Posts Tagged ‘Biden’

Is Middle East Peace Really ‘Vital’?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I’d like to test an assumption.

For the longest time, I’ve held that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not only in Israel’s long-term interest — it’s in America’s, as well.

A dramatic news analysis in the Times today — “Obama Speech Signals U.S. Shift on Middle East” — makes clear that this assumption is propelling Obama’s approach to the conflict. And it might mean that Obama will offer his own peace plan, and try to impose it from the top down — instead of waiting for the parties to negotiate a solution themselves.

Resolving the Israel-Palestinian dispute, Obama said, is a “vital national security interest of the United States.”

The article goes on to explain why … sort of.

Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It goes on to cite Gen. David Petraeus’s recent Congressional testimony, in which he argued that, as the Times writes, “the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States.”

The impasse in negotiations “does create an environment,” [Obama] said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. “It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.”

Condoleeza Rice made similar comments three years ago, arguing that resolving the conflict is a U.S. “strategic interest,” in part because “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people.”

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, now at Brookings, argues that the issue is central because we have thousands of troops fighting in the Middle East.

“Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?” Mr. Indyk said. “No. But will it help us get there? Yes.”

I guess my question is: how?

The assumption — which has always been my assumption — is that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will remove a major radicalizing element across the Middle East. But that’s a hypothesis that’s hard to test. Do we really believe that if peace broke out tomorrow, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and all of the anti-Western clerics would suddenly cease their anti-American rhetoric and find common cause with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank?

Isn’t it more likely that they would find another convenient propoganda tool to agitate followers? Might they not continue to rail against a shrunken state of Israel, or point to injustices in Gaza, or cite American troops in Afghanistan as a rallying cry?

Do American military commanders really believe Muslim radicals will suddenly lay down their arms and sing kumbaya?

“I don’t think that anybody believes American lives are endangered or materially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Mr. [Robert] Wexler, [a former Democratic congressman] who has close ties to administration officials. “That’s an oversimplification. However, you’d have to have blinders on not to recognize that there are issues in one arena that affect other arenas.”

This argument seems a bit mushy to me. What other arenas would it affect? And how, specifically? What evidence do we have, anecdotal or otherwise?

Thomas Friedman made this argument in a recent column:

America [has gone] from having only a small symbolic number of soldiers in the Middle East to running two wars there — in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists. With U.S. soldiers literally walking the Arab street — and, therefore, more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect themselves and defeat Muslim extremists — Israeli-Palestinian peace has gone from being a post-cold-war hobby of U.S. diplomats to being a necessity.

He points out that both Biden and Petraeus have recently made this case, arguing that “the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiments, because of the perception that America usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region.”

“I wouldn’t exaggerate this,” Friedman writes, “but I would not dismiss it either.”

This seems like a sensible place to land. Which raises the question: Is Obama, by calling this a “vital national security interest,” exaggerating it?

I think it will be critical, in the coming weeks and months — particularly if Obama continues to pressure Israel — for the administration to make its case, in concrete terms.

If we could wave a magic wand and have a peace deal tomorrow, how much less complicated would life be for our soldiers in the Middle East? How much Muslim good will would really be generated, and how enduring would it be? Will it really help us snuff out Islamic radicalism, or will the goalposts simply shift? How can we be sure?

With Israel’s security at stake, this is no time for mushy thinking or wishful strategizing. The answers to these questions are vital.

Where are Obama’s Supporters?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

I was thinking about mconley’s comment on this blog yesterday — that our government hasn’t given us much reason to trust it in a long time — when I read this in the Times this morning:

Economists say that the president’s $787 billion stimulus package has helped blunt the downturn in limited but discernible ways. …

“The signs of the stimulus are there,” said Allen L. Sinai, chief economist at Decision Economics, a forecasting firm in New York. “Government — federal, state and local — is helping take the economy from recession to recovery. I think it’s the primary contributor.”

Despite this, economic experts were predicting that with today’s jobless numbers, the unemployment rate would rise above 9.5. I’d read it was going to hit 9.6 percent.

That, the Times reported, would have provided “Republicans and conservative economists new ammunition to argue that the stimulus has been a waste of taxpayer money.” (Can you hear them rooting for it to fail? Bring on the suffering so we can get ourselves re-elected!)

