Jennifer, I disagree a bit. To be sure, campaigns differ from office holding, but one can learn from them and apply those lessons to, in this case, the presidency. Obama clearly learned a great deal during his entire election run. By November, he was a far better candidate than he was at the beginning of the primary process. His most effective campaign skills and successes which you dismiss as helping him in the presidency will serve him well as president: communications, personal likeability, exploitation of breaking the racial barrier, and what every president needs, the ability to make unpopular policies sound necessary and reasonable. These traits are, of course, not related to the underlying merits of policies which, if liberal, will ultimately fail. But what he learned and demonstrated during the campaign will provide him with cover and political capital for a good length of time. He’s going to be a very formidable opponent.
Posts For: November 17, 2008
On the question of whether Hillary Clinton would be a good Secretary of State, I must say one thing: She’s better than those other guys. Which other guys? Well, consider these advisers Obama kept close during the presidential campaign. Zbigniew Brzezinski—Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. Robert Malley—who was supposedly fired after he met with Hamas. Samantha Power—who famously made egregious statements about Israel’s actions, yet was only fired after she called Clinton a “monster.” As Eric has noted, Clinton offers a more centrist approach to foreign policy than what one might expect from an Obama administration. Additionally, Clinton—more so, probably, than the others who are being considered for this position—has largely been able to stand opposed to the worst segments of her party, the moveon.org crowd.
It is true, of course, that she lacks the credentials one might expect from a Secretary of State. And, as Justin pointed out, the historical precedent does not suggest that she will be particularly effective. But could she be less effective than, say, Condoleezza Rice, who is an academic expert on Russia? Michael Goldfarb—who I am glad to see has returned to his post at the Weekly Standard’s Blog—raises an important point, which should not be overlooked. Perhaps no one else could more convincingly make the case for military intervention in Iran if it is indeed deemed necessary by this administration.
Clinton would be a fine Secretary of State, and she is likely to be a nuisance to Obama whether she is inside or outside of his administration, but as our top diplomat she could reprise a role that made Powell a kingmaker in this year’s election. And perhaps she could even present the case for war with Iran to an insubordinate United Nations in the event that Obama’s personal diplomacy somehow fails to deter the mullahs from their present course.
Obama’s critics find his foreign policy doctrine to be disturbing. But Clinton has rightfully opposed the president-elect’s most worrisome policy (unconditional talks with Iran). A secretary of state who could stand up to her boss’s worst inclinations is something all of Obama’s critics should be able to support.
In the Asian Times, the Syrian journalist Sami Moubayed wrote that the U.S.-Iraq security agreement approved yesterday by the Iraqi Parliament is lopsided and unfair to Iraqis, because it gives the U.S. too much license:
The full text of the agreement has not been published, but the general parameters include a 10-year mandate for the US to guarantee the security of Iraq, in exchange for the right to use Iraqi land, waters and skies to base and train troops and store military equipment. In addition to 50 US bases, the deal calls for long-term American supervision of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Defense.
I just spoke with a senior administration official about this, and it seems that none of Moubayed’s complaints are based in fact. There is no 10-year-mandate or plan for 50 bases, etc. Iraqi sovereignty figures prominently in the provisions of the agreement. However, on a number of provisions the Iraqis can ask for further technical assistance from the U.S. Also, as the agreement expires at the end of 2011, a fresh follow-up agreement could redefine U.S.-Iraqi security status in any number of ways. But as things stand, Moubayed’s fictions should be taken as a sign of frustration from a regional party hostile to Iraq’s progress. Here’s one way to know that yesterday’s vote was widely seen as evidence of American success and Iraqi accomplishment–it angered the right people.
CONTENTIONS readers in the New York area might be interested to know that, tomorrow night, Intelligence Squared will be hosting a debate on the motion “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto.” (For those who can’t make the event at Rockefeller University, the debate will be broadcast later on NPR.) Hoping to raise the level of public discourse through Oxford-style debate, Intelligence Squared is modeled on a similar initiative that began in London in 2002. Having attended the Intelligence Squared debate last month, on whether guns reduce crime, I can attest that they do a great job at choosing the debaters (e.g., the arch-nemesis social scientists John Lott and John Donohue), and run the event highly efficiently and effectively, including preventing cranks and boors in the audience from ruining things.
