Archive for the ‘McCain’ Category

The Grinch Who Stole Cash for Clunkers?

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Here in the heartland, we were greeted with headlines this morning, the likes of which we haven’t seen since aught seven.

“Clunkers’ restarts auto sales; some makers have best month,” trumpeted the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Akron Beacon Journal announced: “July auto sales on the rise as program draws buyers.”

The federal “Cash for clunkers” program, as most people know, offers rebates of between $3,500 and $4,500 to people who trade in old cars for newer cars with higher fuel economy. The old cars have to get 18 miles per gallon or less. The rebate size depends on the fuel economy of the replacement car.

Congress initially appropriated $1 billion for the bill.

Funny thing happened on the way to the car dealership. People love this government program. It helps automakers (Ford last month posted its first sales increase since late 2007), car dealerships, and consumers — spurring the beleaguered economy, all while helping the environment. As the NY Times reports:

Dealers estimated that they moved a quarter-million cars with the rebate money. The Transportation Department reported that of 120,000 rebate applications processed so far, the average gas mileage of cars being bought was 28.3 miles per gallon, for SUV’s 21.9 miles per gallon, and for trucks, 16.3 miles per gallon, all significantly higher than required to get a rebate.

The House last week, with true bipartisan support, passed a bill to extend the program, authorizing another $2 billion worth of rebates.

Enter Senate Republicans.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says cash for clunkers is an example of botched execution by the Obama administration. With people lining up to purchase new, environmentally friendlier cars from economically strapped dealers, Sen. John McCain is reportedly expected to lead a filibuster against the additional funds. Said Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina: “This is crazy to try to rush this thing through again while they’re trying to rush through health care. We’ve got to slow this thing down.” He called cash for clunkers an example of the “stupidity coming out of Washington right now.”

Actually — and this is what many Republicans simple cannot abide — it’s an example of a spectacularly popular government program that works.

Do they seriously mean to tell us with a straight face that because Congress underestimated the popularity of the program, it’s an example of government ineptitude? Would they say the same thing about Apple, which initially could not keep up with demand for iPod minis or Shuffles? Would they castigate, for initially failing to make enough Kindles? Would they hurl bromides about the stupidity coming out of Silicon Valley?

Republicans, having made the specious argument that this program’s popularity proves the government is too inept to manage health care, cannot now afford to let new funding go through. By their own logic, it would show that government can and does work for the people. And it would hand Obama a huge and visible victory as he makes the case this August that government can and will manage health care reform.

Yes, we know. More car rebates will add to the national debt. Just like all those war-time tax cuts Republican senators voted for during the Bush years.

Meanwhile, consumers line up in an ailing economy, hoping the Senate will come through, and they will be able to buy newer cars with better fuel economy.

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

I (HEART) the Media

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

The story of Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair would never have broken, were it not for an anonymous tip, a hunch, and an enterprising reporter on the staff of The State, South Carolina’s biggest newspaper.

First, some background.

About six months ago, an anonymous tipster sent the newspaper copies of email exchanges between the governor and an alleged lover in Argentina named Maria. The newspaper emailed the woman, attempting to verify the authenticity of the emails, but never heard back.

Editors were skeptical. As editors should be.

“Because [Sanford] had not had a reputation for being a philanderer, we questioned its authenticity,” political editor Leroy Chapman told the New York Times.

So, in this age of instant news, the newspaper did the right thing: It sat on the story.

Then, last week, when the governor left his mansion without security, cops began talking. Politicians and government officials got wind of the disappearance, and told reporters. The governor’s staff claimed he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail. Tuesday, The State received another tip, from an airline passenger who had seen the governor on a plane, and said he would soon be returning on a flight from Argentina.

Based on the tip, Gina Smith, a political reporter for The State, went to the Atlanta airport to see if she could find the governor.

Here is an excerpt of her account:

It was about 6:15 a.m. Wednesday as I stood in the waiting area at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, squinting my eyes to see whether Gov. Mark Sanford was part of a crowd exiting the plane from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Is he there? Is he there?” I kept asking myself as I craned my neck, flipped on my digital recorder and booted up my digital camera. …

Then, my jaw dropped when Sanford appeared.

In the best muckraking tradition, Smith immediately snapped this picture (at right):

Sanford, clearly caught, suggested to Smith that the two sit down and chat in the terminal. In her column, she says the governor was nervous, measuring his words. She asked him if he had been alone in Argentina, and he lied, flat out: “Yes.”