Well, guess again. When the Labor Department released the jobless report this morning, unemployment had dropped to 9.4 percent.  As the AP reports:

Employers sharply scaled back layoffs in July, and the unemployment rate dipped for the first time in 15 months, sending a strong signal that the worst recession since World War II is finally ending.

Do the math. That’s the first drop in unemployment since April of 2008, when the economy started to crater.

I don’t mean to paint an overly rosy picture. Experts say the job market won’t stabilize until next spring, and more losses are surely ahead. But would anyone seriously argue that the stimulus has not saved hundreds of thousands of jobs at this point?

That is: government — despite constraining partisan divides — is helping.

This got me thinking, as Obama marks his 200th day in office, about some of the other things his administration has done, that should have earned our trust.

In foreign affairs, he has reached out to the Muslim world — just as he said he would during the election campaign — allowing the United States to actually gain popularity and credibilityon the Arab street. He ordered Guantanamo closed. He has kick-started a totally moribund peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, inducing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say for the first time that he endorsed a two state solution. He has boldly asked Israel to reign in settlements — but only as part of a regional approach, in which Arab countries are being asked to make concrete gestures to Israel, from offering commercial offices in Tel Aviv to letting El Al fly over Arab countries en route to Asia.

Joe Biden said Obama would be tested early, and he has been. On Obama’s order in April, Navy snipers cut down three Somali pirates and rescued an American sea captain being held hostage. This week, working behind the scenes, the Obama administration helped arrange President Clinton’s mission to North Korea, securing the release of two American journalists who were headed to the gulags.

Think about the boldness of these gestures, and the calculated risks involved. Think about what Rush Limbaugh would be saying had either of them gone wrong.

But wait, there’s more. Just hours ago, we learned that an unmanned CIA drone has apparently struck and killed the main leader of Pakistan’s fearsome Taliban militia. A bloodthirsty terrorist, taken out as he was receiving kidney treatment in a remote village in South Waziristan. As the Times reports:

The American government made killing or capturing Mr. Mehsud one of its top priorities this year, and his death would boost President Obama’s effort to weaken a resurgent Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

On the domestic front, Obama has courageously attempted to find political consensus on some of the most critical — and intractable — issues of our time. Under his leadership, the House has passed a bill that would for the first time begin to address global warming in a serious way. And despite the fact that so many U.S. presidents have crashed and burned trying to fix our broken health care system, Obama has stuck to his campaign promise, making it Issue No. 1 for his young presidency. Moreover — forget about what John McCain says — Obama is indeed seeking a bipartisan solution.  That’s why he’s waiting to see what compromise Democrats and Republicans come up with in the Senate finance committee. Obama’s even signalled that he could be willing to retreat on what for him has been a center piece of reform — a public option for providing health insurance — if it meant getting a bill that would cover the majority of Americans.

Cash for clunkers is wildly popular, spurring the auto industry, helping car dealers, and removing inefficient gas guzzlers from our highways. We have a Latina woman on her way to the Supreme Court, shattering another barrier. Obama is promoting aide to community colleges in a way that has earned praise from conservative commentators. He has quickly restored our image around the world.

Oh, he’s made plenty of mistakes. But, unlike his predecessor, he’s admitted them — see, for example, the Gates arrest — and he has sought to use them to promote tolerance and reconciliation.

In short, he has already done much of what he said he would do during his election campaign, which, as I pointed out yesterday, he won by nearly 10 million votes.

And, yet, his popularity is slipping. And we supporters can’t shake the feeling that while we are winning the war, we are badly losing the battles.

Why?

The always depressing Paul Krugman provides an answer in his column this morning.

Krugman notes that wherever Democratic leaders have gone to town hall meetings to promote health care reform, they have been met by screeching mobs. Some of this, he notes, is orchestrated by interest groups who want to kill reform at all costs. But, he argued, we can’t discount the throngs of people who appear genuinely angry. He writes:

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is. 

It doesn’t really matter what he’s done, and what he’s trying to do. People are reacting to who he is. There’s a phrase for this in Judaism. It’s called baseless hatred.

