Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Edwards

Edwards Verdict Averts Miscarriage of Justice

To their credit, the jury in the John Edwards trial wasn’t bamboozled by the federal effort to treat the former presidential candidate’s personal misconduct as a federal crime. Nor did they validate the government’s effort to expand the scope of election finance laws by treating any expenditure relating to a candidate as being a campaign contribution. After a week of deliberations following a long trial and a confusing charge from the judge, Edwards was acquitted on one charge, and the jury were deadlocked on the other five counts. A mistrial was declared on the unresolved issues, meaning the Justice Department could return to the federal court in North Carolina to try Edwards again. But after an expensive and time-consuming flop, the U.S. Attorney should take the hint. It’s time to end the government’s attempt to jail the unpopular former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

Like the high profile trials of people like Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and the ongoing prosecution of Roger Clemens, Edwards was singled out because he is famous, rich and extremely disliked by the general public. Edwards’ personal misbehavior made him one of the most loathsome people in the country. But there was no justification for putting him on trial for lying to his now-deceased wife and the country about his affair and fathering an illegitimate child with a campaign videographer. As unjustified as the first attempt to use the campaign finance laws to punish him was, a second bite of the apple would be outrageous.

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To their credit, the jury in the John Edwards trial wasn’t bamboozled by the federal effort to treat the former presidential candidate’s personal misconduct as a federal crime. Nor did they validate the government’s effort to expand the scope of election finance laws by treating any expenditure relating to a candidate as being a campaign contribution. After a week of deliberations following a long trial and a confusing charge from the judge, Edwards was acquitted on one charge, and the jury were deadlocked on the other five counts. A mistrial was declared on the unresolved issues, meaning the Justice Department could return to the federal court in North Carolina to try Edwards again. But after an expensive and time-consuming flop, the U.S. Attorney should take the hint. It’s time to end the government’s attempt to jail the unpopular former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

Like the high profile trials of people like Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and the ongoing prosecution of Roger Clemens, Edwards was singled out because he is famous, rich and extremely disliked by the general public. Edwards’ personal misbehavior made him one of the most loathsome people in the country. But there was no justification for putting him on trial for lying to his now-deceased wife and the country about his affair and fathering an illegitimate child with a campaign videographer. As unjustified as the first attempt to use the campaign finance laws to punish him was, a second bite of the apple would be outrageous.

As I previously noted, there was a broader principle at stake in this trial than just whether Edwards would be further humiliated for his disgraceful conduct. Had the government succeeded in getting a judge and jury to agree that gifts from friends that were used to try and cover up his affair were campaign contributions, it would have opened up every politician in the country to prosecution on virtually any financial transaction while they were running for office. It may be, as some have pointed out, that the courts’ legalization of independent advocacy groups under the Citizens United decision would have provided a venue for what Edwards’ friends did in 2008. But a guilty verdict would still have validated a power grab to the government that could have made a great deal of political mischief in the hands of partisan prosecutors.

Having been beaten in court, the prosecutors should give up on this ill-considered celebrity scalp hunt and move on to trying real criminals. Edwards deserves to be treated as a pariah, but had he been convicted, it would have been a massive miscarriage of justice. Though we have often had reason to ponder the wisdom of jury trials, in this case the system appears to have worked.

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Edwards Show Trial Perverts Justice

As I wrote before the federal trial of John Edwards on campaign finance violation charges began, the former Democratic senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate is an easy person to dislike. No doubt many, if not most Americans, think a federal prison camp is too easy a punishment for a pompous, vain gasbag who publicly cheated on a much-admired wife while she was dying of cancer. But being a loathsome scoundrel is not a federal offense. Then again neither are the deeds for which federal prosecutors seek to have him jailed.

This truth was brought home today in court when the judge ruled the defense couldn’t present as a witness a former head of the Federal Elections Commission who was prepared to testify that Edwards’s actions that are alleged by the government to be crimes, were, in fact, not violations of the law. In spite of the inexplicable decision to exclude that rather pertinent piece of evidence, the defense was able to present the testimony of the chief financial officer of his campaign, who pointed out that the FEC actually approved the records submitted by his 2008 presidential effort. That renders the prosecutors’ attempt to claim the failure to report the money a prominent supporter donated to help cover up his affair was a crime a legal absurdity. The day’s events make it more clear than ever what is going on in this case is not just a typical example of prosecutorial overreach in which the government seeks to make an example of an unpopular rich person. Rather, it is an unprincipled and dangerous attempt to extend the reach of an already ambiguous set of laws in order to criminalize campaign donations.

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As I wrote before the federal trial of John Edwards on campaign finance violation charges began, the former Democratic senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate is an easy person to dislike. No doubt many, if not most Americans, think a federal prison camp is too easy a punishment for a pompous, vain gasbag who publicly cheated on a much-admired wife while she was dying of cancer. But being a loathsome scoundrel is not a federal offense. Then again neither are the deeds for which federal prosecutors seek to have him jailed.

This truth was brought home today in court when the judge ruled the defense couldn’t present as a witness a former head of the Federal Elections Commission who was prepared to testify that Edwards’s actions that are alleged by the government to be crimes, were, in fact, not violations of the law. In spite of the inexplicable decision to exclude that rather pertinent piece of evidence, the defense was able to present the testimony of the chief financial officer of his campaign, who pointed out that the FEC actually approved the records submitted by his 2008 presidential effort. That renders the prosecutors’ attempt to claim the failure to report the money a prominent supporter donated to help cover up his affair was a crime a legal absurdity. The day’s events make it more clear than ever what is going on in this case is not just a typical example of prosecutorial overreach in which the government seeks to make an example of an unpopular rich person. Rather, it is an unprincipled and dangerous attempt to extend the reach of an already ambiguous set of laws in order to criminalize campaign donations.

The government seems to think that by treating any money spent on behalf of a presidential candidate as a reportable donation it can establish a broad legal precedent. Though few would weep if Edwards were jailed because of the money spent to hush up his tawdry personal scandals, if this is a crime, then virtually anything done with or on behalf of a candidate even if it is not spent on campaign expenses can be treated as a donation and therefore be regulated. Were the courts to let them get away with this sleight of hand legal maneuver, it would be a huge power grab on the part of the federal government. It would give U.S. attorneys and their masters at the Justice Department the ability to trump up prosecutions against any politician they didn’t like, including those who are not quite as hard to like as John Edwards.

This cannot be allowed to happen. What is going on in that courtroom is nothing less than a show trial with potentially dangerous consequences for not only politicians but also the free speech rights of Americans to express political opinions that are financed by contributions. We already knew the movement to enact increasingly onerous and confusing campaign finance laws was a blight on our democracy. But the effort to criminalize John Edwards’s peccadilloes is particularly perilous for the future of fair elections.

Unfortunately, the trial judge in this case may have bought into the elastic logic that is the foundation of the government’s case. We can only hope that even if the jury in this case is blind to the prosecution’s misconduct here that an appeals court will eventually point out that what is going on in North Carolina is a travesty of justice.

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Justice Requires Acquittal of a Corrupt Politician

Jury selection starts today in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards on six felony charges of federal campaign finance law violations involving an alleged conspiracy and the making of false statements. Despite the mountain of evidence that they claim backs up these allegations, the prosecutors’ main weapon in the trial will be the fact that Edwards is generally held to be among the most repulsive politicians to stride across our national stage in a generation. He is a vain, puffed up politician who was always something of a fraud even in his heyday. He is also a liar who cheated on his terminally ill wife and did everything possible to deceive the public about his affair and the child he fathered with his mistress. But that’s also the problem with this case. Absent Edward’s reputation as bottom-feeder, there is no way that any prosecutor would seek to bring anyone else to court on such flimsy charges.

