Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Richardson

Is Famine Behind North Korea’s Latest Belligerence?

Earlier today North Korea released a barrage of unprovoked and unexpected insults toward the United States, declaring that the U.S. is the “archenemy of the Korean people.’’ The LA Times reports on the bellicose language used by the North Korean government meant to strike fear into the hearts of Americans: 

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement released by the official news service.

“Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words,” it said.

[Updated 10:46 a.m. Jan. 24: In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called North Korea’s statement “needlessly provocative,”  adding that a test would be a “significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Quietly today, another story emerged from North Korea that is in all probability related to these threats. RealClearWorld reported on the latest deadly “man-made” famine gripping the reclusive nation: 

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Earlier today North Korea released a barrage of unprovoked and unexpected insults toward the United States, declaring that the U.S. is the “archenemy of the Korean people.’’ The LA Times reports on the bellicose language used by the North Korean government meant to strike fear into the hearts of Americans: 

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement released by the official news service.

“Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words,” it said.

[Updated 10:46 a.m. Jan. 24: In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called North Korea’s statement “needlessly provocative,”  adding that a test would be a “significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Quietly today, another story emerged from North Korea that is in all probability related to these threats. RealClearWorld reported on the latest deadly “man-made” famine gripping the reclusive nation: 

“Ever since Kim Jong-un assumed the position of supreme leader, the media in North Korea and visiting foreigners have reported on the beautifully developing capital, Pyongyang. But in the shadow of the ‘gorgeous’ capital a hidden famine has broken out,” says Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asiapress in Osaka, a North Korean watchdog with numerous clandestine reporters throughout North Korea.

The dark secret behind all of this new capital glitz and glamour has been a raging famine in the two Hwanghae provinces, where by some estimates 20,000 people have died of starvation in South Hwanghae alone in the year since Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 and was succeeded by his son and heir, the 29-year-old Kim Jong-un.

The North Korean government is famous for its history of extortion in order to extract food and material aid from the West in exchange for suspensions of its nuclear program. In 1994 the government agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for $5 billion of fuel aid and nuclear reactors. In 1996, amid widespread reports of a massive famine, the government withdrew its agreement to the armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War and began sending troops to its border with South Korea. Two years later, as tensions continued to escalate, the UN decided to send food aid to the country still in the grips of famine following devastating floods. This pattern of violent escalation followed by food, fuel and nuclear aid has continued to the present day. Most recently, following a missile test over the spring, the U.S. decided to cancel its food aid, which could be a contributing factor in this most recent famine. 

Recently the daughter of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, decided to join an unofficial, and unsanctioned, trip to North Korea (which I discussed at the time). The contents of her blog entry about her visit were exactly what the North Koreans wanted outsiders to take away from the capital city: Sophie expressed her wonderment at the “oddly charming” nature of Pyongyang and described their accommodations as “luxury.” Sophie Schmidt, a graduate student and an admitted North Korean neophyte, was the perfect visitor in the North Koreans’ eyes; they believed that she would take the information presented at face value. To her credit, she acknowledged that was the case:

It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).    

Despite her minders’ best attempts to shape her impression of the country there were windows into the farcical nature of some of the encounters Sophie experienced, particularly upon entering a computer lab:

Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up.

One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  

Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home. When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.

This highly publicized trip by Eric Schmidt, his daughter and Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, was a staged attempt by the North Koreans to project an image of modernization and sophistication that has been reported by other recent and less high-profile visitors. Outside observers are unable to ascertain what exactly is taking place inside the most secretive nation in the world, especially considering tight border controls that have been instituted recently. It’s impossible to know if the reason Kim Jong-un clamped down on border traffic was in order to conceal the famine taking place inside his country. This latest threat seems to fit into the pattern of extortion that the North Koreans have perfected since at least the early ’90s, and if reports of famine are as serious as they appear, Kim Jong-un has an incentive to press for the resumption of food aid before thousands more perish. 

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Dangerous Idealism on North Korea

There’s something about North Korea that gives liberal idealists amnesia. They’re quick to believe that change is afoot, too willing to overlook the evidence that plainly shows that the regime is evil, beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the last week, there have been two instances of this amnesia, and unfortunately for those suffering under the regime, there’s no sign they will be the last.

After North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un gave his New Year’s address a week ago today, Western outlets described his remarks as an “olive branch to the South.” The New York Times said, “The most significant feature of Kim Jong-un’s speech was its marked departure of tone regarding South Korea.” I spoke with the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for Northeast Asia Bruce Klingner on Friday about the address and his response was less than enthusiastic about this supposed “about face.”

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There’s something about North Korea that gives liberal idealists amnesia. They’re quick to believe that change is afoot, too willing to overlook the evidence that plainly shows that the regime is evil, beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the last week, there have been two instances of this amnesia, and unfortunately for those suffering under the regime, there’s no sign they will be the last.

After North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un gave his New Year’s address a week ago today, Western outlets described his remarks as an “olive branch to the South.” The New York Times said, “The most significant feature of Kim Jong-un’s speech was its marked departure of tone regarding South Korea.” I spoke with the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for Northeast Asia Bruce Klingner on Friday about the address and his response was less than enthusiastic about this supposed “about face.”

Kim Jong-un’s speech was delivered on air, the first time that a New Year’s address has been delivered in this manner since his grandfather Kim Il-sung’s last address in 1994. After Kim Il-sung died, the speeches were delivered as an editorial and published in major state-approved newspapers in North Korea. While the method of delivery may have been different, the substance of the speech was nothing out of the ordinary for a dictatorship which has made a game out of fooling Western media into believing there may be change brewing in the famously closed-off totalitarian regime. In 2009 and 2010, many in the West clung to reports of a loosening of economic control or a toned down use of militaristic language. In both years, those hopes were dashed with several acts of aggression: rocket tests, the arrest of U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. While North Korea’s words may have signaled a change, their actions did not.

Many viewed Kim Jong-un’s speech as a departure from previous language, but Heritage’s Klingner pointed out that there were actually fewer references to “light industry” and other economic liberalization buzzwords than in previous years. This could be attributed to the abbreviated length of the remarks in comparison to printed versions in years past, though year after year, even in written form, there have been fewer references to what many hope are signals of a loosening of the economic stranglehold of the regime. The “notable” aspects of the speech, referring to the hope of reunification, also need to be viewed through the prism of North Korean propaganda. Reunification, in the eyes of the totalitarian regime, mean South Koreans finally giving up their opposition to joining their communist brothers in the North. For the North Koreans, reunification would mean an end to South Korean democracy and would destroy the economy it has built at remarkable speed and efficiency. Last week’s speech wasn’t the “olive branch” that many Western observers seem to believe, it was in fact the opposite.

