Archive for September 8th, 2008

That Sinking Feeling

Monday, September 8th, 2008

What, exactly, was that that just hit us?

I’m thinking bus. But a bus, we would have seen coming.

Just over a week ago, I left Denver, inspired, euphoric, feeling that we were on the verge of truly meaningful change. We had just nominated — I saw it with my own eyes! — a black, progressive-minded, tough-as-nails candidate along with his running mate, perhaps the preeminent foreign policy expert in Washington, today. All week in Denver, the ticket spoke of restoring economic justice by lifting up the middle class, reaching out to the world to mend our tattered coalitions, ending the debacle of the Iraq war; they spoke of making climate change a national priority, and of investing in — not just paying lip service to — alternative fuel, to begin weaning ourselves off of our dependence on foreign oil. The party had come together. (Remember when that was the story?)

Today, I wake up in a terrifying new world. The ticket that promised above all else to fight special interest earmarks and drill baby drill, with a VP candidate whose foreign policy expertise boils down to “governs a state close to Russia,” finds itself with an 11 point post-convention surge (compared to Obama’s 3), and still rising. McCain leads 50-46 in the latest Gallup poll among registered voters, and — are you sitting down? — 54-44 among likely voters.

Sure, sure — he may yet come down a peg from this bounce. But I’m the Neurotic Democrat — what concerns me more is how I feel.

I meet once a week to study with a magnificent Chabad rabbi — a self-described single issue voter (Israel) who supports McCain. We differ politically, but love to talk politics. All summer long he assured me — in that calming way that only a Chabad rabbi can — that McCain couldn’t win because he didn’t have his base. I was heartened, along the way, by polls that showed a major enthusiasm gap, with Democrats wild for Obama, and Republicans lukewarm on McCain. This morning’s polls now show Republicans just as enthusiastic as Democrats, thanks largely to Palin. Last time I met my rabbi he was ebullient.

I know it’s crazy — this is politics, hardball politics; there are no entitlements — but I feel cheated. And compared to where I was when I woke up Friday morning in Denver, deflated. The advantage that we had been building, bit by bit, from the grassroots up, for the last 19 months, has been wiped out, as MacDuff would say, “at one fell swoop.”

(By the way — even Sarah Palin sensed that advantage. An incredible piece in the latest New Yorker quotes Palin — prior to being tapped as McCain’s running mate, speaking admiringly of how Obama had been turning red Alaska purple. “Obama’s doing just fine in polls up here, which is kind of wigging people out, because they’re saying, ‘This hasn’t happened for decades that in polls the [Democratic candidate] is doing just fine.’ To me, that’s indicative, too. It’s the no-more-status-quo, it’s change.”)

Does anyone have the sense that I’m not the only dispirited Dem today? That Obama, too, was knocked on his keister by McCain over the last seven days?

It’s in his language. Remarking in Terre Haute Indiana on Palin’s earmarks flip-flops, he said: “Come on! Words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”

An exclamation point in the Times. Come on! That, to me, reads like frustration, more than exhortation. Because the truth is, you can. Make stuff up. The Republicans just did. And, far from being punished by voters, they’ve been handsomely rewarded.

For me, it’s not just the convention, it’s a steady drip … drip … drip seemingly everywhere I look that has me reeling.

