his overindulgence in fast food. It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t anything that did him injury, but it was something.

Because of Biden’s chronic inability to keep his mouth shut, and his propensity for sounding silly, he may function as a contrast to Obama and will allow the world of comedy to maintain its worshipful attitude toward him. At the same time, the merciless ribbing of Biden will be cited endlessly as a sign that Jon Stewart and Co. are ready and willing to take it to the Obama administration.

Genius. Lucky genius, but genius nonetheless.

He surely didn’t plan it this way, but one sign of Barack Obama’s political genius — even if accidental — is the developing role of Joe Biden. Not as wise counselor, or sage guide to foreign policy, or as the Man of Great Experience, but rather as the Appointed Administration Clown.

Biden will draw the fire, the ire, and the satirical scorn of the late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live” — indeed, Biden has now twice been the butt of the joke on “SNL.” (Yes, my wife works for the show, but I have no inside knowledge of how  sketches as brilliant as this one get written.) Consider today’s head-spinning Biden blatherfest:

You know why I think Jill likes Claire McCaskill so well, Senator McCaskill? Jill is one of five sisters, Claire is one of three sisters. And I tell you what, you women raised with sisters are different than women raised with brothers. My sister is smart, runs every one of my campaigns; is beautiful; graduated with honors from college; is homecoming queen. But she’s a … she is what I call a “girl-boy” growing up, you know what I mean? And I tell you what? Girl-girls are tougher than girl-boys.

But there’s one important thing I noticed. The great thing about marrying into a family with five sisters, there’s always one that loves you. ‘Cause you can count on splitting them a bit. You know what I mean? I shouldn’t be going off like this, but — hey, folks, 37 more hours, 37 more hours…

It has proved impossible, so far, for the comedy world to come up with a take on Obama, because a) its members love him and don’t want to make fun of him and b) they have had it so impressed on them over time to be careful on matters of race that, unless they are black themselves, comedy writers and performers mostly shy away from humor that pokes fun at blacks. And black comedians and performers are, right now, feeling even more passionately about Obama than their white counterparts.

At this point in the game in 1992, comedy types loved Clinton too, but at least they had something trivial on him — his overindulgence in fast food. It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t anything that did him injury, but it was something.

Because of Biden’s chronic inability to keep his mouth shut, and his propensity for sounding silly, he may function as a contrast to Obama and will allow the world of comedy to maintain its worshipful attitude toward him. At the same time, the merciless ribbing of Biden will be cited endlessly as a sign that Jon Stewart and Co. are ready and willing to take it to the Obama administration.

Genius. Lucky genius, but genius nonetheless.

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Re: Obama vs. Obama

Noah, I think the lesson here is that professional ad people are not nearly as talented and effective as many bloggers. Perhaps in 2012, the nominee will consider turning much of the ad work over to real “professionals”–i.e., bloggers intimately more familiar with the opposition, who understand new media and can marshal a devastating argument in three minutes or less.

Noah, I think the lesson here is that professional ad people are not nearly as talented and effective as many bloggers. Perhaps in 2012, the nominee will consider turning much of the ad work over to real “professionals”–i.e., bloggers intimately more familiar with the opposition, who understand new media and can marshal a devastating argument in three minutes or less.

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Islam Online’s Informal Poll

Islam Online asked a bunch of American Muslims to name their candidate and explain why they’re supporting him. The answers are fascinating. Here are some snapshots:

Malik Mohammad Hussain, 54, a Pakistani-born salesman in Halal Meat Store

I favor Obama over John McCain and think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

I have heard that Obama will end all the war politics and there will be no bombing in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq when he occupies his place in the White House.

Abdul Nasir, 30, a Cab Driver in Washington D.C.

I’m a staunch supporter of Barack Obama but I’m not sure that he will win the presidency.

Obama has got a popular support among the youth, urban cities, and over the media but majority of the white conservatives living in the countryside will never vote for a black man.

If Obama wins it will be only a miracle, and this will be by a thin margin.

Khadija, 56, an Iraqi woman teaching in an Islamic School

My whole family of five will be casting vote for Senator John McCain.

I think McCain is a wise and tested politician. At this critical moment when the whole world is in the grip of crises, only a sage person and not a stylish demagogue can be a savior.

McCain does belong to the Republican Party but this never means that he is another George Bush.

The Republican and not the Democratic Party has been pro-Muslim countries. I cannot see any reason why the majority of Muslims in the US is backing Obama, though Obama has always resisted the Muslim identity and never visited or approached any mosque.

Shafeeq Kakar, 30, Afghan banker in Virginia

Two days ago I voted for Senator Obama.

My family in the US and their nation back in Afghanistan have got fed up with the unending war in Afghanistan.

I want some one who believes in dialogue. Barack Obama has the potential and statesmanship to resolve the crises in Afghanistan with dialogue and jirg [tribal council meetings].

Ata Nabawi, Substitute Teacher, Compton, California

I am voting because voting is important. Enfranchisement is the key to political power. Being a black man, coming out of the history of Jim Crow laws and the struggle for civil rights, to finally have the political power to vote and not exercise defeats that entire purpose of that political struggle.

[Issues and candidates] are equally important, because one affects me locally and the other affects me nationally which will eventually affect me locally.

However, I don’t always agree with the candidates. Barack Obama is for gay marriage, but I’m not, so I’m voting yes on Prop. 8 [to only allow traditional marriage]. Obama just tries to please everybody.

The Muslim community in America is considered to not wield any effective political power therefore it isn’t targeted in elections. This is not based on demographics, but based on the power in Washington, D.C. As a political force, Muslims have not showed their muscles. We don’t have a strong lobby. We’re not organized enough.

[Sen. Obama] did what is politically expedient. He has a Muslim father and was raised in Indonesia, a Muslim country. I also believe he’s been to Pakistan before. He has extensive knowledge of the Muslim world. His name is Arabic, which is the language of the Qur’an. He had to distance himself as much as he can from Muslims and Arabs in order to show his loyalty and patriotism to America. America has created an enemy in Islam.

I personally believe that America needs some Islamic leadership; however I don’t think the American public is politically mature enough to have Islamic leadership in general.

That last guy is a substitute teacher, yet. The answers offer such a transparent peek at those who vote on faith. They’ve projected things onto Obama he’s been running from or against the entire campaign. He’s not Muslim, he’s vowed to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and he’s threatened military action inside Pakistan. But, then, why would Muslim Americans pay any more attention to the facts of Obama’s campaign than has the rest of the electorate?

Islam Online asked a bunch of American Muslims to name their candidate and explain why they’re supporting him. The answers are fascinating. Here are some snapshots:

Malik Mohammad Hussain, 54, a Pakistani-born salesman in Halal Meat Store

I favor Obama over John McCain and think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

I have heard that Obama will end all the war politics and there will be no bombing in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq when he occupies his place in the White House.

Abdul Nasir, 30, a Cab Driver in Washington D.C.

I’m a staunch supporter of Barack Obama but I’m not sure that he will win the presidency.

Obama has got a popular support among the youth, urban cities, and over the media but majority of the white conservatives living in the countryside will never vote for a black man.

If Obama wins it will be only a miracle, and this will be by a thin margin.

Khadija, 56, an Iraqi woman teaching in an Islamic School

My whole family of five will be casting vote for Senator John McCain.

I think McCain is a wise and tested politician. At this critical moment when the whole world is in the grip of crises, only a sage person and not a stylish demagogue can be a savior.

McCain does belong to the Republican Party but this never means that he is another George Bush.

The Republican and not the Democratic Party has been pro-Muslim countries. I cannot see any reason why the majority of Muslims in the US is backing Obama, though Obama has always resisted the Muslim identity and never visited or approached any mosque.

Shafeeq Kakar, 30, Afghan banker in Virginia

Two days ago I voted for Senator Obama.