The irony here is that although John Edwards is the quintessential sleazy politician who has earned the public’s scorn, his trial will actually be a crucial test of a key principle: Whether the Justice Department can interpret the byzantine and vague campaign finance laws so as to treat virtually anything a candidate gets as an official contribution that can be regulated. The case illustrates a fundamental principle of the legal system that demands that even the most loathsome of citizens deserves the same protections and rights as the most righteous. Though Americans may well think Edwards deserves a possible sentence of up to 30 years and $1.5 million in fines for his reprehensible conduct toward his late wife, he must be acquitted if we are to prevent the government from assuming more power that it could use against worthier citizens.

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Jury selection starts today in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards on six felony charges of federal campaign finance law violations involving an alleged conspiracy and the making of false statements. Despite the mountain of evidence that they claim backs up these allegations, the prosecutors’ main weapon in the trial will be the fact that Edwards is generally held to be among the most repulsive politicians to stride across our national stage in a generation. He is a vain, puffed up politician who was always something of a fraud even in his heyday. He is also a liar who cheated on his terminally ill wife and did everything possible to deceive the public about his affair and the child he fathered with his mistress. But that’s also the problem with this case. Absent Edward’s reputation as bottom-feeder, there is no way that any prosecutor would seek to bring anyone else to court on such flimsy charges.

The irony here is that although John Edwards is the quintessential sleazy politician who has earned the public’s scorn, his trial will actually be a crucial test of a key principle: Whether the Justice Department can interpret the byzantine and vague campaign finance laws so as to treat virtually anything a candidate gets as an official contribution that can be regulated. The case illustrates a fundamental principle of the legal system that demands that even the most loathsome of citizens deserves the same protections and rights as the most righteous. Though Americans may well think Edwards deserves a possible sentence of up to 30 years and $1.5 million in fines for his reprehensible conduct toward his late wife, he must be acquitted if we are to prevent the government from assuming more power that it could use against worthier citizens.

John Edwards is an easy man to despise. His treatment of his wife and family and friends was awful. But these are private failings. The willingness of the press to avoid coverage of his personal conduct while he was a viable contender for his party’s presidential nomination was the real public scandal here.

There’s no question that Edwards behaved immorally by arranging for two wealthy friends and supporters to provide money for his mistress so his wife wouldn’t discover his affair. But the money given to Rielle Hunter, the equally sleazy campaign videographer who gave birth to Edwards’ child, was not a crime in the sense of the word that we normally use when discussing the court system. Gift taxes were paid on the money that was not funneled through Edwards’ presidential campaign accounts. The government’s attempt to treat this arrangement as an illegal campaign contribution for which he can be sent to jail for decades is an unprecedented attempt to expand the scope of laws that already require candidates to hire lawyers just to understand.

While the Justice Department will attempt to treat this case as the unraveling of a criminal conspiracy, what they are really doing is capitalizing on a tabloid scandal. The only reason Edwards is on trial is because he is a rich, famous and extremely unpopular person. Ambitious prosecutors believe they can convince a jury that is likely to view Edwards with as much disdain as the rest of the country that because his behavior was wrong and money was involved, that it was somehow a criminal affair.

What they are doing here is a classic case of prosecutorial overreach in which the government attempts to criminalize conduct that is worthy of censure but doesn’t actually constitute a violation of the law. Even worse, by expanding the reach of campaign finance laws, a guilty verdict against Edwards would strengthen the ability of the government to criminalize virtually any aspect of a candidate’s life. In the hands of unscrupulous officials, these laws could become a weapon to use against political enemies in a manner that could place even the most ethical politicians in the dock. Rather than give the government more power over this sphere, we need to pare back the byzantine maze of regulations.

John Edwards may well be the epitome of all that is wrong with American politics. But his prosecution symbolizes everything that is corrupt about the justice system.

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Hollywood Irony Watch: Political Fantasist Sorkin Calls Palin a Fake

In the 1990s, liberals weren’t entirely happy with a triangulating and philandering Bill Clinton, but they were able to escape from that reality in a movie written by Aaron Sorkin called The American President, in which Michael Douglas plays a Clinton-like chief executive. The biggest difference between the movie and real life was that the president in the film didn’t have an annoying Hillary-type wife around to cramp his style, since, in the script, she is conveniently dead. That allowed the movie prez to date a hot DC lefty lobbyist played by Annette Bening. In the film, both liberalism and love triumph as the president eschews a Clintonesque pragmatic compromise in order to win back his girlfriend. The film inspired a TV series, The West Wing, also written by Sorkin. That show (which ran from September 1999 to May 2006) depicted the doings of another fictional White House and enabled liberals to escape into a fantasy world in which the George W. Bush administration didn’t exist.

Sorkin is reported to be currently working on adapting a tell-all book about John Edwards for the silver screen, but he took time out from his labors to blog at the Huffington Post about another TV series with heavy political overtones: TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

It’s hardly a surprise that a lefty like Sorkin has no use for Palin, but his denunciation of her show was focused primarily on his opinion that its depiction of the former governor as an outdoorswoman was largely fake and also because it showed fish and animals being killed. The TLC channel responded to his accusations by saying that, contrary to Sorkin’s accusation, there was no hair and makeup trailer standing by as Palin shot at a caribou in the wild. But frankly, who cares? All reality shows are to some extent fake, even if the characters are real people rather than fictional characters.

But one needn’t be a fan of Palin to observe that a person who has made a nice living producing politically slanted movies and TV shows — all of which were intended to promote the sort of liberal politics Sorkin likes and to generally trash conservatives — is in no position to cry foul over Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Unlike The American President and The West Wing, Palin’s show doesn’t pretend to be art. It’s just pure Palin and should be judged as such. That makes it a good deal more honest than Sorkin’s more sophisticated productions.

Sorkin’s second accusation is that Palin’s show is, in effect, a politically motivated “snuff film” because (unlike that disclaimer at the end of every movie you see these days) animals were definitely harmed in the making of the show. Now for those of us who don’t number among the 10 percent of Americans who hunt, this may be gruesome stuff. Yet Sorkin goes further and claims there’s no difference between the Great White Huntress Palin and dog killer/quarterback Michael Vick.

Now it is one thing to have moral qualms about hunting animals for sport (despite Palin’s claim in the show that the animals actually have the advantage, I think that would be true only if they had guns and could shoot back). But it is another to damn her as a murderer and to express, as Sorkin does in a sentence replete with profanity, joy over instances of hunters killing each other by accident. After all, approximately 30 million Americans hunt. And a lot of those people are Democrats and others who share Sorkin’s liberal views.

Sorkin claims the caribou that Palin kills in one episode “was the first moose ever murdered for political gain.” Maybe, but it’s funny that Sorkin doesn’t seem to remember the goose that was murdered in a vain attempt to save John Kerry’s candidacy in October 2004. Desperate to establish a sense of authenticity, Kerry bought a hunting license, donned camouflage gear, and, while toting a 12-gauge shotgun, the Democratic presidential candidate traipsed around rural Ohio trying to kill geese and then claimed to have bagged one.