Using a hand-held gizmo reminiscent of a TV remote control, members of the audience get to vote on the motion before and after the debate, which produces evidence of the relative persuasiveness of the two sides. Before the guns/crime debate, for instance, 13% of the audience supported the motion, 60% opposed it, and 27% were undecided. (It was an audience of New Yorkers after all.) However, after the debate, the numbers were 27% in favor, 64% opposed, and 10% undecided–to some extent, a victory for the guns-reduce-crime side.
I wonder if such small yet significant gains in the conservative or libertarian direction are part of the intent of the program. It is, in fact, funded by the Rosenkranz Foundation, which has supported the likes of the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Federalist Society. And as Steven Teles makes clear in his important book The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, a large part of the success of that movement resulted from merely getting liberals to listen to the best arguments from the other side, which they had otherwise never been exposed to. (How many “liberals” today follow John Stuart Mill’s demand that they constantly test their ideas against their most formidable opponents?) Thus, it is no accident that the Federalist Society has been not just a networking organization but a society that hosts numerous debates at law schools and conventions, in which the conservative or libertarian argument is guaranteed to get an airing.
The conservative legal movement still has a long way to go—except for originalism and law-and-economics, conservative ideas are barely taught in law schools—but hosting debates has nonetheless been key for its successes. And perhaps initiatives like Intelligence Squared can have such an effect in a larger domain.
On Friday, the European Union announced it was restarting talks with Moscow for the purpose of entering into a comprehensive partnership agreement. Negotiations were suspended on September 1 after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Since the suspension-Europe’s sole sanction for the Kremlin’s aggression-Moscow has not met the conditions Brussels had laid down for restarting discussions.
The EU, by going ahead at this time, may have merely been trying to increase Europe’s bargaining position by preventing the Kremlin from picking off member states one by one in separate negotiations. Yet the better response from Brussels would have been to prohibit any of them from dealing with Moscow until it complied with Europe’s conditions, especially the pullback of Russian troops. As the Wall Street Journal Europe noted yesterday, the resumption is “embarrassing.” French maneuvering to get the talks back on track were, the paper correctly noted, “spineless.”
Yet the resumption of these discussions-or surrender to the Kremlin if you prefer to call things as they actually are-might be viewed as understandable. After all, what do we expect of the Europeans when the American response to the invasion of Georgia has been so weak as well?
The restarting of talks with Russia, however, is taking place at a particularly consequential moment. The global financial architecture is disintegrating at the same time the international system of geopolitics is in transition. Worse, we are seeing at this juncture virtually every dangerous trend evident just before last century’s two great conflicts. As in the period before World War I, the shifting of alliances has added to the complexity of the global order, with the result that no great power-or even any conceivable combination of them-can effectively manage events. As in the period before World War II, the Western democracies are failing to stand together in the face of obvious threats posed by emerging authoritarian states. A deal between Brussels and Moscow could, conceivably, further the erosion of the international system by increasing its complexity and further fracturing the grand Atlantic Alliance.
The European Union-Russia talks have not started yet. The Lithuanians, made of sterner stuff than the French, have objected to the resumption. So President Bush, who still has time to improve his legacy, should pick up the phone to support his Baltic friends. After all, they know how to handle the Russians. And the stakes are a lot bigger for all of us than they look at this moment.
Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform, has come up with his own bailout request. It makes a heck of a lot more sense than the other ideas, especially shoveling more money at the Big Three auto companies. But you, too, can devise your own bailout. Have at it, CONTENTIONS readers!
“Don’t wait until April for the next G-20 summit,” writes Niall Ferguson in today’s Washington Post, giving advice to President-elect Obama. “Call a meeting of the Chimerican G-2 for the day after your inaugural. Don’t wait for China to call its own meeting of a new ‘G-1′ in Beijing.”
Sorry, Niall. The first meeting of the G-1 has already taken place. China has now decided to go it alone. Your advice is undoubtedly sound as a general matter, but, given Chinese attitudes, it’s wholly unrealistic. And it is certainly too late.
It’s time for remarkably smart people in the West to stop viewing China the way they would like it to be and start perceiving it the way it actually is. Let’s begin with Harvard’s Ferguson. Ferguson correctly notes that the way to global financial stability is to reduce the trade imbalance between China and the United States by increasing both American exports and Chinese imports. The alternative–decreasing American imports and Chinese exports–is, he writes, “horrible.” “Horrible” it is, but that is exactly what is happening at this moment. Americans are buying fewer Chinese goods, and, as a result, Chinese factories are closing by the tens of thousands. At last count, at least 67,000 of them have gone out of business in the first half of this year, many of them in the country’s export powerhouse, the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong province.
