Commentary Magazine


Topic: McCain camp

Worth Studying

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

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“Less, Please”

The crowd apparently liked what it heard at AIPAC, and–contrary to the Democratic hit squad assembled to criticize the speech–thought it really was about Israel. (It was a very revealing that the Democrats considered a speech largely devoted to Israel’s security threats–Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran–to be lacking relevancy to AIPAC.)

But the surest sign of success by the McCain camp is Barack Obama’s plea to change the subject. After a few weeks of tangling with McCain on Iraq, Iran, and Israel he has had enough, declaring, “it seems like all Senator McCain is talking about on the campaign trail is Iraq.” Well . . . yes. What is anyone talking about? But enough of that for the Obama camp.

Obama is right, though. He isn’t going to win on national security experience. And with Iraq looking much improved, it has now become a sore point for his campaign. His hopes really do rest with being able to shift voters’ attention to the economy, health care, and other domestic matters. The challenge for McCain will be both to keep up the drumbeat on foreign policy and to meet Obama on the domestic front. It won’t be every day that he gets a standing ovation at AIPAC and a made-to-order rant from Ahmadinejad.

The crowd apparently liked what it heard at AIPAC, and–contrary to the Democratic hit squad assembled to criticize the speech–thought it really was about Israel. (It was a very revealing that the Democrats considered a speech largely devoted to Israel’s security threats–Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran–to be lacking relevancy to AIPAC.)

But the surest sign of success by the McCain camp is Barack Obama’s plea to change the subject. After a few weeks of tangling with McCain on Iraq, Iran, and Israel he has had enough, declaring, “it seems like all Senator McCain is talking about on the campaign trail is Iraq.” Well . . . yes. What is anyone talking about? But enough of that for the Obama camp.

Obama is right, though. He isn’t going to win on national security experience. And with Iraq looking much improved, it has now become a sore point for his campaign. His hopes really do rest with being able to shift voters’ attention to the economy, health care, and other domestic matters. The challenge for McCain will be both to keep up the drumbeat on foreign policy and to meet Obama on the domestic front. It won’t be every day that he gets a standing ovation at AIPAC and a made-to-order rant from Ahmadinejad.

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What Change of Position?

In a media call organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the National Security Network, three Democrats attacked John McCain’s speech at AIPAC: Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and an Adviser to Middle East Progress; Jon B. Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program; and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network.

They repeated the Democratic canard that McCain’s speech showed he was “stuck in the Bush administration.” They advocated broaders steps to engage Iran, contended that McCain’s sanctions approach would not work, and called it a “mischaracterization” of Barack Obama’s position that Obama wants to “rush off to Tehran.” They also criticized the speech which they said did not have “a whole heck of a lot” to say about Israel. Apparently, they do not recognize Iran or Iraq as related to Israel’s security and therefore consider those comments off topic.

I asked if the Bush administration had in fact not already gone down the negotiation road, deferring to the Europeans. Beers responded that it was a mistake to allow the Europeans to become the “interlocutors” and that the current talks do not address nuclear issues. He reiterated the view that what was needed was direct talks and that ratcheting up the pressure on Iran simply won’t work.

But when I questioned why it was incorrect to say that Obama was “rushing off to Tehran,” things got a bit hot and heavy. They denied that was his position, pointing to recent interviews. When I asked about his own website and his response in the CNN/YouTube debate, they insisted I quote those comments, not accepting my offer to read them at CONTENTIONS (or the many other outlets where they have been reported). I tried again, asking if the website comments and earlier remarks evincing his willingness to talk directly to Ahmadinejad were “inoperative,” they accused the McCain camp of wanting to muddy the waters. In short, none of the three was willing to acknowledge that Obama still wanted to have direct, unconditional talks OR to acknowledge that his position had changed.

And, as if on cue, with John McCain AIPAC speech we have this report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted on Monday that Muslims would uproot “satanic powers” and repeated his controversial belief that Israel will soon disappear, the Mehr news agency reported. “I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene,” he said.

And these foreign policy “experts” critiquing McCain don’t see what Iran has to do with Israel? I can understand why they are so touchy about those old YouTube clips.

In a media call organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the National Security Network, three Democrats attacked John McCain’s speech at AIPAC: Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and an Adviser to Middle East Progress; Jon B. Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program; and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network.

They repeated the Democratic canard that McCain’s speech showed he was “stuck in the Bush administration.” They advocated broaders steps to engage Iran, contended that McCain’s sanctions approach would not work, and called it a “mischaracterization” of Barack Obama’s position that Obama wants to “rush off to Tehran.” They also criticized the speech which they said did not have “a whole heck of a lot” to say about Israel. Apparently, they do not recognize Iran or Iraq as related to Israel’s security and therefore consider those comments off topic.

I asked if the Bush administration had in fact not already gone down the negotiation road, deferring to the Europeans. Beers responded that it was a mistake to allow the Europeans to become the “interlocutors” and that the current talks do not address nuclear issues. He reiterated the view that what was needed was direct talks and that ratcheting up the pressure on Iran simply won’t work.

But when I questioned why it was incorrect to say that Obama was “rushing off to Tehran,” things got a bit hot and heavy. They denied that was his position, pointing to recent interviews. When I asked about his own website and his response in the CNN/YouTube debate, they insisted I quote those comments, not accepting my offer to read them at CONTENTIONS (or the many other outlets where they have been reported). I tried again, asking if the website comments and earlier remarks evincing his willingness to talk directly to Ahmadinejad were “inoperative,” they accused the McCain camp of wanting to muddy the waters. In short, none of the three was willing to acknowledge that Obama still wanted to have direct, unconditional talks OR to acknowledge that his position had changed.

