CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Rising above the politics of fear

Muslim voters detect a snub from Obama

As Senator Barack Obama courted voters in Iowa last December, Representative Keith Ellison, the country’s first Muslim congressman, stepped forward eagerly to help.

Mr. Ellison believed that Mr. Obama’s message of unity resonated deeply with American Muslims. He volunteered to speak on Mr. Obama’s behalf at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, one of the nation’s oldest Muslim enclaves. But before the rally could take place, aides to Mr. Obama asked Mr. Ellison to cancel the trip because it might stir controversy. Another aide appeared at Mr. Ellison’s Washington office to explain.

“I will never forget the quote,” Mr. Ellison said, leaning forward in his chair as he recalled the aide’s words. “He said, ‘We have a very tightly wrapped message.’ ” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — I’ve never been a fan of the word “hope” as a campaign slogan. Hope’s easy to come by — most people are able to carry at least a morsel of it all the way to their deathbed. A resource that’s in much shorter supply, yet the one that is really the only antidote to fear — especially when for so many years fear has become the political air that we’ve been compelled to breathe — is courage.

Political courage requires a certain amount of recklessness. It means reaching beyond the dictates of political tactics. If Obama really wants to end the mindset that led us to war, he needs to challenge an element that’s right at the heart of that mindset: America’s fear of Islam. So far, all he’s done is bow down to that fear.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The New York Times misreports Obama on undivided Jerusalem

Obama’s comments on Israel stir criticism in U.S.

The morning after claiming the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama spoke to skeptical members of a pro-Israel lobby and made a pledge that some of them found pleasantly surprising: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

That statement generated a storm of controversy in the Middle East, with one Kuwaiti daily calling it “a slap in the face” to Arabs. And over the last 24 hours, as Mr. Obama and his campaign have sought to explain his initial remarks, and suggested that an undivided Jerusalem would be hard to achieve, they have been accused of backtracking, which has generated a new round of criticism, this one here at home among Jewish groups. [complete article]

Editor’s CommentThe Wikipedia entry for New York Times reporter, Larry Rohter, notes that he has been “criticized in various fora for sloppy journalism, including the use of questionable sources and shallow understanding of the local politics of the areas he covered.”

Here he goes again.

Rohter writes that Obama “suggested that an undivided Jerusalem would be hard to achieve”. The reporter reiterates this further into the article:

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Mr. Obama was asked about criticisms from the Arab world, and whether his remarks meant that Palestinians had no claim to Jerusalem.

“Well,” he replied, “obviously it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues,” including the status of Jerusalem.

While restating his support for an undivided city, he also said, “My belief is that, as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute.”

In fact, Obama said the opposite. This is from the transcript of the interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley:

CROWLEY: I want to ask you about something you said in APAC yesterday. You said that Jerusalem must remain undivided. Do the Palestinians have no claim to Jerusalem in the future?

OBAMA: Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.

CROWLEY: But you would be against any kind of division of Jerusalem?

OBAMA: My belief is that, as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute. And I think that it is smart for us to — to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.

Obama says a division of Jerusalem would be hard to achieve, not as Rohter reports that “an undivided Jerusalem would be hard to achieve”.

Is Rohter ignorant about the outcome of the Six-Day War in 1967? Or is this just sloppy weekend reporting? Buried on the inside pages – who’s going to read it anyway? What’s it matter if the paper of record gets the record wrong?


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: “Undivided” means open access

Obama clarifies united Jerusalem comment

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama did not rule out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem when he called for Israel’s capital to remain “undivided,” his campaign told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” Obama declared Wednesday, to rousing applause from the 7,000-plus attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.

But a campaign adviser clarified Thursday that Obama believes “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with.”

“Two principles should apply to any outcome,” which the adviser gave as: “Jerusalem remains Israel’s capital and it’s not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967.”

He refused, however, to rule out other configurations, such as the city also serving as the capital of a Palestinian state or Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.

“Beyond those principles, all other aspects are for the two parties to agree at final status negotiations,” the Obama adviser said.

Many on the right of the political spectrum among America’s Jews welcomed Obama’s remarks at AIPAC, but the clarification of his position left several cold.

“The Orthodox Union is extremely disappointed in this revision of Senator Obama’s important statement about Jerusalem,” said Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. He had sent out a release Wednesday applauding Obama’s Jerusalem remarks in front of AIPAC.

“In the current context, everyone understands that saying ‘Jerusalem… must remain undivided’ means that the holy city must remain unified under Israeli rule, as it has been since 1967,” Diament explained.

“If Senator Obama intended his remarks at AIPAC to be understood in this way, he said nothing that would reasonably lead to such a different interpretation.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and another Jewish activist who had originally lauded Obama’s statement, now called the candidate’s words “troubling.”

“It means he used the term inappropriately, possibly to mislead strong supporters of Israel that he supports something he doesn’t really believe,” Klein charged.

But congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida with ties to the Jewish community and a long-time supporter of Obama, rejected the idea that the Illinois senator had been misleading with his comments.

“Everyone knows that Jerusalem is a final status issue. That is not a secret to anyone. Senator Obama says emphatically that should the Israelis and the Palestinians negotiate [an agreement], he will respect their conclusions and that he will not dictate a particular resolution.”

And some groups were pleased by the clarification on Jerusalem provided by the campaign.

“There was reaction from some of our base who were taken aback by it and thought he was undermining the peace process,” said Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir, who described his organization as “gratified” by the clarified position which seems to follow APN’s policy that sovereignty of Jerusalem could be shared in a final peace settlement.

Obama has faced questions about his support for Israel from hawkish quarters of the Jewish community, and his campaign said the speech before AIPAC, following a town hall meeting at a Florida synagogue last month, were key elements in shoring up the Jewish vote, which generally goes to the Democrats.

“We think we’ve gotten a good reaction to the speech and we’re pleased that we’ve gotten a good reaction,” said the campaign adviser of the candidate’s AIPAC address, which received multiple sustained standing ovations.

Palestinian factions though were particularly troubled by the original speech’s original language on an undivided Jerusalem.

“This statement is totally rejected,” said Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whom a top aide described as “disappointed.”

“The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state,” Abbas said.

The Obama campaign adviser said that whatever the international reaction, it was important for the Illinois senator to “make his positions clear.”