This week’s news regarding North Korea isn’t any better for freedom-lovers. Former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson and Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, will be taking a trip, despite the State Department’s public disapproval of the visit. The Weekly Standard‘s Ethan Epstein reports that “Richardson has said that Schmidt is ‘interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect.’” The visit will no doubt be used by the North Koreans as a propaganda tool to legitimize the regime’s hold on power. CBS News reported Richardson’s take on why the visit was necessary at this time: “Asked whether the North Korean regime is beginning to change under new leader Kim Jong Un, Richardson vacillated: ‘There are mixed signals…the North Koreans unfortunately launched those missiles at a time that it appeared that the new leader, Kim Jong Un, was opening up.’” There were no such signals, and Richardson’s amnesia regarding the North Koreans’ past record of manipulation bodes poorly for the visit. 

Eric Schmitdt’s participation in the trip is particularly perplexing. In May 2008, Google hosted the only known North Korean gulag escapee, Dong-hyuk Shin and Adrian Hong, the then-executive director of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) for a visit to Google’s Tech Talks, an ongoing program for those in the technology community to share information. During the hour-long visit, Shin used Google Earth to pinpoint not only where the gulag he was raised was located, but was also able to zoom in close enough to show the buildings he worked and slept in. In 2009, the Wall Street Journal highlighted how one man created a program to uncover buildings and structures within the reclusive country using Google Earth satellites. If anyone in the world could and should know about the evil of North Korea without needing to visit, it is Schmidt. The Standard‘s Epstein quite rightly asks, “Why would the chairman of a company whose motto is ‘Don’t Be Evil,’ hobnob with a regime that embodies evil itself?” 

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A Bad Idea for GOP: Early Presidential Candidate Debates

Today, NBC and Politico announced they would co-host the first Republican presidential debate sometime in the spring of 2011. Presumably they are using the benchmark of April 2007, when the first Democratic debate for 2008 was held in South Carolina. There are so many ways in which this is a terrible idea for Republicans that it’s hard to count them, but here are a few:

1) An incentive for the lunatic fringe: An announcement like this lowers the barrier for entry to the race. Anybody looking for a little attention, or to get a chance to “go viral” with a snappy video-friendly performance highlighting a candidacy with no hope of ultimate success, might be able to get himself-herself into this thing. What if, just to take one bizarre possibility, the evil-crazy pseudo-pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas were to declare himself a candidate for the presidency in the Republican Party a week before the debate so that he could preach his “God hates fags” and “God wants veterans to die” gospel?

2) The panel of pygmies: It could well be, aside from the lunatic possibility, that not a single person who might actually win the nomination would be present on the stage. It would make sense in the new political atmosphere for serious potential candidates not to declare themselves early this cycle. It’s no longer necessary for fundraising; the only thing that speaks to the need for an early declaration is getting the right kind of staff on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the operatives in those states would themselves be wise to keep their options open for a while in 2011 rather than commit early. It’s true that the two eventual front-runners in the 2008 Democratic primary were on that stage in April 2007. But so were Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel (remember him? of course you don’t). Was the debate of any value to any Democrat seriously thinking about whom to vote for? Was it even of any use to any of the people on stage other than Kucinich and Gravel, who got a little boost from leftist throw-your-vote-away types?

3) Party mockery: The outlier effect would have a dual purpose for the organizations running it — first, the outliers will surely make some kind of news by being ridiculous in some fashion, and that, in turn, will help cast the Republican effort to make a serious run at Barack Obama in 2012 into something of a joke.

There’s nothing to be done about this. Politico and NBC will extend whatever invitations they extend, and candidates eager for any kind of attention will appear. But very little good can come of this.

Today, NBC and Politico announced they would co-host the first Republican presidential debate sometime in the spring of 2011. Presumably they are using the benchmark of April 2007, when the first Democratic debate for 2008 was held in South Carolina. There are so many ways in which this is a terrible idea for Republicans that it’s hard to count them, but here are a few:

1) An incentive for the lunatic fringe: An announcement like this lowers the barrier for entry to the race. Anybody looking for a little attention, or to get a chance to “go viral” with a snappy video-friendly performance highlighting a candidacy with no hope of ultimate success, might be able to get himself-herself into this thing. What if, just to take one bizarre possibility, the evil-crazy pseudo-pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas were to declare himself a candidate for the presidency in the Republican Party a week before the debate so that he could preach his “God hates fags” and “God wants veterans to die” gospel?

2) The panel of pygmies: It could well be, aside from the lunatic possibility, that not a single person who might actually win the nomination would be present on the stage. It would make sense in the new political atmosphere for serious potential candidates not to declare themselves early this cycle. It’s no longer necessary for fundraising; the only thing that speaks to the need for an early declaration is getting the right kind of staff on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the operatives in those states would themselves be wise to keep their options open for a while in 2011 rather than commit early. It’s true that the two eventual front-runners in the 2008 Democratic primary were on that stage in April 2007. But so were Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel (remember him? of course you don’t). Was the debate of any value to any Democrat seriously thinking about whom to vote for? Was it even of any use to any of the people on stage other than Kucinich and Gravel, who got a little boost from leftist throw-your-vote-away types?

3) Party mockery: The outlier effect would have a dual purpose for the organizations running it — first, the outliers will surely make some kind of news by being ridiculous in some fashion, and that, in turn, will help cast the Republican effort to make a serious run at Barack Obama in 2012 into something of a joke.

There’s nothing to be done about this. Politico and NBC will extend whatever invitations they extend, and candidates eager for any kind of attention will appear. But very little good can come of this.

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Democratic Governors Upset with Obama

Reading the headline “Democrats worried about Obama track record,” one is tempted to say, “They should be.” Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write:

Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama’s track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy.

“It’s got to be better thought out,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said. “It’s got to be more proactive.” And, he said, Democrats must hit back just as hard as they are hit by Republicans.

Eight months before the first midterm elections of Obama’s presidency, most Americans are frustrated with — even angered by — persistent unemployment and gridlock in Washington. Democrats fear voters will punish the party in power.

Nor do they buy Obama’s doubling-down strategy on health-care reform. (“Several Democratic colleagues agreed, and lamented that voters thought Obama focused too much on overhauling the U.S. health care system. Others fretted that Obama may appear to be out of touch with the concerns of Americans.”) Sidoti and Fournier detail a meeting between Democratic governors and Obama in which the former plead with Obama to get focused on the economy:

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas urged Obama to focus more on the economy and limit his actions on the health care system to changes that would bring down the cost of medical treatment in the United States. … While praising the White House’s communication’s efforts, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered this advice to Obama: “Rapidly decide what we’re doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy.” “We need a national economic strategy,” he added.