And, as if on cue, with John McCain AIPAC speech we have this report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted on Monday that Muslims would uproot “satanic powers” and repeated his controversial belief that Israel will soon disappear, the Mehr news agency reported. “I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene,” he said.

And these foreign policy “experts” critiquing McCain don’t see what Iran has to do with Israel? I can understand why they are so touchy about those old YouTube clips.

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The Real Lessons

David Frum posits, correctly I think, that the real lesson of Scott McClellan is that Presidents shouldn’t surround themselves with incompetent lackeys and foster a sense of blind personal loyalty. That’s something upon which both conservatives and liberals can agree. But of course, we didn’t need McClellan to write about that–he was that. (And if you entirely change your book pitch from “Bush was a pretty ok guy” to “They were all liars” to please your left-wing book publisher, you deserve to have bipartisan contempt hurled your way.)

While we are learning (or re-learning) lessons about the Bush administration, I think refusing to listen to military experts, adjusting to new facts, and acknowledging reality should rank fairly high. Given the current status of Iraq and Al Qaeda, maybe Barack Obama shouldn’t be tossing around phrases like: “We don’t need more leaders who can’t admit they made a mistake.” That seems destined to wind up in a John McCain campaign ad. For now the McCain camp responds that:

Barack Obama has never once said that neglecting to meet one on one with General David Petraeus or that neglecting to visit Iraq in 874 days was a mistake. The issue is: Barack Obama’s inaction appears to be a refusal to see or even consider the reported successes with the ‘Surge’ in Iraq – and that is a major mistake he should admit to.

And from a less biased source: the Washington Post, after pointing to the substantial gains in Iraq, suggests that the new facts “ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the ‘this-war-is-lost” caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama.” After all, we know the perils of a President who is slow to recognize new facts and adjust accordingly.

David Frum posits, correctly I think, that the real lesson of Scott McClellan is that Presidents shouldn’t surround themselves with incompetent lackeys and foster a sense of blind personal loyalty. That’s something upon which both conservatives and liberals can agree. But of course, we didn’t need McClellan to write about that–he was that. (And if you entirely change your book pitch from “Bush was a pretty ok guy” to “They were all liars” to please your left-wing book publisher, you deserve to have bipartisan contempt hurled your way.)

While we are learning (or re-learning) lessons about the Bush administration, I think refusing to listen to military experts, adjusting to new facts, and acknowledging reality should rank fairly high. Given the current status of Iraq and Al Qaeda, maybe Barack Obama shouldn’t be tossing around phrases like: “We don’t need more leaders who can’t admit they made a mistake.” That seems destined to wind up in a John McCain campaign ad. For now the McCain camp responds that:

Barack Obama has never once said that neglecting to meet one on one with General David Petraeus or that neglecting to visit Iraq in 874 days was a mistake. The issue is: Barack Obama’s inaction appears to be a refusal to see or even consider the reported successes with the ‘Surge’ in Iraq – and that is a major mistake he should admit to.

And from a less biased source: the Washington Post, after pointing to the substantial gains in Iraq, suggests that the new facts “ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the ‘this-war-is-lost” caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama.” After all, we know the perils of a President who is slow to recognize new facts and adjust accordingly.

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Who Blundered?

Stories like this, which parrot Barack Obama’s talking points on John McCain’s comments on U.S. troop levels in Iraq, demonstrate the intellectual and professional dishonesty of the mainstream press. The reporter who penned this account of McCain’s “blunder”( was that term ever used when Obama misremembered the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit?) was on same call as I was yesterday. Nevertheless, he failed to describe, or even hint, at the McCain team’s complete responses to this matter: 1) the decision to reduce below surge troop levels has been made and 2) the larger context of this is that Obama was fundamentally wrong in contending the surge would have no impact (ah, that story is undergoing an edit also). One need not agree with the McCain camp on the latter point to at least afford them the courtesy of transcribing its response.

Compare the Post’s telling to this account in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) which recounts both sides’ barbs, the list of recent Obama gaffes, and Obama’s attacks on McCain’s troop level remark. The reporter also presents the McCain view:

Sen. McCain focused on the military success of the surge, saying the decision to increase troop levels shows that he exhibited proper judgment and Sen. Obama, who opposed the surge, did not.

Now that wasn’t so hard. It would seem a basic task of journalism to at least present what both campaigns have to say on a given matter. And in the world of the blogosphere you can always go to alternative outlets to find out who said what to whom.

Stories like this, which parrot Barack Obama’s talking points on John McCain’s comments on U.S. troop levels in Iraq, demonstrate the intellectual and professional dishonesty of the mainstream press. The reporter who penned this account of McCain’s “blunder”( was that term ever used when Obama misremembered the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit?) was on same call as I was yesterday. Nevertheless, he failed to describe, or even hint, at the McCain team’s complete responses to this matter: 1) the decision to reduce below surge troop levels has been made and 2) the larger context of this is that Obama was fundamentally wrong in contending the surge would have no impact (ah, that story is undergoing an edit also). One need not agree with the McCain camp on the latter point to at least afford them the courtesy of transcribing its response.

Compare the Post’s telling to this account in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) which recounts both sides’ barbs, the list of recent Obama gaffes, and Obama’s attacks on McCain’s troop level remark. The reporter also presents the McCain view:

Sen. McCain focused on the military success of the surge, saying the decision to increase troop levels shows that he exhibited proper judgment and Sen. Obama, who opposed the surge, did not.

