John McCain Morphs Into Hillary Clinton

Political pundits and even the politicians themselves seem to like comparing the candidates to someone else in public life. John McCain has compared Obama to both Williams Jenning Bryan and Jimmy Carter, while others have compared him more to both Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy. Recently McCain has compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt, which he undoubtedly prefers to John Heilemann’s comparison of him to Hillary Clinton. Hellemann finds that McCain is now running Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Obama. He first notes the changes in campaign staff, but argues that the comparisons extend beyond this:

That Clinton and McCain would run similar races might seem odd. Their ideological differences are severe, and no one sane would ever call Clinton a maverick or McCain a feminist. But it’s also true that they share a view of politics and policy. They venerate the Senate as a noble institution, not as the imagination-deadening, soul-destroying hellhole that it is. They regard legislative experience, forging compromises in the trenches, as formative and indispensable. They see having national-security chops as a sine qua non for sitting in the Oval Office.

It was this conception of politics and the presidency, however, that got Hillary into so much trouble in her battle with Obama. And while McCain largely avoids the rhetorical traps she fell into—the laundry-listy rhetoric, the countless small-bore policy proposals—the thrust of his campaign is much the same as hers was: The emphasis on résumé, the willful avoidance of grappling with the desire for change so evident in the electorate, and, perhaps most problematic, the eschewal of big, bold, animating ideas and grand thematics.

This was not, it should be said, the kind of campaign that McCain and his advisers planned at the outset. Back in the days when McCain was still being guided by John Weaver, the strategist–cum–soul mate who crafted his message in 2000 and then fell out of favor in mid-2007 when McCain’s campaign imploded, the idea had been to run on a handful of sweeping reformist goals—entitlement reform, ethics reform, immigration reform, spending reform, etc.—and position McCain as willing to put country ahead of personal political ambition. How? As reported first by The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, when McCain announced his candidacy, he was “inches away” from pledging to serve only one term if elected. “It would have been the most selfless act in modern American politics,” a Republican told Ambinder—and one that would have served as a powerful contrast point in a race against either Clinton or Obama.

But McCain was persuaded at the last minute to abandon the idea by his friends Senator Lindsey Graham and former senator Phil Gramm—just as Clinton was convinced not to run a bolder, more human campaign by the more conservative voices in her sphere. Since then, McCain’s effort, like Clinton’s, has been increasingly poll-driven (offshore oil drilling, anyone?), corporate (the phalanx of lobbyists that surrounds him, robbing him of his reformist cred), and almost entirely lacking any positive vision of what he wants to achieve as president, beyond winning the war in Iraq. Indeed, McCain’s assorted flip-flops, notably regarding his position on the Bush tax cuts, have left him vulnerable to the charge that was ultimately most damaging to Clinton and is even more damaging to him, given his image as a principled straight-talker: that he will say and do anything to win.

McCain’s lack of a positive vision, along with the perception that his campaign is primarily about saying anything to win, might be the most damaging comparison to Clinton. Hillary Clinton campaigned as the inevitable winner, failing to give many voters any real reason to support her (unless her gender was a sufficient reason). Once she no longer looked like a sure winner many Democrats saw no reason to support her, and her desperation measures only gave Democrats a stronger reason to vote against her.

The primaries became all about Obama. It soon became clear that Obama would win as long as he could convince the voters he was ready to be president. Experience did not matter much as all three of the top tier candidates had far less experience than the second tier candidates. Obama’s lack of experience might even have been a plus. For those of us who have been dissatisfied with the status quo in government, and found the Democrats to be preferable to the Republicans but only marginally so, an outsider to Washington might have been the best solution. Having experience teaching Constitutional law and in the state legislature provided Obama with sufficient experience to  still be considered a credible candidate.

With McCain following Clinton’s strategy, the general election campaign remains all about Obama. He will likely win as long as he can convince voters in the general election campaign that he is capable of being president. The Republicans might run an even dirtier campaign than Clinton, but this is far from certain as Obama has shown considerable skill in deflecting dirty attacks. Just as dirty tactics backfired against Clinton by providing more reason to vote for the alternative, Republicans who resort to Rove style attacks will also remind voters of why they don’t want four more years of Bush/Rove/Clinton style politics. Unless McCain gives voters a real reason to vote for him, a majority are likely to vote for Obama, regardless if they are doing so out of a desire for change, support for his views, or just because they are excited about the fresh new face in politics.

