General Casey Backs Obama’s Story

Watching tonight’s debate I was impressed by the degree to which Clinton and Obama have exchanged places compared to the early debates. Initially Clinton was the front runner and dominated the debates. Obama gradually improved in the debates and has certainly changed positions in the national polls. By the time they got to the current one on one debates, Obama has become the one who looks presidential while Clinton looks like a desperate has been.

I’m actually holding off for a transcript and more reaction to comment further on tonight’s debate but there is actually some significant news related to last week’s debate. Right wingers have claimed that the story Obama told last week of inadequately supplied troops was untrue. Another source is backing Obama’s story–Army chief of staff General George Casey:

Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey, testifying on troop strain before the Senate Armed Forces Committee Tuesday, said there is “no reason to doubt” Sen. Barack Obama’s military shortage story during CNN’s debate in Austin, Texas, last week.

“You know, I’ve heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon — supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon. Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq,” Obama told CNN moderator Campbell Brown.

“And as a consequence, they didn’t have enough ammunition, they didn’t have enough Humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief,” he added.

War supporters have challenged the story, but Casey said he had “no reason to doubt what it is the captain says.”

McCain Repudiates Right Wing Smears on Obama

I’ve said before that if the election turned out to be John McCain versus Hillary Clinton I would have a tough time deciding. While I might agree with Clinton more if we were go make a laundry list of issues, McCain has an edge over Clinton based upon character. We saw that again today. After further rounds of Clinton going negative against Obama we saw a clear distinction from McCain. The Swamp reports that Bill “Willie” Cunningham, a conservative radio talk show host in Cincinnati, spoke before McCain and resorted to a number of attacks on Obama such as using his middle name and calling him a Chicago hack:

So McCain apologized. He told reporters after the rally that he hadn’t heard Cunningham’s schtick because he hadn’t arrived at the hall yet. But after his staff told him what Wild Bill said, McCain wasted no time in saying he was sorry.

“I take responsibility and I repudiate what he said,” McCain gamely said. “I will not tolerate anything in this campaign that denigrates either Sen. Obama or Sen. (Hillary) Clinton.”

The Caucus also reports on McCain’s apology:

“It’s my understanding that before I came in here a person who was on the program before I spoke made some disparaging remarks about my two colleagues in the Senate, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton,” he said. “I have repeatedly stated my respect for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, that I will treat them with respect. I will call them Senator. We will have a respectful debate, as I have said on hundreds of occasions. I regret any comments that may have been made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans.” Responding to questions from reporters, Mr. McCain said he did not hear what Mr. Cunningham said, saying that when he arrived, Mr. Portman was on stage.

“Whatever suggestion that was made that was any way disparaging to the integrity, character, honesty of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton was wrong,” he said, “I condemn it, and if I have any responsibility, I will take the responsibility, and I apologize for it.”

He called Mr. Obama a “man of integrity” and said he was someone he had come to know “pretty well and I admire.”

He also said that it was not appropriate to invoke Mr. Obama’s middle name in the course of the campaign.

“I absolutely repudiate such comments,” he said. “It will never happen again.”

After seeing many dirty campaigns from Republicans, as well as seeing Hillary Clinton’s campaign this year, it will be a welcome change if a Obama vs. McCain campaign were to remain at this level.

Obama, Pragmatism, and Liberal Principles

I’ve looked at Obama’s advisers in the past, such as in quoting Daniel Koffler‘s post at The Guardian where he describes Obama as a left-libertarian. I’ve felt that it is an exaggeration to actually consider Obama to be a left-libertarian, but that he definitely leans in that direction while Clinton and Edwards have views in the other direction. Obama is more libertarian on civil liberties and social issues, while more pragmatic on economic issues. I find this to be a big plus compared to most politicians on the scene.

The problem with politicians and economics is that most take an ideological or partisan view and try twist economic reality to fit their ideology. We see many on the right who argue that any government program is bad, and always manage to fudge the data to show this. I don’t recall ever seeing an article in Reason concede that, even if they might be ideologically opposed, there are situations where government actions are beneficial. On the other hand, many on the left are too quick to accept a big-government solution to problems and ignore the many situations where the free market does work better. Many on the right will twist economics to satisfy their personal goals, such as rationalizing lower taxes and eliminating government regulation. Many on the left do not understand that where ever possible it is preferable to tax people as little as possible and allow them to make their own business decisions with as little regulation as possible.