Now that wasn’t so hard. It would seem a basic task of journalism to at least present what both campaigns have to say on a given matter. And in the world of the blogosphere you can always go to alternative outlets to find out who said what to whom.

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How Many Can You Count?

There are a number of mini-stories within the Father Pfleger controversy. Catholics are upset. Women and Hillary Clinton supporters are angry about his insulting and demeaning comments about her. The Democrats concerned about healing the party are worried. The earmark hawks smell a rat. And then there is the basic issue: what does Barack Obama believe and who are his intellectual and spiritual tutors?

Perhaps when the media exhaust themselves with the McClellan book they might work around to some Obama interviews that are a bit tougher than those they served up when Rev. Wright broke onto the scene. Some basic questions could get things going: why did you select him as a mentor? Did his liberation philosophy appeal to you? Why did you give him a nice juicy earmark?

And it will be interesting to see whether the McCain camp has gotten over its squeamishness about Obama’s ranting clergymen and will raise these issues themselves. As we have seen on Iraq, when they put their minds to it they aren’t bad at focusing the media on an Obama liability. But if they don’t, it is hard to see that the press, and in turn the public, will care much about this topic.

There are a number of mini-stories within the Father Pfleger controversy. Catholics are upset. Women and Hillary Clinton supporters are angry about his insulting and demeaning comments about her. The Democrats concerned about healing the party are worried. The earmark hawks smell a rat. And then there is the basic issue: what does Barack Obama believe and who are his intellectual and spiritual tutors?

Perhaps when the media exhaust themselves with the McClellan book they might work around to some Obama interviews that are a bit tougher than those they served up when Rev. Wright broke onto the scene. Some basic questions could get things going: why did you select him as a mentor? Did his liberation philosophy appeal to you? Why did you give him a nice juicy earmark?

And it will be interesting to see whether the McCain camp has gotten over its squeamishness about Obama’s ranting clergymen and will raise these issues themselves. As we have seen on Iraq, when they put their minds to it they aren’t bad at focusing the media on an Obama liability. But if they don’t, it is hard to see that the press, and in turn the public, will care much about this topic.

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McCain Foreign Policy Call

Sen. Jon Kyl and McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann held a conference call to talk about Iraq and a comment that John McCain made yesterday that “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” (The Obama camp pounced, declaring that the pre-surge troops won’t be fully withdrawn until July.)

Sen. Kyl began by saying that “Al Qaeda has been significantly, significantly degraded in Iraq and other places.” He continued “The point is the surge recommended by Sen. McCain has worked.” Scheunemann was more harsh, declaring that Obama is “so wedded to a narrative of failure” that he refuses to get additional facts and that he simply “refuses to recognize any progress.” He declared that Obama was “demonstrably wrong” on the judgment that the surge would not reduce sectarian violence.

I asked whether McCain considered Obama unfit to be commander-in-chief. Scheunemann excoriated Obama for refusing to take the time to visit Iraq and or even meet with General Petraeus. He said, “Sen. Obama lacks the judgment, experience and knowledge” to be commander-in-chief. Most of the rest of the call was taken up by mainstream reporters wrangling with the advisors, accusing McCain of a gaffe and arguing that this revealed that he was uninformed about a key fact. The advisors reiterated again and again that the essence of McCain’s comment is correct: we are drawing down and we have already decided to reduce below surge levels. The bulk of the reporters seemed positively fixated on what the McCain camp termed a “verb tense” and the prospect of catching McCain in an error.

On an unrelated note, I asked whether McCain had problems with the progress of the Six Party talks and was disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to abandon verification of North Korea’s nuke program. Without responding directly, the advisors noted that McCain has favored talks with our allies and an agreement that is “complete, irreversible, and verifiable.”

Sen. Jon Kyl and McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann held a conference call to talk about Iraq and a comment that John McCain made yesterday that “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” (The Obama camp pounced, declaring that the pre-surge troops won’t be fully withdrawn until July.)

Sen. Kyl began by saying that “Al Qaeda has been significantly, significantly degraded in Iraq and other places.” He continued “The point is the surge recommended by Sen. McCain has worked.” Scheunemann was more harsh, declaring that Obama is “so wedded to a narrative of failure” that he refuses to get additional facts and that he simply “refuses to recognize any progress.” He declared that Obama was “demonstrably wrong” on the judgment that the surge would not reduce sectarian violence.

I asked whether McCain considered Obama unfit to be commander-in-chief. Scheunemann excoriated Obama for refusing to take the time to visit Iraq and or even meet with General Petraeus. He said, “Sen. Obama lacks the judgment, experience and knowledge” to be commander-in-chief. Most of the rest of the call was taken up by mainstream reporters wrangling with the advisors, accusing McCain of a gaffe and arguing that this revealed that he was uninformed about a key fact. The advisors reiterated again and again that the essence of McCain’s comment is correct: we are drawing down and we have already decided to reduce below surge levels. The bulk of the reporters seemed positively fixated on what the McCain camp termed a “verb tense” and the prospect of catching McCain in an error.

On an unrelated note, I asked whether McCain had problems with the progress of the Six Party talks and was disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to abandon verification of North Korea’s nuke program. Without responding directly, the advisors noted that McCain has favored talks with our allies and an agreement that is “complete, irreversible, and verifiable.”