Beijing’s primary response to the crisis has been to aid its exports–by stopping the appreciation of its currency in July and by providing specific incentives for exporters soon thereafter–and to increase government spending on infrastructure. It has, as a secondary measure, sought to stimulate consumer spending by increasing social services. At the same time, China is trying to reserve its domestic market for Chinese companies by restricting the activities of foreign ones. Since the middle of 2006, its anti-foreign campaign has been especially noticeable.
The world would be a more prosperous place if Beijing followed Professor Ferguson’s approach. Yet nations do not always act in their best interests. China, like in the past, is trying to game the international system. So we should be meeting the Chinese in a “G” setting, but only when they want to be part of a collective solution.
President Hu Jintao came to Washington over the weekend for the G-20 meeting to promote the idea that China get a bigger say in world affairs, warn against protectionism, and refuse requests for Beijing to assist multilateral institutions. What’s the point of trying to help the Chinese when they don’t want to help us?
If political considerations were the only thing at stake in appointing a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton would be an excellent choice. Indeed, her appeal among women is sky-high, and–by bringing her into the fold–President-elect Barack Obama could finally heal any wounds still outstanding from the Democratic primary season.
Yet the Secretary of State’s value must extend beyond the currency of domestic politics–the position requires a certified expert in foreign affairs. Particularly considering Barack Obama’s own inexperience in international relations–a shortcoming he acknowledged when he selected Joe Biden as his running mate back in August–it is hard to understand how Hillary Clinton would be an acceptable choice as our nation’s top diplomat. After all, Clinton has never studied international relations. She has never written on international relations. She has never advised anyone on international relations. And, during her career in the Senate, she has never sat on the Foreign Relations Committee, nor has she made international relations a major focus of her legislative work.
Moreover, whenever Clinton has commented on international matters in the past, political considerations have always trumped thoughtful analysis. As First Lady during the peace-processing Clinton administration, she followed Suha Arafat’s claim that Israel was poisoning Palestinian water with a kiss on the cheek. Later, while appealing to Jewish voters as a Senate candidate from New York, she criticized her husband for failing to veto a resolution against Israel at the United Nations. Similarly, in the aftermath of 9/11, Clinton supported the Iraq war “with conviction.” But when the Iraq war became a political liability, she began distancing herself from this position, ultimately emerging as a full-blown critic.
Meanwhile, on a host of other key issues–Iran, Russia, China, India, Latin America, etc.–Clinton has stuck to broadly centrist statements as a politically savvy strategy, sparing her the attacks that Obama faced from the right. In short, Clinton’s political ambitions have long prevented her from approaching foreign affairs with any level of analytic seriousness, and we have no way of knowing whether she possesses any principles relevant to foreign affairs at all.
Most disturbingly, it is hard to believe that her approach would change upon relocating to Foggy Bottom. Never count out Hillary’s inevitable belief that the same country that declined to elect a 72-year-old man just might be willing to elect a 69-year-old woman in 2016. In turn, we can expect that political considerations will underlie every piece of advice she gives to President Obama. After all, there’s no indication that Hillary Clinton’s ideas have ever been shaped by any other motivational force.
From the AP:
A French appeals court on Monday reinstated the marriage of a Muslim man who had sought an annulment because his bride lied about being a virgin.
The controversial case pitted France’s secular values against the traditions of its growing immigrant communities.
The couple married in 2006 but the husband quickly sought an annulment after discovering on their wedding night that his bride had lied about her virginity.
In April, a lower court in the northern town of Douai granted the annulment, saying the woman “acquiesced” to the man’s demand for one “based on a lie concerning her virginity.
On Monday, the appeals court in Douai overturned the annulment, effectively ruling that the couple is again married, said lawyer Xavier Labbee, representing the husband.
Labbee said Monday’s ruling amounted to a “forced marriage.” He criticized “the intrusion of the notion of secularism into the most intimate parts of family life.”
That’s a clever new way to describe the separation of church and state.
Jackson Diehl’s article in today’s Washington Post is well worth quoting. When the “world” was celebrating the election of Obama, Diehl writes, joining the chorus were not just fun-loving Europeans and proud Kenyans. Also present were Middle East autocrats eagerly waiting for the end of an era: Bush’s let’s-democratize-the-region-era.
