Saturday, March 8, 2008

Obama likes his pretty tractor

Did he get enough bumper car rides in his youth?

A Clintonista sums up Obama

I particularly like the last paragraph

Barack Obama argues that he deserves the Democratic nomination and Hillary Clinton doesn't because he possesses superior "judgment," as he calls it, on the key issues we face as a nation. As definitive proof he offers one speech he made in 2002 during a reelection campaign for an Illinois senate seat in the most liberal district in the state, so liberal that no other position would have been viable. When he made that speech, Obama was not privy to the briefings by, among others, Secretary of State Colin Powell, in support of the Authorization of Use of Military Force as a diplomatic tool to push the international community to impose intrusive inspections on Saddam Hussein.

Would Obama have acted differently had he been in Washington or had he had the benefit of the arguments and the intelligence that the administration was offering to the Congress debating that resolution? During the 2002-2003 timeframe, he was a minor local official uninvolved in the national debate on the war so we can only judge from his own statements prior to the 2008 campaign. Obama repeated these points in a whole host of interviews prior to announcing his candidacy. On July 27, 2004, he told the Chicago Tribune on Iraq: "There's not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." In his book, The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, he wrote, "...on the merits I didn't consider the case against war to be cut-and- dried." And, in 2006, he clearly said, "I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought it was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of US intelligence. And for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices."

I was involved in that debate in every step of the effort to prevent this senseless war and I profoundly resent Obama's distortion of George Bush's folly into Hillary Clinton's responsibility. I was in the middle of the debate in Washington. Obama wasn't there. I remember what was said and done. In fact, the administration lied in order to secure support for its war of choice, including cooking the intelligence and misleading Congress about the intent of the authorization. Senator Clinton's position, stated in her floor speech, was in favor of allowing the United Nations weapons inspectors to complete their mission and to build a broad international coalition. Bush rejected her path. It was his war of choice.

There is no credible reason to conclude that Obama would have acted any differently in voting for the authorization had he been in the Senate at that time. Indeed, he has said as much. The supposed intuitive judgment he exercised in his 2002 speech was nothing more than the pander of a local election campaign, just as his current assertions of superior judgment and scurrilous attacks on Hillary Clinton are a pander to those who now retroactively think the war was a mistake without bothering to acknowledge Senator Clinton's actual position at the time and instead fantasizing that she was nothing but a Bush clone. Obama willfully encourages and plays off this falsehood.

What should we make of Obama's other judgments in foreign affairs? Take Afghanistan, for example. It has been evident for some time that our efforts there are going badly and that cooperation and support from our NATO allies would be helpful. As chairman of the subcommittee on Senate Foreign Relations responsible for NATO and Europe, Obama could have used his lofty position actually to engage the issue and pressure the administration to take some action to improve our chance of success in that conflict against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Of course, that would have involved holding hearings, questioning administration witnesses, and taking a position and offering alternatives. That is what we expect that from senators in a democracy. It is called oversight.

But, instead, Obama, by his own admission, offers the excuse that he has been too busy running for president to do anything substantive, such as direct his staff to organize a single hearing. "Well, first of all," Obama was forced to confess in the Democratic debate in Ohio on February 26, "I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan." To date, his subcommittee has held no policy hearings at all -- none. At the same time that Obama claimed he was too busy campaigning to do anything substantive, racking up one of the worst attendance records in the Senate, Senator Clinton chaired extensive hearings of the Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health and attended many others as a member of the Armed Service Committee.

As a consequence of Obama's dereliction of duty on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a feckless administration has had absolutely no oversight as it careens from disaster to disaster in Afghanistan, including the central governments loss of control over 70 percent of the country and yet another bumper crop of opium to fuel the efforts of the Taliban and their terrorist allies. Of course, if you don't hold hearings, conduct oversight, make recommendations or sponsor legislation, then you have no record to explain or defend and you are free to take whatever position is convenient when attacking those who actually did address issues. Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Obama holds forth on Afghanistan, chiding the administration and our allies as though he's a profile in courage and not someone who has abandoned his post in establishing accountability.

