Commentary Magazine


Topic: presidential candidate

No One Does Minutiae Like Hillary Clinton

The Washington Post has a puff piece on Hillary Clinton extolling her “internal outreach” to hire State Department gurus beyond her circle of Hillaryland loyalists. We hear that “Clinton has made a vigorous effort to widen her circle, wooing and pulling into her orbit the agency’s Foreign Service and civil service officials, many of whom said in interviews that she has brought a new energy to the building.” And then it’s nice to know that “those interviewed inside and outside the agency say Clinton has done a good job of heading off the historical tensions between career employees and quadrennial political newcomers by relying on the counsel of senior Foreign Service operatives and reaching out in general.” Let’s not forget:

She has walked the halls and popped into offices unexpectedly, created an electronic “sounding board,” and held seven internal town hall meetings to listen to gripes about everything from policy to cafeteria food to bullying in the workplace. She installed six new showers that joggers requested, is taking steps to remedy overseas pay inequities and instituted a policy that allows partners of gay diplomats to receive benefits. She became a heroine to the Foreign Service when she went to bat to get funding for 3,000 new Foreign Service positions for State operations and the U.S. Agency for International Development — the first boost of this magnitude in two decades.

Okay, this is a style section piece, I will grant you. But what does any of this matter? Nearly every aspect of our foreign policy is in disarray, but we should be happy to hear that she conducted “a line-by-line review that took three sessions to complete” and spent quality time with a “backbencher” on the Pakistan desk debating “non-governmental power centers in Pakistan.”

On one level, this could be part of the problem. Clinton is lost in the paperwork while our foreign policy is on fire (and under fire). She is consumed with trivia better left to bureaucrats but has no sense that the underpinnings of our foreign-policy approach are crumbling. Like Jimmy Carter assigning the tennis court times at the White House, Clinton’s compulsive micromanagement may be a sign that something is very wrong.

On another level, this is a telling insight into the process obsession that has gripped State and the whole administration. Success is measured by the number of meetings, not by the outcome. Who picks the appointees, rather than the track record of those selected, is what occupies everyone’s attention.

If the point of the puff piece was to assure us how much Clinton has grown, put me down as skeptical. As in campaigns, foreign-policy success is measured in results. Hers are generally disastrous. Once again, Clinton — who failed on HillaryCare and as a presidential candidate — lacks competence. But that topic probably wouldn’t make it as a Post style section story.

The Washington Post has a puff piece on Hillary Clinton extolling her “internal outreach” to hire State Department gurus beyond her circle of Hillaryland loyalists. We hear that “Clinton has made a vigorous effort to widen her circle, wooing and pulling into her orbit the agency’s Foreign Service and civil service officials, many of whom said in interviews that she has brought a new energy to the building.” And then it’s nice to know that “those interviewed inside and outside the agency say Clinton has done a good job of heading off the historical tensions between career employees and quadrennial political newcomers by relying on the counsel of senior Foreign Service operatives and reaching out in general.” Let’s not forget:

She has walked the halls and popped into offices unexpectedly, created an electronic “sounding board,” and held seven internal town hall meetings to listen to gripes about everything from policy to cafeteria food to bullying in the workplace. She installed six new showers that joggers requested, is taking steps to remedy overseas pay inequities and instituted a policy that allows partners of gay diplomats to receive benefits. She became a heroine to the Foreign Service when she went to bat to get funding for 3,000 new Foreign Service positions for State operations and the U.S. Agency for International Development — the first boost of this magnitude in two decades.

Okay, this is a style section piece, I will grant you. But what does any of this matter? Nearly every aspect of our foreign policy is in disarray, but we should be happy to hear that she conducted “a line-by-line review that took three sessions to complete” and spent quality time with a “backbencher” on the Pakistan desk debating “non-governmental power centers in Pakistan.”

On one level, this could be part of the problem. Clinton is lost in the paperwork while our foreign policy is on fire (and under fire). She is consumed with trivia better left to bureaucrats but has no sense that the underpinnings of our foreign-policy approach are crumbling. Like Jimmy Carter assigning the tennis court times at the White House, Clinton’s compulsive micromanagement may be a sign that something is very wrong.

On another level, this is a telling insight into the process obsession that has gripped State and the whole administration. Success is measured by the number of meetings, not by the outcome. Who picks the appointees, rather than the track record of those selected, is what occupies everyone’s attention.

If the point of the puff piece was to assure us how much Clinton has grown, put me down as skeptical. As in campaigns, foreign-policy success is measured in results. Hers are generally disastrous. Once again, Clinton — who failed on HillaryCare and as a presidential candidate — lacks competence. But that topic probably wouldn’t make it as a Post style section story.

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The Perry Lesson: Run a Good Campaign

Gov. Rick Perry won big last night in the Texas gubernatorial primary. Michael Barone digs into the details and concludes:

(1) Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin. (2) Medina, the candidate who wouldn’t disrespect the truthers, did best in the supposedly most sophisticated part of Texas, the Metroplex. Go figure. (3) Hutchison, supposedly the candidate of urban sophisticates, did best in metro San Antonio and rural Texas. She held Perry below the 50% level needed to avoid a runoff in approximately half of Texas’s 254 counties; unfortunately for her, those counties didn’t give her nearly a big enough margin to offset Perry’s advantage in metro Houston

Barone also observes that turnout in the Republican primary was more than double that in Democratic primary, a reversal of the huge enthusiasm generated in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Pundits are already picking through the returns to glean evidence of larger trends. Is this further proof that Washington incumbents have an uphill climb? Probably. Does this suggest that more traditionally conservative candidates have the upper hand in a GOP primary field? That too. And does Perry have the potential to be a presidential candidate? Perry is playing coy for now, as Jonathan Martin reports:

In an interview with POLITICO Monday, Perry insisted that he would not mount a White House bid.

“I’m really interested in who’s going to be the next president,” he said, before quickly adding: “I have no interest in it being me in any form or fashion.”

