Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 29, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

Goodnight Caroline? “The wheels of the bandwagon are coming off. Fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth. That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn’t deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her.” Perhaps the tide has finally turned.

Will Illinois get to vote for its junior senator? “[Lt. Governor Pat] Quinn said Sunday that if he becomes acting governor, he would press the Legislature to pass a bill that would allow a temporary appointee to fill Mr. Obama’s vacant Senate seat ahead of a special state election in June on a successor, ensuring that Illinois ‘has two senators at all times.'”

This is the new MSM conventional wisdom: “The deaths of hundreds of Palestinians in Israel’s deadliest-ever air assault on the militant Hamas further complicates President-elect Barack Obama’s challenge to achieve a Middle East peace — something that eluded both the Bush and Clinton administrations.” Everything was hunky-dory before the Israelis defended themselves. And Hamas’s commitment to destroy Israel is irrelevant, you see.

The WSJ reminds us: “Israel’s air assault has resulted in more Palestinian casualties, but that is in part because Hamas deliberately locates its security forces in residential neighborhoods. This is intended both to deter Israel from attacking in the first place as well as to turn world opinion against the Jewish state when it does attack. By all accounts, however, the Israeli strikes have hit their targets precisely enough to do significant damage to Hamas forces — both to its leadership and, on Sunday, to the tunnels from Gaza to Egypt that Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons and build its growing army.”

And the take-away for the President-elect? “There’s a lesson here for Mr. Obama, who is about to discover that the terrorists of the Middle East aren’t about to change their radical ambitions merely because America has a new President.”

Victor Davis Hanson thinks President-elect Obama and his team are learning lots of hard lessons: “Those around Barack Obama understand that precisely those measures most derided during the campaign–wiretaps, the interrogation of prisoners in Guantanamo, the decimation of al Qaida members in Iraq and Afghanistan, overseas detentions–probably account likewise most for the absence of another 9/11-like attack. In other words, as the Obamians privately ignore the media hype about flushed Korans and hundreds of innocents caught in the cauldron of war and unfairly detained, and instead examine the sort of killers who are presently in Guantanamo, the type of intelligence gathering that led to prevention of dozens of planned attacks since 9/11, and those who turned up and were killed or arrested in Iraq and Afghanistan, they will realize how dicey it will be to follow through with campaign rhetoric about Bush, Inc. torching the Bill of Rights, fighting made-up enemies abroad, and generally alienating our allies.” Let’s hope he’s right.

President-elect Obama’s budget director says that nationalized health care is going to be very expensive. Who knew?

Can Terry McAuliffe buy the Democratic nomination in the Virginia gubernatorial race? Yes he can.

Paul Krugman jeers at state governors trying to balance budgets by cutting spending. “Herbert Hoovers” are they? Faced with constitutional balanced budget requirements in many instances (or the common sense desire not to mortage their citizens’ futures), many governors are choosing that course over tax increases — to avoid further depressing business growth, investment and employment. Can’t have that, can we!

Bet your week was better than Chip Saltsman’s.

Goodnight Caroline? “The wheels of the bandwagon are coming off. Fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth. That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn’t deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her.” Perhaps the tide has finally turned.

Will Illinois get to vote for its junior senator? “[Lt. Governor Pat] Quinn said Sunday that if he becomes acting governor, he would press the Legislature to pass a bill that would allow a temporary appointee to fill Mr. Obama’s vacant Senate seat ahead of a special state election in June on a successor, ensuring that Illinois ‘has two senators at all times.'”

This is the new MSM conventional wisdom: “The deaths of hundreds of Palestinians in Israel’s deadliest-ever air assault on the militant Hamas further complicates President-elect Barack Obama’s challenge to achieve a Middle East peace — something that eluded both the Bush and Clinton administrations.” Everything was hunky-dory before the Israelis defended themselves. And Hamas’s commitment to destroy Israel is irrelevant, you see.

The WSJ reminds us: “Israel’s air assault has resulted in more Palestinian casualties, but that is in part because Hamas deliberately locates its security forces in residential neighborhoods. This is intended both to deter Israel from attacking in the first place as well as to turn world opinion against the Jewish state when it does attack. By all accounts, however, the Israeli strikes have hit their targets precisely enough to do significant damage to Hamas forces — both to its leadership and, on Sunday, to the tunnels from Gaza to Egypt that Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons and build its growing army.”