Here, though, is the problem. As Krugman notes:

Right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

And if Mr. Obama can’t recapture some of the passion of 2008, can’t inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, health care reform may well fail.

He’s right. But don’t be so quick to put the whole burden on Obama.  All of us who hit the streets for him last fall need to look in the mirror and ask: Do we really intend to sit the rest of this one out? Having elected a pragmatic, progressive president, are we content to let the birthers and their ilk set the terms of the debate?

Remember. History isn’t always written by the victor. Sometimes, it’s written by those who shout the loudest.

Advanced Transcript of Biden’s Next Speech

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The following appeared in today’s NY Times:

“Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” [Biden said.] “The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here, if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.’’

Mr. Biden added: “And the kind of help he’s going to need is, he’s going to need you — not financially to help him — we’re going to need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s not going to be apparent initially, it’s not going to be apparent that we’re right.”

 

Ladies and Gentleman, I stand here before you today with a single purpose. I aim to speak to you directly, and from the heart. And that purpose is to tell you who is going to launch the next attack on the United States, and when they are going to launch it.

Now, I hear you saying: But, Joe! How do you know? How could you possibly know in advance when and where the next threat is going to come from?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t. Of course I don’t. Just think about it for a minute. Knowing something in advance? I mean, far be it from — heck, I don’t even know in advance if my Amtrak train is going to leave Union Station on time. How could I possibly know when the United States is going to be attacked? What time frame. At the same time, and let me be perfectly clear on this, that’s not going to stop me from telling you exactly what I think.

Six months. Within six month’s of Barack Obama’s election. Or, make that seven. No doubt about it. In fact, ladies and gentlemen, if I can put a finer point on it for you, if you’ll permit me. it’s going to happen August 4, 2009. Why August 4? Good question. And I’m here to tell you I have the answer: August 4 is Barack Obama’s birthday.

Ladies and gentleman, think about it. Just put your thinking caps on for a second. If you were going to attack America — you’re not, but let’s just say you were — wouldn’t you wait for a day when the brilliant, young, inexperienced, risky American president was focused on presents and birthday cake? Think about it — if you were Ahmadinejad, right? It makes perfect sense. Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Also, ladies and gentleman, hear me out on this. August 4th, 1936, was the day that Greek General loanis Metaxas, leader of the August 4th regime, suspended parliament and the constitution, declaring himself a dictator. John McCain knows this. John McCain was born 25 days later. Remember — don’t forget — John McCain’s first words: “We are all Grecians!”

But that’s not all, ladies and gentleman. On August 4, 70, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem. On August 4, 1,721 years later, the Treaty of Sistova was signed, ending the Ottoman, Habsburg wars. It’s a good thing, too, or today — this very day — that thing John McCain likes to put his feet up on when he is relaxing on an Easy Chair in any one of his seven houses? That would be called a Habsburg. Think of that, for a minute.

Ladies and gentleman, August 4, 1984 was the day the African Republic of Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso. It was the day the invasion of Kuwait became the Gulf War. It was the day, in 1997, when 185,000 Teamsters walked off the job for UPS. It’s the birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, and Norwegian ski jumper Bjorn Wirkola. Not to mention Billy Bob Thornton and Kurt Busch!

Just think of the symbolism, ladies and gentlemen. We know when they will attack. We don’t know how. Dirty bomb, maybe. Or anthrax. I’d put the odds at roughly fifty-fifty on anthrax. Or, hell, Trojan Horse. I obviously don’t know — but speculate, I’m happy to do.

Ladies and gentleman, Barack Obama’s going to have to make some really tough – I don’t know what the decision’s going to be, but I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it’s going to happen.

You and I know he won’t have the right response. He’s barely been in the Senate four years. He’s going to need your help. Aw, heck, I know you probably won’t be his secretary of defense. Unlikely you’ll be on the National Security Council, either, I’m guessing. But don’t let that stop you. Send Barack an email with your thoughts on how to handle it. Put the name of the crisis in the slug. If you’re on vacation, write him a postcard. Or, if you prefer, send him a text — he digs that stuff. did u c that comin? You get the idea.

And what about that Sarah Palin, by the way. Isn’t she just terrific?

