Thursday, July 31, 2008
Ah, yes. We all remember this from 2003:
Bush Deficit Plan Draws Derision
WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2003
(AP) President Bush's goal of cutting in half a projected $500 billion federal deficit within five years is being dismissed as too timid by conservatives, unachievable by analysts and laughable by Democrats. ..
And, now, there is this :
U.S. Headed For Record Deficit In 2009
WASHINGTON, July 28, 2008
(CBS/AP) The next president will inherit a record budget deficit of
$482 billion, according to a new Bush administration estimate released Monday.
The administration said the deficit was being driven to an all-time high by the
sagging economy and the stimulus payments being made to 130 million households
in an effort to keep the country from falling into a deep recession. But the
numbers could go even higher if the economy performs worse than the White House
Of course, as usual, the Bush team is still lying. Despite a requirement in law that they include in official budget estimates the full estimated annual cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have omitted roughly $100 billion in war costs. And the economic assumptions are too optimistic. Which means we are really talking about an annual deficit of roughly $600 billion in the fiscal year that begins October 1. The previous record (which should be broken in the current fiscal year) is $413 billion in 2004 (Bush has four of the five biggest deficits in US history – his father has the other one). The total increase in the national debt under Bush should approach $4 TRILLION by the time he leaves office.
(It is amusing – in a sick, pathetic sort of way – to go back and look at Bush’s
Fiscal Year 2002 budget. It showed a $420 billion surplus in 2009 and cumulative surpluses of $2.4 trillion from 2002 through 2009 – a minor error of only $6 trillion! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!)
So much for the idea that Bush’s tax cuts would pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth and the Iraq war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil.
Today, the Bush administration revised downward economic growth estimates for the years 2004-2007. They now estimate that growth was actually negative in the last three months of 2007. Jobs have declined every month so far this year.
Just for the record, here is an update in our comparison of eight years under Clinton versus nearly eight years under Bush:
Job growth under Clinton: 22.7 million jobs – 237,000 per month.
Job growth under Bush: 5.8 million jobs – 72,000 per month (and going DOWN). There has been a net loss of jobs every month so far in 2008. Bush will have the distinction as the first president since World War II to preside over an economy in which federal government employment rose more rapidly than employment in the private sector (civilian federal government employment went DOWN substantially under Clinton).
The earnings of the average American family (or "real median household income" in economic parlance) peaked in 1999 at $49,222 and has fallen since. This is the first economic expansion in this country's history when household income failed to set a new record. It will certainly decline further this year.
And how did investors do under Clinton vs. Bush?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up from 3253 to 10,587 under Clinton (325%). It has gone up to 11,503 under Bush (8.7%).
The S&P 500 went up from 447 to 1342 under Clinton (300%). It has gone DOWN to 1279 under Bush (-4.7%).
The NASDAQ went up from 700 to 2770 under Clinton (395%). It has gone DOWN to 2347 under Bush (-15.3%)
When Bush took office oil was $31/barrel. Now it is roughly $125/barrel. (That’s what happens when you put oil men in the White House.) It was also announced today that Exxon set another record for the all-time most profitable quarter by any corporation ever.
When Bush took office it took 93 cents to buy a Euro. Now it takes $1.56 to buy a Euro.
When Bush took office gold was around $250 an ounce. Now it is $915 an ounce.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The US economy did MUCH better under the fiscally-responsible “high tax” policies of Clinton than under the irresponsible “borrow and squander” policies of Bush.
So what do Obama and McCain plan to do about our fiscal mess?
Every day on the campaign trail, McCain and other Republicans claim Obama will increase taxes while they will cut taxes. Unfortunately, this is not true. (I say “unfortunately” because we need to get serious about our budget deficit.) Obama will also cut taxes … but by less than McCain.
First, an explanation. When talking about proposed fiscal policies, it is important to distinguish between “current law” and “current policy.” Under a “current law” baseline, all of Bush's tax cuts are assumed to expire on schedule and the Alternative Minimum Tax is expected to balloon unobstructed. This means that federal revenues will jump significantly, causing both the Obama and McCain tax plans to look like massive tax cuts. Under the “current policy” baseline, it is assumed that Congress continues to "patch" the AMT and decides to continue the Bush tax cuts indefinitely.
Because I know most people find this boring, I will keep this simple. The only credible scoring of the proposed tax policies of the two campaigns is by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. According to their analysis (
updated as of July 23, 2008), compared with current law, McCain would cut taxes by $4.2 trillion over 10 years, while Obama would cut taxes by $2.8 trillion. Compared with current policy, McCain’s policies would result in a $600 billion loss in revenue over ten years, while Obama would increase revenue by $800 billion over the same period.
As the report notes,
The two candidates’ tax plans would have sharply different distributional effects. Senator McCain’s tax cuts would primarily benefit those with very high incomes, almost all of whom would receive large tax cuts that would, on average, raise their after-tax incomes by more than twice the average for all households. Many fewer households at the bottom of the income distribution would get tax cuts and those tax cuts would be small as a share of after-tax income. In marked contrast, Senator Obama offers much larger tax breaks to low- and middle-income taxpayers and would increase taxes on high-income taxpayers. The largest tax cuts, as a share of income, would go to those at the bottom of the income distribution, while taxpayers with the highest income would see their taxes rise significantly.
Even when compared with current policy (i.e., Bush’s tax cuts), most taxpayers (all but the top 20%) would see their taxes reduced under Obama’s plans. That distributional effect can be seen in this graph:
But there are a couple of adjustments that should be noted.
The report notes that McCain has been describing his tax plans on the campaign stump differently than the formal plans that his campaign gave to the Tax Policy Center for evaluation. If you use the tax plans McCain himself describes, he would reduce revenue by nearly $7 trillion over 10 years. In other words, they believe the “official” McCain plans understates the revenue loss by $2.8 trillion.
The Tax Policy Center also believes the “official” Obama plans are unrealistic, but working in the other direction. They assume his plans will cut taxes by $367 billion less than the plans described by his advisors – they believe the actual 10 year revenue loss from Obama’s plans will only be $2.4 trillion.
So bottom line, compared with current law, McCain is proposing $7 trillion in tax cuts (at a time of record budget deficits and when the country is fighting two wars) while Obama is “only” proposing $2.4 trillion in tax cuts.
One final point: The Tax Policy Center report makes a preliminary attempt at comparing the cost of the health care plans proposed by the two candidates (as both would result in a loss of revenue):
[I]mportant details of both plans are not known, so we made assumptions that
might or might not be consistent with the final plans proposed by each campaign.
