Friday, August 29, 2008

Powerful Speeches, Personal Attacks, and Palin

I've made my views on Obama;s speech well known elsewhere, but I wanted to share some quick thoughts on the speech, with particular focus on one of the big controversies raised by it. I liked the speech, and I thought he did a good job doing what he needed to do for his audience, and the moment. The use of the theatrics was well-executed-- it was grand and spectacular, but not too imperious. I remain amazed at how many people were there.

As for the substance, I thought he did a pretty good job making his case why the McCain policy agenda is too much of the same and bad, and why his (and the Democratic agenda) is good, and the change we need. Naturally, a lot of this depends on whether one agrees with the policies (and even I had issues with some his proposals), but he's speaking to a Democratic audience. Sure a lot of it was traditional Democratic fare, but it's a Democratic year, after all.

One of the prevailing memes from many on the right is that it was an angry speech, and not very inspiring. I think it was appropriate to attack McCain on policy, but pro-McCain forces contend that he attacked McCain personally, and accuse Obama of attacking McCain's courage and patriotism. I didn't see that at all, but this is the offending phrase:

"You know, John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell. But he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives."

FWIW, I don't think he should've used that line, but what I think Obama was doing was advancing the argument that the Iraq war was a distraction from the hunt for Bin Laden. It's a sloppy argument, and not one I agree with, but Obama was hitting at McCain's policy judgment. The thing is, the line is problematic for three other reasons, the first being that it ignores the reality of the Bin Laden situation, the second being that McCain has no authority as Senator to catch Bin Laden (nor does Obama), and third, it contradicts Obama's own wise point about impugning the motives of those with whom we disagree. McCain and Obama disagree on the best way to fight the GWOT, but it's bad form to even appear to imply that McCain doesn't want to go after Bin Laden. That's just as bad as suggesting that Obama puts his self-interest ahead of the country, or that he'd "rather lose a war, than lose an election."

I suspect Obama felt the need to play tit-for -tat, but it does hurt the speech somewhat.

I thought he closed out well with his change and post-partisan theme, although he still has the problem of lacking a real legislative record to back that up.

Oh, and then there's Sarah Palin, who was a surprising and impressive choice by McCain. The Obama camp may not have gone too negative last night, but their dismissive and almost haughty response to Palin is disappointing, and may only serve to drive away more Hillary voters. Is he really going to try to use the inexperience tag? Not good at all on that score.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong

At least when it comes to the truth of the Russia-Georgia conflict. This solid piece from Michael Totten:

TBILISI, GEORGIA – Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

Read the whole thing, as it's much too lengthy to properly excerpt. Let me also add that this, among other reasons is why Obama's recent gaffe is so frustrating. I know it's his week and all, but I have to call 'em as I see 'em.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Biden is Obama's man.

Discuss. My thoughts forthcoming.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Obama's Labour Battalion?

Over at SF, Simon has a good post about new hubbub and faermomgering about the draft. Tully has an interesting comment, about Obama's plan for "National Service," and links to this quote:

"We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

At first glance, it sounds pretty creepy, however, I'm going to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe things aren't quite what they seem. As I suggested there, perhaps this is just an inartful way of Obama promoting expanded civic volunteerism, as in the Peace Corps, or Americorps. Of course I could be wrong, as Tully is on onto something when he points out that such plans usually require some form of compulsion, not to mention that "civilian antional security force" gives me the creeps. Again, I do think that many have the tendency to project their own biases upon Obama's policies, and I suspect that at the very least, its a scheme that tries to appeal to America's compassionate nature (he has many of those), and at worst, a well-intentioned plan that may not work out in the real world, without some undesirable consequences (he has a few of those, too).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

United By Opposition

I'm still intrigued by a post by my co-blogger Simon over at Stubborn Facts, about a David Brooks piece on McCain's new negative campaigning being a response to Obama's media coverage. I left a comment there that I think captures my view on this quite well, but this led me back to something I've been pondering for a while, that is the unifying force behind the conservative support for McCain. McCain has, and always will have dedicated support from moderate Republicans, independents, and even many moderate Democrats. I respect McCain a great deal, and I've said so before. Amongst the right-wing base of the GOP, the story has been different. The rifts betwen McCain and the GOP base are recent and well-known. Remember that it was only mere months ago that McCain appeared before the CPAC, to "heal the wounds," as it were.