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Media Wars

The White House took issue over the weekend with the New York Times‘s characterization of its position on the GI bill. Hillary Clinton has had it with NBC/MSNBC. A day doesn’t pass without the McCain camp taking a shot at a mainstream media outlet. Has the coverage actually gotten worse? Or is the victimization imaginary?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both. As to the latter, with omnipresent YouTube both the media and those they cover have access to who said what to whom. The reporters’ notes of a given event are not the final say. If the media gets it factually wrong or take liberties in interpreting events, the aggrieved subject can fight back. And through the power of Google a candidate or official can easily do his own research and combat the media version of events.

But it is also true that, in the fight for news niches, some outlets have given up all pretense of objectivity. When the most rabidly partisan cable show host sits in the anchor chair to read the evening’s primary returns, it is little wonder that the “hard news” coverage is neither hard, nor news. It is frothy opinion dressed up in the guise of news. (Even other liberal outlets were bothered.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when, for example, Hillary Clinton’s team objects. And of course, if mainstream media figures candidly acknowledge their bias, there is every reason for those getting the short end of the coverage to object.

The media already has a confidence rating lower than Congress with the American people. So the consequence of all the pushback is likely to make the public even more skeptical of much of what they read and see. And that perhaps is the real motive of many of those pushing back so hard. It would also be nice if, as a result of all the scrutiny, the mainstream coverage actually got better–but that may be too much to ask.

The White House took issue over the weekend with the New York Times‘s characterization of its position on the GI bill. Hillary Clinton has had it with NBC/MSNBC. A day doesn’t pass without the McCain camp taking a shot at a mainstream media outlet. Has the coverage actually gotten worse? Or is the victimization imaginary?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both. As to the latter, with omnipresent YouTube both the media and those they cover have access to who said what to whom. The reporters’ notes of a given event are not the final say. If the media gets it factually wrong or take liberties in interpreting events, the aggrieved subject can fight back. And through the power of Google a candidate or official can easily do his own research and combat the media version of events.

But it is also true that, in the fight for news niches, some outlets have given up all pretense of objectivity. When the most rabidly partisan cable show host sits in the anchor chair to read the evening’s primary returns, it is little wonder that the “hard news” coverage is neither hard, nor news. It is frothy opinion dressed up in the guise of news. (Even other liberal outlets were bothered.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when, for example, Hillary Clinton’s team objects. And of course, if mainstream media figures candidly acknowledge their bias, there is every reason for those getting the short end of the coverage to object.

The media already has a confidence rating lower than Congress with the American people. So the consequence of all the pushback is likely to make the public even more skeptical of much of what they read and see. And that perhaps is the real motive of many of those pushing back so hard. It would also be nice if, as a result of all the scrutiny, the mainstream coverage actually got better–but that may be too much to ask.

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Not The Best Of Times for Obama

The New York Times and other mainstream media pundits are convinced that John McCain is in dire straits and everything is going swimmingly for their favorite son Barack Obama. But is this right?

It is hard to ignore the stream of Obama gaffes. The Cuban community in Florida is unimpressed. Foreign leaders continue to express concern about Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements. And for someone who is now the certain nominee of the party “destined” to win in November his poll numbers are mediocre at best. Why after all this supposedly horrible news for McCain would Obama only be tied with him (and Clinton only slightly ahead of McCain) in the last Newsweek poll? (In Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls McCain is up slightly over Obama.)

Meanwhile, McCain’s medical records seem to have removed concern about his health. And he even managed to slip out a year of his wife’s tax returns to quell concern over that issue.

Now, pundits may be right that the McCain camp has a way to go in sprucing up its money and communications apparatus. He does in fact need a better defined agenda and a “narrative,” as Karl Rove explained on Sunday. Still, with all that, it is hard to make the case that Obama has been improving his standing with the public and surging to a dominating position in the general election since he was crowned the presumptive nominee.

It is easy to figure out why. In part, Obama simply does not win the news cycle when the topic is foreign policy, and specifically his own ever-shifting statements. And in part, the Obama-mania novelty is wearing off. (The latest graduation speech sounds eerily reminiscent of a dozen stump speeches we have all heard before.) Finally, it is a truism that the public likes a winner, and the weekly drubbings he has received at the hands of the already declared runner-up have likely dimmed his allure.

None of this is to suggest that Obama is not the favorite or that McCain doesn’t face tough challenges. But the conventional wisdom that recent events have been helpful to Obama’s cause seems wrong. Put differently, Obama is likely anxious not to repeat the controversies, gaffes and foreign policy scrutiny – not to mention the election losses – that have dominated the news. So maybe, this is not exactly the best of times for Obama.

The New York Times and other mainstream media pundits are convinced that John McCain is in dire straits and everything is going swimmingly for their favorite son Barack Obama. But is this right?

It is hard to ignore the stream of Obama gaffes. The Cuban community in Florida is unimpressed. Foreign leaders continue to express concern about Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements. And for someone who is now the certain nominee of the party “destined” to win in November his poll numbers are mediocre at best. Why after all this supposedly horrible news for McCain would Obama only be tied with him (and Clinton only slightly ahead of McCain) in the last Newsweek poll? (In Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls McCain is up slightly over Obama.)

Meanwhile, McCain’s medical records seem to have removed concern about his health. And he even managed to slip out a year of his wife’s tax returns to quell concern over that issue.