Obama Plans Strong Effort in Michigan

Michigan has voted Democratic in recent years but Democrats cannot take it for granted. Obama started out behind in the state after keeping his promise not to campaign here after the primary date was moved up in violation of party rules. He began campaigning heavily here as the nomination battle wound down, and continues to fight for the state. Marc Ambinder reports that the Obama campaign plans on having about two hundred paid employees, almost twice as many as Kerry had in 2004.

Obama’s plans for Michigan can be seen in the memo sent out this morning which I will post under the fold.


Obama On The Cover of The New Yorker

The above cover from The New Yorker has received quite a bit of publicity and comment. It is clearly meant as a satire of all the right wing misconceptions and smears about Obama, and I did find it amusing. Many other are offended, and it is understandable that the Obama campaign felt it to be necessary to issue a statement condemning it. If he failed to do so, there would inevitably be some saying that Obama considered this an accurate portrayal.

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, was interviewed by The Huffington Post and had this to say:

I ran the cover because I thought it had something to say. What I think it does is hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama’s — both Obamas’ — past, and their politics. I can’t speak for anyone else’s interpretations, all I can say is that it combines a number of images that have been propagated, not by everyone on the right but by some, about Obama’s supposed “lack of patriotism” or his being “soft on terrorism” or the idiotic notion that somehow Michelle Obama is the second coming of the Weathermen or most violent Black Panthers. That somehow all this is going to come to the Oval Office.

To some degree reaction to the cover depends upon one’s view as to the intelligence of those seeing it. One problem is that while readers of The New Yorker are likely to pick up on the satire, those in the general population who see it due to being publicized by the media might not. Unfortunately the same people who are susceptible to the whisper campaign about Obama are the ones who would interpret this as an accurate portrayal of what they believe is the real Obama. It might have been more effective if this was portrayed as the thought balloon of a conservative, or shown as coming up in someone’s email box.

Obama on Iraq and Islamic Extremists

Barack Obama has been clarifying his foreign policy positions, including an op-ed in The New York Times. While John McCain, along with some newspaper accounts, such as yesterday’s article in The Los Angeles Times, have tried to minimize their differences, Obama spells them out, beginning with his initial opposition to the war and his desire to end the war:

The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown.

Obama makes it clear that he plans to leave Iraq. He lays out a sixteen month schedule, but as he has often done in the past, he make sit clear that the specifics can change based upon the situation at the time and the advice he receives from the commanders on the ground:

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States. That is why, on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

Obama concludes with another clear example of where his views differ from McCain’s:

In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

It’s not going to work this time. It’s time to end this war.

Hopefully this puts an end to the erroneous media reports that Obama has changes his views on the war.

Obama was also interviewed about his foreign policy views on CNN by Fareed Zakaria. The interview included Obama’s views of Muslim extremism from the perspective of someone who has lived in a Muslim country, and how he would handle bin Laden if captured:

ZAKARIA: But how do you view the problem within Islam? As somebody who saw it in Indonesia … the largest Muslim country in the world?

OBAMA: Well, it was interesting. When I lived in Indonesia — this would be ’67, ’68, late ’60s, early ’70s — Indonesia was never the same culture as the Arab Middle East. The brand of Islam was always different.

But around the world, there was no — there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law.

And now in Indonesia, you see some of those extremist elements. And what’s interesting is, you can see some correlation between the economic crash during the Asian financial crisis, where about a third of Indonesia’s GDP was wiped out, and the acceleration of these Islamic extremist forces.

It isn’t to say that there is a direct correlation, but what is absolutely true is that there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there’s bottom-up economic growth.

You know, the way we have to approach, I think, this problem of Islamic extremism … is we have to hunt down those who would resort to violence to move their agenda, their ideology forward. We should be going after al Qaeda and those networks fiercely and effectively.

But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.

And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors in lumping Islam together result in us not only being less effective in hunting down and isolating terrorists, but also in alienating what need to be our long-term allies on a whole host of issues.

ZAKARIA: If U.S. forces in Afghanistan captured Osama bin Laden, what would you do with him, and you were president?

