Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Clinton

How Washington Rejected Susan Rice

I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

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I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

Barack Obama. We should start with the president, since some have been suggesting that Rice’s withdrawal proves Obama’s weakness. It just isn’t so. If Obama wanted Rice to be his secretary of state, that’s what he’d get. But the president got quite chummy with Bill Clinton just as the former president agreed to try and save Obama’s reelection hopes by giving a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and then campaigning in swing states for Obama. After the attack in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton had some serious explaining to do. After all, it was her State Department that messed up by not providing enough security to the ambassador’s team and then denying requests for additional security.

Yet Clinton was conveniently enabled to avoid the press, the cameras, and in general the spotlight. Susan Rice’s mistakes after Benghazi pale in comparison to Clinton’s mistakes before Benghazi. Susan Rice took Clinton’s place on the Sunday shows, got herself in some trouble, and Obama decided he didn’t want to spend the political capital to protect her the way he protected Hillary.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton made her opposition to Rice known as soon as the latter landed in hot water over the Benghazi controversy. Clinton told her allies on the Hill and in the press that she preferred John Kerry for the job. Message received.

Liberal opinion journalists. Maureen Dowd and Dana Milbank happily obliged, making the fight against Rice obnoxiously personal. Dowd said Rice “rented” her soul. Milbank said Rice was pushy and rude. Lloyd Grove said Rice had a personality disorder. The vicious attacks from the leftists in political media changed the dynamic of the controversy.

Senate GOP. The role of Republicans in the Senate is obvious, but it’s worth drawing attention to one element of it in particular. President Obama wasn’t the only one protecting Hilary Clinton from the glare of the Benghazi fallout; so was John McCain. McCain and Clinton are friends and were fellow senators before Clinton took the job at Foggy Bottom. McCain protected his friend, and was helping another longtime senator as well: John Kerry, who was expected to be the president’s second choice after Rice for secretary of state. McCain wasn’t the only one. “I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins not-so-subtly said last month after meeting with Rice. “I’d rather have John Kerry,” retiring Senator Jon Kyl had said.

Senate Democrats. John Kerry stayed quiet throughout the debate, and wisely so. He had his fellow Democrats in Washington to critique Rice and complement Kerry. “Sen. Kerry is under consideration for a high position because he’s talented, has tremendous integrity and respect — he also happens to be a senator,” said Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. “Part of your responsibility in the administration is your relationship with the Senate and House, and obviously Sen. Kerry has an incredible relationship. I think colleagues on both sides of the aisle will tell you that.” Translation: if the White House wants full cooperation from the Democratic-run Senate, Kerry would be a wise choice.

Additionally, Kerry’s nomination would open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and Governor Deval Patrick has apparently already reached out to Vicki Kennedy–Ted Kennedy’s widow–to consider taking that seat.

In the end Rice had few allies on either side of the aisle in Washington, and the opposite was true of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. A culture of clubbiness that borders on tribal loyalty was just far too much for Rice to overcome.

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Jerusalem’s Mayor Defends His City

Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.

Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.

And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.

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Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.

Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.

And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.

Barkat then gets to the practical issues:

By 2030, the city’s population will expand to one million residents from 800,000 today (33% Muslim, 2% Christian and 65% Jewish). Where does the world suggest we put these extra 200,000 residents? The expansion of Jerusalem’s residential areas is essential for the natural growth of all segments of our population. It enables Jewish and Arab families alike to grow and remain in the city. The capital of a sovereign nation cannot be expected to freeze growth rather than provide housing to families of all faiths eager to make their lives there.

As for “E-1,” this land has always been considered the natural site for the expansion of contiguous neighborhoods of metropolitan Jerusalem. “E-1” strengthens Jerusalem. It does not impede peace in our region. The international alarm about planned construction is based solely on the misplaced dreams of the Palestinians and their supporters for a divided Jerusalem.

There are two points worth making here. The first is that in addition to Jewish support for a united capital, the city’s Arab residents who prefer to live in Israel outnumber those who would choose Palestine, making a united Jerusalem also a democratic Jerusalem.

The second point is that Barkat’s seeming incredulity at the sudden support for preventing Israeli sovereignty over E-1 is genuine. As Evelyn wrote earlier, Tzipi Livni is making the same point to foreign diplomats–a point which is within the consensus across the ideological spectrum in Israel. One reason Barkat and others are honestly taken aback by the E-1 controversy is that the Clinton parameters apportioned E-1 to Israel–another point Evelyn made.

So let’s take this to its logical next step. Since the failure of Camp David at the tail end of Clinton’s second term, the chattering classes and the world’s diplomats have accepted, consistently, the following premise: any deal between Israel and the Palestinians over a final-status agreement would be based on the Clinton parameters. So: are the liberal American Jews that Evelyn mentioned, and the foreign diplomats that Livni spoke to, and the members of the press so furious at Netanyahu all finally and forcefully rejecting the Clinton parameters?

That’s the question at the heart of Barkat’s op-ed. As far as I can remember, liberal American Jewish groups have not gone so far as to publicly repudiate that plan, which rejecting Israeli sovereignty over E-1 would do. Are they now rejecting the Clinton parameters?

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Liberal American Jews, Tzipi Livni, and the Israeli Consensus

Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.

Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:

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Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.

Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:

“It doesn’t matter what you think about settlements,” Livni said with uncharacteristic bluntness. “We have settlement blocs close to the Green Line and the only way for the conflict with the Palestinians to end is for Israel to keep them. Any pre-agreement by the international community to a withdrawal to 1967 borders before the talks occur, makes it difficult to negotiate. It was clear in the talks I conducted with the Palestinians that there would not be return to 1967 borders.”

Given that E-1 is the corridor that links one of those settlement blocs, Ma’aleh Adumim, to Jerusalem, it’s hard to reconcile those two views. After all, if the settlement blocs will be part of Israel under any agreement, then so will E-1–which, as Rick noted yesterday, is precisely why every peace plan every proposed, including former President Bill Clinton’s, in fact assigned E-1 to Israel. Indeed, the annexation documents for E-1 were signed by the patron saint of the peace process himself, Yitzhak Rabin, less than a year after he signed the Oslo Accords. Like everyone else who has seriously studied this issue, Rabin concluded both that it was vital for Israel’s security and–contrary to the widespread misconception today–that it would in no way preclude a viable and contiguous Palestinian state (a point Rich’s post also explains).

So if everyone knows that Israel is going to retain this area anyway, how can advancing construction within it possibly “make progress toward peace far more challenging”? In fact, as Livni noted, the opposite is true: The real impediment to negotiations is the Palestinian belief that the world will back their demand for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and eventually force Israel to comply. And that’s precisely the belief the URJ reinforced via its condemnation: After all, the Palestinians must be saying, if even American Jews won’t back Israel’s position, it will soon have no choice but to capitulate.

Back in 2008, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the Palestinians that if they weren’t prepared to concede Ma’aleh Adumim, “Then you won’t have a state!” Livni said the same thing today. But the URJ effectively told the Palestinians the opposite: It’s not the Palestinian refusal to cede Ma’aleh Adumim that’s the problem, it said, but Israel’s insistence on acting as if Ma’aleh Adumim will remain Israeli.

And when liberal American Jews can’t support a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus that encompasses even its most dovish politicians, you have to wonder whether they support the real Israel at all–or only some idealized fantasy of it that exists only in their own minds.

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Petraeus Was Right to Resign

As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.

Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.

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As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.

Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.

The notion that there is something wrong with a standard of conduct that treats infidelity as warranting nothing more than a scolding is one that seems to be increasingly popular. It is argued that the privacy of public officials should be respected just as much as that of private citizens. Viewed from that perspective, David Petraeus’s private life is none of our business. Unlike Bill Clinton, who committed perjury in order to cover up his affairs, Petraeus appears to have broken no laws. So long as that remains the case, why should the nation be deprived of the services of the man who was arguably the ablest American general in more than half a century?

