Commentary Magazine


Topic: Meet the Press

Thomas Friedman on Leverage

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

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The Doctor Is In

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.

Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?

All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.

In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.

Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:

I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.

But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.

Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.

Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?

All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.

In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.

Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:

I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.

But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.

Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.

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Where Is Tim Russert?

Ten minutes into Barack Obama’s appearance on Meet the Press, one has to wonder who replaced Tim Russert with this pained, quiet-voiced, candy-dispositioned fanboy. “Could you have handled this better,” Russert asks Obama about Jeremiah Wright, “and what have you learned from this?” I think, maybe, it’s Barbara Walters in a wig. The interesting thing is that even with these softballs being thrown at him, Obama sounds uncertain and uncomfortable.

Ten minutes into Barack Obama’s appearance on Meet the Press, one has to wonder who replaced Tim Russert with this pained, quiet-voiced, candy-dispositioned fanboy. “Could you have handled this better,” Russert asks Obama about Jeremiah Wright, “and what have you learned from this?” I think, maybe, it’s Barbara Walters in a wig. The interesting thing is that even with these softballs being thrown at him, Obama sounds uncertain and uncomfortable.

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Every Which Way on the NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

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Iran, Running Free

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

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Tim Russert’s Annoying Hillary Interview: A Case Study in Media Irrelevance

For more than a decade, Tim Russert has been celebrated for his highly confrontational, “gotcha” interviews on Meet the Press. But yesterday’s morning’s interview with Hillary Clinton provides ample evidence that he is among the most superficial and irritating members of the elite Washington press corps.

Whatever you may think of the Democrats, it is impossible to deny that the current race is a fascinating contest pitting core factions of the Democratic base against each other: African Americans versus working-class women, traditional liberals versus New Democrats. But what does Russert do with his exclusive hour with Clinton? He falls back on the sophomoric “oppo research” questions that his staff gleefully gins up, which tell us nothing about the state of the race or the candidate.

He starts by quoting a foolish Bob Herbert column that implausibly tries to paint the Clintons as racist. He follows up with some more ambush clips from African-Americans upset about Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line regarding Obama’s shifting position on Iraq or Hillary’s line about the importance of Lyndon Johnson in passing the Civil Rights Act. To her credit, Hillary responds to Russert by calling this stuff “an unfair and unwarranted attempt to misinterpret and mischaracterize what I’ve said.”

But Russert, never a good listener, continues to take her words out of context. First he misrepresents an interview Clinton did with Newsweek: “In Newsweek, you gave an interview to Jon Meacham, and you talked about the personal narrative that candidates develop. You seem to compare Barack Obama to, you say, demagogues like Huey Long.” What she said was this: “I have always been a little suspicious, to be honest, with a personal narrative.…There were some of the demagogues, Huey Long and others. For their time, they were unbelievable communicators and they gave people such a feeling of, on the one hand, hitting back against the forces that had undermined their futures or, on the other hand, that it was going to be automatically better if we elected that person I have always been suspicious of that.” This is actually one of the more interesting intelligent things Hillary Clinton has ever said.

Briefly he asked a few “what if” questions about the surge in Iraq, but as soon as Clinton offered a substantive answer, Russert simply retreated to his research file, trying to find some contradictory posture in her vote for the Iraq war she cast more than 5 years ago. Russert put up a video clip from 2002. Then he quoted a New York Times story from the same year. Later in the hour it was  aclip of Bill Clinton from 15 years ago defending his lack of Washington experience as a way of trying to embarrass Hillary on her criticism of Obama’s inexperience.

The sheer smarminess of all this is profoundly irritating. The hour-long interview gave us no new insight into Clinton or the current race. It was intended only to highlight the ability of Russert’s team to run a few Nexis searches. At one point, Russert had nerve to cite an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama beating Clinton – this from the same Tim Russert who, only a week ago, was intoxicated by all the worthless NBC polls showing Obama winning in New Hampshire.

Russert is lazy because he is still using the tired technique of reading old, embarrassing quotes to politicians that seemed like a novel approach when he started doing it — in 1991. He displays absolutely no interest in current politics, other than the urge to expose politicians (tee-hee) as flip-floppers. He is a case study of why the mainstream media has become so irrelevant to serious political conversation.

 

For more than a decade, Tim Russert has been celebrated for his highly confrontational, “gotcha” interviews on Meet the Press. But yesterday’s morning’s interview with Hillary Clinton provides ample evidence that he is among the most superficial and irritating members of the elite Washington press corps.