He may not have been under oath, but doesn’t a governor have a moral obligation to be truthful, especially when dealing with the press? Reading her account, it’s hard not to think of this, from the Associated Press:

Sanford was a three-term U.S. House veteran who once cited “moral legitimacy” when he was a congressman voting for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Now that the story has broken, The State has released the emails that they’ve been holding, responsibly, for half a year. In them, Sanford tells his lover about a meeting with John McCain, when he was being vetted as a possible VP candidate. (“The following weekend have been asked to spend it out in Aspen, Colorado with McCain — which has kicked up the whole VP talk all over again in the press back home.”)

Reading the emails is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It makes you feel guilty and complicit in an ugly sort of way. On Thursday, July 10, for instance, Sanford wrote:

You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that is so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light — but hey, that would be going into the sexual details we spoke of at the steakhouse at dinner — and unlike you I would never do that!

Maria replied:

I don’t want to put the genius (sic) back in the bottle because I truly believe in freedom. I never gave you sexual details but now you don’t need to imagine you can close your eyes and just remember. I’ll do the same.

If Gina Smith doesn’t go to the airport with her camera, maybe none of this comes out. The governor is free to continue moralizing. Maybe he seeks the Republican nomination for president.

As newspapers across the country stop printing, or slash newsroom budgets, cutting back on community and state house reporting, ceding more and more ground to laptops and Blackberrys and the Twitter revolution, it’s important to keep in mind that we are losing so much more than just ink-stained fingers and piles of papers to recycle.

We are losing out on truth.

Obama on a Roll

Monday, June 8th, 2009

As the dust settles from Obama’s speech in Cairo and quick trip through Europe, I’m left with the distinct sense that overall, Obama is on a major upswing.

The lead story in my hometown Akron Beacon Journal today was, “Serious times call for serious president overseas,” with the comparison to Bush explicit.

It’s a McClatchy wire report, written by Margaret Talev, which generally makes the case that while Obama’s visits with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were brief, they were substantive and business-like, hitting exactly the right tone. (Bush, it notes, had quite literally “fawned over” Merkel.)

Regarding Obama’s approach, the article states:

It’s winning plaudits, not only with foreign audiences and world leaders, but also at home, where his presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both have praised his style as right for the times.

His speech in Cairo to the Muslim world, some 1.5 billion people, not only reached one of the biggest audiences ever sought but also may open doors after decades of misunderstanding, to judge from the first opinion polls cited by the White House. But in meetings with four heads of government or state, Obama went out of his way to avoid effusiveness.

Style for the times. That’s the kind of impression that can start to stick.

The Beacon Journal twinned this with an AP article by Karin Laub, “Islamic militants wary of Obama; President’s remakrs appear to undercut stance of extremists. Some groups respons positively.”

Here’s the nut:

From Lebanese guerrillas to Saudi preachers, Islamic extremists have warned followers not to be taken in by President Barack Obama’s conciliatory words — a sign that some may be nervous about losing support if animosity toward the United States fades. …

There are already some indications his words are having the desired effect of undercutting extremists. A militant leader in Egypt called on the Taliban to respond positively to Obama’s gestures, and Hamas militants in Gaza say they are ready ”to build on this speech.”

Already — in important, tangible ways — Obama is beginning to undo the damage done to the U.S. image in the Muslim world, deterring would-be extremists, beginning what will surely be a long process of making us safer. And all without a single bullet fired.

Lest we think this is limited to one speech in the foreign policy arena, the New York Times had a must-read article this morning, about Obama’s economic team.

Remember all the fulminating when Obama named Lawrence H. Summers his chief economic advisor? People said he was sexist, impossibly antagonistic, and would never get along with anyone in the cabinet. They predicted stalemate at best, dire division at worst.

Here’s the nut:

When Mr. Obama named his economic team last November, even some within his circle questioned whether Mr. Summers, given his prickly personality, could be an honest broker of other advisers’ ideas, as National Economic Council directors are supposed to be. Mr. Summers also had made it clear that he wanted to be Treasury secretary again, as he was in the Clinton administration.

As messy as the process has sometimes been, officials say Mr. Summers and his colleagues have worked through their differences. Often arriving and leaving in the dark, sustained by coffee and the Diet Cokes that fill Mr. Summers’s office refrigerator, they have produced in six months an array of economic rescue plans that would be daunting if spread over six years. With those, and the Fed’s efforts, the economy shows signs of new life.