“Our main audience is American voters at the moment. Other people want to know where he stands and it’s important that they do know where he stands,” he said.

Speaking generally about the speech, which also stressed the importance of a secure Israel and the need to isolate Hamas, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters: “Obama’s comments have confirmed that there will be no change in the US administration’s foreign policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, however, called Obama’s address “moving,” adding that he was also impressed by the speeches delivered at the same conference by Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.

Olmert spoke to all three candidates by phone Thursday as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Washington. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The Washington Post said:

Obama quickly backtracked today in an interview with CNN.

“Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations,” Obama said when asked whether Palestinians had no future claim to the city.

Obama said “as a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute” a division of the city. “And I think that it is smart for us to — to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.”

That’s probably good enough to back him out of the cul-de-sac he drove into yesterday, but he would surely have been better off not using the word “undivided” in the first place. Anyone who has been concerned about whether Obama can be taken at his word, just got freely handed a reason to be “troubled.”


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Obama pays homage to AIPAC

Arabs shocked by Obama speech

Arab leaders have reacted with anger and disbelief to an intensely pro-Israeli speech delivered by Barack Obama, the US Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.

Obama told the influential annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Council (Aipac): “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”

His comments appalled Palestinians who see occupied East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera on Thursday: “This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 … he has given ammunition to extremists across the region”. [complete article]

It’s a mitzvah

As a pandering performance, it was the full Monty by a candidate who, during the primary, had positioned himself to Hillary Clinton’s left on matters such as Iran. Yesterday, Obama, who has generally declined to wear an American-flag lapel pin, wore a joint U.S.-Israeli pin, and even tried a Hebrew phrase on the crowd.

Obama even outdid President Bush in his pro-Israel sentiments. On the very day that Obama vowed to protect Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — drawing a furious denunciation from the Palestinian Authority — Bush announced that he was suspending a move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The transformation — mostly in tone, but occasionally in substance — might qualify as what Obama likes to call the same old Washington “okey-doke.” And the candidate is uncomfortable with such things, as evidenced by his struggle to pronounce the name of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It came out as “Mahmoud . . . Ahmin — Ahmeninejad.”

The crowd of 7,000 loved him anyway. He received 13 standing ovations, more than twice the number granted the next act, Hillary Clinton. The AIPAC faithful gushed about his performance as they left the Washington Convention Center. “He doesn’t even read! He has an extemporaneous delivery,” one woman recounted, evidently unaware that Obama had read every word from a teleprompter. [complete article]


When John McCain went before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 2, he could not have been more obsequious to this group that has done more than any other in the United States to block a just solution to the Palestinian quest for statehood.

With Joe Lieberman in tow, McCain opened by saying that “it’s a pleasure, as always, to be in the company” of AIPAC.

Tone deaf to Israel’s brutalization of the Palestinians, McCain called Israel “an inspiration to free nations everywhere.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Yesterday was the day the “change” bubble burst. Obama’s performance at AIPAC shows that his grasp of Middle East politics has yet to rise to the level of George Bush’s! That’s an incredible thing to have to say (especially for someone who still intends to vote Democrat) but what Obama demonstrated was the myopia of a candidate who has thrown principle to the wind and decided he will say anything to secure votes and donations. His was a polished performance in the politics of business-as-usual, burnished with a genuflection to Zionism that was utterly uncalled for.

How did it happen?

I can only suppose that having become so deeply enmeshed in Hillary Clinton’s psyche, Obama decided he’d couldn’t hold back in parroting her down to a T if he was to win over her rightwing Jewish supporters. Having made that choice, he then thought, what the hell? I’ll see if I can pull in the whole Likudnik crowd as well. The only surprise is that he didn’t toss in a promise to totally obliterate Iran if that should become necessary.

If there’s a silver lining here — and one for which Obama deserves no credit — it is that he appears to have given a boost to Palestinian solidarity as Mahmoud Abbas reaches out to Hamas. Abbas may have finally recognized that, at least for Palestinians, the prospect of a new administration in Washington offers no basis for hope.

The idiocy to which Obama has fallen victim is that, like so many diehard supporters of Israel (whose love of Israel generally runs so deep they wouldn’t dream of living there), he is — as chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat put it — “being more Israeli than the Israelis themselves.”

And on the issue of an “undivided Jerusalem,” Obama would do well to reflect on the observations of someone who lives there, who describes himself as a Zionist and who offered these remarks to Hillary Clinton last fall after she made the same ill-conceived pledge.

Gershom Gorenberg wrote last October:

Jerusalem, Hillary, is divided by more fault lines than run under California, even if it is also stitched together by livelihoods and water mains and friendships that grow like hardy weeds.

The Israeli consensus that the city must never be divided has broken down. Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon is reportedly pushing a plan to turn most Arab neighborhoods over to Palestinian rule, even if other members of the ruling Kadima party would rather give up less land in Jerusalem. Your position paper defends a stance that is already spoken of here in past tense, in a tone reserved for the naiveté of youth.

I’d like to believe that what you really mean by “undivided Jerusalem” is what your very closest adviser laid out in his parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace at the end of his term as president in January 2001: Jerusalem should be an “open and undivided city” but the capital of two independent states, with Palestinian parts of the city under Palestinian rule. Turning those parameters into reality would require inspired negotiating, with immense American investments of time and prestige, and such investments dried up completely very soon after Bill laid out his vision. As we all know, his successor doesn’t do negotiating.

I suspect, however, that you wrote what you did because advisers believe that you need to support an outdated position in order to win Jewish support. Far away as I am, I also suspect that your advisers are giving obsolete counsel. American Jews are even more fed up than other Americans are with the Republicans. In 2006, 87 percent of them voted for Democratic candidates for the House.

Let me suggest a more honest and more honorable position on Israel: The greatest contribution that America can make to Israeli security is to help it reach peace with the Palestinians, and as president you will resume that effort where it was abandoned in 2001. If asked about Jerusalem, say that the sides will have to come to an agreement, and you are committed to help them do so. The Clinton parameters are still a good basis for that. If you don’t take this position, I hope that your Democratic rivals do. It would make me more hopeful about the future of my fractured city.

And if Obama’s support for an undivided Jerusalem isn’t just shameless pandering to AIPAC, how come he didn’t make this commitment in his Israel Fact Sheet [PDF] last year when it was already spelled out in Hillary’s Plan For Israel?


