Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama's judgment on Iraq falls short

By Jonah Goldberg

There is one candidate who's been consistently right about the war, and it isn't the Democrat

It looks like the presidential battle between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama will be about one overarching theme: judgment versus experience. And Exhibit A will be the Iraq war. Obama insists judgment is more important. He's right: A wise leader with no experience is preferable to a moron with plenty. Of course, that's rarely the choice we actually face.

The opposing argument is that experience yields good judgment. The battle-scarred soldier, the trial-tested lawyer, the accomplished surgeon -- these people tend to have better judgment precisely because they've clocked a lot of field time. That's McCain's contention. He's walked through the fire and learned valuable lessons as a result.

Obama's camp holds that even valuable experience like McCain's can cause a person to become hidebound and dogmatic. "It is not a question of longevity in government," Obama's campaign manager, David Axlerod, recently told the Huffington Post. "It is a question of judgment, it is a question of a willingness to challenge policies that have failed. And he seems just dug in."

On the surface, this all sounds like precisely the sort of disagreement we should have during an election. The problem is that it doesn't reflect reality. Obama, who was a junior Illinois state senator from a very liberal district in Chicago and a star parishioner of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s Trinity United Church of Christ when the country was debating invading Iraq, would have voters believe that he carefully weighed the pros and cons and concluded it would be a bad idea.

You may be willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. I am not. A far more plausible explanation is that Obama took the position you would expect from him. Just as it never occurred to him that his pastor would be an albatross in a national election, it never dawned on him that he should take a stance other than the one expected of anyone on the far left of the Democratic Party. This doesn't necessarily obviate Obama's bragging rights, but the idea that in 2002 he would have taken any other stance strikes me as unlikely as Wright or filmmaker Michael Moore siding with the pro-Bush camp.

But, even if you want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, it's hard to give him the benefit of the facts. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama said he would "unequivocally" oppose President Bush on the war. But once in office, he voted for every war-funding bill -- until he decided to run for president.

After the invasion, Obama did not favor an immediate pullout from Iraq. On July 27, 2004, the day after he delivered his brilliant keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, he told the Chicago Tribune that when it came to the war, "there's not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." In other words, while he opposed the war, he was now committed to seeing it through. That was hardly the position of and other progressive outfits at the time.

During the long battle for the Democratic nomination, however, Obama's position evolved (or devolved) into a consistent call for withdrawal in order to differentiate himself from Hillary Rodham Clinton. When the Bush administration finally implemented the "surge" of troops last year, it was Obama who "dug in," insisting that it wouldn't work -- and in fact would make things even worse.

By last November, the success of the surge was obvious to all open-minded observers, yet Obama insisted that the gains had come merely in a few "certain neighborhoods." Anbar and Diyala provinces are somewhat larger than mere "neighborhoods." In January, Obama's denial took a new form. During a debate, he suggested that progress was attributable to the Democratic congressional victories in 2006, because Sunnis saw that America would soon bug out.

Meantime, there was the supposedly dogmatic McCain challenging Bush's approach to Iraq nearly from the get-go. In the summer of 2003, in response to the upswing in violence, he called for "a lot more military" in order to win in Iraq. He publicly "lost confidence" in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. In May 2004, McCain told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that "we've got to adjust to the realities of the situation as it exists, and that means doing whatever is necessary and acting decisively."

So that's what McCain was saying while Obama was assuring voters there wasn't "much difference" between his position and Bush's. And now Obama is locked into a position despite the facts on the ground. Obama may indeed have great judgment, but his record shows little experience employing it.


Michelle Obama and Louis Farrakhan Take On Whitey

I learned over the weekend why the Republicans who have seen the tape of Michelle Obama ranting about "whitey" describe it as "STUNNING." I have not seen it but I have heard from five separate sources who have spoken directly with people who have seen the tape. It features Michelle Obama and Louis Farrakhan. They are sitting on a panel at Jeremiah Wright's Church when Michelle makes her intemperate remarks. Whoops!! When that image comes out it will enter the politcal ads hall of fame. It will be right up there with the little girl plucking daisy petals in the famous 1964 ad LBJ used against Barry Goldwater.

Barack may have quit his church but his religious problems are not over. Barack Obama has a Nation of Islam problem that will receive more attention in the coming days. Before Barack came on the scene, THE MAN in his political district was Louis Farrakhan. No one could take Alice Palmer's seat without Farrakhan's blessing. No one. I do not fault Barack Obama for seeking out the blessing of Farrakhan, but the story of what was done behind the scenes to get rid of Barack's predecessor-Alice Palmer-has not been told. A knowledgeable source tells me that Tony Rezko played a direct role in this feat. And Rezko has been tight with Farrakhan.