Under our assumptions, if the plans took effect in 2009, the McCain plan would
cost about $1.3 trillion over ten years and the Obama plan would cost about $1.6
trillion. Both campaigns propose measures that they believe will reduce the rate
of growth of health insurance premiums, which would reduce the cost of their new
subsidies and existing public programs. We did not evaluate the effectiveness of
those measures and did not include savings from health care cost efficiencies in
our estimates. Under our assumptions, Senator Obama’s plan would reduce the
number of uninsured Americans by about 18 million in 2009, and 34 million in
2018. Almost all children would have coverage because the law would require it,
but nearly 33 million adults would still lack coverage in 2018. Senator McCain’s
plan would have far more modest effects, reducing the number of uninsured by
just over 1 million in 2009, rising to a maximum of almost 5 million in 2013,
after which the number of uninsured would creep upward because the tax credits
grow more slowly than premiums. Both plans are highly progressive, although
Senator Obama’s plan targets subsidies more toward low- and middle-income
households and is thus significantly more progressive than Senator McCain’s
The Obama health care plan would include about $1 trillion in tax breaks over 10 years. If you include those tax cuts along with his other tax proposals, he is proposing tax cuts under both current law and under current policy. Under current law (i.e., Bush tax cuts lapse), he would be cutting taxes by around $3.4 trillion. Under current policy (i.e., Bush tax cuts continue), he would be cutting taxes by around $200 billion. In neither case, is he proposing a tax increase, let alone “the largest tax increase in history” or any of the other nonsense McCain and other Republicans are saying.
There you have it. (That wasn’t so complicated, was it?) If you want to know more, there is an almost unlimited amount of data and analysis in the report.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
A friend replied to my last email reacting to my inclusion of the Gallup daily tracking poll on the presidential race. He noted that the national polls understated the Obama advantage because the real race is the electoral college and Obama is way out in front when you look at polling of individual states. Specifically, he cited the electoral college tally at http://www.electoral-vote.com/
I agree with him on the limited value of national polling numbers at this stage in the campaign – which is why I have generally not been citing them. My point is this case was an observation based on a months-long polling trend: For a politician as well known as McCain, who has (or at least used to have) one of the best “brands” in American politics (the “straight-talking maverick” willing to reach across party lines) his base of support has been remarkably low and appears to be, if anything, a ceiling not a floor. It suggests that the “undecided” factor relates more to Obama than to McCain, which I view as a positive for Obama. Despite Obama still being somewhat of an “unknown”, he has been holding a pretty consistent lead over McCain. And I have no doubt that the images of him as an “acting president” abroad, holding substantive discussions with world leaders and drawing enthusiastic receptions everywhere he went, will help undecided voters “visualize” him in that role.
I also agree that it is the electoral college that counts and that the electoral college map at this point is much more favorable to Obama than the national horse-race numbers would seem to indicate. Indeed, for about a month now I have been taking bets that Obama will win with at least 300 electoral votes. The map at www.electoral-vote.com is an excellent one. It is similar to the map at pollster.com. Another site that has excellent analysis is http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ (they probably had the best track record during the primaries – unlike virtually all polling, which attempts to convey an accurate snapshot of where the race stands at any given moment, the models on this site attempt to be predictive). It is hard to see how McCain puts together a winning electoral map. However, to some extent this reflects the fact that once a lead in the national polls gets into the 4 to 6 percent range, the electoral map will almost certainly reflect a blow-out (this follows from the “winner-take-all” nature of the electoral college system). And that is probably where Obama stands now. Pollster.com’s “poll-of-poll” composite currently has the race at Obama 47%/McCain 41.9%. If Obama ends up winning the general election by that kind of five-point margin, his electoral college win would be an absolute blow-out.
But I don’t want to get too distracted with polls at this point. The larger picture has me convinced that Obama will win comfortably. And it’s not just the record unpopularity of Bush and the Republican party generally, or the horrible state of the economy or all the other generic factors that favor a Democrat this year. It’s also Obama’s organization and “ground game” (which gets virtually no coverage by the corporate media, which prefers polarization, conflict and the kind of trivia that lends itself to opposing pundits shouting at each other – like the entirely fictitious story currently dominating the nation’s cables that Obama “snubbed” wounded troops in Germany).
The Obama campaign is attempting to register 10 million new voters (none of whom would be picked up in the pollsters’ “likely voter” models, of course). His supporters are vastly more enthusiastic than McCain’s. Given Obama’s huge leads among young voters, African-Americans and Hispanic voters, even very modest increases in turn-out among those groups could result in a blow-out. For example, Bush garnered 40% of the Hispanic vote. McCain will probably get only 30% or so – that difference alone could swing a few states, especially if Hispanic turn-out is strong (and I have confidence in the Obama campaign’s ability to turn out the vote – among other things, they are spending $20 million just on targeting Hispanic voters). In 2000 and especially in 2004, Bush relied to a considerable extent on evangelicals as his ground troops. But that group has been changing somewhat (as old folks are replaced by a younger generation), focusing less on abortion and gay rights and more on social issues and the environment. As a group, they really don’t like or trust McCain (and vice versa), and Obama speaks their language. Obama is not going to win among that group, but he can peel away a few percentage points (a few points here, a few points there, next thing you know you have a blow-out). It is enough for Obama that evangelicals are simply less enthusiastic in their support for McCain than they were for Bush.
I also think McCain is a much weaker candidate than the corporate media has been willing to acknowledge. Part of that is that they have had a long love affair with McCain and have assumed that the rest of the country shares it. (The corporate media tends to be cynical and they love a fellow cynic like McCain.) Part of it is that McCain has never really been tested in the way he is being tested now. (It’s easy to be a free-wheeling gadfly – a party of one. Harder to lead a party and have your every utterance scrutinized.) But McCain is not particularly smart and he is a horrible, undisciplined manager. He has absolutely no purpose to his campaign – no overarching themes or narrative to his campaign (other than the fact that he was a POW 30 years ago). His shallowness and lack of discipline is becoming apparent to even the most smitten observers. He can also be pretty nasty and has a mean temper – and Americans tend to vote for the candidate that they like best. McCain’s campaign has already gone 100% negative (reflecting the fact that key Rove operatives are now running his campaign). Clearly, the McCain campaign is a cornered dog – and its going to get really, really nasty.
As a young, smart African-American, Obama is hard for a lot of voters to relate to. But he is relentlessly positive, even-tempered and gracious, and I expect his “likability” factor to increase as voters get to know him better and contrast him with McCain.
So, take the polls with more than a grain of salt at this point in the campaign.
And check out this piece.
By Alan Abramowitz, Thomas Mann and Larry Sabato
"Too close to call." "Within the margin of error." "A statistical dead heat." If you've been following news coverage of the 2008 presidential election, you're probably
familiar with these phrases. Media commentary on the presidential horserace,
reflecting the results of a series of new national polls, has strained to make a case for a hotly contested election that is essentially up for grabs.