And not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama confidant, thinks much of the Obama communications strategy or the “tit for tat” battle to blame Republicans.

What’s remarkable is not only the widespread dismay with the president but also the willingness of these Democrats to make public their concerns. That tells us that the White House isn’t listening and isn’t receptive to their pleas. Maybe Obama will be more amenable after the November election.

Reading the headline “Democrats worried about Obama track record,” one is tempted to say, “They should be.” Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write:

Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama’s track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy.

“It’s got to be better thought out,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said. “It’s got to be more proactive.” And, he said, Democrats must hit back just as hard as they are hit by Republicans.

Eight months before the first midterm elections of Obama’s presidency, most Americans are frustrated with — even angered by — persistent unemployment and gridlock in Washington. Democrats fear voters will punish the party in power.

Nor do they buy Obama’s doubling-down strategy on health-care reform. (“Several Democratic colleagues agreed, and lamented that voters thought Obama focused too much on overhauling the U.S. health care system. Others fretted that Obama may appear to be out of touch with the concerns of Americans.”) Sidoti and Fournier detail a meeting between Democratic governors and Obama in which the former plead with Obama to get focused on the economy:

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas urged Obama to focus more on the economy and limit his actions on the health care system to changes that would bring down the cost of medical treatment in the United States. … While praising the White House’s communication’s efforts, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered this advice to Obama: “Rapidly decide what we’re doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy.” “We need a national economic strategy,” he added.

And not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama confidant, thinks much of the Obama communications strategy or the “tit for tat” battle to blame Republicans.

What’s remarkable is not only the widespread dismay with the president but also the willingness of these Democrats to make public their concerns. That tells us that the White House isn’t listening and isn’t receptive to their pleas. Maybe Obama will be more amenable after the November election.

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Is Anyone On Message Today?

Bill Richardson says don’t talk to Ahmadinejad but to”moderate clerics” and confesses he chatted with Castro (when? with what authority?). Apparently he is just as adept as a surrogate as he was a candidate.

Sidney Blumenthal says John McCain isn’t George W. Bush and don’t try to make him out to be. Whoops! Isn’t this the central argument for Barack Obama? But wait: if the game plan is not 2008 but The New Hillary for 2012, maybe he is on message.

Bill Richardson says don’t talk to Ahmadinejad but to”moderate clerics” and confesses he chatted with Castro (when? with what authority?). Apparently he is just as adept as a surrogate as he was a candidate.

Sidney Blumenthal says John McCain isn’t George W. Bush and don’t try to make him out to be. Whoops! Isn’t this the central argument for Barack Obama? But wait: if the game plan is not 2008 but The New Hillary for 2012, maybe he is on message.

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Taking His Sweet Time

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” When it comes to following Don Corleone’s sage advice, Barack Obama is a natural. Sure, he’s tight with Ted Kennedy and Bill Richardson, but they didn’t baptize his kids (like Jeremiah Wright), or advise him on foreign policy (like Robert Malley). Obama’s talent for cleaving to his political enemies is definitely a “change” from politics as usual. But is it change we can believe in?

The exit of Malley from Obama’s campaign is yet another instance in which the candidate who speaks of “the fierce urgency of now” addresses an immediate and obvious problem with the galling indifference of whenever. For at least six months, we’ve known that Robert Malley’s associates and his record of anti-Israel revisionism have no place in an American presidential campaign. But Obama, being Obama, could no sooner denounce his Arafat-embracing Middle East advisor than, say, not sell out his grandmother. Instead, the campaign shrugged the issue off by claiming Malley was not a “day-to-day” advisor.

Just as in the case of Jeremiah Wright, Obama tried to wish the whole thing away until the very source of the problem addressed him directly. Rev. Wright picked a fight with Obama, and Robert Malley called Obama up to cut ties. I’m not sure why Malley said that his own dealings with Hamas would be a “distraction,” when it’s doubtful Obama would have noticed.

Setting aside the ideological implications of Obama’s friendly enemies, why is no one alarmed by a Presidential nominee who, to quote another mob movie, has a habit of being late to his own funeral. Is Obama slow in analyzing crises because he’s carefully considering all the angles? Or because he can’t be bothered with any issue that distracts him from his historic destiny? He’ll answer the phone at 3 AM–only it’ll have been ringing since 3 in the afternoon.

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” When it comes to following Don Corleone’s sage advice, Barack Obama is a natural. Sure, he’s tight with Ted Kennedy and Bill Richardson, but they didn’t baptize his kids (like Jeremiah Wright), or advise him on foreign policy (like Robert Malley). Obama’s talent for cleaving to his political enemies is definitely a “change” from politics as usual. But is it change we can believe in?

The exit of Malley from Obama’s campaign is yet another instance in which the candidate who speaks of “the fierce urgency of now” addresses an immediate and obvious problem with the galling indifference of whenever. For at least six months, we’ve known that Robert Malley’s associates and his record of anti-Israel revisionism have no place in an American presidential campaign. But Obama, being Obama, could no sooner denounce his Arafat-embracing Middle East advisor than, say, not sell out his grandmother. Instead, the campaign shrugged the issue off by claiming Malley was not a “day-to-day” advisor.

Just as in the case of Jeremiah Wright, Obama tried to wish the whole thing away until the very source of the problem addressed him directly. Rev. Wright picked a fight with Obama, and Robert Malley called Obama up to cut ties. I’m not sure why Malley said that his own dealings with Hamas would be a “distraction,” when it’s doubtful Obama would have noticed.

Setting aside the ideological implications of Obama’s friendly enemies, why is no one alarmed by a Presidential nominee who, to quote another mob movie, has a habit of being late to his own funeral. Is Obama slow in analyzing crises because he’s carefully considering all the angles? Or because he can’t be bothered with any issue that distracts him from his historic destiny? He’ll answer the phone at 3 AM–only it’ll have been ringing since 3 in the afternoon.