Yet as he claimed victory here Tuesday night, Perry’s message seemed as tailored for national GOP primary voters as Texas’s general electorate.

Speaking directly to Washington he said: “Quit spending all the money, stop trying to take over our lives and our businesses.”

He also sought to position himself squarely against President Obama, warning that, “It’s clear that the Obama administration and its allies already have Texas in their cross-hairs.”

But in the lesson-divining department, Martin is correct: Perry simply ran a better campaign and Hutchison bumbled along in a Hillary-like miscalculation about an electorate angry at the status quo. (“By asserting that she would step down from her Senate seat but never actually resigning, Hutchison amplified Perry’s message as much as the millions in his war chest.”) And it is noteworthy that endorsements from Texas political stars, including George H.W. Bush, didn’t help her one bit. (“In Hutchison’s case, the endorsements may have even worked against her, serving to underscore Perry’s message about her ties to Washington.”)

And that, I think, is the key takeaway and a reminder for pundits and candidates eyeing 2012. It really does matter what sort of campaign you put together, how you size up the electorate, and whether you devise an effective message. The front runners in 2008 (Clinton and Rudy Giuliani) crashed in no small part because they ran ineffective, if not disastrous, campaigns. We have learned the hard way that a great campaigner doesn’t necessarily make for a great or competent office holder. But you still have to win the campaign — and for that, nothing beats a sharp delivery, a well-organized team, and a timely message.

Gov. Rick Perry won big last night in the Texas gubernatorial primary. Michael Barone digs into the details and concludes:

(1) Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin. (2) Medina, the candidate who wouldn’t disrespect the truthers, did best in the supposedly most sophisticated part of Texas, the Metroplex. Go figure. (3) Hutchison, supposedly the candidate of urban sophisticates, did best in metro San Antonio and rural Texas. She held Perry below the 50% level needed to avoid a runoff in approximately half of Texas’s 254 counties; unfortunately for her, those counties didn’t give her nearly a big enough margin to offset Perry’s advantage in metro Houston

Barone also observes that turnout in the Republican primary was more than double that in Democratic primary, a reversal of the huge enthusiasm generated in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Pundits are already picking through the returns to glean evidence of larger trends. Is this further proof that Washington incumbents have an uphill climb? Probably. Does this suggest that more traditionally conservative candidates have the upper hand in a GOP primary field? That too. And does Perry have the potential to be a presidential candidate? Perry is playing coy for now, as Jonathan Martin reports:

In an interview with POLITICO Monday, Perry insisted that he would not mount a White House bid.

“I’m really interested in who’s going to be the next president,” he said, before quickly adding: “I have no interest in it being me in any form or fashion.”

Yet as he claimed victory here Tuesday night, Perry’s message seemed as tailored for national GOP primary voters as Texas’s general electorate.

Speaking directly to Washington he said: “Quit spending all the money, stop trying to take over our lives and our businesses.”

He also sought to position himself squarely against President Obama, warning that, “It’s clear that the Obama administration and its allies already have Texas in their cross-hairs.”

But in the lesson-divining department, Martin is correct: Perry simply ran a better campaign and Hutchison bumbled along in a Hillary-like miscalculation about an electorate angry at the status quo. (“By asserting that she would step down from her Senate seat but never actually resigning, Hutchison amplified Perry’s message as much as the millions in his war chest.”) And it is noteworthy that endorsements from Texas political stars, including George H.W. Bush, didn’t help her one bit. (“In Hutchison’s case, the endorsements may have even worked against her, serving to underscore Perry’s message about her ties to Washington.”)

And that, I think, is the key takeaway and a reminder for pundits and candidates eyeing 2012. It really does matter what sort of campaign you put together, how you size up the electorate, and whether you devise an effective message. The front runners in 2008 (Clinton and Rudy Giuliani) crashed in no small part because they ran ineffective, if not disastrous, campaigns. We have learned the hard way that a great campaigner doesn’t necessarily make for a great or competent office holder. But you still have to win the campaign — and for that, nothing beats a sharp delivery, a well-organized team, and a timely message.

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Schumer’s End Run on the Court Hasn’t a Chance

Politics is never short of irony. It was predictable that the Democrats would introduce legislation that attempted to circumvent the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down campaign-finance laws that sought to restrict political speech. To justify this stand, they claim they are standing up to “corporate America.” But it’s more than a little ironic that the Senate sponsor of this bill is Charles Schumer of New York, the man who has spent most of the past decade helping the Democrats raise big bucks from, you guessed it, corporate America.

The bill, as described in today’s New York Times will be a patchwork of restrictions as well as disclosure requirements for expenditures. But in spite of the fact that Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen claim their bill will comply with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, it is pretty clear that it does not. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission specifically prohibited bans aimed at silencing specific groups or classes of persons or corporations. But the Democrat bill, though it targets corporations that are politically unpopular — government contractors, recipients of federal bailout money, and foreign corporations — clearly contravenes the Court’s ruling. This attempt to prohibit political commercials paid for by such groups is exactly the sort of thing that the majority ruling singled out as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Times quotes Bradley Smith, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the driving force behind the movement to overturn such unconstitutional infringements of free speech, as saying that the Democrats’ bill obviously flouts the law. Since the sponsors of the bill have presented it as a way of curbing the exact sort of spending that the Court said was legal, all he would have to do to overturn this piece of legislation is to merely quote its authors.

Running against “corporate America” is always good politics, but citizens do not lose their right to speak out on political issues or elections when they band together to form interest groups or corporations. The goal of Schumer’s bill, like the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law that spawned the Citizens United case, is to silence entire classes of political speakers. The only winners in such a scheme are not the people or the principle of fair elections but the politicians and media corporations that have always been able to spend as much as they like in pursuit of whatever political cause or candidate they prefer. While more disclosure of expenditures is always welcome, it must also be done in such a way as to make compliance feasible. As the 2008 election proved, when Barack Obama raised vast sums on the Internet, full disclosure takes time and must be carefully done lest confidential financial information (like individual credit-card numbers) be published along with the names of contributors.

