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Archive for July, 2008

We Can’t Handle the Truth

This article is so true!

We Can’t Handle the Truth 
The surest way to create a campaign controversy. 
by Andrew Ferguson 
The Weekly Standard 07/28/2008, Volume 013, Issue 43  


Former Texas senator Phil Gramm ran for president in 1996. He raised $20 million, spent nearly all of it, and won zero delegates. Political observers had long thought such a feat was impossible, and it remains astonishing even in hindsight. Recently we were reminded how he managed to pull it off.

Earlier this month, Gramm gave an interview to the Washington Times in which he asserted that the U.S. economy wasn’t in a recession. We are, however, in a “mental recession,” he said–a loss of consumer confidence, stoked by hysterical media reports, that threatens to tip the economy into a real recession.

This is all true. You could look it up: A recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, and the economy didn’t contract last quarter. But Gramm was pilloried for his factual statement. Before his interview with the Times, it was assumed (by professional assumers) that Gramm would be offered a high-ranking economic-policymaking job in a McCain administration, maybe even secretary of the Treasury; now assumers are assuming he’ll never get such a cool job–especially after he made matters worse by insisting a day later that the fact he had asserted was, in fact, a fact: “Every word I said was true.”

To which the general reaction was: So what? Gramm’s candidate John McCain said that he “didn’t agree” with the fact that Gramm had cited. Clambering down from the high ground of the factual and the objective, McCain slipped himself into the slough of the subjective and the romantic, where politicians and voters now prefer to luxuriate. “I believe that the person here in [the absolutely crucial swing state of] Michigan who just lost his job isn’t suffering from a mental recession,” McCain said empathically. Most of the media reports offered an even bolder response to Gramm. Okay, said David Wright, the reporter who covered the story for ABC, maybe the “economic fundamentals are sound,” as Gramm asserted. “But that’s no consolation to folks who worry about their mortgages and are paying these high prices at the pump.”

In other words: What Gramm said was true, but it didn’t matter. He wins on the merits–he said the economy wasn’t in a recession, and it wasn’t–but he deserves a reprimand anyway. He had stumbled into a zone of politics where you’re not supposed to say something true, and where you get punished if you do.

Have you noticed how big this zone is getting? The political landscape is littered with people who have been castigated, fired, or forced to apologize for the gross infraction of saying something true. Last December the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign, Bill Shaheen, suggested that Barack Obama’s admitted use of drugs as a young man might somehow–just maybe–be cited to Obama’s detriment by Republicans in the presidential campaign. He was asked to resign for committing the truth offense, and not a peep, true or false, has been heard from him since.

Charlie Black, an adviser to John McCain, was luckier. He’s still emitting peeps, even though he made an abstract point about the campaign as unforgivably true as Shaheen’s.

Black’s transgression came in an interview with Fortune magazine, when he was asked about the political consequences of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The question itself was kind of tasteless, but Black answered anyway.

“Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” Black said. Most news outlets reported the comment as news, even though it’s hard to imagine that any newsroom in the country employs a single reporter who doesn’t know that Black’s point was true. Yet when reporters informed McCain of Black’s assertion, McCain disavowed it: “I strenuously disagree,” he said.

McCain almost certainly knows that Black’s statement was correct, of course. But McCain also knows how the life cycle of political controversy works: The surest way to quiet a controversy created by saying something true is to say something untrue. Then the general air of insincerity is restored, and we can all calm down.

This was the effect of Obama’s repudiation of his supporter Wesley Clark, the former general and a onetime presidential candidate of Gramm-like ineptitude. In a television interview a few weeks ago, Clark called McCain “a hero to me” and then said this: “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.” It’s hard to disagree with that–which is why no one does, not really. Is there anyone who thinks that every Vietnam-era POW fighter pilot is qualified to be president? How about the ones who didn’t get shot down? How about the ones who got shot down but didn’t become POWs? Where does the presidential qualification lie–in getting shot down, in getting captured, or in just being a fighter pilot?

People were too mad at Clark to take the time to ask such questions. The reaction was so hostile and immediate that Obama repudiated his supporter the next day. In a speech, Obama chose to rephrase Clark’s statement into a statement Clark hadn’t made, and then to disavow it boldly, courageously, forthrightly. “No one,” said Obama, eyes flashing, “should ever devalue [McCain’s] service, especially for the sake of a political campaign.”