It all sounds quite reasonable, but there are serious problems with this line of thought.

Although it is true that a number of famous Americans in the past have also been guilty of sexual indiscretions, it is incorrect to say the American people gave them a pass for it. For example, had John F. Kennedy’s disgusting conduct in the White House with multiple partners — including interns — been made public, it is doubtful he would have survived the furor. If there is something puritanical about a society in which promiscuous goings-on in the presidential mansion is considered beyond the pale, then so be it. As much as we know that human beings are fallible, there is nothing unreasonable about expecting leaders to behave as if their high office requires them to be on their best behavior while being so honored.

Indeed, the one prominent philanderer who is often cited as a precedent for a man surviving such a scandal — Alexander Hamilton — only did so because he exposed his own private misbehavior so as to make it clear that he was innocent of any public malfeasance, as his critics had charged.

Being the head of the CIA is also a circumstance that should also have made it more, rather than less, important that Petraeus not engage in this sort of behavior. It is a given that intelligence officials ought not do anything that renders them vulnerable to blackmail of any sort. Once he was told of the affair, the immediate response of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was that Petraeus must step down. That was in keeping with that standard. The idea that Petraeus is so uniquely talented that his presence in his post obligates us to ignore his bad judgment doesn’t hold water. As a battlefield and theater commander, Petraeus had no peers in the armed forces. But as important as his work in Langley was, he cannot make the same claim in the field of intelligence.

David Petraeus had a unique status in our public life. That was not just because of his brilliance in Iraq but because he had come to exemplify the ideals of military honor, sacrifice and public service. It may be unfair to expect a hero to behave like one, but that is the price you pay for the sort of applause the general deservedly received. Indeed, unlike his many supporters who are right to mourn his retirement, Petraeus understood that the only proper thing to do once his predicament had become public was to withdraw from his office. This exile from responsibility need not be permanent. But in stepping down, Petraeus has reaffirmed the notion that misconduct warrants more than a shrug. In doing so, he has rendered the country a service that should be applauded.

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Respecting Israel’s Democratic Process

If the world could vote in the 2012 American presidential election, according to a new poll of respondents in 32 countries, it would cast its electoral votes for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. But according to the polls in Israel, the Jewish state would dissent, preferring Romney. Considering Obama’s treatment of Israel during his first term, this isn’t surprising. But Reuters today published an “analysis” insisting that those Israelis have nothing to worry about: there’s really no difference between the candidates.

The article notes that there is much continuity in American foreign policy, even when the White House changes parties. This is true. The article also notes that Obama has aligned his rhetoric on Israel with Romney’s, and that Romney has aligned his rhetoric on Iran with Obama’s. That is also true. So are Israelis just being silly, or is Reuters missing something? It is, of course, the latter. Reuters writes:

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If the world could vote in the 2012 American presidential election, according to a new poll of respondents in 32 countries, it would cast its electoral votes for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. But according to the polls in Israel, the Jewish state would dissent, preferring Romney. Considering Obama’s treatment of Israel during his first term, this isn’t surprising. But Reuters today published an “analysis” insisting that those Israelis have nothing to worry about: there’s really no difference between the candidates.

The article notes that there is much continuity in American foreign policy, even when the White House changes parties. This is true. The article also notes that Obama has aligned his rhetoric on Israel with Romney’s, and that Romney has aligned his rhetoric on Iran with Obama’s. That is also true. So are Israelis just being silly, or is Reuters missing something? It is, of course, the latter. Reuters writes:

Most Israelis would be reassured if Mitt Romney won next week’s U.S. presidential election, feeling they had an unquestioning friend rather than a dispassionate critic in the White House.

But any change would probably be a question of style over substance, analysts say, with a Republican administration expected to follow the path already laid out by President Barack Obama when it comes to Iran and the Palestinians.

That’s the crux of the article, which obviously leaves out some points that are important to Israelis but not to Western media. There certainly has been a degree of policy continuity between Republican and Democratic administrations in recent memory. But there is one point on which there is a marked difference, and it is relevant now because Israelis are also heading into an election. And if past is prologue, that election will mean much to Israelis but not necessarily to the American president.

Of the last three presidents, two were Democrats and one a Republican. And far from respecting Israel’s electoral integrity, the two Democrats—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—spent an offensive amount of time and effort trying to either bring down or change Israel’s elected governments. Clinton did so publicly and without shame, when Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Clinton’s preferred candidate, Shimon Peres, in the first election after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Clinton interfered to get Peres elected, failed, and then spent the next few years sending his team to Israel to run Netanyahu out of office and replace him with Ehud Barak.

Obama was certainly less obsessed with running Netanyahu out of office, but as even Obama’s defenders on the left, like Jeffrey Goldberg, noticed, he was committed to the prospect of shaking up Israel’s Knesset to bring Kadima back to power.

George W. Bush, however, worked with three Israeli parties—Labor, Likud, and Kadima—that spanned the political spectrum. He felt no desire to challenge Israel’s voting public, and respected and worked with their choices. So it’s understandable that with their own election looming, Israelis are wary of an American president who may want them to have to vote again and again until, in his mind, they get it right. Israelis imagine that Romney, like Bush, will simply respect Israel’s democratic process.

On the Palestinian issue, Reuters may be correct that there wouldn’t be much of a change, but that is because Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority refuse to even consider resuming negotiations, so there could be no progress on that front anyway.

And on Iran, Reuters is right that Romney and Obama speak the same language. But Reuters seems to forget one possibility: that Israelis believe Romney, but don’t trust Obama. They may or may not be right to do so, but there’s no question that trust is a problem between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, as even Reuters acknowledges. It’s worth considering that the “daylight” Obama wanted to put between the two governments cost him the benefit of the doubt among many Israelis.

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Dems Begin the Post-Obama Blame Game

Some Democrats are apparently not waiting for Barack Obama to lose the presidential election before starting the inevitable recriminations about whose fault it was. Whether writing strictly on his own hook or as a result of conversations with campaign officials, New York Times political writer Matt Bai has fired the first shot in what may turn out to be a very nasty battle over who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for what may turn out to be a November disaster for the Democrats. That the Times would publish a piece on October 24 that takes as its starting point the very real possibility that the president will lose, and that blame for that loss needs to be allocated, is astonishing enough. But that their nominee for scapegoat is the man who is almost certainly the most popular living Democrat is the sort of thing that is not only shocking, but might be regarded as a foretaste of the coming battle to control the party in 2016.

Bai’s choice for the person who steered the president wrong this year is none other than former President Bill Clinton, who has widely been credited for having helped produce a post-convention boost for the Democrats. Clinton’s speech on behalf of Obama was viewed, with good reason, as being far more effective than anything the president or anyone else said on his behalf this year. But Bai points to Clinton as the primary advocate within high Democratic circles for changing the party’s strategy from one of bashing Mitt Romney as an inauthentic flip-flopper to one that centered on trying to assert that he was a conservative monster. Given that Romney demolished that false image in one smashing debate performance in Denver that seems to have changed the arc of the election, Clinton’s advice seems ripe for second-guessing right now. But we have to ask why Bai thinks Clinton was the one who single-handedly forced the change, and what is motivating those feeding the reporter this information?

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Some Democrats are apparently not waiting for Barack Obama to lose the presidential election before starting the inevitable recriminations about whose fault it was. Whether writing strictly on his own hook or as a result of conversations with campaign officials, New York Times political writer Matt Bai has fired the first shot in what may turn out to be a very nasty battle over who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for what may turn out to be a November disaster for the Democrats. That the Times would publish a piece on October 24 that takes as its starting point the very real possibility that the president will lose, and that blame for that loss needs to be allocated, is astonishing enough. But that their nominee for scapegoat is the man who is almost certainly the most popular living Democrat is the sort of thing that is not only shocking, but might be regarded as a foretaste of the coming battle to control the party in 2016.