And the take-away for the President-elect? “There’s a lesson here for Mr. Obama, who is about to discover that the terrorists of the Middle East aren’t about to change their radical ambitions merely because America has a new President.”

Victor Davis Hanson thinks President-elect Obama and his team are learning lots of hard lessons: “Those around Barack Obama understand that precisely those measures most derided during the campaign–wiretaps, the interrogation of prisoners in Guantanamo, the decimation of al Qaida members in Iraq and Afghanistan, overseas detentions–probably account likewise most for the absence of another 9/11-like attack. In other words, as the Obamians privately ignore the media hype about flushed Korans and hundreds of innocents caught in the cauldron of war and unfairly detained, and instead examine the sort of killers who are presently in Guantanamo, the type of intelligence gathering that led to prevention of dozens of planned attacks since 9/11, and those who turned up and were killed or arrested in Iraq and Afghanistan, they will realize how dicey it will be to follow through with campaign rhetoric about Bush, Inc. torching the Bill of Rights, fighting made-up enemies abroad, and generally alienating our allies.” Let’s hope he’s right.

President-elect Obama’s budget director says that nationalized health care is going to be very expensive. Who knew?

Can Terry McAuliffe buy the Democratic nomination in the Virginia gubernatorial race? Yes he can.

Paul Krugman jeers at state governors trying to balance budgets by cutting spending. “Herbert Hoovers” are they? Faced with constitutional balanced budget requirements in many instances (or the common sense desire not to mortage their citizens’ futures), many governors are choosing that course over tax increases — to avoid further depressing business growth, investment and employment. Can’t have that, can we!

Bet your week was better than Chip Saltsman’s.

Read Less

Top Ten Political Lessons in 2008

1. Sheer talent beats everything else, including front-runner status. At the outset of the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite. She had a large lead in money, organization, endorsements, and the polls. All Barack Obama had was loads of talent and a story to tell. Starting January 20, he’ll be referred to as Mr. President and she’ll be referred to as Madam Secretary.

2. It’s better to flip-flop than be viewed as a liberal. Barack Obama’s legislative record was among the most liberal of any Presidential candidate in history. Once he secured the Democratic nomination, he chose to shed many of his past positions and tack to the center in a hurry rather than leaving himself open to the charge that he was an orthodox liberal. His campaign was based on reassuring the public that he was not ideological, and (fairly or not) it worked.

3. The object of a charge needs to fit the charge itself. Senator McCain attempted to portray Obama as radical, untested, and untrustworthy. But the more the public was exposed to Obama, the less that charge stuck. Obama came across as unflappable, self-possessed, and non-radical. He successfully resisted rather than reinforced the frame that was being placed on him by the McCain campaign.

4. The power of rhetoric is important, and can even be decisive, in American politics. Barack Obama altered the trajectory of his campaign with his address to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa. That allowed him to win Iowa, which in turn allowed him to win the Democratic nomination. The appeal of his speeches is what gave wings to the Obama campaign.

5. Timing can make all the difference. If the tapes of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons had come out in early January instead of March, it almost certainly would have cost Obama the Iowa caucus. And without that victory, he would not be President-elect.

6. Whenever a Clinton is around, expect a psychodrama. We saw it during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and we saw a different version during Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was plagued by extraordinary infighting and internal divisions. They were never resolved, and it helped sink her candidacy.

7. A powerful biography and a tactical campaign are not enough. John McCain has one of the most inspiring stories in American political history. But he was never able to provide a compelling narrative or articulate a governing philosophy. And his campaign never got beyond day-to-day tactics. This created a lack of focus and sometimes contradictory messages, which contrasted poorly with Obama’s campaign, which was disciplined, strategic, and extraordinarily efficient.

8. If your party controls the presidency and the economy collapses six weeks before the election, you lose. John McCain, while always the underdog, had crept up to tie Barack Obama in the polls in early September. Then the financial and credit crisis hit, and McCain never recovered. Barack Obama looked steadier than McCain in reaction to it, and a close race broke wide open.