Whatever you may think of the Democrats, it is impossible to deny that the current race is a fascinating contest pitting core factions of the Democratic base against each other: African Americans versus working-class women, traditional liberals versus New Democrats. But what does Russert do with his exclusive hour with Clinton? He falls back on the sophomoric “oppo research” questions that his staff gleefully gins up, which tell us nothing about the state of the race or the candidate.

He starts by quoting a foolish Bob Herbert column that implausibly tries to paint the Clintons as racist. He follows up with some more ambush clips from African-Americans upset about Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line regarding Obama’s shifting position on Iraq or Hillary’s line about the importance of Lyndon Johnson in passing the Civil Rights Act. To her credit, Hillary responds to Russert by calling this stuff “an unfair and unwarranted attempt to misinterpret and mischaracterize what I’ve said.”

But Russert, never a good listener, continues to take her words out of context. First he misrepresents an interview Clinton did with Newsweek: “In Newsweek, you gave an interview to Jon Meacham, and you talked about the personal narrative that candidates develop. You seem to compare Barack Obama to, you say, demagogues like Huey Long.” What she said was this: “I have always been a little suspicious, to be honest, with a personal narrative.…There were some of the demagogues, Huey Long and others. For their time, they were unbelievable communicators and they gave people such a feeling of, on the one hand, hitting back against the forces that had undermined their futures or, on the other hand, that it was going to be automatically better if we elected that person I have always been suspicious of that.” This is actually one of the more interesting intelligent things Hillary Clinton has ever said.

Briefly he asked a few “what if” questions about the surge in Iraq, but as soon as Clinton offered a substantive answer, Russert simply retreated to his research file, trying to find some contradictory posture in her vote for the Iraq war she cast more than 5 years ago. Russert put up a video clip from 2002. Then he quoted a New York Times story from the same year. Later in the hour it was  aclip of Bill Clinton from 15 years ago defending his lack of Washington experience as a way of trying to embarrass Hillary on her criticism of Obama’s inexperience.

The sheer smarminess of all this is profoundly irritating. The hour-long interview gave us no new insight into Clinton or the current race. It was intended only to highlight the ability of Russert’s team to run a few Nexis searches. At one point, Russert had nerve to cite an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama beating Clinton – this from the same Tim Russert who, only a week ago, was intoxicated by all the worthless NBC polls showing Obama winning in New Hampshire.

Russert is lazy because he is still using the tired technique of reading old, embarrassing quotes to politicians that seemed like a novel approach when he started doing it — in 1991. He displays absolutely no interest in current politics, other than the urge to expose politicians (tee-hee) as flip-floppers. He is a case study of why the mainstream media has become so irrelevant to serious political conversation.

 

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Iraq Is The Issue. Iraq Is The Issue. Iraq Is The Issue.

Wasn’t it just last month that we heard how Iraq has faded as an issue, even among Republicans?  Weren’t New Hampshire’s voters instead deeply concerned about taxes, immigration, health care? This was the great misinterpretation of the run-up to last night’s primary.

John McCain won because he stuck to the war in Iraq.

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, we read that McCain has never stopped talking about the subject:

“The first reason I’m running for president is the war in Iraq,” Sen. McCain said when he took the microphone. “The final reason I’m running is the war in Iraq.”

McCain has never been a conservative favorite because of his “apostasy” on the Bush tax cuts, campaign finance reform, and illegal aliens.  Michelle Malkin expressed typical right-wing antipathy toward McCain when, a month ago, she called him an “immigration drag queen.” This perspective has effectively become conventional wisdom. Even Mickey Kaus, no conservative, as recently as two days ago headlined his Slate column with the question, “Will Amnesty Sink McCain?”

We have been hearing this for a year during which self-identified conservatives have been trying to create a post-Bush, post-Iraq agenda. Last summer, the venerable rightist weekly Human Events listed its top conservative issues.  Illegal immigration was #1. The war on terror was #2.  Iraq was #7.  Before Iraq came federal spending, Supreme Court nominees, tax cuts, and the size of government.

Other groups built other lists. The Club for Growth argued that McCain could not be trusted on economic issues. Mitt Romney tried to capture the conservative mantle with much talk about free market health care and, in the fall, religion. CNN and the Washington Post insisted that immigration was the new driving force for conservatives and Republicans. Mike Huckabee’s surge was interpreted as a return of the social-values agenda. More recently, some assumed that if Romney faltered, Fred Thompson would be the obvious conservative choice with his Reaganesque gravitas and anti-Washington instincts.

In the end, though, the war remains the conservative issue.