One of these leaders is Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak:
With Bush now on his way out, Mubarak is losing his remaining inhibitions. Two days after Obama’s election, Nour’s wife [Ayman Nour is the leader of the liberal opposition party] Gameela Ismail, and other party leaders held a meeting. A party faction sponsored by the regime marched on the building in which they had gathered and — as photographs posted on the Internet clearly show — used aerosol cans to set fire to it. Police, who stood by while the attack took place, later tried to blame Ismail and the other party leaders, who were nearly trapped by the blaze. Now these leaders may face criminal charges.
A frequently forgotten topic, but a very important one, is the question of succession in Egypt. Mubarak, as Diehl writes, is quite old:
Eighty-year-old Mubarak, who has not visited the United States since 2003 because of resentment toward Bush, is convinced that the next president won’t pester him about human rights, reports the Egyptian press. After all, in his message to the world on election night, Obama said: “To those who seek peace and security, we support you.” Peace and security, in exchange for autocracy, is the bargain Mubarak has always offered Washington.
Will Obama neglect human rights in exchange for stability? The temptation is there. But I’m not sure if this is where his instincts are going to lead him. Yes, gambling on Egyptian democracy will not come without risk. But since Mubarak is likely to leave the president’s office during the Obama years, this event will offer Obama “a historic opportunity — which will not recur — to restore U.S. credibility in the eyes of the Arab citizenry,” as Abdel Baky of Carnegie (quoted by Diehl) has argued.
A frightening scenario for some, because of the risks inherent to such a decision (remember Hamas winning in the Palestinian election?) And frightening for others because it means that Obama will be following–at least to some extent–in the foot steps of one George W. Bush.
Republicans are watching the new Obama administration unfold before their eyes. Others have ideas about what they should and shouldn’t do. But the key thing to remember is that it is not the Republicans’ show. They have no real power, at least in the initial stages, to block nominees and push through their own agenda. So what should they do?
First, Republicans–as they have done with the rumors of the Hillary Clinton selection for Secretary of State–can certainly encourage and support appointments. None of these will be “their” picks — that’s the price of losing. But assuring the President Elect which people will engender more support and bipartisan praise is one way to have influence, however mild. Second, they can be firm about opposing horrid ideas — such as the auto bailout — and forcing Democrats to carry the vote for poorly conceived and unpopular measures. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is already taking this approach:
Senator Reid has not yet provided us with the text of his proposed spending bill, or the cost to the taxpayer, or its impact on the deficit. So it would be a real challenge to promise any level of support or opposition sight unseen. And while Sen. Reid’s public comments referenced our private conversation on the level of support for his yet unwritten bill, we don’t yet know if there is even sufficient support from within his own ranks. It would be helpful to know if a majority of his caucus even supports what he will propose. The silence from the Democrat rank and file on this matter has been deafening.
And finally, to the extent they are able within the rules of each body, Republicans in the House and Senate should be offering alternatives to the Democrats’ initiatives. If Republicans don’t like the bailouts, then put up a GOP plan for tax cuts and eliminations (e.g. a corporate tax moratorium). These measures will have no hope of passing, but at least voters may hear that there is another approach.
What Republicans can’t do is delay for the sake of delaying. The voters already think poorly of them, and that would only make matters worse. None of this amounts to much. But that’s what comes from losing consecutive elections.
Pondering the Iraqi cabinet’s approval of the Status of Forces agreement, Andrew Sullivan relishes the prospect of sacrifice at the
alter altar of Obama:
This is important because it removes from the hard right the possibility of playing the Dolchstoss card. The usual suspects – Reynolds, Hanson, Krauthammer, Kagan – will be unable to say that the chaos and mass murder that will almost certainly follow in 2010 and 2011 is Obama’s responsibility. It isn’t.
They will try to argue that Obama’s choice to withdraw has led to a victory for al Qaeda and that the Democrats have stabbed American troops in the back. (You can almost write Palin’s primary campaign message three years ahead of time.) But now that the Iraqis themselves have insisted on total US withdrawal by 2011 regardless, the neocons will not be able to play that card – or at leat play it with any credibility.
The looming civil war in Iraq will then be the Iraqis’ responsibility and Bush’s ultimate legacy in Iraq. Obama can avoid some of the blowback. And the genius of appointing Clinton as secretary-of-state is that she will have to absorb the blows of failure. Think of a possible Obama State Department offer to Clinton this way:
“You voted for this bloody war. Now you can end it.”