Bai’s choice for the person who steered the president wrong this year is none other than former President Bill Clinton, who has widely been credited for having helped produce a post-convention boost for the Democrats. Clinton’s speech on behalf of Obama was viewed, with good reason, as being far more effective than anything the president or anyone else said on his behalf this year. But Bai points to Clinton as the primary advocate within high Democratic circles for changing the party’s strategy from one of bashing Mitt Romney as an inauthentic flip-flopper to one that centered on trying to assert that he was a conservative monster. Given that Romney demolished that false image in one smashing debate performance in Denver that seems to have changed the arc of the election, Clinton’s advice seems ripe for second-guessing right now. But we have to ask why Bai thinks Clinton was the one who single-handedly forced the change, and what is motivating those feeding the reporter this information?

Here’s the gist of Bai’s blame-Clinton thesis:

You may recall that last spring, just after Mr. Romney locked up the Republican nomination, Mr. Obama’s team abruptly switched its strategy for how to define him. Up to then, the White House had been portraying Mr. Romney much as George W. Bush had gone after John Kerry in 2004 – as inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.

But it was Mr. Clinton who forcefully argued to Mr. Obama’s aides that the campaign had it wrong. The best way to go after Mr. Romney, the former president said, was to publicly grant that he was the “severe conservative” he claimed to be, and then hang that unpopular ideology around his neck.

In other words, Mr. Clinton counseled that independent voters might forgive Mr. Romney for having said whatever he had to say to win his party’s nomination, but they would be far more reluctant to vote for him if they thought they were getting the third term of George W. Bush. Ever since, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mr. Romney as too conservative, while essentially giving him a pass for having traveled a tortured path on issues like health care reform, abortion and gay rights.

This is clearly intended to absolve the anonymous Obama aides for making a decision that they — and the president — must have signed off on before it was implemented. Bai goes to great lengths to take them off the hook, and even compares their position to a ballplayer who would reject advice from Derek Jeter. In other words Bai is saying that anyone, even really smart political operatives like those working in Obama’s Chicago headquarters, or the top guys themselves like David Axelrod or David Plouffe, had no choice but to bow to the 42nd president’s wisdom.

Bai is right on target when he notes that the strategy — regardless of whose bright idea it was — was a clunker. While there is no guarantee that calling Romney a flip-flopper would have worked better, the investment of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads trying to convince Americans that the Republican was a heartless plutocrat who abused dogs, outsourced jobs, killed cancer patients and hated ordinary people set the Democrats up for a fall once their target showed himself to be a likeable and reasonable person. The same tactic failed 32 years ago when it was tried by the Jimmy Carter campaign against Ronald Reagan, and right now that precedent is causing the knots in the stomachs of Obama campaign officials to tighten as they contemplate defeat.

If Clinton thought that he could apply the lessons of his own victories to President Obama’s re-election problem, he was wrong. As Bai points out, Clinton truly was a centrist, something that no one (except perhaps the president himself) thinks about Obama.

But the idea that it was only Clinton that advocated this strategy or that without his influence the geniuses running the Obama campaign would not have made this mistake is so patently self-serving on the part of his sources that it’s a wonder that a generally savvy observer like Bai doesn’t point this out.

If anything this omission, like the general thrust of his piece, points to an effort by Obama’s chief strategists to get out in front of the story of who led the president to defeat. Moreover, it is hard not to avoid the suspicion that pointing the finger at Clinton is a way of reminding him that if he thinks Obama loyalists owe him for his herculean efforts on behalf of the president he’s got another thing coming. Especially, that is, if he tries to call in IOUs from the Obama camp on behalf of another presidential run by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But no matter where the Democratic fingers are pointing, the fact that they are already starting to blame each other for an Obama loss has to send chills down the spines of Democrats who are still operating under the assumption that Romney can’t win.

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Bill Clinton’s Disgraceful Comments About George W. Bush

Now that Bill Clinton has been welcomed into the home stretch of a close presidential race in order to help President Obama’s reelection efforts, the public is probably prepared to hear some whoppers. But yesterday, appearing on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Clinton crossed a line:

ZAKARIA: Is Mitt Romney right that the only thing you can do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is kick the can down the road?

CLINTON: No, it is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.

And if you look at it, President Bush, when he took office, the second President Bush, I’ll never forget he said, “You know the names of every street in the old city and look what it got you. I’m not going to fool with this now.”

And immediately the death rate went up among Israelis and Palestinians because there was nothing going on.

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Now that Bill Clinton has been welcomed into the home stretch of a close presidential race in order to help President Obama’s reelection efforts, the public is probably prepared to hear some whoppers. But yesterday, appearing on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Clinton crossed a line:

ZAKARIA: Is Mitt Romney right that the only thing you can do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is kick the can down the road?

CLINTON: No, it is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.

And if you look at it, President Bush, when he took office, the second President Bush, I’ll never forget he said, “You know the names of every street in the old city and look what it got you. I’m not going to fool with this now.”

And immediately the death rate went up among Israelis and Palestinians because there was nothing going on.

In reality, what was “going on” when the “death rate went up” at the beginning of the Bush administration? It was actually the Second Intifada, which began under… President Bill Clinton. Clinton is right that the “death rate” went up. Thousands died in the Palestinian terror war against Israelis civilians that began after the failure of the Clinton Camp David peace talks.

Nonetheless, was Clinton’s position that George W. Bush should encourage more peace talks between the Israelis and Yasser Arafat, despite the violence? It most certainly was not; in fact Clinton’s opinion was decidedly the opposite of that—and that’s exactly what he told Bush. From Martin Indyk’s memoir of the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy—a book that is extremely positive toward Clinton:

On January 23, 2001, Bill Clinton was in his final hours as president. There was one piece of unfinished business he was determined to take care of: it was payback time for Yasser Arafat….

Now Clinton wanted to make it clear to the incoming administration just who they would be dealing with. He had already dwelt at length on Arafat’s perfidy while briefing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that morning. Now he called Colin Powell, the secretary of state-designate, who had earlier served as Clinton’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When the phone rang, Powell was dressing for a pre-inaugural concert. He was surprised to hear Clinton’s voice. “I just wanted to wish you all the best in your new position,” the president said. Then he launched into a vituperative, expletive-filled tirade against Arafat. Powell understood the real motive for the call. As he would recount it to me, the president warned him, “Don’t you ever trust that son of a bitch. He lied to me and he’ll lie to you.” Arafat had failed his people and destroyed the chances for peace, Clinton emphasized. “Don’t let Arafat sucker punch you like he did me.”

Clinton called everyone he could get an audience with to tell the administration not to deal with Arafat. The Palestinian chairman was a liar, and he “destroyed the chances for peace.” The Bush administration recognized this as well, but made a push for peace once Arafat was gone and the Palestinians had a chance to recalibrate after the succession of Mahmoud Abbas to Arafat’s place and the Gaza disengagement.

Why is it so important to call Clinton out on this every time he repeats it? Because in his quote to Zakaria he blames the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians during the Intifada on Bush. If that’s not what he meant to say, he should clarify immediately. But either way, he owes George W. Bush an apology.

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Can Obama Replicate the “Clinton Bounce”?

President Obama is up by five in today’s Rasmussen and yesterday’s Gallup, in a post-convention bounce that hasn’t been tempered by Friday’s disappointing jobs report. Time for the GOP to panic? Not yet. At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argues that if you take a step back, Romney is still better off in the polls than he was before the Republican convention:

When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 12th, dubbing themselves America’s Comeback Team, the Real Clear Politics poll average had Obama beating Romney by almost 5 points (47.7 percent to 43 percent). Today, even after Obama’s convention bump, RCP has Obama’s lead narrowed to less than 2 (47.8 percent to 46 percent). Don’t like RCP? Well the more liberal Huffington Post Pollster poll average had Obama up 46.8 to 45.1 when Romney picked Ryan. Today, HuffPo has Obama up by less than 1 point, 46.8 to 46.1.