It also should come as no surprise that Barack hired two members of the Nation of Islam to work on his staff-Jennifer Mason and Cynthia K. Miller. (And no, I am not merely recycling info initially reported by Debbie Schlussel. I have two independent Chicago sources for this info.) If Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger had kept their yaps buttoned none of this would mean much. But the fact that both men have been-until scrubbed from the website in recent weeks-listed as spiritual advisors to Barack Obama and also are very close to Louis Farrakhan, forces the question about Barack's faith and beliefs.

In probing those matters we begin to understand that the Nation of Islam has been a critical component of Barack Obama's base of support. And, I am told, Louis Farrakhan has been careful to use Tony Rezko as the intermediary in his relationship with Barack. This is not guilt by association, this is guilt because of actual relationship. Farrakhan, Wright, and Pfleger are each on tape in various settings spewing the most vile racists garbage in the guise of preaching. Barack Obama, up to this point, has tried to pretend he had no idea that these men had these thoughts or said these things.

NONSENSE!! He knew and he knows. And the gig will be up when the Michelle tape hits the airwaves. One source described how this tape was acquired. Let's just say that one of the republican candidates who is no longer in the race, but had a dandy oppo research capability, uncovered this gem. If Republican poohbahs have their way the tape will remain on ice until October. But when it comes out, Barack will be permanently branded with the Nation of Islam. That's not a winning platform in November. And Barack's bundlers understand this threat. I also have learned some major financial backers are asking the Barack team about the tape and are being stonewalled. It is a wild card in the political campaign that has not yet played out.


Drudge backing Obama

"May 19 was a fairly typical day in the recent life of the Drudge Report. There was a breathtaking picture of Sen. Barack Obama's rally in Portland, Ore., framed by the words "AS FAR AS CAMERA'S EYE CAN SEE . THE OBAMA MASS." And there was thinly veiled mockery of two other candidates: "Clinton Sits Through Sermon About Adultery," was one headline. "State GOP chair: McCain `kind of like Jesus,'" was another, closely followed by "McCain's national finance co-chair exits over lobbyist ties ."

The day, and the weeks before and since, capture what may be the most striking new feature of the 2008 media landscape. Matt Drudge has upended the conventional wisdom that he and his powerful online vehicle are stalwarts of the conservative message machine. After skewering Al Gore and lampooning John Kerry, he's emerged as an unreliable ally for the GOP, while trumpeting Obama's victories and shrugging at his scandals.

"It's clear to us that Barack Obama has won the Drudge Primary, and it's one of the most important primaries in this process," conceded a senior aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also acknowledged that Drudge's treatment of Obama could make the Illinois senator more electable in November.

Now, as Obama and Sen. John McCain look toward the fall, Drudge has emerged unexpectedly as more of a threat to the Republican than to the Democrat. This, combined with the rise of left-leaning sites such as and - both of which have proved effective in promoting and amplifying a Democratic message - reflects a major shift from the last two presidential elections, a matter of open alarm to Republican strategists and surprised satisfaction to Democrats.

"The MSM is already sending love letters to Obama," said a GOP operative who worked for the Bush-Cheney reelection. "That's something that has traditionally been countered on the Republican side with talk radio, blogs to a lesser degree but especially Drudge. If those tools are not part of the Republican vehicle for message delivery, that's crippling."

The Drudge Report is no ordinary compendium of news stories. It is a heavily trafficked gateway to all corners of the Internet, a portal composed of links largely to breaking news from traditional media like The New York Times (as well as newer entrants like Politico). Most of the content is without any obvious ideological attachment. But operatives of both parties have long believed that his choice of links - along with occasional posts of Drudge's own reporting - have reflected a rightward tilt, and they assumed a preference for Republican candidates.

Drudge himself is reviled by many on the left, but his news instincts are undeniable - and he has an uncanny ability to drive the national conversation with what he chooses to highlight on his site. Now, while his links tend to stress the energy and scale of the Obama phenomenon, he has emphasized a particularly damaging aspect of McCain's candidacy: his age.

Age and health are common features on the Drudge Report - everything from Hillary Clinton's coughing ("Health Scare!") to people with obscure diseases gets a headline - and McCain has fallen victim to this obsession. In April of last year, Drudge featured an image of a dark spot on the head of the Republican candidate, who had previously been treated for skin cancer, spurring a round of media inquiries and speculation on a possible recurrence. The campaign later said McCain had hit his head on a plane. Last week, Drudge excerpted just one portion of McCain's speech on nuclear weapons, but only to dwell on McCain's discussion of America as a "young country."