On Iran and the question of designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, the junior senator from Illinois was not quite so clever at avoiding taking a position. He first co-sponsored the "Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007," which contained explicit language identifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. He subsequently claimed to oppose the Kyl-Lieberman sense of the Senate resolution proposing the same thing. Obama's accountability problem here is that he didn't show up for the vote on that resolution -- a vote that would have put him on record. Then he declined to sign on to a letter put forward by Senator Clinton making explicit that the resolution could not be used as authority to take military action. All we have is Obama's rhetoric juxtaposed with his co-sponsorship of a piece of legislation that proposed what he says he opposed.

Obama's gyrations on Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran are not the actions of one imbued with superior intuitive judgment, but rather the machinations of a political opportunist looking to avoid having his fingerprints on any issue that might be controversial, and require real judgment, while preserving his freedom to bludgeon his adversary for actually taking positions as elected office demands. It is hard to discern whether Senator Obama is a man of principle, but it is clear that he is not a man of substance. And that judgment, based on his hollow record, is inescapable.


Obamaholics Unanimous

Now that Barack Obama is closing in on the Democratic nomination, some are wondering whether the media will be tougher in their coverage. There's a better question: is it possible to be any softer? The media writ large have been sounding like they're covering a messiah more than a man. So was Hillary Clinton right to complain that Barack Obama has been more celebrated rather than vetted?

Let's be clear. Hillary Clinton has been the beneficiary of so many cotton-candy profiles and "I Am Woman" honorifics that it's almost impossible that her bad press will ever come anywhere close to balancing out her mountains of puff over the last 15 years. The "rough" press she's been getting since Super Tuesday is merely the political prognosticators noticing she's getting her clock cleaned by 18 to 20 points in a lot of states. Even so, she's still being awarded softball interviews - like the latest in a long series of twinkly Katie Couric gal-pal segments on "60 Minutes."

It's also clear that when it comes to Hillary Clinton complaining about the need for Obama to be "vetted" on scandal stories, we should all fall to the floor laughing. If she thinks she's had a rough scrubbing on cattle futures and travel office cronyism and Whitewater lawyering and Puerto Rican terrorist pardons and on and on, she's living in a parallel universe.

But she's not wrong that the media love's for Obama surpasses their devotion to her. Just start with the way they all flail with outrage when a conservative uses his full name, Barack Hussein Obama. It's not a lie. It's not a distortion. It's his name. Chris Matthews thinks this tactic is "vicious," this "ethnic stuff" is "evil." Keith Olbermann even sneered at his fellow Bush-basher Jon Stewart for making a joke out of Obama's complete name at the Oscars. The "mainstream" media don't just feel Obama's pain, they loudly object to any hostility whatsoever.

Ridiculing Obama's middle name stopped being funny a while ago. But the idea that the Obamaholics on TV can pound the desk and proclaim that these tame middle-name jokes are beyond the pale is utterly ridiculous. Are Olbermann and Matthews really going to claim they've been gentle with Bush and Cheney? Olbermann can suggest Bush is a totalitarian who has commenced the "beginning of the end of America," and Matthews can call Bush a "sadistic murderer," and hope for a modern-day Nuremberg trial, as if the Bushies were the Nazis, and then they have the chutzpah to complain about middle names?

Many liberals in the media object to "whispers" that Obama is a Muslim. On CBS's "60 Minutes," reporter Steve Kroft told Obama that the idea that Obama's a Muslim "popped upon our radar screen all the time." Obama asked: "Did you correct them, Steve?" Kroft said yes. Obama decried a "systematic e-mail smear campaign" that's offensive not only to him, "a devout Christian," but to Muslims because of the "fear-mongering."