And he will focus on the economy. Genius.
So, what Sullivan calls “great news for Obama” requires that millions of Iraqi civilians must perish.
In an interview with the Times (London), Israel’s president Shimon Peres reflects a sense of optimistic resignation towards an Obama administration. After praising the president-elect in the highest terms the president of Israel could possibly offer–”A black man reaching the top position is the strongest answer to Hitler”–Peres offers his thoughts on Obama’s stated position on Iran:
If there will be a united policy on Iran and there is a new (lower) price for oil, then Iran will have to come to terms to a proportionate reality of our times. They have been behaving out of proportion. Dialogue should not just be just by words but by deeds. If you hang only on the tongue then I am not sure dialogue will produce more than speeches. If Iranians feel there is a body politic behind it (the push for talks) and they cannot just escape by sending Ahmadinejad to spread quick wisdom then there is a chance. They have to stop three things: they have to stop trying to control the Middle East, through supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas; the second to stop terror, to be the centre of terror, the financing of terror and so on; and third stop the combination of nuclear warheads missiles and threats. As a way of example, if Switzerland were to build a nuclear bomb, we would not be necessarily alarmed. But I would not say Ahmadinejad has a Swiss temperament.
In a subtle way–without explicitly denouncing Obama–Peres is strongly expressing opposition to Obama’s reckless rhetoric. Peres has set three pre-conditions that, should they ever be met, would alter the Middle East in such a way that Obama’s rhetoric might actually make sense. Peres does not want to get on the American president’s bad side. But he also can’t condone Obama’s proposed policies.
Another note: Peres is at his best in his defense of the Iraq war. It’s persuasive and fluid–and worth repeating:
The biggest failure in Iraq was not Britain but Saddam Hussein. If he had not been stopped in Kuwait he would have gone to Saudi Arabia. He was the greatest killer in the Middle East. He initiated the war against Iran and killed one million people, he killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds and fired missiles at Israel. If he would have remained he would have been a brutal dictator with unlimited ambitions. You don’t have to apologise for trying to bring an end to it. Churchill does not have to apologise for bringing down another brutal dictator. Thanks heaven.
Last night on 60 Minutes, Barack Obama pledged to take steps that would help “regain America’s moral stature in the world.” He was talking about prohibiting the torture of detainees and closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The first is a fine idea; the second may or may not be. But neither the waterboarding of three known al Qaeda members, nor the fattening up of non-state combatants in the plushest facilities they’ve ever enjoyed have a thing to do with “America’s moral stature in the world.”
These do: Risking and losing American lives in an effort to liberate 60 million or so Muslims and Christians from religious and secular tyrannies, giving 1.3 million Africans free HIV antiretroviral drugs, providing life-saving medications to another million and a half globally, giving $350 million to eradicate tropical diseases, giving $841 million in aid to Tsunami-ravaged Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. And that’s a very abbreviated list of the humanitarian accomplishments of the George W. Bush administration.
Obama is free to worry about the total of five minutes that three terrorists have spent with wet towels over their faces, and he can try to figure out a more sensible way to hold suspected jihadists who are not entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution or to those of the Geneva Convention. But his confusion of PR with morality is worrying. If he thinks a nation ensures its moral footing by signing off on a couple of token gestures, he needs to look a little closer not only at what we do, but at who we are. Morality in American policy is not determined by what Europe or Asia judge to be ethical. If it were, we’d still have a country marked by segregation, industrial slavery, and religious servitude. If Obama’s sense of moral stature takes cues from the global peanut gallery, the whole world can count on a lot more suffering in the coming years.
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE has an opening for an editor working full-time in our offices in New York City. The right person for the job holds views that are intellectually and philosophically congruent with the magazine and its perspective, has literary and cultural interests as well, and has experience working with writers on conceiving articles, framing them, helping to organize them, line-editing them, and copy-editing them.
Please send resumes to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the midst of the buzz about Hillary Clinton becoming the next Secretary of State, a little historical knowledge suggests that her appointment would be a highly unusual, though not unprecedented, one. Of the 18 (non-acting) Secretaries of State who have held office since the end of World War II, only two were chosen from the ranks of elected politicians: James F. Byrnes and Edmund Muskie. The performance of one of the two offers a cautionary tale.