7_23_102104_kerry_huntingI don’t recall Sorkin expressing any public outrage over that incident since its intent was to further a political aim he supported: George W. Bush’s defeat at the polls. All of which goes to show that whatever you may think about Palin or hunting, Sorkin’s hissy fit is mere partisan tripe. Which, come to think of it, is as apt a characterization of his film and TV work as it is of Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

In the 1990s, liberals weren’t entirely happy with a triangulating and philandering Bill Clinton, but they were able to escape from that reality in a movie written by Aaron Sorkin called The American President, in which Michael Douglas plays a Clinton-like chief executive. The biggest difference between the movie and real life was that the president in the film didn’t have an annoying Hillary-type wife around to cramp his style, since, in the script, she is conveniently dead. That allowed the movie prez to date a hot DC lefty lobbyist played by Annette Bening. In the film, both liberalism and love triumph as the president eschews a Clintonesque pragmatic compromise in order to win back his girlfriend. The film inspired a TV series, The West Wing, also written by Sorkin. That show (which ran from September 1999 to May 2006) depicted the doings of another fictional White House and enabled liberals to escape into a fantasy world in which the George W. Bush administration didn’t exist.

Sorkin is reported to be currently working on adapting a tell-all book about John Edwards for the silver screen, but he took time out from his labors to blog at the Huffington Post about another TV series with heavy political overtones: TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

It’s hardly a surprise that a lefty like Sorkin has no use for Palin, but his denunciation of her show was focused primarily on his opinion that its depiction of the former governor as an outdoorswoman was largely fake and also because it showed fish and animals being killed. The TLC channel responded to his accusations by saying that, contrary to Sorkin’s accusation, there was no hair and makeup trailer standing by as Palin shot at a caribou in the wild. But frankly, who cares? All reality shows are to some extent fake, even if the characters are real people rather than fictional characters.

But one needn’t be a fan of Palin to observe that a person who has made a nice living producing politically slanted movies and TV shows — all of which were intended to promote the sort of liberal politics Sorkin likes and to generally trash conservatives — is in no position to cry foul over Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Unlike The American President and The West Wing, Palin’s show doesn’t pretend to be art. It’s just pure Palin and should be judged as such. That makes it a good deal more honest than Sorkin’s more sophisticated productions.

Sorkin’s second accusation is that Palin’s show is, in effect, a politically motivated “snuff film” because (unlike that disclaimer at the end of every movie you see these days) animals were definitely harmed in the making of the show. Now for those of us who don’t number among the 10 percent of Americans who hunt, this may be gruesome stuff. Yet Sorkin goes further and claims there’s no difference between the Great White Huntress Palin and dog killer/quarterback Michael Vick.

Now it is one thing to have moral qualms about hunting animals for sport (despite Palin’s claim in the show that the animals actually have the advantage, I think that would be true only if they had guns and could shoot back). But it is another to damn her as a murderer and to express, as Sorkin does in a sentence replete with profanity, joy over instances of hunters killing each other by accident. After all, approximately 30 million Americans hunt. And a lot of those people are Democrats and others who share Sorkin’s liberal views.

Sorkin claims the caribou that Palin kills in one episode “was the first moose ever murdered for political gain.” Maybe, but it’s funny that Sorkin doesn’t seem to remember the goose that was murdered in a vain attempt to save John Kerry’s candidacy in October 2004. Desperate to establish a sense of authenticity, Kerry bought a hunting license, donned camouflage gear, and, while toting a 12-gauge shotgun, the Democratic presidential candidate traipsed around rural Ohio trying to kill geese and then claimed to have bagged one.

7_23_102104_kerry_huntingI don’t recall Sorkin expressing any public outrage over that incident since its intent was to further a political aim he supported: George W. Bush’s defeat at the polls. All of which goes to show that whatever you may think about Palin or hunting, Sorkin’s hissy fit is mere partisan tripe. Which, come to think of it, is as apt a characterization of his film and TV work as it is of Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

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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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Obama, Bush, and War

Barack Obama used a lawyer-like locution last night to avoid acknowledging the courage of his predecessor in initiating the surge that won the Iraq War:

It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.

The key words were “from its outset.” His locution focused on his opposition to the war, while faintly praising Bush as a well-intentioned patriot. But while Obama opposed the war “at” its outset, he did not always oppose it thereafter.

In his famous 2002 speech, Obama said the war would be a “cynical attempt” by “armchair, weekend, warriors” and “political hacks like Karl Rove” to “shove their own ideological agendas down our throats” and ignore pressing domestic needs. Two years later, his position had become inconvenient. Appearing on Meet the Press before his 2004 convention speech, he attributed his prior opposition to lack of knowledge:

MR. RUSSERT: The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said [Saddam] was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so right …

STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. …

MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn’t there …

The change Obama believed in as of 2004 was one of “tone” and “administration.” He told Russert “if we don’t have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we’re going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed.”

Two years after that, with the war not yet won, he became the cut-and-run candidate, arguing from late 2006 through the end of 2007 that more troops would not help, that Bush’s strategy would increase sectarian violence, and that the troops should be withdrawn.

Last night, at a moment he called “historic,” Obama gracelessly refused to acknowledge his predecessor’s contribution to progress on the war, vouching simply for his patriotism. He was palpably anxious to “turn the page” on Iraq, where the book may in fact not yet be closed, and to start turning it next year in Afghanistan — where the “pace” will be “condition-based” but, “make no mistake,” we’re leaving starting in July. It was not the steadfast commitment to victory that marked George W. Bush’s approach to war, and which is necessary if a leader wants to win one.

Barack Obama used a lawyer-like locution last night to avoid acknowledging the courage of his predecessor in initiating the surge that won the Iraq War:

It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.

The key words were “from its outset.” His locution focused on his opposition to the war, while faintly praising Bush as a well-intentioned patriot. But while Obama opposed the war “at” its outset, he did not always oppose it thereafter.

In his famous 2002 speech, Obama said the war would be a “cynical attempt” by “armchair, weekend, warriors” and “political hacks like Karl Rove” to “shove their own ideological agendas down our throats” and ignore pressing domestic needs. Two years later, his position had become inconvenient. Appearing on Meet the Press before his 2004 convention speech, he attributed his prior opposition to lack of knowledge:

MR. RUSSERT: The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said [Saddam] was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so right …

STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. …

MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn’t there …

The change Obama believed in as of 2004 was one of “tone” and “administration.” He told Russert “if we don’t have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we’re going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed.”

Two years after that, with the war not yet won, he became the cut-and-run candidate, arguing from late 2006 through the end of 2007 that more troops would not help, that Bush’s strategy would increase sectarian violence, and that the troops should be withdrawn.

Last night, at a moment he called “historic,” Obama gracelessly refused to acknowledge his predecessor’s contribution to progress on the war, vouching simply for his patriotism. He was palpably anxious to “turn the page” on Iraq, where the book may in fact not yet be closed, and to start turning it next year in Afghanistan — where the “pace” will be “condition-based” but, “make no mistake,” we’re leaving starting in July. It was not the steadfast commitment to victory that marked George W. Bush’s approach to war, and which is necessary if a leader wants to win one.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Doesn’t sound kosher: “Decoy Jews.”

Doesn’t sound like a problem easily fixed: Noemie Emery on the oil spill writes, “Initially, the diagnosis was that Mr. Cool perhaps had an emotional deficit — the downside of all that cerebral detachment — but this wasn’t quite accurate: He had, it turned out, a lot of emotion, but most of it (like with Hayward and the rest of the people at British Petroleum) turned more or less on himself.”

Doesn’t sound like a nominee who’s going to be much help to Obama: “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now believe Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should not be confirmed following the Senate hearings scheduled to begin next week. That’s up nine points from the week President Obama announced her nomination and the highest level of opposition to date.” Maybe it’s not Kagan but anything Obama that so many Americans are opposed to.

Doesn’t sound like they are kidding: “Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new hour long CNN primetime news program starting in the fall as the nation prepares for the 2010 midterm election, the network announced Wednesday morning.” I look forward to Parker’s unbiased take on Sarah Palin’s impact on the races and Spitzer’s insights on morality. Maybe John Edwards can guest-host.