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Meltdown

Barack Obama may have done poorly with working class and rural voters in Pennsylvania but he’s doing even worse these days among liberal pundits. This is from Bob Herbert:

However one views the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton – and however large the race issue looms in this election, and it looms large – there can be no denying that an awful lot of Mr. Obama’s troubles have come from his side of the table. The Rev. Wright fiasco undermined the fundamental rationale of the entire Obama campaign – that it would be about healing, about putting partisanship aside, about reaching across ethnic and party divisions to bring people together in a new era of cooperation. It’s hard to continue making that case when the candidate’s spiritual adviser is on television castigating America and scaring the hell out of at least some white people. Senator Obama did his best with his speech on race in Philadelphia, but the Wright story has extremely muscular legs. It has hurt the campaign far more than Mr. Obama’s comments about guns and religion in San Francisco. But more important than the Wright comments – and sundry gaffes by Mr. Obama himself, his wife, Michelle, and campaign aides – has been Senator Obama’s strange reluctance to fight harder in public for the nomination. He may feel he doesn’t need to, that he has the nomination wrapped up. But there is such a thing as being too cool.

Maureen Dowd (who has been on a tear lately, openly castigating Obama’s masculinity) now sees him limping away: “It used to be that he was incandescent and she [Hillary Clinton] was merely inveterate. Now she’s bristling with life force, and he looks like he wants to run away somewhere for three months by himself and smoke.” Eleanor Clift sees the handwriting on the wall- and fears some Clintonian retribution for the media which had been Obama’s stalwart cheering section:

I’m beginning to think Hillary Clinton might pull this off and wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama. If she does, a lot of folks—including a huge chunk of the media—will join Bill Richardson (a.k.a. Judas) in the Deep Freeze. If the Clintons get back into the White House, it will be retribution time, like the Corleone family consolidating power in “The Godfather,” where the watchword is, “It’s business, not personal.”

These bear the tell-tale signs of scorned lovers’ rants. Their once beloved candidate is now reviled, mocked and tossed overboard while they prepare for the possible return of their “ex” with all the unpleasantness that entails. And who is joining them?

Well, none other than Howard Dean, who until recently seemed to pursue strategies designed to either end the race early (Obama liked that) or to encourage delegates to respect the pledged delegate count (Obama really liked that). Yet Friday, for the first time, Dean uttered this: “I think the race is going to come down to the perception in the last six or eight races of who the best opponent for McCain will be. I do not think in the long run it will come down to the popular vote or anything else.”

So it may be that these people have something in common: none of them really wants to be on the wrong side when the Democratic race ends. Pundits hate to have guessed wrong–so far better to excoriate the candidate who they will insist was wonderful, but but messed up–and party leaders never want to be on the winner’s wrong side. So better to shuffle over to the Clinton cheering section, however distasteful that might seem. She, at least from listening to all these voices, now appears to be the odds on favorite.

Barack Obama may have done poorly with working class and rural voters in Pennsylvania but he’s doing even worse these days among liberal pundits. This is from Bob Herbert:

However one views the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton – and however large the race issue looms in this election, and it looms large – there can be no denying that an awful lot of Mr. Obama’s troubles have come from his side of the table. The Rev. Wright fiasco undermined the fundamental rationale of the entire Obama campaign – that it would be about healing, about putting partisanship aside, about reaching across ethnic and party divisions to bring people together in a new era of cooperation. It’s hard to continue making that case when the candidate’s spiritual adviser is on television castigating America and scaring the hell out of at least some white people. Senator Obama did his best with his speech on race in Philadelphia, but the Wright story has extremely muscular legs. It has hurt the campaign far more than Mr. Obama’s comments about guns and religion in San Francisco. But more important than the Wright comments – and sundry gaffes by Mr. Obama himself, his wife, Michelle, and campaign aides – has been Senator Obama’s strange reluctance to fight harder in public for the nomination. He may feel he doesn’t need to, that he has the nomination wrapped up. But there is such a thing as being too cool.

Maureen Dowd (who has been on a tear lately, openly castigating Obama’s masculinity) now sees him limping away: “It used to be that he was incandescent and she [Hillary Clinton] was merely inveterate. Now she’s bristling with life force, and he looks like he wants to run away somewhere for three months by himself and smoke.” Eleanor Clift sees the handwriting on the wall- and fears some Clintonian retribution for the media which had been Obama’s stalwart cheering section:

I’m beginning to think Hillary Clinton might pull this off and wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama. If she does, a lot of folks—including a huge chunk of the media—will join Bill Richardson (a.k.a. Judas) in the Deep Freeze. If the Clintons get back into the White House, it will be retribution time, like the Corleone family consolidating power in “The Godfather,” where the watchword is, “It’s business, not personal.”

These bear the tell-tale signs of scorned lovers’ rants. Their once beloved candidate is now reviled, mocked and tossed overboard while they prepare for the possible return of their “ex” with all the unpleasantness that entails. And who is joining them?

Well, none other than Howard Dean, who until recently seemed to pursue strategies designed to either end the race early (Obama liked that) or to encourage delegates to respect the pledged delegate count (Obama really liked that). Yet Friday, for the first time, Dean uttered this: “I think the race is going to come down to the perception in the last six or eight races of who the best opponent for McCain will be. I do not think in the long run it will come down to the popular vote or anything else.”

So it may be that these people have something in common: none of them really wants to be on the wrong side when the Democratic race ends. Pundits hate to have guessed wrong–so far better to excoriate the candidate who they will insist was wonderful, but but messed up–and party leaders never want to be on the winner’s wrong side. So better to shuffle over to the Clinton cheering section, however distasteful that might seem. She, at least from listening to all these voices, now appears to be the odds on favorite.

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Bill’s Blowing Hillary’s Superdelegate Chances

A piece on sfgate offers a telling glimpse of Clinton rage. Last weekend, Bill Clinton flew in from Chicago to California and schmoozed with superdelegates at a state convention. Mingling with the party elite, he was all grins and eye-bags until someone mentioned Hillary defector Bill Richardson:

Rachel Binah, a former Richardson delegate who now supports Hillary Clinton, told Bill how “sorry” she was to have heard former Clinton campaign manager James Carville call Richardson a “Judas” for backing Obama.

It was as if someone pulled the pin from a grenade.

“Five times to my face (Richardson) said that he would never do that,” a red-faced, finger-pointing Clinton erupted.

The former president then went on a tirade that ran from the media’s unfair treatment of Hillary to questions about the fairness of the votes in state caucuses that voted for Obama. It ended with him asking delegates to imagine what the reaction would be if Obama was trailing by just 1 percent and people were telling him to drop out.