Don’t let anyone fool you: this is a close election. It will be decided by two events: 1) the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd; and 2) the next jobs report October 5th.

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President Obama is up by five in today’s Rasmussen and yesterday’s Gallup, in a post-convention bounce that hasn’t been tempered by Friday’s disappointing jobs report. Time for the GOP to panic? Not yet. At the Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll argues that if you take a step back, Romney is still better off in the polls than he was before the Republican convention:

When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate on August 12th, dubbing themselves America’s Comeback Team, the Real Clear Politics poll average had Obama beating Romney by almost 5 points (47.7 percent to 43 percent). Today, even after Obama’s convention bump, RCP has Obama’s lead narrowed to less than 2 (47.8 percent to 46 percent). Don’t like RCP? Well the more liberal Huffington Post Pollster poll average had Obama up 46.8 to 45.1 when Romney picked Ryan. Today, HuffPo has Obama up by less than 1 point, 46.8 to 46.1.

Don’t let anyone fool you: this is a close election. It will be decided by two events: 1) the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd; and 2) the next jobs report October 5th.

Political commentators seem to agree that the most persuasive argument at the convention for Obama’s reelection came from Clinton, and that’s backed up by this morning’s Gallup. While 43 percent of all respondents rated Obama’s speech at “excellent/good,” 56 percent of all respondents said the same of Clinton’s. Among independents, those numbers are clarified further: 35 percent (for Obama) and 52 percent (for Clinton).

In other words, it was Clinton, not Obama, who was able to make the most effective argument for Obama’s reelection — a message that clearly resonated with independents. At WaPo, Jen Rubin writes:

At a time when the blogosphere is wildly overestimating the mild bump in daily tracking polls, it is helpful to remember that whatever nudge Obama might have gotten could very well be the Clinton bump, not his own. Unfortunately for Obama, his name will appear on the November ballot.

The takeaway for Romney is the more they see of the GOP nominee the better, and voters’ continued exposure to Obama is not necessarily a plus for the incumbent president.

Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, Clinton’s primetime speech isn’t something that can be replicated. While Clinton can play a prominent role stumping for Obama on the campaign trail, he’s not going to have another major national platform like he did at the convention. As Carroll notes, the most critical events between now and the election will be the debates and the next jobs report. Both are on Obama’s shoulders, and the public seems far less impressed with his persuasive powers than Clinton’s.

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The Obama Communication Myth

Democrats are awaiting President Obama’s acceptance speech at their National Convention tonight with a bit less excitement than the breathless anticipation that many of them had for former President Clinton’s oration. But the expectations for the event, albeit lacking the drama of an outdoor stadium setting and with fireworks or balloons waiting to fall upon the happy candidate at its conclusion, are still considerable. Though few doubt Obama will give a good speech, his supporters still seem to feel that he must wow the audience in Charlotte and at home watching on television. Part of this sense of urgency is driven by their belief that the only real failure of his administration has been an inability to communicate with voters.

That has been coming through loud and clear this week in Charlotte as Democrats keep telling Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago. With straight faces they say his policies have all worked, that the economy has been healed by his wisdom and that all we need to do is give Barack Obama another four years and America’s future is assured. The only thing they don’t seem to understand is why the majority of Americans consistently say they disapprove of the president’s job performance and think the country is heading in the wrong direction. They tend to put that down to the wicked plots of Republicans as well as what they see as an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the president to adequately explain himself or to respond to attacks. That is a conviction fostered by the president himself as well as by pundits like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who gave Obama an “F” for communication in a report card otherwise strewn with A’s and B’s. But this mythical communications gap tells us more about the disconnect between liberals and the voters than it does about Obama’s failings.

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Democrats are awaiting President Obama’s acceptance speech at their National Convention tonight with a bit less excitement than the breathless anticipation that many of them had for former President Clinton’s oration. But the expectations for the event, albeit lacking the drama of an outdoor stadium setting and with fireworks or balloons waiting to fall upon the happy candidate at its conclusion, are still considerable. Though few doubt Obama will give a good speech, his supporters still seem to feel that he must wow the audience in Charlotte and at home watching on television. Part of this sense of urgency is driven by their belief that the only real failure of his administration has been an inability to communicate with voters.

That has been coming through loud and clear this week in Charlotte as Democrats keep telling Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago. With straight faces they say his policies have all worked, that the economy has been healed by his wisdom and that all we need to do is give Barack Obama another four years and America’s future is assured. The only thing they don’t seem to understand is why the majority of Americans consistently say they disapprove of the president’s job performance and think the country is heading in the wrong direction. They tend to put that down to the wicked plots of Republicans as well as what they see as an inexplicable reluctance on the part of the president to adequately explain himself or to respond to attacks. That is a conviction fostered by the president himself as well as by pundits like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who gave Obama an “F” for communication in a report card otherwise strewn with A’s and B’s. But this mythical communications gap tells us more about the disconnect between liberals and the voters than it does about Obama’s failings.

While this administration has produced very little in the way of results in terms of fixing the economy, it has never been short of words. Throughout his first two years in office, when he had the luxury of controlling both houses of Congress, Obama made it clear to Republicans that “elections had consequences” and that he wouldn’t compromise on his plans. He got his trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and then the following year his health care plan over the objections of many in his party who feared the country couldn’t afford it and didn’t want it. As a result of this, the Democrats lost Congress and he has spent the last two years asking the Republicans to adhere to an idea of compromise in which they must abandon their principles to accommodate his views.

Liberals also labor under a victim mentality in which they believe Obama and the Democrats have failed to respond to dastardly Republican attacks. But as Politico notes today, there is no question that the Obama campaign has run rings around the GOP in terms of launching vicious personal attacks on Mitt Romney and his party.

Somehow it has never occurred to liberals that public discontent is produced by their disagreement with their policies rather than their lack of success in explaining them. Like the proverbial “ugly American” abroad, they seem to think that if they only speak loudly and slowly enough, their words will be understood and their demands granted. That’s why Democrats swooned over Bill Clinton’s speech last night and expect to do the same when Obama claims his nomination today.

Even if the president knocks it out of the park tonight in the manner of a Clinton, that won’t solve his problem. The only thing that will do that is an improvement in the economy. Americans have had four years of Obama’s rhetoric. More words from him, no matter how eloquent or lauded by the press, will not solve his problems.

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Dems Respect Voting Rights? Not Yesterday

Yesterday, as Alana reported, a voice vote over an amendment to change the Democratic platform went horribly awry. Apparently at the behest of the president, language to add the word God as well as calling the city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel was reinserted into the Democratic platform. Despite it being present in 2008, the language was removed from the platform that was written (and uncontroversially passed) by the Democratic delegates present in Charlotte this year. After Republicans made the issue a story only a week after Democrats hammered Republicans about parts of their platform, the president decided to intervene.

As you can see from the video that Alana posted from BuzzFeed, the voice vote was so unclear that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask for three different votes. Before announcing his interpretation of the “yeas” and “nays” an unidentified woman approached him and audibly told him “Let them do what they’re gonna do.” From the video each vote sounds at best 50/50, with the nays sounding louder as the votes go on. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg was on the scene and reported his (and his liberal reporter-seat mate’s) interpretation of the vote:

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Yesterday, as Alana reported, a voice vote over an amendment to change the Democratic platform went horribly awry. Apparently at the behest of the president, language to add the word God as well as calling the city of Jerusalem the capital of Israel was reinserted into the Democratic platform. Despite it being present in 2008, the language was removed from the platform that was written (and uncontroversially passed) by the Democratic delegates present in Charlotte this year. After Republicans made the issue a story only a week after Democrats hammered Republicans about parts of their platform, the president decided to intervene.