9. If you’re a Republican who is used to favorable press treatment, don’t expect it to continue if you win the GOP nomination. John McCain used to refer to the media as “my base.” But once he won the nomination and ran as a (more or less) conservative, and ran an aggressive campaign against the Democratic nominee, the press turned on McCain with fury. They painted him as old, unprincipled, inauthentic, and mean. It turns out McCain was a whole lot less appealing to the MSM when he was attacking a liberal than when he was attacking conservatives and highlighting his differences with President Bush.  We have never seen the press act so much like a love-struck adolescent. Time magazine’s Mark Halperin admitted (after the election) that there was an extraordinary pro-Obama press bias, which was obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

10. Star power matters — but so does a basic command of the issues. Sarah Palin delivered a terrific speech at the convention and she has real political talent. But her interviews with Charles Gibson and especially Katie Couric were quite damaging. It’s true that the media, for a variety of reasons, took an instant dislike to Palin and took every opportunity to portray her in the worst way possible. But her major wounds were self-inflicted. She looked unsure and at times out of her depth in the Gibson and Couric interviews. While she inspired the GOP base and showed real talent, she has a lot of repair work to do.

1. Sheer talent beats everything else, including front-runner status. At the outset of the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite. She had a large lead in money, organization, endorsements, and the polls. All Barack Obama had was loads of talent and a story to tell. Starting January 20, he’ll be referred to as Mr. President and she’ll be referred to as Madam Secretary.

2. It’s better to flip-flop than be viewed as a liberal. Barack Obama’s legislative record was among the most liberal of any Presidential candidate in history. Once he secured the Democratic nomination, he chose to shed many of his past positions and tack to the center in a hurry rather than leaving himself open to the charge that he was an orthodox liberal. His campaign was based on reassuring the public that he was not ideological, and (fairly or not) it worked.

3. The object of a charge needs to fit the charge itself. Senator McCain attempted to portray Obama as radical, untested, and untrustworthy. But the more the public was exposed to Obama, the less that charge stuck. Obama came across as unflappable, self-possessed, and non-radical. He successfully resisted rather than reinforced the frame that was being placed on him by the McCain campaign.

4. The power of rhetoric is important, and can even be decisive, in American politics. Barack Obama altered the trajectory of his campaign with his address to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa. That allowed him to win Iowa, which in turn allowed him to win the Democratic nomination. The appeal of his speeches is what gave wings to the Obama campaign.

5. Timing can make all the difference. If the tapes of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons had come out in early January instead of March, it almost certainly would have cost Obama the Iowa caucus. And without that victory, he would not be President-elect.

6. Whenever a Clinton is around, expect a psychodrama. We saw it during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and we saw a different version during Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was plagued by extraordinary infighting and internal divisions. They were never resolved, and it helped sink her candidacy.

7. A powerful biography and a tactical campaign are not enough. John McCain has one of the most inspiring stories in American political history. But he was never able to provide a compelling narrative or articulate a governing philosophy. And his campaign never got beyond day-to-day tactics. This created a lack of focus and sometimes contradictory messages, which contrasted poorly with Obama’s campaign, which was disciplined, strategic, and extraordinarily efficient.

8. If your party controls the presidency and the economy collapses six weeks before the election, you lose. John McCain, while always the underdog, had crept up to tie Barack Obama in the polls in early September. Then the financial and credit crisis hit, and McCain never recovered. Barack Obama looked steadier than McCain in reaction to it, and a close race broke wide open.

9. If you’re a Republican who is used to favorable press treatment, don’t expect it to continue if you win the GOP nomination. John McCain used to refer to the media as “my base.” But once he won the nomination and ran as a (more or less) conservative, and ran an aggressive campaign against the Democratic nominee, the press turned on McCain with fury. They painted him as old, unprincipled, inauthentic, and mean. It turns out McCain was a whole lot less appealing to the MSM when he was attacking a liberal than when he was attacking conservatives and highlighting his differences with President Bush.  We have never seen the press act so much like a love-struck adolescent. Time magazine’s Mark Halperin admitted (after the election) that there was an extraordinary pro-Obama press bias, which was obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

10. Star power matters — but so does a basic command of the issues. Sarah Palin delivered a terrific speech at the convention and she has real political talent. But her interviews with Charles Gibson and especially Katie Couric were quite damaging. It’s true that the media, for a variety of reasons, took an instant dislike to Palin and took every opportunity to portray her in the worst way possible. But her major wounds were self-inflicted. She looked unsure and at times out of her depth in the Gibson and Couric interviews. While she inspired the GOP base and showed real talent, she has a lot of repair work to do.

Read Less




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