Moving into the political realm, another problem is that both Democrats and Republicans have their special interests. Democratic politicians will taper their economic views and policies to favor the goals of unions and the poor (or at least the middle class) while Republicans taper their economic views and policies to favor big business and the wealthy. Both sides use economic arguments to support their policies while having little concern for objectivity.

The New Republic has a must-read article on Obama’s economic advisers which does stress their pragmatism over ideology:

Despite Obama’s reputation for grandiose rhetoric and utopian hope-mongering, the Obamanauts aren’t radicals–far from it. They’re pragmatists–people who, when an existing paradigm clashes with reality, opt to tweak that paradigm rather than replace it wholesale. As Thaler puts it, “Physics with friction is not as beautiful. But you need it to get rockets off the ground.” It might as well be the motto for Obama’s entire policy shop.

There are also comparisons to the Clinton years, showing a difference in approach. The point is that the pragmatism doesn’t mean they do not hold liberal principles, but does suggest that the Obama people have a better chance at reaching workable solutions to problems:

Bill Clinton favored what you might call a “deductive” approach–an all- encompassing, almost revolutionary idea, out of which fell lots of smaller proposals. In a series of speeches in 1991, he unveiled the product of all his late-night bull-sessions with people like Reich and Galston, which he called “The New Covenant.” The old model held that government had certain unconditional obligations to its citizens. Under Clinton’s reimagining, many of these obligations would disappear. The government would help only those who fulfilled their responsibilities as parents, workers, and taxpayers. For instance, the government would no longer provide unlimited welfare benefits. It would instead require recipients to work after two years of assistance.

For their part, the Obama wonks tend to be inductive–working piecemeal from a series of real-world observations. One typical Goolsbee brainchild is something called an automatic tax return. The idea is that, if you had no tax deductions or freelance income the previous year, the IRS would send you a tax return that was already filled out. As long as you accepted the government’s accounting, you could just sign it and mail it back. Goolsbee estimates this small innovation could save hundreds of millions of man-hours spent filling out tax forms, and billions of dollars in tax-preparation fees.

Think of the contrast here as the difference between science-fiction writers and engineers. Reich and Galston are the kinds of people who’d sketch out the idea for time travel in a moment of inspiration. Goolsbee et al. could rig up the DeLorean that would actually get you back to 1955.

Like their intellectual godfather Thaler, the Obama wonks aren’t particularly interested in tearing down existing paradigms, just adjusting and extending them when they become outdated…

The Clintonites were moderates, but they were also ideological. They explicitly rejected the liberalism of the 1970s and ’80s. The Obamanauts are decidedly non-ideological. They occasionally reach out to progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute, but they also come from a world– academic economics–whose inhabitants generally lean right…

And yet, just because the Obamanauts are intellectually modest and relatively free of ideology, that doesn’t mean their policy goals lack ambition. In many cases, the opposite is true. Obama’s plan to reduce global warming involves an ambitious cap-and-trade arrangement that would lower carbon emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. But cap-and-trade–in which the government limits the overall level of emissions and allows companies to buy and sell pollution permits–is itself a market-oriented approach. The companies most efficient at cutting emissions will sell permits to less efficient companies, achieving the desired reductions with minimal drag on the economy.

In transcending ideology, and understanding the concerns of conservatives as well as liberals, Obama has managed to find ways to promote progressive goals while avoiding the problems which have made proposals like HillaryCare unable to pass in Congress. Obama’s advisers similarly have a pragmatic streak on foreign policy:

The real difference between the Obama campaign and, say, Hillary Clinton’s, is twofold. First, while many of the Obamanauts had previously served in the Clinton administration, they tended to be younger or less influential than the officials who signed on with Hillary. Clinton advisers like former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke tend to be “more invested in justifying or glorifying” the Clinton record, says one Obama foreign policy hand, whereas the Obamanauts don’t have the same “permanent need to fight for the legacy of your time in government.”