CAMPAIGN 08: The predator state

Obama needs a better reading list

For Mr. Zakaria, the truly enlightened Americans, the ones who understand the coming order, are apparently Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company and assorted business chieftains. When Mr. Zakaria writes that Third World leaders “have heard Western CEOs explain where the future lies,” he means it not as a sarcastic slap at those CEOs but as homage to their wisdom.

Average Americans, meanwhile, give Mr. Zakaria fits, what with their stubborn ignorance of foreign ways and their doubts about free trade. This attitude, in turn, has opened up “a growing gap between America’s worldly business elite and cosmopolitan class, on the one hand, and the majority of the American people, on the other.”

A warning here, senator. This is not an idea that will endear you to the people of Montana, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania. Were you to integrate it into your stump speech, you might even deliver the South Side of Chicago over to John McCain.

One more reason to be leery of all this market idolatry: It’s wrong. Take the aspect of the “new era” that Mr. Zakaria most admires – “the free movement of capital,” the international loans and investments he worships as “globalization’s celestial mechanism for discipline.” In point of fact, the rise of China and India – Mr. Zakaria’s own paradigm cases – was possible only because those countries shunned global commercial credit markets in the 1970s, allowing them to avoid the interest-rate shock of the early ’80s.

How do I know this? It’s all explained in a far more worthwhile new book, “The Predator State,” by James K. Galbraith. At your next photo-op, Mr. Obama, I hope to see you half way through it. [complete article]

The predator state

Today, the signature of modern American capitalism is neither benign competition, nor class struggle, nor an inclusive middle-class utopia. Instead, predation has become the dominant feature—a system wherein the rich have come to feast on decaying systems built for the middle class. The predatory class is not the whole of the wealthy; it may be opposed by many others of similar wealth. But it is the defining feature, the leading force. And its agents are in full control of the government under which we live.

Our rulers deliver favors to their clients. These range from Native American casino operators, to Appalachian coal companies, to Saipan sweatshop operators, to the would-be oil field operators of Iraq. They include the misanthropes who led the campaign to abolish the estate tax; Charles Schwab, who suggested the dividend tax cut of 2003; the “Benedict Arnold” companies who move their taxable income offshore; and the financial institutions behind last year’s bankruptcy bill. Everywhere you look, public decisions yield gains to specific private entities.

For in a predatory regime, nothing is done for public reasons. Indeed, the men in charge do not recognize that “public purposes” exist. They have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest—we’re the prey. Hurricane Katrina illustrated this perfectly, as Halliburton scooped up contracts and Bush hamstrung Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic governor of Louisiana. The population of New Orleans was, at best, an afterthought; once dispersed, it was quickly forgotten. [complete article]


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: How much does it hurt to be scolded by the NYT’s public editor?

Entitled to their opinions, yes. But their facts?

On May 12, The Times published an Op-Ed article by Edward N. Luttwak, a military historian, who argued that any hopes that a President Barack Obama might improve relations with the Muslim world were unrealistic because Muslims would be “horrified” once they learned that Obama had abandoned the Islam of his father and embraced Christianity as a young adult…

I interviewed five Islamic scholars, at five American universities, recommended by a variety of sources as experts in the field. All of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.

David Shipley, the editor of the Op-Ed page, said Luttwak’s article was vetted by editors who consulted the Koran, associated text, newspaper articles and authoritative histories of Islam. No scholars of Islam were consulted because “we do not customarily call experts to invite them to weigh in on the work of our contributors,” he said.

That’s a pity in this case, because it might have sparked a discussion about whether Luttwak’s categorical language was misleading, at best.

Editor’s Comment — The New York Times’ “public editor” (appointed by the public was he?) Clark Hoyt, describes Edward Luttwak as a military historian. Luttwak could also — and I would say with greater precision — be described as a shit stirrer. His column “President apostate?” was nothing more than a disingenuous argument with the apparent purpose of poisoning the presidential campaign.

Luttwak wrote:

…most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

That an Obama presidency would cause such complications in our dealings with the Islamic world is not likely to be a major factor with American voters, and the implication is not that it should be. But of all the well-meaning desires projected on Senator Obama, the hope that he would decisively improve relations with the world’s Muslims is the least realistic.

By chance, in today’s Washington Post, Azadeh Moaveni provides some contradicting evidence right from the axis of evil:

Most Iranians belong to generations with compelling reasons to admire the United States. Those old enough to remember the shah’s era are nostalgic for the prosperity and international standing Iran once enjoyed; those born after the revolution see no future for themselves in today’s Iran and adopt their parents’ gilded memories as their own. These longings have young and old Iranians alike following the U.S. election. Most seem to favor Sen. Barack Obama, who they believe will patch up relations with Iran.

Until that is — Luttwak would have us believe — they discover Obama is an apostate.

The fact is, those who are pushing the Obama-is-or-was-a-Muslim line, have only one purpose in mind: to tap into a rich vein of Islamophobia that they hope will be able to propel John McCain into the White House.

The New York Times turned over a portion of its op-ed page to serve that purpose and now the op-ed page editor David Shipley has received a rebuke from the public editor. I imagine Shipley feels — in the immortal words of Denis Healey — like he just got savaged by a dead sheep.



Petraeus: diplomacy, not force, with Iran

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush’s nominee to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, supports continued U.S. engagement with international and regional partners to find the right mix of diplomatic, economic and military leverage to address the challenges posed by Iran.

In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will testify today, Petraeus said the possibility of military action against Iran should be retained as a “last resort.” But he said the United States “should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government, developing further leverage rather than simply targeting discrete threats.”

Petraeus’s views echoed those expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who this month said that talks with Iran could be useful if the right combination of incentives and pressures could be developed. [complete article]

Straw-man diplomacy

On the Friday before the 2004 presidential election, Osama bin Laden released a videotape slamming George W. Bush, which more than a few people took as a tacit endorsement of John Kerry. The CIA saw it differently, though. According to Ron Suskind’s fine book, The One Percent Doctrine, Deputy Director John McLaughlin said, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.” It seemed obvious to the top CIA analysts that bin Laden wanted to keep Bush — who had let the terrorists off the hook in Afghanistan and launched the war in Iraq, a great recruiting tool for al-Qaeda — in power.