Let’s be honest: if Obama was conclusively behind delegate-wise and in the popular vote (as Hillary is) the only question the media would be asking him is, “to what do you attribute your loss?” Yes, Obama has received a big fat pass from the press and they softball him at every turn. But the ongoing assumption that Hillary has some legitimate claim to her continued fight is sustained by little more than the Clinton phenomenon itself. And Bill and Hillary are only called out when their antics go so far beyond the pale as to slip into tabloid-land. Speaking of, here’s more from Bill’s blow-up.

It was very, very intense,” said one attendee. “Not at all like the Bill of earlier campaigns.”

When he finally wound down, Bill was asked what message he wanted the delegates to take away from the meeting.

At that point, a much calmer Clinton outlined his message of party unity.

“It was kind of strange later when he took the stage and told everyone to ‘chill out,’ ” one delegate told us.

“We couldn’t help but think he was also talking to himself.”

Isn’t he always. It’s called solipsism. The Clintons function in a world of their own. It’s what enables Bill to explode and then urge people to “chill out.” It’s what allows Hillary to recall a routine helicopter landing as a scene from Rambo. It’s what drives them to treat the desperately-needed superdelegates with the same contempt to which they subjected the regular Democratic electorate. With trademark class, Bill had someone else call Ms. Binah later in the day and apologize for him.

A piece on sfgate offers a telling glimpse of Clinton rage. Last weekend, Bill Clinton flew in from Chicago to California and schmoozed with superdelegates at a state convention. Mingling with the party elite, he was all grins and eye-bags until someone mentioned Hillary defector Bill Richardson:

Rachel Binah, a former Richardson delegate who now supports Hillary Clinton, told Bill how “sorry” she was to have heard former Clinton campaign manager James Carville call Richardson a “Judas” for backing Obama.

It was as if someone pulled the pin from a grenade.

“Five times to my face (Richardson) said that he would never do that,” a red-faced, finger-pointing Clinton erupted.

The former president then went on a tirade that ran from the media’s unfair treatment of Hillary to questions about the fairness of the votes in state caucuses that voted for Obama. It ended with him asking delegates to imagine what the reaction would be if Obama was trailing by just 1 percent and people were telling him to drop out.

Let’s be honest: if Obama was conclusively behind delegate-wise and in the popular vote (as Hillary is) the only question the media would be asking him is, “to what do you attribute your loss?” Yes, Obama has received a big fat pass from the press and they softball him at every turn. But the ongoing assumption that Hillary has some legitimate claim to her continued fight is sustained by little more than the Clinton phenomenon itself. And Bill and Hillary are only called out when their antics go so far beyond the pale as to slip into tabloid-land. Speaking of, here’s more from Bill’s blow-up.

It was very, very intense,” said one attendee. “Not at all like the Bill of earlier campaigns.”

When he finally wound down, Bill was asked what message he wanted the delegates to take away from the meeting.

At that point, a much calmer Clinton outlined his message of party unity.

“It was kind of strange later when he took the stage and told everyone to ‘chill out,’ ” one delegate told us.

“We couldn’t help but think he was also talking to himself.”

Isn’t he always. It’s called solipsism. The Clintons function in a world of their own. It’s what enables Bill to explode and then urge people to “chill out.” It’s what allows Hillary to recall a routine helicopter landing as a scene from Rambo. It’s what drives them to treat the desperately-needed superdelegates with the same contempt to which they subjected the regular Democratic electorate. With trademark class, Bill had someone else call Ms. Binah later in the day and apologize for him.

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Carville on Carville

Today’s Washington Post has a piece by James Carville, who defends his “Judas” comment about Gov. Bill Richardson. When Gov. Richardson, a longtime Clintonite, endorsed Barack Obama last week, Carville said:

Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic[.]

In defending his statement Carville claims it was silly that everyone called his words offensive and ugly (Bill O’Reilly was “appalled”.) I agree with Carville. There’s nothing “appalling” about speaking in extreme metaphors. All things considered, a dig with a learned biblical reference can hardly be said to have lowered the tone of this Democratic primary.

However, what is frightening, and what Carville fails to address, is the sentiment behind the comparison. Carville actually believes that Bill Richardson’s obligation to the Clintons should have trumped any policy considerations or party consequences. Being on board with the Clintons means you go down with the boat. Period.

What’s always been amusing is the juxtaposition between the intensity of those who adopt this code and the revulsion of those who do jump ship. Carville is a throwback – a Clinton true believer. And in a year when so many of the Clintons’ sullied Washington supporters have decided to take an “Obama shower,” in Dennis Miller’s coinage, Carville finds himself in a deep crisis.

There is no language strong enough to convey the outrage that comes when prophecy fails. But in this piece Carville did manage to strike that uniquely Clintonian note of hypocritical victimization:

Politics is a messy business, but campaigning prepares you for governing. It prepares you to get hit, stand strong and, if necessary, hit back. I’ve worked on enough campaigns to know that the most aggrieved candidate rarely emerges victorious. And for all of the hypersensitivity we’re seeing this cycle, this campaign has not been particularly negative or nasty compared with previous elections.

Well, it wasn’t Barack Obama who broke down crying during a spiel about the rigors of campaigning.

And if James Carville says the Clintons have not run a “particularly negative” campaign against Obama, we can only imagine what’s coming in the last futile lap.

Today’s Washington Post has a piece by James Carville, who defends his “Judas” comment about Gov. Bill Richardson. When Gov. Richardson, a longtime Clintonite, endorsed Barack Obama last week, Carville said:

Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic[.]

In defending his statement Carville claims it was silly that everyone called his words offensive and ugly (Bill O’Reilly was “appalled”.) I agree with Carville. There’s nothing “appalling” about speaking in extreme metaphors. All things considered, a dig with a learned biblical reference can hardly be said to have lowered the tone of this Democratic primary.

However, what is frightening, and what Carville fails to address, is the sentiment behind the comparison. Carville actually believes that Bill Richardson’s obligation to the Clintons should have trumped any policy considerations or party consequences. Being on board with the Clintons means you go down with the boat. Period.

What’s always been amusing is the juxtaposition between the intensity of those who adopt this code and the revulsion of those who do jump ship. Carville is a throwback – a Clinton true believer. And in a year when so many of the Clintons’ sullied Washington supporters have decided to take an “Obama shower,” in Dennis Miller’s coinage, Carville finds himself in a deep crisis.

There is no language strong enough to convey the outrage that comes when prophecy fails. But in this piece Carville did manage to strike that uniquely Clintonian note of hypocritical victimization:

Politics is a messy business, but campaigning prepares you for governing. It prepares you to get hit, stand strong and, if necessary, hit back. I’ve worked on enough campaigns to know that the most aggrieved candidate rarely emerges victorious. And for all of the hypersensitivity we’re seeing this cycle, this campaign has not been particularly negative or nasty compared with previous elections.