Signs of Barack Obama's weaknesses allegedly abound. The huge generic Democratic Party advantage is not reflected in the McCain-Obama pairings in national polls. Why, according to the constant refrain, hasn't Obama put this election away? A large
number of Clinton supporters in the primaries refuse to commit to Obama. White
working class and senior voters tilt decidedly to McCain. Racial resentment limits Obama's support among these two critical voting blocs. Enthusiasm among young voters and African-Americans, two groups strongly attracted to Obama, is waning. McCain is widely seen as better prepared to step up to the responsibilities of commander-in-chief. Blah, blah, blah.
While no election outcome is guaranteed and McCain's prospects could improve over the next three and a half months, virtually all of the evidence that we have reviewed - historical patterns, structural features of this election cycle, and national
and state polls conducted over the last several months - points to a comfortable
Obama/Democratic party victory in November. Trumpeting this race as a toss-up,
almost certain to produce another nail-biter finish, distorts the evidence and does a disservice to readers and viewers who rely upon such punditry.
Consider the following.
Except for a few days when the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls showed a tie, Barack Obama has led John McCain in every national poll in the past two months. Obama's average margin has consistently been in the 4-6 point range during this time. By contrast, the polls in 2000 and 2004 showed much more variation over time.
State polling data have also consistently given Obama the advantage. According to realclearpolitics.com, Obama is currently leading in 26 states and the District of Columbia with a total of 322 electoral votes; McCain is currently leading in 24 states with a total of 216 electoral votes. Obama is leading in every state carried by John Kerry in 2004 along with seven states carried by George Bush: Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado.
Obama is leading in 11 of the 12 swing states that were decided by a margin of five points or less in 2004 including five of the six that were carried by George Bush. And while Obama has a comfortable lead in every state that John Kerry won by a margin of more than five points in 2004, McCain is in a difficult battle in a number of states that Bush carried by a margin of more than five points including such solidly red states as Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, and North Carolina.
And remember these June and July polls may well understate Obama's eventual margin. Ronald Reagan did not capitalize on the huge structural advantage Republicans enjoyed in 1980 until after the party conventions and presidential debate. It took a while and a sufficient level of comfort with the challenger for anti-Carter votes to translate into support for Reagan. If Obama's performance over the last eighteen months is any guide, a similar pattern is likely to unfold in 2008.
Aside from the horserace results, there is evidence of a growing Democratic Party advantage in the electorate. A recent analysis by Rhodes Cook of voter registration data in 29 states and the District of Columbia that permit registration by party
shows that since November of 2004, Democratic registration has increased by
almost 700 thousand while Republican registration has declined by almost one
Democrats now enjoy a substantial lead over Republicans in voter identification. According to the Gallup Poll, the two parties have gone from near parity four years ago to a 12 point Democratic advantage in the first half of 2008. And polling data continue to show that Democrats are more satisfied with their party's nominee than Republicans voters and more highly motivated to vote. While Republicans normally benefit from higher turnout among their supporters, that may not be the case this year.
In order to defeat Barack Obama, John McCain will have to convince a lot of disgruntled Republicans to turn out and vote for him. But mobilizing the Republican base, a strategy employed successfully by Karl Rove in 2002 and 2004, won't be enough for McCain to win in 2008. He'll also have to convince a majority of independents and a substantial number of Democrats to vote for him. That's a task that proved too difficult even for Rove in the 2006 midterm election and it may be even more difficult in 2008. That's because since 2006 the political environment has gone from bad to worse for Republicans.
It is no exaggeration to say that the political environment this year is one of the worst for a party in the White House in the past sixty years. You have to go all the way back to 1952 to find an election involving the combination of an unpopular president, an unpopular war, and an economy teetering on the brink of recession. 1952 was also the last time the party in power wasn't represented by either the incumbent president or the incumbent vice-president. But the fact that Democrat Harry Truman wasn't on the ballot didn't stop Republican Dwight Eisenhower from inflicting a crushing defeat on Truman's would-be successor, Adlai Stevenson.
Barack Obama is not a national hero like Dwight Eisenhower, and George Bush is certainly no Harry Truman. But if history is any guide, and absent a dramatic change in election fundamentals or an utter collapse of the Obama candidacy, John McCain is likely to suffer the same fate as Adlai Stevenson.
Abramowitz is a professor of political science at Emory University. Mann is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. Sabato is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and director of its Center for Politics.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Pretty clearly, this election is all about Barack Obama. Americans want change but they are still making up their minds about Obama – are they willing to take a chance on a relative newcomer to the national political stage?
On foreign policy, McCain has largely been assumed to have competence. But his views – to the extent they stabilize long enough to get a bead on them – haven’t been subjected to much scrutiny in the way that Obama’s have. When you look closer at McCain’s views, they’re not reassuring. He seems to be focused on enemies and threats rather than opportunities and alliances. To the extent he has articulated any major policy approaches it would be to exclude and isolate Russia and China – working toward a new Cold War.
Here are three good pieces on McCain’s foreign policy views and another that focuses more on Obama but provides a good contrast with McCain (I particularly recommend that last piece by Fareed Zakaria). I have edited them somewhat for brevity, but I would encourage you to read them in their entirety if you’re interested:
McCain's Foreign Policy Frustration
By Joe Klein
"I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war," John McCain said during a Rochester, N.H., town meeting on July 22. "It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." It was a remarkable statement, as intemperate a personal attack as I've ever heard a major-party candidate make in a presidential campaign, the sort of thing that no potential President of the United States should ever be caught saying. (A prudent candidate has aides sling that sort of mud.) It was also inevitable.
You could see McCain's frustration building as Barack Obama traipsed elegantly through the Middle East while the pillars of McCain's bellicose regional policy crumbled in his wake. It wasn't only that the Iraqi government seemed to take Obama's side in the debate over when U.S. forces should leave (sooner rather than later). McCain was being undermined in Washington as well, by his old pal George W. Bush, who seemed to take Obama's side in the debate about whether to talk to Iran. Bush sent a ranking U.S. diplomat to negotiate with the Iranians on nuclear issues — and also let it be known that a U.S. Interests Section could soon be established in
Tehran, the first U.S. diplomatic presence on Iranian soil since the 1979
hostage crisis. …
McCain's greatest claim to the presidency — his overseas expertise — now seems squandered. He has appeared brittle and inflexible, slow to adapt to changes on the ground, slow to grasp the full implications not only of the improving situation in Iraq but also of the worsening situation in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan. Some will say this behavior raises questions about his age. I'll leave those to gerontologists. A more obvious explanation is that McCain has straitjacketed himself in an ideology focused more on enemies (real and imagined) than on opportunities. "It is impossible to ignore the many striking parallels between [McCain] and the so-called neoconservatives (many of whom are vocal and visible supporters of his candidacy)," writes the Democratic diplomat Richard Holbrooke in a forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. "I don't know if John has become a neocon," says a longtime friend of the Senator's, "but he sure has surrounded himself with them."