Which raises the question: Who are the bad guys rooting for in 2008? John McCain would have you believe the answer is clear. Barack Obama wants to meet with the leaders of enemy states, especially Iran, “which would increase their prestige,” McCain says, and convey the impression of American weakness. To punctuate the point, McCain persistently barks that Obama wants to meet with the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a flagrant anti-Semite but a relatively powerless figurehead. Obama did say during a debate last summer that he would meet with foreign leaders without preconditions. “He shorthanded the answer,” Senator Joe Biden recently said. Ever since, Obama has been creatively fuzzy when asked directly if he would meet with Ahmadinejad — and he has begun to point out that the real leaders of Iran are the clerics led by the Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, who controls Iran’s foreign policy and its nuclear program. Obama has also been explicit about the need to start with lower-level talks, a presidential summit coming only if there were progress in those negotiations. In his previous, straight-talking incarnation, McCain would have allowed Obama the modifications to his shorthand answer and debated the issue on the merits. Not this year.

When I asked McCain on May 19 why he kept linking Obama to Ahmadinejad, he said that Ahmadinejad represents Iran at the U.N., which is a fair point, and that the “average American” thinks he’s the leader of Iran, which he isn’t. Indeed, it could be argued that McCain’s Ahmadinejad obsession “increases the prestige” of a relatively powerless loudmouth for domestic political gain. Linking Obama to the world’s most famous anti-Semite certainly doesn’t hurt McCain among Jewish retirees in Florida, a swing state. In any case, don’t be surprised if Ahmadinejad pulls a bin Laden and “denounces” McCain just before the election this year.

Why? Because the last thing Iran’s leaders want is an American President who doesn’t play the role of the Great Satan. They need the mirage of an implacable, saber-rattling foe to distract their population from the utter incompetence of their government. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The question about whether President Obama should or shouldn’t be willing to meet President Ahmadinejad is in large part a product of the trivialization of politics as practiced by George Bush.

Because Bush liked to make trite remarks like, “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” after meeting Vladamir Putin, and because Bush liked to suggest that a handshake could be worth as much as a treaty, we’ve been led to entertain the comic book notion that once the big guys get along then everything else can be worked out.

If the US engages Iran, the presidential photo-op will most likely come only after a lion’s share of the serious work has already been done. The real question is this: Is the United States ready to swallow its pride and engage with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, thereby implicitly recognizing the legitimacy of the Islamic state? In other words, thirty years after the Shah’s ouster, is America able to come to terms with the fact that it no longer has any say in how Iran is governed?

If and when representatives of the two governments meet, initially the only issue each side should be trying to determine about the other, is whether these particular representatives have been duly empowered to speak for their government. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what the US government will have difficulty figuring out.

Joe Klein says, “the last thing Iran’s leaders want is an American President who doesn’t play the role of the Great Satan,” but Klein should know better than to talk about what “Iran’s leaders want” — as though there was a clear consensus. The Great Satan works well for Ahmadinejad but the same cannot be said of his strongest political adversary, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Indeed, whoever happens to wield the most political power in Iran by late 2009, their posture towards the United States is clearly going to be strongly influenced by how many thousand American troops remain in Iraq and how many US warships are cruising the Gulf.

If we can get past the comic book language and stop using the phrase, “talking to the enemy,” we might then be able to discuss the real but less catchy issue: diplomatic engagement with unfriendly states.

It really should be a non-issue. If diplomats aren’t employed to engage unfriendly states, what on earth is the function of diplomacy? Just to arrange cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries?


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Listening to rural America

A country voice on rural voters

Q: Let’s talk about the South, and about those regional, rural voters. You call yourself a rural advocate, albeit an avowed Democrat. In 2004, Senator John Kerry pretty much wrote off the South. As the electoral votes shift southward, with population growth, what are your recommendations for a Democratic candidate to woo Southern voters? Should a vice presidential choice come from the South. Will Nascar dads still be sought out in 2008?

dave-mudcat-saundersA: The Center for Rural Strategies, a non-partisan think tank in Whitesburg, Kentucky, did a poll on October 26, 2006. When asked what was the top issue going into the midterm elections, 38 percent of the respondents said “lack of economic fairness”. There’s the message.

Although everybody brings up Jim Webb when talk of military and foreign policy emerges, Obama needs to spend some quality time with Webb talking about economic fairness. Webb, who has evolved from a Scots-Irish Appalachian icon into rural America’s champion for economic fairness, knows more about the dire implications of lack of economic fairness for rural America and can put a face on it better than anyone alive. Jim has written tens of thousands of words on the subject, including his new book, “A Time To Fight.”

While I’m talking about Webb, he would be my first choice for vice president. Talk about a guy who could lead Obama through the culture. I sometimes wonder if Jim isn’t the father, son, and holy ghost of rural culture. And if the party really wants the “Reagan Democrats” back in the tent, I can’t think of anybody better to stand at the entrance than Jim. He’s the bell cow for those guys.

As far as the “Nascar Dad” is concerned, I still don’t understand what that was all about. I guess since “Soccer Moms” was such a popular catch phrase in 2000 that somebody thought it would be cute to use “Nascar Dads” as a catch phrase in 2004. Although I was heavily involved in the Nascar push, I never embarked on the project just to get males. Forty percent of the Nascar fans are women. I think a great new permutation for 2008 would be, “No More Lies.” [complete article]

Why don’t those hillbillies like Obama?

In analyzing the returns from last week’s West Virginia Democratic primary, a phalanx of reporters and commentators have explained Hillary Clinton’s landslide victory by pointing out that West Virginians are a special set of Democrats, white, low income and undereducated. Some, like Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Jonathan Tilove of the Newhouse papers, have linked the lackluster performance of Barack Obama in West Virginia to a larger Appalachian problem. These writers connect the presumptive nominee’s defeat in West Virginia, his previous losses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and an anticipated poor outing in Tuesday’s Kentucky primary, to the historical, geographic and cultural imperatives shared by Appalachian mountain people.

The legions of pseudonym-laden online posters who follow in political punditry’s wake are less restrained in describing the shortcomings of Sen. Clinton’s Appalachian supporters. They suggest it has to do with her voters being racist, toothless, shoeless, and prone to marrying their cousins. In short, they characterize these “special” Democrats in much the same terms they used in quieter times to describe Republicans. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Whether the Obama campaign feels it does or doesn’t have a strategic need to embrace the rural voters, what seems more important is that rural America becomes an integral part of a campaign that in spirit focuses on inclusion. The bridge that crosses the urban-rural divide is respect.


OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The belligerent power

Who’s the real appeaser?

President Bush chose an odd place and time to claim that talking to “terrorists and radicals” in the Middle East is like appeasing Hitler in the 1930s. As Bush was speaking in Israel, his preferred strategy against such adversaries was collapsing next door in Lebanon. Over the past two weeks the Lebanese government, which is strongly backed by Washington, decided to confront the Shiite group Hizbullah by firing a loyalist who was head of security at Beirut airport and suspending the group’s dedicated phone network. The Iranian-backed Hizbullah retaliated, taking over large parts of Beirut and paralyzing the country. Last week the Lebanese cabinet humiliatingly reversed itself on both fronts. Iran 1, USA 0.

The Bush administration’s strategy against Hizbullah has consisted of a mix of isolation, belligerence and military pressure. It refuses to talk to the group or its supporters in Tehran and Damascus. Two years ago, Washington unquestioningly supported Israeli Prime Minister’s Ehud Olmert’s decision to attack southern Lebanon, Hizbullah’s stronghold. The United States provides the Lebanese government and Army with aid and has responded to the current crisis by promising to speed up delivery of weapons. Yet today Hizbullah is stronger in Lebanon, Iran is more influential in the region, and the United States and its ally, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, have been marginalized. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It’s not so long ago that it was commonly understood that if you could sit down and talk with your adversary, that, in and of itself, counted as a victory. It meant that the subtler, more constructive and precise power of discourse could – even if only temporarily – replace the blunt power of violence, intimidation and threats. And since it was the belligerent who generally lacked an interest in talking, the challenge was not to get the other side to meet a set of preconditions for negotiation; the challenge was to get the other side to negotiate.

For the last seven years, the Bush administration has been the belligerent power. As the party with a conviction in its ability to be the dominant force – its ability to wield the most destructive power – it is the one that has been unwilling to talk. It protects its ‘right’ to use violence.

When Bush characterizes talking as a form of capitulation, what he is really doing is expressing his conviction in the necessity of forcing the other side into submission. From that perspective, there is of course nothing to negotiate.


NEWS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: Time for the pragmatists to stand up and be counted

Israel to agree unofficially to Egypt cease-fire deal; skeptical Barak to discuss plan with Mubarak Monday

Israel plans to accept the Egyptian-mediated cease-fire proposal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but does not intend to officially declare a commitment to it. Instead, Israel will treat the deal struck indirectly with Hamas as a series of steps beginning with a lull in hostilities, followed by gradual relaxation of the financial blockade of Gaza.

Ehud Barak, who will discuss the cease-fire with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday, is skeptical about the chances of achieving long-term quiet with Hamas, and his feelings are shared by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

However, Barak, who will be attending the World Economic Forum, is set to tell Mubarak and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman that Israel is prepared to stop its military activities in Gaza if Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel. Israel will also try to get Egypt to step up efforts to stop weapons from being smuggled into Gaza. Barak is also expected to say that Israel will lift the blockade and open border crossings only if progress is made on talks aimed at releasing captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Once quiet reigns, Israel hopes to gradually raise the number of trucks allowed to bring goods into the Strip (only about 60 trucks a day, on average, are now allowed in). If a deal is reached on returning Shalit, in exchange for Israel’s release of 450 prisoners, Israel would also agree to reopen the Rafah crossing, essentially lifting the blockade almost completely. [complete article]

Is Israel breaking its own taboo on talks with Hamas?

Participants at a recent inner cabinet meeting were listening to details of the Egyptian mediation initiative between Israel and Hamas on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip recently, when a senior minister reportedly reminded those present that Israel does not negotiate, directly or indirectly, with Hamas. Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin interrupted, saying there was no other way to describe the talks.

A letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the details of which were revealed Friday, called for the indirect and secret talks with Hamas to be recognized. As for Israel’s greatest concerns – that Hamas will use a lull in hostilities to rearm and that Egypt’s promises to fight weapons smuggling bear no weight – the writers of the letter offered no solution.

Among the signatories’ names, that of MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) is to be expected. More surprising are the names of the former Shin Bet chief Ephraim Halevi, who has actually been calling for talks with Hamas in recent months, along with former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Brigadier General (res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former Gaza Division commander. This is an attempt to provide a military stamp of approval to a step Israel has officially sworn it would not take. What was taboo two years ago is no longer. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — There’s one thing that George Bush, John McCain, and Barak Obama all currently claim: talking to Hamas is a bad idea. So what do they each have to say about the fact that Israel has abandoned this principle?

The Israelis are doing lots of posturing – claiming that talks have not been negotiations, saying that they won’t express their official commitment to a ceasefire with Hamas – but the reality is clear: the policy of attempting to defeat Hamas through a war of attrition has failed.

The presidential campaigns and the American press will of course all press along as though nothing has changed.

Israel’s ‘American problem’

When the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, arrived at a Jerusalem ballroom in February to address the grandees of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (a redundancy, since there are no minor American Jewish organizations), he was pugnacious, as is customary, but he was also surprisingly defensive, and not because of his relentlessly compounding legal worries. He knew that scattered about the audience were Jewish leaders who considered him hopelessly spongy — and very nearly traitorous — on an issue they believed to be of cosmological importance: the sanctity of a “united” Jerusalem, under the sole sovereignty of Israel.

These Jewish leaders, who live in Chicago and New York and behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs, loathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine. These are neighborhoods — places like Sur Baher, Beit Hanina and Abu Dis — that the Conference of Presidents could not find with a forked stick and Ari Ben Canaan as a guide. And yet many Jewish leaders believe that an Israeli compromise on the boundaries of greater Jerusalem — or on nearly any other point of disagreement — is an axiomatic invitation to catastrophe.

One leader, Joshua Katzen, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, told me, “I think that Israelis don’t have the big view of global jihad that American Jews do, because Israelis are caught up in their daily emergencies.” When I asked him how his Israeli friends responded to this, he answered: “They say, ‘When your son has to fight, you can have an opinion.’ But I tell them that it is precisely because your son has to fight that you have a harder time seeing the larger picture.”