Kroft then turned on Mrs. Clinton and pressed her to deny that her campaign was spreading this mangy stuff. Hillary replied that Obama's not a Muslim, "as far as I know." Kroft kept complaining: "It's just scurrilous." But Kroft made no attempt to press Obama on what his actual religious beliefs are, or how "devout" he is in attending services every Sunday. These matters make liberal reporters uncomfortable. What makes them comfortable is trying to convince the audience that their fellow liberal Obama is a heroic victim.

But like Olbermann and Matthews, Kroft has a very flexible, very partisan definition of what is "scurrilous" in media coverage. One week before on the same "60 Minutes" program, CBS reporter Scott Pelley publicized wildly unsubstantiated charges against former Bush aide and strategist Karl Rove, who allegedly sought to ruin the crooked Democratic governor of Alabama Don Siegelman, now in prison. Pelley set up an accuser named Jill Simpson: "Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman...In a compromising sexual position with one of his aides."

Brit Hume of Fox News pointed out the next day that the Associated Press reported that CBS's star witness had never made that allegation before to reporters or lawyers in hours upon hours of interviews and a sworn affidavit. Hume added that Karl Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin said no one from CBS approached Rove to give him a chance to respond to these off-the-wall sex-picture charges.

The dramatic double standard of our media elite - a hyperbolic outrage at any criticism of Barack Obama, even as they insult and smear Republicans without restraint or regret, or evidence - is one reason why it's going to hard to find the audacity to hope for media fairness or balance in this upcoming general election campaign.


Mrs Obama's latest whine

Obama begins with a broad assessment of life in America in 2008, and life is not good: we're a divided country, we're a country that is "just downright mean," we are "guided by fear," we're a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents. "We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day," she said, as heads bobbed in the pews. "Folks are just jammed up, and it's gotten worse over my lifetime. And, doggone it, I'm young. Forty-four!"

From these bleak generalities, Obama moves into specific complaints. Used to be, she will say, that you could count on a decent education in the neighborhood. But now there are all these charter schools and magnet schools that you have to "finagle" to get into. (Obama herself attended a magnet school, but never mind.) Health care is out of reach ("Let me tell you, don't get sick in America"), pensions are disappearing, college is too expensive, and even if you can figure out a way to go to college you won't be able to recoup the cost of the degree in many of the professions for which you needed it in the first place. "You're looking at a young couple that's just a few years out of debt," Obama said. "See, because, we went to those good schools, and we didn't have trust funds. I'm still waiting for Barack's trust fund. Especially after I heard that Dick Cheney was s'posed to be a relative or something. Give us something here!"

First Ladies have traditionally gravitated toward happy topics like roadside flower beds, so it comes as a surprise that Obama's speech is such an unrelenting downer. Obama acknowledged to me that some advisers have lobbied her to take a sunnier tone, with little success. "For me," she said, "you can talk about policies and plans and experience and all that. We usually get bogged down in that in a Presidential campaign, over the stuff that I think doesn't matter. . . . I mean, I guess I could go into Barack's policies and rattle them off. But that's what he's for." In Cheraw, Obama belittled the idea that the Clinton years were ones of opportunity and prosperity: "The life that I'm talking about that most people are living has gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl. . . . So if you want to pretend like there was some point over the last couple of decades when your lives were easy, I want to meet you!"

After the speech, Obama was whisked into the church basement. A clutch of people gathered nearby, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. But when she emerged into the chilly morning air, she didn't linger long with her well-wishers. She can seem squeamish about politicking, put off by the awkward stagecraft of glad-handing and the small-group discussions-Michelle, five or six women, and, as she put it one day in Wisconsin, "five thousand cameras"-that her staff bills as "intimate conversations." But she thrives in large venues. Cindy Moelis said, "The first time she got feedback on being such a wonderful speaker, I think when people said, `Wow, you're really good at that,' she goes, `Why's everybody surprised?' "


There are policy reasons behind the "Hussein" coverup

Is pronouncing a man's middle name tantamount to in sulting him? In Sen. Barack Obama's case, the answer appears to be yes. Sen. Hillary Clinton has already apologized because her allies used the unmentionable middle name - ostensibly without her consent. Last week, it was Sen. John McCain's turn to apologize, because the host of a meeting he attended was rash enough to pronounce the seven-letter word. The word in question is "Hussein," Obama's middle name and the name of his Kenyan Muslim father. Obama has accepted the apologies as if using his father's name was, indeed, an insult. Why?