New signs of life. On the front page of the Times, that line in and of itself could go a long way toward further restoring consumer confidence.

For all the criticism he took in the wake of his Cairo speech — that his speech was “un-American”; or, particularly from the Jewish community, that he is somehow forsaking the U.S.-Israel relationship (he’s not; see my posts below) — I’d say it’s a pretty good Monday to be the American president.



‘Why Elect John McCain?’

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I’ve been hearing about it for four days — the NY Times magazine cover story, which deconstructs the woeful campaign of John McCain.

I think we can all agree that no matter what happens in these last eight days, McCain’s presidential campaigns has been god-awful. The magazine article (“The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate”) explains why.

Centrally, the article makes the case that while Obama settled on and stuck to one narrative (“Bush is the problem. I’m not going to be Bush, and McCain will be”), McCain shifted with the wind, never deciding on a single story-line.

It’s a long, powerful article, but here’s the nut:

The campaign was in the throes of an identity crisis by June 24, when a number of senior strategists gathered at 9:30 a.m. in a conference room of McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington. As one participant said later, the meeting was convened “because we still couldn’t answer the question, ‘Why elect John McCain?’ ” Considering that the election was less than five months away, this was not a good sign.

Draper identifies six narratives that McCain used over the course of the campaign, storylines for the public that were often in flux, and almost always reactive.

1. The Heroic Fighter vs. the Quitter. (McCain, through the Surge, was going to deliver victory in Iraq; Obama was waving the white flag of surrender.)

2. Country-First Deal Maker vs. Nonpartisan Pretender. (McCain’s taken on his own party; Obama has no record doing same.)

3. Leader vs. Celebrity. (McCain came out with a hardline when Russia invaded Georgia, and launched the Paris Hilton ad — implicitly mocking Obama’s European trip.)

4. Team of Mavericks vs. Old-Style Washington. (McCain taps Palin as VP. There are some incredible new details here, about just how little McCain knew Palin when he picked her. Also, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the finalists that McCain opted against. Just imagine how this election would have played out with Bloomberg, an economic guru, at McCain’s side during the economic meltdown.)

5. John McCain vs. John McCain. (McCain, in launching the attack ads, was running against an earlier version of himself, who had pledged — in 2000 — to unilaterally take down attack ads.)

6. The Fighter (Again) vs. the Tax-and-Spend Liberal. (After the last debate: all Joe the plumber, all the time.)

It’s a terrific article, in part, I think, because Draper seems empathetic toward McCain. You sort of sense, reading between the lines, a kind of respect he has for the candidate. I do think, however, that in a few important places, Draper leads us to the wrong conclusions.

For example, Draper writes:

The McCain campaign maintained that in contrast to Obama, their candidate had taken on his own party while working with Democrats on such issues as immigration and campaign-finance reform. “Obama pays no price from his party — never has,” Salter told me. “My guy has made a career out of it. So, how can you get people to believe that if you can’t get the press to make an honest assessment of it?

Reading that, I think, you might be tempted to cede the point. McCain has taken considerable heat for standing up to his own party — on campaign finance reform, immigration, and tax cuts during time of war, for example.

What Draper doesn’t say is that part of the reason the press didn’t “make an honest assessment,” as he puts it, is precisely because, as a presidential candidate, McCain has embraced his party on so many of the issues where he once stood apart. He once favored immigration reform; now he wants to build a wall along the Texas border first. (I can’t imagine John McCain 2000 advocating that the solution to the problem of illegal immigration begins with the U.S. spending millions to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans.) He once decried tax cuts in war time as irresponsible, he now wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. The man who supposedly stood up to his party on global warming picks a running mate who is completely in bed with the oil and gas industries, and doesn’t believe global warming is caused by humans.

McCain advisor Mark Salter misses the forest for the trees here. McCain made a career of bucking his party, yes, but he then abandoned the most significant of those stances as a presidential candidate. To the degree that the media has held McCain accountable (see, for example, The Daily Show), it has in fact been making a brutally honest assessment.

Obama may not have made a career of bucking his own party, but neither did he embrace its most radical elements the minute he launched his presidential bid. (You could argue he did the opposite. See, for example, his embrace of immunity for telecommunications companies, and his support of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down DC’s ban on handguns.)