When I spoke to Mr. Olmert a few days after his meeting with the Conference of Presidents, he made only brief mention of his Diaspora antagonists; he said that certain American Jews he would not name have been “investing a lot of money trying to overthrow the government of Israel.” But he was expansive, and persuasive, on the Zionist need for a Palestinian state. Without a Palestine — a viable, territorially contiguous Palestine — Arabs under Israeli control will, in the not-distant future, outnumber the country’s Jews. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — We hear a lot about the existential threats that Israel faces, but an American plot to overthrow the government of Israel? And the accusation comes from the Israeli prime minister? Shouldn’t that be headline news?



Skirting Appalachia

As Hillary Clinton’s rout in West Virginia underscores, Appalachia is not Obama country. Of 410 counties in the region, which stretches from New York to Mississippi, Barack Obama has won only 48 (12 percent) so far. Of the counties he has lost, nearly 80 percent have been by a margin of more than 2 to 1. The region is whiter, poorer, older, more rural and less educated than the rest of the country, and seems to be voting like a bloc.

In fact, it hasn’t been Democratic country for the last two presidential elections. Only 48 of the counties voted for John Kerry in 2004, down from 66 counties (or 16 percent) that went for Al Gore in 2000. The only states with counties in the region that have consistently voted Democratic in the last four such elections have been New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — While the word “change” might be the leading motif in the Obama campaign, the spirit of inclusion comes a close second.

The idea of writing off Appalachia might make strategic sense as Charles Blow convincingly argues, but even so, it would run against the spirit of the campaign. Moreover, a region that is used to being written off really deserves better.

Having lived on the Blue Ridge for the last six years, I’ve learned a bit about how the mountaineers think.

Two days after Obama’s big loss in West Virginia and a day after his big win with the Edwards endorsement, I got the chance to take the political pulse locally when I went to renew my driver’s license.

One of the privileges of rural life is the pleasure of being able to go to a DMV office, find no line, and get helped by a government official who’s more interested in talking politics than getting stuck in a bureaucratic rut. This mountaineer was exactly the kind of voter that Obama should have his eye on: a loyal Edwards supporter who wants a president who looks out for the working folk and will help restore the respect that America has lost around the world. She wasn’t sure if Obama would be on the side of the workers. She’d never heard that he was a community organizer. She didn’t know he’d passed up the opportunity for a lucrative career on Wall Street. She simply didn’t know enough about the candidate.

Listen to the pundits and you’d conclude that the single most important thing to know about Appalachia is that it’s mostly white, but I’d say the key issue here is respect. Skirting Appalachia is no better than saying, you people don’t matter.


CAMPAIGN 08 EDITORIAL: New York Times joins the gutter press

New York Times tries to out-Murdoch Murdoch

Does Rupert Murdoch have a mole among the editors of the New York Times? Or is the Times merely adopting the reflex that a Murdoch threat often seems to inspire: mimicry. (That’s how CNN fought back against Fox – it simply became more like Fox.)

Gracing Monday’s op-ed page is a contribution as deserving of space as would be a diatribe from David Duke: “President Apostate?” by Edward N. Luttwak.

Is the New York Times trying to steal readers from the New York Post?

After the Jeremiah Wright furor had the unintended consequence of nixing the “Obama’s a Muslim” rumor, the New York Times — with the implausible deniability of using the voice of an op-ed contributor — revives the so-called Muslim slur in its alternate form: Obama was a Muslim.

Daniel Pipes and other Islamophobes have been pushing this around for a while, but now it gets dignified by appearing on the pages of the “paper of record.”

Rather than struggling to express how infuriating I find it that the New York Times would publish a piece like this, I’m happy to say that I stumbled on someone else’s response – a response wonderfully prescient because it was written almost six months before Luttwak’s recycled bilge spilled out.

It came in a comment by Al-Hayat‘s Washington Bureau Chief, Salameh Nematt. He was responding to the same apostate argument, at that time being pushed by Nibras Kazimi of Talisman’s Gate:

Interesting point, but I believe the fact that Obama’s father abandoned him as a kid, and his mother raised him as a Christian absolves him of responsibility. That’s my fatwa for whatever it is worth. However, I believe an Islamic fatwa declaring him an apostate and calling for Muslims to spill his blood would probably guarantee him his party’s nomination for president.



CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The new McCarthyism

Informal Obama adviser steps aside over Hamas talks

One of the Obama campaign’s informal Middle East advisers, Robert Malley, confirms to NBC NEWS that he has resigned from any role in the campaign because critics have tried to make an issue of his meetings with Hamas. The Times of London called him about it this morning, and has posted a story online. As a result, he called Obama’s campaign today and took himself out of any future role.

Malley’s paid job is with the International Crisis Group, which, he says, requires him to meet with Hamas and others. Malley worked for six and a half years at the Clinton National Security Council under Tony Lake and Sandy Berger. Lake is now one of Obama’s top foreign policy advisors.

Speaking to NBC NEWS, Malley said, “I decided based on the fact that this was becoming a distraction that it was best that I remove myself from any association with the campaign.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Even though Malley resigned, the Murdoch-owned Times couldn’t resist giving this story the headline: “Barack Obama sacks adviser over talks with Hamas.” Neither The Times nor NBC News saw fit to reprint a statement in defense of Robert Malley that was issued in February and that was signed by Bill Clinton’s former National Security Adviser and two former US ambassadors to Israel. This is what they wrote:

Over the past several weeks, a series of vicious, personal attacks have been launched against one of our colleagues, Robert Malley, who served as President Clinton’s Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs. They claim that he harbours an anti-Israeli agenda and has sought to undermine Israel’s security. These attacks are unfair, inappropriate and wrong. They are an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests. They must stop.

We have real differences among us about how best to conduct US policy toward the Middle East and what is the right way to build a lasting two-state solution that protects Israel’s security. But whatever differences do exist, there is no disagreement among us on one core issue that transcends partisan or other divides: that the US should not and will not do anything to undermine Israel’s safety or the special relationship between our two nations. We have worked with Rob closely over the years and have no doubt he shares this view and has acted consistent with it.

We face a critical period in the Middle East that demands sustained, determined and far-sighted engagement by the United States. It is not a time for scurrilous attacks against someone who deserves our respect.