Well, it wasn’t Barack Obama who broke down crying during a spiel about the rigors of campaigning.

And if James Carville says the Clintons have not run a “particularly negative” campaign against Obama, we can only imagine what’s coming in the last futile lap.

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What Is Left To Say?

Bill Clinton is Joseph McCarthy and Bill Richardson is Judas. That’s what Democrats are saying about each other. If this goes on for a few more months there will be little more for John McCain and the RNC to add that hasn’t been said already about either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ( or their spouses, supporters or potential advisors).

Indeed, McCain is trying hard not to add too much, even going so far as to suspend an aide for a rather innocuous video replaying the already familiar Reverend Wright vitriol. While this may seem overly cautious or even odd, there is a rationale for his insistence on a high-road approach.

In the wake of the Wright controversy, McCain may have gone a long way toward solving his residual problem in unifying the Republican base. (After getting an earful of Wright’s hate speech and Obama’s excuse mongering, the GOP base will be plenty energized on McCain’s behalf if Obama is the nominee.) So McCain’s pitch on both syle and substance can be focused increasingly on independent voters who will determine the election’s outcome. It is these voters McCain is hoping to secure, in large part on the basis of his record of bipartisanship, but also with his insistence on a gentlemanly tone. He is banking that these voters cringe when they hear the ever more hostile rhetoric and over-the-top accusations flying between Democrats. He intends to look and sound presidential, and in particular sell independents on the notion that the entire Democratic primary is just the latest example of the rancor and animosity which these voters have come to dread. For now, it seems to be working as an ever larger segment of independents, according to polls, lean toward McCain. With some help from the Democrats’ continued hysterical accusations, McCain hopes to cement that relationship.

Bill Clinton is Joseph McCarthy and Bill Richardson is Judas. That’s what Democrats are saying about each other. If this goes on for a few more months there will be little more for John McCain and the RNC to add that hasn’t been said already about either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ( or their spouses, supporters or potential advisors).

Indeed, McCain is trying hard not to add too much, even going so far as to suspend an aide for a rather innocuous video replaying the already familiar Reverend Wright vitriol. While this may seem overly cautious or even odd, there is a rationale for his insistence on a high-road approach.

In the wake of the Wright controversy, McCain may have gone a long way toward solving his residual problem in unifying the Republican base. (After getting an earful of Wright’s hate speech and Obama’s excuse mongering, the GOP base will be plenty energized on McCain’s behalf if Obama is the nominee.) So McCain’s pitch on both syle and substance can be focused increasingly on independent voters who will determine the election’s outcome. It is these voters McCain is hoping to secure, in large part on the basis of his record of bipartisanship, but also with his insistence on a gentlemanly tone. He is banking that these voters cringe when they hear the ever more hostile rhetoric and over-the-top accusations flying between Democrats. He intends to look and sound presidential, and in particular sell independents on the notion that the entire Democratic primary is just the latest example of the rancor and animosity which these voters have come to dread. For now, it seems to be working as an ever larger segment of independents, according to polls, lean toward McCain. With some help from the Democrats’ continued hysterical accusations, McCain hopes to cement that relationship.

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False Equivalence

Only a media outlet devoted to soothing its liberal audience and rooting for Barack Obama could reach the conclusion that this past week was “a bad week for everyone.” Yeah, right. That conclusion may be more reassuring to people fretting over Obama’s recent travails, but it’s silly to declare that everyone had an equally tough time. (Ask John McCain whether that spike in his head-to-head poll numbers with both potential Democratic opponents left him despondent.)

Between Obama’s speech (which opened up more questions than answers and which, according to one poll, had a shockingly negative impact on voters, especially independents), the dig at his “typical white” grandmother, and his nose dive in general election and key state polls, it would be hard for an objective observer to conclude that this was anything but a really, really rotten week for Obama. But he got that Bill Richardson endorsement, you say. That would have been a 2 on the political Richter scale several weeks ago. Now it rates an announcement on Good Friday. Enough said.

The key issue is whether there are now a significant number of voters who simply will never vote for Obama. They may be Democratic primary voters, who could send the delegate balance sliding in Hillary Clinton’s favor. But they might be independent, Republican, or non-primary voting Democrats. Voters, that is, who might be less than forthcoming with pollsters, but won’t–after hearing Reverend Wright’s venom and Obama’s ineffective excuses–ever vote for Obama. Stunning as it may seem, the Democrats may have found a way to fritter away their 2008 election advantages.

Only a media outlet devoted to soothing its liberal audience and rooting for Barack Obama could reach the conclusion that this past week was “a bad week for everyone.” Yeah, right. That conclusion may be more reassuring to people fretting over Obama’s recent travails, but it’s silly to declare that everyone had an equally tough time. (Ask John McCain whether that spike in his head-to-head poll numbers with both potential Democratic opponents left him despondent.)

Between Obama’s speech (which opened up more questions than answers and which, according to one poll, had a shockingly negative impact on voters, especially independents), the dig at his “typical white” grandmother, and his nose dive in general election and key state polls, it would be hard for an objective observer to conclude that this was anything but a really, really rotten week for Obama. But he got that Bill Richardson endorsement, you say. That would have been a 2 on the political Richter scale several weeks ago. Now it rates an announcement on Good Friday. Enough said.

The key issue is whether there are now a significant number of voters who simply will never vote for Obama. They may be Democratic primary voters, who could send the delegate balance sliding in Hillary Clinton’s favor. But they might be independent, Republican, or non-primary voting Democrats. Voters, that is, who might be less than forthcoming with pollsters, but won’t–after hearing Reverend Wright’s venom and Obama’s ineffective excuses–ever vote for Obama. Stunning as it may seem, the Democrats may have found a way to fritter away their 2008 election advantages.

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A Bearded Bill Richardson

If you’ve been following the elections returns on MSNBC, you probably just saw a newly bearded Bill Richardson. Richardson’s beard brings to mind one previously sported by Al Gore shortly after he lost the 2000 presidential elections. Is this Richardson’s latest attempt to signal his desire to be Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential candidate?

Ok, probably not.

If you’ve been following the elections returns on MSNBC, you probably just saw a newly bearded Bill Richardson. Richardson’s beard brings to mind one previously sported by Al Gore shortly after he lost the 2000 presidential elections. Is this Richardson’s latest attempt to signal his desire to be Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential candidate?

Ok, probably not.

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How Long Before Gore Endorses Obama?

