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Saturday, November 15, 2008


Happy Bastille Day!

THE call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis' taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq's sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops "surrender," even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States. That is why, on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

It's not going to work this time. It's time to end this war.

TNR notes that Obama has not, in fact, 'flip flopped' on Iraq:

Even when Obama delivered his first major speech calling for withdrawal, in November 2006, he hedged:

I am not suggesting this timetable be overly rigid. ... The redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the parties in Iraq reach an effective political arrangement that stabilizes the situation and offers us a clear and compelling rationale for maintaining current troop levels. ... In such a scenario, it is conceivable that a significantly reduced U.S. force might remain in Iraq for a more extended period of time.

What's more, he has always left open the possibility that his administration would leave a substantial number of troops on the ground to guard our embassy, train the Iraqi army, and combat Al Qaeda. And, even though he didn't regularly spell out these wrinkles during the primary, he did routinely say, "We should be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in." In fact, he never went nearly so far as Hillary Clinton in unconditionally casting his lot with withdrawal. Therefore, it is ludicrous for journalists only now to appreciate these nuances of his position--and even crazier for them to equate his emphasis of these nuances with flip-flopping.

All in all, the recent flaying of Barack Obama makes for a depressing object lesson in how our press and our political discourse treat nuance. If Obama, as we've been told, suddenly has a "problem" on Iraq, it's only because American politics has a much deeper one.

The New Yorker has a "satirical" portrayal of the Obamas as terrorists for their next cover. Personally I'm failing to see the humor. Here's a poll conducted at a right-wing website in which their audience declares the image 'not too far from the dangerous truth.'

Atrios sez:

It obviously was an attempt at satire, but it fails. It represents the basic stuff that you get from the Right about Obama, but it neither mocks nor exaggerates them. It's a sad state of affairs that conservatives are hard to satirize or parody because they're so insane, but that's where we are. The only context is that it's on the cover of the New Yorker and Everybody Knows That They're Good Liberals So It's Satire.
The New Yorker cover could have worked if had made more clear who it was satirizing (Fox news, the Republican party, Rush Limbaugh, whatever), or by being clever enough to provide the actual funny. As it is it's just a reflection of the Right's view of Obama, but there's nothing clever or funny about it. The cartoon could run as is on the cover of the National Review, also meaning to be "funny" but with a different target.

All of this doesn't make the New Yorker public enemy #1, just makes them idiots of the week.

Inside the mag is an article by Ryan Lizza about Obama, which I'm sure is actually worth reading. (It's long, and supposedly shows that Obama is not magic but actually a cunning politician. Shocker!)

responding to an LAT article that says the election will be fought on 'centrist' terms, comes away feeling optimistic. Because the definition of 'centrist' seems to be changing:

It's good for us when positions that have been considered left wing ideas are characterized as centrist. It signals that the public, or at least those Very Important Gasbags who write the political narrative in the country, have decided that on some issues, anyway, what was once considered left wing heresy is now mainstream. (And conversely what was once considered mainstream is now relegated to the right wing.) In this list (which, granted, is quite pathetic in terms of substance) the LA Times is signaling that it believes that non-proliferation, global warming, stem cell research and comprehensive immigration reform are safe middle of the road positions. Even on the war, they seem to be admitting that 100 years in Iraq and the whole "victory" concept is an extreme right wing position.

The bad news, of course, is that spying on Americans without a warrant is also considered a reasonable mainstream position as are faith based solutions to social problems (and I grant I may be in a minority here in finding that problematic) expanding the death penalty and NAFTA. Very depressing. And the list doesn't include anything on the economy, energy, the broader war on terror or health care, which will be hugely important in this election so this only goes so far. But then, the Democrats need some issues to contrast with McCain, and three out of four of those would certainly seem to lean our way.

Only four years ago it was considered completely mainstream, centrist thinking to oppose stem cell research, reject nuclear proliferation schemes, and deny global warming. These things were at best, considered debatable. Now, they are nice centrist issues we can all agree upon. La! The great consensus has been achieved! David Broder and Cokie Roberts can take a vacation from their vigil protecting the country from the radical left wing extremists who insist that killing the planet with nuclear war and climate change isn't a good idea.

I realize that these are baby steps, and it avoids many of the big issues on which the pundits still insist that Democrats are extreme, but these are areas where Barack can very comfortably emphasize his "centrist" bonafides without having to repudiate his base of followers. I would guess there are many more that will fall into this category, perhaps even health care (although it is in grave danger of being derailed by "fiscal responsibility.") I hope he begins to emphasize those common sense positions and create a new paradigm, replete with its own dog whistles and subtext. I think that's where the independent voter riches lie.

As Perlstein has often described it, turning the country around politically is like turning an aircraft carrier. It's hard to stop the forward momentum and it's even harder to turn the weighty thing all the way around. But I think we may have stopped the forward momentum. Finally. And now we have to turn this sucker.

Meanwhile, Theda Skocpol is concerned:

About ten days ago, I was finishing breakfast at my favorite diner, when I was joined by a well-known 60s-something feminist friend. I won't name her, but people would recognize and respect her if I did. We got to talking about the election, and she left me utterly depressed some 45 minutes later (during which I kept my patience and my cool while arguing, but felt devastated). She probably won't vote for Obama, she says, because she has to "punish" the Democratic party for its sexist treatment of Clinton. "We cannot wait" any longer for a woman president, she says, and she won't accept an "unqualified" man who "cannot win." She barely listened when I told her I could hardly believe what she was saying, that women above all suffer from the terrible economic policies that have been followed the past two decades. It makes a big difference for most working women, most families, who wins this fall -- because, as the research of Larry Bartels and others shows, Democrats follow very different social and tax policies. This is not just about abortion law. It is about the wellbeing of the middle and working strata in this country, and when they suffer, women and children suffer the most.

My friend was so tied up in her identity-politics bitterness she could not see the larger issues. Generations of women in American public life would be aghast at the navel-gazing nature of this sort of feminism, I realized. The women I wrote about in PROTECTING SOLDIERS AND MOTHERS, who always thought about the more vulnerable and families, would never understand an early-twenty-first-century kind of feminism that privileges bitterness and revenge about Hillary Clinton (who entered public life as a political spouse) over the wellbeing of the working nation's families. Jane Adams would not believe this.

I have been kind of depressed ever since that morning at the diner, especially because the supposedly progressive blogs are full of similar kinds of diversions -- and Obama's campaign is clearly being hurt by the lack of unity and discipline, as well as by its own tentativeness. I am not so sure progressives are going to do what is necessary to win -- even in this year when all the stars should be aligned. Unity and practical realism are the order of the day, and the fire must be directed outward, not inward. Can we do it?

Maybe not: Some die hard Clinton supporters are plotting for her to get a vote at the convention so they can convince enough pledged dels to switch over to her for her to take the nomination. Let it be known that in the unlikely event this actually happens my head will explode.

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