Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill O’Reilly

Bill O’Reilly Versus Stephen Colbert

Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly is often the target of Stephen Colbert’s humor–and lately, Colbert’s jabs have begun to sting.

Mr. O’Reilly, clearly angry at Colbert, seems to have become somewhat consumed by him as well. For example, on a recent program O’Reilly referred to Colbert as a “deceiver,” an “ideological fanatic” who is “misguided in the extreme” and “clueless” but “the guy does damage.” He “gives cover to powerful people who are selling Americans a big lie.”

Subtle.

But it didn’t stop there. When it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year, O’Reilly weighed in against his nemesis again, saying, “Colbert has built an entire career on pleasing the left.” O’Reilly said Colbert will have difficulty going up against “high energy guys who want to have a good time on their shows” (NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel).

“It’d be hard to imagine that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert and that’s a lot of folks to lose from the jump,” O’Reilly said. “But Colbert will have good writers and surely he knows his challenge. Place your bets now.”

Appearing on ABC’s The View, O’Reilly said Colbert is a “mouthpiece for the far left,” a person who “snipes” and makes “these little snarky remarks.”

A few thoughts on all this, the first of which is that I’m not sure Mr. O’Reilly does himself any favors in going after Colbert. Virtually every time he does, Colbert takes O’Reilly’s attacks and milks them for all they’re worth. He is playing right into the trap set for him by Colbert.

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Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly is often the target of Stephen Colbert’s humor–and lately, Colbert’s jabs have begun to sting.

Mr. O’Reilly, clearly angry at Colbert, seems to have become somewhat consumed by him as well. For example, on a recent program O’Reilly referred to Colbert as a “deceiver,” an “ideological fanatic” who is “misguided in the extreme” and “clueless” but “the guy does damage.” He “gives cover to powerful people who are selling Americans a big lie.”

Subtle.

But it didn’t stop there. When it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year, O’Reilly weighed in against his nemesis again, saying, “Colbert has built an entire career on pleasing the left.” O’Reilly said Colbert will have difficulty going up against “high energy guys who want to have a good time on their shows” (NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel).

“It’d be hard to imagine that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert and that’s a lot of folks to lose from the jump,” O’Reilly said. “But Colbert will have good writers and surely he knows his challenge. Place your bets now.”

Appearing on ABC’s The View, O’Reilly said Colbert is a “mouthpiece for the far left,” a person who “snipes” and makes “these little snarky remarks.”

A few thoughts on all this, the first of which is that I’m not sure Mr. O’Reilly does himself any favors in going after Colbert. Virtually every time he does, Colbert takes O’Reilly’s attacks and milks them for all they’re worth. He is playing right into the trap set for him by Colbert.

Second, this fairly good-natured 2007 interview between Colbert and O’Reilly is useful to this extent: Colbert isn’t any more or less of an “ideological fanatic,” “deceiver” or “mouthpiece for the left” now than he was then. Colbert’s shtick hasn’t changed, but O’Reilly’s irritation with Colbert clearly has. One can’t help but think what’s driving this now is more personal rather than philosophical.

Third, Colbert is a comedian–one with a liberal slant for sure, but still a comedian. And so for O’Reilly to treat Colbert as if his comedy is secondary to his ideological agenda is, I think, a mistake. Remember, Colbert’s character is a satire of O’Reilly. The character was created in order to get laughs, which it does.

Which brings me to my fourth point. I’m more conservative than Mr. O’Reilly, but I’m also a fan of both Colbert and Jon Stewart. Not because I agree with their politics. Not because I think their caricature of conservatives is fair. (You’d never know from them that Fox News features far and away the best news show on the air in the form of Special Report w/Bret Baier.) And not because I don’t think from time to time they might act in ways that are bothersome and reveal their core (liberal) convictions.

No, I’m a fan because Stewart and Colbert are masters at comedy, with Stewart, I think, the best there is. (Stewart is also an excellent interviewer.) So they’re liberal comedians for sure–but the fact that they’re liberal doesn’t mean they aren’t funny or clever. Or that they don’t at times expose conservative weaknesses or hypocrisies. I tend toward the view that even conservatives should be able to appreciate their professional excellence.