It is unlikely that the Schumer–Van Hollen bill will get anywhere this year despite the histrionics of the sponsors. But it is worth noting the blatant hypocrisy of Schumer, the poster child for crony capitalism whose fundraising efforts have been the nexus of a flood of corporate contributions to the Democratic party in recent years, claiming to be the defender of the ordinary guy against the influence of corporate money.

Also interesting is the silence of the former paladin of campaign-finance reform: Senator John McCain. If there was one issue above all others that alienated the Republican base from the 2008 GOP presidential candidate it was his championing of a “reform” that sought to restrict political speech. Facing a right-wing primary challenge for re-election this year, McCain’s office could only say that “the Supreme Court has spoken.” Yes, it has. And while President Obama and Schumer may play the demagogue on this issue, supporters of free speech can be thankful that the conservative majority on the Court has, at least for now, had the last word on this issue.

Politics is never short of irony. It was predictable that the Democrats would introduce legislation that attempted to circumvent the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down campaign-finance laws that sought to restrict political speech. To justify this stand, they claim they are standing up to “corporate America.” But it’s more than a little ironic that the Senate sponsor of this bill is Charles Schumer of New York, the man who has spent most of the past decade helping the Democrats raise big bucks from, you guessed it, corporate America.

The bill, as described in today’s New York Times will be a patchwork of restrictions as well as disclosure requirements for expenditures. But in spite of the fact that Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen claim their bill will comply with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, it is pretty clear that it does not. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission specifically prohibited bans aimed at silencing specific groups or classes of persons or corporations. But the Democrat bill, though it targets corporations that are politically unpopular — government contractors, recipients of federal bailout money, and foreign corporations — clearly contravenes the Court’s ruling. This attempt to prohibit political commercials paid for by such groups is exactly the sort of thing that the majority ruling singled out as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Times quotes Bradley Smith, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the driving force behind the movement to overturn such unconstitutional infringements of free speech, as saying that the Democrats’ bill obviously flouts the law. Since the sponsors of the bill have presented it as a way of curbing the exact sort of spending that the Court said was legal, all he would have to do to overturn this piece of legislation is to merely quote its authors.

Running against “corporate America” is always good politics, but citizens do not lose their right to speak out on political issues or elections when they band together to form interest groups or corporations. The goal of Schumer’s bill, like the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law that spawned the Citizens United case, is to silence entire classes of political speakers. The only winners in such a scheme are not the people or the principle of fair elections but the politicians and media corporations that have always been able to spend as much as they like in pursuit of whatever political cause or candidate they prefer. While more disclosure of expenditures is always welcome, it must also be done in such a way as to make compliance feasible. As the 2008 election proved, when Barack Obama raised vast sums on the Internet, full disclosure takes time and must be carefully done lest confidential financial information (like individual credit-card numbers) be published along with the names of contributors.

It is unlikely that the Schumer–Van Hollen bill will get anywhere this year despite the histrionics of the sponsors. But it is worth noting the blatant hypocrisy of Schumer, the poster child for crony capitalism whose fundraising efforts have been the nexus of a flood of corporate contributions to the Democratic party in recent years, claiming to be the defender of the ordinary guy against the influence of corporate money.

Also interesting is the silence of the former paladin of campaign-finance reform: Senator John McCain. If there was one issue above all others that alienated the Republican base from the 2008 GOP presidential candidate it was his championing of a “reform” that sought to restrict political speech. Facing a right-wing primary challenge for re-election this year, McCain’s office could only say that “the Supreme Court has spoken.” Yes, it has. And while President Obama and Schumer may play the demagogue on this issue, supporters of free speech can be thankful that the conservative majority on the Court has, at least for now, had the last word on this issue.

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Iranian Dissidents Show Courage—Can Obama Do the Same?

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democratic governors are in trouble, too — in states like Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. It seems the recession and Obamaism have not been kind to incumbent Democrats.

Keith Hennessey on ObamaCare: “If you’re concerned about long-run budget deficits, you should not make a massive new entitlement spending commitment, exclude a multi-hundred billion spending item that is almost certain to be enacted elsewhere, bet on speculative offsets, all to achieve the unimpressive goal of reducing deficits by “a small share of the total deficits that would be likely to arise in that decade under current policies. We need massive future spending reductions to address exploding future deficits, not to redistribute resources to a new entitlement program.”

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen survey reports that 60 percent of voters think ObamaCare will increase the deficit. Only 9 percent say it won’t have any impact.

Charles Krauthammer observes that “all Iran sees is an obsequious president, the most accommodating and appeasement-minded since the Carter administration vis-a-vis Iran, on bended knee, begging for a yes — and all [he] gets is no. At some point, and it should be today, it should have been a year ago, three years ago in the Bush administration, accept the fact that a no is a no. … [The Obama administration] actually took the side of the dictatorship against the people in the streets, hoping that it would create an opening and an overture to the regime — and [in response] the regime has spat in our face.”

Well, yes, we imagine that this is what everyone striving to establish himself as a 2012 contender will say: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor. Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.”

Pawlenty, perhaps explaining why he seems to be trying so hard, confesses: “Nobody knows who I am.”

A pre-speech Gallup survey: “Americans are far less approving of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.” And more voters disapprove than approve of his performance on terrorism, the economy, health care, and creating jobs.

This is pathetic: the White House goes to war with Politico?! Next up: CNN and Vanity Fair. It seems the “purity” test — brook no heresy — is not a GOP thing but an Obami thin-skinned media thing.

Democratic governors are in trouble, too — in states like Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. It seems the recession and Obamaism have not been kind to incumbent Democrats.

Keith Hennessey on ObamaCare: “If you’re concerned about long-run budget deficits, you should not make a massive new entitlement spending commitment, exclude a multi-hundred billion spending item that is almost certain to be enacted elsewhere, bet on speculative offsets, all to achieve the unimpressive goal of reducing deficits by “a small share of the total deficits that would be likely to arise in that decade under current policies. We need massive future spending reductions to address exploding future deficits, not to redistribute resources to a new entitlement program.”