To take the less relevant of the two first, Muskie served in Maine’s House of Representatives before being elected the state’s Governor in 1954. He would go on to serve as a U.S. Senator for over 20 years, and was a serious Presidential candidate in 1972. Muskie replaced Cyrus Vance as Secretary of State only after Vance resigned out of disgust with Carter’s bungled mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran. Muskie served in the position for only the last seven months of the administration. After leaving the State Department, Muskie acted as an elder statesman but never ran for office again.
The case of Byrnes, however, is far more suggestive of what we might expect from a Secretary Hillary. Byrnes had already been a member of the House of Representatives, a Senator, and even a Supreme Court Justice before FDR made him, in 1943, head of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, a superagency whose role was to “initiate policies, plan programs, and coordinate all federal agencies in the production, procurement, and distribution of all war materials – military and civilian.”
Reminiscent of Hillary’s stint as First Lady, his political influence and maneuvering extended so far outside of his official duties that members of Congress started calling him “assistant President.” And in another resonant similarity, he later seriously contended with, but lost to, Truman in the competition to become the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1944. Indeed, it was President Truman, taking office after FDR’s death, who appointed Byrnes as Secretary of State in June 1945. On its face, the choice made good sense insofar as Byrnes had been Truman’s main adviser on foreign policy. However, Truman would later admit that he made the appointment partly out of guilt over the vice presidential episode.
Byrnes’s time as chief diplomat turned out to be a troubled one. Feeling resentment toward Truman for having defeated him politically, Byrnes set foreign policy without informing the President in advance. (Complaining that he was learning of American policy from newspapers, Truman privately called Byrnes a “conniver.”) Byrnes was also seen as being too willing to compromise with the Soviets, and he made some major diplomatic blunders when it came to negotiating the status of Eastern European countries after the war. Ultimately, the personal and political tension between Truman and him became too great, and Byrnes resigned and left office in 1947. But any such internal difficulties didn’t hurt his subsequent political career. He would go on to be elected governor of South Carolina at the advanced age of 72.
Whatever Byrnes’s missteps as Secretary of State, he at least came to the job with a hefty amount of relevant experience. After all, he effectively ran the domestic war effort. By contrast, it’s hard to imagine anyone relying on Hillary for her foreign policy expertise.
In any case, whether or not Hillary hopes to have a political career like that of Byrnes’s (she is currently 61 years old), it is worth reflecting on whether any elected politician is likely to make a good Secretary of State, especially when the other names being floated for the position are Governor Bill Richardson and Senators John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Sam Nunn. True statesmanship, it should go without saying, requires political disinterestedness. As a Senator wisely put it many years ago:
A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.
It is of course possible that a politician might be willing permanently to leave politics behind for unselfish public service, but when a politician has shown him- or herself to be ruthlessly partisan and ambitious, and to have known little except how to climb the greasy pole, serious doubts are warranted.
Citing the addition of Rahm Emanuel and a spate of leaks, Noam Scheiber asks: “Is Obama’s militantly disciplined campaign becoming your standard messy presidency?” The answer? Of course. No presidency can be as focused as a campaign. Campaigns have a single goal–election–and, in comparison to an actual administration, a minuscule group of decision makers.
The question itself suggests that Scheiber, like so many else in the media, bought into the notion that running the Obama campaign was analogous to the tasks of overseeing a sprawling administration, hiring hundreds of key players and thousands of lesser ones, and making hard policy choices. That’s silly, of course.
The line that his campaign constituted executive experience was a convenient bit of spin to deflect the concerns about Obama’s lack of executive record. But the two activities — campaigning and governing — are, of course, fundamentally different. If in doubt, study the Carter and Bush 43 experiences in both. And take the financial meltdown. Obama “rose to the occasion” by doing nothing, looking thoughtful, and allowing his opponent’s frenzied reaction to discredit him as a trustworthy steward of the economy. But looking thoughtful won’t do good for much once Obama is sworn in. Indeed, the quintessential Obama qualities — a well-cultivated ambiguity and the ability to maintain the hopes and allegiance of groups with fundamentally conflicting interests and goals – may be counterproductive once in the Presidency.
That is not to say that Obama won’t or can’t be an effective President. But if he is, it will have little to do with the skills and successes we observed during the campaign.
