Economics Election 2008 McCain Obama Politics The Media Videos

Breaking Through the Fog: Barack Obama’s Plan

The New York Times reported on the struggle Obama is facing trying to break through the media fog that has focused on the small daily controversies the McCain camp keeps feeding the press. From Lipstick on a Pig to questions of patriotism and the never used Logan Act, this is the McCain camp’s deliberate strategy – distract and hope that by the time people start paying attention to the issues, it will be too late.

Given the financial crisis unfolding, and in an attempt to break through this fog, Obama released this simple ad – just two minutes of Obama speaking to the camera.

The Plan he asks you to check out is here.

Excerpts from his original speech on the subject a year ago today is here.

His follow-up speech as the crisis began to deepen this March is here.

My summary of his broad economic agenda is here.

The New York Times’ attempt to understand the underpinning of “Obamanomics” is here.

Some lies being spread about Obama’s tax plan and economic issues are here. The ad McCain released echoing these lies is here.

Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq McCain National Security Obama Politics The War on Terrorism

Setting America Up to Fail

[digg-reddit-me]Putting aside the controversy over whether the New York Times should have published John McCain’s op-ed piece – his piece itself illustrates the lose-lose strategy McCain is putting forward.

This line in particular from his unpublished op-ed struck me:

…if we don’t win the war, our enemies will.

What interests me about both McCain’s and Obama’s positions is that both have stuck to their general idea about what the next step would be despite the changing situation on the ground.

McCain was in favor of troops staying longer in Iraq when things were bad and getting worse; now that things are improving, he is still in favor of keeping our forces there.  Obama was in favor of pulling out of Iraq while the situation was deteriorating; and now that the situation is improving, he still is in favor of ending the occupation.  McCain’s editorial tries to hit Obama on this point, unconvincingly in light of McCain’s own seeming intransigence.

But it isn’t entirely accurate to call Obama’s and McCain’s fixed goals in spite of the changing circumstances “intransigence”.  The crux of the disagreement between the candidates is not the contrast that McCain sets up in his op-ed:

I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons.

Rather, the crux of their disagreement is about the wisdom of the Iraq adventure and the overall strategy of establishing some kind of neo-empire in the Middle East.  McCain believes that the Iraq War was necessary and strategically sound – and that although he may not call it an empire or neo-empire – he believes America must have an established military presence in the Middle East as a matter of policy.  Obama is suspicious of this view – believing that any form of imperial influence exerted over the Middle East will cause a backlash greater than the benefits – and he specifically pointed out before the war, and has kept pointing out, that the Iraq adventure was strategically “dumb” and that it was benefited our enemies in the Middle East even as it has undermined our friends.  By taking out Iraq, we removed Iran’s regional foil – and we set up an Iraqi regime that has become a regional ally of Iran.

There are two competing sets of suppositions here:


  • If our invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived.
  • If the invasion of Iraq was the right decision but poorly executed.


  • If our continued presence there continues to create problems both for our military and for the Iraqi government.
  • If our continued presence could help stabilize the country.

On the first question, the country and the world have overwhelmingly come to believe the first option.

On the second, the answer is less clear. What is clear is that:

  • We do not have enough of a military presence to stabilize the entire country – only relatively small portions of it.
  • We have been acting as a buffer between some of the ethnic groups composing Iraq (even as our invasion and the aftermath hypercharged tensions between the groups.)
  • We are degrading our entire military and investing exorbitant amounts of money in the the country (at a time when our government is testing the limits of the world’s tolerance for our fiscal insolvency.)
  • We are inspiring more extremists than we are killing – as even Don Rumsfeld admitted.
  • Our presence in Iraq has made us more vulnerable to Iran and less able to take any necessary actions against Iran.

These commonly accepted facts demonstrate our short-term tactical limits and our tactical utility – but most of all, they demonstrate that our long-term strategy is underming our position.  From the Iraqi perspective, Maliki clearly thinks that it is best for Iraq if America leaves as soon as possible.  Analyzing what we know about Iraq leads to the same conclusion.

The only possible long-term salvation that could come from this debacle is if Iraq becomes an American-friendly, stable democracy.  Which is possible, but not the most likely conclusion based on the facts as they are now.  It is a possiblity based on a desperate hope.  But even this long-term possibility would necessitate that we demonstrate that we are intent to leave Iraq as soon as possible – and certainly as soon as we are asked.

McCain – by focusing on our short-term tactical successes (and ignoring our tactical limits and our strategic errors) – is bringing America down the wrong path – and setting us up to fail.  By saying, “if we don’t win the war, our enemies will,” McCain is attempting to impose a framework on Iraq that does not apply.  The Iraqis themselves defeated Al Qaeda and the extremists after they became tired of their extremism – with our troops playing a supporting role.  One of our primary functions in Iraq is preventing a civil war between the Iraqi ethnic groups.