There’s a terrific anecdote, toward the end of Draper’s piece, intended, I think, to explain why McCain feels animosity toward Obama:

Authenticity means everything to a man like McCain who, says Salter, “has an affinity for heroes, for men of honor.” Conversely, he reserves special contempt for those he regards as arrogant phonies. A year after Barack Obama was sworn into the Senate, Salter recalls McCain saying, “He’s got a future, I’ll reach out to him” — as McCain had to Russ Feingold and John Edwards, and as the liberal Arizona congressman Mo Udall had reached out to McCain as a freshman. McCain invited Obama to attend a bipartisan meeting on ethics reform. Obama gratefully accepted —but then wrote McCain a letter urging him to instead follow a legislative path recommended by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate. Feeling double-crossed, McCain ordered Salter to “send him a letter, brush him back a little.” Since that experience, says a Republican who has known McCain for a long time, “there was certainly disdain and dislike of Obama.”

Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that McCain is running one of the least “authentic” campaigns I can remember. (The man who was sunk by nefarious robocalls in 2000 is now sending them out in waves; the guy who said, before tens of millions, that he doesn’t care about a “washed up terrorist” has made that terrorist the center of his campaign.) When you read this paragraph, you feel some measure of understanding — even empathy — toward McCain. He reached out, and was spurned by the cocky newcomer.

That is, until you take a step back and think about it. Who knows why Obama adopted Harry Reid’s approach. Maybe — horror of horrors — the young cocky senator wanted to show some respect to the leadership in his own party, first. Maybe he legitimately liked Reid’s approach better, and his letter back to McCain was a principled stand. There’s a lot left out here.

But one point is clear. Even if you felt spurned, there are a number of ways you could respond. You could, for example — if you wanted to give the benefit of the doubt — take the high road, and leave the invitation open for the future. In the spirit of bipartisanship, you could chose to look beyond the petty and the personal, and decide not to hold a grudge.

McCain, though, felt double-crossed, and he made a different choice. He took it personally: me vs. him. Note the military, tactical overtones in his response: “Send him a letter, brush him back a little.”

Would Lincoln have responded that way? Would Truman, or Kennedy, or Reagan?

I am reminded of an anecdote in Doris Kearns Goodwins’ history, “Team of Rivals.” In it, she recounts how Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois lawyer, was retained on a patent-infringement case in Chicago. The case was moved to Cincinnati, though, and the defense retained Edwin Stanton instead — without bothering to tell Lincoln.

“When [Lincoln] arrived in Cincinnati after careful preparation,” notes the NY Times review of the book:

Stanton and his colleagues ignored him; Stanton was even heard to speak contemptuously of Lincoln as a backwoods bumpkin. Lincoln was hurt by the snub but stayed to watch the trial and was impressed by Stanton’s courtroom brilliance. Six years later Stanton, a Democrat, was practicing in Washington during the [civil] war’s first year and referred disdainfully to Lincoln in conversations with friends. Lincoln was aware of Stanton’s opinions, but when he decided to get rid of the incompetent Cameron, who had made a hash of military mobilization, he appointed none other than Stanton as secretary of war.

Stanton soon justified the appointment. He worked 15-hour days at his stand-up desk and proved to be one of the best war secretaries the country has ever had. 

Point is, Draper’s anecdote wants to suggest that McCain has valid reasons for feeling and acting disdainful toward Obama.

In fact, it highlights — in just a few, short sentences — why John McCain is thoroughly ill-suited to serve as commander in chief.

The Incredible Sunday Roundup

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Reading the expanisve opinion roundup in Sunday’s New York Times gives you the distinct impression that John McCain’s campaign is cooked. No one is coming right out and saying it. But neither do you have to read between the lines. The tone of the verdict is impossible to miss.

Here’s Conservative McCain supporter David Brooks:

Some of us hoped McCain would take sides in the debate now dividing the G.O.P. Some Republicans believe the G.O.P. went astray by abandoning its tax-cutting, anti-government principles. They want a return to Reagan (or at least the Reagan of their imaginations). But others want to modernize and widen the party and adapt it to new challenges. Some of us hoped that by reforming his party, which has grown so unpopular, McCain could prove that he could reform the country.