As you can see from the video that Alana posted from BuzzFeed, the voice vote was so unclear that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask for three different votes. Before announcing his interpretation of the “yeas” and “nays” an unidentified woman approached him and audibly told him “Let them do what they’re gonna do.” From the video each vote sounds at best 50/50, with the nays sounding louder as the votes go on. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg was on the scene and reported his (and his liberal reporter-seat mate’s) interpretation of the vote:

The first time he couldn’t tell if he got it. The second time the no votes clearly had it. The third time: the nos won again. I’m sitting in the upper decks by the Fox cameras, so I’m in a very good place to hear without being misled by proximity to one faction or another. It was obvious that the nos had it. Still, I suppose it’s possible the ayes were in a bare majority. But there’s simply no way they had a two-thirds majority. I was sitting with a decidedly non-conservative journalist and he was even more sure than me that the no voters won. Villaraigosa simply opted to declare the amendment adopted. Boos rang out.

Only a few hours after the Democratic party clearly and publicly ignored their own delegate’s votes on the amendment, Cristina Saralegui, a Latina media personality, took the stage to deliver her remarks to the same crowd of delegates. She remarked, “So I’m asking toda mi gente—all of my people—to join me. Many of us come from countries where votes aren’t counted properly or are not counted at all. Here, we Latinos have a powerful voice, but only if we use it.” The irony that only hours earlier a Latino official ignored the votes of his fellow Democrats was lost on Saralegui.

Later, former President Bill Clinton took the stage. He also took aim at what he viewed as Republicans’ disrespect for voter’s rights: “If you want every American to vote and you think its wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama.” It appears that Clinton was taking issue with voter ID laws like the one that recently passed in Pennsylvania. Clinton stood on stage, hours after his party ignored the rights of members of his own party to vote on their platform and lectured Republicans on their attempts to ensure that eligible citizens receive one vote, and that vote be counted properly. If that’s not the definition of chutzpah, I don’t know what is.

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Fact Checkers Not Swooning Over Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton showed us last night that he is still a master of the art of political rhetoric. Democrats loved his convention speech on behalf of President Obama and so did most of the media which had begun swooning over his magic touch hours before he even began talking. The genius of Clinton’s political style is that, unlike most of the Democrats on the Charlotte podium this week, he understands that there is more to political oratory than merely bludgeoning your opponents and damning them as women-hating plutocrats. Thus, Clinton not only sought to charm the audience with his aging but still potent down-home routine, he was also seeking to disarm listeners by throwing out some lines designed to make us think his goal is fairness. That led to perhaps the most awkward moment of the evening when he actually briefly praised President George W. Bush, leaving his partisan audience momentarily stunned.

But what the Democrats and the media really liked was Clinton’s lengthy refutation of Republican arguments as he spouted figures and claimed he was merely doing “arithmetic” in pointing out the GOP’s flaws. Clinton produced the laughs and the scorn he was trying for, earning applause in the arena and in the glowing notices that followed. But the notion that he demolished Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has more to do with a willingness on the part of his listeners to buy whatever he’s selling than logic. As the Washington Post Fact Checker and the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis report this morning, there were a number of points on which there is a wide gap between what Clinton said and the truth.

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Former President Bill Clinton showed us last night that he is still a master of the art of political rhetoric. Democrats loved his convention speech on behalf of President Obama and so did most of the media which had begun swooning over his magic touch hours before he even began talking. The genius of Clinton’s political style is that, unlike most of the Democrats on the Charlotte podium this week, he understands that there is more to political oratory than merely bludgeoning your opponents and damning them as women-hating plutocrats. Thus, Clinton not only sought to charm the audience with his aging but still potent down-home routine, he was also seeking to disarm listeners by throwing out some lines designed to make us think his goal is fairness. That led to perhaps the most awkward moment of the evening when he actually briefly praised President George W. Bush, leaving his partisan audience momentarily stunned.

But what the Democrats and the media really liked was Clinton’s lengthy refutation of Republican arguments as he spouted figures and claimed he was merely doing “arithmetic” in pointing out the GOP’s flaws. Clinton produced the laughs and the scorn he was trying for, earning applause in the arena and in the glowing notices that followed. But the notion that he demolished Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has more to do with a willingness on the part of his listeners to buy whatever he’s selling than logic. As the Washington Post Fact Checker and the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis report this morning, there were a number of points on which there is a wide gap between what Clinton said and the truth.

As Pethokoukis points out, the catchiest statistic of Clinton’s 50-minute talkathon was his attempt to highlight a “jobs score” between Republican and Democratic administrations in which the GOP finds itself at the short end of a 42-24 million-job deficit. But the problem here is that some of the Democrats had conservative fiscal policies and some of the Republicans tilted left. Thus, John Kennedy’s tax cut for everyone, including the wealthy, produced a jobs gain while George H.W. Bush’s tax increase produced the recession that helped elect Clinton. The Nixon and Ford administrations were big spenders and taxers and, ironically, produced fewer new jobs than Clinton who cut taxes, reformed welfare and shrank government.

The real jobs score is that conservative economic policies created 40 million jobs while liberals, including Barack Obama created only 26 million.

The Post’s Fact Checker column also took Clinton to task for deceiving his audience by claiming President Obama’s proposed budget reduced the deficit by $4 trillion, something it says “is simply not accurate.” The number is compiled by the usual Washington budget gimmickry counting savings that aren’t really budget cuts. As the Post says, “it’s fake money being used to pay for real spending projects.”

The paper also chided Clinton for his description of the president’s bogus jobs plan that was to be paid for with “imaginary money.”

This sums it up:

Get the picture? Clinton praises Obama both for his sound budget math and for his jobs plan, even though the money to fund the budget and the jobs plan is used twice. That certainly doesn’t pass the Arkansas 2+2=4 test.

Clinton also strained credulity when he claimed that ObamaCare is already reducing the cost of health care before it has even been implemented. But as the Post says, any reductions have been due to the lousy economy over which Obama has presided. The former president also distorted the numbers of those newly insured under the law who will get private coverage as opposed to Medicaid.

And though the Fact Checker chooses not to analyze his comments about welfare reform, the column also alluded to Clinton’s claims saying “there may be less to this than meets the eye.”

But don’t expect most of the media to pick up on these glaring mistakes or to label them as “lies” the way they followed Democratic talking points after Paul Ryan’s speech last week. The true magic of Bill Clinton is not his ability to persuade wavering centrists to back Obama. Few votes were changed by his speech. The magic lies in Clinton’s ability to say anything and by dint of his seductive charms get most of the media and his party loyalists to treat it as the truth even if it isn’t.

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Did Bill Clinton Save Obama?

The anticipation for Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was so great that it’s not clear what he could have done to exceed those high expectations. His 50-minute oration was classic Clinton, cajoling, seducing, lecturing and attacking. The Democrats in the hall loved every second of it even if television networks and many of their viewers may have switched off long before he finally concluded. Nor is there any doubt most of the media will also applaud it. But those who somehow expected Clinton to magically rescue Barack Obama’s re-election campaign with this one speech may ultimately be disappointed.

What Clinton did do was deliver a full-throated defense of President Obama’s failures and an equally strong dissection of his Republican opponents even if his detailed takedowns of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan may not survive fair fact checking. Though much of what he said was more spin than reality as well as being a laundry list of liberal talking points, these were effective arguments. But what he did not and perhaps could not do was make a case for what a second Obama administration would do. Nor, despite his attempt to use the example of his own success in turning around an economy to show that Obama might do the same, did he bridge the gap between his own move to the center and his successor’s consistent lurch to the left. More than that, it’s not clear that Clinton’s looking into the camera and telling us he believed in what he said with “all his heart” will have the least effect on the electorate.

