Archive for September 23rd, 2008

Biden: Obama Gets Israel in His Kishkes

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Joe Biden knows Barack Obama is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state.

That’s what Biden told an audience of more than 200 people tonight at the National Jewish Democratic Council’s policy conference in Washington, DC.

Biden started off by recounting his decades-long relationship with the Jewish state. His first trip he took abroad was to Israel, he said. He met Golda Meir and a young aide, Yitzhak Rabin. He said he has personally met with all nine Israeli prime ministers since then. He spoke about some of the highlights of his Senate career, when he has gone to bat for the Jewish state: he fought the AWACs sale to the Saudis; he was an original co-sponsor of the Palestinian anti-terrorism act. He noted that he has spoken out forcefully against anti-Semitism in Europe, and in Arab countries.

“Why do I tell you this?” he asked.

Because, he said, he supports Israel from his stomach to his heart to his head.

“And I promise you — I promise you,” he said. “I would not have joined Barack Obama unless I knew he shared the same commitment to Israel that I do.”

When he said that — when he reiterated what so many of us in that room have felt and long known to be true — he received an extended standing ovation.

“Barack is more than on the record” on Israel, Biden said. “He understands. He gets it.”

The Flustered Rookie

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Unlike most people, apparently, I love Washington, DC.

Sitting on the patio at Bagels ETC on P St. this morning, eating an egg and cheese bagel and hashbrowns while reading the Washington Post, I felt something subtle — a slight spring in the city’s step — that comes around sometimes, every four years, with the hope that the old, entrenched party, is about to be ushered out by voters.

You can sometimes feel it in the air around Dupont Circle. Maybe, just maybe, the times are a changing.

When I found mostly good political news in the Post, I started getting nervous.

I’m a Democrat, remember. Good news is just one more thing to worry about.

The off-lead article today was headlined, “Obama, McCain In Tight Race in Va., Polls Show,” subdeck: “Economy is Top Issue.”

Obama leads in Virginia among likely voters, according to the poll, 49-46 percent, a statistical dead heat. Fifty percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue, and they gave Obama a 10-point edge there. When third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr were included in the polling, Obama had a 5-point lead.

Though there were certainly strong signs of support for McCain — particularly on the commander-in-chief question — on balance, it seemed like more good news for Obama.

Virginia is a must-win state for McCain. Virginia is to McCain what Pennsylvania is to Obama: If he loses it, it’s going to be hard for him to win the election. Which means, at the very least — even if he ultimately comes out on top — he’s going to have to dump resources into the state.

The Post also reports the latest polls show Obama leading, by thin margins, in Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota, with a widening lead in Wisconsin (49-42). Leading — even the Neurotic Democrat has to admit — is at least better than not leading with six weeks to go.

But perhaps the most incredible article was this column by George Will (“McCain Loses His Head“). Will, of course, is a capital C conservative, widely respected inside and outside the Beltway for his views. At one time — maybe 8 years ago — it would have been inconceivable that a George Will would have backed a progressive candidate like Obama over a McCain. Yet here’s how Will begins:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Will compares McCain to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who famously had “only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!'” He goes on to skewer McCain for responding to the latest fiscal crisis by saying he would fire Chris Cox, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journalto editorialize that “McCain untethered” — disconnected from knowledge and principle — had made a “false and deeply unfair” attack on Cox that was “unpresidential”

And Will doesn’t back off an inch from there, writing:

McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

Noting that McCain said he would like to replace Cox with Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Attorney General from New York and son of former liberal Governor Mario Cuomo, Will writes: “Conservatives have been warned.”

He touched on something here that I’ve wondered about: Why is it that the GOP base seems now to fully trust McCain, after years of antagonism? McCain himself is telling them: I’m a maverick. I’m running against my party (and your still-beloved George Bush). I’m flip-flopping all over the political map for votes. If elected, I’ll do whatever I want. Has Palin really erased all those years of doubts about McCain, on the Right? Here’s Will’s conclusion, and an answer:

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. George Will, the conscience of conservatism, coming right out and saying that McCain is a riskier choice than Obama. Obama is the calmer, less likely to panic, more reasonable, more presidential candidate. There it is! Right there between those lines: Obama for president!

It’s enough to give the Neurotic Democrat a serious case of jitters.