  • Perhaps at no moment did I more think, We could actually win this thing, then the night Barack Obama claimed the nomination, before thousands of cheering supporters in Minneapolis. Moments later, McCain appeared, angry and sullen, as the Times put it, countering “with a lackluster speech in a half-empty hall, posed in front of a pea-green screen that became fodder for late-night comedy.” I wondered, at the time, if that would be McCain’s Nixon debate moment. But there the two candidates were yesterday, on p. 1 of the Times, Obama speaking to what looks like a few dozen folks, standing on some hay in a barn; McCain and Palin literally swamped by thousands at an airport rally in Colorado Springs. Images matter.
  • Obama went on the O’Reilly factor Thursday, and, on Stephanopoulos’s show yesterday, and, while more than holding his own substantively, let himself get interrupted, repeatedly, by a couple of disrespectful windbags. Bearing matters. (It was incredible, by the way, to see O’Reilly deftly undermine Obama, positing in rather ho-hum fashion that Obama’s initial opposition to the war was right and declaring him “perspicacious” — thereby taking it away from him as an issue — before going on to grill him relentlessly about his opposition to the Surge — as if that tactical decision was far more important than the original strategic one to invade Iraq. Obama’s opposition to the war should be issue No. 1 on the commander-in-chief question. See yesterday’s post: “Right Tactics, Wrong Strategy.”)
  • Obama is having difficulty “connecting” to the middle class (despite the fact that his tax policy would reduce taxes on the middle class). In William Kristol’s column today (he tries, but he can barely contain his glee at the turn this election has taken), he describes a scene in 1990 when, as mayor, Sarah Palin presided over a wedding at Wal-Mart. (“It was so sweet,” she told the Anchorage Daily News. “It was so Wasilla.”) Kristol concludes: “A Wasilla Wal-Mart Mom a heartbeat away? I suspect most voters will say, No problem. and some — perhaps a decisive number — will say, It’s about time.” In coming to this conclusion, he doesn’t mention any of her policy proposals. Did I mention image matters?
  • Little things. The Times has a big article today about Palin and motherhood, detailing her last pregnancy. There’s a picture inside with her and her husband, holding the baby and a baby shower cake. Her husband, Todd, is wearing a shirt that says “F. Atlee Dodge Aircraft Services, Anchorage, Alaksa,” with a picture of a dented-up biplane. All I could think when I saw it was: Obama bowled a gutter ball. Image. Matters.
  • Remember that book of lies “The Obama Nation”? Just because it’s slipped from the headlines doesn’t mean it’s gone. I checked the Best Seller list yesterday, and Corsi’s book is safely ensconced at No. 1 for the fourth-straight week, with David Fredoso’s book, “The Case Against Barack Obama,” sitting pretty at No. 6. I notice no book that will be in every airport in America this week that similarly sets out as its premise to destroy John McCain.
  • The Times had a great, but depressing, article Sunday about how the McCain campaign has changed since Steve Schmidt took over. Schmidt is the guy who pushed to get Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in the attack ads; it was Schmidt who pushed hard to mock Obama’s convention setting as the “Temple of Obama”; he approved all of the scathing GOP convention speeches. He centralized McCain’s war room. Here is the frightening nub: “Junior aides work shifts across 24 hours, scouring news outlets for tidbits with the potential to embarrass Mr. Obama through circulation to bloggers, the Drudge Report, cable news and newspapers.” Not the potential to make a thoughtful point about an issue. The potential to embarrass Obama.

I wonder if this latest flap came from one of those junior aides.

I heard about it this morning, after dropping my son of
f for preschool. A right wing talk radio host (hey — we need to hear what the other guys are saying, right?) was merrily talking up what he called “possibly the greatest Freudian slip” of all time. Apparently, on Stephanopoulos’s show yesterday, Obama had slipped up and referred to “my Muslim faith” instead of “my Christian faith.” This, the host noted, on the heels of Obama’s “57 states” comment. Remember, the host said — there are 57 Islamic states. His point was clear: Given Obama’s latest slip, maybe it’s not a “smear” afterall; maybe there is something to this a secret radical Muslim stuff.

Now, I’m an educated voter on this topic. I know Obama’s a Christian, and has been smeared, relentlessly, as a Muslim, by those trying to make him seem strange and scary. Here is the truly scary — and embarrassing — part. There was a part of me, for a split second, that allowed myself to hear what this host was saying as truth. (Did that happen to any of you, reading the paragraph above?) It was an emotional response, not a reasoned one. At the same time I knew, intellectually, that Obama must have just slipped up, there was something compelling, something that appealed directly to my fear instincts, in the way the host tied the two together.

So I went home, weary, feeling down, and looked it up.

In fact — in truth — Obama did not slip up. Stefanopoulos did. Here is the relevant part of the transcript:

SEN OBAMA: You’re absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith, and you’re absolutely right that that has not come –
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Your Christian faith.
SEN. OBAMA: My Christian faith – well, what I’m saying is –
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Connections, right.
SEN. OBAMA: – that he hasn’t suggested that I’m a Muslim, and I think that his campaign upper echelons haven’t either. What I think is fair to say is that coming out of the Republican camp, there have been efforts to suggest that perhaps I’m not what who I say I am when it comes to my faith, something which I find deeply offensive, and that has been going on for a pretty long time.