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen survey reports that 60 percent of voters think ObamaCare will increase the deficit. Only 9 percent say it won’t have any impact.

Charles Krauthammer observes that “all Iran sees is an obsequious president, the most accommodating and appeasement-minded since the Carter administration vis-a-vis Iran, on bended knee, begging for a yes — and all [he] gets is no. At some point, and it should be today, it should have been a year ago, three years ago in the Bush administration, accept the fact that a no is a no. … [The Obama administration] actually took the side of the dictatorship against the people in the streets, hoping that it would create an opening and an overture to the regime — and [in response] the regime has spat in our face.”

Well, yes, we imagine that this is what everyone striving to establish himself as a 2012 contender will say: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor. Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.”

Pawlenty, perhaps explaining why he seems to be trying so hard, confesses: “Nobody knows who I am.”

A pre-speech Gallup survey: “Americans are far less approving of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.” And more voters disapprove than approve of his performance on terrorism, the economy, health care, and creating jobs.

This is pathetic: the White House goes to war with Politico?! Next up: CNN and Vanity Fair. It seems the “purity” test — brook no heresy — is not a GOP thing but an Obami thin-skinned media thing.

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Obama’s Foreign-Policy Naivete Is Making War More Likely

John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.

Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.

It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.

John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.

Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.

It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.

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The MSM Is Not Kind

The Washington Post Fact Checker awards three “Pinocchios” to Barack Obama for his inaccurate family tale about World War II and liberation of a concentration camp by his uncle (actually, his great-uncle). In words strangely familiar, Michael Dobbs explains:

The candidates are tired, and prone to making silly mistakes. Many Americans might have problems distinguishing Buchenwald and Ohrdruf from Auschwitz. But should we not expect more from a Harvard-educated presidential candidate? Is it too much to ask that an aspiring commander-in-chief knows (1) that Auschwitz (like many of the other Nazi death camps) is in Poland, and (2) that the eastern advance of the U.S. Army in World War II stopped on the river Elbe?

This is really no worse than some of his other history gaffes. So why the strong reaction to this mistake? As some have pointed out, this came in the context of Obama’s attempt to bolster his familial ties to the military and his push to reach out to the Jewish community. So in addition to any errors born of ignorance this one smacked of puffery. (Sort of like claiming a direct relationship with Robert Kennedy.) Also, he’s about to become the Democratic nominee. He should know this and other stuff, especially if he is going into a campaign in which his experience and knowledge are going to be at issue. And he did, after all, beat Hillary Clinton over the head with her lies about Bosnian sniper fire. If Obama now proves to be less than accurate on his own credentials, or if his personal narrative has a way of changing, that creates yet another problem: hypocrisy, a favorite media target.

Although it was not a huge error, the the gaffes are beginning to pile up. And the reaction tells us that Obama’s free ride with the media may soon be getting bumpier.

The Washington Post Fact Checker awards three “Pinocchios” to Barack Obama for his inaccurate family tale about World War II and liberation of a concentration camp by his uncle (actually, his great-uncle). In words strangely familiar, Michael Dobbs explains:

The candidates are tired, and prone to making silly mistakes. Many Americans might have problems distinguishing Buchenwald and Ohrdruf from Auschwitz. But should we not expect more from a Harvard-educated presidential candidate? Is it too much to ask that an aspiring commander-in-chief knows (1) that Auschwitz (like many of the other Nazi death camps) is in Poland, and (2) that the eastern advance of the U.S. Army in World War II stopped on the river Elbe?

This is really no worse than some of his other history gaffes. So why the strong reaction to this mistake? As some have pointed out, this came in the context of Obama’s attempt to bolster his familial ties to the military and his push to reach out to the Jewish community. So in addition to any errors born of ignorance this one smacked of puffery. (Sort of like claiming a direct relationship with Robert Kennedy.) Also, he’s about to become the Democratic nominee. He should know this and other stuff, especially if he is going into a campaign in which his experience and knowledge are going to be at issue. And he did, after all, beat Hillary Clinton over the head with her lies about Bosnian sniper fire. If Obama now proves to be less than accurate on his own credentials, or if his personal narrative has a way of changing, that creates yet another problem: hypocrisy, a favorite media target.

Although it was not a huge error, the the gaffes are beginning to pile up. And the reaction tells us that Obama’s free ride with the media may soon be getting bumpier.

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Re: Apology Time, Or Not

Dumping on military service may be bad politics, as Jennifer suggests. But it’s no surprise Sen. Harkin would consider military service overrated as a qualification to be Commander in Chief. After all, if having served your country were deemed desirable in a presidential candidate, we could eliminate three-quarters of the House and Senate from consideration.

It wasn’t always so. The current Congress has the lowest percentage of veterans in modern history, and the last election produced a freshman class in which only about 10 percent had served in the military. The peak for House members came in 1977-78, when about 80 percent had served; in the Senate, the peak was 1983-84, when 75 percent of senators were veterans.

I can’t help believing that this trend portends poorly for our future. Wouldn’t it be better if those seeking the highest office in the land had already shown they were willing to sacrifice at least a couple of years for their country?

Sure, being a soldier doesn’t guarantee that the person will be a good president. We’ve had some great presidents, like Ronald Reagan, whose military service was somewhat limited–and some bad ones, like Ulysses S. Grant, whose service was extraordinary. But overall, the sense of duty and patriotism that motivate a young man (or woman) to sign up show genuine character. I’m betting John McCain’s years as an officer–not to mention his time as a prisoner of war–are better preparation to be Commander in Chief than Barack Obama’s years at Harvard or his time spent as a foot soldier in the Saul Alinsky brigade.

Dumping on military service may be bad politics, as Jennifer suggests. But it’s no surprise Sen. Harkin would consider military service overrated as a qualification to be Commander in Chief. After all, if having served your country were deemed desirable in a presidential candidate, we could eliminate three-quarters of the House and Senate from consideration.