Things have changed, however. I've no doubt that the right-wing distaste for McCain is still there, as a close reading of righty blogs will reveal, but for the most part, the conservative leadership has lined up behind McCain. Despite the rants of the likes of John Hawkins and Ann Coulter, most righties have decided on McCain, or rather they've settled for him. You see, that's the thing, while most of Obama's core supporters have enthusiatically embraced him (a few of them taking it to unseemly levels of hero-worship), most righties have merely settled on McCain. For many, if they had their druthers, would've chosen someone else.

If you check out most righty blogs nowadays, you'll notice that you see a whole lot of anti-Obama posts and ads, and less pro-McCain stuff. The reason why is simple: The right-wing base is full of zeal, but it's not in support for McCain, rather it's in total opposition to Obama. They hate his guts, and are willing to put aside their issues with McCain (well, most of them) to see Obama defeated. The right is unified by opposition to Obama.

Now to be fair, most righties are pretty upfront about this, and the Left is hardly different with regards to Bush, but a lot of Democrats really like Obama, and Obama has an easier time getting money from his supporters than McCain does.

Brooks' article mentions that McCain's numbers have gone up as he's gone negative against Obama, and a good reason for this is that McCain has helped to unify righties against Obama. Conservatives seem to think it's a a bad thing for McCain to have good relations with Democrats, so the fact that he's in full attack mode helps him among his base, although it might hurt him among moderates.

In 2004, a lot of Democrats had the mindset of Anybody But Bush, and now the GOP has the mindset of Anybody But Obama. They are unified by opposition.

About That Saddleback Forum Saturday Night...

OK, I'm pretty sure most watched, or at least heard about the Saddleback Forum at Rick Warren's church Saturday night, and the continuing controversies. I watched it, and just had some quick thoughts:

I thought Rick Warren did a good job. He was trying to create a civil discourse with both candidates, and I thought he did that to the best of his ability. As to the debate itself, I thought both did a good job, although as far as getting done politically what needed to get done, McCain did better than Obama. Despite the growing consensus in many quarters, I don't think Obama did that bad, although he did make some missteps. First off, let me say that McCain had some implicit advantages in some of the questions.

I don't mean that there was cheating or foul play afoot (I'll deal with that in a moment), but I think certain questions intrinsically favored McCain. The "gut wrenching decision" question is an example. I've no doubt that Obama wrestled with the decision to support the Iraq war, but that doesn't really compare with the decision to turn down early release from that Vietnamese prison camp. It just doesn't. There's really nothing Obama could've done to counter that, although I find myself wishing he had a better answer. In fact, Obama had no real legislative authority to effect the decision to go to war (Not that settling the moral question in one's heart and mind isn't a serious one), so the effect is diminished slightly. Some may balk at this, but I think he should've mentioned his decision to break with his former church. Surely it would've opened him up to more scrutiny by his opponents, but I take Obama at his word on his explanation of why he left Trinity.

The gay marriage answer was pretty good, although he did stumble through the last part. McCain does get a benefit on the gay marriage, abortion, and the question of judges, because his views on those issues are more in line with those of the audience. McCain is pro-life, and has a 20-plus year pro-life record. It's easier for him to explain that.

Staying on the abortion question, I think Obama's biggest gaffe was the obvious one, the "above my pay grade" answer, to Rick Warren's question. That was a sloppy mistake. I know what he was trying to say (it's up to God), but it came off as evasive, cold, and stupid. I think Ann Althouse hits the nail with her explanation:

Now, let's also look at Rick Warren's rhetoric. He asked, after a preface about abortion, "when does a baby get human rights in your view?" And, most obviously, his use of "baby" instead of "fetus" or at least "unborn baby" conveys a lot of opinion. But look at what else Warren is doing. He is not asking when does life begin?, a question that is much more susceptible to Obama's answer that only God knows. Warren is asking when do rights begin? That makes it a legal question. And Warren even appends the phrase "in your view."

So Obama's answer — that it's not for him to say — is inapt. Obama answered the question he expected to hear. But Warren had the wit to frame the question in terms of a legal opinion that Obama was fully equipped to give. When does the baby have legal rights?

