Posted by Pol Observer
The Democratic race is just about over, and not just because of the calendar. I donât think this race is going to make it to the convention.
The last big state primary is tomorrow, in Pennsylvania. In the unlikely event that Clinton loses to Obama, she may well withdraw. Of course, that threat to withdraw is itself a tactic that has worked before in drawing her voters to the polls in Texas and Ohio. If, as seems more likely, Clinton wins narrowly, the race moves on to a block of May primaries with even more delegates at stake.
The last primaries are in the first week of June. And that is where the dynamic changes no matter what happens between now and then. It is likely that the superdelegates, like the referee in a bloody boxing match, will step in and declare a âtechnical knockoutâ by swinging their votes to one candidate. Howard Dean, DNC chairman, wants them to do it now, but I think they will not want to preempt the voters in the remaining states unless there is a dramatic shift in the results.
The other reason that, to me, the end is nigh, is a straw in the wind. As defeat looms, a certain bitterness sets in where previously there had been high hopes. So when Bill Clinton praised older voters for not being âfooledâ by Obamaâs rhetoric (and thereby suggested that younger voters had been fooled), I heard echoes of the former president Bush in 1992, bemoaning how he could possibly be losing to this pup Bill Clinton from Arkansas, and complaining about how MTV was a âteeny bobberâ network.
The other straw is that I donât find myself thinking how Hillary would match up against John McCain. My brain is not accepting information on that question, because it does not compute as likely to occur. I do find myself wondering a great deal about how the fall campaign between Obama and McCain will go, and my guess is that this is a typical assumption right now. I find myself thinking about race and politics these days, and wondering how the experience of Tom Bradleyâs defeat in 1969 and victory in 1973 for L.A. mayor bears on what might be a truly historic election in 2008. It will really be something to see these racial issues, rich and agonizing in their complexity, play out on the greatest political stage in the world. Iâm particularly interested in how the Jewish community will see the campaign.
Some months ago, I would have been equally engaged in the historic question of Americaâs first woman president, a goal I fervently hope will be achieved soon. I understand that many Clinton supporters feel that the chance of a woman being elected president depends on Hillary, now. But I think this is incorrect. There is a tremendous âbenchâ of women politicians ready to move up, especially on the Democratic side. There is a tier of dynamic women governors and senators who are likely to make the jump much sooner than people think. In fact, we might see women in the #2 spot on either ticket, which is a major boost toward the presidency. On the Democratic side alone, there are Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Kathleen Sibelius of Kansas all of whom have won tough elections in red or purple states.
On the other hand, should Obama not win this time, I donât foresee a rush of African American candidates from the wings. Black candidates have had trouble winning statewide elections, the jumping off point for presidential candidates, and even more so in red and purple states. Obama has jumped the pack. Even if he loses, though, he might break the cycle of Democrats turning their backs on those who lose, and he might get a second shot if he does a great job helping state and local Democratic candidates. No Democrat since Adlai Stevenson has had that opportunity.
So letâs see what happens tomorrow in the Keystone State.
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April 10, 2008 | 5:47 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
Is it to be loved, to be feared, or to be respected?
The 2008 campaign provides a good lens for answering that question.
In an annual BBC poll of residents in 23 countries, based on more than 17,000 interviews, we can chart the steady decline of the American “brand” overseas. In 2005, 38 percent had a positive view of the United States, followed by 32 percent in 2006 and 28 percent in 2007. This year, there has been a slight rebound, to 32 percent positive. The Bush administration’s 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the torture pictures from Abu Ghraib, and its general disdain for world opinion have taken a great toll. Even Americans are pessimistic. Of all the countries surveyed, Americans were the second least likely to say that their own country is a positive influence in the world today.
As domestic and international disapproval washes over the administration, they have taken to seeing it as a compliment or a sign of strength. White House press secretary Dana Perino argues that when you do important things that are hard, people do not like you. This is nonsense. Most people simply don’t like to be bullied or ignored.
If Israel itself had to win a popularity contest around the world, it would be in trouble. Ever since victory in the 1967 Six- Day War turned Israel from an underdog to a major regional force, the Jewish state has been demonized, attacked, insulted, and at times isolated. (Never mind that the 1973 Yom Kippur War placed Israel’s very survival in jeopardy.) So it’s not surprising that Israel is one of the least-positively viewed countries in the poll. But what’s remarkable is that there is one nation even more unpopular: Iran. While Iran may aspire to dominate the Middle East, its nuclear ambitions clearly unnerve much of the world and may prevent Iran from playing a lead role in anti-Israel coalitions. Iran’s alienation can also provide an opening for creative American diplomacy in the Middle East.
Whoever is elected president in November will have one great advantage in world opinion: He or she will not be George W. Bush. In modern times, there has been nothing like the antipathy Bush arouses overseas. Presidents of both parties have often been more popular abroad than at home (e.g., Richard Nixon, whose presidency is still revered in China and respected in Russia). Ronald Reagan rattled Europe with aggressive rhetoric in his first term, but ended up rather well regarded as far less warlike than his image suggested. George H.W. Bush was defeated for re-election, but was immensely successful, respected and liked on the world stage. Bill Clinton had his troubles at home, but won plaudits for his peace work in Ireland and his military intervention in Bosnia. Even the Vietnam War caused more distress within the United States than it did overseas. By comparison, the Iraq war has antagonized and energized the hatred of a whole generation of people abroad against America.