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The anticipation for Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was so great that it’s not clear what he could have done to exceed those high expectations. His 50-minute oration was classic Clinton, cajoling, seducing, lecturing and attacking. The Democrats in the hall loved every second of it even if television networks and many of their viewers may have switched off long before he finally concluded. Nor is there any doubt most of the media will also applaud it. But those who somehow expected Clinton to magically rescue Barack Obama’s re-election campaign with this one speech may ultimately be disappointed.

What Clinton did do was deliver a full-throated defense of President Obama’s failures and an equally strong dissection of his Republican opponents even if his detailed takedowns of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan may not survive fair fact checking. Though much of what he said was more spin than reality as well as being a laundry list of liberal talking points, these were effective arguments. But what he did not and perhaps could not do was make a case for what a second Obama administration would do. Nor, despite his attempt to use the example of his own success in turning around an economy to show that Obama might do the same, did he bridge the gap between his own move to the center and his successor’s consistent lurch to the left. More than that, it’s not clear that Clinton’s looking into the camera and telling us he believed in what he said with “all his heart” will have the least effect on the electorate.

The best that Clinton could do was to tell us that Obama deserved that “incomplete” the president said he deserved as his grade on the economy. To justify this judgment, the former president went on long wonkish digressions in his trademark style. That satisfied Clinton’s desire to lecture the country in his usual self-indulgent manner. But it fell short of the soaring rhetoric that could truly rally the country behind Obama.

Clinton’s longwinded endorsement of the president may help Obama keep Democrats in the fold. That is not unimportant. Democrats love Clinton and would, probably have sat through even another 50 minutes of his speechifying and perhaps even would prefer to give him a third term rather than a second for the incumbent. And that’s the rub with having to employ the 42nd president on behalf of the 44th.

For all of the raves Clinton will get from liberals who enjoyed the shots he took at Romney and Ryan, very little of this will attach itself to Obama. Though the speech had its powerful moments, we never stopped thinking about Clinton’s ego and his desire to hog the podium even while the president stood waiting, no doubt impatiently, for him to finally wind it up. Though this was probably a better argument that Obama could make for himself, it is a stretch to believe people will believe the president deserves a pass for his struggles just because Clinton says he deserved one.

Clinton’s detailed explanations also don’t recapture Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” messianism that he desperately needs to offset his shaky record. The night was a triumph for Clinton but Obama is still left locked in a tight, difficult race hoping desperately to be rescued by good economic news in the next several weeks. That, and not any speech by Clinton, is the only magic elixir that can re-elect him.

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Where’s Al Gore? Where He Belongs

Tonight is Bill Clinton’s much-anticipated speech to the Democratic National Convention, but as Politico noted this morning, a very high-profile member of Clinton’s administration will be missing his first convention since he left office: Al Gore.

Politico offers the reason–the country’s complete lack of interest in the global warming crusade–but gets the progression of Gore’s fading from the spotlight backwards. Politico writes:

Gore’s evolution over the past four years — from a central figure in the Democratic Party to a no-show at its biggest event — matches what has happened to the issue of climate change itself, which moved to the sidelines alongside its chief crusader, environmentalists and some Democrats say.

It’s not like Gore hasn’t noticed — and his frustration with Obama has been on display. He’s leveled criticism at Obama for abandoning the push for a climate change bill. He accused him of failing to use the bully pulpit to spread the word about the dangers of rising global temperatures. And he faulted Obama for putting off tough new smog regulations.

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Tonight is Bill Clinton’s much-anticipated speech to the Democratic National Convention, but as Politico noted this morning, a very high-profile member of Clinton’s administration will be missing his first convention since he left office: Al Gore.

Politico offers the reason–the country’s complete lack of interest in the global warming crusade–but gets the progression of Gore’s fading from the spotlight backwards. Politico writes:

Gore’s evolution over the past four years — from a central figure in the Democratic Party to a no-show at its biggest event — matches what has happened to the issue of climate change itself, which moved to the sidelines alongside its chief crusader, environmentalists and some Democrats say.

It’s not like Gore hasn’t noticed — and his frustration with Obama has been on display. He’s leveled criticism at Obama for abandoning the push for a climate change bill. He accused him of failing to use the bully pulpit to spread the word about the dangers of rising global temperatures. And he faulted Obama for putting off tough new smog regulations.

It’s true that as Gore’s discredited claims and hypocritical lifestyle were shoved aside by concerns about the economy, Gore’s presence in the media went with them. But Gore marginalized global warming as much as global warming marginalized him. And more specifically, had Gore been a well-rounded politician with a general grasp on a range of subjects who retained the admiration of his peers—as a vice president and almost-president should—he would never have disappeared from view.

Instead, Gore went from stolid but respected vice president to sidelined enviro-zealot building an invisible cable television station around Keith Olbermann (who has also since disappeared completely from view). That’s not a sad commentary on a supposedly indifferent public whistling past the polar bear graveyard; rather, it’s an indication that Gore gave up on serious public policy and has appropriately and expectedly lost the attention of the public because of it.

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Does Bill Clinton Want Obama to Win?

One of the risks in asking Bill Clinton for help, as Barack Obama is finding out this week, is that before he utters a word he dominates the conversation. The Democrats gather this week in Charlotte to renominate the first black president–who in some cases, like health care reform and the killing of Osama bin Laden—accomplished what Clinton famously failed to do. Yet no one wants to talk about Barack Obama—not the campaign surrogates who get asked whether voters are better off now than they were four years ago (they aren’t); not the party faithful wondering where hope and change went; and not the Democratic elected officials grumbling about the self-centered behavior of the president.

And not the media, either. Yesterday’s political talk shows and round tables seemed consumed by the Clinton-Obama dynamic—have you heard that a source told a source who told a reporter that Clinton told Ted Kennedy that Obama would have been carrying Bill and Ted’s bags just a few years before he had the audacity run for president against party royalty? Yes, you have heard. Everyone has, because no one will stop talking about it. It comes from Ryan Lizza’s comprehensive review of the relationship between the two men, which also offers a good window into how Clinton weighs using his powers of persuasion. (Clinton finally decided Obama’s election was worth supporting because with his wife as secretary of state he could fundraise the heck out of rich foreign donors for the Clinton Global Initiative. Welcome to the mind of Bill Clinton.)

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One of the risks in asking Bill Clinton for help, as Barack Obama is finding out this week, is that before he utters a word he dominates the conversation. The Democrats gather this week in Charlotte to renominate the first black president–who in some cases, like health care reform and the killing of Osama bin Laden—accomplished what Clinton famously failed to do. Yet no one wants to talk about Barack Obama—not the campaign surrogates who get asked whether voters are better off now than they were four years ago (they aren’t); not the party faithful wondering where hope and change went; and not the Democratic elected officials grumbling about the self-centered behavior of the president.

And not the media, either. Yesterday’s political talk shows and round tables seemed consumed by the Clinton-Obama dynamic—have you heard that a source told a source who told a reporter that Clinton told Ted Kennedy that Obama would have been carrying Bill and Ted’s bags just a few years before he had the audacity run for president against party royalty? Yes, you have heard. Everyone has, because no one will stop talking about it. It comes from Ryan Lizza’s comprehensive review of the relationship between the two men, which also offers a good window into how Clinton weighs using his powers of persuasion. (Clinton finally decided Obama’s election was worth supporting because with his wife as secretary of state he could fundraise the heck out of rich foreign donors for the Clinton Global Initiative. Welcome to the mind of Bill Clinton.)

But that nugget of information about the Global Initiative stands out to me far more than some of the other pieces of the story. And that’s in part because of what Jonathan wrote about earlier: the possibility that Obama may run again 2016 if he loses in November. Every guest and “expert” called upon to opine on Clinton’s motives took for granted the idea that Clinton does not want Obama to be reelected, and therefore his speech this week is intended to play scorpion to Obama’s frog.