My family in the US and their nation back in Afghanistan have got fed up with the unending war in Afghanistan.

I want some one who believes in dialogue. Barack Obama has the potential and statesmanship to resolve the crises in Afghanistan with dialogue and jirg [tribal council meetings].

Ata Nabawi, Substitute Teacher, Compton, California

I am voting because voting is important. Enfranchisement is the key to political power. Being a black man, coming out of the history of Jim Crow laws and the struggle for civil rights, to finally have the political power to vote and not exercise defeats that entire purpose of that political struggle.

[Issues and candidates] are equally important, because one affects me locally and the other affects me nationally which will eventually affect me locally.

However, I don’t always agree with the candidates. Barack Obama is for gay marriage, but I’m not, so I’m voting yes on Prop. 8 [to only allow traditional marriage]. Obama just tries to please everybody.

The Muslim community in America is considered to not wield any effective political power therefore it isn’t targeted in elections. This is not based on demographics, but based on the power in Washington, D.C. As a political force, Muslims have not showed their muscles. We don’t have a strong lobby. We’re not organized enough.

[Sen. Obama] did what is politically expedient. He has a Muslim father and was raised in Indonesia, a Muslim country. I also believe he’s been to Pakistan before. He has extensive knowledge of the Muslim world. His name is Arabic, which is the language of the Qur’an. He had to distance himself as much as he can from Muslims and Arabs in order to show his loyalty and patriotism to America. America has created an enemy in Islam.

I personally believe that America needs some Islamic leadership; however I don’t think the American public is politically mature enough to have Islamic leadership in general.

That last guy is a substitute teacher, yet. The answers offer such a transparent peek at those who vote on faith. They’ve projected things onto Obama he’s been running from or against the entire campaign. He’s not Muslim, he’s vowed to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and he’s threatened military action inside Pakistan. But, then, why would Muslim Americans pay any more attention to the facts of Obama’s campaign than has the rest of the electorate?

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Obama vs. Obama

Over at the Weekly Standard blog, Mary Katharine Ham has posted a short video that is the product of a very simple and ingenious idea: she compiled a series of clips of Barack Obama contradicting himself — flip-flopping, as it’s known — over and over again, on issue after issue, throughout his campaign. Four years ago John Kerry acquired a reputation as a flip-flopper after just a couple of violations; watch the video and be amazed at the sheer volume of Obama’s comparative duplicity. Maybe there is a lesson here for politicians: one flip-flop is a scandal, but a dozen of them is a banality.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3LZNc_TP_o[/youtube]

Or maybe it just takes a press corps that is unwilling to allow a negative narrative develop about its favored candidate.

Over at the Weekly Standard blog, Mary Katharine Ham has posted a short video that is the product of a very simple and ingenious idea: she compiled a series of clips of Barack Obama contradicting himself — flip-flopping, as it’s known — over and over again, on issue after issue, throughout his campaign. Four years ago John Kerry acquired a reputation as a flip-flopper after just a couple of violations; watch the video and be amazed at the sheer volume of Obama’s comparative duplicity. Maybe there is a lesson here for politicians: one flip-flop is a scandal, but a dozen of them is a banality.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3LZNc_TP_o[/youtube]

Or maybe it just takes a press corps that is unwilling to allow a negative narrative develop about its favored candidate.

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Commentary of the Day

Eric Baum, on John Podhoretz:

I’m in a state that last went for a Republican when Dukakis was on the ballot, and I’ve seen Obama ads but no McCain ones. If your scenario comes off, it will be due to the fact that Obama has so much money that he could afford to spend it in states where all it could do was affect the margin of victory, rather than the outcome. In my book, your scenario will be an argument in favor of the electoral college system, which will have allowed a candidate with less money to make his arguments.

Eric Baum, on John Podhoretz:

I’m in a state that last went for a Republican when Dukakis was on the ballot, and I’ve seen Obama ads but no McCain ones. If your scenario comes off, it will be due to the fact that Obama has so much money that he could afford to spend it in states where all it could do was affect the margin of victory, rather than the outcome. In my book, your scenario will be an argument in favor of the electoral college system, which will have allowed a candidate with less money to make his arguments.

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Still the World Leader

For an employee of Newsweek and a contributor to the New York Review of Books–both publications that typically veer between conventional pabulum and “progressive” zaniness–Christian Caryl displays unexpected wisdom in this essay: “Long Live American Imperialism.”

He argues that, financial crisis or not, American leadership remains indispensable for the world, and that American taxpayers will continue to finance the military might that keeps us (and so many of our friends and allies) safe. After making the expected genuflections in the direction of those who harp on the limits of American power, he writes with bracing clarity:

Yet, on balance, the world would still be a much more dangerous place without America around. In a world of intensifying competition for natural resources, trust is still the rarest commodity of all. U.S. influence will undoubtedly wane as more and more countries build confidence in each other. But that’s going to take a long time.

No question about it, America is overstretched. As economic turbulence hits home, U.S. voters are already less inclined to pay for overseas adventures. Yet to an extent, they don’t have much choice. For the reasons I’ve described above, the world will probably need someone to play the role of arbiter, enforcer, hegemon-call it what you will-for a long while to come. (“Hegemony,” by the way, is a Greek word that means “leadership.”) Americans may not want to play that role, and the rest of the world doesn’t always like the United States when it does. Yet I don’t see anyone around who’s ready to take its place. The European Union? It can’t even forge a common foreign policy, much less a strategy for regional security and defense. China? Many of its neighbors are unlikely to be enthusiastic. Russia? Give me a break.

The upshot is that, whether we like it or not, the U.S. must continue to lead, no matter who is elected tomorrow. I only hope Barack Obama understands that, because, as Bob Kagan noted in the Washington Post, at times his supporters seem to give the impression that his job will be to manage our decline gracefully. That is not the role that the American people expect our president to play, and Obama, if he is elected, would go awry if he tried. With John McCain, there is no such danger: he is cognizant of the limits of American power but embraces it unapologetically as a force for good.

For an employee of Newsweek and a contributor to the New York Review of Books–both publications that typically veer between conventional pabulum and “progressive” zaniness–Christian Caryl displays unexpected wisdom in this essay: “Long Live American Imperialism.”

He argues that, financial crisis or not, American leadership remains indispensable for the world, and that American taxpayers will continue to finance the military might that keeps us (and so many of our friends and allies) safe. After making the expected genuflections in the direction of those who harp on the limits of American power, he writes with bracing clarity:

Yet, on balance, the world would still be a much more dangerous place without America around. In a world of intensifying competition for natural resources, trust is still the rarest commodity of all. U.S. influence will undoubtedly wane as more and more countries build confidence in each other. But that’s going to take a long time.

No question about it, America is overstretched. As economic turbulence hits home, U.S. voters are already less inclined to pay for overseas adventures. Yet to an extent, they don’t have much choice. For the reasons I’ve described above, the world will probably need someone to play the role of arbiter, enforcer, hegemon-call it what you will-for a long while to come. (“Hegemony,” by the way, is a Greek word that means “leadership.”) Americans may not want to play that role, and the rest of the world doesn’t always like the United States when it does. Yet I don’t see anyone around who’s ready to take its place. The European Union? It can’t even forge a common foreign policy, much less a strategy for regional security and defense. China? Many of its neighbors are unlikely to be enthusiastic. Russia? Give me a break.

The upshot is that, whether we like it or not, the U.S. must continue to lead, no matter who is elected tomorrow. I only hope Barack Obama understands that, because, as Bob Kagan noted in the Washington Post, at times his supporters seem to give the impression that his job will be to manage our decline gracefully. That is not the role that the American people expect our president to play, and Obama, if he is elected, would go awry if he tried. With John McCain, there is no such danger: he is cognizant of the limits of American power but embraces it unapologetically as a force for good.

