McCain’s cluelessness on the Middle East

Despite Hillary's ridiculous claims of late that she and John McCain are ready for that 3am phone call and McCain is not, McCain has recently been exhibiting his confusion on the basic state of ethnic politics in the Middle East.  Shia and Al-Qaeda do not work together.  Al Qaeda is thoroughly and radically Sunni.  An excerpt from what my favorite blogs seem to agree is the best commentary on the matter. 

“Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote
his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which
broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from
Iran.

He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country,
was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact,
officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in
Iraq.

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said
he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be
concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training
them and sending them back.”

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has
been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and
receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well
known. And it's unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph
Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered
in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: “I'm sorry, the
Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.””

It's important to be clear about exactly how clueless this is. It's
like saying that some neo-confederate group is secretly funneling money
to Louis Farrakhan, and then having an aide have to whisper: no, no, it's the Aryan Nation; wrong extremists!
It's like suggesting that McCain is making a play for Kucinich voters,
and having to be told that, no, you really meant Ron Paul: wrong losing
candidate! No one who had any understanding at all of Iraq, or for that
matter about the Shi'a/Sunni split and which side Iran was on, would
get confused about this, any more than someone with any knowledge of US
politics would get confused about whether neo-confederates were likely
to be supporting blacks, or conservatives were likely to be supporting
the Socialist Workers' Party. It is exactly that clueless.

At least Hillary knows John McCain is ready to face the problems in the Middle East.  I'm not so sure.

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My day with EJ

Yesterday, the NCSU Political Science department sponsored EJ Dionne as a featured speaker as part of our annual “American Values” lecture series.  Since Dionne has long been one of my favorite columnists, I was very excited that he agreed to come and give two talks based on his new book, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.  From reading his columns all these years, I already knew that Dionne was a smart, thoughtful, Liberal Catholic (like me– well, at least the latter two terms).  After basically spending 10 hours straight with him yesterday, I have to say that he is genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever met.  Virtually, every single faculty member and student he met left impressed by just how down-to-earth and friendly he was.  And, of course, his comments on politics were smart and thoughtful.  I don't have any particularly great insights to share– you can always read the book (or the nice discussion over at TPM Cafe), but I did think it was interesting just how impressed he is by Obama.  It was also really great to overhear the finishing touches put on today's column over the phone.  The strong conclusion:

But in the enthusiasm for deregulation that took root in the late
1970s, flowered in the Reagan era and reached its apogee in the second
Bush years, we forgot the lesson that government needs to keep a
careful watch on what capitalists do. Of course, some deregulation can
be salutary, and the market system is, on balance, a wondrous
instrument — when it works. But the free market is just that: an
instrument, not a principle.

In 1996, back when he was a Republican senator from Maine, William Cohen told me: “We have been saying for so long that government is the enemy. Government is the enemy until you need a friend.”

So now the bailouts begin, and Wall Street usefully might feel a bit
of gratitude, perhaps by being willing to have the wealthy foot some of
the bill or to acknowledge that while its denizens were getting rich, a
lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance. I'm waiting.

So, if you haven't been reading Dionne's columns, but you like my blog, give it a try.  He has probably influenced my political views as much as any political writer out there.  And, he's a damn nice guy.

Bush to Americans: More smog is good

In what should come as a surprise to absolutely no intelligent person who has followed Bush's presidency, Bush has overruled the recommendations of EPA scientists in order to allow more smog-causing ozone in the air.  Details:

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA.

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EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to
protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While
their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific
advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday
ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

“It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference
for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air
Act leaves exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment,” said John
Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an absolutely shocking development, administration lawyers are doing their best to pretend that this is all good:

he president's order prompted a scramble by administration officials
to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements
on the harm caused by ozone.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement
warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules
contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court, according
to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence,
administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for
the weakened standard.

Do what you want without regard for the rule of law and then have presidential lawyers reinterpret the law to pretend you are not doing anything wrong.  Just another day in the Bush White House.

Obama’s good news in PA

Hillary Clinton has maintained a solid lead over Obama in Pennsylvania polls, averaging about a 13% margin lately.  Nonetheless, the latest Strategic Vision polls have some good news (courtesy Noam Scheiber). 

11. Who is your choice for the Democratic Presidential
nomination in 2008? (Democrats Only)
Hillary Clinton 56%
Barack Obama 38%
Undecided 6%

13. If the election for President were held
today and the choices were John McCain, the Republican, and Hillary
Clinton, the Democrat for whom would you vote?
John McCain 48%
Hillary Clinton 42%
Undecided 10%

14. If the election for President were held
today and the choices were John McCain, the Republican, and Barack
Obama, the Democrat for whom would you vote?
John McCain 47%
Barack Obama 44%
Undecided 9%

As you can see, Hillary handily wins among Democrats, yet Obama is the superior candidate when the whole electorate is brought into play, Obama appears to be the superior candidate, running closer to McCain than Hillary.  This would seem to seriously undermine Hillary's argument that her victories in Democratic primaries in big states suggests that she's the one more likely to carry them in the general.  As Scheiber puts it, “A poll showing that Obama can get blown out
in the Pennsylvania primary and still hold his own there against McCain
suggests working-class white Democrats simply prefer Hillary, not that
they find something inherently objectionable about Obama, whom they're
apparently happy to support in the general.” 