Obama said exactly what he meant to say. Stephanopoulos interrupted him — incorrectly inserting words into Obama’s mouth, making it seem as if Obama had slipped up. Obama immediately corrected the record, which you see if you watch the video: “What I’m saying is that he hasn’t suggest that I’m a Muslim.”

Which is exactly what he said. It would have been wrong had he said, as Stefanopoulos wanted him to: “John McCain has not talked about my Christian faith“; Obama was giving McCain credit for not smearing him. Anyone — anyone — who is even the slightest bit fair-minded will see this, immediately, upon watching the tape.

And yet, within a day, it’s insidiously portrayed as a Freudian slip all over right wing radio.

(For the record, I also looked up the 57 states thing. Obama was exhausted when he made that comment — he clearly meant to say 47 states. And there are actually 60 Muslim states in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Snopes debunks the whole thing fairly effectively.)

What’s so instructive — and terrifying — to me about this is that for an instant this morning, I fell for it. An educated, passionate Obama supporter, who has dedicated his entire summer to debunking this very rumor. How many voters who listened to that show this morning will actually take the time to go watch the video and find the truth for themselves, as I did?

I started this day — this blog — feeling like Tony Romo under 750 pounds of Cleveland Browns linemen. But as so often happens through the writing process, something happened on the way from there to here — and I am finishing angry. Flat-out furious that once again, our guy is being worked through a shredder — at the GOP convention, in best selling books, on the Internet and right wing radio — and we’re letting it happen. Every one of us.

A few days ago, I blogged about Jewish Values and Going Negative. In it, I spoke about the conflict I was feeling between the Jewish prohibition against speaking negatively against someone — even when what you say is true — and the notion that we are prohibited from standing idly by while the blood of our fellow is shed.

Team McCain and the right wing radio/blogosphere have just done me an enormous personal favor. I’m no longer conflicted. We have 57 days to punch them, straight in the mouth, with everything we’ve got.

Sen. Obama, if I could speak to you directly for a moment. This is a bad day. A tough, hard, bitter day. But you need to look no further than your own running mate for advice on where to go from here. As Joe Biden put it in his vice presidential acceptance speech: “My dad, who fell on hard times, always told me, though, ‘Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Get up.'”

Get up, champ. Get up. Millions of us have your back.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: Went with my mother-in-law to volunteer with the Obama campaign … am continuing to organize local Jewish folks as Team Leaders for Obama …

ND KUDOS: Go to our left coast cousin, who has registered to vote in her first presidential election, has volunteered with the Tallahassee Florida Democratic Party, and will be hosting an Obama Night in her neighborhood in three weeks!

Right Tactics, Wrong Strategy

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Every four years, the Republicans run for president in an alternate reality, and win.

Someone explain this to me. According to the latest CNN poll, 64 percent of Americans currently oppose the war in Iraq. According to an ABC poll, 72 percent of Americans — including many Democrats — believe McCain would make a good commander-in-chief. That same poll found only 48 percent felt Obama would make a good commander-in-chief. It also found respondents were evenly split between supporting Obama’s plans for getting out of Iraq, and McCain’s for staying in.

It seems to me that the best way to assess fitness for commander-in-chief is to look at how McCain and Obama have approached the Iraq war. Here are some basics:

We invaded Iraq March 19, 2003. On April 9, we toppled the Saddam statue. On May 1, Bush stood on the aircraft carrier in front of the Mission Accomplished banner, declaring: “My fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

As Frank Rich argues in his column today, McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as VP is very reminiscent of his early support for the Iraq War:

We’ve already seen where such visceral decision-making by McCain can lead. In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America. That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely. He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.

I did a little research, just to be more specific, and found this Salon article, which details McCain’s ardent support not only for the war — but for the original war plan. (“I have no qualms about our strategic plans,” he told the Hartford Courant in a March 5 article, [14 days] before the invasion. “I thought we were very successful in Afghanistan.”)