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The 2008 Election: Superlatives

If you’re a sports fan like me, the coming of Election Day probably feels a lot like the end of baseball season. So, just as they do in baseball for the MVP and Cy Young Awards, it seems only natural to select this electoral season’s superlatives before a winner is officially declared. (You’ll excuse me for announcing the winners now, rather than waiting until after the election.) The winners:

Best Campaign Logo: Barack Obama. The “O” symbol is a triumph of marketing genius. Never before has a presidential campaign been so effectively branded.

Worst Campaign Logo: Mitt Romney. They aimed for something patriotic. They got an eagle’s head on a slug’s body.

Most Valuable Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris (for Mike Huckabee). With stunning hilarity, he helped catapult Huckabee from Arkansan obscurity to Iowa victory.

Honorable mention: Oprah Winfrey (for Barack Obama).

Least Valuable Celebrity Endorsement: James Denton (for John Edwards). What can the endorsement of a Desperate Housewives star really tell you about a candidate? (Oh, right.)

Best Political Spouse: Cindy McCain. Four years after a near-fatal stroke, she’s supported her husband at seemingly every campaign stop for nearly two years.

Worst Political Spouse: Bill Clinton. His outbursts occupied the news cycle for days and undermined his wife’s candidacy.

Most Athletic Candidate: Sarah Palin. She runs marathons and hunts moose–from a helicopter!

Honorable mention: Barack Obama.

Least Athletic Candidate: Hillary Clinton. After mocking Obama’s miserable bowling performance, she bowled a 1 on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Best Candidate Satire: John McCain at the Al Smith Dinner. He mixed funny self-deprecation in with a tasteful roast of his opponent. A great moment for a candidate with an excellent sense of humor.

Worst Candidate Satire: Sarah Palin on SNL. What kind of message does it send when you sit there and say little while a second-rate cast (not you, Darrell Hammond) mocks you?

Most Embellished Biography: Bill Richardson. You’d think that a former Energy Secretary, U.N. Ambassador, and Congressman–who is also the current Governor of New Mexico –wouldn’t have to lie about being drafted by the A’s. You’d be wrong.

The Silent Until Deadly Award: Joe Biden. Initially, Sarah Palin overshadowed him. Then he promised that, if elected, Barack Obama would be tested. Within six months.

The Woody Allen Award: Joe the Plumber. Eighty percent of political life is showing up … and asking the candidate a question.

The Sabbatai Zevi Award: Fred Thompson. He was supposed to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Instead, he was the second coming of Lamar Alexander.

The Can You Hear Me Now … GoodTM Award: Rudy Giuliani. Despite the promise of his campaign, the phone call during his NRA address remains its most enduring image.

If you’re a sports fan like me, the coming of Election Day probably feels a lot like the end of baseball season. So, just as they do in baseball for the MVP and Cy Young Awards, it seems only natural to select this electoral season’s superlatives before a winner is officially declared. (You’ll excuse me for announcing the winners now, rather than waiting until after the election.) The winners:

Best Campaign Logo: Barack Obama. The “O” symbol is a triumph of marketing genius. Never before has a presidential campaign been so effectively branded.

Worst Campaign Logo: Mitt Romney. They aimed for something patriotic. They got an eagle’s head on a slug’s body.

Most Valuable Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris (for Mike Huckabee). With stunning hilarity, he helped catapult Huckabee from Arkansan obscurity to Iowa victory.

Honorable mention: Oprah Winfrey (for Barack Obama).

Least Valuable Celebrity Endorsement: James Denton (for John Edwards). What can the endorsement of a Desperate Housewives star really tell you about a candidate? (Oh, right.)

Best Political Spouse: Cindy McCain. Four years after a near-fatal stroke, she’s supported her husband at seemingly every campaign stop for nearly two years.

Worst Political Spouse: Bill Clinton. His outbursts occupied the news cycle for days and undermined his wife’s candidacy.

Most Athletic Candidate: Sarah Palin. She runs marathons and hunts moose–from a helicopter!

Honorable mention: Barack Obama.

Least Athletic Candidate: Hillary Clinton. After mocking Obama’s miserable bowling performance, she bowled a 1 on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Best Candidate Satire: John McCain at the Al Smith Dinner. He mixed funny self-deprecation in with a tasteful roast of his opponent. A great moment for a candidate with an excellent sense of humor.

Worst Candidate Satire: Sarah Palin on SNL. What kind of message does it send when you sit there and say little while a second-rate cast (not you, Darrell Hammond) mocks you?

Most Embellished Biography: Bill Richardson. You’d think that a former Energy Secretary, U.N. Ambassador, and Congressman–who is also the current Governor of New Mexico –wouldn’t have to lie about being drafted by the A’s. You’d be wrong.

The Silent Until Deadly Award: Joe Biden. Initially, Sarah Palin overshadowed him. Then he promised that, if elected, Barack Obama would be tested. Within six months.

The Woody Allen Award: Joe the Plumber. Eighty percent of political life is showing up … and asking the candidate a question.

The Sabbatai Zevi Award: Fred Thompson. He was supposed to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Instead, he was the second coming of Lamar Alexander.

The Can You Hear Me Now … GoodTM Award: Rudy Giuliani. Despite the promise of his campaign, the phone call during his NRA address remains its most enduring image.

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How to Lose Half an Ocean

Will America abandon long-term ally Japan? Unfortunately, Washington’s most important alliance in Asia is in jeopardy. “Many Japanese analysts and commentators have worried that the United States is losing interest in Japan,” states a report released last week by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In short, the problem is that the Bush administration has been paying too much attention to-and lavishing affection on-dictatorial states in North Asia, namely China and North Korea. As a result, Japan’s people are, once again, questioning the alliance, especially after the Bush administration last month ignored Tokyo’s concerns about Pyongyang’s abduction of its citizens and took North Korea off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. With doubts about Washington’s intentions to defend the Japanese homeland, Tokyo feels it must come to terms with Beijing. As Prime Minister Taro Aso said at the end of last month in the Chinese capital, “It is difficult to name other countries as important to Japan as China is.”

Ouch! What is the price of trying to engage hardline states? Sometimes, you lose your friends. And that is what is happening now with the “high-maintenance” alliance with the Japanese. If Beijing can neutralize Japan, the United States will find it hard to defend South Korea and Taiwan. In short order, the American alliance structure in Asia will dissolve. As they say in geopolitical circles, there goes the neighborhood.

And maybe more than just the neighborhood. With Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in Beijing’s hands, the Chinese navy will have unimpeded access to the Pacific. Beijing has already floated the idea that the United States and China divide that ocean at Hawaii. Make no mistake about it: the Chinese want to govern at least half that body of water. Say goodbye to Guam and all the other strategic islands there.

Of course, Beijing is still far from realizing its expansive notions. Yet the erosion of influence can occur fast. Instead of ardently pursuing failing notions like engagement, it’s time for the United States to shore up relations with the democracies in Asia, by far the most important region in the world.

Will America abandon long-term ally Japan? Unfortunately, Washington’s most important alliance in Asia is in jeopardy. “Many Japanese analysts and commentators have worried that the United States is losing interest in Japan,” states a report released last week by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In short, the problem is that the Bush administration has been paying too much attention to-and lavishing affection on-dictatorial states in North Asia, namely China and North Korea. As a result, Japan’s people are, once again, questioning the alliance, especially after the Bush administration last month ignored Tokyo’s concerns about Pyongyang’s abduction of its citizens and took North Korea off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. With doubts about Washington’s intentions to defend the Japanese homeland, Tokyo feels it must come to terms with Beijing. As Prime Minister Taro Aso said at the end of last month in the Chinese capital, “It is difficult to name other countries as important to Japan as China is.”