One final point: When Colbert takes over for Letterman, he’s going to set aside his ultra-conservative Colbert Report character. I therefore doubt Colbert will be seen as all that politically partisan in his future role. We’ll see.

Bill O’Reilly is a talented person; there’s no way he could have dominated cable television for so many years unless he was. He can show an admirable independence and he’s often well informed. But he strikes me as a person with a tremendous ego, even by the standards of television personalities, and quite sensitive to criticism. The latter shows up now and again, but never more so than in his recent battles with Stephen Colbert. And in these battles–with O’Reilly attempting to bludgeon Colbert as if he were a combination of Paul Krugman and Howard Dean while Colbert responds with humor and mockery–Colbert almost always comes out on top.

Papa Bear needs to relax a bit.  

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Immigration Debate Goes Off the Rails

It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

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It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

Fortunately, not every skeptic on the right is insensible to what is going on here. Last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly endorsed the reform package. As O’Reilly noted, reform of a failed system is just “the right thing to do” about a difficult problem. He’s right to note that the bill is complicated and will take a long time to implement. But it also provides the only possible solution to the situation. The bill’s critics seem to prefer an unworkable status quo simply because they are horrified by the idea that many of those here illegally will be provided with a difficult path to citizenship. They keep talking about “amnesty” for illegals, but that is no argument against reform since if the bill fails, the 11 million undocumented residents of this country will still be here.

But O’Reilly is not being joined by many of the other leading conservative talkers. Laura Ingraham immediately answered O’Reilly on his own program. She seemed to be saying that conservatives should be working to stop anything that President Obama and many Democrats supported. Like Ingraham, Sean Hannity, another Fox host, just doesn’t trust the government and considers GOP supporters of the bill to be “suckers.” Ann Coulter, who appeared on his show last night, mocked the idea that 20,000 new border patrolmen, the fence and other measures would do any good, leading me back to the notion I expressed a couple of days ago that perhaps only the construction of a Game of Thrones-style 700-foot-tall ice wall to stop both job seekers and zombies would impress her. Perhaps such a wall will be created after, as she proposed, a Republican-controlled Senate without Marco Rubio is elected.

What we’ve heard in the last two days proves the Journal was right. This argument has never really been about border security. It’s about the reluctance of some people to face up to reality about immigration, which has always been a net plus for the American economy and will be again if this plan is put into motion. There is no rational or fair solution to the question of what to do with the 11 million illegals here other than to offer them a way to become citizens. So long as this is paired with a serious effort to prevent more illegals from coming, objections boil down to an unthinking distrust of government or an unwholesome dislike of immigration, per se. Such sentiment is nothing new in American political history. It is as old as the hills and should be rejected as it has been in the past. Those on the right who pander to these sentiments or who fear splitting the party or doing anything that might create more Hispanic voters in the future are doing themselves and the Republican Party no service. 

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Note to Bill O’Reilly, RE: Jon Stewart — Quit While You’re Behind

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is engaged in a television duel with Bill O’Reilly. It started with Stewart taking Fox News, including Bill O’Reilly, to task for periodically invoking the Nazi analogy. O’Reilly fired back, saying Stewart had taken O’Reilly’s comments out of context. Last night Stewart answered O’Reilly.

Out of this back and forth emerge a few things. First, let’s agree to do away with Nazi analogies unless extraordinary circumstances (like, say, genocide) demand it. Using it as often as people do is offensive and weakens rather than strengthens an argument. Second, don’t use anonymous (and disgusting) Web comments to make broad, sweeping characterizations. And third, don’t debate Jon Stewart unless you have a really strong argument on your side.

Though he’s a political liberal, I enjoy Jon Stewart. On a nightly basis, he demonstrates that he’s America’s best satirist, smart, well-informed, and formidable. If Bill O’Reilly is wise, he’ll quit while he’s behind. (h/t: Mediaite.com)

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is engaged in a television duel with Bill O’Reilly. It started with Stewart taking Fox News, including Bill O’Reilly, to task for periodically invoking the Nazi analogy. O’Reilly fired back, saying Stewart had taken O’Reilly’s comments out of context. Last night Stewart answered O’Reilly.

