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Works and Days

The Campaign Gets Hotter Still…

September 24th, 2008 - 6:23 pm

Obama wins/McCain wins

If Obama wins, I think most McCain supporters will accept the verdict, and do what they can to make sure their country presses ahead, restores fiscal sanity, and remains strong in a dangerous world—and thus would wish a President Obama, as our shared commander-in-chief, all the best. Once I wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed supporting Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, despite not voting for him, and was duly impressed with his welfare reform and the surplus that emerged during his presidency.

I know I  would do all I could to make sure Obama’s America remains preeminent and that he is successful in running the country. I surely do not think Obama would be as experienced as McCain, and his past disturbs me in no small way; but I think he would be surrounded by a few former Clintonite centrists. Conditions on the ground, both in Iraq, and on Wall Street, would mean that his range of options would be far more limited than his utopian campaign rhetoric suggests—and that the republic would survive fine. He may wish to spend a trillion dollars on more entitlements; but  his trillion has already been pledged to make up bad debt, and even he will think twice of raising taxes too high in times of uncertainty.

But is the reverse true?

Given the hysteria, I worry that there is a large group of Obama supporters, who, should he lose, will become unhinged. We see that already with the vitriol against Bush voiced daily on the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and MSNBC, which led in naturally to the Palin hysteria and the insurgency tactics against McCain.

We suffer still from the sorry legacy of  1960s guerrilla theater, in which a San Francisco now ponders naming a sewage plant after George Bush, or a Sarah Bernhardt talks of her friends raping Sarah Palin. Again, there was some of this on the right in the 1950s and 1960s, but figures like William F. Buckley took on the John Birch Society, the neo-Confederate/Lost Causers, and the Klan, and they were pruned away from the fringes of the conservative movement.

In contrast, a Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Daily Kos, Air America, Huffington Post, and Moveon.org that all have engaged in smears and slanders have not been marginalized by the Democratic Party or the liberal mainstream. And that is why on any given day one can read the truly outrageous on these blogs, or see a NY Times discounted ad by Moveon.org about “General Betray Us”; or hear that Atlantic Magazine has a problem with a nut photographer, in pornographic fashion, photo-shopping outtakes from her McCain cover shoots, or the son of a Democratic legislator hacking Palin’s email.

The problem is that the ’60s notion of utopian ends justifying crude means is still deeply embedded with the activist wing of the Democratic Party—a boil that has never been lanced. The Nation Magazine may be the flip-side of Rush Limbaugh. Fine. Both advance strongly-held views within certain acceptable parameters. And for every cruel Borking there was also a Clinton-hatred of the 1990s that went way overboard. But again, something has now changed in this campaign cycle, and there is nothing now on the right to quite match the Wild-West crudity of what we’ve seen from the hard left in this election.

Joe Biden’s Great Depression

Most once shared the following feelings about Biden: he will say anything; we will forgive him for anything; he remains a likable Joe, despite streaks of meanness and pomposity.

But such exemption has limits, and, by general consensus, he has now sadly crossed them.

In only a day he all but said that McCain took a $50,000 bribe. He claimed that the AIG bailout was bad, then flipped. He yelled out that we don’t need to burn coal (half our electricity is produced by coal, a fuel, for now, essential to power plug-in electric cars to come);  

he (or his campaign) suddenly retracted/nullified his apology about the dirty McCain immigration/Limbaugh ad. And then he blurted out that FDR went on television as president in 1929 to address the nation after the stock market crash (after prefacing that remark with pompous statements that leaders must know what they’re talking about). His description of being forced down in Afghanistan by weather sounded as melodramatic as Hillary’s Balkans’ moment.

Same old, same old…

More of the same: Palin was  “good looking” and “Lt. Governor” of Alaska. Hillary, he confessed, was the better VP pick than himself. Be patriotic and pay higher taxes—all this evokes his primary remarks about Indians in donut shops, and “bright and clean” blacks. In all this we are reminded constantly of why and how he once plagiarized and fabricated his bio.

Palin as Biden?

Two observations: had Palin done this, she’d be through and the election over; second, something is very wrong with Joe Biden. These are no longer slips, but signs of erratic behavior that raises for the Obama campaign real worries about his competence for the job. We may worry whether being governor of Alaska for two years is the proper prerequisite for the office of VP, but we fret more about a Vice President candidate who issues daily sweeping statements that are either not true, must be retracted within hours, offensive, or simply scary. The truth is, despite media bias, the real VP worry is Biden and always was.

We knew that he did this sort of thing serially as a Senator (his posturing at public hearings was painful to watch). But suddenly he is elevated to national media exposure, and he seems absolutely incapable of self-control. (Note: I don’t buy into conspiracy theory that all this is scripted to allow Biden to leave the ticket and usher in Hillary—as some have suggested).