Ouch! What is the price of trying to engage hardline states? Sometimes, you lose your friends. And that is what is happening now with the “high-maintenance” alliance with the Japanese. If Beijing can neutralize Japan, the United States will find it hard to defend South Korea and Taiwan. In short order, the American alliance structure in Asia will dissolve. As they say in geopolitical circles, there goes the neighborhood.

And maybe more than just the neighborhood. With Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in Beijing’s hands, the Chinese navy will have unimpeded access to the Pacific. Beijing has already floated the idea that the United States and China divide that ocean at Hawaii. Make no mistake about it: the Chinese want to govern at least half that body of water. Say goodbye to Guam and all the other strategic islands there.

Of course, Beijing is still far from realizing its expansive notions. Yet the erosion of influence can occur fast. Instead of ardently pursuing failing notions like engagement, it’s time for the United States to shore up relations with the democracies in Asia, by far the most important region in the world.

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Eagleburger Unplugged

Lawrence Eagleburger, former Secretary of State, has a different view from some in the conservative intelligentsia about the appeal of Barack Obama. He certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Although not captured in this segment, he went on pointedly to distance himself from his former colleague Colin Powell, opining that Powell’s endorsement of Obama had more to do with Powell’s dislike of George W. Bush than anything else.

It is of course only the MSM’s Obama-infatuation and the fixation on race that have elevated the Powell endorsement above those of all other former secretaries of state. Eagleburger seems quite immune to the social pressures of the Georgetown cocktail set or the excitement of a “transformative” presidency. He seems more interested electing someone who might follow the principles and policies Eagleburger has worked a lifetime to promote. Naturally, the MSM isn’t much interested in that sort of thing.

Lawrence Eagleburger, former Secretary of State, has a different view from some in the conservative intelligentsia about the appeal of Barack Obama. He certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Although not captured in this segment, he went on pointedly to distance himself from his former colleague Colin Powell, opining that Powell’s endorsement of Obama had more to do with Powell’s dislike of George W. Bush than anything else.

It is of course only the MSM’s Obama-infatuation and the fixation on race that have elevated the Powell endorsement above those of all other former secretaries of state. Eagleburger seems quite immune to the social pressures of the Georgetown cocktail set or the excitement of a “transformative” presidency. He seems more interested electing someone who might follow the principles and policies Eagleburger has worked a lifetime to promote. Naturally, the MSM isn’t much interested in that sort of thing.

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Talk When It’s Time

Few outside the Beltway defense community have ever heard of Joe Collins, a retired army colonel who now teaches at the National War College after a stint, from 2001 to 2004, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Rumsfeld Pentagon. But, over the years, I have found him to be a consistent source of clear-eyed thinking about some of our most pressing security challenges. His latest essay on the Small Wars Journal website only confirms that reputation. In it, he pours some cold water on the overheated hopes expressed by so many in recent weeks that negotiations with the Taliban can somehow magically turnaround a failing war effort.

He points out that such talks would have scant prospect of success when the Taliban and related extremists are on the offensive and making gains. “If the Afghan government sits down with the Taliban now, it does so from a position of increasing weakness, and diminished strength,” he writes. “To increase the prospects for Kabul’s success in negotiation, we will have to reverse that condition. How should we proceed?”

His answer:

To create favorable conditions for reconciliation and later negotiations, we must first step up our military efforts. General Petraeus is right: we can not kill our way to victory in Afghanistan. We can, however, create a more pliable enemy, one eager to negotiate, if we defeat Taliban offensive operations and threaten their sanctuaries. While wizards may imagine ways to do more militarily with less, in the short run, more Afghan and NATO troops, as well as more aid money will be essential.

That strikes me as right. It’s true that,in Iraq, negotiations were successful in bringing many Sunnis over to our side. But they only bore fruit after four years of hard fighting, in which tough soldiers and marines made it clear that Al Qaeda could not win a military victory. As Bing West notes in his illuminating new book, The Strongest Tribe, it was American strength that made possible the rise of the Anbar Awakening movement.

If we are to see a similar “awakening” in Afghanistan, or even in Pakistan, we will have to demonstrate more strength than we have hitherto shown. That will require, as Joe Collins notes, more troops and more aid–and as he knows, but doesn’t say, unfortunately it will also require suffering more casualties in the short-term.

Recall that summer 2007, while the surge strategy was first being implemented in Iraq, saw some of the heaviest American casualties of the entire war. That caused faint-hearted politicians in Washington, such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden, to declare the war lost and to redouble their efforts to end the fighting. Even many Republicans began to look for an “exit strategy.” President Bush wisely ignored the doubters. By sticking to his guns, he made possible an almost-miraculous turnaround, with the U.S. losing only 13 soldiers in Iraq last month.

The question we now confront is whether the next president will have the fortitude to make the tough decisions needed to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan-or will he succumb to the lure of premature negotiations that will signal weakness to our enemies? There is little doubt which way John McCain would go. But on this, as on most matters, Barack Obama remains an enigma. Will he act tougher in Afghanistan than he has in Iraq? His campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, no one can answer that question with any confidence–probably not even Obama himself, at this moment. But if you believe the polls, we should find out before long.

Few outside the Beltway defense community have ever heard of Joe Collins, a retired army colonel who now teaches at the National War College after a stint, from 2001 to 2004, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Rumsfeld Pentagon. But, over the years, I have found him to be a consistent source of clear-eyed thinking about some of our most pressing security challenges. His latest essay on the Small Wars Journal website only confirms that reputation. In it, he pours some cold water on the overheated hopes expressed by so many in recent weeks that negotiations with the Taliban can somehow magically turnaround a failing war effort.

He points out that such talks would have scant prospect of success when the Taliban and related extremists are on the offensive and making gains. “If the Afghan government sits down with the Taliban now, it does so from a position of increasing weakness, and diminished strength,” he writes. “To increase the prospects for Kabul’s success in negotiation, we will have to reverse that condition. How should we proceed?”

His answer:

To create favorable conditions for reconciliation and later negotiations, we must first step up our military efforts. General Petraeus is right: we can not kill our way to victory in Afghanistan. We can, however, create a more pliable enemy, one eager to negotiate, if we defeat Taliban offensive operations and threaten their sanctuaries. While wizards may imagine ways to do more militarily with less, in the short run, more Afghan and NATO troops, as well as more aid money will be essential.

That strikes me as right. It’s true that,in Iraq, negotiations were successful in bringing many Sunnis over to our side. But they only bore fruit after four years of hard fighting, in which tough soldiers and marines made it clear that Al Qaeda could not win a military victory. As Bing West notes in his illuminating new book, The Strongest Tribe, it was American strength that made possible the rise of the Anbar Awakening movement.

If we are to see a similar “awakening” in Afghanistan, or even in Pakistan, we will have to demonstrate more strength than we have hitherto shown. That will require, as Joe Collins notes, more troops and more aid–and as he knows, but doesn’t say, unfortunately it will also require suffering more casualties in the short-term.

Recall that summer 2007, while the surge strategy was first being implemented in Iraq, saw some of the heaviest American casualties of the entire war. That caused faint-hearted politicians in Washington, such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden, to declare the war lost and to redouble their efforts to end the fighting. Even many Republicans began to look for an “exit strategy.” President Bush wisely ignored the doubters. By sticking to his guns, he made possible an almost-miraculous turnaround, with the U.S. losing only 13 soldiers in Iraq last month.

The question we now confront is whether the next president will have the fortitude to make the tough decisions needed to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan-or will he succumb to the lure of premature negotiations that will signal weakness to our enemies? There is little doubt which way John McCain would go. But on this, as on most matters, Barack Obama remains an enigma. Will he act tougher in Afghanistan than he has in Iraq? His campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, no one can answer that question with any confidence–probably not even Obama himself, at this moment. But if you believe the polls, we should find out before long.

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Yikes!

Check out this candid and awful-for-Obama take on his candidacy, from Jerry Nadler (as narrated by Jake Tapper):

Says Nadler: “I have no personal knowledge of what I’m about to say. What I’m about to say is my guess…”
Hoo boy.