Neoconservatism in foreign policy is best described as unilateral bellicosity cloaked in the utopian rhetoric of freedom and democracy. McCain hasn't always sided with the neocons … but his pugnacity seems a natural fit with theirs. He has been militant on Iran, though even there his statements have been tactical rather than strategic: his tactic is not to talk to the bad guys.
The strategic question here is whether to go for regime change or diplomatic
engagement. McCain hasn't said he was for regime change, but he has rattled
sabers noisily, joked about bomb-bomb-bombing Iran and surrounded himself with,
and been funded by, Jewish neoconservatives who believe Iran is a threat to Israel's existence. He has also taken a rather exotic line on Russia, which he wants to drum out of the G-8 organization of major industrial powers (a foolish proposal, since none of the other G-8 members would abide by it). His notion of a "League of Democracies" seems a transparent attempt to draw a with-us-or-against-us line in the sand against Russia and China. But that's the point: McCain would place a higher priority on finding new enemies than on cultivating new friends.
The sudden collapse of McCain's Middle East policy is a stunning event, although McCain's regional stridency raised questions from the start. This is a long campaign — with, I fearlessly predict, at least one major Obama downdraft to come — but John McCain seems panicked, and in deep trouble now.
From the New York Times:
Getting to Know You
By BOB HERBERT
The conventional wisdom in this radically unconventional presidential race is that
the voters have to get to know Barack Obama better. That’s what this week’s
overseas trip was about: to showcase the senator as a potential commander in
chief and leader of U.S. foreign policy.
According to this way of thinking, as voters see more of Mr. Obama and become more comfortable with him (assuming no major foul-ups along the way), his chances of getting elected will be enhanced.
Maybe so. But what about the other guy? How much do voters really
know about John McCain?
Senator McCain crossed a line that he shouldn’t have this week when he said that Mr. Obama “would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” It was a lousy comment, tantamount to calling Mr. Obama a traitor, and Senator McCain should apologize for it.
But what we’ve learned over the years is that Mr. McCain is one of those guys who never has to pay much of a price for his missteps and foul-ups and bad behavior. Can you imagine the firestorm of outrage and criticism that would have descended on Senator Obama if he had made the kind of factual mistakes that John McCain has repeatedly made in
this campaign? (Or if Senator Obama had had the temerity to even remotely
suggest that John McCain would consider being disloyal to his country for political reasons?)
We have a monumental double standard here. Mr. McCain has had trouble in his
public comments distinguishing Sunnis from Shiites and had to be corrected
in one stunningly embarrassing moment by his good friend Joe Lieberman. He
has referred to a Iraq-Pakistan border when the two countries do not share a
He declared on CBS that Iraq was the first major conflict after 9/11, apparently forgetting — at least for the moment — about the war in Afghanistan. In that same interview, he credited the so-called surge of U.S. forces in Iraq with bringing about the Anbar Awakening, a movement in which thousands of Sunnis turned on insurgents. He was wrong. The awakening preceded the surge.
ore important than these endless gaffes are matters that give us glimpses of the fundamental makeup of the man. A celebrated warrior as a young man, he has always believed that the war in Iraq can (and must) be won. As the author Elizabeth Drew has written: “He didn’t seem to seriously consider the huge costs of the war: financial, personal, diplomatic and to the reputation of the United States around the world.”
He also felt we could have, and should have, won the war in Vietnam. “We lost in Vietnam,” said Mr. McCain in 2003, “because we lost the will to fight, because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting and because we limited the tools at our disposal.”
The spirit of the warrior was on display in the famous incident in which Mr. McCain, with the insouciance of a veteran bomber pilot, sang “Bomb-bomb Iran” to
the tune of “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys.
No big deal. Just John being John.
But then, we are already bogged down in two wars. And John is running for president. It’s hardly crazy to wonder. Part of the makeup of the man —
apparently a significant part, according to many close observers — is his outsized temper. Mr. McCain’s temperament has long been a subject of fascination in Washington, and for some a matter of concern. He
can be a nasty piece of work. (Truly nasty. He once told an extremely cruel joke about Chelsea Clinton — too cruel to repeat here.) If the McCain gaffes seem endless, so do the tales about his angry, profanity-laced eruptions. Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said of Mr. McCain: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine.” Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, told Newsweek in 2000: “I decided I didn’t want this guy anywhere near a trigger.”
Both senators have since endorsed Senator McCain’s presidential bid, but their initial complaints were part of a much larger constellation of concerns about the way Mr. McCain tends to treat people with whom he disagrees, and his frequently belligerent
Senator McCain has acknowledged on various occasions that he has a short fuse and has at times made jokes about it. He told Larry King in 2006: “My anger did not help my campaign ... People don’t like angry candidates very much.”
My guess is that most voters don’t see John McCain as an angry candidate, despite several very public lapses. The mythical John McCain is an affable, straight-talking,
moderately conservative war hero who is an expert on foreign policy.
Barack Obama is not the only candidate the voters need to know more about.
How Much Does John McCain Really Know About Foreign Policy?
Not as much as he'd like you to think.
By Fred Kaplan
After Barack Obama's opening day in Iraq this week, the New York Times headline read, "For Obama, a First Step Is Not a Misstep." The story, by Richard Oppel Jr. and Jeff Zeleny, noted, "Mr. Obama seemed to have navigated one of the riskiest parts of a weeklong international trip without a noticeable hitch."
That was the big nail-biter: Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to "the Iraq-Pakistan border," or call the Czech Republic "Czechoslovakia" (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.
But, of course, it was Obama's opponent, John McCain—the war hero and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—who uttered these eyebrow-raisers. "Czechoslovakia" was clearly a gaffe, and understandable for anyone who was sentient during the Cold War years. What about the others, though? Were they gaffes—slips of the tongue, blips of momentary fatigue? Or did they reflect lazy thinking, conceptual confusion, a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions?
If Obama had blurted even one of those inanities (especially the one about the Iraq-Pakistan border), the media and the McCain campaign would have been all over him like red ants on a wounded puppy.
McCain caught almost no hell for his statements—they were barely noted in the mainstream press—most likely because they didn't fit the campaign's "narrative." McCain is "experienced" in national-security matters; therefore, if he says something that's dumb or factually wrong, it's a gaffe or he's tired. Obama is "inexperienced," so if he were to go off the rails, it would be a sign of his clear unsuitability for the job of commander in chief.
It may be time to reassess this narrative's premise—or to abandon it altogether and simply examine the evidence before us. Quite apart from the gaffes, in formal prepared speeches, McCain has proposed certain actions and policies that raise serious questions about his suitability for the highest office. As president, he has said, he would boot Russia out of the G-8 on the grounds that its leaders don't share the West's values. He would form an international "League of Democracy" as a united front against the forces of autocracy and terror. And though it's not exactly a stated policy, he continues to employ as his foreign-policy adviser an outspoken, second-tier neoconservative named Randy Scheunemann, who coined the term "rogue-state rollback" and still prescribes it as sound policy.