And then there are the images themselves. "He has a tendency to include photos - he understands the power of visuals," observed a GOP strategist and close Drudge-watcher. "And his photos often played into the worst stereotypes of McCain: cranky, old or nuts - or all three in some." To Obama, meanwhile, Drudge has been admiring at times, featuring the tear-stained faces of Obama supporters with the headline "Screams and Tears of Delight."

More important have been the dogs that didn't bark: Drudge showed comparatively little interest in the controversy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor, ignoring his "God damn America!" sermon for a day after the story of it broke, then linking only to the news that he'd left Obama's campaign. Among Drudge's next scattered forays was the story of a McCain aide who was suspended for promoting the story. Then, with more fanfare, he posted an image of Wright with ... Bill Clinton.

When Obama addressed the story in a major speech, Drudge - uncharacteristically - simply posted Obama's words in full.

He's shown similarly little interest in the trial of former Obama patron Tony Rezko on corruption charges: Again, his first recognition of the story, this January 25, came when he posted a photo of Rezko and Clinton that political sources were circulating. He also paid far less attention to Obama's "bitter" comments than others on the right and most in the mainline media.

Obama's description of his grandmother's racial bias as that of a "typical white person" - which might have been classic fodder for a site that relishes the controversial statements and rhetorical stubbed toes of politicians - never made the Drudge Report.

Explanations vary for Drudge's apparent embrace of Obama and coolness to McCain - as do answers to the question of whether Drudge has changed, or whether he's simply responding to a changed landscape and a new set of candidates.

Some Drudge watchers note an ideological element, even if they can't agree on the direction. Drudge's public statements have long suggested that he has a strong libertarian streak, often linking stories detailing the latest developments in video surveillance or encroachments on speech. McCain is no libertarian, and indeed regulating political speech - campaign finance reform - is one of his signature crusades. "A big part of Drudge is libertarian and First Amendment and McCain's not all there," said a top Republican strategist.

Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post is sometimes cast as a liberal alternative to Drudge, views it through a different lens. "He does have a great grasp of the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist has shifted," said Huffington. "What used to be left-wing positions are now solidly mainstream and supported by the majority of the American people."

Others who know Drudge say Obama benefits from the site's bias for a good story, and above all for the Next Big Thing. "I think he is fatigued by Clinton, I think he is invigorated by Obama," said one person who knows Drudge. "He would say that the Obama story is new. If you're somebody who does what he does, you get really sick of the same stories."


You Wouldn't Understand

Post below recycled from JAMES TARANTO . See the original for links

Barack Obama has joined the ranks of the spiritually homeless. Saturday night he held a press conference to discuss his decision the preceding day to quit Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where he has been a proud congregant since his mid-20s.

Obama's decision to ditch Trinity came less than a week after his sometime "spiritual adviser" Father Michael Pfleger visited the Democratic front-runner's church and delivered a racist rant against Hillary Clinton. (We noted it Thursday.) The Chicago Sun-Times reports that "Pfleger is the subject of a documentary being made by Chicago-based David Axelrod, Obama's top strategist." At his press conference, Obama did not say that the Pfleger flare-up was the proximate cause of his decision, only that it "reinforced that view that we don't want to have to answer for everything that's stated in a church."

Obama also said, "I didn't anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny." But how "conventional" is Obama's faith? Back in March, National Review's Rich Lowry quoted at length from the Obama memoir "Dreams of My Father," in which he described the first sermon he attended at Trinity United, back in 1988--a sermon that inspired Obama not only to become a Christian but also to borrow the title for his second autobiography:
The title of Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright's sermon that morning was "The Audacity of Hope." He began with a passage from the Book of Samuel--the story of Hannah, who, barren and taunted by her rivals, had wept and shaken in prayer before her God. The story reminded him, he said, of a sermon a fellow pastor had preached at a conference some years before, in which the pastor described going to a museum and being confronted by a painting title Hope.

"The painting depicts a harpist," Reverend Wright explained, "a woman who at first glance appears to be sitting atop a great mountain. Until you take a closer look and see that the woman is bruised and bloodied, dressed in tattered rags, the harp reduced to a single frayed string. Your eye is then drawn down to the scene below, down to the valley below, where everywhere are the ravages of famine, the drumbeat of war, a world groaning under strife and deprivation.