Samuel (Sandy) Berger
Former National Security Advisor
Amb. Martin Indyk
Former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
and Assistant Secretary of
State for Near East Affairs

Amb. Daniel C. Kurtzer
Former Ambassador to Israel
Aaron David Miller
Former Senior Adviser for Arab-
Israeli Negotiations, Department
of State

Amb. Dennis Ross
Former Special Envoy of the President to the Middle East

I guess having influential and highly respected friends and colleagues ultimately doesn’t count for much in a political environment that has been shaped by the New McCarthyism.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Don’t fall for the Islamophobic bait

McCain’s pastor problem: the video

During a 2005 sermon, a fundamentalist pastor whom Senator John McCain has praised and campaigned with called Islam “the greatest religious enemy of our civilization and the world,” claiming that the historic mission of America is to see “this false religion destroyed.” In this taped sermon, currently sold by his megachurch, the Reverend Rod Parsley reiterates and amplifies harsh and derogatory comments about Islam he made in his book, Silent No More, published the same year he delivered these remarks. Meanwhile, McCain has stuck to his stance of not criticizing Parsley, an important political ally in a crucial swing state.

In March 2008—two weeks after McCain appeared with Parsley at a Cincinnati campaign rally, hailing him as “one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide”—Mother Jones reported that Parsley had urged Christians to wage a “war” to eradicate Islam in his 2005 book. McCain’s campaign refused to respond to questions about Parsley, and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee declined to denounce Parsley’s anti-Islam remarks or renounce his endorsement. At a time when Barack Obama was mired in a searing controversy involving Reverend Jeremiah Wright, McCain escaped any trouble for his political alliance with Parsley, who leads the World Harvest Church, a supersized Pentecostal institution in Columbus, Ohio. Parsley, whose sermons are broadcast around the world, has been credited with helping George W. Bush win Ohio in 2004 by registering social conservatives and encouraging them to vote. McCain certainly would like to see Parsley do the same for him—which could explain his reluctance to do any harm to his relationship with this anti-Islam extremist. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Robert Greenwald’s new video (above) is clearly crafted as a “gotcha” that’s meant to nail the Republicans in response for their exploitation of the Wright videos.

At face value, it’s perfectly legitimate. Rod Parsley is a vociferous Islamophobic hatemonger and McCain should have nothing to do with him. But given that McCain’s association is not particularly personal, is recent and is explicitly political, it’s worth pausing to consider what McCain’s calculations are here and whether he’s taken on the kind of liability of some of us might imagine.

In a Pew poll conducted just over a year ago, Americans ranked “Muslim” as a trait that would make 66% of Republicans less likely to vote for a presidential candidate. Overall, 46% of those polled said they would be less likely to vote for a Muslim candidate and 49% said it would make no difference.

Given that there have been no Muslim candidates in this election, the fact that the question was even being polled is a reflection of the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign that has been waged by Daniel Pipes and others in promoting what has become a widely held belief: that Barak Obama is or was a Muslim.

Were it not for the fact that hostility towards Muslims is widespread in America, and the fact that negative views of Islam and of the Middle East constitute a broadly accepted form of bigotry in this country, Obama could not be “accused” of being a Muslim. Most of those who have defended Obama against this false accusation have chosen to focus almost exclusively on the fact that it’s false while passing over the fact that it could be used as an accusation.

Those who think that McCain’s association with Rod Parsley (or Pastor Hagee) is something for which he might pay a political penalty, seem to be underestimating how deeply Islamophobia has permeated American culture. Yet what’s particularly noteworthy about this prejudice and the way it colors perceptions of all things Middle Eastern is that in a culture where political correctness has had the dubious success of curtailing so many other overt expressions of bigotry, what Parsley and Hagee have to say are things that many and perhaps even the majority of Americans do not find shocking. Islamophobia is the anti-Semiticism of this era. It’s a form of hatred that many people feel comfortable with and which few stand up to oppose.

When one considers the kinds of cultural stereotypes that have shaped America’s views of the Middle East and Islam, it’s not hard to understand why the Islamophobes find it easy to connect with a broad constituency. This isn’t something that started with 9/11. That event merely brought into focus attitudes that had long prevailed.

Check out “Planet of the Arabs” (9 minute video) if you haven’t seen it before and see how far back the fear and hostility goes:

By associating himself with this particular brand of hatemonger, McCain has taken a risk, yet it would seem to be a carefully calculated risk. I suspect his calculations are sound.

Those who want to rebuke him have every reason to feel righteous, but the rebukes are likely to provoke a backlash. We will be accused of being anti-Semitic, of being hostile towards Israel, of undermining the Christian values of America, and of giving comfort to the enemy.

What McCain seems to be doing is hanging out bait in the hope of a double catch: right wing evangelicals who feel culturally embattled and those on the left for whom being righteous serves as a substitute for broad political influence.

If McCain’s pastors really do end up becoming central to the general election, they will likely ending up serving the purpose for which they are intended: to turn this into a contest about which candidate is the most stalwart friend of Israel; who is going to stand up to the threat from Islamic extremism; who will be the most trustworthy defender of American values.

Parsley and Hagee are not McCain’s counterpart to the Wright issue. They are there to help him frame this campaign exactly the way he wants. The media will willingly play its part, and if we are so unwitting, so will we!


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Let’s keep Hagee out of it

Why no HageeGate? Russert explains

On Imus in the Morning yesterday, Tim Russert supplied an answer to that question — bubbling online and, yesterday, on the New York Times’ op-ed page — given WrightGate, where is HageeGate? You know, not that it’s an apples-to-apples comparison (Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and McCain’s relationship with Rev. John Hagee) but why have Wright’s way-out words received wall-to-wall coverage while Hagee’s hateful homilies have hardly been mentioned? [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — If there’s a lesson to take away from the Wright issue, I’d say it’s that we should hope that there will not be a HageeGate?

How come? Wouldn’t there be some sort of parity in that?

Firstly, McCain insulated himself quite effectively from the get go by saying, “It’s simply not accurate to say that because someone endorses me that I therefore embrace their views.”

Secondly, Hagee is a slimy hatemonger who will gladly appear on any “telecast” and tailor his message to fit his audience.

Thirdly, bringing attention to Hagee will help him serve as a proxy who will fire up xenophobic support for McCain that McCain himself might not want overtly solicit.

Fourthly, attacks on Hagee will be used to imply that his critics are anti-Semites.

Fifthly, HageeGate could easily become as big a distraction from the slim possibility of there being a substantive campaign as has been the Wright issue.