Doesn’t sound like California Democrats are thrilled with their nominee: “California Democrats are starting to worry that gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown — who hasn’t had a truly competitive election in three decades — isn’t ready for the 21st-century campaign trail. Since the general election kicked off two weeks ago, Brown — the state attorney general and former governor with a well-known penchant for micromanaging all aspects of his campaigns — has made news for all the wrong reasons, while motoring along without any evidence that he is assembling a basic infrastructure for a statewide race.”

Doesn’t sound like government can spend its way out of a recession: “Purchases of U.S. new homes fell in May to the lowest level on record after a tax credit expired, showing the market remains dependent on government support.”

Doesn’t sound like switching generals is going to change things. James Carafano: “It is still the president’s job to win the war and he is the one accountable to the American people. Nothing has really changed: the timeline is bad; by the military’s own estimate there are too few enough troops; and failure is not a good option.”

Doesn’t sound like the family name is an asset: “Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid (D) is on the air with his first campaign ad and it’s missing one thing: his last name.”

Doesn’t sound like the 17 percent have been paying attention: “New York State government is dysfunctional, 83 percent of voters say, the highest number ever measured in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … ‘New Yorkers are fed up with Albany. The resentment is bigger than we’ve ever measured. Just about half think that the whole Legislature should be voted out of office — even their own state senator and Assembly member,’ said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.”

Doesn’t sound kosher: “Decoy Jews.”

Doesn’t sound like a problem easily fixed: Noemie Emery on the oil spill writes, “Initially, the diagnosis was that Mr. Cool perhaps had an emotional deficit — the downside of all that cerebral detachment — but this wasn’t quite accurate: He had, it turned out, a lot of emotion, but most of it (like with Hayward and the rest of the people at British Petroleum) turned more or less on himself.”

Doesn’t sound like a nominee who’s going to be much help to Obama: “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now believe Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should not be confirmed following the Senate hearings scheduled to begin next week. That’s up nine points from the week President Obama announced her nomination and the highest level of opposition to date.” Maybe it’s not Kagan but anything Obama that so many Americans are opposed to.

Doesn’t sound like they are kidding: “Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new hour long CNN primetime news program starting in the fall as the nation prepares for the 2010 midterm election, the network announced Wednesday morning.” I look forward to Parker’s unbiased take on Sarah Palin’s impact on the races and Spitzer’s insights on morality. Maybe John Edwards can guest-host.

Doesn’t sound like California Democrats are thrilled with their nominee: “California Democrats are starting to worry that gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown — who hasn’t had a truly competitive election in three decades — isn’t ready for the 21st-century campaign trail. Since the general election kicked off two weeks ago, Brown — the state attorney general and former governor with a well-known penchant for micromanaging all aspects of his campaigns — has made news for all the wrong reasons, while motoring along without any evidence that he is assembling a basic infrastructure for a statewide race.”

Doesn’t sound like government can spend its way out of a recession: “Purchases of U.S. new homes fell in May to the lowest level on record after a tax credit expired, showing the market remains dependent on government support.”

Doesn’t sound like switching generals is going to change things. James Carafano: “It is still the president’s job to win the war and he is the one accountable to the American people. Nothing has really changed: the timeline is bad; by the military’s own estimate there are too few enough troops; and failure is not a good option.”

Doesn’t sound like the family name is an asset: “Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid (D) is on the air with his first campaign ad and it’s missing one thing: his last name.”

Doesn’t sound like the 17 percent have been paying attention: “New York State government is dysfunctional, 83 percent of voters say, the highest number ever measured in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … ‘New Yorkers are fed up with Albany. The resentment is bigger than we’ve ever measured. Just about half think that the whole Legislature should be voted out of office — even their own state senator and Assembly member,’ said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.”

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The Gray Lady Discovers It’s 2006 All Over Again

Even the Gray Lady must recognize the trend:

The ethical woes facing Democrats are piling up, with barely a day passing in recent weeks without headlines from Washington to New York and beyond filled with word of scandal or allegations of wrongdoing.

The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state’s congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer, Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards.

Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats, led by Representatives Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker, and Rahm Emanuel, now White House chief of staff, used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.

The Times breaks the news to their readership that voters are already mad and that this just makes it worse (“with voters appearing to be in an angry mood and many already inclined to view all things Washington with mistrust, the risks for Democrats could be that much greater this year”). Left unsaid, of course, is why voters are mad. (It might have something to do with pushing an agenda quite popular on the Upper West Side but not elsewhere.)

Democrats are scrambling to give back money they snagged from Rangel’s fundraising committees, and Pelosi is predictably pronouncing that she is too presiding over an ethical Congress. But even Pelosi’s defense has a jumbo loophole. She insists: “My commitment to the American people is that the public trust will always be honored. … And on the floor of the House, that happens.” Yes, the scandals generally happen elsewhere.

Oh, and if that weren’t all, the Times reminds us that Blago’s trial will come along “at the very moment that Democrats are battling in several races, including a campaign for the Senate seat once held by the man who now sits in the Oval Office.” That would be the race in which the Democratic nominee is Tony Rezko’s banker. Well, for Republicans, let’s just say it’s a golden political opportunity.

Even the Gray Lady must recognize the trend:

The ethical woes facing Democrats are piling up, with barely a day passing in recent weeks without headlines from Washington to New York and beyond filled with word of scandal or allegations of wrongdoing.

The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state’s congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer, Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards.

Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats, led by Representatives Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker, and Rahm Emanuel, now White House chief of staff, used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.

The Times breaks the news to their readership that voters are already mad and that this just makes it worse (“with voters appearing to be in an angry mood and many already inclined to view all things Washington with mistrust, the risks for Democrats could be that much greater this year”). Left unsaid, of course, is why voters are mad. (It might have something to do with pushing an agenda quite popular on the Upper West Side but not elsewhere.)

Democrats are scrambling to give back money they snagged from Rangel’s fundraising committees, and Pelosi is predictably pronouncing that she is too presiding over an ethical Congress. But even Pelosi’s defense has a jumbo loophole. She insists: “My commitment to the American people is that the public trust will always be honored. … And on the floor of the House, that happens.” Yes, the scandals generally happen elsewhere.

Oh, and if that weren’t all, the Times reminds us that Blago’s trial will come along “at the very moment that Democrats are battling in several races, including a campaign for the Senate seat once held by the man who now sits in the Oval Office.” That would be the race in which the Democratic nominee is Tony Rezko’s banker. Well, for Republicans, let’s just say it’s a golden political opportunity.

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The Gathering Corruption Storm

Jen, to add to your point about Charlie Rangel and Eric Massa: we are seeing the different elements required to form a political thunderstorm amass — a storm that will likely batter Democrats in November.

Three ingredients are required to form the real thing: moisture, an unstable airmass, and a lifting force. The political version of this meteorological event are a bad economy, unpopular ideas, and corruption. Democrats are facing all three.

The corruption issue manifests itself in several ways. There are legal forms of corruption, like the “Nebraska Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase,” and special tax benefits for union members, all part of the unseemly wheeling and dealing needed to jam through ObamaCare. There is the misuse of power we are seeing from the president in the form of trying to use reconciliation to pass ObamaCare. And there is the kind we see with Representative Rangel and New York Governor David Patterson — and now, we have just learned, Representative Eric Massa, a Democrat from New York, will not seek re-election after only one term in office. Politico.com has this: “According to several House aides — on both sides of the aisle — the House ethics committee has been informed of allegations that Massa, who is married with two children, sexually harassed a male staffer.” And it certainly won’t help matters if a grand jury indicts John Edwards on campaign violations stemming from his extramarital affair.