Exactly. Warren was prepared, and asked a question Obama apparently wasn't ready for. Obama answered the question he either thought was asked, or thought should be asked, and missed it on this one. Warren himself expounds on Obama's answer(link via Althouse):

No. I think he needed to be more specific on that. I happen to disagree with Barack on that. Like I said, he's a friend. But to me, I would not want to die and get before God one day and go, 'Oh, sorry, I didn't take the time to figure out' because if I was wrong then it had severe implications to my leadership if I had the ability to do something about it. He should either say, 'No scientifically, I do not believe it's a human being until X' or whatever it is or to say, 'Yes, I believe it is a human being at X point,' whether it's conception or anything else. But to just say 'I don't know' on the most divisive issue in America is not a clear enough answer for me.

Nope, not clear enough at all.

However, as I saw it, those were his only major gaffes. I do think he had a different attitude about the debate than McCain did, that may count as a mistake. I do think some of his answers, particularly his foreign policy answers, were a but too abstract and philosophic, while McCain went directly to policy and specifics. When asked about evil, McCain went directly to 9/11 and al-qaeda. McCain mentioned Russia and Georgia. McCain sounded forceful on those answers. Obama's answers weren't bad, it's just that McCain seemed to keep the focus on the issues at hand. I still hesitate somewhat to call this a mistake on Obama's part, as both candidates have different approaches, and had different tasks during the debate. McCain saw this as his opportunity to shore up his evangelical base, and the talk from many righties is that they like what they saw. Obama had to make a good impression with evangelical voters, ans he may have hurt himself somewhat with the abortion answer, and the dis to Clarence Thomas.

Not that most conservatives were going to vote for Obama, anyway.

A quick point about the cheating controversy. I don't believe it. While it's apparently true that McCain wasn't in the "cone of silence," Rick Warren says he took real steps to keep McCain from hearing Obama, and I believe him. McCain says he didn't hear the questions, and I believe him as well. Also, I wonder what difference it would have made. I think those amongst the Obama circles who advance this story aren't helping, as it makes Obama look whiny and weak.

All in all, mistakes included, they both did a decent job. Besides, I think Ann is right when she points this out:

There were many other differences on display at the forum. Compare their answers on abortion and their efforts to put a number on "rich." It's this displaying of differences that matters far more than any conclusions about who won.


ADDED: Sully also misses the point, but Ross Douthat gets it right.

AND: This from Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, on why the dis to Clarence Thomas could be a major disaster.

Friday, August 01, 2008

On the Race Card, And Other Issues

Now I'm sure we're all aware of the latest bit of controversy between Obama and McCain, over cooments Obama made about the GOP and race. For a refresher, Obama said this:

"What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me," Obama said. "You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

McCain took offense, and responded:

"I'm disappointed that Senator Obama would say the things he's saying," McCain told reporters in Racine, Wis. The Arizona senator said he agreed with campaign manager Rick Davis' statement earlier that "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

Obama's camp defended themselves this way:

"Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they're using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign," said spokesman Bill Burton.

Let me say that I think Obama did make a mistake here, as McCain himself hasn't really brought up the issue of race, although Obama himself has, albeit in a different context. To be fair, Obama argued that the GOP would use race as an issue (and let's be clear, there's no other way to really interpret that "doesn't look like other Presidents" line), not that they did, although it's not really fair to make such a prediction without prior evidence. As to patriotism and attendant issues, Obama's on safer ground, at least with regards to the anti-Obama forces in general (less so with McCain specifically).

At the end of the day, on this issue, Obama played the race card.

Changing gears for a bit, there's been much talk about the campaign turning negative. It's a little disheartening, but not at all surprising, as I suspected for a while now that the idea of the candidates not going negative was a fairy tale. McCain has clearly decided to go negative, and if you ask me, it's personal now, as reflected by this now infamous ad, and this new one just put out.

First off, I'm not at all offended by these, but they are negative, decidedly personal, and ridiculous. The Spears-Hilton ad makes McCain look desperate. Some have suggested that there are racist overtones, but I don't see that at all. Rather, it's McCain basically saying Obama is an empty, vacuous celebrity with nothing to offer, like Britney and Paris. There are ways of making the argument I think McCain's trying to make, without taking it to that level. It makes him look silly, and frankly, a little petty.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.