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

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IOWA: The Vanity Primary

Presumably, sometime in the next 48 hours, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd will take a deep drink of reality and drop out. They have not just failed to be competitive in any part of the race.  They have failed to bring no influence to the debate within their party. No one felt a need to respond to them or counter their arguments. Despite the buzz on some blogs, these candidates don’t have supporters of any decisive weight. For months Biden, Dodd, and others have sucked up air time on debates in what amount to a massive act of vanity and self-importance. Shouldn’t someone have had the decency to get out of the race last September?

Presumably, sometime in the next 48 hours, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd will take a deep drink of reality and drop out. They have not just failed to be competitive in any part of the race.  They have failed to bring no influence to the debate within their party. No one felt a need to respond to them or counter their arguments. Despite the buzz on some blogs, these candidates don’t have supporters of any decisive weight. For months Biden, Dodd, and others have sucked up air time on debates in what amount to a massive act of vanity and self-importance. Shouldn’t someone have had the decency to get out of the race last September?

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It’s Official: Bill Clinton’s Lost His Touch

The widening gyre that is the Hillary Clinton campaign is spinning into near-chaos, and once again, the Senator’s supposed ace-in-the-hole is lending his name to the cause.

Last night, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Bill Clinton grew red-faced and tense as he grasped to defend his wife. He complained that Senator Barack Obama has garnered media support, as if to suggest good press is the Clinton clan’s exclusive entitlement.

Clinton tried to be elusive about trashing Obama for his lack of experience, but the bitterness was front and center. A Youtube clip of the interview has Clinton saying: “It’s less predictable, isn’t it? I mean when is the last time we elected a President based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?”

He added that he gets “tickled” watching Obama on the stump. The urge to knock Obama led Clinton into strange territory for someone who’s been charged with campaigning for the New York Senator.

Charlie Rose: Is Joe Biden ready to be President?

Bill Clinton: Absolutely.

Senator Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson also earned his endorsement. In discussing the merits of John Edwards, Marc Ambinder reports Clinton as saying, “He is great, Edwards is really good . . .” and “It’s a miracle she’s got a chance to win [in Iowa].” Bill Clinton seems to have adopted “Anyone but Obama” as his slogan.

According to Ambinder: “Towards the end of the interview, Rose indicated that Clinton’s staff was asking producers in his show’s control room to get them to have Rose end the interview.” With all the Bill Clinton-Barack Obama comparisons floating around, perhaps the former President is getting a fresh look into his own past, and not liking what he sees.

The widening gyre that is the Hillary Clinton campaign is spinning into near-chaos, and once again, the Senator’s supposed ace-in-the-hole is lending his name to the cause.

Last night, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Bill Clinton grew red-faced and tense as he grasped to defend his wife. He complained that Senator Barack Obama has garnered media support, as if to suggest good press is the Clinton clan’s exclusive entitlement.

Clinton tried to be elusive about trashing Obama for his lack of experience, but the bitterness was front and center. A Youtube clip of the interview has Clinton saying: “It’s less predictable, isn’t it? I mean when is the last time we elected a President based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?”

He added that he gets “tickled” watching Obama on the stump. The urge to knock Obama led Clinton into strange territory for someone who’s been charged with campaigning for the New York Senator.

Charlie Rose: Is Joe Biden ready to be President?

Bill Clinton: Absolutely.

Senator Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson also earned his endorsement. In discussing the merits of John Edwards, Marc Ambinder reports Clinton as saying, “He is great, Edwards is really good . . .” and “It’s a miracle she’s got a chance to win [in Iowa].” Bill Clinton seems to have adopted “Anyone but Obama” as his slogan.

According to Ambinder: “Towards the end of the interview, Rose indicated that Clinton’s staff was asking producers in his show’s control room to get them to have Rose end the interview.” With all the Bill Clinton-Barack Obama comparisons floating around, perhaps the former President is getting a fresh look into his own past, and not liking what he sees.

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Hillary’s “No”

The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

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The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

Clinton’s definitive “no” took her partly off the general election hook. But with nearly 80 percent of voters opposing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, her party, as represented by Obama and Bill Richardson, is still in the hot seat on this issue. Led by liberal Democrats, seventeen states have opposed a national standard for driver’s licenses. (In eight of these states, licenses are already being issued to undocumented workers.) This has led Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac Poll to analogize that, like affirmative action for racial minorities—an issue that badly damaged the Democrats in the 1970’s and 1980’s—today’s immigration issue has split the party’s working class supporters from its liberal activists. And as with affirmative action, liberal activists are quick to deride their opponents as racists.

Brown is right about the broad similarities. But there are also significant differences. Affirmative action and racial quotas pitted middle- and lower-middle-class white male Democrats against African-Americans and liberal activists. But on immigration, the remaining white working-class Democrats are aligned with most African-American voters, who are often those most directly in competition with low cost illegal immigrant labor. And this tension can only be exacerbated by the reality of black downward mobility. According to a new study from the Economic Mobility Project, “children of black parents earning in the middle 20 percent of all families in the late 1960′s had a 69 percent chance of earning less than their parents, the study found. For white children, that chance was just 32 percent.”

Hillary may have dodged a bullet for now, but the internal Democratic party debate on undocumented workers has only begun.

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The Politics of the Playground

Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

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Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always like this for the Democrats. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic Senator and, like Richardson, a United Nations ambassador, had no trouble calling authoritarians “names.” He famously called Idi Amin a “racist murderer” (which was actually letting the Ugandan strongman off lightly). Richardson’s mode of thinking represents a deep-seated and long-held belief on the Left: that America’s enemies have legitimate grievances and that every problem in the world ultimately can be laid at our feet. According to Richardson, it is not the Iranian regime’s killing of American soldiers, construction of a nuclear program, or decades-long international terrorism that is the root problem in our relationship with Tehran, but the United States’s “name calling.” We’re antagonizing “racist murderers” and “terrorists” by “calling them names,” and if we just cut it out Osama bin Laden would call off the jihad.

This is what many believed during the cold war: that the United States was “antagonizing” the Soviet Union with our calls for democracy and the funding of anti-Communist elements abroad. In this light, worldwide Soviet expansionism (violent and non-consensual) was an understandable reaction against the West’s “bellicosity.” It was on this basis that the muscular foreign policies of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Democrats both, were denounced by fringes on both the Right and Left.

While once a minority viewpoint, this aversion to the mere act of calling our enemies what they in fact are—terrorists or Islamic fascists—is a form of self-hatred that now reigns in the Democratic Party. Those Democrats who are serious about the threats America faces would do well to ensure that such self-hatred stays out of the White House.