At some point these things can metastasize and presto!, the opposition party can run a campaign based on the “culture of corruption.” Democrats did that very well in 2006, when many Republican Members of Congress (understandably) lost the trust of many Americans. We saw the same thing happen to Democrats in 1994, with the House banking scandal and other things. And we may well see it again come November.

My hunch is that the storm in the making is, at least at this stage, more powerful and disruptive than any of the ones that came before it. And soon we’ll reach the point where there is very little they can do about it.

Jen, to add to your point about Charlie Rangel and Eric Massa: we are seeing the different elements required to form a political thunderstorm amass — a storm that will likely batter Democrats in November.

Three ingredients are required to form the real thing: moisture, an unstable airmass, and a lifting force. The political version of this meteorological event are a bad economy, unpopular ideas, and corruption. Democrats are facing all three.

The corruption issue manifests itself in several ways. There are legal forms of corruption, like the “Nebraska Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase,” and special tax benefits for union members, all part of the unseemly wheeling and dealing needed to jam through ObamaCare. There is the misuse of power we are seeing from the president in the form of trying to use reconciliation to pass ObamaCare. And there is the kind we see with Representative Rangel and New York Governor David Patterson — and now, we have just learned, Representative Eric Massa, a Democrat from New York, will not seek re-election after only one term in office. Politico.com has this: “According to several House aides — on both sides of the aisle — the House ethics committee has been informed of allegations that Massa, who is married with two children, sexually harassed a male staffer.” And it certainly won’t help matters if a grand jury indicts John Edwards on campaign violations stemming from his extramarital affair.

At some point these things can metastasize and presto!, the opposition party can run a campaign based on the “culture of corruption.” Democrats did that very well in 2006, when many Republican Members of Congress (understandably) lost the trust of many Americans. We saw the same thing happen to Democrats in 1994, with the House banking scandal and other things. And we may well see it again come November.

My hunch is that the storm in the making is, at least at this stage, more powerful and disruptive than any of the ones that came before it. And soon we’ll reach the point where there is very little they can do about it.

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Liberal Legal Pundit Behaving Badly?

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

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John Edwards Was Only the VP Nominee. Obama Is President

Richard Cohen’s weekly column spends seven paragraphs recitating the awfulness of John Edwards (I haven’t written about him because his loathsomeness has been aptly conveyed by others), the scariness of putting him on the 2004 presidential ticket, and the reaffirmation that liberals were right all along about Sarah Palin. (We know they were right because they obsessively keep telling us so: “I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became — astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency.” Never mind that she was on the money on health-care rationing, global-warming fakery, Guantanamo, and a great deal more. )

Then comes the kicker: Cohen suggests that Obama was as scary a choice and that we knew as little about him as we did about Edwards — or THAT woman:

The out-of-nowhere rise of Palin and Edwards in less than a decade is warning enough that something is wrong. I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.

When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I’m not sure what that is. For the moment, it’s a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to “let Reagan be Reagan,” we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn. Ronald Reagan had devoted many years to the conservative cause. Obama, in contrast, was in the Illinois Senate just six years ago.

Well, it may not be nefarious — but we now know he’s rather ill-equipped to be president. (We hold out some hope that he might get up to speed.) And Cohen’s still not sure exactly what bill of goods we were sold by the Obama campaign. When Cohen complains that we “have substituted the camera — fame, celebrity — for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues,” he is not sparing this president, whose fame and celebrity were fanned by the not-very-studied judgment of media cheerleaders convinced there was something spectacular there.

There certainly is a spasm of honesty breaking out in the punditocracy. Perhaps there’s a trend to fess up. What did they know about Obama’s shortcomings and when did they know it? A support group (Regretful Flacks for Obama) might be formed. There they can confess the error of their ways. They mistook physical elegance and a nice speaking voice for profundity. They heard gibberish (“We are the change blah, blah …”) and spun it as pearls of wisdom. They saw a man of slight accomplishment and falsely inferred skills that weren’t there. They confused reserve and remoteness with calm under fire. They ignored signs that he had disdain for average Americans and their values. They ignored his associations and extremely liberal voting record while reciting his promises of “moderation.” And so on.

Ultimately, voters are grown-ups and responsible for their own choices. But if Cohen is upset with the rise of a synthetic, overhyped candidate who’s turning out to be at best a mediocre president, he should talk to his media colleagues. They certainly did their part.

Richard Cohen’s weekly column spends seven paragraphs recitating the awfulness of John Edwards (I haven’t written about him because his loathsomeness has been aptly conveyed by others), the scariness of putting him on the 2004 presidential ticket, and the reaffirmation that liberals were right all along about Sarah Palin. (We know they were right because they obsessively keep telling us so: “I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became — astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency.” Never mind that she was on the money on health-care rationing, global-warming fakery, Guantanamo, and a great deal more. )

Then comes the kicker: Cohen suggests that Obama was as scary a choice and that we knew as little about him as we did about Edwards — or THAT woman:

The out-of-nowhere rise of Palin and Edwards in less than a decade is warning enough that something is wrong. I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.

When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I’m not sure what that is. For the moment, it’s a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to “let Reagan be Reagan,” we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn. Ronald Reagan had devoted many years to the conservative cause. Obama, in contrast, was in the Illinois Senate just six years ago.

Well, it may not be nefarious — but we now know he’s rather ill-equipped to be president. (We hold out some hope that he might get up to speed.) And Cohen’s still not sure exactly what bill of goods we were sold by the Obama campaign. When Cohen complains that we “have substituted the camera — fame, celebrity — for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues,” he is not sparing this president, whose fame and celebrity were fanned by the not-very-studied judgment of media cheerleaders convinced there was something spectacular there.

There certainly is a spasm of honesty breaking out in the punditocracy. Perhaps there’s a trend to fess up. What did they know about Obama’s shortcomings and when did they know it? A support group (Regretful Flacks for Obama) might be formed. There they can confess the error of their ways. They mistook physical elegance and a nice speaking voice for profundity. They heard gibberish (“We are the change blah, blah …”) and spun it as pearls of wisdom. They saw a man of slight accomplishment and falsely inferred skills that weren’t there. They confused reserve and remoteness with calm under fire. They ignored signs that he had disdain for average Americans and their values. They ignored his associations and extremely liberal voting record while reciting his promises of “moderation.” And so on.

Ultimately, voters are grown-ups and responsible for their own choices. But if Cohen is upset with the rise of a synthetic, overhyped candidate who’s turning out to be at best a mediocre president, he should talk to his media colleagues. They certainly did their part.

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So Far, No Surprises

Demographics seem to be destiny in the Democratic primary race. Before the polls closed you could have guessed that Hillary Clinton, as she did in West Virginia, would trounce Barack Obama in Kentucky. A bit more surprising however is how much the Clinton voters in both Oregon and Kentucky don’t like Obama and how clear their preference is for John McCain in the general election.

And those Kentucky exit polls tell the same story we’ve seen before: not only do white voters not like Obama (only 22% voted for him), neither do seniors, frequent church goers, non-college educated voters and the usual roster of groups immune from Obama-mania.

It seems that John Edwards didn’t do the trick.

Demographics seem to be destiny in the Democratic primary race. Before the polls closed you could have guessed that Hillary Clinton, as she did in West Virginia, would trounce Barack Obama in Kentucky. A bit more surprising however is how much the Clinton voters in both Oregon and Kentucky don’t like Obama and how clear their preference is for John McCain in the general election.

And those Kentucky exit polls tell the same story we’ve seen before: not only do white voters not like Obama (only 22% voted for him), neither do seniors, frequent church goers, non-college educated voters and the usual roster of groups immune from Obama-mania.

It seems that John Edwards didn’t do the trick.

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Is It Another Election Day?