Ladies and gentlemen, when I was a kid, my father had this expression. He used to say, “Joey, when John McCain gets knocked down, don’t just leave him there on the carpet, pick him up. Pick him up!” Remember, I said it standing here. August 4th. Probably early — before all those Washington types have had their coffee. Like 6 a.m., maybe. Or, does anyone — what kind of a day … is that a Wednesday? I don’t have my Blackberry handy. Tuesday? Yeah — 6, 6:15 a.m., thereabouts. If you don’t remember anything else I’ve said this campaign — and why the heck would you? — remember this.

Thank you, and God bless.

Obama-Biden: ‘Much Better for Israel’

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, a conservative, seven-term Blue Dog Democrat, is the chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. She spent eight years on the House Intelligence Committee. The counter-terrorism expert has made some 20 trips to the Middle East.

“Things have gotten much more dangerous for Israel” under George Bush, she told some 700 people at an Obama rally outside Cleveland yesterday.

Syria was on its way to producing nuclear weapons until Israel destroyed the Syrian facility. Iran is forging ahead with nuclear weapons and killing American soldiers through its proxies in Iraq. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are near collapse,” she said. “And John McCain is still obsessed with Iraq.”

Obama, she said, will “conclude” the war in Iraq and help “structure a peaceful world.”

“There’s no question in my mind,” she said, “that Obama and Biden will be much better for Israel’s security than McCain-Palin.”

My Grandmother’s Idea

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Once, a few years back, I was having some career trouble.

I was working for a publication, performing the duties of the top level editor — who had been dismissed — but, still, my title was “assistant editor.” I was being paid accordingly.

I’d been lobbying for a new title, one that reflected my actual responsibilities, as well as a pay increase. But my boss had been stonewalling. At one point, he promised an answer by a specific Friday. When that day came, I approached my boss and asked for his decision. He said he wanted to think about it some more.

So I phoned my grandmother, a communications expert, and asked for her advice.

She said that if I was up for it, I should write my boss a simple, straightforward note: “The delay doesn’t work for me.”

I was just angry enough to do it. I thought I might be fired, but also, I knew that I wasn’t being treated respectfully, and I needed to do something to change the dynamic.

I left the note for my boss on a Friday. When I walked in Monday, he had cleared out the files — he thought I was quitting. When I assured him that I wasn’t, he demanded to know what I meant by my note.

“I mean: The delay does not work for me,” I said. (I was nothing if not well-coached by my grandmother.)

He blinked. “Oh,” he said.

Then he put down the files. Within the hour, I had a new title and a pay raise.

Perhaps it’s this penchant for spot-on communication advice that prompted me to call her today, to get her take on the state of the election campaign, particularly regarding the latest McCain-Palin incitements.

I reached her in the hospital, where she has been the past two days, being treated for an irregular heart beat. If I was concerned that perhaps she’d been isolated from politics in her convalescence, I needn’t have been. Within a minute, she’d asked me if I’d read the David Brooks column in the Times this morning.

I had, I told her. The one-time McCain supporter appears to have reached a tipping point:

This year could have changed things. The G.O.P. had three urbane presidential candidates. But the class-warfare clichés took control. Rudy Giuliani disdained cosmopolitans at the Republican convention. Mitt Romney gave a speech attacking “eastern elites.” (Mitt Romney!) John McCain picked Sarah Palin.

Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite.

“I have to tell you,” Grandma said, “all the nurses here — I say to them, ‘I’m thinking of voting for Obama,’ and they say: ‘I’m voting for him!’ That’s good.”

She went on to explain that she thinks Obama is going to be somewhat inoculated to these latest attacks, because this stuff has been discussed before.

But, in typical Grandma fashion, she’s got some advice for Sen. Obama:

“My gut tells me that what he has to do Wednesday at the debate is to say, in a very respectful way: ‘Sen. McCain, You’ve said this stuff about Mr. Ayres. Please tell me what it is you heard or know. What did you mean when you said that?'”

“He ought to demand the confrontation at the debate,” she continued. “He should take the initiative, be straight, forceful.”

She said that when you call someone on something they’ve been saying behind your back, “it almost always leads to an unravelling of the bullshit.”