But McCain never took sides in this debate and never articulated a governing philosophy, Hamiltonian or any other. In Sunday’s issue of The Times Magazine, Robert Draper describes the shifts in tactics that consumed the McCain campaign. The tactics varied promiscuously, but they were all about how to present McCain, not about how to describe the state of country or the needs of the voter. It was all biography, which was necessary, but it did not clearly point to a new direction for the party or the country …

McCain would be an outstanding president. In government, he has almost always had an instinct for the right cause. He has become an experienced legislative craftsman. He is stalwart against the country’s foes and cooperative with its friends. But he never escaped the straitjacket of a party that is ailing and a conservatism that is behind the times. And that’s what makes the final weeks of this campaign so unspeakably sad.

Here’s moderate Nicholas Kristof, writing about al-Qaeda’s official endorsement of John McCain:

John McCain isn’t boasting about a new endorsement, one of the very, very few he has received from overseas. It came a few days ago:

“Al Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election,” read a commentary on a password-protected Islamist Web site that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and often disseminates the group’s propaganda.

The endorsement left the McCain campaign sputtering, and noting helplessly that Hamas appears to prefer Barack Obama. Al Qaeda’s apparent enthusiasm for Mr. McCain is manifestly not reciprocated …

The core reason why Al Qaeda militants prefer a McCain presidency: four more years of blindness to nuance in the Muslim world would be a tragedy for Americans and virtually everyone else, but a boon for radical groups trying to recruit suicide bombers.

Frank Rich, never one to celebrate early, writes:

There are at least two larger national lessons to be learned from what is likely to be the last gasp of Allen-McCain-Palin politics in 2008. The first, and easy one, is that Republican leaders have no idea what “real America” is. In the eight years since the first Bush-Cheney convention pledged inclusiveness and showcased Colin Powell as its opening-night speaker, the G.O.P. has terminally alienated black Americans (Powell himself now included), immigrant Americans (including the Hispanics who once gave Bush-Cheney as much as 44 percent of their votes) and the extended families of gay Americans (Palin has now revived a constitutional crusade against same-sex marriage). Subtract all those players from the actual America, and you don’t have enough of a bench to field a junior varsity volleyball team, let alone a serious campaign for the Electoral College.

But the other, less noticed lesson of the year has to do with the white people the McCain campaign has been pandering to. As we saw first in the Democratic primary results and see now in the widespread revulsion at the McCain-Palin tactics, white Americans are not remotely the bigots the G.O.P. would have us believe. Just because a campaign trades in racism doesn’t mean that the country is racist. It’s past time to come to the unfairly maligned white America’s defense.

Timoth Egan notes:

Republicans have been insinuating for years now that some of the brightest, most productive communities in the United States are fake American — a tactic that dates to Newt Gingrich’s reign in the capitol.

Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism. They’re places like Pittsburgh, with its top-notch universities; Albuquerque, with its surging Latino middle class; and Denver, with its outdoor-loving young people. They grow good people in the smart cities.

But in the politically suicidal greenhouse that Republicans have constructed for themselves, these cities are not welcome. They are disparaged as nests of latte-sipping weenies, alt-lifestyle types and “other” Americans, somehow inauthentic.

If that’s what Republicans want, they are doomed to be the party of yesterday …

Spurning the Reagan lesson, John McCain made a fatal error in turning his campaign over to the audience of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In so doing, he chose the unbearable lightness of being Sarah Palin, trotted out Paris Hilton and labeled Obama a socialist who associates with terrorists.

Not to be left out, Marueen Dowd piles on:

With the economy cratering and the McCain campaign running on an “average Joe” theme, dunderheaded aides, led by the former Bushies Nicolle Wallace and Tracey Schmitt, costumed their Eliza Doolittle for a ball when she should have been dressing for a bailout.

The Republicans’ attempt to make the case that Barack Obama is hoity-toity and they’re hoi polloi has fallen under the sheer weight of the stunning numbers:

The McCains own 13 cars, eight homes and access to a corporate jet, and Cindy had her Marie Antoinette moment at the convention. Vanity Fair calculated that her outfit cost $300,000, with three-carat diamond earrings worth $280,000, an Oscar de la Renta dress valued at $3,000, a Chanel white ceramic watch clocking in at $4,500 and a four-strand pearl necklace worth between $11,000 and $25,000. While presenting herself as an I’m-just-like-you hockey mom frugal enough to put the Alaska state plane up for sale on eBay, Palin made her big speech at the convention wearing a $2,500 cream silk Valentino jacket that the McCain staff had gotten her at Saks.