Out of this back and forth emerge a few things. First, let’s agree to do away with Nazi analogies unless extraordinary circumstances (like, say, genocide) demand it. Using it as often as people do is offensive and weakens rather than strengthens an argument. Second, don’t use anonymous (and disgusting) Web comments to make broad, sweeping characterizations. And third, don’t debate Jon Stewart unless you have a really strong argument on your side.

Though he’s a political liberal, I enjoy Jon Stewart. On a nightly basis, he demonstrates that he’s America’s best satirist, smart, well-informed, and formidable. If Bill O’Reilly is wise, he’ll quit while he’s behind. (h/t: Mediaite.com)

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Campbell’s Al-Arian Letter Surfaces

During Friday’s Republican Senate debate, Tom Campbell defended his receipt of campaign funds from Sami Al-Arian as well as the letter Campbell wrote in defense of Al-Arian, after the latter was fired by the University of South Florida. In the debate Campbell claimed the letter was written before Al-Arian’s controversial appearance on the Bill O’Reilly program. But that claim seems to be false and a new round of controversy has begun.

The letter that Campbell wrote on January 22, 2002, in support of Sami Al-Arian, who had been fired by the University of South Florida (and who pleaded guilty in 2006 to terrorism charges), is now circulating. Contrary to Campbell’s protestations, according to which there was nothing generally known about Al-Arian at the time (He said in the debate: “There is one other point to be raised, and that is that he was a professor, and he was terminated from his position at the University of South Florida before any of this evidence came out”), by 2000 much was known of Al-Arian’s activities. However, that did not dissuade Campbell from taking campaign money from him for his race that year, or — in 2002 — from sending a letter defending Al-Arian. He wrote in January 2002:

During my time in Congress, I served, inter alia, on the International Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee.  In those capacities, I came to know of the practice of using secret evidence against non-citizens in keeping them in detention even when they were not a security risk to the United States, and even when they were not soon to be deported.  I introduced legislation to stop this practice, and worked hard to achieve that end.  In this effort, I came to know Professor Sami Al-Arian, whose brother-in-law had been subjected to this practice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wish you to know that, after we came to know each other, Professor Al-Arian helped me raise funds for my campaign for U.S. Senate, an effort which, nevertheless, did not succeed.

Moreover, contrary to his statement in the debate, Campbell conceded in the letter that he was aware of Al-Arian’s 2001 appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show: “I read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn, and I did not see anything whereby Professor Al-Arian attempted to claim he was representing the views of the University of South Florida.” So let the professor keep his spot, Campbell argued, because he wasn’t saying all those awful things as a representative of the university.

The O’Reilly interview from the fall of 2001 is an eye-opener. This sequence is especially instructive:

O’REILLY: In — in 1988, you did a little speaking engagement in Cleveland, and you were quoted as saying, “Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until victory. Rolling to Jerusalem.” Did you say that?

AL-ARIAN: Let me just put it into context. When resident Bush talked about crusade, we understand what he meant here. The Muslim world thought he is going to carry a cross and go invade the Muslim world and turn them into Christians. We have to understand the context. When you say “Death to Israel,” you mean death to occupation, death to apartheid, death to oppression, death to…

O’REILLY: But not death to any human being?

AL-ARIAN: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: No.

AL-ARIAN: Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: All right. So now what we have here is you saying death to Israel. You’re bringing a guy over here who gets paid by the good citizens of Florida and then goes back and becomes one of the lieutenants or generals of the Islamic jihad, but you don’t know nothing about it. Another guy sets up an interview with Osama bin Laden for ABC, and you don know anything about that.

You know, Doctor, it looks to me like there’s something wrong down there at the University of South Florida. Am I getting — am I getting the wrong impression here?

AL-ARIAN: You’re getting completely wrong impression because you can pick and choose and interpret it, you know, different ways.

The fact of the matter is we have been involved in intellectual-type activity. We brought dozens of people. All of them are intellectual type.  You’re going to get the apple — a bad apple or two, but that — if you focus on them, you get one conclusion.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve been investigated by the FBI for many years…

O’REILLY: Correct.

AL-ARIAN: …and there has been no wrongdoing whatsoever even suggested.

So this was the man from whom Campbell accepted funds and for whose sake he went out of his way to plead with the university that he be kept on staff. It seems as though Campbell never met an Israel-bashing, Islamic jihadist who raised any concerns, even after 9/11.