Now, pundits may be right that the McCain camp has a way to go in sprucing up its money and communications apparatus. He does in fact need a better defined agenda and a “narrative,” as Karl Rove explained on Sunday. Still, with all that, it is hard to make the case that Obama has been improving his standing with the public and surging to a dominating position in the general election since he was crowned the presumptive nominee.

It is easy to figure out why. In part, Obama simply does not win the news cycle when the topic is foreign policy, and specifically his own ever-shifting statements. And in part, the Obama-mania novelty is wearing off. (The latest graduation speech sounds eerily reminiscent of a dozen stump speeches we have all heard before.) Finally, it is a truism that the public likes a winner, and the weekly drubbings he has received at the hands of the already declared runner-up have likely dimmed his allure.

None of this is to suggest that Obama is not the favorite or that McCain doesn’t face tough challenges. But the conventional wisdom that recent events have been helpful to Obama’s cause seems wrong. Put differently, Obama is likely anxious not to repeat the controversies, gaffes and foreign policy scrutiny – not to mention the election losses – that have dominated the news. So maybe, this is not exactly the best of times for Obama.

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One Out Of Two

Robert Novak spots two signals from the McCain camp: they will come out blazing about Barack Obama’s odd associations(Bill Ayers specifically) and they aren’t going to spend time on “health care mandates and home foreclosures.”

As to the first, this may come as a relief to conservatives who were dismayed that McCain seemed queasy about taking on his foe on issues which it turns out the public cares about. Noteworthy in its absence, however, is any mention of Reverend Wright. One wonders then if we will face some Byzantine rules about which anti-American, hate mangers are fair game and which are not.

The second, if an accurate representation of the McCain camp thinking, is potentially disastrous. There seems no surer formula for electoral calamity than for him than to live up to the Democrats’ favorite cartoonish portrait of an out-of-touch and indifferent Republican. By ignoring two top issues on most voters’ minds–health care and economic insecurity–he will surely forfeit whatever chances he has to pull in independent voters and even some of those disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters.

McCain’s hopes lie not replaying George H.W. Bush, who was dinged as oblivious to the recession (which in retrospect was mild) and bored with a domestic agenda, but in a reform-minded vision which offers some real alternatives to Barack Obama’s standard-fare liberalism. While some might like to encourage his natural predilection to ignore domestic matters, it is one entreaty he should ignore.

Robert Novak spots two signals from the McCain camp: they will come out blazing about Barack Obama’s odd associations(Bill Ayers specifically) and they aren’t going to spend time on “health care mandates and home foreclosures.”

As to the first, this may come as a relief to conservatives who were dismayed that McCain seemed queasy about taking on his foe on issues which it turns out the public cares about. Noteworthy in its absence, however, is any mention of Reverend Wright. One wonders then if we will face some Byzantine rules about which anti-American, hate mangers are fair game and which are not.

The second, if an accurate representation of the McCain camp thinking, is potentially disastrous. There seems no surer formula for electoral calamity than for him than to live up to the Democrats’ favorite cartoonish portrait of an out-of-touch and indifferent Republican. By ignoring two top issues on most voters’ minds–health care and economic insecurity–he will surely forfeit whatever chances he has to pull in independent voters and even some of those disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters.

McCain’s hopes lie not replaying George H.W. Bush, who was dinged as oblivious to the recession (which in retrospect was mild) and bored with a domestic agenda, but in a reform-minded vision which offers some real alternatives to Barack Obama’s standard-fare liberalism. While some might like to encourage his natural predilection to ignore domestic matters, it is one entreaty he should ignore.

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Wriggling Out?

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

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The Problem Isn’t The Lobbyists

A few reporters are onto some lobbyist connections in the Obama camp. We saw some of this earlier in the race when his “I don’t take oil company money” was shown to be less than accurate. But this whole argument, I’d say, is off base. (As is the effort by the McCain camp to purge its own lobbyists for the reasons discussed here.) It’s not as if lobbying is illegal. Last time I checked, it was protected by the First Amendment. The problem is politicians who cave into the special interests promoted by lobbyists.  David Brooks notes, speaking of the atrocious $307 billion farm bill,

Barack Obama talks about taking on the special interests. This farm bill would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. But Obama supported the bill, just as he supported the 2005 energy bill that was a Christmas tree for the oil and gas industries. Obama’s vote may help him win Iowa, but it will lead to higher global food prices and more hunger in Africa. Moreover, it raises questions about how exactly he expects to bring about the change that he promises.

So rather than count lobbyists, perhaps we should start counting dollars spent on boondoggles. This is a more meaningful measure of a candidates’ willingness to resist lobbyists’ invitations to spend the taxpayers dollars and override the public interest. And  it–rather than a neverending game of “spot the lobbyist”–might be a more fruitful exercise as we look for the next president.

A few reporters are onto some lobbyist connections in the Obama camp. We saw some of this earlier in the race when his “I don’t take oil company money” was shown to be less than accurate. But this whole argument, I’d say, is off base. (As is the effort by the McCain camp to purge its own lobbyists for the reasons discussed here.) It’s not as if lobbying is illegal. Last time I checked, it was protected by the First Amendment. The problem is politicians who cave into the special interests promoted by lobbyists.  David Brooks notes, speaking of the atrocious $307 billion farm bill,

Barack Obama talks about taking on the special interests. This farm bill would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. But Obama supported the bill, just as he supported the 2005 energy bill that was a Christmas tree for the oil and gas industries. Obama’s vote may help him win Iowa, but it will lead to higher global food prices and more hunger in Africa. Moreover, it raises questions about how exactly he expects to bring about the change that he promises.

