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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Stanley Fish is bored:

From early February through the beginning of June, the lament one heard from the political pundits (echoing Cicero's first oration against Catiline) went this way: How long shall we have to endure the ordeal of the Democratic primary? How long before we get to the real thing?

But now it turns out that the primary season – extended, it was said, beyond expectation or reason – was the real thing. And I say that because, at least to date, the current season – the season that was to bring a once-in-a-century contest between two men of different generations and clearly opposed ideologies – has been totally uninteresting.

The whole dreary enterprise was rescued momentarily last Friday when Obama and Clinton appeared together in Unity, N.H. Suddenly it was the Indian summer of the primary season. There they were on the same stage, as they had been more than 20 times before.

She said that this time it's different, but it wasn't. As she gave the opening speech you felt that at any moment she might respond to the crowd and re-declare her candidacy. The contrast between his lanky, Jimmy Stewart-like reserve and her unabashed blond ambition was as arresting as ever. The words were healing, but the atmosphere was electric. It was thrilling, and I found myself asking, When's the next primary?

Obviously these things don't exist for our personal amusement. But that said I kind of have to agree.

and on that note, let's get negative...

A typical politician?:

Obama continues to fuel this line of attack by making conventional decisions like ducking the town hall idea, flipping on campaign finance, trying to straddle the fence on guns, etc. And unlike McCain, Obama doesn't have years of good will with his brand; he only really has about 18 months. McCain has made a lot of subtle shifts away from his so-called maverick independent streak. But because his brand was cemented over years, he's been given more of a benefit of the doubt with the public. Obama's brand reservoir isn't as deep, and he should be much more sensitive to this collecting narrative that he isn't what he claims.

Gloria Borger:

These are the two candidates who were supposed to engage in constructive debate, take their show on the road, highlight their substantive differences, do Lincoln-Douglas proud. Instead, they're Paris and Nicole—only they were never best friends. McCain proposes a long series of town-hall debates; Obama declines, through aides. And it's not as if the long-distance exchanges between the candidates and their surrogates are either uplifting or informative. In the serious debate over energy, for instance, the McCain camp has taken to calling Obama "Dr. No." That's productive.

This, you may notice, is the opposite of change. And it is dangerous for both candidates, each of whom has set himself up as the next best thing in politics: Mr. Straight Talk vs. Mr. Change. In a way, McCain may have less to lose because the public already sees him as unpredictable. So when he flips his positions to conform with GOP orthodoxy on tax cuts (he now supports) and immigration (build the fence first), it doesn't seem so odd that he then tacks to the middle on global warming or panders to frustrated motorists on offshore drilling. It's part of the "don't pigeonhole me" trademark, which has its appeal to independent voters. McCain's inconsistency fits the brand, so voters may forgive him.

For Obama, it's trickier. As he tries to tack to the middle—supporting, for instance, the congressional overhaul of the domestic spying law—his liberal pals fret. And what about those ardent declarations during the hotly contested primaries in battleground and rust belt states that trade agreements like NAFTA were "devastating"? That was then. The rhetoric may have gotten a tad "overheated and amplified," he recently told Fortune magazine. Recall that when Obama's economic adviser was charged with virtually saying the same thing during the heat of the Ohio primary, he became a pariah. Now it's clear that the adviser certainly understood his candidate. And suddenly, Obama's idealism seems a lot less about ideas and a lot more about winning. Telling the truth about what you really believe is a virtue, not a fault. But the real danger here is that Obama will morph into someone who looks as if he doesn't believe in anything other than his own success.

Of course, a certain amount of pander, and shifting, is to be expected in a general election campaign in which candidates try to become all-purpose vessels. Yet, in this campaign, it's not been so easy. The two candidates have told us they're above all that, and anything they do to crack their truth-telling templates is risky. The last thing these "authentic" candidates want is for voters to ask: Is this the man I thought he was? Because once the question is asked, it's already answered.

Glenn Greenwald on "moving to the center:"

For that reason, isn't the perception that Obama is abandoning his own core beliefs -- or, worse, that he has none -- a much greater political danger than a failure to move to the so-called "Center" by suddenly adopting Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies? As a result of Obama's reversal on FISA, his very noticeable change in approach regarding Israel, his conspicuous embrace of the Scalia/Thomas view in recent Supreme Court cases, and a general shift in tone, a very strong media narrative is arising that Obama is abandoning his core beliefs for political gain. That narrative -- that he's afraid to stand by his own beliefs -- appears far more likely to result in a perception that Obama is "Weak" than a refusal to embrace Bush/Cheney national security positions.

The most distinctive and potent -- one could even say exciting -- aspect of Obama's campaign had been his aggressive refusal to accept GOP pieties on National Security, his insistence that the GOP would lose -- and should lose -- debates over who is "stronger" and more "patriotic" and who will keep us more safe. The widely-celebrated foreign policy memo written by Obama's adviser, Samantha Power, heaped scorn on Washington's national security "conventional wisdom," emphasizing how weak and vulnerable it has made the U.S. When Obama took that approach, he appeared to be, and in fact was, resolute and unapologetic in defending his own views -- the very attributes that define "strength."

The advice he's getting, and apparently beginning to follow, is now the opposite: that he should shed his prior beliefs in favor of the amorphous, fuzzy, conventional GOP-leaning Center, that he should cease to insist on a re-examination of National Security premises and instead live within the GOP framework. That's likely to lead to many things, but a perception of strength isn't one of them.