It wasn’t always so. The current Congress has the lowest percentage of veterans in modern history, and the last election produced a freshman class in which only about 10 percent had served in the military. The peak for House members came in 1977-78, when about 80 percent had served; in the Senate, the peak was 1983-84, when 75 percent of senators were veterans.

I can’t help believing that this trend portends poorly for our future. Wouldn’t it be better if those seeking the highest office in the land had already shown they were willing to sacrifice at least a couple of years for their country?

Sure, being a soldier doesn’t guarantee that the person will be a good president. We’ve had some great presidents, like Ronald Reagan, whose military service was somewhat limited–and some bad ones, like Ulysses S. Grant, whose service was extraordinary. But overall, the sense of duty and patriotism that motivate a young man (or woman) to sign up show genuine character. I’m betting John McCain’s years as an officer–not to mention his time as a prisoner of war–are better preparation to be Commander in Chief than Barack Obama’s years at Harvard or his time spent as a foot soldier in the Saul Alinsky brigade.

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Smear Redefined

Up until about three weeks ago, the definition of the word smear was a simple affair. As Webster’s states, there’s the noun, meaning An attempt to destroy someone’s reputation and the verb meaning To contaminate the reputation of. But ever since John McCain acknowledged the fact that Hamas’s political advisor Ahmed Yousuf endorsed Barack Obama, the word smear has morphed. The candidate of change has worked his audacious magic. Thus, the new meaning of smear: to question or criticize Barack Obama. Senator Obama proclaimed of McCain’s words, “This is a smear.” And, lo, it was so.

You can see how the word spread. When Edward Luttwak penned an op-ed in the New York Times posing legitimate questions about Obama’s being considered an apostate by Islamists, Ali Eteraz wrote:

Now there is a new Islam smear. This one says that Obama was a Muslim — and as a result, he is going to arouse the wrath of Muslims around the world who are going to want to kill him for apostasy (converting away from Islam, punishable by death).

When Mark Levin wrote the following at NRO’s Corner blog–

Obama made a point of not wearing the flag pin, knowing that a point would be made of it, just as he makes a point of not placing his hand over his heart during the playing of the National Anthem. I find this perplexing, although I won’t obsess over it. This is not the typical behavior of a presidential candidate.

–Andrew Sullivan responded:

These are lies, smears, untruths . . . NRO need[s] to issue corrections. And the Obama team needs to be more aggressive in countering these deliberate lies.

Perhaps Sullivan is building a case to change the meaning of lies and untruths, as well. If every criticism or challenge to Barack Obama is a smear, how does one oppose him? If facts become lies, how can he be made accountable for his actions? Or is Barack Obama in effect redefining opposition and accountability?

Up until about three weeks ago, the definition of the word smear was a simple affair. As Webster’s states, there’s the noun, meaning An attempt to destroy someone’s reputation and the verb meaning To contaminate the reputation of. But ever since John McCain acknowledged the fact that Hamas’s political advisor Ahmed Yousuf endorsed Barack Obama, the word smear has morphed. The candidate of change has worked his audacious magic. Thus, the new meaning of smear: to question or criticize Barack Obama. Senator Obama proclaimed of McCain’s words, “This is a smear.” And, lo, it was so.

You can see how the word spread. When Edward Luttwak penned an op-ed in the New York Times posing legitimate questions about Obama’s being considered an apostate by Islamists, Ali Eteraz wrote:

Now there is a new Islam smear. This one says that Obama was a Muslim — and as a result, he is going to arouse the wrath of Muslims around the world who are going to want to kill him for apostasy (converting away from Islam, punishable by death).

When Mark Levin wrote the following at NRO’s Corner blog–

Obama made a point of not wearing the flag pin, knowing that a point would be made of it, just as he makes a point of not placing his hand over his heart during the playing of the National Anthem. I find this perplexing, although I won’t obsess over it. This is not the typical behavior of a presidential candidate.

–Andrew Sullivan responded:

These are lies, smears, untruths . . . NRO need[s] to issue corrections. And the Obama team needs to be more aggressive in countering these deliberate lies.

Perhaps Sullivan is building a case to change the meaning of lies and untruths, as well. If every criticism or challenge to Barack Obama is a smear, how does one oppose him? If facts become lies, how can he be made accountable for his actions? Or is Barack Obama in effect redefining opposition and accountability?

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Re: Obama’s Little Pin

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen must be devastated. A mere week after he wrote, “Sometimes I think the best thing about Barack Obama is that little empty space on his lapel,” Senator Obama (as Peter mentioned earlier) has gone and handicapped himself by re-accessorizing his person with an American flag pin.

In a May 6 op-ed, beautifully titled “Pins and Panders,” Cohen questions the automaton patriotism of flag-wearers and describes the pin as “a kitschy piece of empty symbolism.” Yet the man so disgusted with short-cuts to national pride is on board with the super-duper, turbo-charged, mother lode of bandwagon short-cut to national pride: the President as symbol. Cohen describes Obama as “a resplendent emblem of American possibilities.” Perhaps the true patriot wears Barack Obama’s image on his lapel . . .

Cohen writes:

Still, it is bracing to see a presidential candidate recoil, for the most part, from the orthodoxies of pandering. In this regard, the lack of a flag pin has become an important sign of Obama’s desire to think for himself. For all it says about Obama, I salute it.

Ah, but what will Obama fans salute now? Not, heaven forbid, the flag. And how will they square their belief in the rebel patriot anti-panderer with their candidate’s transparent pandering? Obama has not made it easy for his supporters. It’s hard to keep track of the alternating intelligibility of his gestures. Words were not “just words” until they were uttered by his ex-pastor: then they were “just words” again. He couldn’t denounce anti-American black liberation theology–until he could. He was post-racial until he was, first and foremost, racial. A lapel pin was a substitute for patriotism until it was patriotism itself.