The question is: Is McCain himself so deluded as to see Iraq as simply a battle between us and our enemies – like World War II – or is he merely using this framework to allow him to use Iraq as a political weapon and to paint his opponent as a “weak-kneed liberal”?

Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons

Gaming the System

[Photo by joshp over at Flickr]

[reddit-me]Terry McAuliffe of the Clinton campaign on Meet the Press this morning described Barack Obama’s campaign as one of “gaming the system” which is something he says Senator Hillary Clinton would never stoop to:

Listen, we have played hard and we didn’t want to game the system.

The statement is one that doesn’t ring true on several levels and is certainly an odd way to describe the Obama campaign – and an odd way to excuse the total lack of preparation or foresight that has characterized the Clinton campaign. I don’t mean to use the phrases “lack of preparation” and “lack of foresight” as weapons here – but as objective descriptions of the campaign. Her campaign simply assumed she was going to sweep the early primaries and even now still lags behind the Obama campaign in organization in the remaining states, months after the nature of this campaign became clear.

Yet McAuliffe used the phrase “gaming the system” to describe the Obama campaign winning by every available measure – the popular vote count, the number of contests won, and especially the delegate count.

Gaming the system has been defined as “using the rules, policies and procedures of a system against itself for purposes outside what these rules were intended for.” By implication, Obama – by playing by the rules, and winning – is using the rules against the Democratic party itself.

This whole reading makes sense, of course, only if the Clintons are the Democratic party.

McAuliffe’s comments also called to mind the Susan Faludi piece in the New York Times a few days ago in which she described the appeal of Ms. Clinton’s campaign:

…our first major female presidential candidate isn’t doing what men always accuse women of doing. She’s not summoning the rules committee over every infraction. (Her attempt to rewrite the rules for Michigan and Florida are less a timeout than rough play.) Not once has she demanded that the umpire stop the fight. Indeed, she’s asking for more unregulated action…

Faludi insightfully, and perhaps even accurately, described the gender and competition-related stereotypes at play – and how these stereotypes which were once used against Ms. Clinton are now working in her favor:

Maybe the white male electorate just can’t abide strong women whom they suspect of being of a certain sort. To adopt a particularly lamentable white male construct, the sports metaphor, political strength comes in two varieties: the power of the umpire, who controls the game by application of the rules but who never gets hit; and the power of the participant, who has no rules except to hit hard, not complain, bounce back and endeavor to prevail in the end.

For virtually all of American political history, the strong female contestant has been cast not as the player but the rules keeper, the purse-lipped killjoy who passes strait-laced judgment on feral boy fun. The animosity toward the rules keeper is fueled by the suspicion that she (and in American life, the regulator is inevitably coded feminine, whatever his or her sex) is the agent of people so privileged that they don’t need to fight, people who can dominate more decisively when the rules are decorous. American political misogyny is inflamed by anger at this clucking overclass: who are they to do battle by imposing rectitude instead of by actually doing battle?

The specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the great female reformers of Victorian America….While the populace might concede the merits of the female reformers’ cause, it found them repellent on a more glandular level. In that visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone.

I think this helps explain why the figure of “Hillary the bare-knuckle brawler” is so much more attractive than “Hillary, the inevitable”, or indeed, many of the other “Hillary Clintons”. It helps her to play against type – including certain elements of her own reputation.

Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons

Not Too Close To Call After All…

And so Hillary Clinton wins another one with just enough to justify her staying in the race.

8.6% according to the final results.

Three months ago, I called on Hillary Clinton to withdraw from the race for the good of the Democratic party. In many ways, that argument is stronger today than it was then. The New York Times, who I excoriated at the time for endorsing Clinton, essentially un-endorsed her today. Obama’s lead is greater across the country now than it was at the time each of these states voted. But he lost his moment to ascend to the presidency on hope – Ms. Clinton made sure to sabotage that balloon before it got off the ground.

What Obama has run is a smart campaign – one which yesterday’s loss has done nothing to derail.

But Ms. Clinton has proved again that she is a fighter and that when her back is to the wall, she can avoid losing. Her base of support is strong, if limited. And she will fight another day.

It’s time for Obama to figure out how best to use Ms. Clinton’s presence in the race to his advantage.

Domestic issues New York City


This line jumped out at me from yesterday’s New York Times article on the astronomical income brought in by Wall Street’s big shots:

Since 1913, the United States witnessed only one other year of such unequal wealth distribution — 1928, the year before the stock market crashed…