A TPM reader is worried:

What we know, however, is that the Republicans have won the last two Presidential campaigns and have deep experience running a national operation, how to prepare for the fall and how to execute a take down of the opponent. The one thing Republicans rely on more than anything else is Democratic docility and inaction during summer and well into September. My view is that the best thing the Obama camp could do is not wait for the assault to begin (something they openly admit they are preparing for) but instead to launch their own assault. Were they to do this and put the Republicans on the defensive and keep them there until November it would reverse roles and give the Democrats the strategic advantage that is always so elusive to them in the fall campaigns.

Obama has the money to do this and the capacity to sustain it. Unfortunately, it looks to me as though all the signs point to the Obama campaign now becoming more and more focused on DC and listening to the wise heads in Washington whispering in their ears about how to handle things. Thus, we begin to see a replay of a great deal of what we've seen before: planning how not to lose instead of planning how to win. I hope I'm wrong. I hope the Obama people are developing a proactive, aggressive, in your face campaign to strike down McCain and the crap the Republicans are preparing. It's just there are no signs that this is what is being planned. And so I am very worried.

General Clark points out that McCain's POW experience doesn't actually qualify as National Security experience. Apparently Obama thinks it does???

dday notes:

Clark is right. He's not blatantly lying about McCain's political service or even disparaging it. Earlier in the interview he called McCain a hero to "all of us in the service." He's making the simple point that military service and executive experience aren't the same thing.

Josh Marshall adds:

it is an example of the fatuous McCain worship that is the bread and butter of the Washington press corps that Wes Clark's comments this weekend on Face the Nation are being called 'swift-boating'. It's almost comical, but not much less than Bob Schieffer's incredulous responses to the fact that Clark had the temerity to argue that McCain's experience as a Navy pilot and a POW don't necessarily mean he'd be a good president.

The McCain campaign's angle here is to not to prevent attacks on the integrity of McCain's war record (which Clark explicitly did not do) but to make it off limits for anyone to question that his war-time experience means he has the temperament and experience which make him the better qualified candidate to be president.

The McCain campaign's claim that there's any attack here on McCain's war record is simply a lie -- a simple attempt to fool people. This is an essential point to this entire campaign -- does McCain's military record mean that even the Democrats have to concede the point that he's more qualified to be commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, that his foreign and national security policy judgment is superior to Obama's? It's simply a fact that McCain has a record of really poor judgment on a whole list of key foreign policy and national security questions.

I understand why Obama wants to dodge this argument but I think it's a mistake.

In a larger sense hopefully all this negativity doesn't make me a Canibal Liberal, but a) I think these are fair criticisms, and b) just being supportive isn't really that interesting. I remain "in the tank" for Obama in a general sense, but will also post criticisms that strike me as accurate.

But in the interest of positive vibes, here's a positive take on Obama's handling of Clark's comments:

Am I the only one who thinks that the Obama campaign is winning big here and that the media is being played badly? The conversation has begun - "it's out there" as they say - does McCain's record as a (not-very-good) fighter jock and POW more than thirty years ago in some way qualify him to be Commander-in-Chief? At the same time, Obama "rejects the statement" and "honors and respects Senator McCain's service." How is Obama hurt by this? How is McCain? And now we can let the bloviators compare this honest question to what was done to John Kerry. Remember how Kerry's record was fair game because he brought it up and Bush and Rove pretended like they had nothing to do with the SBVT? Obama seems to have learned the new rules. As a friend of mine likes to say, if I were having any more fun, I'd have to be twins.

in other news...

We are all Hussein:

Emily Nordling has never met a Muslim, at least not to her knowledge. But this spring, Ms. Nordling, a 19-year-old student from Fort Thomas, Ky., gave herself a new middle name on, mimicking her boyfriend and shocking her father.

"Emily Hussein Nordling," her entry now reads.

With her decision, she joined a growing band of supporters of Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who are expressing solidarity with him by informally adopting his middle name.

A Fox News commentator adds:

GRETCHEN CARLSON: I didn't know that there was anything wrong with having an American name but apparently some people believe that there is.

Terence Samuel takes Nader apart:

Nader, in a single stroke, managed to reveal his own irrelevance and that of a whole generation of people who are arguing about issues that, this election campaign has shown, are not especially important to the vast majority of Americans. "Talking white" is one of them. "White guilt" is another. "The ghetto" is a third.

Nader is afflicted with that special kind of '60s myopia that allows him to see only his most deeply held beliefs as they developed in 1968. It's as if the last 40 years didn't happen. Does Barack Obama, as "half African-American," have a special responsibility to fix "economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead"? No!

Does the Democratic nominee have some special responsibility to address those issues? Yes!

Democrats care about these issues and want them fixed for themselves, their relatives, and the country.

But are they more important than Iraq? No. Are they more important than the state of the overall economy? No. More important than expanding health care for everybody? No. More important than $5-a-gallon gas? No.

Policy merits aside, it seems likely that Obama can't win if he chooses to focus only on the economic exploitation in the ghetto (ask John Edwards). That may seem to play right into Nader's argument that Obama is severely compromised because he wants to win, but the truth is that presidential elections are about talking to a very big country about a lot of issues, not simply to those niche voters who feel you most passionately.

Nader cannot accept that fact. He is incapable of moving beyond his own resentments about the imperfections in the system. This is why he saw Al Gore and George Bush as political equivalents and trashed them equally in 2000. The ensuing eight years have proven that moral high ground to be very shaky indeed.

Nader sounds like a man whose time has passed him by and who fundamentally does not understand that Obama's success is a function of a generation of young people who have claimed him and this election as their own, and it has nothing to do with their guilt. It is just their time.

"Talking white," is a relic of a lost time. What we need is someone who can talk sense; it has timeless appeal.

For Nader, silence is an option

Abbreviated Pundit Round-Up

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