And then there is Chris Dodd

This is called gumption: He is the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. He took $165,000 from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and for years resisted more oversight of both those now bankrupt entities. He got discounted mortgages from the now melted-down and bought-out Countrywide financial institution. And? Yesterday he was pontificating about the greed and the need for “oversight,” and his zest to guard the public trust. A screenwriter could not have come up with such a script.

Cui malo?

Whose fault is the Wall Street implosion? On the one hand, conservatives did encourage a sort of hands off attitude in which whatever is technically legal in the world of finance is ethically OK. On the other hand, the Democrats practiced a sort of mortgage affirmative action, turning a blind eye to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae on the pretext on helping “first-time” buyers, minorities and the poor, when in fact their concern was more  cronyism and lavish campaign donations. Here is  a quote from Barnie Frank in 2003 from the New York Times:

”These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ”The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”

Like it or not, we are at an impasse where all sides are dirty, and there are no good choices. The medicine of trillion-dollar bailout guarantees is nearly (but not quite) as bad as the disease of mortgage meltdowns. And remember, we, the American people, are not quite innocent. We voted for the present politicians; we have created a culture where there is apparently little stigma in walking away from a house with zero equity, or defaulting on credit card debt. In the last 20 years, there arose a sort of thinking that a Wall Street operator is less than capable when he gets our 401(ks) a good 5% rather than a sky-high 15%. Blame is due all the way around.

The only blue sky? This may sober up the American people. The shock may force McCain to drop talk about more tax cuts, and Obama to jettison more spending, and instead create a consensus for a balanced budget and fiscal restraint, while reminding Americans that if Wall Street hype seems to good to be true, it is. We need to get back to honoring construction, agriculture, mining, engineering, manufacturing, and energy development as the muscular source of our wealth, and cease idolizing those who created fortunes out of hedge funds, derivatives, subprime mortgages and mergers, take-outs and buy-outs. The ruthlessness of the latter may make capitalism competitive and efficient, but the former is what makes life itself go on.

Ayers—so what?

The Obama defense seems to be something like, ‘Do you really think Barack Obama shares Ayers’ terrorist views?’

Of course not. But the issue is still important for four other considerations.

1)    Bad judgment. One does not share fora with, and seek help from, an unrepentant terrorist. Period. That is simply stupid, however helpful it may have once been to jumpstart a Chicago political career.

2)    Crackpot ideas about education. Ayers’ philosophy about education is puerile,  teen-age utopianism— salute the world flag, downplay the US, focus on race/class/gender relativism and oppression rather than Western Civ and basic education. If we were worried about Obama’s clumsy past calls for more “oppression studies” and “reparations”, then we can see the font of all this nonsense in the years spent with Ayers at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

3)    Lack of honesty. The Obama narrative is that he scarcely knew Ayers who is now supposedly a mainstream distinguished professor. But each week, we learn that, in fact, Obama once served closely with him, helped him dispense millions of dollars to suspect community organizations, and may have known him during his years in New York. Why the silence? Simply explain the relationship and answer questions.

4)    Is this “community organizing?” Is this how it works: left-wing organizers hear about a right-wing capitalist who gave hundreds of millions to help education; so they form an agency to snare millions; then pack it with ideologues in order to dispense lucre to cronies and friends in Chicago of questionable skills and more dubious ideologies. The result is a lot of money for insider organizers and activists,  but no positive effect at all on the educational levels of at-risk Chicago school children. We know that intensive languages, math, science, and emphasis on history and literature alone improve  literacy and knowledge. Neglect of that core in favor of the therapeutic “they did terrible things to me” classes achieve the opposite effect. Would an Obama presidency further the ideology of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge—his first and only brush with executive experience?

So I agree with Obama that he doesn’t share Ayers’ anti-American, pro-terrorist views, but I want him to allay the above anxieties.

Another Press Watch—Another Distortion
From time to time I reply to erroneous press accounts (could be a full-time job), the last from the Monterey Herald. Today in the Los Angeles Times, in a review of a new book on Dick Cheney by a Barton Gellman, the reviewer Tim Rutten writes falsehood:

Another of the details Gellman teases out is Cheney’s propensity for seeking private advice from the conservative fringe. The night after the Senate debate over authorizing force against Iraq, the vice president asked conservative military historian Victor Davis Hanson to address a small dinner salon at his official residence. The topic was to be “the roles of leaders in unpopular wars.” A specialist on the ancient Greeks, Hanson “cited Hellenic philosophy. War was ‘innate to civilizations,’ a terrible thing, but not necessarily unjust. Citizens often faltered, putting leaders to the test.”