"It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks' greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere. . . . That's the world! On which hope sits!"

On Friday Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats' 1984 vice presidential nominee and a supporter of Hillary Clinton, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe in which she made an observation for which Obama backers have widely pilloried her:
As for Reagan Democrats, how [Mrs.] Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama's playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They're not upset with Obama because he's black; they're upset because they don't expect to be treated fairly because they're white. It's not racism that is driving them, it's racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don't believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory "Our Time Has Come" they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Just as black racial resentment is in part a mirror of historic racism, the white racial resentment Ferraro describes is in part a mirror of the racism that is at the heart of Obama's erstwhile strain of Christianity. Our best guess, having attended only a handful of religious services in our life, is that a preoccupation with "white folks' greed"--or, for that matter, with the putative character flaws of any particular color of "folks"--is not a part of "conventional Christian faith" as most Americans would understand it. (For more on Obama's "conventional Christian faith," see the Trinity United Web site's explanation of what the church calls "the black value system.")

For a rawer illustration of the point, watch the Pfleger video and observe the enthusiasm with which the congregation responds to the father's fulminations. Obama was part of that congregation for 20 years, ending just three days ago.

In his press conference, Obama observed that "there is a different religious tradition or a worshipping style in some of the historically African-American churches . . . a cultural and a stylistic gap that has come into play in this issue." True enough, but would the exuberant preaching style of Wright and Pfleger (the latter is white but has a mostly black congregation and seemingly mimics the manner of black clergymen) raise any eyebrows absent the invidious substance?

Obama's musings on his former church's "worshipping style" remind us of that old T-shirt slogan: "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand." Ferraro is right to argue that this is a political problem for the Democratic Party if it nominates Obama. A black thing it may be, but "You wouldn't understand" is a lousy campaign theme.

Obama and Manliness

So. Obama has finally parted company with Trinity United, leaving puzzled onlookers with more questions than answers: SO WHY -- AFTER FAILING TO DO SO WHEN IT WOULD HAVE DONE HIM THE MOST GOOD -- did Obama decide to quit the Trinity Church now?

I tend to think Grim has the right of it. This isn't so much a case of political expediency as it is just one more example of how well Barack Obama represents the Democratic Party's utter rejection of traditional masculinity. The man won't fight for anything, even his God-given right to not denounce statements he considers destructive and divisive:
"I'm not denouncing the church and I'm not interested in people who want me to denounce the church," he said, adding that the new pastor at Trinity and "the church have been suffering from the attention my campaign has focused on them."

Okay. This man wants to be Chief Executive of the world's largest superpower, and what he is apparently telling us is that after 20 years of attending a church where destructive and divisive (to use his own words) statements were uttered with regularity, he has just gotten around to noticing a few things:

1. ...what ...I didn't see this as a member of the church but I saw ... yesterday, is when you start focusing so much on the plight of the historically oppressed, ... you lose sight of what we have in common; ... it overrides everything else; ... we're not concerned about the struggles of others because we're looking at things only through a particular lens.

2. When you become famous, and especially when you run for the highest political office in the land, the media will display great interest in all aspects of your life. If you attend an ostensibly tax-exempt house of worship whose celebrants repeatedly make pointedly political statements from the pulpit, chances are the media are going to find their utterances newsworthy.

3. When these political statements occur in the church of a candidate for the presidency, and if those statements are made about his opponent, they are going to be considered twice as newsworthy.

What Barack Obama appears not to have noticed (at least judging by his public statements) is that if a preacher makes political statements in church about race that, had they been made by a white person about a black person, would be considered by any reasonably objective person to be racist, you have a veritable trifecta of newsworthiness. Where he repeatedly keeps missing the clue bus is here: American society has changed to the point where pretty much every white person I know would not feel comfortable staying in the room, were a white preacher to make comparable statements about blacks. People would deal with it in their own way.

There might be complaints. There might be calls for his resignation. Some might just leave the church quietly after the service. What I cannot under any circumstances imagine is a white audience hooting and hollering in open approval of such "destructive and divisive" rhetoric because it was rooted in the "white church" tradition. I cannot imagine the media giving a white politician a pass if he either defended or refused to denounce such words. I cannot imagine the media maintaining that it was acceptable to passively listen to such rhetoric without objecting because it "did not reflect his beliefs".

I do not believe things were always this way in this country. Things changed because this kind of talk was not tolerated. Because it was denounced, just as those who uttered such sentiments were denounced by those who found them 'destructive and divisive'. That is the only reason those people who continue to feel that way to this day do not say those things. They know better.