Yes, we have two more states to tally today and a not-quite declaration of victory in the offing from Barack Obama. (To understand what is really going on you need only watch this.) But for all intents and purposes the general election has already begun. Who was largely missing and unwilling to take advantage of the Obama’s Iran difficulties over the last week? Hillary Clinton, of course. That’s the surest sign that, although she doesn’t want to abandon her supporters, she sees the handwriting on the wall.

We watch the primary election returns not to count the delegates or to see who will win, but to assess the strengths and weakness of the eventual nominee. Will Obama improve among white working-class voters? Is the youth vote still turning out? Did John Edwards’ endorsement affect anything? (No, yes, and no.)

Meanwhile, the mainstream media can contemplate Clinton’s views on sexism and decide whether a headline like “PATTI’S GOT A CRUSH ON OBAMA? ” (in reference to Clinton’s former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle potentially signing up with the Obama camp) is fitting self-incrimination.

Yes, we have two more states to tally today and a not-quite declaration of victory in the offing from Barack Obama. (To understand what is really going on you need only watch this.) But for all intents and purposes the general election has already begun. Who was largely missing and unwilling to take advantage of the Obama’s Iran difficulties over the last week? Hillary Clinton, of course. That’s the surest sign that, although she doesn’t want to abandon her supporters, she sees the handwriting on the wall.

We watch the primary election returns not to count the delegates or to see who will win, but to assess the strengths and weakness of the eventual nominee. Will Obama improve among white working-class voters? Is the youth vote still turning out? Did John Edwards’ endorsement affect anything? (No, yes, and no.)

Meanwhile, the mainstream media can contemplate Clinton’s views on sexism and decide whether a headline like “PATTI’S GOT A CRUSH ON OBAMA? ” (in reference to Clinton’s former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle potentially signing up with the Obama camp) is fitting self-incrimination.

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What If John Edwards Doesn’t Help?

Kentucky’s primary is Tuesday. Let’s say for sake of argument that the polls there, as they were in West Virginia, are accurate (or even underestimate Hillary’s lead). We then will see a big win for already-declared loser Clinton and another round of rather horrid exit polls for Obama. And there won’t be a John Edwards endorsement the next day to distract the media.

Ah, but there will be the Oregon results, you say. True enough, but that’s not exactly where the general election is going to be decided. The nagging issue which will continue to vex Democrats will be: where are those 270 electoral votes going to come from? So far the polls say it won’t be from Red states like Kansas, Florida, or Ohio (or states like Arkansas, which Clinton would put in play).

Where is the new majority for Obama and what states with enough votes will be put in play? It may be too late for Clinton, but the question she posed about the viability of Obama’s coalition remains.

Kentucky’s primary is Tuesday. Let’s say for sake of argument that the polls there, as they were in West Virginia, are accurate (or even underestimate Hillary’s lead). We then will see a big win for already-declared loser Clinton and another round of rather horrid exit polls for Obama. And there won’t be a John Edwards endorsement the next day to distract the media.

Ah, but there will be the Oregon results, you say. True enough, but that’s not exactly where the general election is going to be decided. The nagging issue which will continue to vex Democrats will be: where are those 270 electoral votes going to come from? So far the polls say it won’t be from Red states like Kansas, Florida, or Ohio (or states like Arkansas, which Clinton would put in play).

Where is the new majority for Obama and what states with enough votes will be put in play? It may be too late for Clinton, but the question she posed about the viability of Obama’s coalition remains.

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Stepping Up Their Game

The McCain camp was wary, while the Democratic primary still looked undecided, of taking on Barack Obama too forcefully. Yes on Hamas and Bill Ayers, no on Reverend Wright, with not much fire directed at some of the recent Obama gaffes. Now that the primary is drawing to an end, the McCain camp may be stepping up its rhetoric, and the rules of engagement are being set.

After the John Edwards endorsement event in Michigan last night, the McCain camp put out a statement which took Obama to task in some of its strongest language to date:

Whether it’s Senator Obama’s pledges to raise taxes on millions of hardworking families or his senseless foreign policy of meeting with anti-American regimes abroad, he shows a lack of judgment that voters will reject.

Staffers also sent out some stats from their research files detailing the lack of bipartisanship in Obama’s record, in advance of McCain’s speech today on bipartisanship.

Likewise, when Obama’s communications director Robert Gibbs tried to hedge on Obama’s position that he will meet directly with state sponsors of terrorism (“Let’s not confuse precondition with preparation,” he told John Roberts during a CNN interview), the McCain team struck back. With plenty of YouTube material and Obama’s own website detailing the candidate’s repeated determination to meet with rogue states’ leaders without preconditions, it wasn’t hard to show that Obama’s spokesman had been engaging in old-style double talk.

McCain’s people will need to do more of this if they are going to force Obama to define what “change” is and make clear exactly what policies he has in store. Allowing Obama to escape scrutiny in a media environment already shown to be excessively deferential to the Agent of Change would be a grave and even fatal error: It’s one Hillary Clinton made for all of 2007.

The McCain camp was wary, while the Democratic primary still looked undecided, of taking on Barack Obama too forcefully. Yes on Hamas and Bill Ayers, no on Reverend Wright, with not much fire directed at some of the recent Obama gaffes. Now that the primary is drawing to an end, the McCain camp may be stepping up its rhetoric, and the rules of engagement are being set.

After the John Edwards endorsement event in Michigan last night, the McCain camp put out a statement which took Obama to task in some of its strongest language to date:

Whether it’s Senator Obama’s pledges to raise taxes on millions of hardworking families or his senseless foreign policy of meeting with anti-American regimes abroad, he shows a lack of judgment that voters will reject.

Staffers also sent out some stats from their research files detailing the lack of bipartisanship in Obama’s record, in advance of McCain’s speech today on bipartisanship.

Likewise, when Obama’s communications director Robert Gibbs tried to hedge on Obama’s position that he will meet directly with state sponsors of terrorism (“Let’s not confuse precondition with preparation,” he told John Roberts during a CNN interview), the McCain team struck back. With plenty of YouTube material and Obama’s own website detailing the candidate’s repeated determination to meet with rogue states’ leaders without preconditions, it wasn’t hard to show that Obama’s spokesman had been engaging in old-style double talk.

McCain’s people will need to do more of this if they are going to force Obama to define what “change” is and make clear exactly what policies he has in store. Allowing Obama to escape scrutiny in a media environment already shown to be excessively deferential to the Agent of Change would be a grave and even fatal error: It’s one Hillary Clinton made for all of 2007.

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People . . . People Who Like Cabinet Appointments

People magazine has an interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, who say they aren’t going to endorse anyone and will be “saving their political capital for their own causes.” Hmm. Or making certain they remain players in a Democratic administration. John does a better job of concealing his preferences: loves the enthusiasm generated by Obama, but wants more substance; is impressed with Hillary Clinton’s grit, but doesn’t like all that old politics. Elizabeth is having none of that. She rolls her eyes about the impact of nominating the first African-American (“What about the great symbolic thing about a woman . . . “) and calls Obama’s health care plan and ads “misleading.”

So who carries more weight with Democratic voters? Elizabeth became the darling of the netroots for defending her husband against Ann Coulter and ferociously attacking George Bush, and Clinton could do worse than having Elizabeth touting her health care plan. But the real news will be if John and his 26 pledged delegates get off the fence. For now, the interview is a sign of how divided and indecisive the Democratic electorate as a whole appears to be (at least before the election returns tonight).

