Obama and ’08

In his Washington Post column today, Charles Krauthammer joins those pundits giving political advice to Barack Obama. The big question, of course, is should Obama run in 2008, or wait another four years so he isn’t such a novice? Krauthammer says he should run to gain more experience, even though he’ll ultimately lose.

I’m not so sure I agree with Krauthammer. Right now, Obama has a spotless record as this young, fresh-faced politician. Should he run and lose the nomination fight, I think there’s a danger that he loses his aura and becomes just like any other politician. Krauthammer says that by running, he puts himself in the position to get a vice-presidential nomination. But I think he can acomplish the same thing merely by flirting with the presidency, which has already generated a lot of buzz and demonstrated his star power, without having to go through a bruising political campaign. By sitting out, he kind of shows deference to his elders, doing something for the good of the party, which I think could be rewarded with a vice-presidential nod.

Of course, my calculation is based on my view that national security issues will dominate the 2008 presidential election, which is why I think that Giuliani can overcome his liberal stances on social issues to win the Republican nomination. If I’m right, then Obama would not have a prayer of winning in 2008 because of his lack of national security credentials.

However, there clearly is a growing section of the electorate that’s tired of war and the deep divisions in this country during the Bush presidency. In my view those who don’t understand the nature of the threat we face are living in denial, but regardless, there are those who want to return to a world where we aren’t in a prepetual state of war. So, for those looking for the antidote to the bitterness of the Bush years, they may find it in Obama, who clearly projects a sort of sunny optimism.

Though I think running in 2008 would be a risk, waiting could also be a risk. If he runs now, he may turn out to be ready for superstardom a la LeBron James, who came from the NBA right out of high school and proved that he was ready for prime time. But if Obama doesn’t strike while the iron’s hot, he could risk the Matt Leinart syndrome. Leinart, of course, would have been a sure No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 2005, but by staying an extra year at USC, he dropped to the 10th pick.

Racial Politics and Tennessee

Along with other liberals, Josh Marshall is in a tizzy over an RNC ad against Harold Ford Jr. that he calls the "uppity negro ad." But after watching it several times, it's hard to see what he sees. The one part of the ad that has drawn criticism from liberals when a bimbo says she met Ford at a Playboy party and at the end of the ad winks and says, "Harold, call me." The bit is just one part of the ad that also criticizes his positions on wiretapping, gun control and estate taxes. However, to Marshall:

 If you watch the ad closely it is clear that the racist appeal — about Harold Ford having sex with white women — is the centerpiece, the entire point of the ad.

While the presence of the bimbo is a bit silly, the point is not to be racist, but to convey the hypocrisy of Ford running a values campaign even though he went to a party thrown by Playboy. That's why they also have the guy in sunglasses saying Ford took money from porn movie producers. As Tom Bevan points out over at RealClearPolitics, the fact that the bimbo was white is not because the RNC wanted to be racist, but "only because the 'ditsy blonde bimbo' is a more accurate caricature of what we all picture when we think 'Playboy bunny.'" The whole ad uses caricatures, including the guy talking about Ford's position on guns being dressed in hunting gear.

As if Marshall isn't being ridiculous enough he cites as racist a Bob Corker radio ad in which Marshall claims "jungle drums" are played every time Ford is mentioned. If you listen to the ad closely, you can hear the drums, but they're just a pretty standard beat in political ads to make one's opponent seem more ominous. Not much unlike this anti-Bush DNC ad that Marshall says is "really good."

Marshall, meanwhile, uses the Ford-Corker campaign as evidence that the GOP is the racist party:

Again, let's be honest with ourselves. Racism is one of the key building blocks of Republican politics in the United States. Don't look at me with a straight face and tell me you don't realize that's true. That doesn't mean that all Republicans are racists. Far from it. It doesn't mean that a lot of Republicans don't wish the stain wasn't part of their party's recent political heritage. They do. But racism and race-baiting is the hold card Republicans take into every election.

Talk about projection. It is the Democratic Party that, when the going gets tough, will always play the race card. No sane person viewing either the anti-Ford TV or radio ads would see the racial overtones that Marshall and other liberals did. But with Ford's chances of victory growing dimmer, the only thing left to do is to cry "racism."

For more on this, see Robert VerBruggen's  piece on  our main site.  

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Al Qaeda and Iraq

Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen argues in today's New York Times that a  U.S. pullout from Iraq would be exactly what Al Qaeda wants, because it would enable the terrorist group to establish a permanent base in Western Iraq so that it can regroup. It would also confirm bin Laden's view of America as a paper tiger, which traces back to Ronald Reagan's pullout from Lebanon in 1984 (in hindsight, probably the biggest mistake of his presidency) and Bill Clinton's pullout from Somalia in 1993. As far as Iraq is concerned, Bergen argues for abandoning our desire to create a democracy or halting civil war, and focus on making sure  Al Qaeda doesn't gain control of Western Iraq.

Whatever one thinks of whether the War in Iraq is a good  idea, it's difficult to understand how people would believe that a total  U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a good thing. All of  the problems that people cite  for why Iraq is a disaster would be made much worse without the U.S. presence there. There is now a debate as to whether Iraq is just experiencing sectarian violence or a low-level civil war, but if the U.S. withdraws it will clearly lead to an all out civil war. Critics complain that the war enabled terrorist to gain control of large sections of Iraq, but as Bergen's piece makes clear, withdrawal would enable Al Qaeda to establish a permanent base there. Anti-war groups complain about regional stability, but if the U.S. withdraws you'd have Iran, Syria and Turkey fighting for control of different parts of Iraq. A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will mean more violence and civilian casualties, not less.    