But I’m not so sure. If Obama loses in November and decides not to run again in 2016, the path is basically cleared for Hillary Clinton. But if Obama loses and decides to run in 2016, it will almost surely herald the end of Hillary’s hopes for the presidency. Even if Obama loses in November and gives Hillary the shot in 2016, it would mean she would have to unseat a sitting president—far from impossible, but a challenge nonetheless.

So what’s the best possible scenario for Hillary Clinton? It might just be an Obama victory, and then a wide open race in 2016, cleared of serious primary opposition and without an incumbent to unseat. Now, this does not mean it would be easy. And it’s possible to envision a scenario in which beating an incumbent Romney, if he were unpopular, would be easier than if the Clintons—perpetual ambassadors to the past—tried to rise to the throne once more by beating some of the GOP’s young stars. And you could argue that expecting a party to win the White House three times in a row would be just as tough as beating an incumbent.

Additionally, if Hillary had to follow a two-term historic president the expectations would be higher and the failure, if she indeed failed, more acute. Bill’s own legacy would be left somewhat intact as well with an Obama loss. Nonetheless, mutual victory is almost certainly more desirable for the Clintons than mutual failure. Thus, Clinton may see more value in an Obama victory than pundits seem to think.

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What Bill Clinton Won’t Say

The most interesting part of the Obama campaign TV ad consisting solely of Bill Clinton speaking to the camera is what Clinton didn’t say. In the thirty-second spot, Clinton makes three comments: one about the Republican plan, one about Obama’s plan, and a third about his own administration. Taking the success of his own years in office as a given, Clinton then appears to offer co-ownership of his successful policies to Obama–at least that’s the intent of the ad.

First, what Clinton says about the Republicans:

This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.

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The most interesting part of the Obama campaign TV ad consisting solely of Bill Clinton speaking to the camera is what Clinton didn’t say. In the thirty-second spot, Clinton makes three comments: one about the Republican plan, one about Obama’s plan, and a third about his own administration. Taking the success of his own years in office as a given, Clinton then appears to offer co-ownership of his successful policies to Obama–at least that’s the intent of the ad.

First, what Clinton says about the Republicans:

This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.

Leave aside for now the fact that it most certainly was not what “got us in trouble in the first place.” Clinton tells us the wrong way of doing things: slashing taxes on business owners and cutting red tape. Next, what Obama offers us instead, according to Clinton:

President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education, and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class.

Here is the first omission. Clinton tells us the GOP’s plan, and then tells us that the Obama administration has a plan, though he seems unable to say what it is besides government spending. So which one gets the Clinton seal of approval? Obama’s:

That’s what happened when I was President. We need to keep going with his plan.

That’s a bit passive: “that’s what happened” versus “that’s what I did.” Why wouldn’t Clinton want, once and for all, to claim Obama’s plan is exactly what he did? Because it’s not, and because Clinton has always reveled in his reputation as a centrist, Third Way Democrat who signed welfare reform and–guess what?–cut taxes. As Jim Pethokoukis noted earlier this month, the really strong economic growth during Clinton’s administration took place during his second term, and coincided with:

– a big tax cut, lowering the top capital gains tax rate to 20% from 28%;

– a big surge in private investment, particularly in the software and business equipment category which contributed a full point to GDP during those years. Did the Clinton tax hikes cause that or was it a combo of the Internet Bubble, Year 2000 preparations, the cap gains cut, and the beginning of a computer networking and communications revolution?

As Pethokoukis admits, we cannot definitively credit the tax cuts with all the economic growth. But the mere fact that the growth was driven by massive private sector investment at the same time as Clinton cut taxes on investment tells us that Obama’s plan is manifestly not Clinton’s plan for economic growth.

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Don’t Blame the Networks

Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

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Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

Back then, they were deliberative political bodies where real issues were debated and voted upon while other, often even more important decisions, were decided in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms off the convention floor. The broadcasts of the conventions weren’t a civics lesson so much as they were a highly dramatic and colorful display of the political system at work. Though some parts could be excruciating, they were often dramatic. And like the NFL contest that many Americans will sensibly prefer to Bill Clinton next month, the outcome won’t have already been decided before the game begins.

The last national convention whose outcome was in doubt prior to its opening was in 1976 when incumbent President Gerald Ford narrowly fended off a challenge from Ronald Reagan and his resurgent conservative movement. Through some speculated about the possibility of a brokered Republican convention this year, that mouth-watering possibility for political junkies was no more likely to happen this year than it has any other presidential year for the last generation. The parties have created a nomination process that makes such an outcome unlikely if not impossible. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will ever have any interest in producing a good spectacle that will mean their side will be unable to prepare for the general election until September. Nor do they relish the political bloodletting and internecine warfare that a deliberative convention would bring.

So they give us what makes sense for them: a highly scripted television show in which the candidate picks all the speakers and dictates the contents of their speeches. Each convention is no more than a lengthy infomercial. Their only resemblance to the past when the nation would sit by their radios or televisions listening with bated breath as the roll call of states voting is the setting in an arena.

Under these circumstances, the parties are lucky that the broadcast networks still give them three free hours of coverage for each convention. Those addicted to politics can watch the cable news networks or C-Span.

It’s true that there was something to be said for the past when anyone with a television set was forced to watch gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. But most Americans now have hundreds of channels to choose from and are no longer dependent on three middle-aged liberal white guys to tell them what the news was at 6:30 each evening.

If the parties want more coverage of their conventions, they should give us something more interesting to watch. Since that is antithetical to their political fortunes, they should pipe down and get the staged charades over with as we head to the fall campaign. And anyone who wants to watch an interesting political convention can rent “The Best Man.”

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Obama’s Stealth Welfare Reform Rollback

It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

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It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

It should be expected that liberals will go all out to label the attack on Obama’s policy as racist. Like the attempt to depict the discussion about the lamentable rise in food stamp usage under this administration, the Democratic strategy will be to tar anyone who has the chutzpah to note the president’s effort to expand the welfare state as somehow prejudiced. But like the arguments claiming that point was a racist “dog whistle,” the defense of Obama’s gutting of welfare reform isn’t likely to persuade most voters.

Far from the critique of this rollback of reforms being racist, it is the liberal effort to take us back to the pre-Clinton era when welfare was a liberal sacred cow that is harmful to minorities. In 1965 then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his famous report on the way African-American families had been reduced to a state of permanent dependency by the welfare state. The Moynihan Report, which pointed out that well-intentioned government policies were recreating the evils of slavery, set off an important debate about the unintended consequences of liberal ideology. Moynihan discussed the issue in an article in COMMENTARY in February 1967. It would take decades for Americans to finally demand change, but common sense eventually prevailed in 1996 when a Republican Congress passed and a Democratic president signed the Welfare Reform Act.

While this issue will be seen as merely an attempt by the GOP to score points in the presidential race, it is actually far more serious than that. The bad economy makes it all the more important that the cycle of dependency not be restarted or expanded. With the press distracted by the presidential campaign and Congress immersed in partisan bickering about the deficit, President Obama was able to slip through an HHS directive that has destroyed the work that Moynihan began. The consequences of this stealthy move, if it is not reversed by either congressional action or a presidential reversal, are incalculable. While most of the focus on Obama’s liberal agenda has been on his expansion of federal power via his signature health care legislation, his decision to undo welfare reform may be just as significant an indication of his intent to restore failed liberal policies of the past. Romney is right to point this out. The question is, does the public understand just how important this issue will be in shaping our nation’s future?

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Convention Lineups: More Upside for GOP?