OBAMA: Well, I think that, if he was — if he was captured alive, then we would make a decision to bring the full weight of not only U.S. justice, but world justice down on him. And I think that — and I’ve said this before — that I am not a cheerleader for the death penalty. I think it has to be reserved for only the most heinous crimes. But I certainly think plotting and engineering the death of 3,000 Americans justifies such an approach. Video Watch what Obama says about bin Laden »

Now, I think this is a big hypothetical, though. Let’s catch him first. And the fact that we have failed to seriously go after al Qaeda over the last five years, because of the distraction of Iraq, I think we are now seeing the consequences of that in Afghanistan.

That’s not the only problem we have in Afghanistan. We have not dealt with the narco-trafficking that’s taking place there. We have not provided farmers there an option beyond poppy. I think the Karzai government has not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan and government, the judiciary, police forces, in ways that would give people confidence.

So, there are a lot of problems there. But a big chunk of the issue is that we allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to regenerate itself when we had them on the ropes. That was a big mistake, and it’s one I’m going to correct when I’m president.

Bobby Jindal and Teaching Creationism in the Public Schools

Bobby Jindal tops of recent poll of favorite elected Republicans among conservative bloggers and is believed to be on John McCain’s short list for potential running mates. The New Scientist might rank him highly as a threat to the legitimate teaching of science. Their current issue discusses a new law passed in Louisiana and signed by Jindal. The bill “allow teachers and school boards across the state to present non-scientific alternatives to evolution” and is being used as a back-door attempt to teach evolution (intelligent design) in science classes using a new strategy to attempt to circumvent court decisions opposed to teaching evolution in public school science classes:

The strategy being employed in Louisiana by proponents of ID – including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute – is more subtle and potentially more difficult to challenge. Instead of trying to prove that ID is science, they have sought to bestow on teachers the right to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution under the banner of “academic freedom”.

“Academic freedom is a great thing,” says Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. “But if you look at the American Association of University Professors’ definition of academic freedom, it refers to the ability to do research and publish.” This, he points out, is different to the job high-school teachers are supposed to do. “In high school, you’re teaching mainstream science so students can go on to college or medical school, where you need that freedom to explore cutting-edge ideas. To apply ‘academic freedom’ to high school is a misuse of the term.”

“It’s very slick,” says Forrest. “The religious right has co-opted the terminology of the progressive left… They know that phrase appeals to people.”

The article disccusses Jindal’s connections with the religious right:

On 28 June, Louisiana’s Republican governor, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, signed the bill into law. The development has national implications, not least because Jindal is rumoured to be on Senator John McCain’s shortlist as a potential running mate in his bid for the presidency.

Born in 1971 to parents recently arrived from India, Jindal is a convert to Roman Catholicism and a Rhodes scholar – hardly the profile of a typical Bible-belt politician. Yet in a recent national television appearance he voiced approval for the teaching of ID alongside evolution. He also enjoys a close relationship with the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a lobbying group for the religious right whose mission statement includes “presenting biblical principles” in “centers of influence”. It was the LFF which set the bill in motion earlier this year.

“We believe that to teach young people critical thinking skills you have to give them both sides of an issue,” says Gene Mills, executive director of the LFF. When asked whether the new law fits with the organisation’s religious agenda, Mills told New Scientist: “Certainly it’s an extension of it.”

Opposition to this attempt to teach creationism instead of legitimate science is not limited to the left. Last week I quoted John Derbyshire’s criticism of the Discovery Institute. The same post criticizes this bill and refers back to a previous post in which he criticized the bill on sound conservative grounds:

The entire effect of this law, if Gov. Jindal signs it, will be that one cartload of Louisiana taxpayers’ money will go to the Discovery Institute for their mendacious “textbooks,” then another cartload will go into the pockets of lawyers to defend the inevitable challenge to the law in federal courts, which will inevitably be successful, as they always are, and should be.

Any Louisianian who wants his kids to have a religious education can send them to parochial schools; although if the parochial school is Roman Catholic, the kids will learn standard biology (“Darwinism”) in science classes, since the RC Church — Gov. Jindal’s church — approves it. Or they can home school them. Everybody’s fine with this. I’m fine with it. Louisiana Coalition for Science is fine with it. Raise you kids the way you want to. You may not, though — you constitutionally may not — oblige taxpayers to fund your religious beliefs.

Veto this bill, Gov. Jindal, or explain to Louisiana taxpayers the pointless waste of public money that will inevitably ensue from your signing it.