It wasn’t until August 29, 2003, after the U.N. headquarters was bombed, that McCain told NPR: “we need more troops,” adding: “When I say more troops, we need a lot more of certain skills, such as civil affairs capability, military police. We need more linguists.”

In other words, to put a finer point on Rich’s point, McCain made the first tentative criticism of the war plan five months after the invasion.

Here is how Salon puts it:

To buy into the McCain-knows-best version of the Iraq war, you have to ignore a lot of history. McCain was among the most aggressive proponents of a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein, cosponsoring the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. He also expressed full faith in the way it would be executed — a war plan conceived and executed by Rumsfeld.
He did call for more troops in Iraq sooner than some, but later than others who made the same argument before the first shots were even fired. And McCain’s support for Rumsfeld only evaporated over time, as it became painfully clear that the war in Iraq was going south.
Bert Rockman, the head of the political science department at Purdue University, said McCain’s commander-in-chief argument is tarnished because he advocated “the right tactics and the wrong strategy.”

Putting aside the fact that, at the very start, he didn’t even have the right tactics (“Our technology, particularly air-to-ground technology, is vastly improved,” McCain told CNN’s Larry King on Dec. 9, 2002. “I don’t think you’re going to have to see the scale of numbers of troops that we saw, nor the length of the buildup, obviously, that we had back in 1991.”), this seems to me an accurate and irrefutable description of McCain’s fitness for commander-in-chief. Let’s flash forward and give him the Surge (I know — it’s not that simple, given the lack of political reconciliation — but violence is way down, and even Obama just said the Surge was wildly successful, so for the sake of argument ..) Right tactics, wrong strategy.

Now, here is what Barack Obama said on Oct. 2, 2002, in part, about the Iraq war. (If you haven’t yet read the speech, it’s worth clicking through):

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the middle east, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

It goes on — and gets even better; thoroughly prescient. For the record, here, four months later, just a month before the start of the war, is what might have been McCain’s rejoinder to Obama:

“As Vice President Cheney has said of those who argue that containment and deterrence are working, the argument comes down to this: Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is,” McCain said in a saber-rattling speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Feb. 13, 2003. “We just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it,” he added sarcastically.

Could the record be any more clear that Obama had the right strategy?

In the alternate political reality in which we now live, McCain is credited with pushing the Surge, at great political peril; he gets away with blurring his early record, saying that he called for more troops and opposed Rumsfeld. He has never once been forced by Fox 5 to admit — as Obama was Thursday regarding his stance on the Surge — that he was flat-out wrong in his persistent advocacy for the Iraq war; flat-out wrong in his tactical approach.

A friend of mine — a doctor, who lives in Chicago — said to me the other day, effectively: the war’s over; we are moving ahead; it’s not an issue any
more. His point was, for forward-looking people, the difference between McCain and Obama on Iraq is not that great: both will get us out, sooner or later. Maybe my friend is in tune with what most people are thinking on this one.

To me, though, this wrinkle in time thinking is incomprehensible.

I’m not easily stamped as a bleeding heart anti-war lefty. I’m pretty upset at Moveon.org, still, for their callous and petty name-calling of Gen. Petraeus. But I insist on examining the record when determining for myself whether Obama or McCain is more fit to be commander-in-chief. After eight years of bluster and sabre-rattling from the Oval Office, eight years that has left our country adrift at home and strained our alliances the world over, nothing could be more relevant; nothing, more important.

Obama had the right strategy. He advocated his strategy at a time when few people were willing to stand up and say they opposed the war — it seemed like a great political risk at the time. So lump me in with the 48 percent.

Obama is exactly the kind of commander-in-chief this country desperately needs.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: Today, I emailed a friend here in Akron — the start of my efforts to organize the local Jewish community for Obama.

ND KUDOS: Go to loyal, for his first dailykos diary, about Palin’s descision to run for VP with a Down’s baby at home, which, last time I checked, had 32 responses! … and to my cousin for registering voters outside Target in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a crucial swing state! … and to my other cousin, for heading up Obama efforts outside Philly, in another crucial swing state! … and to barbara w, for spending time at the Obama phone bank this weekend … and to barbara w’s family, for circulating all those pro-Obama emails! Keep letting us know what you are doing! … And keep fighting the good fight!