Evicting Russia from the group of eight leading industrial nations may have some visceral appeal, but it has at least two drawbacks. First, all the G-8's other members are opposed to the notion. Second, the main issues that concern the G-8—for instance, climate change, energy policy, nuclear nonproliferation, and counterterrorism—cannot be fully addressed without Russia's participation.
The idea of a League of Democracy has a nice ring, especially given the United Nations' frequent obstructionism in the face of human misery and common danger. The obstructionism stems in part from vetoes by
Russia or China, which, of course, would not be members of this league. But there are a few problems here as well. First, democratic nations often differ on high-profile issues (e.g., the invasion of Iraq, the rules of engagement in Afghanistan, the Kyoto Treaty, etc.). Second, very few of the world's pressing problems break down along the lines of democracies vs. nondemocracies, either by topic or constituency. Third, creating such an overtly ideological bloc as a central tool of foreign policy would only alienate the excluded nations—and possibly incite them to form an opposing bloc. The challenge is to find common
solutions to global problems, not to encumber them in a new Cold War.
As for rolling back rogue states, one would hope that McCain has learned some lessons from George W. Bush's failures as even Bush himself has done, albeit
belatedly—for instance, in deciding to negotiate with the North Koreans (though
not until after they tested an atomic bomb). Someone should ask McCain: Would he
cut off those talks? Does he value Scheunemann's advice? If so, which rogues
does he hope to topple next, and with whose army does he plan to do it? (Ours is
overbooked at the moment.)
In other words, how much does John McCain really know about foreign policy after all? It's a question to be asked and answered, not brushed away as impertinent.
He's been called a naive idealist. But in terms of foreign policy, he's the true realist in the race.
The rap on Barack Obama, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been that he is a softheaded idealist who thinks that he can charm America's enemies. John McCain and his campaign, conservative columnists and right-wing bloggers all paint a picture of a liberal dreamer who wishes away the world's dangers. Even President Bush stepped into the fray earlier this year to condemn the Illinois senator's willingness to meet with tyrants as naive. Some commentators have acted as if Obama, touring the Middle East and Europe this week on his first trip abroad since effectively wrapping up the nomination, is in for a rude awakening.
These critiques, however, are off the mark. Over the course of the campaign against Hillary Clinton and now McCain, Obama has elaborated more and more the ideas that would undergird his foreign policy as president. What emerges is a world view that is far from that of a typical liberal, much closer to that of a traditional realist. It is interesting to note that, at least in terms of the historical schools of foreign policy, Obama seems to be the cool conservative and McCain the exuberant idealist. …
Obama rarely speaks in the moralistic tones of the current Bush administration. He doesn't divide the world into good and evil even when speaking about terrorism. He sees countries and even extremist groups as complex, motivated by power, greed and fear as much as by pure ideology. His interest in diplomacy seems motivated by the sense that one can probe, learn and possibly divide and influence countries and movements precisely because they are not monoliths. When speaking to me about Islamic extremism, for example, he repeatedly emphasized the diversity within the
Islamic world, speaking of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Southeast Asians, Shiites and Sunnis, all of whom have their own interests and agendas.
Obama never uses the soaring language of Bush's freedom agenda, preferring instead to talk about enhancing people's economic prospects, civil society and—his key word—"dignity." He rejects Bush's obsession with elections and political rights, and argues that people's aspirations are broader and more basic—including food, shelter, jobs. "Once these aspirations are met," he told The New York Times's James Traub, "it opens up space for the kind of democratic regimes we want." This is a view of
democratic development that is slow, organic and incremental, usually held by
Obama talks admiringly of men like Dean Acheson, George Kennan and Reinhold Niebuhr, all of whom were imbued with a sense of the limits of idealism and American power to transform the world. "In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any
way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative," wrote Larissa
MacFarquhar in her profile of him for The New Yorker. "There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean. He distrusts abstractions, generalizations, extrapolations, projections. It's not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good."
As important as what Obama says is what he passes up—a series of obvious cheap shots against Bush. He could bash him for coddling China's dictatorship, urge him to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics or criticize his inaction in Darfur. In fact, Obama has been circumspect on all these issues, neither grandstanding nor overpromising….
Perhaps the most telling area where Obama has stuck to a focused conception of
U.S. national interests is Iraq. Despite the progress in Iraq, despite the possibility of establishing a democracy in the heart of the Arab world, Obama's position is steely—Iraq is a distraction, and the sooner America can reduce its exposure there, the better. … But his view is certainly focused on America's core security interests and is recognizably realist. Walter Lippmann and George Kennan made similar arguments about Vietnam from the mid-1960s onward.
Ironically, the Republicans now seem to be the foreign-policy idealists,
labeling countries as either good or evil, refusing to deal with nasty regimes, fixating on spreading democracy throughout the world and refusing to think in more historical and complex ways. "I don't do nuance," George W. Bush told many visitors to the White House in the years after 9/11. John McCain has had his differences with Bush, but not on this broad thrust of policy. Indeed it is McCain, the Republican, who has put forward some fanciful plans, arguing that America should establish a "League of Democracies," expel Russia from the Group of Eight industrialized countries and exclude China from both groups as well.
Obama's response to McCain's proposals on Russia and China could have been drafted by Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft. We need to cooperate with both countries in order to solve significant global problems, he told me last week, citing nuclear-proliferation issues with Russia and economic ones with China. The distinction between Obama and McCain on this point is important. The single largest strategic challenge facing the United States in the decades ahead is to draw in the world's new rising powers and make them stakeholders in the global
economic and political order. Russia and China will be the hardest because they are large and have different political systems and ideological approaches to the world. Yet the benefits of having them inside the tent are obvious. Without some degree of great-power cooperation, global peace and stability becomes a far more fragile prospect.
Obama and McCain are obviously mixtures of both realism and idealism. American statesmen have always sought to combine the two in some fashion, and they are right to do so. A foreign policy that is impractical will fail and one that lacks ideals is unworthy of the United States. But the balance that each leader establishes is always different, and my main point is that Obama seems—unusually for a modern-day Democrat—highly respectful of the realist tradition. And McCain, to an extent unusual for a traditional Republican, sees the world in moralistic terms.