There is one possibility that explains the reappearance of the flag pin as something other than pandering. Perhaps, like his wife Michelle, Obama is for the first time in his adult life, proud of his country. In making him the Democratic nominee, the U.S. has earned his patriotism at last. So the flag’s in place and he’s ready to roll. He shouldn’t push it, though. If his base catches him with his hand over his heart, he could lose it all.

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen must be devastated. A mere week after he wrote, “Sometimes I think the best thing about Barack Obama is that little empty space on his lapel,” Senator Obama (as Peter mentioned earlier) has gone and handicapped himself by re-accessorizing his person with an American flag pin.

In a May 6 op-ed, beautifully titled “Pins and Panders,” Cohen questions the automaton patriotism of flag-wearers and describes the pin as “a kitschy piece of empty symbolism.” Yet the man so disgusted with short-cuts to national pride is on board with the super-duper, turbo-charged, mother lode of bandwagon short-cut to national pride: the President as symbol. Cohen describes Obama as “a resplendent emblem of American possibilities.” Perhaps the true patriot wears Barack Obama’s image on his lapel . . .

Cohen writes:

Still, it is bracing to see a presidential candidate recoil, for the most part, from the orthodoxies of pandering. In this regard, the lack of a flag pin has become an important sign of Obama’s desire to think for himself. For all it says about Obama, I salute it.

Ah, but what will Obama fans salute now? Not, heaven forbid, the flag. And how will they square their belief in the rebel patriot anti-panderer with their candidate’s transparent pandering? Obama has not made it easy for his supporters. It’s hard to keep track of the alternating intelligibility of his gestures. Words were not “just words” until they were uttered by his ex-pastor: then they were “just words” again. He couldn’t denounce anti-American black liberation theology–until he could. He was post-racial until he was, first and foremost, racial. A lapel pin was a substitute for patriotism until it was patriotism itself.

There is one possibility that explains the reappearance of the flag pin as something other than pandering. Perhaps, like his wife Michelle, Obama is for the first time in his adult life, proud of his country. In making him the Democratic nominee, the U.S. has earned his patriotism at last. So the flag’s in place and he’s ready to roll. He shouldn’t push it, though. If his base catches him with his hand over his heart, he could lose it all.

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Rallies Are So February

Barack Obama is apparently giving up on the mass rallies that impressed the pundits and gave endless copy to reporters about swooning girls, packed gyms, and record-breaking crowds. His campaign says the rally scenes have become a “monotonous backdrop.”

I think this means several things. First, the media finally noticed that he was giving the same speech over and over again. Second, young people fill mass rallies in crowded gyms, but not the people he needs to expand his base– working class voters and seniors, for example.

In some ways this is indicative of his entire campaign. The tactics that got him primary wins and adulation in January and February (big crowds, high-flying rhetoric) are now outmoded and insufficient. Some previously enthusiastic pundits have gone so far as to say:

This is a campaign that hasn’t won anything in some eight weeks; it’s a candidacy and message that seems tired . . . Obama looked almost like a victim. That’s not where an American presidential candidate wants to be.

The question remains whether Obama’s retail political talents, policy positions (does opposing gas tax relief win primaries?), and press interview skills are sufficient to match Hillary Clinton’s. That’s one of many questions the Indiana and North Carolina results will answer on Tuesday night.

Barack Obama is apparently giving up on the mass rallies that impressed the pundits and gave endless copy to reporters about swooning girls, packed gyms, and record-breaking crowds. His campaign says the rally scenes have become a “monotonous backdrop.”

I think this means several things. First, the media finally noticed that he was giving the same speech over and over again. Second, young people fill mass rallies in crowded gyms, but not the people he needs to expand his base– working class voters and seniors, for example.

In some ways this is indicative of his entire campaign. The tactics that got him primary wins and adulation in January and February (big crowds, high-flying rhetoric) are now outmoded and insufficient. Some previously enthusiastic pundits have gone so far as to say:

This is a campaign that hasn’t won anything in some eight weeks; it’s a candidacy and message that seems tired . . . Obama looked almost like a victim. That’s not where an American presidential candidate wants to be.

The question remains whether Obama’s retail political talents, policy positions (does opposing gas tax relief win primaries?), and press interview skills are sufficient to match Hillary Clinton’s. That’s one of many questions the Indiana and North Carolina results will answer on Tuesday night.

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Obama’s America

One of the things worth noting about Senator Obama’s comments about the “bitter” working class voters who “cling” to guns, religion, and nativist sentiments because of their “frustrations” is this: Obama’s view of America and Americans is almost unremittingly bleak. In his increasingly prickly and aggressive defense, Obama insists that his comments about ordinary Americans are accurate. He is, he insists, completely “in touch” with the struggles that define modern American life. At least that’s how he defines things: if you review Obama’s speeches, his portrait of Americans is of a people broken and dispirited, anxious and angry and without hope (and for whom Obama, as you might have guessed, is the balm).

Obama has spoken about crumbling schools, growing divisions, and shattered dreams. He speaks about the one father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills, and the father who’s worried he won’t be able to send his children to college . . . about the mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child and the other mother who saw her mortgage double in two weeks and didn’t know where her two-year old children would sleep at night . . . the woman who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sick sister . . . the senior who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet, and on and on. The American public, Obama believes, has justifiably become cynical, frustrated, and bitter.

It’s also worth considering the views of those to whom Obama is closest. His wife Michelle has said that America is “downright mean.” It’s a nation whose soul is “broken.” And it’s a nation in which she had never, until her husband ran for President, taken pride. Obama’s longtime friend, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., describes America as fundamentally racist, the “U.S. of K.K.K,” a “Eurocentric wasteland of lily-white lies.”

Senator Obama, in casting himself as a change agent, wants to focus on the failings of our nation. That is typical fare for a presidential candidate. It’s perfectly legitimate, and even right, to call attention to problems that need to be solved and the struggles people are having.