(Grandma’s always had a way with a word.)

If McCain responds by attacking Obama on Ayres, Obama can address it, forcefully — name the tactic (“guilt by association”) — and perhaps, by putting McCain on the defensive, help put the whole sordid mess behind him.

Alternatively, the moderator could bring it up — which leaves Obama exposed, with not nearly the same upside potential.

“We know McCain won’t confront him in person,” she said, echoing something that both Obama and Biden have pressed in recent days:

“All of the things they said about Barack Obama in the TV, on the TV, at their rallies, and now on YouTube … John McCain could not bring himself to look Barack Obama in the eye and say the same things to him,” Biden said this morning. “In my neighborhood, when you’ve got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him.”

Memo to Sen. Obama: People are craving bold, assertive, respectful leadership. You might want to consider my grandmother’s assertive, direct approach.

It worked for me.

My Favorite Answer

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Thank god that’s over.

By the time my wife and I started watching the debate last night, just after 11 p.m. EST (Tivoed), I’d fairly well convinced myself it would be a debacle for the Dems.

It wasn’t — mainly because Biden did exactly what he had to do: He kept the focus on McCain, McCain’s ties to Bush, and Obama’s plans to raise up the Middle Class.

And he was uncharacteristically disciplined.

Perhaps nowhere was this more clear than when Palin twice flubbed the name of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, calling him “Gen. McClellan” instead of David McKiernan. Biden somehow managed to hold his tongue and not correct her — which would have been the debacle that neurotic democrats everywhere were expecting. He left it to the media to correct, showing great political instincts.

Make no mistake. If I’m scoring this debate politically (and, really, what else matters?), it’s clear Palin won. The front page headlines in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning, which tell you everything you need to know about how this is playing where it matters, are:
“POINTS OF ATTACK: Palin stands her ground against Biden, sparring on Iraq, economic crisis, energy” and;
“Palin succeeds, considering low expectations; Alaska governor gets past nonsensical answers, shows confidence.”

Nevermind that. And forget the “who won on points” argument.

The lead story, when I turned on CNN this morning, was not the debate, but the House, which was expected to vote on the bailout. The next story was on the jobs report, and the news was even more bleak than most predicted. The U.S. lost 159,000 jobs in September, the biggest loss since 2003. CNN reported that the U.S. has lost 2.2 million jobs in the last 12 months.

When Palin spoke about jobs yesterday, she spoke about tax cuts. “We need tax relief for Americans so that jobs can be created here,” she said.

Right. Because that strategy has worked so well the past eight years. Which part of 2.2 million jobs lost didn’t you pick up on, Gov. Palin?

Meanwhile, Biden spoke of creating jobs by investing in innovative energy solutions. “Barack Obama believes by investing in clean coal and safe nuclear, we can not only create jobs in wind and solar here in the United States, we can export it,” he said. Later, he added that Obama’s energy policy would seek to create 5 million new jobs — a worthy priority, even if a difficult goal to reach.

Frankly, I thought Biden parried very well yesterday.

Palin kept trying to say Obama would “kill” jobs by raising taxes, but when she claimed Obama had voted to raise taxes 94 times, Biden immediately called her on it, nothing that by that same reckoning, McCain has voted “477 tiimes to raise taxes.”

It’s about time a Democrat had the acuity to throw that cheap, unfounded attack back in the face of the GOP. If you are in government long-enough, and you are a sensible lawmaker, you will — of necessity — vote to raise taxes. Reagan’s 1982 tax hike was the largest peace-time tax hike in American history. More followed in 1984 and 1987.

On the flip side, Biden spoke clearly and forcefully to counteract Palin’s false claims about Obama’s supposed tax hikes: “No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama’s plan will see one single penny of their tax raised whether it’s their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax. And 95 percent of the people in the United States of America making less than $150,000 will get a tax break.”

For the record, the NY Times fact checkers today had this to say about Palin’s false claims:

In addressing the issues of taxes, Governor Palin has made claims about Senator Obama’s policies that are not correct. … the McCain campaign months ago abandoned its argument that Mr. Obama favored a historic tax increase. It did so after tax analysts and other economists debunked the claim, saying that nothing contemplated by either party comes anywhere near the tax increases put into effect to fight World War II. Ms. Palin, however, revived the charge.