McCain’s Mudslinging ‘Tipping Point’

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Perhaps Joe Biden just made his first big gaffe, calling an Obama campaign ad about McCain “terrible,” and saying it wouldn’t have been run had he known about it. Article here. Biden has since backtracked. But how long before we again see Biden’s words used against Obama in a TV ad, indicating that the candidate of hope has sunk into the mud?

Here’s why this is even more frustrating. According to independent watchdog groups, it’s McCain — purportedly of the Straight Talk Express — who has in fact sunk so low with his Obama attack ads, most agree there’s no precedent for it in modern politics.

Consider this article, from today’s USA Today. Though the headline and subdeck indicate a kind of moral equivalency between the campaigns (“Fact checkers find rivals’ ads low on truth”), there can be no doubt — when you read the article — McCain is by far a worse offender. Here’s the nut:

Veteran campaign watchers say they have never seen ads quite like some from Republican John McCain. The spots contend that Democrat Barack Obama caused high gasoline prices, called McCain running mate Sarah Palin a pig, plans to raise taxes on the middle class and — in an ad called Education that’s emblematic of the trend — wants to teach graphic sex to kindergartners. All the claims are false.

The article notes that Obama has also run negative ads, with a key difference:

So far, several analysts say, most of Obama’s ads mislead and misrepresent in familiar ways — twisting a statistic or a snippet of video to make a questionable point, for instance. They say McCain has been in a different league, epitomized by Education.

“McCain is making no effort to be truthful,” says Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. “The lies aren’t routine political lies where they stretch the truth of what a candidate might have said, or take a candidate out of context.”

PolitiFact.com, a fact-check team from the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and Congressional Quarterly, rates 22 statements and ads from McCain as barely true, 23 as false and six as “pants on fire” (absurdly, ridiculously false) out of 117 analyzed. For Obama, the score is 14 barely true, 18 false and one “pants on fire” out of 120 analyzed.

Check out www.politifact.com. It’s pretty illuminating, on all the candidates. Obama has certainly dipped down into the mud, particularly with his “pants on fire” ad, equating McCain’s views on immigration with Rush Limbaugh’s. But this was Obama’s first ad of this kind. McCain already has 6 that feature outright lies. Even the race-baiting Willie Horton ad run against Dukakis in 1988 was at the very least true. (Horton didcomit the crimes while out on furlough.) What we’re watching now with McCain is something new.

McCain is trying to maintain some sense of moral equivalency between his ads and Obama’s. But as the independent groups point out, there is no equivalency. McCain clearly has no standard for what he will say about Obama.

The USA Today article calls McCain’s “Education” ad, in which he knowingly lies outright — claiming that Obama’s “one legislative accomplishment” was a bill to teach sex ed to kindergartners — was a “tipping point”:

Reporters, columnists, editorial writers and watchdog groups produced fact checks pronouncing it beyond the pale even by the elastic standards of political advertising.

“It was a remarkable ad because it was wrong in so many ways,” says PolitiFact.com editor Bill Adair. Its rating was a mix of “barely true” and “pants on fire.”

Remember, Adair is a nonpartisan factchecker.

Clearly, McCain will say or do anything at all to get elected.

By the way, Politifact.com is currently slamming the NRA for a “pants on fire” mailer against Obama, sent to its members, stating that Obama would rewrite the Second Amendment and ban the use of firearms for home defense. According to the Web site:

There’s ample evidence to the contrary. Here’s Obama speaking at a forum sponsored by WJLA-ABC7 and Politico.com on Feb. 12, 2008: “I think we have two conflicting traditions in this country. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally. And a lot of people — law-abiding citizens use it for hunting, for sportsmanship, and for protecting their families (emphasis added). We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage…We can have reasonable, thoughtful gun control measures that I think respect the Second Amendment and people’s traditions.”

That doesn’t sound to us like someone planning to “ban use of firearms for home defense.” Quite the opposite, actually.

On this score, as with so many issues, Obama has a reasoned approach that seeks to govern from the middle ground where most of us live.

 

My Obama Minute: Contribution

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I gave a small contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, after receiving an email from Al Gore noting that House Democrats are currently matching gifts, two-to-one. You can do the same at www.dccc.org.

I’m in Washington, DC for an extremely important policy conference, hosted by the National Jewish Democratic Council. Joe Biden is the keynote speaker, tonight at 5 p.m. Then, at 6:45, I’ll be attending a panel discussion handicapping the 2008 races. So check back late tonight or tomorrow morning for key polling updates.