Sixthly, to compare Wright to Hagee is an insult to Wright.

As for whether Tim Russert has any interest in digging into this: On MSNBC last night, he actually said there’s plenty of time for this issue to be brought up. That sounds like he was saying, when a news organization decides that now is the time to air a Hagee video, that’s exactly what they’ll do. But if instead of it being one of his attacks on Catholicism, it’s one of his attacks on Islam, this election will turn uglier than anything that’s happened so far.


CAMPAIGN 08: Standing up to McCain

It’s all over now, baby blue

The Democratic primary is over. Hillary Clinton might still run in West Virginia and Kentucky, which she’ll win handily, but by failing to win Indiana decisively and by losing North Carolina decisively, she lost the argument for her own candidacy. She can’t surpass Barack Obama’s delegate or popular vote count. The question is no longer who will be the Democratic nominee, but whether Obama can defeat Republican John McCain in November. And the answer to that is still unclear.

During the last two months, Obama has faltered as a candidate. He has seen his political base narrow rather than widen, and some of his strengths turn into weaknesses. Of course, he has had to deal with the scandal surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but even so, he needs to remedy certain flaws in his political approach if he wants to defeat McCain in the fall. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Judis continues a spurious line of argument that the media has pushed throughout this primary: that there is some form of equivalence between a contest between Obama and Clinton and between Obama and McCain — as though there is no inherent difference between a primary and the general election. But of course there is.

Let’s just take one of what Judis lists as Obama’s “flaws” – lack of forcefulness.

As much as Obama has said he has never taken getting the nomination for granted, unlike his opponent he has campaigned with an eye to winning the support of her supporters. He hopes that hardcore Clinton supporters can become willing Obama voters. Hillary’s forcefulness on the other hand — the fighting spirit that the media has become so enamored with in recent weeks — has been applied without the slightest consideration about how she would repair the damage if, against all odds, she was to win the nomination. Her willingness to trample on her opponent might have created the perception that she’s tough, but what she has really displayed is a form of political recklessness that veers towards being self-destructive.

Instead of talking about forcefulness — something that can amount to nothing more than political theater — what really counts is steel and determination: an unwavering focus not only on winning the election but on what comes after that. By this measure Obama has already demonstrated that he’s made of the right stuff and perfectly capable of standing up against a fumbling McCain.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The flag attack

Pins and panders

Sometimes I think the best thing about Barack Obama is that little empty space on his lapel. It is where other politicians wear the American flag pin, a kitschy piece of empty symbolism that tells you nothing about that particular person except that he or she thinks like everyone else. Obama’s flag, invisible to the naked eye, is the Jolly Roger of a politician thinking for himself. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The flag issue – relating to lapels or anywhere else – exposes the divisiveness that so often parades itself as patriotism.

When one American turns to another and says or insinuates, “I am more American than you are; I love my country more deeply than you do,” he is paradoxically expressing a revulsion for this nation. For he sees in it on the one side, greater Americans, and on the other side, lesser Americans. The Americanness to which he holds so fast, has embedded within it a contempt for those fellow Americans who do not see their own identity wrapped up in a flag. How can this square with the principle of equality upon which America was founded?


CAMPAIGN 08: May 5

Wright and ridiculous

Of all the strange features of this presidential race, the tarnishing of Barack Obama has got to be the most ridiculous. First Obama was accused of anti-religious elitism. Then he was accused of identifying with the underclass anger of his spiritual mentor. Excuse me, but which is it? Am I supposed to believe that Obama is a supercilious elitist or a menacing ghetto radical? Is he contemptuous of religion or too close to a religious leader? Obama’s critics don’t bother to say. Meanwhile, real character issues go relatively unheeded.

Start with Obama’s turbulent preacher. Yes, Jeremiah Wright says some disgraceful things. But can anyone explain how that changes Obama’s qualities as a candidate? Is anyone suggesting that an Obama administration would view AIDS as a government plot to kill African Americans? Or that it would govern from the perspective that the United States is a terrorist nation? Obviously an Obama administration would do no such thing. Which makes the storm over the preacher an absurd digression.

The Wright affair tells us that Obama bonded with someone whose political views are sometimes toxic. But as a young man trying to make sense of his mixed heritage, Obama looked to Wright for spiritual guidance, not political tutorials; as a community organizer, Obama focused on Wright’s admirable social work, not his resentment of the white establishment. Indeed, Obama’s own views on race and politics were diametrically opposed to those of his pastor. This is the candidate who campaigned for as long as possible as though race were irrelevant — as though the tantalizing prospect that the United States might elect its first black president were merely incidental. A few months ago, there were those who suggested that Obama was not black enough. Now he is too black? This is preposterous. [complete article]

Clinton camp considering nuclear option to overtake delegate lead

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has a secret weapon to build its delegate count, but her top strategists say privately that any attempt to deploy it would require a sharp (and by no means inevitable) shift in the political climate within Democratic circles by the end of this month.

With at least 50 percent of the Democratic Party’s 30-member Rules and Bylaws Committee committed to Clinton, her backers could — when the committee meets at the end of this month — try to ram through a decision to seat the disputed 210-member Florida and 156-member Michigan delegations. [complete article]

How Hillary Clinton botched the black vote

If Hillary Clinton fails to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Barack Obama, there will be plenty of second-guessing about how she ran her campaign. What if her loyalty to campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle and chief strategist Mark Penn had not prevented her from demoting them sooner? What if her electoral strategists had better understood the power of caucus states and the way in which votes cast there translated into delegates? What if she had actually planned for the month following Super Tuesday, thereby preventing Obama from posting the 11 straight wins after Feb. 5 that provided him the pledged delegate lead he enjoys today? But beyond these questions, one little-discussed factor (with direct or indirect relation to all of the above) appears to have had fatal consequences for Clinton’s campaign: She failed to mount a strong enough challenge to Obama’s claim on the African-American vote. [complete article]

Hillary Clinton doesn’t listen to economists

When asked this morning by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos if she could name a single economist who backs her call for a gas tax holiday this summer, HRC said “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.”

I know several of the economists who have been advising Senator Clinton, so I phoned them right after I heard this. I reached two of them. One hadn’t heard her remark and said he couldn’t believe she’d say it. The other had heard it and shrugged it off as “politics as usual.”

That’s the problem: Politics as usual. [complete article]