“My guess,” Nadler said, “knowing how politics works, what I’m about to say is not particularly…”
He searches for the word. Rejects a couple suggestions.
“…not particularly complimentary towards Sen. Obama,” he says.

“Think of the history here,” says the six-term New York congressman. “You have a guy who’s half-white, half-black. He goes to an Ivy League school, comes to Chicago … to start a political career. Doesn’t know anybody.

“Gets involved with community organizing — why? Because that’s how your form a base. OK. Joins the largest church in the neighborhood. About 8,000 members. … Why did he join the church? … Because that’s how you get to know people.

“Now maybe it takes a couple years,” Nadler says, suggesting that soon Obama starts to think of Wright, “’Jesus, the guy’s a nut, the guy’s a lunatic.’ But you don’t walk out of a church with 8,000 members in your district.”
Suggests a woman: “You don’t walk in though.”

“He didn’t know it when he walked in, presumably,” said Nadler.

And then, the line that may haunt Nadler for four years or longer: “He didn’t have the political courage to make the statement of walking out.

“Now, what does it tell me?” Nadler asked. “It tells me that he wasn’t terribly political courageous. Does it tell me that he agreed with the reverend in any way? No. It tells me he didn’t want to walk out of a church in his district.”

There’s video, too. Now, that’s a great political ad–for John McCain.

Check out this candid and awful-for-Obama take on his candidacy, from Jerry Nadler (as narrated by Jake Tapper):

Says Nadler: “I have no personal knowledge of what I’m about to say. What I’m about to say is my guess…”
Hoo boy.

“My guess,” Nadler said, “knowing how politics works, what I’m about to say is not particularly…”
He searches for the word. Rejects a couple suggestions.
“…not particularly complimentary towards Sen. Obama,” he says.

“Think of the history here,” says the six-term New York congressman. “You have a guy who’s half-white, half-black. He goes to an Ivy League school, comes to Chicago … to start a political career. Doesn’t know anybody.

“Gets involved with community organizing — why? Because that’s how your form a base. OK. Joins the largest church in the neighborhood. About 8,000 members. … Why did he join the church? … Because that’s how you get to know people.

“Now maybe it takes a couple years,” Nadler says, suggesting that soon Obama starts to think of Wright, “’Jesus, the guy’s a nut, the guy’s a lunatic.’ But you don’t walk out of a church with 8,000 members in your district.”
Suggests a woman: “You don’t walk in though.”

“He didn’t know it when he walked in, presumably,” said Nadler.

And then, the line that may haunt Nadler for four years or longer: “He didn’t have the political courage to make the statement of walking out.

“Now, what does it tell me?” Nadler asked. “It tells me that he wasn’t terribly political courageous. Does it tell me that he agreed with the reverend in any way? No. It tells me he didn’t want to walk out of a church in his district.”

There’s video, too. Now, that’s a great political ad–for John McCain.

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Party Like It’s 1979

Fans of talking to Tehran, take note: In the Islamic Republic, the unilateral abolition of diplomatic relations with the U.S. is celebrated as a holiday:

Hundreds of Iranian children bused in for the occasion crowded outside the former U.S. Embassy on Monday, burning American flags and chanting slogans to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the building’s seizure by militant students.

Equal parts school holiday and angry demonstration, Monday’s commemoration came on the eve of the U.S. presidential election and was marked by anti-U.S. and anti-Israel chants and the burning of flags.

What people like Barack Obama don’t see is that Iran, more than any country in the region, represents a customized Islamist threat to the U.S. The founding of the Khomenei regime was predicated on more than a radical interpretation of Shia Islam. It was, at its core, an anti-American revolution. As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put it last week, “This conflict goes far beyond having differences over a few political issues.” When there is zero room for diplomacy, the mere suggestion of talks exposes the optimistic party as fools.

Fans of talking to Tehran, take note: In the Islamic Republic, the unilateral abolition of diplomatic relations with the U.S. is celebrated as a holiday:

Hundreds of Iranian children bused in for the occasion crowded outside the former U.S. Embassy on Monday, burning American flags and chanting slogans to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the building’s seizure by militant students.

Equal parts school holiday and angry demonstration, Monday’s commemoration came on the eve of the U.S. presidential election and was marked by anti-U.S. and anti-Israel chants and the burning of flags.

What people like Barack Obama don’t see is that Iran, more than any country in the region, represents a customized Islamist threat to the U.S. The founding of the Khomenei regime was predicated on more than a radical interpretation of Shia Islam. It was, at its core, an anti-American revolution. As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put it last week, “This conflict goes far beyond having differences over a few political issues.” When there is zero room for diplomacy, the mere suggestion of talks exposes the optimistic party as fools.

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An Unlikely, But Frightening, Scenario

My post on Friday offering a scenario according to which John McCain might win was the most-read in the history of this blog — in part because of conservatives and Republicans desperate for a glimmer of hope and because of liberals and Democrats thrilled to have an opportunity to scoff at the notion of a McCain comeback.  I said it wasn’t the strongest case, but it was the only case, and this morning, with evidence over the weekend of a trend toward Barack Obama, it is weaker than it was on Friday.

But say, in spite of everything, my scenario works out — that the polls are wildly overestimating the size of the Democratic electorate in the 18 battleground states and that McCain ekes out victories in most Bush 2004 states and Pennsylvania and wins the electoral count by something with something like 274 electoral votes.  Given the nature of the polling this weekend, Obama is certainly continuing to show powerful strength in his stronghold states, which, with the exception of Texas, are the nation’s most populous — California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey in particular.

Should that happen, there will almost certainly be a split in which Barack Obama wins the popular vote nationwide, and by a vastly larger amount than the 500,000 by which Al Gore won it in 2000. Gore’s margin was one-sixth of a percentage point. It was, of course, only the second third time in American history that the person who received the most votes was not the person who became president (that was the story with the Tilden-Hayes election in 1876 UPDATE and the Cleveland-Harrison election of 1888). If the nation’s attention hadn’t been focused on Florida for 36 days, there might well have been a different kind of legitimacy crisis for George W. Bush, one he escaped because of the more pressing matter of hanging chads and butterfly ballots and the like. By the time the Supreme Court ended the election in December, the efforts by Democrats to encourage “faithless electors” to change their votes in Gore’s direction ran out of steam and the discussion of the Electoral College was effectively tabled.

There would be no such interceding event this year (one presumes). A McCain victory in the Electoral College with an Obama popular victory of 2 or 3 million votes at a minimum (somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 percent under this scenario)  would provoke a national crisis.

It is true that we don’t really have a national election but rather 50 separate state elections. It is true that the Electoral College is a constitutional body and the only official selector of the president. It is true that the existence of the Electoral College is crucial to preserving some sort of balance in the United States between the small states and the larger states, and serves as yet another mediating institution — another means by which unbridled political power is checked.

All this is true. But it is beside the point in 2008. The legitimacy questions that dogged Bush would dog McCain to a far greater extent, especially with a Democratic  Senate arguing and acting on the argument that the election results require its members to exercise the advise-and-consent provisions of the Constitution in blocking all McCain appointments that do not represent the more liberal nature of the overall electorate.

A McCain presidency under these conditions would be a model of institutional paralysis. With the exception of the veto, which McCain would of course relish more than any other presidential power, he would be among the weakest chief executives in modern times, if not the weakest. And it would be interesting to see whether the Electoral College itself could survive it. (It would be abolished, presumably, not by amending the Constitution but by passing laws in the states requiring electors to vote for the nationwide vote winner; such a law already exists in a few of them.)

Since we have nothing to do but speculate until tomorrow, that’s my morning speculation.