The second difference is that the Obama hands tend to feel less hemmed in by establishment opinion. As one Obama adviser puts it, “Democrats want to be just a little bit different from Republicans, but not so different that they get attacked for being weak.” Like Hamilton, the Obamanauts generally reject this calculus–not because they favor some radical alternative, but because clinging to received foreign policy wisdom can preclude highly practical courses of action.

Some Clinton supporters are twisting this article to support their meme that Obama is too conservative as he is not an ideological leftist. This line of attack has not really worked considering that Obama has received the support of MoveOn and liberals such as Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Russ Feingold, and most recently Chris Dodd. This also ignores the liberal goals which Obama is pursuing. Just as Obama is pursuing liberal economic goals, even if considering pragmatic economic principles, Obama also differs from Clinton on issues such as going to war in Iraq and over banning cluster bombs.

The net result of these pragmatic streaks isn’t pure left-libertarianism, but does lead to less reliance on big government and the nanny state than is seen with Clinton. When combined with Obama’s more libertarian views on civil liberties, social issues, drug laws, and government transparency there is a clear difference between the candidates. There is also far more substance behind Obama’s views than the Clinton supporters would claim.

Monica Goodling and Michael Krempasky to Marry

Congratulations to Monica Goodling and Michael Krempasky on their engagement:

Monica Marie Goodling, of Alexandria, is engaged to be married to Michael Krempasky, of Falls Church. The wedding is planned for later this year.

The future bride, a consultant, previously served as senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Justice. She graduated cum laude from Messiah College and received J.D. and M.A. degrees from Regent University.

Mr. Krempasky is a senior vice president at Edelman, a full-service, global public relations firm. He is also a founder of RedState, a leading conservative blog.

Yes, we disagree with aspects of their political views, but is that any reason for the announcement of their engagement to be the source of a number of attacks around the blogosphere? Surely we don’t have to dwell on political disagreements 24/7. Best of luck to both of them.

Chris Dodd Endorses Obama

Chris Dodd has endorsed Barack Obama:

Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has endorsed Barack Obama, his former rival in the Democratic presidential race.

“He’s ready to be president and I am ready to support him in this campaign” Dodd said at a joint news confernece with Obama.

He said Obama “has been poked and prodded, analyzed and criticized, called too green, too trusting and for all of that has already won” more than half the states and millions of votes.

More Embarrassments for Clinton Campaign

With the polls narrowing in Texas and Ohio, and Obama moving out to a 51% to 39% lead in the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, the Clinton campaign is getting desperate. Yesterday she misfired badly when attempting to use sarcasm against Obama. Does she really want to be the candidate who opposes hope?

Today hasn’t been any better for Clinton. The big story today was a picture of Obama in native African garb during a visit to Kenya in 2006. It is quite common for politicians to wear local clothes at such events, but apparently some thought this might make Obama look bad. Perhaps the idea was to reinforce the false claims that Obama is Muslim, hoping that most Americans wouldn’t realize that only ten percent of Kenyans are Muslim. Clinton has been known to leak material through Matt Drudge in the past, and today Drudge posted the picture saying it was being distributed by Clinton staffers. Drudge also noted that politicians often wear local costumes and provided examples of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and George Bush:

The Clinton campaign’s first response just did not sound like much of a denial. When asked if they put out the picture, the Clinton campaign first gave this answer:

Enough.

If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.

This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.
We will not be distracted.

It wasn’t until several hours of comments that this did not sound like a denial that the Clinton campaign issued an actual denial.

Over the weekend Clinton also claimed that two Obama mailers provided incorrect information on her positions. There were some minor errors in the mailer on NAFTA. Obama characterized Clinton as supporting NAFTA when in reality Clinton has been both for and against it. She should be relieved that Obama didn’t attack her on this flip-flopping. Obama’s mailer also erroneously presents a newspaper’s report of Clinton’s position as if it was an exact quote from Clinton.

Clinton might have taken the high ground after Obama had some minor errors in his mailers, but instead she followed up with a grossly inaccurate mailer which Factcheck.org has debunked in an article entitled Clinton Edits ‘The Truth.’ Their summary states:

Hillary Clinton, stung by an Obama mailer that painted her as a supporter of the North American Free Trade agreement, is responding in kind with a barrage of postcards saying, “Ohio needs to know the truth about Obama’s position on Protecting American Workers and NAFTA.” But the mailer gives less than the whole truth.