Nobel Economics Luareate Paul Krugman adds:

Mr. McCain seems spectacularly unable to talk about economics as if it matters. He has attempted to pin the blame for the crisis on his pet grievance, Congressional budget earmarks — which leaves economists scratching their heads in puzzlement. In the immediate aftermath of the Lehman failure, he declared that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong,” seemingly unaware that he was closely echoing what Herbert Hoover said after the 1929 crash.

But I suspect that the main reason for the dramatic swing in the polls is something less concrete and more meta than the fact that events have discredited free-market fundamentalism. As the economic scene has darkened, I’d argue, Americans have rediscovered the virtue of seriousness. And this has worked to Mr. Obama’s advantage, because his opponent has run a deeply unserious campaign.

These columnits are all serious, sober people from across the political spectrum, not prone to the kind of hyperbole for the sake of ratings we’re used to seeing on CNN. As I say, none of them even came right out and so much as predicted an Obama win.

Rich, for example, in closing, would only go so far as to say, “this seems to be the election year” when voters are rejecting divisive, Rovian, GOP politics.

Krugman opened with: “Maybe the polls and the conventional wisdom are all wrong, and John McCain will pull off a stunning upset.”

Brooks leaves open the possibility of a McCain win, noting that he “would be an outstanding president.”

But, I have to say, reading these columns one after the other, shot-gun style, stacked four to a page and separated by artist-rendered bunting — it had the feel of a post-mortem, nine days early.

An Unfortunate Speech

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Last night, I went to a dinner for Jewish philanthropists in the Akron area. The central attraction of the evening was a talk from a former broadcast news journalist who covered Israel in the early 1990s. She was here as a guest of the community, and the event was private — not open to the press — so I’m not going to use her name or identifying details. But part of her talk was a thinly-veiled critique of Barack Obama and his positions on Israel, and I don’t want to let it go without comment.

Her general topic was media bias against Israel, and on that point, her presentation was strong.

It’s not, she said, that there is a broad conspiracy against the Jewish state. More often, she said, you have inexperienced journalists — some of whom are “parachuted” into the most complex geopolitical stories of our time, with no sense at all of the history. Ignorance is a factor, she said. Also, the competitive pressures of 24-7 deadline journalism. She critiqued her industry, persuasively, without casting it to the wolves.

To bolster her argument, she cited two recent examples of media bias against Israel. In one, a seasoned journalist, interviewing a prominent Palestinian, let her state as fact that the Palestinians, under Rabin — when the peace process was in full swing — were not engaging in terrorism. In fact, when Rabin was prime minister, Palestinian terrorists began blowing up buses in the public square — but this journalist never challenged the assertion.

In the other case, CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour — in a multi-part series about religious extremists — equated Arab terrorism and Israeli efforts at self-defense as morally equivalent, as part of a cycle of violence — a common problem with media coverage of the conflict.

It was near the end of her speech, when she turned to politics, that she veered into objectionable territory. She seemed cognizant of the need not to make any overt political endorsements. She couched her words carefully, noting that she herself was conflicted over whether to support McCain or Obama. Yet when she spoke, there was little doubt as to her preference.

There were three areas, she said, where the candidates stances on Israel were materially important.

The first: McCain said he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; Obama would not.

She said this without providing any historical context or explanation, so I’m happy to fill in what she left out.

The U.S. embassy is in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem — Israel’s capital. There has been pressure from some quarters to move the embassy to Jerusalem, largely for symbolic reasons. Republicans have run with the issue and used it to make political hay. In 1995, Congress passed a law mandating that the embassy be moved. When George Bush ran in 2000, he promised to finally move the embassy to Jerusalem. (Bush said, specifically: “As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.”)

Only — here’s the thing — it’s a bad move. As Douglas Bloomfield wrote in a July Jerusalem Post article (“Washington Watch: Blowing Smoke over Jerusalem“):

Moving the embassy has never been a high priority for any Israeli leader in meetings with American presidents. They see it as a political football in an American game they prefer staying out of.

All recent prime ministers have understood that an agreement on Jerusalem is critical to any peace settlement with the Palestinians – and that symbolic action like American politicians trying to force the embassy move can only make an agreement more elusive.

Perhaps that’s why, when actually in Office, George Bush — like Clinton before him — has signed a waiver every six months, delaying the 1995 Congressional mandate to move the embassy. Bloomfield writes:

McCain voted for that law, but hasn’t pressed the issue except on the campaign trail, and he hasn’t objected once to Bush’s waivers of his own 2000 campaign promise.