So rather than count lobbyists, perhaps we should start counting dollars spent on boondoggles. This is a more meaningful measure of a candidates’ willingness to resist lobbyists’ invitations to spend the taxpayers dollars and override the public interest. And  it–rather than a neverending game of “spot the lobbyist”–might be a more fruitful exercise as we look for the next president.

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Fighting Back

The White House and the McCain campaign are both turning up the heat on mainstream media outlets, challenging their inaccuracies and going public with their complaints. In theory this sounds like a fine idea, a much needed correction to the obvious biases and just flat-out inaccuracies that any serious observer of news coverage can spot. And there is no easier way to “bond” with the conservative base than to rail against the liberal media, as John McCain did effectively with the New York Times’ lobbyist story.

But, at least with regard to the McCain campaign, dangers lurk. Their opponent, of course, is Barack Obama–not the media. The “story of the day” is ideally not “McCain attacks CNN for bias,” but “Obama gets trapped in foreign policy misstatement.” For better or worse, the public doesn’t care much about media bias. Nor does the “everyone is out to get Republicans” meme appeal to most voters (many of whom would like to “get” those same Republicans).

It was, it seems, many conservatives and the McCain camp itself which ripped Obama for objecting to press scrutiny on Rezko and Wright. The contrast between McCain–who plunges into media scrums–and Obama–who shrinks from pressers–is an effective one, if the McCain message is transparency, openness and determination under fire. But it doesn’t help to turn around and bellyache that the coverage is insufficiently supportive.

This is a tightrope for the McCain camp: to walk the line between exposing media unfairness and keeping their eye on the ball. Frankly, there is a great deal in mainstream media coverage– whether of Obama’s latest conflict-of-interest problem or of his fumble on Iran–which has been exceedingly fair to the McCain camp. And in our current media universe, the McCain people may have an easier time than any other Republican presidential candidate in political history in getting their message out. After all, Ronald Reagan managed to get elected twice in a media environment utterly dominated by three networks and a handful of openly oppositional newspapers.

The White House and the McCain campaign are both turning up the heat on mainstream media outlets, challenging their inaccuracies and going public with their complaints. In theory this sounds like a fine idea, a much needed correction to the obvious biases and just flat-out inaccuracies that any serious observer of news coverage can spot. And there is no easier way to “bond” with the conservative base than to rail against the liberal media, as John McCain did effectively with the New York Times’ lobbyist story.

But, at least with regard to the McCain campaign, dangers lurk. Their opponent, of course, is Barack Obama–not the media. The “story of the day” is ideally not “McCain attacks CNN for bias,” but “Obama gets trapped in foreign policy misstatement.” For better or worse, the public doesn’t care much about media bias. Nor does the “everyone is out to get Republicans” meme appeal to most voters (many of whom would like to “get” those same Republicans).

It was, it seems, many conservatives and the McCain camp itself which ripped Obama for objecting to press scrutiny on Rezko and Wright. The contrast between McCain–who plunges into media scrums–and Obama–who shrinks from pressers–is an effective one, if the McCain message is transparency, openness and determination under fire. But it doesn’t help to turn around and bellyache that the coverage is insufficiently supportive.

This is a tightrope for the McCain camp: to walk the line between exposing media unfairness and keeping their eye on the ball. Frankly, there is a great deal in mainstream media coverage– whether of Obama’s latest conflict-of-interest problem or of his fumble on Iran–which has been exceedingly fair to the McCain camp. And in our current media universe, the McCain people may have an easier time than any other Republican presidential candidate in political history in getting their message out. After all, Ronald Reagan managed to get elected twice in a media environment utterly dominated by three networks and a handful of openly oppositional newspapers.

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Clean Hands, Empty Record

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?

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McCain Wins One

All day Friday we saw the Jamie Rubin accusation — that John McCain previously supported direct talks with Hamas — play out in all the major news outlets. By day’s end the McCain camp had unearthered the entire interview in question showing McCain didn’t support unconditional talks with Hamas. In particular, McCain commented on how he believed the U.S. should treat the then-newly elected Hamas government:

I think the US should take a step back and see what they do when they form the government, see what their policies are and see the ways in which we can engage with them and if there aren’t any then there may be a hiatus but I think part of the relationship will be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the US acts.”

Jamie Rubin cries smear in Huffington Post –but reprints the above-quote, which doesn’t help his position at all. Indeed it bolsters McCain’s position that he has always believed that any engagement of Hamas depended on its behavior. CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Ben Smith of Politico say “whoops,” acknowledging the McCain team has made its point. What will the rest of the mainstream media do?

All day Friday we saw the Jamie Rubin accusation — that John McCain previously supported direct talks with Hamas — play out in all the major news outlets. By day’s end the McCain camp had unearthered the entire interview in question showing McCain didn’t support unconditional talks with Hamas. In particular, McCain commented on how he believed the U.S. should treat the then-newly elected Hamas government:

I think the US should take a step back and see what they do when they form the government, see what their policies are and see the ways in which we can engage with them and if there aren’t any then there may be a hiatus but I think part of the relationship will be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the US acts.”

Jamie Rubin cries smear in Huffington Post –but reprints the above-quote, which doesn’t help his position at all. Indeed it bolsters McCain’s position that he has always believed that any engagement of Hamas depended on its behavior. CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Ben Smith of Politico say “whoops,” acknowledging the McCain team has made its point. What will the rest of the mainstream media do?

