Tiptoeing through the mud

[Obama’s] task is to remind Americans that the stakes in this election are far higher than the matter of who said what and when about Palin. He isn’t doing that.

Yes, Democrats are a gloomy lot, inclined to see catastrophe around every corner and the other side as tougher, meaner and more manipulative. Imbibing this potion of false pride about Democratic virtue mixed with paranoia about the Republicans’ dark genius only leads to defeat followed by glorious disillusionment.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Obama has lost control of this campaign. And he will not seize back the initiative with the sometimes halting, conversational and sadly reluctant sound bites he has been producing. The excitement Obama created at the beginning of the year has vanished, perhaps because his campaign (and, yes, many columnists) bought into the McCain campaign’s demonization of the big rallies. Absurdly, McCain is now contesting the terrain of change — and doing so at celebrity rallies of his own.

Editor’s Comment — The reason Obama has lost control of this campaign is that he’s succumbed to his fear of losing. The last time he showed a flash of boldness was when he responded to the Jeremiah Wright fiasco by giving his speech on race. Ever since then, it’s been caution all the way.

When McCain looked like he was destined for irrelevance he took a risk and picked Palin. His gamble paid off. Now it’s time for Obama to show he’s not being crippled by fear.

First off, he should rebuke his own supporters for treating Sarah Palin as though she’s a threat to the universe. 50% of the attention she’s getting is driven by the hysteria of those who’ve become obsessed about stirring a pot of scorn, venom, and fear, that merely serves to elevate her importance.

Next, Obama needs to dump the word “change”. It was flimsy to start with; now it’s an albatros around his neck. It’s time to focus on fear — as in shining a glaring light on well-founded fears that the Republicans want to play down — and to turn the Obama rhetorical flair into some fire and brimstone passion.

Is America a nation of frogs that’s going to let itself get boiled alive, or can we look at the economic carnage of the last decade and decide that there’s no time left if we want to avert a disaster?

Instead of whining about the tone of the campaign and its lack of substance — a response that merely reinforces the image of Democrats as cry-babies — Obama needs to take command and show that when it comes to change he’s not afraid of changing his own campaign.

Obama’s woes have nothing to do with ‘lipstick’

… if I were an Obama partisan I would be worried that his mistakes have a common thread – pride.

Obama seems to want to do things on his own, and on his own terms. It’s understandable. Obama has his own crowd – from Chicago, from Harvard, and from a new cadre of wealthy, Ivy-educated movers and shakers.

“He’s an arrogant S.O.B.,” one of the latter told me today. “He wants to do it his way, and his way alone.” But politics doesn’t work that way. And has Obama should know, or is about to find out, that everyone needs a little help.

Bill Clinton’s advice to Barack Obama

There they were in Harlem Thursday, the 42nd president and the Democrat who hopes to be the 44th, for a two-hour lunch hour chat at Bill Clinton’s office.

It is not at all clear that Barack Obama particularly wants Clinton’s advice about how to win the presidency—after all, he kept the former president at a cool distance, with just occasional phone calls, for months—but many Democrats believe it is increasingly clear that he could use it.

Bush said to give orders allowing raids in Pakistan

President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.

Iraq, U.S.-funded militia at loggerheads

A meeting Thursday aimed at sowing faith between Iraq’s government and leaders of U.S.-funded paramilitary forces instead highlighted distrust between the sides, three weeks before Iraq takes control of the armed groups.

Leaders of the so-called Sons of Iraq disputed Iraqi plans to absorb only 20% of the fighters into the Iraqi military and police, and they expressed doubts that their members would be protected when the U.S. military turned over responsibility for the units to Iraqi officials.

Does killing Afghan civilians keep us safe?

This week, as we remember the nearly 3,000 American citizens who died in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or in a remote field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, we also should think about the civilians who are still dying in Afghanistan.

Consider, for instance, the recent American airstrikes on Azizabad, a village in western Afghanistan, on Aug. 22. The United Nations, Afghan government officials and independent witnesses all say that the United States killed about 90 civilians in these strikes, most of them women and children. Cellphone videos of the scene show motionless children lying under checkered shawls and veiled women shrieking alongside them.

According to a report by Carlotta Gall of the New York Times, dozens of freshly dug graves are scattered in the village’s cemeteries, some so small they could fit only children. The U.S. initially said that many fewer civilians had died, but it has now promised a thorough investigation.

It’s a grisly story but hardly an isolated one. The month before the Azizabad incident, Afghan officials say that American airstrikes near Kabul killed 27 civilians at a wedding party — including the bride. In another incident, on March 4, 2007, nine civilians died when their mud home north of Kabul was hit by two 2,000-pound bombs dropped by U.S. aircraft. American officials said they were aiming for two insurgents seen entering the house after firing a rocket at a U.S. military outpost, according to Human Rights Watch.

An anatomy of collateral damage in the Bush era

In a little noted passage in her bestselling book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer offers us a vision, just post-9/11, of the value of one. In October 2001, shaken by a nerve-gas false alarm at the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney, reports Mayer, went underground. He literally embunkered himself in “a secure, undisclosed location,” which she describes as “one of several Cold War-era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the nearest of which were located hundreds of feet below bedrock…” That bunker would be dubbed, perhaps only half-sardonically, “the Commander in Chief’s Suite.”

Oh, and in that period, if Cheney had to be in transit, “he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), adds Mayer, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head, “rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”

When it came to leadership in troubled times, this wasn’t exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps it was closer to a profile in paranoia, or simply in fear, but whatever else it might have been, it was also a strange kind of statement of self-worth. Has any wartime president — forget the vice-president — including Abraham Lincoln when southern armies might have marched on Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of World War II, ever been so bizarrely overprotected in the nation’s capital? Has any administration ever placed such value on the preservation of the life of a single official?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email