It quotes two news reports of Obama praising NAFTA, but it fails to mention that both are from the same event and leaves out his calls for “fair trade” and increased enforcement – and his criticism of trade agreements negotiated “on behalf of multinational companies instead of workers and communities.”

Larry Sinclair Fails Polygraph Tests

larrysinclairfailed.jpg

One of the least credible attacks on Obama during this campaign came from Larry Sinclair, who claims that he shared drugs and sex with Barack Obama. WhiteHouse.com challanged Sinclair to a polygraph test. Sinclair failed with the polygraph showing signs of deception when Sinclair was making his accusations with regards to both sex and drugs.

Who Is Picking the Democratic Nominee?

I’ve already commented on one weak argument from the pro-Clinton blog, Talk Left, yesterday. There is yet anther related argument posted there. Jeralyn, like many other Clinton supporters, tries to make a case that it is bad that so many independents are supporting Obama. She quotes The Washington Times:

[recent] polls showed Mr. Obama was leading among independents by double digits in Texas and Ohio, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the electorate. Independents made up 22 percent of the vote in the 22 contested Democratic primaries held thus far, and Mr. Obama has won them by a margin of 64 percent to 33 percent, according to a tabulation conducted by the Associated Press.

This looks like a good thing for Democrats. After years as a minority party, Obama is bringing in large numbers of independents to vote for him. Jeralyn doesn’t see it this way and writes:

Who’s really picking our Democratic nominee? If it’s the Democratic youth or African American voters, I’m okay with that. That’s fair. If it’s Republicans, I’m not. We’ll get trounced in November. Without reliable stats to show Obama’s support is from those who will for the Democrat in November, I’d say the best way to ensure Republicans stay out of our race and don’t steal another election from us is for Dems to vote for Hillary to be the nominee.

I guess it depends upon what the definition of what a Democrat is. If by Democrats we are speaking of only those people who voted Democratic when the Democrats were losing most elections, then Obama is being picked partially by others. Even that is somewhat misleading because besides receiving a large majority of independent votes, Obama receives a substantial number of votes from long time Democrats. A large majority of Democrats tell pollsters that they would find Obama to be an acceptable candidate regardless of their first choice.

If by Democrat we mean people who will vote Democratic in November if there is the right nominee, then Obama is being picked by Democrats as a consequence of Obama bringing more people into the party. This is the only way that Democrats can win national elections. Democrats who have been Democrats for years represent a minority of the electorate. Democrats won in 2006 due to the support of independents, and they must keep that support if they are to continue to win. If the independents stay home or vote Republican in 2008, then the Republicans will win.

People who vote for a candidate in a primary typically also return to vote for the candidate in November. While there might be a few Republican trouble makers, most of the independents voting for Obama are voting for him because he is the candidate they prefer, regardless of party. There also are some Republicans who are voting for Clinton, knowing that she will be the weaker candidate.

Numerous polls verify my take on the situation. In both national polls and multiple state polls Obama beats McCain but McCain beats Clinton. Many independents will vote for Obama but not for Clinton.

If the goal is winning in November, this makes it a no brainer to support Obama. The concern that Republicans are picking the nominee is also nonsense as we are speaking of independents. Somewhere along the way in making her argument, Jeralyn substituted Republicans for independents. This comes down to whether you accept independents have a vote towards picking the nominee, which is not the same as independents outright picking the nominee. Again the question is whether you want to win. One way to bring independents into the Democratic Party is to get them involved in the primaries. It is good for the party if they vote for Obama in the primaries and then in November.

Victory is not the sole concern. If independents were flooding Democratic primaries to make John McCain the nominee then Democrats such as Jeralyn would have justifiable cause for alarm. However we are speaking of Barack Obama, not John McCain or some other conservative. Obama has received the endorsement of MoveOn and the support of many Democratic Party liberals including Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Russ Feingold. lObama is more liberal than Clinton on foreign policy, civil liberties, restricting the power of the executive branch, defending separation of church and state, drug policy, and on social issues. If you consider making health care more affordable for those who cannot currently afford it, as opposed to dwelling on mandates, then Obama has the stronger health care plan. Obama’s economic policies do more to help the poor and middle class. For example, The Washington Post compared the economic stimulus plans of each candidate. Obama’s plan earned an A- while Clinton’s plan received a C-, barely beating John McCain’s D+. While some Democrats might disagree with Obama on some issues, making the Obama the nominee is hardly a compromise of Democratic principles.