In the end, the difference between Obama and McCain might come down to something beyond ideology—temperament. McCain is a pessimist about the world, seeing it as a dark, dangerous place where, without
the constant and vigorous application of American force, evil will triumph. Obama sees a world that is in many ways going our way. As nations develop, they become more modern and enmeshed in the international economic and political system. To him, countries like Iran and North Korea are holdouts against the tide of history. America's job is to push these progressive forces forward, using soft power more than hard, and to try to get the world's major powers to solve the world's major problems. Call him an Optimistic Realist, or a Realistic Optimist. But don't call him naive.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Read it now.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
So how well has Obama’s overseas trip gone? It started with him nailing a three-pointer on his first attempt before a crowd of cheering US troops in Kuwait. Check out the video:
And it only got better from there.
Keeping with the basketball metaphor, he definitely got some assists from the Republicans.
And not just McCainriding around in a golf cart with George Bush Sr. while Obama was in a military helicopter flying over Iraq with General Petraeus.
Or McCain having lunch atSchmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant in German Village, Ohio while Obama was speaking before a crowd of more than 200,000 in Berlin. (By contrast, when Reagan gave his famous speech at Brandenburg gate in 1987, about 20,000 supporters were brought in for the occasion, positioned to provide a backdrop and prompted to cheer. When the speech was over, they were bused home.)
The first big assist came from none other than George W. Bush. It was only May when Bush spoke before the Israeli Knesset and likened Obama to a Nazi appeaser for his willingness to engage in high-level diplomacy with Iran. McCain said that Obama’s approach was “naïve” and “showed a lack of experience.” The entire right-wing noise machine piled on. Then, just before the Obama trip, Bush sent the State Department’s number three official, William Burns, to Geneva for direct talks with the Iranians – something Bush had been insisting for years wouldn’t happen unless or until Iran abandoned its nuclear energy program. The US also let it be known that it would soon be establishing an Interests Section (i.e., an unofficial embassy) in Tehran for the first US diplomatic presence in Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution. So much for Obama’s “naivete.”
(None other than crazy John Bolton accused the Bush administration of a “complete intellectual collapse.” In fact, it was an ideological collapse. Bush used to insist that we couldn’t talk to Iran because it was “evil.” Iran would have to submit to our will before negotiations rather than as a result of negotiations. Now the Bush approach is conceptually indistinguishable from the Obama approach Bush and McCain had been characterizing as “appeasement.”)
At the same time, McCain last week finally came around to the Obama view that more US troops were needed in Afghanistan. In April of 2003, McCain was saying that “nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America” so we could focus on Iraq instead. “We don’t read about [Afghanistan] anymore, because it’s succeeded,” he explained in October 2005. Earlier this year, McCain argued that “Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.” Another McCain flip-flop.
On the other hand, Obama has been consistent in calling Afghanistan “the central front in the war on terror” and the Iraq war a distraction. A year ago, Obama called for at least two additional US combat brigades and $1 billion in non-military assistance for Afghanistan. (As Rosa Brooks said in the Los Angeles Times last week, “Obama, who has been fairly consistent on Afghanistan for six years now, is either the rare politician who doesn’t suffer from ADD, or he’s smart enough to take his meds.”) Now, finally, McCain has come around to the view that more troops are needed in Afghanistan. But he still isn’t saying where the additional troops will come from.
As a result of the distraction of the Iraq war, Osama bin Laden is still at large. Al Qaeda has reconstituted a sanctuary along the Pakistani border. The Taliban is on the offensive. More US troops are now dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mullen said, “I don’t have the troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq.” In an interview with PBS’s News Hour a few days ago, Adm. Mullen said he shares Obama’s assessment that the situation in Afghanistan is “precarious and urgent.” The 10,000 additional troops needed there, he said, would not be available “in any significant manner” unless there are withdrawals from Iraq. For now, he said, “my priorities … given to me by the commander in chief are: Focus on Iraq first. It’s been that way for some time. Focus on Afghanistan second.”
As Adm. Mullen noted, the military’s priorities are established by the president. This is a point Obama has been making for some time and that the media seems to have a difficult time comprehending. That may be understandable because Bush has been insisting for years that the course of these wars must determined by the “commanders on the ground.” As Obama said on an ABC Nightline interview this week, “What I will refuse to do is to get boxed into what I consider two false choices. Either I have a rigid timeline, come hell or high water, and I am blind to anything that happens in the intervening 16 months, or, alternatively, I am completely deferring to whatever the commanders on the ground say, which is what George Bush says he is doing, in which case I‘m not doing my job as commander in chief. I’m, essentially, simply rubber-stamping decisions that are made on the ground.” Obama has made it clear he will set a new mission – withdrawing from Iraq and shifting resources to Afghanistan – but that he will listen to his commanders as to how that is done.
Obama cited the $10 billion being spent monthly on the Iraq war at a time of economic struggle in the US. “If we’re spending $10 billion a month over the next four or five years, that’s 10 billion a month we’re not using to rebuild the US, or drawing down our national debt, or making sure that families have health care. So, these are all trade-offs the next president is going to have to make.” How complicated is that? The president decides the “what” and then works with the “commanders on the ground” on the “how.”
Of course, Obama’s biggest assist came from Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. It started with an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel which included the following exchange:
SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will
finally leave Iraq?
Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.
SPIEGEL: Is this an endorsement for the US presidential election in
November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better
understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?
Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business. But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.
In response, the Bush White House and McCain campaign freaked out. The US Central Command (not the Iraqi government) issued a statement supposedly from a Maliki spokesman saying Maliki had been “mistranslated or misinterpreted” but not saying specifically in what manner he had been misquoted. In an interview on NBC’sToday show, McCain insisted that Maliki didn’t really mean what he said: “I have been there too many times. I’ve met too many times with [Maliki], and I know what they want.” He dismissed Maliki’s statement as “inartful.”
Turns out the translator had been Maliki’s own. The New York Times got an audio tape of the interview from Der Spiegel and confirmed that the translation was, indeed, accurate. If there was any doubt that Maliki meant what he said it was resolved after his meeting with Obama. The same Maliki spokesman who had been quoted by the US Central Command said that the Iraqi government hoped that American combat units could be out of Iraq sometime in 2010. This, of course, was perfectly consistent with Obama’s timeline of 16 months from taking office. And that’s where things stood. The Iraqi Prime Minister had all but endorsed Obama’s withdrawal timeline.
That put McCain in a difficult situation, as he has made the centerpiece of his campaign the notion that Obama’s withdrawal timeline would constitute “surrender” – although it is not clear to whom we would be “surrendering” as most people thought the whole point of the exercise was to turn Iraq over to a democratically-elected Iraqi government. Indeed, that is what McCain himself said we should do back in 2004. Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, McCain was asked what he would do if a “sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?” McCain’s response was unambiguous: “Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because — if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don’t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.”