But my personal favorite answer last night had little to do with taxes, jobs, or the economy. My favorite answer was one I’ve seen quoted nowhere. It hasn’t even been referenced by the multitudes of pundits I’ve seen. And, yet, it may reflect one of the most salient issues in this election.

It came when Gwen Ifill asked about bipartisanship. “How do you change the tone, as vice president, as number two?”

Palin’s answer started with the obvious and veered into the nonsensical. “You do what I did as governor, and you appoint people regardless of party affiliation, Democrats, independents, Republicans,” she said. But most administrations do that. Clinton did that. He appointed a Republican, William Cohen, as his secretary of defense. It’s important, sure, but clearly not enough. The Clinton years, from the outset right up through impeachment, were among the most rabidly partisan in history.

Palin moved on from there to a non sequitur:

And even in my own family, it’s a very diverse family. And we have folks of all political persuasion in there, also, so I’ve grown up just knowing that, you know, at the end of the day, as long as we’re all working together for the greater good, it’s going to be OK.

But the policies and the proposals have got to speak for themselves, also. And, again, voters on November 4th are going to have that choice to either support a ticket that supports policies that create jobs.

You do that by lowering taxes on American workers and on our businesses. And you build up infrastructure, and you rein in government spending, and you make our — our nation energy independent.

So, to recap: the way to combat partisanship is to be like Gov. Palin’s family and, also, cut taxes.

Biden, meanwhile, in one of his finest moments in the debate, answered the question by way of a personal anecdote:

I have been able to work across the aisle on some of the most controversial issues and change my party’s mind, as well as Republicans’, because I learned a lesson from Mike Mansfield.

Mike Mansfield, a former leader of the Senate, said to me one day — he — I made a criticism of Jesse Helms. He said, “What would you do if I told you Jesse Helms and Dot Helms had adopted a child who had braces and was in real need?” I said, “I’d feel like a jerk.”

He said, “Joe, understand one thing. Everyone’s sent here for a reason, because there’s something in them that their folks like. Don’t question their motive.”

I have never since that moment in my first year questioned the motive of another member of the Congress or Senate with whom I’ve disagreed. I’ve questioned their judgment.

I think that’s why I have the respect I have and have been able to work as well as I’ve been able to have worked in the United States Senate. That’s the fundamental change Barack Obama and I will be bring to this party, not questioning other people’s motives.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve struggled often to reconcile my passion for the Obama-Biden ticket with my deep and abiding sense that we absolutely must find ways to respect those with whom we disagree. (See my blog post: “Why I Like John McCain.”) Just a few days ago, I wrote of my personal battle against arrogance and self-righteousness, even smugness (How could you not see that I’m right?), as this campaign heads into the home stretch.

What Biden gave us last night is nothing less than a tool to achieve a less partisan America.

Don’t question the motives of the neighbors across the street who have the McCain-Palin sign on their lawn. Assume they have perfectly good and valid reasons for being pro-life; for wanting to “drill baby drill”; for believing the war in Iraq was a just cause. Instead, as Biden learned, make the case for a different direction by questioning their logic, their facts, their fundamental judgments.

If you read “The Audacity of Hope,” if you listen to Obama, you’ll see he has the same approach. This is what attracted me to his candidacy initially, and it is one thing that’s remained a constant throughout this race.

During the first debate, Obama repeatedly said “You’re right, John”; he doesn’t question McCain’s motivations — he’s not threatened by McCain — so he’s free to agree when they hold a belief in common. Obama repeatedly says he “Honors McCain’s service to this great country” — even as it has started to give many Democrats agita. And, during the Democratic Convetion, Obama’s refrain was: “It’s not that John McCain doesn’t care. John McCain doesn’t get it.” In other words: it’s not that we question his motivations — of course he cares. We question his judgments.

Contrast this with the way John McCain talks about Barack Obama.

Consider, for example, McCain’s refrain — repeated recently at the Republican National Convention: “I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me.”

In other words: Obama is motivated by personal ambition, a desire for greatness, not love of country.