My post on Friday offering a scenario according to which John McCain might win was the most-read in the history of this blog — in part because of conservatives and Republicans desperate for a glimmer of hope and because of liberals and Democrats thrilled to have an opportunity to scoff at the notion of a McCain comeback.  I said it wasn’t the strongest case, but it was the only case, and this morning, with evidence over the weekend of a trend toward Barack Obama, it is weaker than it was on Friday.

But say, in spite of everything, my scenario works out — that the polls are wildly overestimating the size of the Democratic electorate in the 18 battleground states and that McCain ekes out victories in most Bush 2004 states and Pennsylvania and wins the electoral count by something with something like 274 electoral votes.  Given the nature of the polling this weekend, Obama is certainly continuing to show powerful strength in his stronghold states, which, with the exception of Texas, are the nation’s most populous — California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey in particular.

Should that happen, there will almost certainly be a split in which Barack Obama wins the popular vote nationwide, and by a vastly larger amount than the 500,000 by which Al Gore won it in 2000. Gore’s margin was one-sixth of a percentage point. It was, of course, only the second third time in American history that the person who received the most votes was not the person who became president (that was the story with the Tilden-Hayes election in 1876 UPDATE and the Cleveland-Harrison election of 1888). If the nation’s attention hadn’t been focused on Florida for 36 days, there might well have been a different kind of legitimacy crisis for George W. Bush, one he escaped because of the more pressing matter of hanging chads and butterfly ballots and the like. By the time the Supreme Court ended the election in December, the efforts by Democrats to encourage “faithless electors” to change their votes in Gore’s direction ran out of steam and the discussion of the Electoral College was effectively tabled.

There would be no such interceding event this year (one presumes). A McCain victory in the Electoral College with an Obama popular victory of 2 or 3 million votes at a minimum (somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 percent under this scenario)  would provoke a national crisis.

It is true that we don’t really have a national election but rather 50 separate state elections. It is true that the Electoral College is a constitutional body and the only official selector of the president. It is true that the existence of the Electoral College is crucial to preserving some sort of balance in the United States between the small states and the larger states, and serves as yet another mediating institution — another means by which unbridled political power is checked.

All this is true. But it is beside the point in 2008. The legitimacy questions that dogged Bush would dog McCain to a far greater extent, especially with a Democratic  Senate arguing and acting on the argument that the election results require its members to exercise the advise-and-consent provisions of the Constitution in blocking all McCain appointments that do not represent the more liberal nature of the overall electorate.

A McCain presidency under these conditions would be a model of institutional paralysis. With the exception of the veto, which McCain would of course relish more than any other presidential power, he would be among the weakest chief executives in modern times, if not the weakest. And it would be interesting to see whether the Electoral College itself could survive it. (It would be abolished, presumably, not by amending the Constitution but by passing laws in the states requiring electors to vote for the nationwide vote winner; such a law already exists in a few of them.)

Since we have nothing to do but speculate until tomorrow, that’s my morning speculation.

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If the Messiah Fails

In yesterday’s Times of London, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Among the most enthusiastic Obama supporters, there are tinges of hero worship and aspirations beyond anything any human being can deliver. And the hostility born of dashed expectations is always the worst. People expecting a messiah will at some point be forced to realise they have merely elected a president.

He has it exactly wrong. Obama’s most devoted fans don’t expect anything of him. His simply being Barack Obama, appearing as he does, saying what he says, is all that’s required. As is the way with true delusional adoration, any move from sensation into quantifiable performance risks compromising the illusion. And any failing of the idol is blamed on the circumstances around him. When prophecy fails, true believers don’t examine their convictions–they tweak their perceptions of reality. We’ve already seen this in Obama’s case. When he flips on an issue–the surge, guns, abortion, missile defense, etc.–the story is not the he changed his position, but that we, the American public, had not been careful enough observers to see that the new position was the old position the whole time. And when a long-time associate is revealed as an unhinged radical, the story is not that Obama exercised bad judgment in befriending the person, but that “this is not the so-and-so I’ve always known.” The rightness of Obama is not falsifiable. He, like light, is consistent, you see. It’s space and time that must bend to accommodate the speed of his progress.

The whole appeal of the Obama revolution is that it’s effortless, passive. “We are the change we’ve been waiting for,” is vastly different from “we will take action to effect change.” It’s also a lot easier. When Obama says, “Only in America can my story be told,” he’s referring to the unremarkable fact of his parents having met in Honolulu. Praising geographical circumstance is not the same thing as praising the unique opportunities for achievement guaranteed in the U.S.’s founding documents. If you’re an Obama fan, biography trumps experience, temperament trumps policy. We’ve heard endlessly about the symbolic importance of an Obama presidency. Symbols are not expected to do–just be. This is how Obama gets away with dodging every important question and walking back anything that sounds like conviction. And if the world goes to Hell all around him, it will be the world’s fault–for failing to understand his greatness.

UPDATE: Noah just directed me to this applicable passage from Animal Farm:

That evening Squealer explained privately to the other animals that Napoleon had never in reality been opposed to the windmill. On the contrary, it was he who had advocated it in the beginning, and the plan which Snowball had drawn on the floor of the incubator shed had actually been stolen from among Napoleon’s papers. The windmill was, in fact, Napoleon’s own creation. Why, then, asked somebody, had he spoken so strongly against it? Here Squealer looked very sly. That, he said, was Comrade Napoleon’s cunning. He had SEEMED to oppose the windmill, simply as a manoeuvre to get rid of Snowball, who was a dangerous character and a bad influence. Now that Snowball was out of the way, the plan could go forward without his interference. This, said Squealer, was something called tactics. He repeated a number of times, “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.

We can use this again, when Obama flips on wind power.

In yesterday’s Times of London, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Among the most enthusiastic Obama supporters, there are tinges of hero worship and aspirations beyond anything any human being can deliver. And the hostility born of dashed expectations is always the worst. People expecting a messiah will at some point be forced to realise they have merely elected a president.

He has it exactly wrong. Obama’s most devoted fans don’t expect anything of him. His simply being Barack Obama, appearing as he does, saying what he says, is all that’s required. As is the way with true delusional adoration, any move from sensation into quantifiable performance risks compromising the illusion. And any failing of the idol is blamed on the circumstances around him. When prophecy fails, true believers don’t examine their convictions–they tweak their perceptions of reality. We’ve already seen this in Obama’s case. When he flips on an issue–the surge, guns, abortion, missile defense, etc.–the story is not the he changed his position, but that we, the American public, had not been careful enough observers to see that the new position was the old position the whole time. And when a long-time associate is revealed as an unhinged radical, the story is not that Obama exercised bad judgment in befriending the person, but that “this is not the so-and-so I’ve always known.” The rightness of Obama is not falsifiable. He, like light, is consistent, you see. It’s space and time that must bend to accommodate the speed of his progress.

The whole appeal of the Obama revolution is that it’s effortless, passive. “We are the change we’ve been waiting for,” is vastly different from “we will take action to effect change.” It’s also a lot easier. When Obama says, “Only in America can my story be told,” he’s referring to the unremarkable fact of his parents having met in Honolulu. Praising geographical circumstance is not the same thing as praising the unique opportunities for achievement guaranteed in the U.S.’s founding documents. If you’re an Obama fan, biography trumps experience, temperament trumps policy. We’ve heard endlessly about the symbolic importance of an Obama presidency. Symbols are not expected to do–just be. This is how Obama gets away with dodging every important question and walking back anything that sounds like conviction. And if the world goes to Hell all around him, it will be the world’s fault–for failing to understand his greatness.