The Carly Fiorina campaign is calling for Campbell to correct the record and change his website: “Tom Campbell has refused to release this letter despite repeated calls for him to do so. Now we know why. The content of the letter itself, and the date on which it was written reveal that what Tom Campbell told voters in Friday’s debate about his relationship with Al-Arian—and just as importantly, what he knew about him at the time—is quite simply false.” A Fiorina aide goes further, telling me: “Tom Campbell flat out lied in the debate about what he knew and when he knew it, and he flat out lies on his new Campbell ‘facts’ website — it’s so brazen you have to wonder he’s convinced himself that he doesn’t have a terrorism problem.”

Suffice it to say, we are off to the races on this latest revelation.

UPDATE: Chuck DeVore’s Communications Director has chimed in with a statement including this: “We’ve known from the start that Tom Campbell has a problematic past with Islamist radicals, and this just fills in some details. What’s troubling is that two of the three Republicans running for US Senate in California this year have a troubling history in this regard. While Campbell was a darling of the anti-Israel set, Carly Fiorina was presiding over illegal technology transfers to Iran, and delivering paeans to Islamic civilization while the fires at the World Trade Center were still smoldering.” Fiorina has denied any illegal technology transfers occured to Iran during her tenure at Hewlett Packard.

During Friday’s Republican Senate debate, Tom Campbell defended his receipt of campaign funds from Sami Al-Arian as well as the letter Campbell wrote in defense of Al-Arian, after the latter was fired by the University of South Florida. In the debate Campbell claimed the letter was written before Al-Arian’s controversial appearance on the Bill O’Reilly program. But that claim seems to be false and a new round of controversy has begun.

The letter that Campbell wrote on January 22, 2002, in support of Sami Al-Arian, who had been fired by the University of South Florida (and who pleaded guilty in 2006 to terrorism charges), is now circulating. Contrary to Campbell’s protestations, according to which there was nothing generally known about Al-Arian at the time (He said in the debate: “There is one other point to be raised, and that is that he was a professor, and he was terminated from his position at the University of South Florida before any of this evidence came out”), by 2000 much was known of Al-Arian’s activities. However, that did not dissuade Campbell from taking campaign money from him for his race that year, or — in 2002 — from sending a letter defending Al-Arian. He wrote in January 2002:

During my time in Congress, I served, inter alia, on the International Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee.  In those capacities, I came to know of the practice of using secret evidence against non-citizens in keeping them in detention even when they were not a security risk to the United States, and even when they were not soon to be deported.  I introduced legislation to stop this practice, and worked hard to achieve that end.  In this effort, I came to know Professor Sami Al-Arian, whose brother-in-law had been subjected to this practice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wish you to know that, after we came to know each other, Professor Al-Arian helped me raise funds for my campaign for U.S. Senate, an effort which, nevertheless, did not succeed.

Moreover, contrary to his statement in the debate, Campbell conceded in the letter that he was aware of Al-Arian’s 2001 appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show: “I read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn, and I did not see anything whereby Professor Al-Arian attempted to claim he was representing the views of the University of South Florida.” So let the professor keep his spot, Campbell argued, because he wasn’t saying all those awful things as a representative of the university.

The O’Reilly interview from the fall of 2001 is an eye-opener. This sequence is especially instructive:

O’REILLY: In — in 1988, you did a little speaking engagement in Cleveland, and you were quoted as saying, “Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until victory. Rolling to Jerusalem.” Did you say that?

AL-ARIAN: Let me just put it into context. When resident Bush talked about crusade, we understand what he meant here. The Muslim world thought he is going to carry a cross and go invade the Muslim world and turn them into Christians. We have to understand the context. When you say “Death to Israel,” you mean death to occupation, death to apartheid, death to oppression, death to…

O’REILLY: But not death to any human being?

AL-ARIAN: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: No.

AL-ARIAN: Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: All right. So now what we have here is you saying death to Israel. You’re bringing a guy over here who gets paid by the good citizens of Florida and then goes back and becomes one of the lieutenants or generals of the Islamic jihad, but you don’t know nothing about it. Another guy sets up an interview with Osama bin Laden for ABC, and you don know anything about that.