The question for Obama, however, is whether his portrait of America is defining. Does he believe that his comments about working-class people are actually characteristic of them? When he looks out at Americans does he see people who are, on some deep level, broken, bitter, angry, and unable to cope with the vicissitudes of life?

It appears that he does. And if he does, it certainly explains his support for paternalistic government and for the nanny state. It has become unfashionable to point out that for all the problems we face, those of us now living in America are the most fortunate people in history. We live in a nation of extraordinary wealth and scientific and medical advancements. This country, while not without its flaws, has made great strides in alleviating poverty, discrimination, and injustice. We are free to speak, vote, worship, and associate with others. Americans now live longer and better than any previous generation. Our nation remains a force for good in the world. That doesn’t mean our citizen’s lives are without challenges or concerns. It only means that, relative to the rest of the world and relative to history, we’re in pretty good shape.

On some deep level, Obama doesn’t see this. He looks out at America and sees a nation needy, crippled, and desperate for succor from the federal government. A friend of mine wrote to me yesterday:

The supreme arrogance of this man [Obama] comes through with every new defense. I just saw his remarks to the steelworkers in Pittsburgh and, again, it’s everyone else who’s out of touch. Also, it really is a slander against millions of people. I’ve belonged to small town churches all my life (and still do) and I belong to [a gun club in his home state of Minnesota]. It’s hard to find more positive, affirming, communities than small town churches and the hunting/fishing/outdoor culture. What he really doesn’t “get” is the non-materialistic nature of these cultures.

That sounds about right to me. Barack Obama is running as the candidate of hope–but he views America as more or less a wreck and its people as beaten down. From this flawed assumption flows much else, from his rhetoric to his policy proposals. And it helps explain why Obama’s off-the-record comments to a group of wealthy liberals in San Francisco weren’t a “distraction,” as he now characterizes them, but rather a real insight into the mind and sensibilities of the junior senator from Illinois.

One of the things worth noting about Senator Obama’s comments about the “bitter” working class voters who “cling” to guns, religion, and nativist sentiments because of their “frustrations” is this: Obama’s view of America and Americans is almost unremittingly bleak. In his increasingly prickly and aggressive defense, Obama insists that his comments about ordinary Americans are accurate. He is, he insists, completely “in touch” with the struggles that define modern American life. At least that’s how he defines things: if you review Obama’s speeches, his portrait of Americans is of a people broken and dispirited, anxious and angry and without hope (and for whom Obama, as you might have guessed, is the balm).

Obama has spoken about crumbling schools, growing divisions, and shattered dreams. He speaks about the one father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills, and the father who’s worried he won’t be able to send his children to college . . . about the mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child and the other mother who saw her mortgage double in two weeks and didn’t know where her two-year old children would sleep at night . . . the woman who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sick sister . . . the senior who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet, and on and on. The American public, Obama believes, has justifiably become cynical, frustrated, and bitter.

It’s also worth considering the views of those to whom Obama is closest. His wife Michelle has said that America is “downright mean.” It’s a nation whose soul is “broken.” And it’s a nation in which she had never, until her husband ran for President, taken pride. Obama’s longtime friend, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., describes America as fundamentally racist, the “U.S. of K.K.K,” a “Eurocentric wasteland of lily-white lies.”

Senator Obama, in casting himself as a change agent, wants to focus on the failings of our nation. That is typical fare for a presidential candidate. It’s perfectly legitimate, and even right, to call attention to problems that need to be solved and the struggles people are having.

The question for Obama, however, is whether his portrait of America is defining. Does he believe that his comments about working-class people are actually characteristic of them? When he looks out at Americans does he see people who are, on some deep level, broken, bitter, angry, and unable to cope with the vicissitudes of life?

It appears that he does. And if he does, it certainly explains his support for paternalistic government and for the nanny state. It has become unfashionable to point out that for all the problems we face, those of us now living in America are the most fortunate people in history. We live in a nation of extraordinary wealth and scientific and medical advancements. This country, while not without its flaws, has made great strides in alleviating poverty, discrimination, and injustice. We are free to speak, vote, worship, and associate with others. Americans now live longer and better than any previous generation. Our nation remains a force for good in the world. That doesn’t mean our citizen’s lives are without challenges or concerns. It only means that, relative to the rest of the world and relative to history, we’re in pretty good shape.

On some deep level, Obama doesn’t see this. He looks out at America and sees a nation needy, crippled, and desperate for succor from the federal government. A friend of mine wrote to me yesterday:

The supreme arrogance of this man [Obama] comes through with every new defense. I just saw his remarks to the steelworkers in Pittsburgh and, again, it’s everyone else who’s out of touch. Also, it really is a slander against millions of people. I’ve belonged to small town churches all my life (and still do) and I belong to [a gun club in his home state of Minnesota]. It’s hard to find more positive, affirming, communities than small town churches and the hunting/fishing/outdoor culture. What he really doesn’t “get” is the non-materialistic nature of these cultures.

That sounds about right to me. Barack Obama is running as the candidate of hope–but he views America as more or less a wreck and its people as beaten down. From this flawed assumption flows much else, from his rhetoric to his policy proposals. And it helps explain why Obama’s off-the-record comments to a group of wealthy liberals in San Francisco weren’t a “distraction,” as he now characterizes them, but rather a real insight into the mind and sensibilities of the junior senator from Illinois.

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The Politics of Cynicism

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

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More in Defense of Power

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

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Attack, Attack, Attack

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

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No Jihadist Left Behind

One shouldn’t make too much of politicians’ spouses (unless said spouses are also politicians), but if Barack Obama can find any points of agreement with his wife Michelle on the issue of terrorism, then there’s cause for alarm. Here’s Michelle Obama speaking with Katie Couric about the nature of an Obama foreign policy:

…instead of protecting ourselves against terrorists, that we’re building diplomatic relationships and we’re investing in education abroad so that we’re making sure that kids are learning how to read as opposed to …fight us.

Your average Islamist has memorized all 77,701 words of the Koran. If there’s one thing worth admiring in the madrassa curriculum it’s the emphasis on literacy.