Clark hadn’t devalued McCain’s service, of course. He’d just spoken a truth–a truism, almost. For Obama, however, the repudiation of Clark was a two-fer: Not only did he misrepresent what Clark had said–thus pushing the political conversation back toward its usual falseness and misdirection–but he also got to look bipartisan. In this era of raging, vicious partisanship, Americans crave bipartisan misrepresentation.

Nobody, I’ll bet, understands this better than Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 vice presidential candidate who committed the year’s most spectacular example of the truth offense. Ferraro beats out several competitors. These include Austan Goolsbee, an economic adviser to Obama who was criticized for uttering the truth that his candidate will moderate his opposition to free trade once he’s in the White House, just as, historically, all anti-free trade presidential candidates have done. Ferraro tops even Samantha Power, the Obama adviser who made the unmentionably true assertion that Obama, if elected, would “revisit” his campaign pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months.

True, true, all offensively true: but not as unmentionable as the truths that Geraldine Ferraro let slip. “In 1984,” Ferraro said a few months ago, “if my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would not have been chosen as a vice presidential candidate.” True! In the same way, Ferraro said, referring to Obama’s amazing rise in presidential politics, “If Obama were a white man, he would not be in this position.” Double true! Obama called her statement “absurd” and an example of “slice and dice politics”–a charge that would have stung if anyone had known what “slice and dice politics” meant.

Ferraro flailed away in protest at the resulting controversy, growing so desperate that she even agreed to appear with Bill O’Reilly. But she was doomed, and she probably knew it. One voice was raised in defense of her truth telling, though: that of Bob Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television. He’s black too.

“Geraldine Ferraro said it right,” said Johnson: Obama wouldn’t be leading the presidential race if he were a white politician from Illinois with four years’ experience in the U.S. Senate.

Then Johnson lamented the quality of talk in the presidential campaign. “It’s almost impossible for anybody to say anything.”

Listen to this man! He speaks the truth. So you may not hear from him again till the campaign is over.

Obama’s War?

Another conservative’s article I agree with, even though I don’t consider myself a conservative…


Obama’s War?
by Patrick J. Buchanan 
Posted 07/29/2008 ET
“We have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in,” says Barack Obama of the U.S. war in Iraq. Wise counsel.    

But is Barack taking his own advice? For he pledges to shift two U.S. combat brigades, 10,000 troops, out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, raising American forces in that country from 33,000 to 43,000.

Why does Barack think a surge of 10,000 troops will succeed in winning a war in which we have failed to prevail after seven years of fighting? How many more troops is he prepared to commit? Is the Obama commitment open-ended? 

For, without any visible strategy for victory, Barack is recommending the same course LBJ took after the death of JFK. Johnson bombed North Vietnam in 1964, landed Marines in 1965 and built U.S. forces from 16,000 advisers on Nov. 22, 1963, to 525,000 troops in January of 1969. 

Gradual escalation, which is exactly what Barack is recommending. 

LBJ never thought through to the end game: how to break Hanoi, withdraw and leave a South peaceful, prosperous and pro-American.

Has Barack thought his way through to how this war ends in victory and we withdraw all U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan? For this writer cannot see anywhere on the horizon any such ending. 

If the old rule applies — the guerrilla wins if he does not lose — the United States, about to enter its eighth year of combat, is losing. And, using the old 10-to-one ratio of regular troops needed to defeat guerrillas, if the Taliban can recruit 1,000 new fighters, they can see Obama’s two-brigade bet, and raise him. Just as Uncle Ho raised LBJ again and again. 

What does President Obama do then? Send in 10,000 more? 

The Soviet Union, whose 115,000-man army in Afghanistan reached more than twice the size of U.S.-NATO forces, even with the Obama surge, went home defeated in 1988. The Soviet Empire did not survive that humiliation.

Obama — and John McCain, who has endorsed the build-up — should, before committing any more combat brigades, explain how and when this war ends in an American victory. For as of today, the Afghan war resembles Vietnam far more than Iraq ever did. 