For all the noise about amnesty, taxes, and Washington politicians, Iraq remains the most vibrant issue – and the one that distinguishes the GOP most from the Democrats. McCain’s role as Rumsfeld critic but earliest supporter of the Iraq surge gave him his most forceful and principled arguments.  His best stuff with Tim Russert on last Sunday’s Meet the Press was all about Iraq. (Rudy Giuliani, too, has been making this case, but McCain’s detailed criticism of the handling of the war seems to give him more credibility.)

If conservative commentators don’t yet realize that staying power of the war in Iraq as an issue, some Democrats do. Listen to Hillary’s speech last night. She is already drawing a distinction between getting out of Iraq immediately (Obama’s position) and getting out “the right way.” She understands that, despite what everyone else says, Iraq will be an issue in the fall and the Democrats cannot look McGovernite, especially if McCain is the nominee.

Yes, the race is still wide open, etc.  But the most important message emerging from New Hampshire is the re-establishment of George W. Bush’s signal issue as the uniting force of the GOP.  How deliciously ironic that John McCain has become the torch bearer of the Bush legacy.

Wasn’t it just last month that we heard how Iraq has faded as an issue, even among Republicans?  Weren’t New Hampshire’s voters instead deeply concerned about taxes, immigration, health care? This was the great misinterpretation of the run-up to last night’s primary.

John McCain won because he stuck to the war in Iraq.

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, we read that McCain has never stopped talking about the subject:

“The first reason I’m running for president is the war in Iraq,” Sen. McCain said when he took the microphone. “The final reason I’m running is the war in Iraq.”

McCain has never been a conservative favorite because of his “apostasy” on the Bush tax cuts, campaign finance reform, and illegal aliens.  Michelle Malkin expressed typical right-wing antipathy toward McCain when, a month ago, she called him an “immigration drag queen.” This perspective has effectively become conventional wisdom. Even Mickey Kaus, no conservative, as recently as two days ago headlined his Slate column with the question, “Will Amnesty Sink McCain?”

We have been hearing this for a year during which self-identified conservatives have been trying to create a post-Bush, post-Iraq agenda. Last summer, the venerable rightist weekly Human Events listed its top conservative issues.  Illegal immigration was #1. The war on terror was #2.  Iraq was #7.  Before Iraq came federal spending, Supreme Court nominees, tax cuts, and the size of government.

Other groups built other lists. The Club for Growth argued that McCain could not be trusted on economic issues. Mitt Romney tried to capture the conservative mantle with much talk about free market health care and, in the fall, religion. CNN and the Washington Post insisted that immigration was the new driving force for conservatives and Republicans. Mike Huckabee’s surge was interpreted as a return of the social-values agenda. More recently, some assumed that if Romney faltered, Fred Thompson would be the obvious conservative choice with his Reaganesque gravitas and anti-Washington instincts.

In the end, though, the war remains the conservative issue.

For all the noise about amnesty, taxes, and Washington politicians, Iraq remains the most vibrant issue – and the one that distinguishes the GOP most from the Democrats. McCain’s role as Rumsfeld critic but earliest supporter of the Iraq surge gave him his most forceful and principled arguments.  His best stuff with Tim Russert on last Sunday’s Meet the Press was all about Iraq. (Rudy Giuliani, too, has been making this case, but McCain’s detailed criticism of the handling of the war seems to give him more credibility.)

If conservative commentators don’t yet realize that staying power of the war in Iraq as an issue, some Democrats do. Listen to Hillary’s speech last night. She is already drawing a distinction between getting out of Iraq immediately (Obama’s position) and getting out “the right way.” She understands that, despite what everyone else says, Iraq will be an issue in the fall and the Democrats cannot look McGovernite, especially if McCain is the nominee.

Yes, the race is still wide open, etc.  But the most important message emerging from New Hampshire is the re-establishment of George W. Bush’s signal issue as the uniting force of the GOP.  How deliciously ironic that John McCain has become the torch bearer of the Bush legacy.

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Ron Paul: When Right Meets Left

When someone argues for moral equivalency between the American government and Al Qaeda and suggests Bush is leading America toward fascism, we tend to assume the person is a leftist. But those same views are widely shared by parts of the libertarian right.