Following Obama’s Iraq visit, an NBC/Wall Street Journal polls found that Americans by 2 to 1 (60% to 30%) agree with the Obama/Maliki timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. (Polls show that more than 70% of Iraqis also want the US to leave as soon as possible.) Most Americans apparently are coming around to the view that if the Iraqi government wants us to leave, what is the hold up? Even Republican Congressman Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a reliable opponent of withdrawal timelines, said, "If we're going to crow about the fact that 12 million [Iraqis] voted and elected their own leadership, we have to pay attention to their leadership. We can't have it both ways. We should say we're heading for the door."
These developments left McCain without much in the way of a narrative on Iraq except to insist that he was “right about the surge.” This has left McCain in an awkward position. Until this week, Obama’s argument seemed at least partially backward looking – his initial opposition to the war in Iraq demonstrated sounder judgment on world affairs. Now, McCain’s support for the surge seems equally academic going forward as both Washington and Baghdad have moved toward Obama’s call for a timetable for withdrawal. If McCain wants to look backward and boast about his support for the surge, Obama can counter with his initial judgment that the war was a bad idea – a view most Americans now share. And going forward, the American people now seem solidly behind Obama’s approach.
McCain himself is now saying that the 16 month timeline, “sounds like a pretty good timetable.” Huh? This is exactly the opposite of what McCain has been saying for years. For example, during the Republican primaries, McCain hammered Mitt Romney for hinting at support for a conditions-based timetable for withdrawal. In a debate, McCain was indignant: “Timetables was the buzzword for those that wanted to get out.” In other words, when Romney dared to suggest a timetable was a good idea, McCain thought it was a dreadful mistake, because the word “timetable,” in and of itself, was loaded with policy implications. Now he is saying the idea is “pretty good” as long as it is “conditions based.” Does anyone have any idea what McCain’s position on Iraq is these days?
Even with regard to the surge, McCain seems confused. In an interview with Katie Couric on CBS last Tuesday, McCain said, inaccurately, that the surge strategy was responsible for the much-touted "Anbar Awakening," in which Sunni sheiks turned against Al Qaeda, helping in turn to reduce violence in the country. According to a transcript from that interview:
This is a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of what happened in Anbar. It is not merely a “gaffe”. This is McCain’s signature issue – the whole raison d’etre of his presidential campaign. This is something YOU CANNOT GET WRONG if you’re McCain. Colonel (now General) MacFarland explained in September 2006 – months before Bush even decided the launch the surge and a good six months before the surge began – that the Awakening was already underway. This is not controversial history. It is history anyone trying out for the position of commander in chief must understand when there are 150,000 troops in Iraq. According to the McCain narrative, military force came first and solved the problems in Anbar. This is a reversal of reality. If that is the lesson he takes away from the Awakening, he may apply it in other crises he faces – in Iran, for example.
COURIC: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the
increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also
credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And
says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's
your response to that?
McCAIN: I don't know how you respond to something
that is as-- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel
MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge
we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar
awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.
Not only did McCain insist that the surge preceded the Awakening, but he did so in a snide manner dismissive of Obama, asserting for good measure, “that’s just a matter of history.” Obviously, this is BIG news – especially given the media obsession with the potential for an Obama “gaffe” on his overseas trip. Indeed, this is probably the biggest presidential campaign blunder since Gerald Ford said in 1976 that “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”
So how did CBS play it? They edited it out of the interview. That’s right. It landed on the cutting room floor. (CNN aired the portion of the video that was edited out. Check it out.) Not only did CBS edit it out, Couric aired comments by McCain spliced together from three separate statements he gave during the interview, one of which responded to a different question. Couric gave no indication that these comments had been edited in any manner, nor did she otherwise note McCain's falsehood. (Splicing together answers to different questions is a violation of CBS News’ own rules.) CBS created a new answer rather than airing the most extraordinary gaffe of the presidential campaign to date. (So much for the “liberal” media.)
Instead of airing McCain’s actual erroneous answer, this is the imaginary answer they created through editing:
COURIC: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says while the increased number of U.S.
troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni
awakening and the Shia government going after militias, and says that there
might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response
McCAIN: Senator Obama has indicated by his failure to acknowledge
the success of the surge, that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.
Thanks to General [David] Petraeus [commanding general of the Multi-National
Force in Iraq], our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I
mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge
in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving
and have sacrificed. There will still be attacks. Al Qaeda's not defeated. But
the progress has been immense. And to not recognize that, and why it happened,
and how it happened, I think is -- is really quite a commentary.
Compare that with McCain’s actual answer above. Does it bear any resemblance?
But I digress.
Karl Rove is famous for believing that you should go directly at the strengths of an opposing candidate, believing it was more effective than concentrating on the opponent’s weaknesses. Obama has done the obverse of that – dealing directly with his own perceived weaknesses. In keeping with the positive tone of his campaign, he didn’t go negative on McCain, seeking to undermine McCain’s perceived foreign policy advantage by building up his own credibility. McCain (like Hillary Clinton before him) has tried to create doubt in the minds of voters as to whether Obama passes the “commander in chief” test. He has sought to create doubt as to how Obama would perform on the world stage. He sought to make Obama’s policy proposals look reckless and irresponsible. Obama took on that challenge directly in a high-risk move that he executed with perfection. Can anyone any longer doubt that Obama is fully capable of performing on the world stage? Whose foreign policy approaches now look more prescient and more in tune with the course of events? Who is looking more “presidential”?
In the case of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Obama’s positions have come to look safe and reasonable, undercutting McCain’s core argument about Obama’s inexperience. And with both McCain and the Bush administration seen as moving his way with each passing day, it’s hard for Republicans to dismiss Obama’s ideas as dangerous or impractical.
As Michael Grunwald
in TIME magazine:
Last week, the McCain campaign's case against Barack Obama went something like this: He's irresponsible when it comes to Iraq, naive when it comes to Iran and a Big Government liberal when it comes to the economy. But now Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has more or less endorsed Obama's plan to withdraw from Iraq, forcing McCain to argue that al-Maliki didn't really mean it, and even the Bush Administration has accepted a "time horizon" for withdrawal, if not a precise "timetable." The Bush Administration has also ngaged in some diplomatic outreach with Iran, just as Obama has recommended, a severe blow to McCain's efforts to portray Obama's willingness to engage in dialogue as appeasement. And on the economy, a TIME/Rockefeller Foundation poll found that 82% of the country supports more federal infrastructure spending designed to create jobs. When Big Government liberalism is all the rage, McCain's courage in opposing water projects or the farm bill becomes less of a selling point. …
But Obama is getting to look like a leader this week, comparing withdrawal plans with al-Maliki, welcoming the Bush Administration to the it's-O.K.-to-negotiate-with-Iran club, making McCain look like an isolated warmonger. It was one thing when McCain was framing the election as a monumental decision of victory vs. surrender; time horizon vs. timetable is going to be a tougher sell. Meanwhile, Obama's campaign has been signing up thousands of new Democratic voters and shoveling in cash it can use to introduce him to America. …
… In politics, anything's possible.