Consider. Taliban attacks are up 40 percent this year. U.S. casualties in May and June exceeded those in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus says al-Qaida is moving assets from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Karzai’s writ still does not extend beyond the capital. He is mocked as the “Mayor of Kabul.” Security in the capital is deteriorating. 

For the sixth straight year, the poppy crop, primary source of the world’s heroin, has set a new record. The Taliban eradicated the crop when in power, but are now collaborating with farmers to extort cash to keep fighting.

Most critically, Pakistan has become for the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida the same sanctuary that North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia provided for the Viet Cong and NVA, with this critical difference: We cannot bomb or invade Pakistan. 

The new Islamabad regime is exhibiting no enthusiasm for fighting the Taliban who dominate the border regions and North-West Frontier province and have sympathizers in Pakistan’s military and intelligences agencies. 

Air strikes, to which we have begun to resort, have resulted in wedding parties and families wiped out in their homes on both sides of the border. President Musharraf has even threatened to retaliate against U.S. forces if more of his people become victims. 

Anti-Americanism, pandemic in Pakistan, is rising. 

As for Afghanistan, how do we win a war in a nation of 27 million, the size of Texas, with only 50,000 U.S.-NATO troops? How long will it take us to train, equip and arm an Afghan army that is both loyal to the regime and an effective fighting force against its Pashtun brothers? 

How, ever, can victory be achieved, if the enemy can retire every winter to Pakistan to rest, rearm and prepare new attacks? 

If the Pakistani army will not clean out the border regions, how can we accomplish it with pinprick strikes by Special Forces, or Predators and F-16s, which invariably cause civilian casualties? 

Afghanistan, in and of itself, is of no strategic importance, if it is not a base camp for al-Qaida. Loss of Pakistan to Islamism, however, a nation of 170 million Muslims with atomic bombs, would be a calamity for the Near East and United States. 

Under the (Colin) Powell Doctrine for fighting wars, questions must be asked and answered affirmatively before committing U.S. troops: 

Is a vital U.S. interest imperiled here? Do we have a defined and attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully weighed? Is there an exit strategy? Is the war supported by a united nation?

How many of these questions did Obama ask himself before pledging 10,000 more U.S combat troops to what will surely become, should he win, “Obama’s war” even as Iraq has become “Bush’s war”? 

Sweet Nothings

I consider myself a progressive. So why do I agree with this conservative author in a conservative magazine about Obama?

Sweet Nothings 
A close reading of The Speech. 
by Andrew Ferguson 
Weekly Standard 08/04/2008, Volume 013, Issue 44 


Anyone who wants to understand Barack Obama would do well to stay away from the radio and the TV. Obama is a theatrical presence. That’s what it means to be “charismatic”: To an unnerving degree his appeal relies on sight and sound rather than sense. Better, in my opinion, to stick to the printed word. On paper (or the computer screen) his words can be thought about and chewed over. You can understand him at your own pace, undistracted by that rich baritone, the regal bearing, the excellent drape of his Burberry suits.

The printed word has its problems too, of course. You really need to be on your toes if you’re going to get anything out of a newspaper’s election coverage. You’ve got to tune your ear to euphemism and translate as you go. So last Friday, having missed the television broadcasts of Obama’s speech in Berlin the day before, I read the Washington Post with a cocked ear, and when I saw that the speech was described as “broadly thematic” and “sober and serious” I knew exactly what it meant: a boring speech full of blah blah blah.

And so it was. In the Post as elsewhere, as much coverage was devoted to the speech’s setting–the sprawling crowds and the dramatic backdrop and the tingling sense of anticipation–as to the speech itself. The paper didn’t even bother to print verbatim excerpts, as it usually does with a big-time address. The occasion had been taken as an invitation to deliver a summary of Obama’s view of America’s role in the world. When his handlers decided to schedule a speech in Berlin, they teed up comparisons with the portentous speeches that Presidents Kennedy and Reagan had delivered there.

Instead, in the heart of Europe, before 200,000 breathless admirers, Obama pulled himself up to his full height, lifted his chin, unlimbered those eloquent hands, and said nothing at all.