You know, Doctor, it looks to me like there’s something wrong down there at the University of South Florida. Am I getting — am I getting the wrong impression here?

AL-ARIAN: You’re getting completely wrong impression because you can pick and choose and interpret it, you know, different ways.

The fact of the matter is we have been involved in intellectual-type activity. We brought dozens of people. All of them are intellectual type.  You’re going to get the apple — a bad apple or two, but that — if you focus on them, you get one conclusion.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve been investigated by the FBI for many years…

O’REILLY: Correct.

AL-ARIAN: …and there has been no wrongdoing whatsoever even suggested.

So this was the man from whom Campbell accepted funds and for whose sake he went out of his way to plead with the university that he be kept on staff. It seems as though Campbell never met an Israel-bashing, Islamic jihadist who raised any concerns, even after 9/11.

The Carly Fiorina campaign is calling for Campbell to correct the record and change his website: “Tom Campbell has refused to release this letter despite repeated calls for him to do so. Now we know why. The content of the letter itself, and the date on which it was written reveal that what Tom Campbell told voters in Friday’s debate about his relationship with Al-Arian—and just as importantly, what he knew about him at the time—is quite simply false.” A Fiorina aide goes further, telling me: “Tom Campbell flat out lied in the debate about what he knew and when he knew it, and he flat out lies on his new Campbell ‘facts’ website — it’s so brazen you have to wonder he’s convinced himself that he doesn’t have a terrorism problem.”

Suffice it to say, we are off to the races on this latest revelation.

UPDATE: Chuck DeVore’s Communications Director has chimed in with a statement including this: “We’ve known from the start that Tom Campbell has a problematic past with Islamist radicals, and this just fills in some details. What’s troubling is that two of the three Republicans running for US Senate in California this year have a troubling history in this regard. While Campbell was a darling of the anti-Israel set, Carly Fiorina was presiding over illegal technology transfers to Iran, and delivering paeans to Islamic civilization while the fires at the World Trade Center were still smoldering.” Fiorina has denied any illegal technology transfers occured to Iran during her tenure at Hewlett Packard.

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“I will never allow a second Holocaust.”

John McCain uttered those words in the second half of his interview with Bill O’Reilly on Friday. The subject was whether McCain would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran. Although McCain provided the usual caveats that he would need to know the circumstances and would not respond hypothetically, his remark (which he repeated a few moments later), expressed the stakes in a way few politicians do. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama, who after all wants to meet with Ahmadinedjad, saying anything similar. After all “it wouldn’t be helpful.”

On the topic of Iraq, McCain restated his position that a precipitous withdrawal would result in chaos and genocide and would inevitably require that we re-enter at greater cost. McCain was asked how he’ll avoid be tagged as Bush’s twin. He reeled off a list of issues – climate change, management of the war, and spending – on which he differed with Bush. But then he evidenced a recognition ( or was it a hope?) that the real issue for voters would be about what type of change they want going forward.

McCain in a one-on-one interview setting displays the feisty combativeness that helped gain him his “maverick” label. But he also displays on topics dear to him a fluency and command of detail. He’ll need that, not only in foreign policy, if he’ll convince the voters that he’s not the clueless, indifferent caricature of a Republican whom the Obama camp is making him out to be.

John McCain uttered those words in the second half of his interview with Bill O’Reilly on Friday. The subject was whether McCain would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran. Although McCain provided the usual caveats that he would need to know the circumstances and would not respond hypothetically, his remark (which he repeated a few moments later), expressed the stakes in a way few politicians do. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama, who after all wants to meet with Ahmadinedjad, saying anything similar. After all “it wouldn’t be helpful.”

On the topic of Iraq, McCain restated his position that a precipitous withdrawal would result in chaos and genocide and would inevitably require that we re-enter at greater cost. McCain was asked how he’ll avoid be tagged as Bush’s twin. He reeled off a list of issues – climate change, management of the war, and spending – on which he differed with Bush. But then he evidenced a recognition ( or was it a hope?) that the real issue for voters would be about what type of change they want going forward.