So what does it say when a man who wants to be President says (on the one hand) that such words are destructive, but that he will neither denounce them, nor those who utter them?

For Barack Obama to say it saddens him when overtly political statements made in a church that enjoys tax exempt status on the understanding that it refrain from political activity receive so much attention betrays a stunning disregard for the role of a vigorous and non-partisan media as well as the laws of the country he will, as President, be called upon to enforce. It also displays a rather stunning lack of foresight.

What on earth did he expect to happen once he began his campaign? Did he seriously think that he would be exempted from the scrutiny other candidates have had to endure? Ironically, Obama got into hot water for Wright and Pfleger's inflammatory remarks about white entitlement; yet he seems to be suffering from a pronounced case of black entitlement: a sense of untouchability attributable to our national squeamishness about race.


Obama & The Social Gospel

By Jonah Goldberg

While I am grateful for all the sleuthing about Obama's ties to Black Liberation Theology and I think it's all relevant and interesting, it seems to me that something is missing from all of this analysis. While Obama may have deep roots in BLT, he doesn't actually talk about it much. He does, however, talk a great deal about the Social Gospel. Indeed, when he was asked to explain his attraction to Wright Obama said,"Rev. Wright's sermons spoke directly to the Social Gospel, and I found that very attractive." Note the direction of the causal arrows.

Now, I don't know enough about Obama's beliefs to know if he actually knows what the real Social Gospel movement was, or even if he really has that in mind when he uses the term. He may use the phrase Social Gospel the same way he (and so many others) uses the word "progressive," i.e. in near total ignorance or indifference to its actual historical connotations. For example, when Obama held a rally at the University of Wisconsin, Madison he proclaimed "where better to affirm our ideals than here in Wisconsin, where a century ago the Progressive movement was born?" Obama seemed not to know or to care that the University of Wisconsin Progressives were almost all racists and eugenicists who might have thought - at minimum - that his parents should have been barred from having children.

So perhaps he doesn't know what the Social Gospel movement is either. But, if we give him the benefit of the doubt, then he does know. And if he does, then I think he should explain that. Obviously, I'm no fan of the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era (it was far more theocratic and "Christianist" than pretty much anything we've heard from the Christian Right in the last forty years). But it should be noted that the collectivist impulses Stan and others are cataloging so thoroughly in BLT are also central to the Social Gospel (and Hillary's roots in, and commitment to, the Social Gospel are equal to, if not richer and deeper, than Obama's).

In other words, Obama's rhetoric of collective redemption through government action is not as exotic as all of this emphasis on BLT would suggest. The Social Gospelers were almost indistinguishable from the mainstream progressives. In fact, it's almost (but not entirely) misleading to talk about the two movements as if they were distinct. Most of the leading progressives were social gospelers and pretty much all of the social gospelers were progressives. For example, nearly 50% of the board of the American Economic Association, were ministers. And the Institute for Christian Sociology was founded by leading progressive economists. The Social Gospel journal Dawn, founded in 1890, was intended "to show that the aim of socialism is embraced in the aims of Christianity and to awaken members of Christian churches to the fact that the teachings of Jesus Christ lead directly to some specific form or forms of socialism," according to William G. McLoughlin, the acclaimed historian of America's "Great Awakenings." Both the planners and the preachers shared in the belief that the state was the means by which society would be redeemed collectively. Members of the Institute for Christian Sociology were sworn to deliver God's "kingdom as the complete ideal of human society to be realized on earth." Obama himself has promised that we can create a "kingdom here on earth." And, of course, he considers himself a committed progressive.

Again, I don't know enough about BLT, though I've been reading a bunch, but from what I've seen from Stan and others, I'm wondering whether Black Liberation Theology is in part a holdout of the older Social Gospel tradition, a surviving remnant from the Progressive era. Much is made of the BLT rhetoric about blacks being chosen people and the like. But that rhetoric was commonplace among Progressives (and German [Aryan] Christian movement, as Spengler notes here and I allude to in LF).

Anyway, I guess the point is that the politicized Christian rhetoric, or Christianized political rhetoric isn't unique to this obscure black church in Chicago or even to the work of black theologians generally. Rather, it is much more central to the progressive tradition generally. As Joe Knippenberg and other's have argued Obama's Christianity is the Christianity of Jim Wallis and others who think God is a welfare state liberal. And while I can understand why many on the right would want to paint Obama as "out there," I'm not as convinced that that's the case. Indeed, I think the more lasting and serious threat comes from an impulse that's much closer to home, as it were.



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