Obama’s “nothing” is sometimes interesting anyway; there are pointers in the vacuousness, as I saw when I read the full text on his campaign’s website. He began the speech, as he often does, with a summary of his own life history, which elided into a history of the Cold War–mixing the two together, with his customary grandiosity. The history was nicely written up but not news. And the lesson he drew from it was, to be kind, idiosyncratic: The West’s victory in the Cold War, he said, proved that “there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”

This will come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the Cold War or has even read about it. The thing about wars, even cold ones, is that the world doesn’t stand as one; that’s why there’s a war. And in the Cold War the Soviet side was as united as the West; more so, probably. Left out of Obama’s history was any mention of the ferocious demonstrations against the United States in the streets of Paris and West Berlin during the 1960s and 1980s, when American presidents were routinely depicted as priapic cowboys and psychopaths. Probably a fair number of the older members of Obama’s audience had been hoisting those banners themselves 25 years ago.

So if “standing as one” didn’t win the Cold War, what did? Obama didn’t stop to answer, since his own reading of history seems to deny the premise of the question. Instead he hustled on to the present moment. Now, he said, “we are called upon again.” To do what? Presumably to stand as one all over again, in the face of “new promise and new peril.” Included in the latter are terrorism, global warming, and nuclear proliferation. But those perils aren’t the worst of it. “The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.”

The sentence is the heart of the speech and an instance of Obama’s big weakness–his preference for the rhetorical flourish over a realistic account of things as they are. Most politicians share the weakness, and the preference has proved wildly attractive to Obama’s supporters. But think it through: “New walls to divide us” is just a metaphor, a trope. A trope can’t be the “greatest danger of all.” A terrorist setting off a nuclear bomb in London–that’s a danger. A revolution in Islamabad–that’s a danger. A figure of speech is just a figure of speech.

And what will Obama have us do to avoid those nonmetaphorical dangers? He declined to get specific, aside from urging us to “answer the call.” Floating along on a cloud of metaphor and generality allows Obama to do what he wants to do, in the Berlin speech and elsewhere. As a public figure he means to rise above any hint of conflict, and to suggest that problems and dangers dissolve when we “come together.” And coming together, “standing as one,” is simply the logical outcome of every participant’s correctly understanding his best interest. What could be more reasonable?

It doesn’t matter that human affairs never work out this way, no more in domestic politics than in foreign policy. The assumption that they do is what lends so many of Obama’s utterances their greeting-card simplicity and appeal. The effect is almost soporific: “America cannot turn inward,” he says. Check. “Now is the time to build new bridges.” All set to go. “We must defeat terror.” True dat. “Every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday.” Roger. “We must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East.” Go ahead: Argue.

To pump a little vigor into his limp sentiments, Obama attached them to a hypnotic refrain. “This is the moment,” he said in Berlin, repeatedly. But where’s the urgency come from? What’s the rush? In the long train of platitudes he suggested no discrete, definable policy that needed to be adopted urgently, beyond his call to unity, which isn’t a policy but an aspiration. You get the idea that the urgency doesn’t arise from an assessment of reality but from a rhetorical need. He’s got to keep the folks on their toes somehow.

Obama couldn’t come to Berlin and deliver a speech full of portent, as Reagan and Kennedy did before him, and as his publicists suggested he might. For all the talk about this being our time and us being the people, Obama shows no sign of really believing we live in portentous times. This is surely part of his appeal. It’s not surprising that when he came to Berlin and said nothing at all, none of his admirers seemed disappointed. After eight years of overheated history, nothing comes as a relief.

Sign of the times…


Hao-chan seems very subdued today

Instead of hopping all over the place, he would just curl on my arm and go to sleep. I hope he is ok!


(Photos taken with cell phone. Click on thumbnail to see larger.)

On the New Yorker cover

The New Yorker was making fun of far-right loons who have made all sorts of crazy and false claims – from challenging Obama’s patriotism, to claims he is a secret muslim, to Fox New’s ridiculous “terrorist fist jab” remark. The cover was making fun of all that, and showing how crazy all that talk is.

If I were Obama I would laugh and get a copy of the cover signed by the artist. As it is, he ends up looking clueless and humorless.

I hope the campaign comes around and “gets it”.

It certainly is a disappointing election season so far.


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