McCain in a one-on-one interview setting displays the feisty combativeness that helped gain him his “maverick” label. But he also displays on topics dear to him a fluency and command of detail. He’ll need that, not only in foreign policy, if he’ll convince the voters that he’s not the clueless, indifferent caricature of a Republican whom the Obama camp is making him out to be.

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Here Are A Couple of Differences

In a primary race where the differences between the two candidates are sometimes hard to discern, there were two vivid ones on display Sunday morning as Barack Obama did Meet the Press and Hillary Clinton did This Week in a town hall setting in Indiana. The first is temperamental. As she was with Bill O’Reilly, Clinton was funny, cracking jokes (this time about Rush Limbaugh), and looking and sounding like she is having fun. Barack Obama, as John points out, was dour, humorless, and emotionally remote. She was supposedly the one with the harsh and cold personality when this campaign started. Somewhere along the way things changed.

Second, their foreign policy perspectives are markedly different. From his point of view, threatening Iran is “George Bush foreign policy.” From hers, it’s making clear to our most menacing adversary that we mean business. Yes, they have merged views on Iraq (if you take them at their word), but the similarity ends there. She’s not exactly Scoop Jackson. But he is George McGovern (he 1970′s McGovern, not the more conservative one we have now). And this is a classic Democratic dilemma: McGovernites tend to prevail in primaries and Jacksonians in general elections.

In a primary race where the differences between the two candidates are sometimes hard to discern, there were two vivid ones on display Sunday morning as Barack Obama did Meet the Press and Hillary Clinton did This Week in a town hall setting in Indiana. The first is temperamental. As she was with Bill O’Reilly, Clinton was funny, cracking jokes (this time about Rush Limbaugh), and looking and sounding like she is having fun. Barack Obama, as John points out, was dour, humorless, and emotionally remote. She was supposedly the one with the harsh and cold personality when this campaign started. Somewhere along the way things changed.

Second, their foreign policy perspectives are markedly different. From his point of view, threatening Iran is “George Bush foreign policy.” From hers, it’s making clear to our most menacing adversary that we mean business. Yes, they have merged views on Iraq (if you take them at their word), but the similarity ends there. She’s not exactly Scoop Jackson. But he is George McGovern (he 1970′s McGovern, not the more conservative one we have now). And this is a classic Democratic dilemma: McGovernites tend to prevail in primaries and Jacksonians in general elections.

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Hillary’s Iraq

It’s important to consider Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on Iraq in the larger context of her Iraq rhetoric over the past five years. There’s a widely held contention among Republicans that, while Hillary may be disastrous on any number of issues, she understands what’s at stake in America’s fight against terrorism. All her withdrawal talk, so this theory goes, is nothing but an attempt to pander to Democratic voters. Compared to Barack Obama, Hillary “at least” knows that we need to fight.

But is Hillary genuinely against pressing on in Iraq or is she privately for it? The biggest challenge in answering this comes from the premise of the question itself. It assumes Hillary has a conviction about the war one way or the other. From her statements about Iraq, it’s plain as day she’s merely trying to negotiate the shifting waves of public opinion–not to act in accordance with principle.

Before Hillary signed on to the “George Bush’s war” movement, she was among the most outspoken proponents of forceful regime change in Iraq. The public support for the war was overwhelming, and Hillary wasn’t about to stand in opposition.

Hillary often talks about how her vote to support the war was the hardest decision she’s ever had to make. But in truth she didn’t even read the 2003 NIE (suspect as it was) challenging the administration’s assertions about Saddam and WMD. In the run-up to the war Hillary said

It is clear . . . that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.

And on Iraq’s terrorist ties: “Saddam has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

When public opinion started to sour, Hillary dutifully followed. She started her (still-ongoing) campaign of double-talk meant to court public favor while leaving open the possibility of attaching herself to a future victory in Iraq. In late 2005, she said that we couldn’t withdraw immediately and we couldn’t stay forever. Not exactly the conviction of two years earlier. In time, that fifty-fifty split tipped with the further decline in public support for Iraq, so that by June of 2007 the whole bloody mess was “George Bush’s war.”