If this was such an important issue for McCain, why didn’t he challenge Bush on these waivers? Why didn’t he stand up and loudly trumpet this cause, for the good of the Jews, in all those years in the Senate?

Bloomfield writes that McCain knows full well the embassy move will not happen.

John McCain should know better, and so should pro-Israel voters. The GOP nominee-to-be must think we’re a pretty gullible bunch of nudniks if he expects us to believe that he will move the US embassy to Jerusalem “right away” if he is elected president.

Why would McCain make an issue of it, then? As Aaron Keyak writes for HuffingtonPost (“McCain’s False Promise to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem“):

McCain’s empty promise to move this embassy is a shameless attempt to use hypocritical campaign rhetoric to win over the pro-Israel and Jewish communities. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is certainly a legitimate issue for the state of Israel and its supporter to raise. However, it is crystal clear that not only is this not a priority for successive Israeli governments, but that the politics of the Middle East makes any promise of an immediate relocation a false one.

On this point, reasonable people might disagree. But to simply drop the issue, as this former broadcast journalist did last night — with neither explanation nor comment — suggests to me that something else is going on, something beyond simply educating her audience.

The second big issue she raised was the question of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. McCain doesn’t mind them; Obama, she said, is opposed.

It was when she raised the third issue that her agenda became manifest. McCain, she said, will fight with everything he’s got against Islamic extremism. Obama, she said, considers the Israel issue a “constant sore.”

I wonder if she thought she was speaking to an unsophisticated audience. Perhaps, she thought we might not catch her reference.

In May, Republicans attacked Obama for saying in an interview that Israel is a “constant sore.” Headlines in publications like American Thinker declared: “Obama: Israel a ‘constant sore’ that ‘infects … foreign policy.'” House Minority Leader John Boehner and GOP Minority Whip Eric Cantor slammed Obama for the comment. The right-wing blogosphere piled on. More proof that Obama was no friend of the Jewish state.

Only one problem. As The Washington Post reported in May (“Republicans Twist Obamas Words About Israel“), Obama’s “comment has been taken completely out of context.”

The Post reported:

Obama gave an interview over the weekend to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic in which, among other things, he rejected former president Jimmy Carter‘s characterization of Israel as an “apartheid state.” Here is the passage that has now become controversial. (Key phrases in italics.)

Goldberg:“What do you make of Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that Israel resembles an apartheid state?”

Obama: “I strongly reject the characterization. Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there’s no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like ‘apartheid’ into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.”

Goldberg:“If you become president, will you denounce settlements publicly?”

Obama:“What I will say is what I’ve said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States.”

Goldberg:“Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?”

Obama:“No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore,does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this, because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable.”

It is pretty clear from this passage that Obama is not calling Israel a “constant wound.” Indeed, he specifically says “no, no, no” when asked whether Israel is a drag on America’s international reputation. He is referring to the overall Israeli-Palestinian problem, including continued Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

The Atlantic Monthly interviewer himself felt Obama’s quotes had been so intentionally distorted, he took the rare step of speaking up, describing Boehner’s characterization of the interview as “mendacious, duplicitous, gross and comically refutable.”

And yet this broadcast journalist, speaking to a group of Jews in Akron two weeks before the election, saw fit to reference the quote, without comment, as part of a purported even-handed discussion about the presidential candidates and Israel?

I should have been alerted to the journalists’ motives when, in an earlier dinner conversation, she similarly claimed to be “torn” in her political leanings, but said she was truly concerned by an email she received showing Obama, as a child, in Muslim garb, next to McCain, as a youth, apparently in military apparel. I did a bit of research to try to find this email, but couldn’t.

We know, without question, Obama is not now nor has he ever been a Muslim. The email, it seems to me, is a further attempt at a smear him, and for her to raise it, casually over philo-wrapped fish, raises doubts in my mind about just how seriously to take anything that she says.

And during the discussion, after her speech, she criticized MSNBC for being so abashedly pro-Obama, leaving it to the incredulous audience to shout out: “What about Fox?” To which she replied, with a straight face, yes, but at least, with Fox, they are not passing themselves off as fair and balanced, like MSNBC.

The speaker came to Akron to give a talk, to the Jewish community, and concluded with a subtle, anti-Obama message that, I’m sure, stirred fear among those in attendance. It seemed designed to peel votes away for McCain, and given the kinds of questions people were asking me about Obama afterwards, questions that referenced other false smears about him (“Does he really have anti-Israel advisors?”) (Answer: No), it might just have worked.