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The Bush Doctrine And Iraq

At TNR, Lawrence Kaplan argues that the Bush Doctrine of preemption, democracy promotion and unilateral action should survive beyond Iraq, prompting Tapped's Spencer Ackerman to criticize the "misdguided but deep belief, as Doug Feith later put it, that 'Terrorist organizations cannot be effective in sustaining themselves over long periods of time to do large-scale operations if they don't have support from states.'" As evidence that this belief is misguided, Ackerman writes: "al-Qaeda doesn't have Afghanistan, or even Iraq, and it's plenty dangerous."

However, the question is not whether Al Qaeda is still dangerous — of course it is — but whether President Bush's policies have made it less dangerous. Clearly, Al Qaeda's ability to carry out large scale attacks against Americans has been severely compromised as a result of losing Afghanistan as a base: they haven't carried out an attack against Americans on the scale of the U.S. Embassy bombings or the U.S.S. Cole bombings, let alone 9/11.    

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Michael J. Fox should not be above criticism for the controversial stem-stell research ad for Claire McCaskill, but criticism should focus on the fact that he was being misleading about the science and policy of stem cell research. I think Rush Limbaugh went too far by saying, without any evidence, that, “In this commercial, (Fox) is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act.” Even if you were to argue that he didn’t take his medication in advance of the ad (which we don’t know), that still means that his natural state is to shake, and thus not “purely an act.” I think one can acknowledge that someone is truly suffering while still arguing against an expansion of funding for stem cell research on moral grounds and questioning the soundness of the science of stem cell research. And certainly, on that front the ad is shameless by implying that Jim Talent is standing in the way of Michael J. Fox and millions of Americans getting cured.

RE: Perception Can Become Reality

I think that the media narrative of an impending Republican defeat can cut both ways. Perhaps, as has been suggested, it will lead conservatives to be dispirited, thus hampering turnout. On the other hand, the constant media harping on how Republicans are going to lose could instead annoy conservatives and motivate them to hit the polls in large numbers to prove the liberal media wrong. Also, one of the primary arguments that Republicans are making in an attempt to turnout the base is to get them to imagine what Congress would be like under the control of Nancy Pelosi and/or Harry Reid. By annointing Pelosi the Speaker with several weeks remaining in the election, the media, in a sense, is already doing half of the RNC’s job.

Liberals vs. Liberals

From conservative infighting, we move to liberal infighting. In a recent essay in the London Review of Books, Tony Judt heaved the worst insult you could possibly throw at American liberals – he accused them of being insufficiently anti-Bush. “Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy?” Judt asked as his opening salvo. Not to take that lying down, the American Prospect has published a manifesto signed by prominent liberals, dismissing Judt’s claims as “nonsense” and arguing that yes, in fact, they really really hate Bush and have been saying so all along.

Among the 46 signatories are Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin (the manifesto’s author’s), Eric Alterman, Robert Reich, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Jane Smiley, and Michael Tomasky.

Conservatives vs. Conservatives

The NY Times has an article today on one of its favorite topics: conservative infighting. The gist of this particular piece is that conservatives are already debating which wing of the movement is most to blame for the current predicament of the Republican Party. Is it the free spenders? Is it the internationally adventurous neoconservatives? Is it the religious right? Did the party turn off its base by not being firmer on immigration? Or did it alienate other voters by being too anti-immigrant?

I think my favorite part of the article was this closing quote from Newt Gingrich:

“I would rather have a movement active enough to bite itself rather than a movement so moribund it didn’t realize it was irritated.”

In keeping with tradition, I want to take issue with this:

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and another prominent advocate of the invasion, said he doubted that soaring spending was turning off as many voters as tax-cutters like Mr. Norquist or Mr. Armey suggested.

“The spending bill that was supposedly going to destroy the Republican Party was the Medicare drug bill,” he said. “I have heard almost no one talk about it one way or the other.”

A few things. First, he’s kidding, right? He hasn’t heard anyone talk about the prescription drug bill? Second, I don’t think any single spending bill was going to imperil Republicans, but rather, an accumulated six-year record of runaway spending that now rivals the Johnson era. In 2004, there was plenty of conservative angst over spending, but the prospect of putting John Kerry in charge of the War on Terror was itself enough to make conservatives vote for President Bush. Republicans not only got a reprieve, but another two years to do something about their spending habit. Instead, they went on a post-Katrina spending spree, passed the pork-laden energy and transportation bills, and doled out money for the Bridge to Nowhere, along with tens of thousands of other earmarks. So for Kristol to single out one bill and say spending hasn’t had an impact is just absurd.

Nuclear Japan

In his Washington Post column today, Charles Krauthammer joins the list of those advocating that the U.S. let  Japan  go nuclear. To me the best argument for this approach is that it is the only surefire way to  pressure  China into using its leverage against North  Korea. We don't have to actively help Japan obtain nuclear weapons, we can just  engage in the  same diplomatic doublespeak  that China does with regard to North  Korea.  The State Department can issue statements  "strongly discouraging" Japan from seeking nukes,  but then stymie any efforts to impose sanctions on them through the U.N. We already have a history of accepting new nuclear states when those countries are our allies and it is in our strategic interests (Israel and India come to mind as prominent examples). We may not even need Japan to actually go nuclear, as long as it looks realistic enough that they are going nuclear to twist China's arm.

The main issue I have with the "nuclear Japan" argument is that it's unlikely that Japan, the most anti-nuclear country in the world for obvious reasons, would aggressively pursue nuclear weapons. Duncan Currie takes a look at this issue over at the Weekly Standard. I don't think it would be diplomatically advisable for us to try and actively convince Japan to  acquire nuclear weapons.  

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