But just as she had decided that a full disowning of the war was in order, it became clear that the troop surge started to show some real results. Moreover, there was a correlative renewal of public confidence, and Hillary had to respond. In one of her most ridiculous attempts to walk back in from the ledge, she declared in August of 2007:

It’s working. We’re just years too late in our tactics . . . We can’t be fighting the last war. We have to keep preparing to fight the new war. . . I think the best way of honoring [U.S. troops'] service is bringing them home.

So, we’re winning–but the timing is off. And it was: Hillary’s renunciation was to supposed to coincide with defeat. The preposterous disconnect between her rhetoric and reality grew out of the fact that Hillary was reading trends, while the military had been trying to beat the enemy.

Now, the surge has not only continued to root out and kill the enemies of a free Iraq, but genuine political progress is being made. Still murky on how this will play out in the court of public opinion, Hillary wants to have it both ways. Last night, in her interview with Bill O’Reilly, she said

I believe that our military has fulfilled all their military missions . . .There’s no doubt in my mind. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, which they were asked to do. They gave the Iraqis free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the space and time to make the decisions that only the Iraqis can make for themselves . . . There is no military solution to what we face in Iraq, which is unprecedented. It is dangerous, it is unstable.

Mission, umm, fulfilled? This is more rhetorical sleight-of-hand intended to gloss over the chasm between what is really happening in Iraq and what Hillary thinks she needs to claim is happening. In this last move, Hillary has gone from saying “we can win, but why bother,” to “we have won, but so what?” There is nothing reassuring about her failed articulations on Iraq. She doesn’t believe in the war and she doesn’t not believe in the war. She practices a weather-vane national security approach. “At least” Obama is for troop withdrawal. He’s wrong. But he’s made a decision.

It’s important to consider Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on Iraq in the larger context of her Iraq rhetoric over the past five years. There’s a widely held contention among Republicans that, while Hillary may be disastrous on any number of issues, she understands what’s at stake in America’s fight against terrorism. All her withdrawal talk, so this theory goes, is nothing but an attempt to pander to Democratic voters. Compared to Barack Obama, Hillary “at least” knows that we need to fight.

But is Hillary genuinely against pressing on in Iraq or is she privately for it? The biggest challenge in answering this comes from the premise of the question itself. It assumes Hillary has a conviction about the war one way or the other. From her statements about Iraq, it’s plain as day she’s merely trying to negotiate the shifting waves of public opinion–not to act in accordance with principle.

Before Hillary signed on to the “George Bush’s war” movement, she was among the most outspoken proponents of forceful regime change in Iraq. The public support for the war was overwhelming, and Hillary wasn’t about to stand in opposition.

Hillary often talks about how her vote to support the war was the hardest decision she’s ever had to make. But in truth she didn’t even read the 2003 NIE (suspect as it was) challenging the administration’s assertions about Saddam and WMD. In the run-up to the war Hillary said

It is clear . . . that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.

And on Iraq’s terrorist ties: “Saddam has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

When public opinion started to sour, Hillary dutifully followed. She started her (still-ongoing) campaign of double-talk meant to court public favor while leaving open the possibility of attaching herself to a future victory in Iraq. In late 2005, she said that we couldn’t withdraw immediately and we couldn’t stay forever. Not exactly the conviction of two years earlier. In time, that fifty-fifty split tipped with the further decline in public support for Iraq, so that by June of 2007 the whole bloody mess was “George Bush’s war.”

But just as she had decided that a full disowning of the war was in order, it became clear that the troop surge started to show some real results. Moreover, there was a correlative renewal of public confidence, and Hillary had to respond. In one of her most ridiculous attempts to walk back in from the ledge, she declared in August of 2007:

It’s working. We’re just years too late in our tactics . . . We can’t be fighting the last war. We have to keep preparing to fight the new war. . . I think the best way of honoring [U.S. troops'] service is bringing them home.

So, we’re winning–but the timing is off. And it was: Hillary’s renunciation was to supposed to coincide with defeat. The preposterous disconnect between her rhetoric and reality grew out of the fact that Hillary was reading trends, while the military had been trying to beat the enemy.

Now, the surge has not only continued to root out and kill the enemies of a free Iraq, but genuine political progress is being made. Still murky on how this will play out in the court of public opinion, Hillary wants to have it both ways. Last night, in her interview with Bill O’Reilly, she said

I believe that our military has fulfilled all their military missions . . .There’s no doubt in my mind. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, which they were asked to do. They gave the Iraqis free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the space and time to make the decisions that only the Iraqis can make for themselves . . . There is no military solution to what we face in Iraq, which is unprecedented. It is dangerous, it is unstable.