In earlier posts I have suggested that Israel’s political landscape today has shows three trends of reshuffling: (1) a shift away from extremes and toward the Center, resulting from a disillusionment among the electorate with both the settlement and peace camps; (2) a shift in content from Right to Left, as centrist parties like Kadima adopt land-for-peace ideas that 10 years ago were considered far-Left; and (3) a shift in the polls to the Right, as the classic Labor party appears to have descended well into the second tier, leaving Likud and Kadima as the only two viable governing parties. These suggestions are of course so wide as to admit almost any data, which is not so good for scientific viability. But they at least might be helpful in understanding what is an increasingly complicated set of political changes.
Now Uzi Landau, a longtime Likud stalwart, has announced his relocation to the Avigdor Lieberman’s party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home). Lieberman, a former director general of the Likud, broke off to the Right and posed a challenge to Likud, claiming itself to be the true party of the hawkish secular right — a claim which they then seriously undermined by joining Olmert’s government and leaving the Likud as sole party of the opposition on the Right. As a second-tier party, Yisrael Beiteinu is doing pretty well in polls, but Lieberman’s aspirations have always been higher, effectively to be the standard-bearer to the right. Landau has a reputation for being a very consistent, straight-shooting politician, eloquent in his defense of classic opposition to compromise, who quit Sharon’s cabinet in 2004 over the withdrawal from Gaza. Yet in the last few years, he has lost a lot of traction in the Likud, not even making the cut for the current Knesset list. By joining Lieberman, he will be giving new strength to that party, putting a lot of pressure on the Likud, and taking important votes away.
In other words, Israel’s Right is now going through something smaller but not so different from, the realignment taking place on Israel’s Left, which Shmuel Rosner posted on last week. Disappointment yields its fruits.
The Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz is a bit disturbed by the MSM’s 24/7 kvelling and gasping at the sheer awesomeness of the President Elect:
What’s troubling here goes beyond the clanging of cash registers. Media outlets have always tried to make a few bucks off the next big thing. The endless campaign is over, and there’s nothing wrong with the country pulling together, however briefly, behind its new leader. But we seem to have crossed a cultural line into mythmaking.
. . .
But what happens when adulation gives way to the messy, incremental process of governing? When Obama has to confront a deep-rooted financial crisis, two wars and a political system whose default setting is gridlock? When he makes decisions that inevitably disappoint some of his boosters?
He postulates that it won’t last all that long:
Obama’s days of walking on water won’t last indefinitely. His chroniclers will need a new story line. And sometime after Jan. 20, they will wade back into reality.
But why should it end? The MSM championed Barack Obama throughout the primaries, clubbed his opponent, lauded him during the general election, and is now marveling at his transition. There’s no reason to stop now. If the mainstream media cared about unbiased reporting and exacting investigation, they would have made some effort earlier to balance the coverage. And now that the election of Obama has fulfilled their dreams and aspirations, why should they return to the humdrum tasks of quibbling with the press secretary, investing inter-agency squabbles, and questioning the lack of progress or the outright repudiation of campaign pledges? That might scuff up the President’s image. And it might put them on the outs with their hero.
Really, I think it’s too much to expect that the lapdog media will turn into attack-dogs or watchdogs anytime soon. After all, they have a President to help succeed.
I am currently traveling in the Philippines, so I am a bit late to comment on the prevalent scuttlebutt about Hillary Clinton getting appointed as secretary of state. But I would nevertheless like to add my voice to the general chorus acclaiming this–if it happens–as a smart move. I have gotten to know New York’s junior senator a bit over the years, from serving with her on an advisory panel at the U.S. Joint Forces Command, and I have found her to be serious, incisive, and nonpartisan in her approach to some of the most thorny issues confronting the U.S. military.
Her Republican Senate colleagues have, I believe, drawn the same conclusion. I was a bit dismayed during the Democratic primaries to see her moving to the left on a host of issues after having established a generally centrist reputation in the Senate. But I am ready to write that off as an election-year aberration. Even Joe Lieberman, after all, lurched left in 2000, when he was in the thick of national politics. And it is to Hillary’s credit that she never went nearly as far left as the most rabid Democratic partisans wanted her to do. She refused, for instance, to call for an immediate pullout from Iraq (as did another possible secretary of state and onetime presidential candidate: Bill Richardson). If Obama settles on her, it will confirm the moderate tenor of his other rumored appointments. The appointment of a John Kerry or Bill Richardson would signal a disquieting move to the left.