And if there’s one thing that should never be uttered by anyone involved with a presidential candidate it’s describing what will be done “instead of protecting ourselves from terrorists.”

One shouldn’t make too much of politicians’ spouses (unless said spouses are also politicians), but if Barack Obama can find any points of agreement with his wife Michelle on the issue of terrorism, then there’s cause for alarm. Here’s Michelle Obama speaking with Katie Couric about the nature of an Obama foreign policy:

…instead of protecting ourselves against terrorists, that we’re building diplomatic relationships and we’re investing in education abroad so that we’re making sure that kids are learning how to read as opposed to …fight us.

Your average Islamist has memorized all 77,701 words of the Koran. If there’s one thing worth admiring in the madrassa curriculum it’s the emphasis on literacy.

And if there’s one thing that should never be uttered by anyone involved with a presidential candidate it’s describing what will be done “instead of protecting ourselves from terrorists.”

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How Thoughtless!

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

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Huckabee’s Last Stand

If this is Mike Huckabee’s last night as a presidential candidate, it looks like he’ll go out in a position of strength. Huckabee has already won West Virginia and Arkansas; is leading in Georgia; and is running second to John McCain in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In these conservative states, Huckabee has asserted himself over Mitt Romney as the conservative choice for the nomination. This should enhance his attractiveness as a vice-presidential candidate should McCain seal the nomination tonight.

Of course, California remains the wild card. Stay tuned.

If this is Mike Huckabee’s last night as a presidential candidate, it looks like he’ll go out in a position of strength. Huckabee has already won West Virginia and Arkansas; is leading in Georgia; and is running second to John McCain in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In these conservative states, Huckabee has asserted himself over Mitt Romney as the conservative choice for the nomination. This should enhance his attractiveness as a vice-presidential candidate should McCain seal the nomination tonight.

Of course, California remains the wild card. Stay tuned.

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Hitchens on Lefkowitz

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

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McCain and Giuliani: There Can Be Only One

With the steady decline in Rudy Giuliani’s poll numbers over the last six weeks has come the steady rise of John McCain’s, especially the latter’s vertiginous upward swing in New Hampshire — where, according to a new poll, McCain has taken the lead over Mitt Romney in the primary that will be held in six days. In the latest Pew poll of Republicans nationally, McCain and Giuliani are now tied for the lead, as they basically were during 2005 and the beginning of 2006. In those polls, they tended to split about 60 percent of the primary vote; in the latest, the number is closer to 40.

There was always a most interesting aspect to these numbers, since, for all intents and purposes, the candidacies of Giuliani and McCain are one and the same — a pitch to be the president best suited to fighting the war on terror based on strong leadership skills and personal heroism (I am not here comparing in any way Giuliani’s conduct on 9/11 with McCain’s years in the Hanoi Hilton, just noting the logic in the minds of voters). From the moment George W. Bush was reelected, the Republican voting public was offering signs that its ideal candidate would be a war candidate and that it would line up easily and quickly behind the right one. Unfortunately, McCain was saddled with a bunch of liabilities owing to his conduct as a presidential candidate in 2000, his peculiar votes against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and his full-throated support of immigration reform in a party with increasingly nativist tastes.

Giuliani’s candidacy was made possible by McCain’s weaknesses, and when the McCain campaign seemed to implode in the middle of 2006 (running out of money, firing a campaign manager and longtime aides), he seemed poised to benefit strongly from it — as voters jumped off the McCain bandwagon, it would only make sense for them to jump on Giuliani’s. And they did. But it turned out Giuliani hit his rough patch in late November and early December, with unfavorable news stories reminding people of his complex marital history and the poor behavior of some of his allies. And so it is McCain who, as New Hampshire approaches, is benefiting from Giuliani’s weakness.

McCain’s shot at becoming the Republican nominee seems dependent on Giuliani fading very fast. And Giuliani’s shot seems dependent on McCain’s surge in New Hampshire proving to be a single-state phenomenon.

With the steady decline in Rudy Giuliani’s poll numbers over the last six weeks has come the steady rise of John McCain’s, especially the latter’s vertiginous upward swing in New Hampshire — where, according to a new poll, McCain has taken the lead over Mitt Romney in the primary that will be held in six days. In the latest Pew poll of Republicans nationally, McCain and Giuliani are now tied for the lead, as they basically were during 2005 and the beginning of 2006. In those polls, they tended to split about 60 percent of the primary vote; in the latest, the number is closer to 40.

There was always a most interesting aspect to these numbers, since, for all intents and purposes, the candidacies of Giuliani and McCain are one and the same — a pitch to be the president best suited to fighting the war on terror based on strong leadership skills and personal heroism (I am not here comparing in any way Giuliani’s conduct on 9/11 with McCain’s years in the Hanoi Hilton, just noting the logic in the minds of voters). From the moment George W. Bush was reelected, the Republican voting public was offering signs that its ideal candidate would be a war candidate and that it would line up easily and quickly behind the right one. Unfortunately, McCain was saddled with a bunch of liabilities owing to his conduct as a presidential candidate in 2000, his peculiar votes against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and his full-throated support of immigration reform in a party with increasingly nativist tastes.

Giuliani’s candidacy was made possible by McCain’s weaknesses, and when the McCain campaign seemed to implode in the middle of 2006 (running out of money, firing a campaign manager and longtime aides), he seemed poised to benefit strongly from it — as voters jumped off the McCain bandwagon, it would only make sense for them to jump on Giuliani’s. And they did. But it turned out Giuliani hit his rough patch in late November and early December, with unfavorable news stories reminding people of his complex marital history and the poor behavior of some of his allies. And so it is McCain who, as New Hampshire approaches, is benefiting from Giuliani’s weakness.

McCain’s shot at becoming the Republican nominee seems dependent on Giuliani fading very fast. And Giuliani’s shot seems dependent on McCain’s surge in New Hampshire proving to be a single-state phenomenon.

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