The trick for the new president will be to assess where he or she stands relative to Bush. For John McCain, the problem is that in drawing closer to the Bush administration, he may continue its belligerence. This will come as a great disappointment to nations that expect him to be more diplomatic than Bush. Singing “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” is hardly the prelude to a new diplomacy. For the two Democrats, the opposite problem exists: that they will so reject Bush’s foreign policy that they aim too hard to be loved in the world.
Machiavelli wrote that it is better to be feared than to be loved. Reagan used to say about the American role in the world that it is good to be loved, but it is better to be respected. Given American ideals, Reagan’s formulation seems preferable to Machiavelli’s. An America that is well liked and well respected is a great asset for Israel, although a little fear now and then is not a bad thing.
Once the Iraq war winds down, Guantanamo’s prison is closed, and torture is abandoned as American policy, the next president will have a golden opportunity to reshape the Middle East in a way that enhances Israel’s security. This does not mean the reshaping envisioned by the neoconservatives who built the Iraq war on a pipe dream of a host of democratic states in the Middle East all singing Israel’s praises in a chorus authored by the United States.
Back here on the planet Earth, the real scenario probably means talking with Iran,—but with no military options off the table—using Iran’s unpopularity as a wedge to change its behavior. Because of the Bush administration, it is difficult for nations to work with the United States to mix carrots and sticks with Iran. A respected United States, which leads rather than bullies, can do more to change the scene than all the invasions in the world.
April 3, 2008 | 7:04 am
Posted by Pol Observer
“The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrrode such statutes.” Washington Post, April 2, 2008, by Dan Eggen and Josh White, “Memo: Laws Didn’t Apply to Interrogators.”
Suddenly, long-secret Department of Justice legal opinions are dropping out of the sky. The latest two had been written by John Yoo, head of the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel. They are breathtaking in their view of how the September 11 attacks made the constitutional protections of Americans moot, and elevated the president to royal status. The 2003 memo justified torture of al-Qaeda captives because no laws, foreign or domestic, apply to the president when he or she is using his commander in chief role to defend the nation. Yoo even argued that mistreatment of captives is a form of self-defense. Therefore, noboby can be prosecuted for such actions.
In an earlier memo, Yoo argued in 2001 that the Fourth Amendment prohibition of search and seizure without a warrant does not apply to domestic actions of the American military. Huh? What exactly are those actions?
As we debate among McCain, Clinton, and Obama, and look to the future, we are going to need to spend some time on the past. What exactly have we missed here? A group of political zealots, whose leader is not President Bush, but Vice President Cheney, have hijacked the American government and turned it into their instrument. This group is exactly what James Madison meant when he wrote of “factions” that could put their own interest above the public interest, and that is why he and the other Founders favored the separation of governmental powers and checks and balances among them. Others among the Founders, especially George Mason of Virginia, said that wasn’t enough, and demanded a Bill of Rights. Mason’s battle was won, and the Constitution had the three branches of government and was quickly amended to add the Bill of Rights.
The underlying philosophy of American government, though, is the rule of law. The Constitution and its protections are meaningless if laws can be disregarded by those in power. The law applies to all, from the working person to the president. The Founders loathed the monarchical notion that laws are for peasants while the king swims above it all. Now we see that a band of political believers, bolstered by the September 11 attacks, have swept aside all these laws and the belief in law itself to try to create a presidential system in which the only check is one election, when the president runs for a second term. In fact, White House press secretary Dana Perino revealed that view recently when she said that there was plenty of accountability: the 2004 election. The Bush group likes to refer to that election as an “acountability moment.”
The full scope of what was attempted in these years will have to await the end of the Bush administration when more documents are revealed. There haven’t been many heroes in this story. Congress, even under Democratic leadership, has been timid in challenging Bush and Cheney on constitutional matters. Voters have been indifferent to the loss of their liberties, or have bought the argument that they are safer without them. Moderate Republicans have complained privately but have been easily shoved aside by their party leadership. The media have broken some stories in the face of White House pressure, but few have taken on the full scope of the challenge; there’s a Pulitzer to be had for anyone who can show the whole portrait. The ACLU deserves credit for forcing the release of closely held documents.
If there are any heroes in this story, they are to be found in the military. I hope somebody writes their story. At every stage, the biggest obstacle to the Bush crew has been the military lawyers. Think of their courage. Their careers are on the line everyday. They must challenge their military superiors, or even worse, annoy the political civilians driving the train. The Yoo memos had the effect of cutting the military lawyers out of the debate over torture because the Legal Counsel’s views are binding on the Pentagon. The military lawyers were left out of meetings at the Pentagon where key decisions were made. Think about that. These lawyers were so dangerous that they had to be taken out of the picture.
Some lawyers have been defending detainees at great professional risk. Since the trials are so blatantly political, they have had to challenge political and military superiors to make the defense’s case. Yet they have done so, perhaps dooming their own careers in the process. Americans should be grateful that somebody is taking risks to protect their liberties.