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Bill Richardson’s Remarkable Plan to Disarm Iran

Bill Richardson is not among the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. But he is notable for having more foreign-policy experience than the leading three: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. He served as UN ambassador from 1997 to 1998 and then went on to head the Department of Energy, where he dealt not only with the problems posed by OPEC and our dependence on imported oil, but also with the dependability and security of America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.

With a two-theater war under way, and the menace of Iran’s nuclear program looming over the horizon, is Richardson worth a second look? Is he made of presidential timber, or perhaps vice-presidential timber?

We got a glimpse of him this past weekend on Face the Nation, where Bob Schieffer questioned him on what to do about Iran.

Richardson was adamant that he would not have invited the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University and is “glad we didn’t let him go to Ground Zero.” He expressed determination to stop Iranian interference with the American war effort in Iraq: “We cannot have them, obviously, continue helping the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards in Iraq.” And he is also determined to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring the most fearsome weapon known to man: “we cannot have Iran have nuclear weapons.”

This is tough talk. What are Richardson’s means for realizing these laudable objectives? The way to accomplish them, he told Schieffer, “perhaps is a carrot-and-stick policy.”

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Bill Richardson is not among the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. But he is notable for having more foreign-policy experience than the leading three: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. He served as UN ambassador from 1997 to 1998 and then went on to head the Department of Energy, where he dealt not only with the problems posed by OPEC and our dependence on imported oil, but also with the dependability and security of America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.

With a two-theater war under way, and the menace of Iran’s nuclear program looming over the horizon, is Richardson worth a second look? Is he made of presidential timber, or perhaps vice-presidential timber?

We got a glimpse of him this past weekend on Face the Nation, where Bob Schieffer questioned him on what to do about Iran.

Richardson was adamant that he would not have invited the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University and is “glad we didn’t let him go to Ground Zero.” He expressed determination to stop Iranian interference with the American war effort in Iraq: “We cannot have them, obviously, continue helping the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards in Iraq.” And he is also determined to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring the most fearsome weapon known to man: “we cannot have Iran have nuclear weapons.”

This is tough talk. What are Richardson’s means for realizing these laudable objectives? The way to accomplish them, he told Schieffer, “perhaps is a carrot-and-stick policy.”

“Perhaps” a carrot-and-stick policy? Was the tentativeness revealed here just a verbal slip? To answer that, it helps to know just what are Richardson’s carrots and what are his sticks.

To begin with carrot number one, Richardson would not have voted–“as I regret Senator Clinton did”–for a Senate resolution designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorists. “This was provocative. It didn’t need to happen.”

Carrot number two would be to cease “calling [the Iranians] names” and “labeling them terrorists,” which is “just making the situation worse and enflaming the Muslim world.”

Carrot number three would be to rule out a military strike against the facilities housing Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Such a move, said Richardson, would be

enormously unwise, because it would strengthen the hard-liners in Iran like Ahmadinejad. It would embolden those elements in Iran that want to provoke a war against the United States. It would further inflame the Muslim world that is already very strongly against us as we’re trying to resolve the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It would be a disastrous event.

Carrot number four would be to “engage Iran,” something that has to be done with tact. Thus, “I would go around Ahmadinejad. . . . I would go to the moderate Islamic clerics. I would talk to students. I would talk to university professors, business leaders. Forty percent of the vote in Iran in that last presidential election went to a moderate candidate.” Richardson was referring here to the ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who won 35 percent of the vote in a run-off in 2005, has been implicated as an organizer of Iranian terrorism abroad, and is known as one of the fathers of the Iranian nuclear-weapons effort. (It is true that, by comparison with Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani was indeed the moderate candidate.)

Carrot number five is to help Iran transform its atomic weapons into a peaceful energy program: “we can work with them to develop a civilian nuclear-fuel cycle, perhaps with the Russians.”

Carrot number six would be to withdraw all American forces from neighboring Iraq within eight months of assuming office and then invite Iran to take part in a “reconciliation effort” that would involve an “all-Muslim peacekeeping force headed by the UN.”

Now for Richardson’s sticks. There is none. If this man is presidential or vice-presidential timber, we are talking of balsa wood.

To watch the tough-talking Richardson in action, click below.

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Condoms in Peoria

On the television program, the Gong Show, any of the three judges could sound a large gong if one of the acts being rehearsed by amateur performers was particularly poor. At this past Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was asked a simple question: “Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?” His answer: “It’s a choice!”

Wrong answer! No one sounded a gong, but given the ensuing raised eyebrows, the ensuing criticism, the ensuing Richardson campaign “clarification,” and the ensuing Richardson excuse—“jet lag”—one should have been.

Read More

On the television program, the Gong Show, any of the three judges could sound a large gong if one of the acts being rehearsed by amateur performers was particularly poor. At this past Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was asked a simple question: “Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?” His answer: “It’s a choice!”

Wrong answer! No one sounded a gong, but given the ensuing raised eyebrows, the ensuing criticism, the ensuing Richardson campaign “clarification,” and the ensuing Richardson excuse—“jet lag”—one should have been.

One needs a careful map to walk through the minefield of interest-group politics within the Democratic party. According to gay-rights theology, if homosexuality is seen as a choice, that could weaken the case for equal rights. As Jonathan Capehart sardonically notes in today’s Washington Post, “the forum’s organizers hoped to get the candidates to show their concern for the gay and lesbian community and to see whether their understanding emanated from their consultant-generated talking points or from their hearts. Clearly, Richardson’s head needed some work.”

Richardson is not the only Democratic candidate struggling to get out in front of sexual issues. Whether their sound-bites are emanating from hearts or minds or consultants, they are all engaging in contortions, some of them comical, to say the correct thing.

At a “Presidential Forum” at Howard University in June, Senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama, perhaps competing to be superior role models, both boasted about how they had been tested for AIDS. Biden won the contest by adding: “I spent last summer going through the black sections of my town holding rallies in parks, trying to get black men to understand that it’s not unmanly to wear a condom.”

One can’t help wondering how this sort of sexual politics might play out, not just in the Democratic debates and primaries, but afterward, in the general election. Bill Clinton was hardly the first President to engage in sex in the White House with someone other than his wife. But he was unquestionably the first to put the subject under the spotlight for years on end. Is his legacy now continuing to unfold?

Most Americans, it is safe to say, are deeply interested in sex. But are they also interested in hearing about it from presidential candidates on a daily basis? How, one wonders, will this brand of political exhibitionism play in Peoria?

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