This isn’t entirely new: in the 1930’s the pro-communist left and the isolationist right both decried Roosevelt as a fascist war-mongerer. In the 1960’s both the New Right and New Left were sure that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was the incarnation of “friendly fascism.” The common thread was that both the anarcho-libertarians of Young Americans for Freedom and the anarcho-socialists of The Students for a Democratic Society saw the compromises of politics and the bureaucracies associated with governments as the spawn of soul-slaying managerialism. They (like Ron Paul) both adored Randolph Bourne, the American critic of WWI, entirely unaware of the appeal German romanticism and proto-fascism had for him. You could hear those common chords in Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul on Meet the Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: But let me go back to this ad. You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL: No. But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the—in the name of security pay—pass the Patriot Act. You don’t vote for it, you know, you’re not patriotic America. If you don’t support the troops and you don’t support—if you don’t support the war you don’t support the troops. It’s that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country’s moving in that direction. That’s what I’m thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we’re close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we’re approaching it very close. One—there’s one, there’s one documentary that’s been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called “Freedom to Fascism.” And we’re moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Paul, the provincial, is as blissfully unaware of the history of 1300 years of Jihad as the Daily Kos and most of its readers. Here’s his exchange with Russert on Al-Qaeda:

MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda—the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL: No, it’s both. It’s both—al-Qaeda becomes violent. It’s sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble? Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both. But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there’s an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL: Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time. Look at the way they look at us. I mean, we’re in a, we’re in a 130 countries. We have 700 bases. How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying “What does America want to do? Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good democrats?”

MR. RUSSERT: So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL: For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people—not the American people—I’m talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush’s foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

But for all the similarities between the heirs of the New Right and the New Left, Paul, a Texan still carries some burden peculiar to right-wing libertarians. Abe Lincoln is a very bad guy, the father of Leviathan state that’s lead to today’s incipient (it’s always incipient) fascism. And while there are and have been card-carrying left-liberal Lincoln haters (Gore Vidal, John Updike, and Edmund Wilson, to name a few) this is largely an affectation of the right. Paul, unaware that Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888 and Saudi Arabia till 1962, had the following exchange with Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the—that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Still, for all their similarities, the heirs of the New Right and the New Left do have some fundamental differences. In part because the leftists are afraid that we will pollute the world with our capitalist-liberal democratic ideals, while the rightists are worried that the rest of the world will pollute our founding traditions with statist and socialist effects. But the common bottom line is neo-isolationism.

When someone argues for moral equivalency between the American government and Al Qaeda and suggests Bush is leading America toward fascism, we tend to assume the person is a leftist. But those same views are widely shared by parts of the libertarian right.

This isn’t entirely new: in the 1930’s the pro-communist left and the isolationist right both decried Roosevelt as a fascist war-mongerer. In the 1960’s both the New Right and New Left were sure that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was the incarnation of “friendly fascism.” The common thread was that both the anarcho-libertarians of Young Americans for Freedom and the anarcho-socialists of The Students for a Democratic Society saw the compromises of politics and the bureaucracies associated with governments as the spawn of soul-slaying managerialism. They (like Ron Paul) both adored Randolph Bourne, the American critic of WWI, entirely unaware of the appeal German romanticism and proto-fascism had for him. You could hear those common chords in Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul on Meet the Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: But let me go back to this ad. You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL: No. But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the—in the name of security pay—pass the Patriot Act. You don’t vote for it, you know, you’re not patriotic America. If you don’t support the troops and you don’t support—if you don’t support the war you don’t support the troops. It’s that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country’s moving in that direction. That’s what I’m thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we’re close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we’re approaching it very close. One—there’s one, there’s one documentary that’s been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called “Freedom to Fascism.” And we’re moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Paul, the provincial, is as blissfully unaware of the history of 1300 years of Jihad as the Daily Kos and most of its readers. Here’s his exchange with Russert on Al-Qaeda:

MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda—the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL: No, it’s both. It’s both—al-Qaeda becomes violent. It’s sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble? Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both. But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there’s an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL: Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time. Look at the way they look at us. I mean, we’re in a, we’re in a 130 countries. We have 700 bases. How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying “What does America want to do? Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good democrats?”

MR. RUSSERT: So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL: For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people—not the American people—I’m talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush’s foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

But for all the similarities between the heirs of the New Right and the New Left, Paul, a Texan still carries some burden peculiar to right-wing libertarians. Abe Lincoln is a very bad guy, the father of Leviathan state that’s lead to today’s incipient (it’s always incipient) fascism. And while there are and have been card-carrying left-liberal Lincoln haters (Gore Vidal, John Updike, and Edmund Wilson, to name a few) this is largely an affectation of the right. Paul, unaware that Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888 and Saudi Arabia till 1962, had the following exchange with Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the—that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Still, for all their similarities, the heirs of the New Right and the New Left do have some fundamental differences. In part because the leftists are afraid that we will pollute the world with our capitalist-liberal democratic ideals, while the rightists are worried that the rest of the world will pollute our founding traditions with statist and socialist effects. But the common bottom line is neo-isolationism.

Read Less




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