Or, remember what McCain said of Obama in Rochester, New Hampshire, in July (and repeated many times since): “Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.”

Again, McCain is saying that Obama is motivated first and foremost by political ambition. He just wants to win — and he’s willing to have troops die and America lose a war, if that’s what it takes.

McCain seems incredulous that, given his record of reaching out across party lines — and given Obama’s thinner resume in this regard — people don’t see him as the candidate of bi-partisanship.

He remains remarkably oblivious to the fact that by constantly questioning Sen. Obama’s motivation — when even a solid majority of voters don’t doubt it — he is clearly and unequivocally undermining his own claims that he will be able to rise above partisanship when it counts.

McCain quipped at the debate that it’s hard to reach across the aisle from so far to the left. Yet McCain couldn’t bring himself to even look across the stage at his opponent in an election.

Why? Because he questions Obama’s motivations.

Twenty-six years in office, and John McCain still hasn’t learned the crucial lesson in bipartisanship that Mansfield taught Biden.

It’s the judgments, stupid.

The Second Palin Bounce?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Neurotic Democrats love company.

And, clearly, I am far from alone this afternoon among Democrats fearing this headline tomorrow: “Should Obama Dump Biden From Ticket?”

John Neffinger, who is something of an expert on how a politician’s non-verbal communication impacts their electoral success, sees a potential “Nightmare VP Scenario” for Democrats. “Biden Beware!” he writes. Here’s the nut:

Not only do standard debate questions work in Palin’s favor, she’s also helped by a regimented debate format, because unlike in the wide-ranging interviews she has flubbed, there is usually much less room for follow-up questions to try to pin her down. Put all this together and you see it was no fluke that Palin did well in her gubernatorial debates.

So what would happen if Palin did okay, or even a little better than okay, in tonight’s debate? First of all, relative to prevailing expectations, it would be a triumph. The story would be how well Palin did, which could get people thinking maybe they had underestimated her, which could imply maybe they had underestimated McCain. Given the attention this matchup will receive, that might even be enough to nudge the momentum back their way.

But Palin won’t be alone under the lights: Joe Biden and Gwen Ifill will be there too. When you imagine their reactions, the scenario gets even more interesting.

First of all, Joe. Biden is a smart guy, and I like him a lot, but there is a reason he has never quite made it out of the middle of the pack of presidential contenders. He often seems to want to wow people, and tries a little too hard. He puts on a show, saying things like “Ladies and gentlemen…” and flashing his great toothy grin – sometimes even grinning when he’s talking about war and terrorism and suffering. As many have recognized, this could prove disastrous: if he goes after Palin, he risks coming off as overbearing, obnoxious, a high-handed know-it-all.

Gwen Ifill, meanwhile, has problems of her own. Turns out, she has a book coming out, about the African-American experience, with Obama’s name in the title. This is unfortunate, and, certainly, it opens her up to questions about potential conflict of interest.

She is fast becoming a part of the story tonight. She can count on the fact that she will be harshly criticized if she’s perceived as holding Palin’s feet to the fire; and she’ll be similarly criticized if she doesn’t.

The McCain campaign is trying to cow her, and it just may work.

For my money, she should have recused herself.

Meanwhile, the NY Times had an interesting op-ed this morning, featuring questions that a number of people would ask tonight, if they were sitting in Ifill’s shoes. I really like this first grouping:

It is 9 a.m., and the president is traveling abroad. A terrorist attack on the United States occurs. You have 10 minutes to prepare to move to the now famous bunker at the White House to deal with the incident. Whom will you take with you into the bunker? And, once there, what do you do in the first hour?

You hear all the arguments presented to the president concerning a decision he must make regarding spending for a major national program. The recommendation from the cabinet and staff is clear, but you disagree with them strongly. How and where do you express yourself, assuming you elect to share your views with the president?

CRAIG FULLER, the chief of staff for Vice President George H. W. Bush from 1985 to 1988

My impression is that Palin doesn’t have the wisdom to answer these kinds of questions in a meaningful way. And that Biden might not be able to resist throwing out an Encyclopedia of not-entirely-relevant knowledge, losing us all in the process.

Let the games begin.