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Bypassing Insanity, Heading For Meltdown

You can read the latest outburst from Barack Obama on the Hamas/Iran issue. It has all the markings of the New Politics we have come to expect from Obama. First, as he did in the “100 days” issue, he takes McCain’s words out of context. (This makes it clear that Jamie Rubin took McCain’s comments out of context and that McCain explicitly opposed dealing with Hamas until they renounced terrorism.) Second, any criticism of his own positions is per se intolerable, out of bounds, outrageous, etc. Third, he never addresses the specific issues. What was wrong with President Bush’s comments? Why shouldn’t voters be concerned about his promise to meet with rogue state leaders? What’s the difference between his desire to meet with Ahmejinedad and Jimmy Carter’s outreach to Hamas?

The McCain camp labeled Obama’s remarks a “hysterical diatribe” and repeated the basic facts:

Senator Obama has pledged to unconditionally meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who pledges to wipe Israel off the map, denies the Holocaust, sponsors terrorists, arms America’s enemies in Iraq and pursues nuclear weapons. What would Senator Obama talk about with such a man?

Later in the day McCain, speaking at the NRA convention, himself took on Obama:

Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a ‘stinking corpse’ and arms terrorist who kill Americans will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies. But that is not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment, and determination to keep us safe.

We’re not even out of the primary season and already we know that Obama’s campaign strategy will be built on misdirection, feigned outrage, and evasion. I guess the New Politics is exactly like the Old Politics. Plus ça change . . .

You can read the latest outburst from Barack Obama on the Hamas/Iran issue. It has all the markings of the New Politics we have come to expect from Obama. First, as he did in the “100 days” issue, he takes McCain’s words out of context. (This makes it clear that Jamie Rubin took McCain’s comments out of context and that McCain explicitly opposed dealing with Hamas until they renounced terrorism.) Second, any criticism of his own positions is per se intolerable, out of bounds, outrageous, etc. Third, he never addresses the specific issues. What was wrong with President Bush’s comments? Why shouldn’t voters be concerned about his promise to meet with rogue state leaders? What’s the difference between his desire to meet with Ahmejinedad and Jimmy Carter’s outreach to Hamas?

The McCain camp labeled Obama’s remarks a “hysterical diatribe” and repeated the basic facts:

Senator Obama has pledged to unconditionally meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who pledges to wipe Israel off the map, denies the Holocaust, sponsors terrorists, arms America’s enemies in Iraq and pursues nuclear weapons. What would Senator Obama talk about with such a man?

Later in the day McCain, speaking at the NRA convention, himself took on Obama:

Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a ‘stinking corpse’ and arms terrorist who kill Americans will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies. But that is not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment, and determination to keep us safe.

We’re not even out of the primary season and already we know that Obama’s campaign strategy will be built on misdirection, feigned outrage, and evasion. I guess the New Politics is exactly like the Old Politics. Plus ça change . . .

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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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You Can Spot This One

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a speech yesterday, came out in favor of using a “combination of incentives and pressure to engage Iran.” He spoke favorably of Thomas Friedman’s May 14 column, in which Friedman wrote that

[T]he right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage. When you have leverage, talk. When you don’t have leverage, get some — by creating economic, diplomatic or military incentives and pressures that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore.

You can see it coming, right? The Post tosses in the line that Barack Obama has “said that talks with Iran on a range of issues might be useful.” The implication is clear: Obama is in the foreign policy mainstream. It’s McCain who’s out to lunch.

Of course, Obama’s proposal to talk at a presidential level with Iran without preconditions is the opposite of what Gates is proposing. The “leverage” which Friedman suggests we get before speaking is nonexistent in Obama’s scheme: he’ll talk to Ahmejinedad personally, regardless of whatever leverage we have aquired.

But be forewarned: that distinction will be utterly glossed over in the debate we are about to have. It’s up to the McCain camp to explain why talking without preconditions (at the Presidential level) is counterproductive without that all important leverage Friedman tells us to go acquire.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a speech yesterday, came out in favor of using a “combination of incentives and pressure to engage Iran.” He spoke favorably of Thomas Friedman’s May 14 column, in which Friedman wrote that

[T]he right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage. When you have leverage, talk. When you don’t have leverage, get some — by creating economic, diplomatic or military incentives and pressures that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore.

You can see it coming, right? The Post tosses in the line that Barack Obama has “said that talks with Iran on a range of issues might be useful.” The implication is clear: Obama is in the foreign policy mainstream. It’s McCain who’s out to lunch.

Of course, Obama’s proposal to talk at a presidential level with Iran without preconditions is the opposite of what Gates is proposing. The “leverage” which Friedman suggests we get before speaking is nonexistent in Obama’s scheme: he’ll talk to Ahmejinedad personally, regardless of whatever leverage we have aquired.

But be forewarned: that distinction will be utterly glossed over in the debate we are about to have. It’s up to the McCain camp to explain why talking without preconditions (at the Presidential level) is counterproductive without that all important leverage Friedman tells us to go acquire.

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Whistling A Happy Tune

That’s likely what is going on in the McCain camp. Their general election opponent is getting clobbered in West Virginia. Hillary Clinton is delaying her speech until 9 :00 p.m. so the pundits can thoroughly review all the horrible Obama poll numbers. And then some sharp eyed media folk notice that Barack Obama get his facts wrong on Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s more, the reporters go out of their way to say so: “Still it’s not asking too much to expect the man many say will soon be the Democratic nominee to cite the right facts to back up his thesis.” Ouch. Welcome to the general election, Mr. Obama.