People magazine has an interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, who say they aren’t going to endorse anyone and will be “saving their political capital for their own causes.” Hmm. Or making certain they remain players in a Democratic administration. John does a better job of concealing his preferences: loves the enthusiasm generated by Obama, but wants more substance; is impressed with Hillary Clinton’s grit, but doesn’t like all that old politics. Elizabeth is having none of that. She rolls her eyes about the impact of nominating the first African-American (“What about the great symbolic thing about a woman . . . “) and calls Obama’s health care plan and ads “misleading.”

So who carries more weight with Democratic voters? Elizabeth became the darling of the netroots for defending her husband against Ann Coulter and ferociously attacking George Bush, and Clinton could do worse than having Elizabeth touting her health care plan. But the real news will be if John and his 26 pledged delegates get off the fence. For now, the interview is a sign of how divided and indecisive the Democratic electorate as a whole appears to be (at least before the election returns tonight).

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Moveon, Kos – R.I.P.

In the monomaniacal world of moveon.org and the Daily Kos, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have committed an unforgivable sin. By appearing on Fox News the Democrats have proven themselves unserious in the apocalyptically serious fight against Rupert Murdoch’s quest for world domination.

Back when Obama was the unflappable boy wonder of the Left, the Kos crowd was savoring the accumulated days (771) that the I’ll-talk-to-Tehran candidate had abstained from talking to America’s most watched news source.

Why does the far Left so despise Fox, anyway? Here’s “San Francisco’s alternative online daily” with some much needed clarity:

To understand why bloggers are so upset about Fox News’ co-sponsorship [of a since-cancelled Democratic debate] , look at how the station hosted a Democratic presidential debate last time around in 2003. During its live coverage, the Fox News graphic – as well as a banner over the stage – titled the event “Democrat Candidate Presidential Debate,” a right-wing epithet made famous most recently in George Bush’s State of the Union Address.

It doesn’t matter how many times you re-read that; it still makes no sense. Nevertheless, the Nevada debate was cancelled when the state’s Democrats caved-in to the paranoid anti-Fox campaign. Silencing open debate was the far-Left blogosphere’s crowning achievement—and the beginning of a nightmare for Democrats. With moveon.org and the Daily Kos actually being paid the respect of Democratic representatives, Hillary, Obama, and John Edwards had to maneuver gingerly around a daily barrage of whacko agit-prop that now bore the unofficial imprimatur of the Democratic Party.

Last fall, moveon.org ran the ridiculous “General Betray Us” ad, and serious Democrats began to distance themselves. But Obama’s appearance on Fox News this past Sunday was the real beginning of the end. At the very same time that Kos bloggers were melting down about Obama’s interview, the media lit-up with reports that Hillary was going on Bill O’Reilly. The Dems had moved on. The fact that Hillary thrived under O’Reilly’s cross-examination only serves to further the long-overdue marginalization of these histrionic and poisonous organizations. Their stranglehold is no more.

In the monomaniacal world of moveon.org and the Daily Kos, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have committed an unforgivable sin. By appearing on Fox News the Democrats have proven themselves unserious in the apocalyptically serious fight against Rupert Murdoch’s quest for world domination.

Back when Obama was the unflappable boy wonder of the Left, the Kos crowd was savoring the accumulated days (771) that the I’ll-talk-to-Tehran candidate had abstained from talking to America’s most watched news source.

Why does the far Left so despise Fox, anyway? Here’s “San Francisco’s alternative online daily” with some much needed clarity:

To understand why bloggers are so upset about Fox News’ co-sponsorship [of a since-cancelled Democratic debate] , look at how the station hosted a Democratic presidential debate last time around in 2003. During its live coverage, the Fox News graphic – as well as a banner over the stage – titled the event “Democrat Candidate Presidential Debate,” a right-wing epithet made famous most recently in George Bush’s State of the Union Address.

It doesn’t matter how many times you re-read that; it still makes no sense. Nevertheless, the Nevada debate was cancelled when the state’s Democrats caved-in to the paranoid anti-Fox campaign. Silencing open debate was the far-Left blogosphere’s crowning achievement—and the beginning of a nightmare for Democrats. With moveon.org and the Daily Kos actually being paid the respect of Democratic representatives, Hillary, Obama, and John Edwards had to maneuver gingerly around a daily barrage of whacko agit-prop that now bore the unofficial imprimatur of the Democratic Party.

Last fall, moveon.org ran the ridiculous “General Betray Us” ad, and serious Democrats began to distance themselves. But Obama’s appearance on Fox News this past Sunday was the real beginning of the end. At the very same time that Kos bloggers were melting down about Obama’s interview, the media lit-up with reports that Hillary was going on Bill O’Reilly. The Dems had moved on. The fact that Hillary thrived under O’Reilly’s cross-examination only serves to further the long-overdue marginalization of these histrionic and poisonous organizations. Their stranglehold is no more.

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But Aren’t They Narrow-Minded Bigots?

Barack Obama tries the “I’m sorry if you were offended, but I was really right” approach. Does he not understand what he said? (Even the New York Times could figure it out, quoting a former John Edwards’ advisor: “It could mean he’s rendered himself unelectable. This is a perfect example of why Democrats lose elections.”) Apparently Obama does not, and this is starting to sound familiar.

The Washington Post reports this about Barack Obama’s team:

They described Obama as frustrated with himself for word choices such as “cling” and references to hot-button issues including religion and guns, but also stunned at the uproar over what to him seemed a fundamental fact of American life.

Well there you have it: he’s shocked, shocked to hear that people might be upset about his theory that they are bitter and psychologically dependent on guns, religion, anti-immigrant sentiment and protectionism. (Again, his own devotion to the latter is based on what exactly?) The problem was the word “cling.” Had he used “grasp” or “find irrational refuge in” instead of “cling” the fall out would have been mild.

Well, it is hard to deny that this goes to the issue of his utter cluelessness about average Americans. Why don’t they get the brilliance of Rev. Wright and how would anyone mind that he sat in Wright’s pews for so long? Ah, they are judgmental and ignorant of their country’s own racial divisions. Why is everyone in a tizzy about his sage analysis of rural America when any Harvard Ph.D would echo it virtually verbatim? Ah, once again folks are just ignorant and defensive.

Give the man his due. I think most observers would acknowledge that Obama is entirely capable of assuming the presidency of any Ivy League institution. He understands its values and ethos and speaks its language. The notion of a “dignity promotion” for despotic régimes seems entirely credible in these places. He and the academic Left have got more dimensions of compatibilty than an eHarmony convention.

But what about the presidency of the rest of the country? He still doesn’t understand what’s the matter with the darn fools. (He has managed to make Hillary Clinton seem by comparison like salt of the earth and the best friend of Middle America.) He may have even lost the mainstream media. ( Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch.) Obama seems ever to be talking past, or over the heads of, the masses. In short, he just may be too erudite and sophisticated for the likes of us.

Barack Obama tries the “I’m sorry if you were offended, but I was really right” approach. Does he not understand what he said? (Even the New York Times could figure it out, quoting a former John Edwards’ advisor: “It could mean he’s rendered himself unelectable. This is a perfect example of why Democrats lose elections.”) Apparently Obama does not, and this is starting to sound familiar.

The Washington Post reports this about Barack Obama’s team:

They described Obama as frustrated with himself for word choices such as “cling” and references to hot-button issues including religion and guns, but also stunned at the uproar over what to him seemed a fundamental fact of American life.

Well there you have it: he’s shocked, shocked to hear that people might be upset about his theory that they are bitter and psychologically dependent on guns, religion, anti-immigrant sentiment and protectionism. (Again, his own devotion to the latter is based on what exactly?) The problem was the word “cling.” Had he used “grasp” or “find irrational refuge in” instead of “cling” the fall out would have been mild.