Well, "Hussein" supposedly has a negative resonance with many Americans, reminding them of Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator. The fact that the name Hussein means "most benign" or "very beautiful" in Arabic isn't enough to persuade Obama and his pr gurus to treat it more kindly. (Hussein is also one of the most popular names for Muslims, especially Shiites.) Obama's problems shouldn't end there. "Barack" is also Arabic, from "barakah," meaning "blessing." "Obama," meanwhile, is a word in Swahili - a language based on Arabic that serves as the lingua franca of East Africa; it refers to members of his father's tribe who converted to Islam. In other words, "Barack Hussein Obama" is a perfectly common identifier for someone with an ethnic East African Muslim background.

Nevertheless, Obama insists that, while his father and paternal grandfather were both Muslims, he himself was never one in any way. In Islam, of course, anyone born of a Muslim father is automatically regarded as Muslim. But Obama is hardly obliged to abide by what Muslims may or may not think of his religious status. As a citizen of a free and democratic state, he can cross from one faith to anther or have no faith at all without losing any of his rights, including the right to stand for the highest office.

What's troubling about Obama's approach to the mini-storm stirred by his political enemies over his name is what may look like an attempt at obfuscation. He has behaved as if he did have a family secret, and as if the name Hussein was something to be ashamed of - or, worse still, as if a Muslim background is somehow a handicap for an American politician in ways that Christian, Jewish, Mormon or any other faith is not. That, of course, is hurtful to Muslims - a majority of whom reject the anti-American diatribes of the radical and violent minority.

It would've been better for Obama to state the situation clearly at the start:
I was born in Hawaii and spent part of my childhood in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. Half of my family background is Islamic. My paternal grandfather and father were both Kenyan Muslims. My father gave me an Islamic forename and middle name. But my mother was from a Christian background, and I chose her faith.

Most Americans judge a candidate based on his politics rather than his parents' religious background. In a country where everyone has a rich ethnic and religious background, Obama's family story wouldn't have sounded that exotic. Some Americans may have even regarded the Islamic part of Obama's family story as a plus for the candidate, if only because the biggest challenge to US global leadership todayscomes from forces speaking in Islam's name.

Obama's efforts to distance himself from Islam contrasts with his innovative approach to US relations with its Islamist challengers. President Bush has chosen the "iron fist" - invading Afghanistan and Iraq, quarantining the Islamic Republic in Iran, keeping Syria's Baathist regime in check and helping a dozen Muslim states fight al Qaeda or its variants. McCain and Clinton offer variations on the same theme, albeit with twists and turns to satisfy their constituencies.

By contrast, Obama offers a policy of dialogue and accommodation. He has opposed listing Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and proposed a grand bargain with Syria's rulers. He is even prepared to ignore two UN Security Council resolutions that require Iran to stop its uranium-enrichment program as a precondition for talks at the highest level. He has campaigned for a formal congressional move to prevent Bush from taking any military action against Tehran.

In an important symbolic move designed to signal an end of the special relationship between Israel and America, Obama has become the first major presidential candidate in 25 years not to commit himself to transferring the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Last but not least, Obama has promised to withdraw from Iraq in his first year in office - meeting a key demand of all radical Islamist forces, Sunni and Shiite.

The message is clear: Obama wants a new relationship with radical forces in the Islamic world while distancing America from its traditional regional allies. In other words, he proposes to reverse policies that have taken shape over more than six decades under 12 successive American presidents. It's this revolutionary idea that deserves to be examined and debated, not the origin and meaning of Obama's middle name.



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