Claiming to be a fair and balanced arbiter, one who herself is “torn” between the candidates, only gives her the patina of objectivity, and makes her message that much more devastating.

She knows it works. Just ask her about press coverage of Israel.

My Obama Minute: A Half Hour With a McCainiac

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

I spent another two hours canvassing the Jewish community in Beachwood today. I spoke to 16 voters. Fifteen were voting for Obama. One for McCain.

Extrapolating these results out, I think we can all safely expect an Obama landslide on Election Day.

(Hey — I’m a creative writer, not a statistician. There’s a reason.)

It was another one of those fall days ripped from an Ohio Tourism brochure. High sun. Chilly, until you started walking, until you stepped out of the shadows of the houses and into the sunlight.

We set out around 11:30 a.m. — just after Meet the Press — and, I think it’s safe to say, we were propelled through the streets of Beachwood with Colin Powell’s endorsement at our backs.

People were, by and large, glad to see me. Even when they didn’t have time to talk, they let me know they appreciated the work I was doing. I spoke to one guy, in his doorway, for 15 minutes. I asked a 59-year-old woman if her daughter and son-in-law, who lived with her, were Obama voters, too.

“They better vote for Obama,” she said, “or else they’re out of the will.”

Perhaps my most satisfying conversation, though, was my last one — with a seventy-something McCain voter.

I started out by speaking to his wife, an Obama supporter, at the doorway of their modest ranch house, shaded by a low-slung roof. I’m happy to talk about Obama’s positions on Israel, I said.

“I don’t trust him on Israel,” the man said, unseen inside the house.

I answered his wife. Obama’s a great friend of the Jewish state.

“I don’t trust him on Israel,” the man said.

I heard Obama speak in Cleveland to a small group of Jewish leaders, I said. Obama said he would work tirelessly for a safe and secure Israel. He repeatedly spoke of the importance of Israel as a Jewish homeland. He has AIPAC’s stamp of approval. And a perfect voting record on Israel. He introduced a bill in the Senate to sanction Iran.

She invited me inside.

I’m not going to change my mind, he said. He sat at the living room table with his bare foot up on a chair — said he was nursing some ailment or another. Apologized for it. His kids, he said, were working their tails off for Obama, despite him.

You’re not going to move him, his wife said.

Still, we engaged in a spirited back and forth. He complained that Obama was going to be a tax and spend spread the wealth president. I told him I didn’t think so. Obama believes that trickle down economics has been class warfare against the middle class, and he wants to right that wrong. Further, I said, Obama is not a panderer. He was booed, after all, by the teacher’s union, for advocating standards for educators. He lost the progressive wing of the party when he agreed to immunity for the telecom companies. He supports gun ownership, and backed the Supreme Court ruling that called a DC law banning handguns unconstitutional.

I told him that McCain, in picking Palin, had in fact proven more tightly tied to his party’s extreme wing than Obama.

The man had a curt reply: Politicians pick the person who will most help them win. Obama did the same thing. End of story.

No, I said. If Obama wanted to pick the person most likely to help him win, he would have picked Hillary. Even Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich said as much. Obama, I said, picked the person he felt would help him govern, while also, hopefully helping him politically. No guarantee, though. Big, material difference.

His wife shook her head, smiling.

The man smiled, too. I haven’t voted for a Democrat since Adlai Stevenson, he said, and I’m not about to start now.

You’re man is going to win, anyway, he added.

Clearly, he had no idea who he was talking to.

I wouldn’t count on it, I said. The polls are contracting. The swing states are a dead heat.

Trust me, he said, you’re going to win. But, I tell you, you are doing the right thing — you can’t assume anything. You have to play this one through to the bitter end.

His wife went into the kitchen, came back with a copy of David Brooks’ column from the New York Times last week, in which the conservative columnist kind of gives a grudging stamp of approval to Obama. Take this, she said, it’s excellent. I’d already read it — but you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

I don’t like either of them — Obama or McCain, the man admitted. Truth is, he said, if Hillary had won — I might have actually considered switching parties, to vote for her.

Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought.

I love the political process, he said. I love elections. I only hope I live another four years, so I can be here for the next one.

From your lips to god’s ears, my friend. I’ll stop back in 2012.