Laugh or Cry?

1.    Note the quotation marks. Does Rutman really think Gellman has a transcript of the paragraph “the roles of  … to the test.”?—as if that is a direct quote from me?

“Teases out” and “Conservative fringe” instead give away the game. At the time in question, I was teaching at the nearby Naval Academy and as now a registered Democrat. Is that the “fringe?” So what does the euphemism “teases out” mean–an on-the-record interview, a written source, collaboration from named sources? Or what we suspect instead—innuendo, creepy hearsay, and lazy internet third-hand googling as part of the usual trash Cheney topos?

2.    “Address a dinner salon”. I was asked to go to a dinner in which a television newsman, another columnist, a diplomat, and two members of the Vice President’s staff had a round-table discussion concerning the United Nations and its authorization of the Iraq war. (I respect their privacy; and so their names and conversations of some 6 years ago will remain private).
3.   UN.  I suggested that going to the UN as was planned was wise and essential, but that it might not lead to authorization given the French and Russian positions; and that one then, without a formal UN resolution, would have to follow and incorporate the Congress’s own 23-point resolution to convince the American people to go to war—and to expect hysteria immediately if the war went sour, since many who were for it, would not soon be if perceptions of victory changed. Nothing since then has convinced me that advice (given in five minutes along with others’ input) was either wrong or short-sighted.
4.    War is, of course, a terrible thing. And as Martin van Creveld just noted in his new The Culture of War, it seems to be “innate to civilizations.” And as World War II showed, it really is sometimes “not necessarily unjust.” And leaders like Lincoln often, in fact, are put to the test, when citizens abruptly (read Thucydides Book 2 on Pericles, or cf. the landscape of the  Bush’s surge) suddenly blame their politicians for enacting the policies that they once endorsed. All that said, the discussion was not led by me; the topic was not “Hellenic philosophy”, but rather the dilemma of translating House and Senate approval of removing Saddam to international approval via the UN, during a period of then bipartisan consensus and satisfaction with the prior removal of the Taliban.

5.    The Vice President was hardly zealous for war. He was instead reflective and wanted views from historians and writers, and asked not the “fringe,” but had made it a policy of seeking out those of all backgrounds to participate in group discussions—something apparently at odds with the now media stereotype of Cheney, the madman in his bunker.

6.    A Normal Event. I have been asked about this single dinner on dozens of occasions, and still don’t divulge who spoke or what others said. That said, as far as I am concerned: no, the VP was not in a bellicose mood; no, there was not a lecture advocating war; no, there was not triumphalism, but real debate over the wisdom of the war and the utility of the UN; and this was not a big deal, but one of hundreds of conversations Cheney had with officers, historians, and diplomats—all at odds with the stereotype of a recluse, entrenched, bellicose figure.

7.    Engaged. A Vice President is supposed to welcome as many views as he can; and if the reporter had taken the time to find out the guests who over that year  went to the VP’s house, he would quickly learn that they were from both parties, of liberal and conservative persuasions, and were in a 2002 bipartisan mood. But again, the post-2004 Cheney is now been recreated into a sort of demon who shoots the innocent with a shotgun, tears up the Constitution with glee, and sent out Scooter Libby to defame Joe Wilson and poor Richard Armitage. Anything less simply won’t do: especially the notion of a VP who, as a realist, not a neocon, had real doubts about the war, wanted as many different voices as possible to be heard, and was quiet, introspective, and engaged, rather than partisan, brooding, or nefarious. Don’t these reporters any more do anything other than just surf the Internet? Or go beyond the Bob Woodward methodology? Or do anything other than call up a favorable source and say “Talk to me and you come off well; don’t and others fill in your blanks for you!”

8.    Citations? Note well that neither Mr. Ruten nor Mr. Gellman (whose book I have not yet read) will be able to cite a source to the contrary, because to do so would be to print something untrue. Note especially again “Gellman teases out” which is the equivalent to conjecture without written evidence or named sources.

9.    Why is Cheney so demonized? Largely, and now I am conjecturing,  because, unlike most past VPs (Biden will be a reporters’ dream), he doesn’t leak. Nor does his staff. He doesn’t seem to enjoy  the NY/DC press and doesn’t seem to hide that. He won’t do unnamed sourced “background” and doesn’t like associates who do. He doesn’t report on  private conversations and doesn’t like those who do. I respect him and admire him all the more for that, even though it means that anguished reporters in the subsequent news vacuum create fantasy and seek to vilify him for his obstinacy.

10. A necessary task. I mention all this only to correct the LA Times and will keep trying to set the record straight when others insist on distorting it.

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