UPDATE: Noah just directed me to this applicable passage from Animal Farm:

That evening Squealer explained privately to the other animals that Napoleon had never in reality been opposed to the windmill. On the contrary, it was he who had advocated it in the beginning, and the plan which Snowball had drawn on the floor of the incubator shed had actually been stolen from among Napoleon’s papers. The windmill was, in fact, Napoleon’s own creation. Why, then, asked somebody, had he spoken so strongly against it? Here Squealer looked very sly. That, he said, was Comrade Napoleon’s cunning. He had SEEMED to oppose the windmill, simply as a manoeuvre to get rid of Snowball, who was a dangerous character and a bad influence. Now that Snowball was out of the way, the plan could go forward without his interference. This, said Squealer, was something called tactics. He repeated a number of times, “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.

We can use this again, when Obama flips on wind power.

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Bomb Global Warming!

Abe Greenwald and Gordon Chang rightfully criticize Nicholas Kristof for his advice to the next administration, but they both give him a free pass when he writes, “You can’t bomb climate change.”

Actually, some creative thinkers think you can. They have proposed detonating nuclear bombs in remote areas to throw up enough debris into the stratosphere to create a veil that reduces the amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth—in other words, an intentional, mild nuclear winter (or better: a nuclear autumn). Basically, the aim would be to obtain the cooling effect that is already known to be caused by volcanic eruptions, especially those in lower latitudes. (Speaking of which, the 20th century saw fewer volcanic eruptions than the 19th, 17th, and 16th centuries.) This sort of geo-engineering might sound like science fiction, but so do many unconventional ideas when they are first proposed.

Along these lines, many of the people who most fear global warming would greatly benefit from reading “hard” science fiction, which vastly expands one’s sense of the scientifically and technologically possible—for both good and evil. As the great doomslayer Julian Simon never stopped reminding us, the human mind is the ultimate resource. Admittedly, this sense of Promethean possibility must be tempered by what is politically possible; as far as I know, there is still no genre of social-science fiction.

Abe Greenwald and Gordon Chang rightfully criticize Nicholas Kristof for his advice to the next administration, but they both give him a free pass when he writes, “You can’t bomb climate change.”

Actually, some creative thinkers think you can. They have proposed detonating nuclear bombs in remote areas to throw up enough debris into the stratosphere to create a veil that reduces the amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth—in other words, an intentional, mild nuclear winter (or better: a nuclear autumn). Basically, the aim would be to obtain the cooling effect that is already known to be caused by volcanic eruptions, especially those in lower latitudes. (Speaking of which, the 20th century saw fewer volcanic eruptions than the 19th, 17th, and 16th centuries.) This sort of geo-engineering might sound like science fiction, but so do many unconventional ideas when they are first proposed.

Along these lines, many of the people who most fear global warming would greatly benefit from reading “hard” science fiction, which vastly expands one’s sense of the scientifically and technologically possible—for both good and evil. As the great doomslayer Julian Simon never stopped reminding us, the human mind is the ultimate resource. Admittedly, this sense of Promethean possibility must be tempered by what is politically possible; as far as I know, there is still no genre of social-science fiction.

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Killing a Crocodile

Last week the United States military conducted a raid inside Syria and killed Al Qaeda leader Abu Ghadiya in a shootout in the village of Sukariyeh. Syria’s government raged against the violation of its sovereignty and staged a massive anti-American protest in downtown Damascus. But, according to the Times of London, the Syrian government itself may have quietly green-lighted the raid in advance.

No one should be surprised if that turns out to be true. It makes perfect sense.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

Last week the United States military conducted a raid inside Syria and killed Al Qaeda leader Abu Ghadiya in a shootout in the village of Sukariyeh. Syria’s government raged against the violation of its sovereignty and staged a massive anti-American protest in downtown Damascus. But, according to the Times of London, the Syrian government itself may have quietly green-lighted the raid in advance.

No one should be surprised if that turns out to be true. It makes perfect sense.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

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Wright or Wrong?

Many are mulling over whether the race would have been any different had John McCain made greater use of Barack Obama’s association with Reverend Wright. Well, it depends to a large extent on what he did with it and when he did it, I suppose.

He could have incorporated Wright in a theme of Obama as two-faced–presenting different views and images to different people. He might have made the point that Obama’s credibility was suspect (e.g. lying about his ignorance of Wright’s views). Or he might have used the relationship, along with those of other left-wing associates and organizations, to explain Obama radical views and background.

All of these themes, minus Wright, were tossed out at one time or another. Some will claim they “didn’t work,” so using Wright wouldn’t have made any differences. Others say Wright would have provided the perfect amplification to make those character assaults stick. Everyone will draw their own lesson.

However, one thing nags at conservatives: they suspect that the decision to reject use of Wright was based, not on a cold, cost-benefit analysis, but because of McCain’s inconsistent sense of “honor” and unwillingness to take heat from elite critics (who ironically gave him no credit). This personal, emotion-laden decision making style is a familiar McCain trait. If these critics are correct, the decision on Wright was inescapable. It naturally flowed from McCain, who in many ways was a politician hampered as much by his own personal and intellectual quirks and habits as by his opponent or the tough environment of this campaign.

Many are mulling over whether the race would have been any different had John McCain made greater use of Barack Obama’s association with Reverend Wright. Well, it depends to a large extent on what he did with it and when he did it, I suppose.

He could have incorporated Wright in a theme of Obama as two-faced–presenting different views and images to different people. He might have made the point that Obama’s credibility was suspect (e.g. lying about his ignorance of Wright’s views). Or he might have used the relationship, along with those of other left-wing associates and organizations, to explain Obama radical views and background.

All of these themes, minus Wright, were tossed out at one time or another. Some will claim they “didn’t work,” so using Wright wouldn’t have made any differences. Others say Wright would have provided the perfect amplification to make those character assaults stick. Everyone will draw their own lesson.

However, one thing nags at conservatives: they suspect that the decision to reject use of Wright was based, not on a cold, cost-benefit analysis, but because of McCain’s inconsistent sense of “honor” and unwillingness to take heat from elite critics (who ironically gave him no credit). This personal, emotion-laden decision making style is a familiar McCain trait. If these critics are correct, the decision on Wright was inescapable. It naturally flowed from McCain, who in many ways was a politician hampered as much by his own personal and intellectual quirks and habits as by his opponent or the tough environment of this campaign.

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When The U.S. Had “Friends”

During a conference sponsored by the Italian foreign ministry, it emerged that in 1986, Italy warned Libya of an impending U.S. strike. Then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan had ordered the strike in retaliation for a deadly terror attack against a disco in Germany, where three people, including two U.S. servicemen, had been murdered. The attack had Libyan fingerprints all over it. But the Italians, who were informed because the U.S. planned to use Italian airspace to attack, did not like the idea. According to the revelations made by the Libyan foreign minister, Abdel-Rahman Shalgam, who was then Tripoli’s ambassador to Rome, Italy’s government–apparently the Prime minister himself–informed him of the impending strike. The attack, as we know, went on anyway. But thanks to the Italian tip, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi managed to survive it. Libyan gratitude was expressed two days later, when the Libyans shot two long range missiles at the Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

Then-Italian president Francesco Cossiga claims that Bettino Craxi, who at the time was the Italian prime minister, wished to retaliate by having special troops land in Benghazi. Cossiga told Craxi that the missiles were really aimed at the Americans, since they had a base in Lampedusa, and only at the instigation of the Soviets, who were annoyed at the U.S. presence in the island. That is why the missiles fell short of the target–not because they were inaccurate or the Libyans were incompetent. It was a warning–to the Americans, not to the Italians.