That doesn't mean that anything's probable. The media will try to preserve the illusion of a toss-up; you'll keep seeing "Obama Leads, But Voters Have Concerns" headlines. But when Democrats are winning blood-red congressional districts in Mississippi and Louisiana, when the Republican President is down to 28% approval ratings, when the economy is tanking and world affairs keep breaking Obama's way, it shouldn't be heresy to recognize that McCain needs an improbable series of breaks. Analysts get paid to analyze and cable news has airtime to fill, so pundits have an incentive to make politics seem complicated. In the end, though, it's usually pretty simple. Everyone seems to agree that 2008 is a change election. Which of these guys looks like change?
And as Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post:
… There has been much comment about the extraordinary luck that has followed
Obama's new Boeing 757 around the globe like an escort plane. Indeed, from the
Obama campaign's perspective, it would be hard to script a better series of set
pieces. He lands in Afghanistan just as allied commanders and even Bush
administration officials endorse his view that more U.S. forces are needed there
urgently. He moves on to Baghdad, and Iraqi officials promptly echo his call to
set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. He tiptoes through the minefield of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and somehow comes out unscathed. After all this
good fortune, the Berlin stop became more like a state visit than a political
foray. The huge media contingent traveling with Obama, lacking gaffes or
controversy to grill him about, was reduced to asking how it felt to be welcomed
by cheering multitudes whose hosannas would embarrass a conquering hero.
A line commonly attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca says it best: "Luck is
what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Legendary movie mogul Sam
Goldwyn was even pithier: "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
Obama has been talking about the need to pay more attention to Afghanistan -- and to schedule a pullout from Iraq -- for more than a year. His enthusiastic welcome
in Berlin owed much to the way he has made restoring America's image in the world a major theme of his campaign. Obama helped make the good luck that he's now enjoying.
Bad luck is a different thing, however. As Franklin Roosevelt said, "I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm."
John McCain is having an "early worm" kind of week. It's not just that he goaded Obama into taking his trip. And it's not just that the world's attention has been focused on Obama's trip, while McCain's plane was met in New Hampshire the other day by only one reporter.
It's also that McCain's attempt to capitalize on one of his most promising issues -- energy prices -- while Obama was preoccupied with foreign affairs has seemed jinxed. The McCain campaign had the idea of helicoptering the candidate to an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico to highlight his support for eliminating the ban on new offshore drilling. But Hurrican Dolly made the trip dicey -- and a barge accident in New Orleans that spilled 420,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Mississippi River made it even dicier. A big, noxious oil spill was not the backdrop McCain wanted. He ended up making a hastily scheduled campaign appearance at a grocery store -- not quite the same thing as commanding the world stage from the Victory Column in Berlin.
But a run of bad luck doesn't justify McCain's increasingly angry rhetoric. His new attack line is that Obama "would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign" -- a stunning charge to level against a fellow U.S. senator and perhaps a reflection of McCain's frustration at having failed so far to paint Obama as some kind of geopolitical naif.
If the grouching and grumbling continue, a campaign that once promised to be a referendum on Barack Obama's experience threatens to become a referendum on John McCain's temperament. At the moment, one of the candidates is acting presidentially and one isn't. …
The jury is still out on how much Obama’s trip abroad will help him. Up to this point in the campaign, Obama has had to answer endless media concerns about his lack of experience and expertise on foreign policy issues (even while conceding McCain expertise that he increasingly appears to lack). After this past week, Obama is less of an unknown in that regard. Instead of spending the next 100 days playing defense on foreign policy, he can focus on the issues that most concern Americans. He can go on the offense on economic, energy and environmental issues – issues where Obama already holds a commanding advantage over McCain. As one commenter hasnoted:
We won't know if Obama's trip effects a lasting change in the media narrative, and that kind of shift is not something that will show up directly in polling. But if, having established his authority on foreign policy and ability to stand on a world stage, Obama could simply move on to the other issues he needs to win, it could represent a real change in the ground on which this election is fought.
Obama’s trip abroad was a bit of a long shot.
And he hit nothing but net.
Monday, July 21, 2008
It’s hard for McCain to keep up with Obama these days. Obama already has the slogan, “Change We Can Believe In” and McCain’s “Hey Kids, Get Off My Lawn” just isn’t catching on. McCain has decided he needs to break into the new cycle with his own historic first:
McCain Makes Historic First Visit to Internet
Will Spend Five Days at Key Sites
In a daring bid to wrench attention from his Democratic rival in the 2008 presidential race, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today embarked on an historic first-ever visit to the Internet.
Given that the Arizona Republican had never logged onto the Internet before, advisors acknowledged that his first visit to the World Wide Web was fraught with risk.
But with his Democratic rival Barack Obama making headlines with his tour of the Middle East and Europe, the McCain campaign felt that they needed to "come up with something equally bold for John to do," according to one advisor.
McCain aides said that the senator's journey to the Internet will span five days and will take him to such far-flung sites as Amazon.com, eBay and Facebook.
With a press retinue watching, Sen. McCain logged onto the Internet at 9:00 AM Sunday, paying his first-ever visit ever to Mapquest.com.
"I can't get this [expletive] thing to work," Sen. McCain said as he struggled with his computer's mouse, causing his wife Cindy to prompt him to add that he was "just kidding."
Having pronounced his visit to Mapquest a success, Sen. McCain continued his tour by visiting Weather.com and Yahoo! Answers, where he inquired as to the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
Sen. McCain said that he had embarked on his visit to the Internet to allay any fears that he is too out-of-touch to be president, adding that he plans to take additional steps to demonstrate that he is comfortable with today's technology: "In the days and weeks ahead, you will be seeing me rock out with my new Walkman."
Even before Barack Obama began his trip to the Middle East and Europe, the media was already speculating about the possibility of a gaffe. Obama's travel "carries political risk," the New York Times reported, "particularly if Mr. Obama makes a mistake."
But the only foreign policy error made by a presidential candidate in the last few days came yesterday morning on ABC's Good Morning America, when John McCain made ANOTHER geography gaffe while trying to criticize Obama's visit to Iraq.
Asked by Diane Sawyer whether the "the situation in Afghanistan in precarious and urgent," McCain responded: "I think it's serious. . . . It's a serious situation, but there's a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."
But as ABC's Rick Klein noted: "Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. Afghanistan and Pakistan do."
McCain probably ought to “get on himself” and do “a Google” (as McCain calls it). Or two. Or three.
Just last week, McCain repeatedly referred to Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn't existed since 1993.
And, of course, there was his confusion of “Shiites” and “Sunnis” in Iraq. Not just once. But at least twice. If fact, it seems to be a more general confusion on the subject.
But, hey, McCain has all that “experience” and stuff.
Just don’t play on his lawn.
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