Mission, umm, fulfilled? This is more rhetorical sleight-of-hand intended to gloss over the chasm between what is really happening in Iraq and what Hillary thinks she needs to claim is happening. In this last move, Hillary has gone from saying “we can win, but why bother,” to “we have won, but so what?” There is nothing reassuring about her failed articulations on Iraq. She doesn’t believe in the war and she doesn’t not believe in the war. She practices a weather-vane national security approach. “At least” Obama is for troop withdrawal. He’s wrong. But he’s made a decision.

Read Less

But What About Those Terrorist Camps?

In the second half of her interview with Bill O’Reilly, airing tonight, Hillary Clinton claims there’s nothing left for the U.S. military to do in Iraq:

First of all, I believe that our military has fulfilled all their military missions . . .There’s no doubt in my mind. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, which they were asked to do. They gave the Iraqis free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the space and time to make the decisions that only the Iraqis can make for themselves . . . There is no military solution to what we face in Iraq, which is unprecedented. It is dangerous, it is unstable.

Well, some might argue that it’s Iraq’s very instability that requires our commitment to staying on and helping. One might even put it this way:

It will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war, if it becomes a failed state the way Afghanistan was, where terrorists are free to basically set up camp and launch attacks against us.

In fact someone did put it that way: Hillary Clinton. That was her argument against troop withdrawal in late 2005. It’s now 2008, and Iraq is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was then. If she couldn’t justify risking a failed Iraq when things felt truly hopeless, how can she be so dismissive of it now?

Back then, she was concerned about giving Iraqis “an open-ended invitation not to take care of themselves.” It was a good point, and luckily, Iraq didn’t consider our presence as such an invitation. The Sunni Awakening, political reconciliation, and Maliki’s fight against the Sadrists are all clear indications that Iraqis are indeed taking care of themselves.

But we also know that they’re doing it with our help. Maliki successfully routed Mahdi militias out of Basra with the assistance of the U.S. military. That this victory directly led to the country’s largest Sunni bloc coming back into Iraq’s government is a crystalline example of how American force continues to help move Iraq toward viable statehood.

Hillary clearly has no problem contradicting her own weighty proclamations. But in flip-flopping on this one she reveals an unsettling indifference toward a struggling ally.

In the second half of her interview with Bill O’Reilly, airing tonight, Hillary Clinton claims there’s nothing left for the U.S. military to do in Iraq:

First of all, I believe that our military has fulfilled all their military missions . . .There’s no doubt in my mind. They got rid of Saddam Hussein, which they were asked to do. They gave the Iraqis free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the space and time to make the decisions that only the Iraqis can make for themselves . . . There is no military solution to what we face in Iraq, which is unprecedented. It is dangerous, it is unstable.

Well, some might argue that it’s Iraq’s very instability that requires our commitment to staying on and helping. One might even put it this way:

It will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war, if it becomes a failed state the way Afghanistan was, where terrorists are free to basically set up camp and launch attacks against us.

In fact someone did put it that way: Hillary Clinton. That was her argument against troop withdrawal in late 2005. It’s now 2008, and Iraq is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was then. If she couldn’t justify risking a failed Iraq when things felt truly hopeless, how can she be so dismissive of it now?

Back then, she was concerned about giving Iraqis “an open-ended invitation not to take care of themselves.” It was a good point, and luckily, Iraq didn’t consider our presence as such an invitation. The Sunni Awakening, political reconciliation, and Maliki’s fight against the Sadrists are all clear indications that Iraqis are indeed taking care of themselves.

But we also know that they’re doing it with our help. Maliki successfully routed Mahdi militias out of Basra with the assistance of the U.S. military. That this victory directly led to the country’s largest Sunni bloc coming back into Iraq’s government is a crystalline example of how American force continues to help move Iraq toward viable statehood.

Hillary clearly has no problem contradicting her own weighty proclamations. But in flip-flopping on this one she reveals an unsettling indifference toward a struggling ally.

Read Less




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