So, to recap: Lybia kills innocents in an act of terrorism. The U.S. plans to retaliate and asks for help from a NATO ally. NATO ally spies on the U.S. and tells Libya to save its dictator’s skin. Libya gets pounded anyway, but the dictator survives. Libya thanks the treacherous NATO ally by lobbing a couple of missiles at it. Treacherous NATO ally gets upset for having been stabbed in the back by dictator whose record is not exactly the most reliable.Treacherous NATO ally prime minister has a fantasy of landing on the shores of Benghazi (though it is not clear what the Italians would have done once there–revive their lost colonial empire, maybe?). President convinces wily Prime minister to be consistent with the previous cowardly decision and do nothing. Libyans’ act of aggression is sold to historians as a thank you note and a sign that all is well in bilateral relations. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Now, Cossiga is famous for revealing unlikely state secrets from the time he was in office–and not all such secrets are verifiable. But if half of this story is right, Italy should thank the stars that the U.S. is currently too busy with its elections to pay much attention. And that such an incident, almost twenty years ago, is now largely forgotten. It is an embarrassment that should remind everyone that, even as the transatlantic alliance was more united during the time of the Cold War, Europeans had a way of dealing with the Southern flank of the Mediterranean and the Middle East which was not always friendly to their U.S. ally. The fact that, after 9/11, this trend has caused more tensions among transatlantic allies is perhaps more a sign of the rising relevance of the Middle East in global politics and less an indication of deteriorating relations among allies. After all, if you judge Europe’s sometimes-condoning approach to the follies of Middle East dictators against the background of this little episode, you can see a remarkable degree of continuity.

During a conference sponsored by the Italian foreign ministry, it emerged that in 1986, Italy warned Libya of an impending U.S. strike. Then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan had ordered the strike in retaliation for a deadly terror attack against a disco in Germany, where three people, including two U.S. servicemen, had been murdered. The attack had Libyan fingerprints all over it. But the Italians, who were informed because the U.S. planned to use Italian airspace to attack, did not like the idea. According to the revelations made by the Libyan foreign minister, Abdel-Rahman Shalgam, who was then Tripoli’s ambassador to Rome, Italy’s government–apparently the Prime minister himself–informed him of the impending strike. The attack, as we know, went on anyway. But thanks to the Italian tip, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi managed to survive it. Libyan gratitude was expressed two days later, when the Libyans shot two long range missiles at the Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

Then-Italian president Francesco Cossiga claims that Bettino Craxi, who at the time was the Italian prime minister, wished to retaliate by having special troops land in Benghazi. Cossiga told Craxi that the missiles were really aimed at the Americans, since they had a base in Lampedusa, and only at the instigation of the Soviets, who were annoyed at the U.S. presence in the island. That is why the missiles fell short of the target–not because they were inaccurate or the Libyans were incompetent. It was a warning–to the Americans, not to the Italians.

So, to recap: Lybia kills innocents in an act of terrorism. The U.S. plans to retaliate and asks for help from a NATO ally. NATO ally spies on the U.S. and tells Libya to save its dictator’s skin. Libya gets pounded anyway, but the dictator survives. Libya thanks the treacherous NATO ally by lobbing a couple of missiles at it. Treacherous NATO ally gets upset for having been stabbed in the back by dictator whose record is not exactly the most reliable.Treacherous NATO ally prime minister has a fantasy of landing on the shores of Benghazi (though it is not clear what the Italians would have done once there–revive their lost colonial empire, maybe?). President convinces wily Prime minister to be consistent with the previous cowardly decision and do nothing. Libyans’ act of aggression is sold to historians as a thank you note and a sign that all is well in bilateral relations. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Now, Cossiga is famous for revealing unlikely state secrets from the time he was in office–and not all such secrets are verifiable. But if half of this story is right, Italy should thank the stars that the U.S. is currently too busy with its elections to pay much attention. And that such an incident, almost twenty years ago, is now largely forgotten. It is an embarrassment that should remind everyone that, even as the transatlantic alliance was more united during the time of the Cold War, Europeans had a way of dealing with the Southern flank of the Mediterranean and the Middle East which was not always friendly to their U.S. ally. The fact that, after 9/11, this trend has caused more tensions among transatlantic allies is perhaps more a sign of the rising relevance of the Middle East in global politics and less an indication of deteriorating relations among allies. After all, if you judge Europe’s sometimes-condoning approach to the follies of Middle East dictators against the background of this little episode, you can see a remarkable degree of continuity.

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Which Kind Of Justice?

You might remember this debate answer from Barack Obama about the kind of justices he would nominate:

I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through. I’ll just give you one quick example. Senator McCain and I disagreed recently when the Supreme Court made it more difficult for a woman named Lilly Ledbetter to press her claim for pay discrimination. For years, she had been getting paid less than a man had been paid for doing the exact same job. And when she brought a suit, saying equal pay for equal work, the judges said, well, you know, it’s taken you too long to bring this lawsuit, even though she didn’t know about it until fairly recently. We tried to overturn it in the Senate. I supported that effort to provide better guidance to the courts; John McCain opposed it. I think that it’s important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will. And that’s the kind of judge that I want.

But in a pinch, with Election Day looming, Obama answers a question from Katie Couric about his aunt who is illegally residing in the country:

“If she is violating laws, those laws have to be obeyed. We’re a nation of laws,” Obama replied. “Obviously that doesn’t lessen my concern for her, I haven’t been able to be in touch with her. But I’m a strong believer you have to obey the law. “

So which is it–are we making it up as we go along or adhering to the laws as written (be it the Equal Pay Act or the immigration statutes)? Are we really in search of fairness for the down and out? For “empathetic” judges who don’t get hung up on small things like the text of the Constitution and laws? When the country is really paying attention–maybe not so much.

You see, once you buy into Obama’s Ledbetter argument — the idea that courts should be “standing up” for litigants or favoring one side or the other because of their personal situation – there is no end to it. The courts are then placed in the role of social workers and the task is simply to find an excuse to do the “right thing.”

In a specific and easily understood case, Obama recognizes this is problematic – and more importantly, knows that voters believe it to be unacceptable. So he falls back on the common sense notion, which happens to be the bedrock of our functioning legal system, that laws are meant to be executed regardless the identity of the litigants. The surest way to adhere to that is to appoint judges who aren’t in the fairness business. Unfortunately, he has made crystal clear that he sees no merit (outside an eleventh hour TV interview) in that concept.

You might remember this debate answer from Barack Obama about the kind of justices he would nominate:

I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through. I’ll just give you one quick example. Senator McCain and I disagreed recently when the Supreme Court made it more difficult for a woman named Lilly Ledbetter to press her claim for pay discrimination. For years, she had been getting paid less than a man had been paid for doing the exact same job. And when she brought a suit, saying equal pay for equal work, the judges said, well, you know, it’s taken you too long to bring this lawsuit, even though she didn’t know about it until fairly recently. We tried to overturn it in the Senate. I supported that effort to provide better guidance to the courts; John McCain opposed it. I think that it’s important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will. And that’s the kind of judge that I want.

But in a pinch, with Election Day looming, Obama answers a question from Katie Couric about his aunt who is illegally residing in the country:

“If she is violating laws, those laws have to be obeyed. We’re a nation of laws,” Obama replied. “Obviously that doesn’t lessen my concern for her, I haven’t been able to be in touch with her. But I’m a strong believer you have to obey the law. “

So which is it–are we making it up as we go along or adhering to the laws as written (be it the Equal Pay Act or the immigration statutes)? Are we really in search of fairness for the down and out? For “empathetic” judges who don’t get hung up on small things like the text of the Constitution and laws? When the country is really paying attention–maybe not so much.

You see, once you buy into Obama’s Ledbetter argument — the idea that courts should be “standing up” for litigants or favoring one side or the other because of their personal situation – there is no end to it. The courts are then placed in the role of social workers and the task is simply to find an excuse to do the “right thing.”

In a specific and easily understood case, Obama recognizes this is problematic – and more importantly, knows that voters believe it to be unacceptable. So he falls back on the common sense notion, which happens to be the bedrock of our functioning legal system, that laws are meant to be executed regardless the identity of the litigants. The surest way to adhere to that is to appoint judges who aren’t in the fairness business. Unfortunately, he has made crystal clear that he sees no merit (outside an eleventh hour TV interview) in that concept.

Read Less




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