That’s likely what is going on in the McCain camp. Their general election opponent is getting clobbered in West Virginia. Hillary Clinton is delaying her speech until 9 :00 p.m. so the pundits can thoroughly review all the horrible Obama poll numbers. And then some sharp eyed media folk notice that Barack Obama get his facts wrong on Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s more, the reporters go out of their way to say so: “Still it’s not asking too much to expect the man many say will soon be the Democratic nominee to cite the right facts to back up his thesis.” Ouch. Welcome to the general election, Mr. Obama.

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Another Round On Hamas

Newsweek is running a cover story on Barack Obama and the upcoming campaign. The story concerns pre-emptive claims by the Obama camp that the Republican-leaning 527′s will “Swiftboat” him and that John McCain will play the race card and take up other scurrilous positions. The Newsweek story also states that McCain sent out a fundraising letter “suggesting that Obama was the candidate of Hamas.” It includes mention of John McCain’s comment that he would be Hamas’ “worst nightmare,” the Obama “smear” reaction, and then the McCain retort focusing on ageism. The piece neatly avoids mentioning that in fact Hamas did endorse Obama.

The McCain team has responded to Newsweek with another Mark Salter letter, once again too long to reprint in full. (Free advice: stop writing long complaint letters if you want reporters to quote you in full.) The gist: the Newsweek authors unfairly took the Obama camp’s point of view and attributed tactics and motives to McCain (e.g. using race and playing up Obama’s foreign image) which McCain has already renounced.

As to the Hamas issue, Salter writes:

The Senator has never said that Senator Obama shares Hamas’ goals or values or proposed a relationship with Hamas different than the one he would propose. On the contrary, he publicly acknowledged that he doesn’t believe Senator Obama. He did note that there must be something about Obama’s positions, particularly his repeated insistence that he would meet with the President of Iran (Hamas’s chief state sponsor), that was welcomed by Hamas. Imagine if a right wing death squad spokesman announced that they welcomed McCain’s election. Would [the authors] treat that as an illegitimate issue or would they examine which of McCain’s stated positions might have found favor with the terrorists? That seems obvious on its face to me. Rather than argue that his position on Iran is the right one and has no bearing on how Hamas views him, Senator Obama makes a false charge that we accused him of advocating a different relationship with Hamas than Senator McCain’s supports. His false characterization of Senator McCain’s statement was accepted uncritically by [the authors].

What to make of all this? As a stylistic and tactical matter, one wonders if ponderous letters from Salter complaining about all manner of press unfairness really move the ball down the field for McCain. Don’t these missives reach a point of diminishing returns and divert attention from the real matter at hand: Obama’s positions and words? And worse still, some may attribute Salter’s irate tone to his boss, worsening the perception that McCain is thin-skinned and easily angered.

As for the substance, the McCain camp should be more direct about the real issues. Why has Hamas endorsed Obama? Is this what comes from offering Iran the opportunity for direct presidential visits? And what, if anything, have Obama advisors communicated to Hamas about Obama’s views? You can ask all that in one paragraph.

Newsweek is running a cover story on Barack Obama and the upcoming campaign. The story concerns pre-emptive claims by the Obama camp that the Republican-leaning 527′s will “Swiftboat” him and that John McCain will play the race card and take up other scurrilous positions. The Newsweek story also states that McCain sent out a fundraising letter “suggesting that Obama was the candidate of Hamas.” It includes mention of John McCain’s comment that he would be Hamas’ “worst nightmare,” the Obama “smear” reaction, and then the McCain retort focusing on ageism. The piece neatly avoids mentioning that in fact Hamas did endorse Obama.

The McCain team has responded to Newsweek with another Mark Salter letter, once again too long to reprint in full. (Free advice: stop writing long complaint letters if you want reporters to quote you in full.) The gist: the Newsweek authors unfairly took the Obama camp’s point of view and attributed tactics and motives to McCain (e.g. using race and playing up Obama’s foreign image) which McCain has already renounced.

As to the Hamas issue, Salter writes:

The Senator has never said that Senator Obama shares Hamas’ goals or values or proposed a relationship with Hamas different than the one he would propose. On the contrary, he publicly acknowledged that he doesn’t believe Senator Obama. He did note that there must be something about Obama’s positions, particularly his repeated insistence that he would meet with the President of Iran (Hamas’s chief state sponsor), that was welcomed by Hamas. Imagine if a right wing death squad spokesman announced that they welcomed McCain’s election. Would [the authors] treat that as an illegitimate issue or would they examine which of McCain’s stated positions might have found favor with the terrorists? That seems obvious on its face to me. Rather than argue that his position on Iran is the right one and has no bearing on how Hamas views him, Senator Obama makes a false charge that we accused him of advocating a different relationship with Hamas than Senator McCain’s supports. His false characterization of Senator McCain’s statement was accepted uncritically by [the authors].

What to make of all this? As a stylistic and tactical matter, one wonders if ponderous letters from Salter complaining about all manner of press unfairness really move the ball down the field for McCain. Don’t these missives reach a point of diminishing returns and divert attention from the real matter at hand: Obama’s positions and words? And worse still, some may attribute Salter’s irate tone to his boss, worsening the perception that McCain is thin-skinned and easily angered.

As for the substance, the McCain camp should be more direct about the real issues. Why has Hamas endorsed Obama? Is this what comes from offering Iran the opportunity for direct presidential visits? And what, if anything, have Obama advisors communicated to Hamas about Obama’s views? You can ask all that in one paragraph.

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