The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

This is a mix of rising stars (Martinez, Haley), popular party figures (Rice, McCain, Kasich), and the obvious home-stater (Scott). These are not the names conservatives are lining up to hear, though Huckabee should be considered an exception. The former Arkansas governor’s great talent has always been communication–just contrast the tone of coverage Huckabee tends to receive from the notoriously socially liberal press with that of Rick Santorum. As important as evangelicals are to GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, Huckabee could be an important campaign surrogate for a candidate many social conservatives are still unsure about.

Otherwise, the Democratic convention is the subject of far more chatter, and appropriately so. In addition to the high-profile role Bill Clinton will play, Politico has a story today examining the risk of giving Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a prime-time speech. Warren’s candidacy has been mired in controversy since news broke that Warren apparently listed herself as a minority to exploit quota hiring in academia by claiming Native American heritage she has been unable–and unwilling–to confirm.

Perhaps even more damaging, however, is that Warren popularized the “you didn’t build that” line of argument that was picked up by President Obama in an attempt to praise government that seemed to sneer at business owners. (Obama has said that his words were taken out of context, but arguably the worst part of his remarks were what came before the infamous lines, when he said, in a mocking tone: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.”)

Republicans will also luck out by the prominence–or lack thereof–given to potential Democratic presidential candidates for the 2016 cycle. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, expected to be a serious contender in four years, is practically avoiding the entire convention rather than use the free media as a launching pad. But it gets even better for Republicans: In what has to have GOP 2016 contenders practically giddy, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is still, amazingly enough, talking about running for president in 2016. He will have a speaking role at the convention, and is also chairing the rules committee.

O’Malley’s sensational inability to govern is by now legendary. He seems to have accepted his failures as well; he has pretty much stopped spending time in the state he governs. O’Malley (or O’Taxey, as Marylanders have taken to calling him) seems to be following California’s model of governing but, like Jon Corzine in New Jersey, hopes to be out of office when the state finally goes careening off the fiscal cliff (Corzine was defeated in time to save the state’s finances). The Republican convention will likely feature a prime-time speech from Chris Christie. If so, the contrast between the two parties’ ability to govern will be starkly in the GOP’s favor.

If O’Malley, Warren, and an impeached former president are the best the Democratic convention will have to offer, expect a lot more enthusiasm from conservatives when the GOP’s big names are finally announced this month.

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Clinton and Palestinian Culture: Not So Fast

Over at the Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta contrasts Mitt Romney’s opinion of Palestinian “culture” (or, rather, how the media interpreted his comments) with that of Bill Clinton. With a hat-tip to National Journal’s Matthew Cooper, who dug up the quote, Franke-Ruta publishes a comment Clinton made in a speech last year in Riyadh that would seem to put him at stark odds with Romney on their evaluations of Palestinian culture.

When I read the quote, I immediately recognized it: I once heard Clinton deliver the same line–only it was to a Jewish audience, and it was meant to make the opposite point he was making to the Saudis, a point that comports much more with what Romney said. (Classic Clinton there, by the way.) First, what Franke-Ruta quotes, via the Arab News:

He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have done a remarkable job in the West Bank. “It is just an example of what would happen for the Palestinian people if they are given a chance to govern,” Clinton said. “Palestinians are a hard-working and an incredible community. They have done remarkably well outside their country. I have never met a poor Palestinian in the United States; every Palestinian I know is a college professor or a doctor.”

The problem in Israel, he said, is what happens in multiparty democracies around the world. “If you take a poll today, two-thirds of Israelis will support peace and a peace agreement,” Clinton said. “However, it is hard to get an Israeli Parliament that reflects the people’s views on this one issue. But we all have to keep pushing.”

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Over at the Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta contrasts Mitt Romney’s opinion of Palestinian “culture” (or, rather, how the media interpreted his comments) with that of Bill Clinton. With a hat-tip to National Journal’s Matthew Cooper, who dug up the quote, Franke-Ruta publishes a comment Clinton made in a speech last year in Riyadh that would seem to put him at stark odds with Romney on their evaluations of Palestinian culture.

When I read the quote, I immediately recognized it: I once heard Clinton deliver the same line–only it was to a Jewish audience, and it was meant to make the opposite point he was making to the Saudis, a point that comports much more with what Romney said. (Classic Clinton there, by the way.) First, what Franke-Ruta quotes, via the Arab News:

He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have done a remarkable job in the West Bank. “It is just an example of what would happen for the Palestinian people if they are given a chance to govern,” Clinton said. “Palestinians are a hard-working and an incredible community. They have done remarkably well outside their country. I have never met a poor Palestinian in the United States; every Palestinian I know is a college professor or a doctor.”

The problem in Israel, he said, is what happens in multiparty democracies around the world. “If you take a poll today, two-thirds of Israelis will support peace and a peace agreement,” Clinton said. “However, it is hard to get an Israeli Parliament that reflects the people’s views on this one issue. But we all have to keep pushing.”

This was a clever rhetorical trick here. Clinton doesn’t say the problem is in Israel, he just switches immediately to the problem in Israel, leaving the impression this is Israel’s fault without explicitly saying so. (Also, his comment about Israelis being unable to elect a Knesset that shares the popular view on the peace process is nonsense; the Israelis have such a government now.)

That line about rich Palestinians in America made it easy to find my own account of Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish World Service in 2007. There, he made the same remark about all the Palestinian professors he knows, but then Clinton expressed his frustration that the Palestinians in Gaza possess some of the most beautiful beaches he’s ever seen, beaches that could be tourism cash cows, if only they could get their act together. He also noted that the Palestinians chose to destroy much of the infrastructure Israel left behind after the 2005 disengagement, rather than use it and build on it as free capital.

Their obsession with violence and warfare, he noted–not just against Israel but against each other as well–was destroying their development. Then he said this: “Those of us who are in a position to know better, and have the circumstantial freedom to do better, have a very real obligation to act on what we know.”

Now that is quite the condescending statement. Those of us who know better than the Palestinians–who have the resources and intelligence but, according to Clinton, not the cultural drive to prioritize economic development over retaliatory conflict–have a responsibility to take our values global to help others.

Clinton’s speech at that AJWS event, by the way, was flawless and universally well-received. Not a single objection during or after, as far as I can remember, was raised about the condescending manner in which Clinton spoke about Palestinian culture or the fact that he clearly laid the blame at the Palestinians’ own feet. Perhaps that’s because he was out of office. Or perhaps it’s because hypocrisy is the lifeblood of manufactured outrage, and the media’s response to Romney’s remarks contain a whole lot of both.

UPDATE: Turns out my old article on the event for a now-defunct Jewish newspaper was somehow still online. I’ve added the link to the story.

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Obama’s Excuses Are Getting Weaker

President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:

“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”

It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and  Clinton for all of his troubles.

As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.

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President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:

“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”

It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and  Clinton for all of his troubles.

As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.

Though the president preferred to take a “glass half full” approach to the jobs numbers, as the New York Times delicately described his rhetoric, Reich was more frank about Obama’s excuses. Far from the creation of 84,000 new jobs being a hopeful sign, the truth is very different:

Remember, 125,000 new jobs are needed just to keep up with the increase in the population of Americans who need jobs. That means the jobs situation continues to worsen.

After a good week in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision that led to more focus on Mitt Romney’s weaknesses, the jobs report brought the president back to the reality of a sinking economy that, as even Reich pointed out, he owns. The voters don’t care what he inherited. After four years, the Bush alibi, not to mention the swipe at Clinton, isn’t fooling anyone.

Reich also stated the obvious when he noted that Obama hasn’t any real ideas about dealing with the crisis. Even worse for the president — and the country whose fiscal affairs he is steering into the ditch — at this point the European debt crisis and China’s economic slowdown are likely to only make things a lot worse before they get better. Democrats may hope voters aren’t paying attention to the election and economic statistics until Labor Day, but by then the president’s goose as well as the economy may already be cooked.

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