The ultimate outcome of the Democratic primaries

There's all this talk now of how the Democratic nomination may not be resolved until the convention in late August, but I just don't see that happening. My prediction is that within a week of the last primaries (June 3), we'll know who the nominee will be.  Once the campaign has been run and all the primaries and caucuses have occurred, there's really no rational basis for the superdelegates to wait until the convention before declaring for either Clinton or Obama.  Consequently, there will be tremendous political and media pressure on the superdelgates to declare their support.  Once enough of them do, the nominee will be a sure bet and the other will have no choice but to drop out.  I think that the bulk of the undecided superdelegates will declare for Obama for a number of reasons:
1) I suspect that most that were inclined to declare for Hillary have already done so,
2) Obama will have the lead in pledged delegates.  Even though it is perfectly reasonable for the superdelegates to overturn a very modest pledged delegate advantage– especially when you consider how arbitrary a lot of the delegate assignment is (e.g., Clinton wins Texas, Obama leaves with more TX delegates)–the political ramifications of this would be huge.  I suspect that you would see African-American turnout drop 40-50% in the general election.  The superdelegates realize the Democratic party could not afford that.  Fair or not, there would be overwhelming negative publicity of the superdelegates overturned the “will of the people.”  They are smart enough to know this (I think). 
3) There seems to be a fair amount of evidence that Obama will help out Democrats more in “down ballot” races (e.g., Congress, governors, etc.) in many places, whereas Hillary might be a drag on these races.
4) Obama has consistently been faring much better against McCain than has Clinton in national polls.  Though I think these hypothetical match-ups this far out need to be taken with many grains of salt, it is nonetheless a powerful piece of evidence in Obama's favor.

So, there you have my prediction: 1st week of June Obama becomes the nominee.

Does the drawn-out primary season hurt the Democrats?

There's been a lot written since Tuesday on whether what will now clearly be quite a drawn-out struggle hurts the eventual nominee.  The academic research on the issue essentially says, “no.”  Salon's Walter Shapiro argues that it is good for the Democrats:

But the problem McCain faces is that he still has a faceless
opponent with the Democratic race far from settled. So, in effect,
McCain will be shadowboxing against a vague entity called
Obama-Clinton. The result is that (just wait and see) McCain will find
it difficult to make news since there is no longer any drama to
anything that he does until it becomes time to pick a running mate. The
Project for Excellence in Journalism,
which monitors media coverage, found that last week the Democratic race
generated four times the attention of the Republicans. And that news
blackout occurred when McCain still had a nominal opponent in Mike
Huckabee.

So rather than fantasizing about a soporific and conflict-free
nomination fight, the Democrats should recognize the value of what they
have stumbled into. The contest between Obama and Clinton — this
battle of historic firsts — has the entire nation hanging on the edge
of their seats. Who with any sense of show business would think of
pulling down the curtain when the audience is shouting for more? But,
then, if the Democrats had any sense of what the public craved, George
W. Bush probably would not be in the White House.

Yet, I find the logic of this Ross Douthat post the most compelling:

Rather, the problem is that the party is losing a golden opportunity to
try to put the race away early, the way Bill Clinton more or less did
with Bob Dole in 1996 – by using their enormous fundraising advantage
to rebrand John McCain as a Dole-style loser while he's still
struggling to get his money-raising operation up to par. As Patrick Ruffini suggested
earlier this week, if Obama had finished off Hillary last night he
could have been up with anti-McCain ads all over the country
immediately, forcing the GOP to play defense in places it usually owns
all through the summer. Whereas the longer the race goes on, the less
leverage the Dems' fundraising edge gives them, and the lower the
chances that they can make it get late early for McCain through sheer
dollar-power alone.

Of course, we'll never really be able to know what the impact is.  As I always say in classes (to funny looks), if only we could also see what happens in the Star Trek universe where Spock has a goatee to see how things might turn out differently if the Democratic nomination battle had ended Tuesday. 

The women’s vote

Yesterday's Outlook section in the Post featured a number of interesting essays about women and politics.  Linda Hirshman (who famously wrote an essay essentially arguing that educated women who choose to stay home with their children are betraying feminism) has an interesting piece decrying the fact that while Blacks and men are busy voting their identity (or demography), women are refusing to vote as a monolithic bloc.  She argues, that only if women realized this necessity to vote based purely on gender, can the political oppression of women be overcome and, of course, we get the byproduct of President Hillary Clinton.  This snippet of the essay in particular, really bugged me:

And there we have one of the most puzzling conundrums of the 2008
Democratic contests. Black voters of all socioeconomic classes are
voting for the black candidate. Men are voting for the male candidate
regardless of race or class. But even though this is also a year with
the first major female presidential candidate, women are split every
way they can be. They're the only voting bloc not voting their bloc.

For the Clinton campaign, this is devastating. A year ago, chief strategist Mark Penn proclaimed that the double-X factor was going to catapult his candidate all the way to the White House.
Instead, the women's vote has fragmented. The only conclusion: American
women still aren't strategic enough to form a meaningful political
movement directed at taking power. Will they ever be?

I would strongly argue that the fact that women choose to evaluate the candidates on their merits rather than vote for Hillary in lockstep is a good thing.  Women are a lot more than just their gender and, of course, have myriad personal circumstances that go so beyond their biological sex.  Many of them have made the eminently reasonable determination that this country (and presumably them) would be better served with Obama (or even McCain) as president, rather than Hillary Clinton.  From my perspective, it is this sort of elitist, “I know what's best for women” feminism, that gives feminsim a bad name (and I say this as a publicly-admitted feminist)

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