Well, it is hard to deny that this goes to the issue of his utter cluelessness about average Americans. Why don’t they get the brilliance of Rev. Wright and how would anyone mind that he sat in Wright’s pews for so long? Ah, they are judgmental and ignorant of their country’s own racial divisions. Why is everyone in a tizzy about his sage analysis of rural America when any Harvard Ph.D would echo it virtually verbatim? Ah, once again folks are just ignorant and defensive.

Give the man his due. I think most observers would acknowledge that Obama is entirely capable of assuming the presidency of any Ivy League institution. He understands its values and ethos and speaks its language. The notion of a “dignity promotion” for despotic régimes seems entirely credible in these places. He and the academic Left have got more dimensions of compatibilty than an eHarmony convention.

But what about the presidency of the rest of the country? He still doesn’t understand what’s the matter with the darn fools. (He has managed to make Hillary Clinton seem by comparison like salt of the earth and the best friend of Middle America.) He may have even lost the mainstream media. ( Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch.) Obama seems ever to be talking past, or over the heads of, the masses. In short, he just may be too erudite and sophisticated for the likes of us.

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The Only Sin

The only mortal sin in politics is hypocrisy. Conservatives, especially social conservatives, have been easy targets for their sexual peccadilloes (which the media contrast with their public advocacy of family values): think Ted Haggard or Larry Craig.  Liberals tend to get hoisted on financial hypocrisy (although Eliot Spitzer and James McGreevey are exception). To wit: John Edwards’s $400 haircuts, hedge fund employment, and high-paying speeches on poverty.

Barack Obama is coming close to that latter line. He identifies himself as the “throw the lobbyists out” champion and “money corrupts politics” truth-teller. But wait! His “parallel public financing system” is populated by 79 “bundlers,” you say? Can’t be. Plus the media has finally woken up to the fact that Obama’s “I don’t take corporate money” is a ruse for the rubes and that millions of dollars from supposedly nefarious sources (drug and oil companies and banks) are underwriting the Obama-mania road show. (Feeling the heat, Obama is now dialing back on his suggestion that he has definitively decided to opt out of the real public campaign finance system.)

There is, of course, a bit of Captain Renault-style incredulity in the reporting. But it was Obama who elevated himself to mythical levels of political purity. That his image would eventually collide with reality was only a matter of time. The question now is whether it survives intact.

The only mortal sin in politics is hypocrisy. Conservatives, especially social conservatives, have been easy targets for their sexual peccadilloes (which the media contrast with their public advocacy of family values): think Ted Haggard or Larry Craig.  Liberals tend to get hoisted on financial hypocrisy (although Eliot Spitzer and James McGreevey are exception). To wit: John Edwards’s $400 haircuts, hedge fund employment, and high-paying speeches on poverty.

Barack Obama is coming close to that latter line. He identifies himself as the “throw the lobbyists out” champion and “money corrupts politics” truth-teller. But wait! His “parallel public financing system” is populated by 79 “bundlers,” you say? Can’t be. Plus the media has finally woken up to the fact that Obama’s “I don’t take corporate money” is a ruse for the rubes and that millions of dollars from supposedly nefarious sources (drug and oil companies and banks) are underwriting the Obama-mania road show. (Feeling the heat, Obama is now dialing back on his suggestion that he has definitively decided to opt out of the real public campaign finance system.)

There is, of course, a bit of Captain Renault-style incredulity in the reporting. But it was Obama who elevated himself to mythical levels of political purity. That his image would eventually collide with reality was only a matter of time. The question now is whether it survives intact.

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Compassion for $500B

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will participate in a “Compassion Forum.” I am reasonably certain this is for real and not a Saturday Night Live gag. John Edwards will grade each participant’s answers on a scale of Scrooge to Gandhi. (Okay, that part I made up.) The topics for the compassion fest will include poverty, global AIDS, climate change, and human rights. (No word on if Obama will be quizzed as to whether he agrees with Rev. Wright about the origins of AIDS.)

Why do I sneer? These are, after all, terribly serious and pressing issues. But the premise of the forum, and others like it, is ridiculously condescending. We are led to believe that the reason these problems exist is because we are insufficiently compassionate. What we need is to increase our collective “compassion footprint.” That would solve all these knotty problems. Compassion, of course, invariably means dollars and dollars means government dollars. And so the conversation dissolves into an auction with taxpayers money. (“Hillary pledges $300B for poverty!” “Obama says he’s in for $450B on global AIDS!”)

Not only does this simplify to the point of absurdity the critical issues we face, it distracts from very real solutions that would make a difference. Will one of the participants tell the crowd that surest way to avoid poverty in the U.S. is for young people to stay in school and off drugs, avoid law-breaking, and hold down a job? Probably not. Rarely in these settings does compassion entail taking a tough line with our adversaries. Will someone ask if we show compassion to Cuban political prisoners by meeting with their jailer? Probably not.

“Compassion” in a forum like this is a very special kind of compassion. It, of course, does not extend to Iraqi civilians or any discussion of the moral obligations we may have incurred there. And don’t dare bring up compassion for the struggling democracies around the world that would be helped by something as mutually beneficial as free trade. (Think trade with the U.S. might help alleviate poverty in the Third World? You must be crazy.) That would be off topic, you see. We’re talking about the kind of compassion that complacent liberals can get excited about.

Aside from all that, it’s worth asking whether, on a political level, this even helps voters decide between the two Democratic contenders. Given that both are utterly expert at pandering, especially when it involves spending taxpayer money, I would think not. But I bet they both mention John Edwards more than once (not in a hedge fund-McMansion way but in the little-girl-with-no-coat sense) in one last push to snare his endorsement. That, at least, would be productive.

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will participate in a “Compassion Forum.” I am reasonably certain this is for real and not a Saturday Night Live gag. John Edwards will grade each participant’s answers on a scale of Scrooge to Gandhi. (Okay, that part I made up.) The topics for the compassion fest will include poverty, global AIDS, climate change, and human rights. (No word on if Obama will be quizzed as to whether he agrees with Rev. Wright about the origins of AIDS.)

Why do I sneer? These are, after all, terribly serious and pressing issues. But the premise of the forum, and others like it, is ridiculously condescending. We are led to believe that the reason these problems exist is because we are insufficiently compassionate. What we need is to increase our collective “compassion footprint.” That would solve all these knotty problems. Compassion, of course, invariably means dollars and dollars means government dollars. And so the conversation dissolves into an auction with taxpayers money. (“Hillary pledges $300B for poverty!” “Obama says he’s in for $450B on global AIDS!”)

Not only does this simplify to the point of absurdity the critical issues we face, it distracts from very real solutions that would make a difference. Will one of the participants tell the crowd that surest way to avoid poverty in the U.S. is for young people to stay in school and off drugs, avoid law-breaking, and hold down a job? Probably not. Rarely in these settings does compassion entail taking a tough line with our adversaries. Will someone ask if we show compassion to Cuban political prisoners by meeting with their jailer? Probably not.

“Compassion” in a forum like this is a very special kind of compassion. It, of course, does not extend to Iraqi civilians or any discussion of the moral obligations we may have incurred there. And don’t dare bring up compassion for the struggling democracies around the world that would be helped by something as mutually beneficial as free trade. (Think trade with the U.S. might help alleviate poverty in the Third World? You must be crazy.) That would be off topic, you see. We’re talking about the kind of compassion that complacent liberals can get excited about.

Aside from all that, it’s worth asking whether, on a political level, this even helps voters decide between the two Democratic contenders. Given that both are utterly expert at pandering, especially when it involves spending taxpayer money, I would think not. But I bet they both mention John Edwards more than once (not in a hedge fund-McMansion way but in the little-girl-with-no-coat sense) in one last push to snare his endorsement. That, at least, would be productive.

Read Less




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