Saudis Arrested for Flirting With Women

We all know that our “allies” in Saudi Arabia subscribe to different values than we do, and that their religious views can only be described as fanatic. Here’s a quick reminder of just how fanatic they are. Fifty-seven men were arrested for flirting with women outside a shopping mall:

Saudi Arabia began interrogating 57 men Saturday who were arrested after allegedly flirting with women in front of a shopping mall in the holy city of Mecca, a local newspaper reported.

The country’s religious police arrested the men Thursday night, alleging behavior that included dancing to pop music blaring from their cars and wearing improper clothing, according to the Okaz newspaper, which is deemed close to the government.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice runs the religious police, who are charged with enforcing Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic lifestyle.

Its members patrol public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make up, the sexes don’t mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.

The men will be released if they can prove they did not flirt with any women. Otherwise they will go on trial.

Clinton’s Problems With Experience and Consistency

There has been a lot of talk recently regarding why the experience argument has not worked for Clinton, which I’ve also been arguing for quite a while. Via Mattew Yglesias we have this post from Scott Lemieux:

Related to this point, arguments for Clinton proceeding from her allegedly greater experience have always been unpersuasive, precisely because if Clinton’s rather marginal and contestable experiential advantages over Obama should be decisive any of the other major Democratic candidates would be unquestionably preferable to either. (And, even worse, the same would be true of McCain in the general.) Fortunately for the Dems in November, I also agree with Yglesias that experience tends to be “the time-honored election argument of losers.” I think there may be exceptions in cases of long-time executive or high-ranking military experience, but no viable candidate has that.

Justin Gardner responds with yet something else I’ve been arguing throughout this race:

And so this is why Obama’s winning and it’s why he’ll continue to win. He’s simply better positioned for the general election than Hillary because it’s about judgement, not experience.

Another aspect of the experience issue is that the type of experience matters, not simply years in public life. Clinton counts every year since she graduated from law school when claiming thirty-five years of experience, but this does not give her a real advantage over Obama. As I’ve previously written:

If we are to count every year since graduation from law school, Clinton does have more years with some experience. What is more important is the type of experience and what was done with it. While Clinton’s experience was frequently based upon seeking government solutions to problems, Obama was involved as a community organizer. This might partially explain why Clinton concentrates on imposing government solutions for problems while Obama also considers ways in which people can help themselves.

While Clinton was practicing corporate law, Obama was teaching Constitutional law. This has had an impact in his strong support for separation of church and state and the differences in their views on presidential power and executive privilege as Clinton supports decreased transparency and would be more likely to continue, and I fear abuse, the powers taken by George Bush.

I’ve noted Obama’s legislative record in another post this morning. In contrast, Clinton has supported the Iraq war, voted for Kyl-Lieberman, opposed needle exchange programs, favored strict sentences for drug use (while Obama has favored retroactive changes), supported legislation to ban flag burning, supported censorship of video games, and opposed the banning of cluster bombs. These are just some of the areas where I feel Clinton was wrong and Obama was right. Clinton’s experience certainly does not mean having better judgment on the issues

If Clinton were to be the Democratic candidate against John McCain, she would be vulnerable on another argument besides experience. Once again we would be subjected to claims of flip-flopping by the Democrat. The most obvious case would be whenever Clinton criticizes McCain on the war. With her recent complaints regarding Obama’s mailers, we now have a second major area with NAFTA.

Clinton is on record multiple times where she expresses support for NAFTA, but she suddenly objects to an Obama mailer which notes her previous support. Although she has often spoken in support of NAFTA, Clinton biographer Sally Bedell Smith has shown that she was a late convert to the idea when her husband was president. It is certainly possible that Clinton opposed the idea but supported it to back her husband, but the Republicans will still have a field day with her contradictory public statements.