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.
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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.
March 28, 2008 | 1:43 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
This blog’s Grand Poobah, Raphael Sonenshein, was a featured guest at the Society of Professional Journalists L.A. mixer/meeting last night, and we have videos to prove it.
Here’s the first of six very dark and poorly-lit videos from the evening. Raphe’s political wisdom shines, however!
Go to Edward Headington’s YouTube Channel for the rest of the evening’s vids.
—The Web Guy
March 24, 2008 | 3:32 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
The current flavor in politics is that Democrats should be extremely worried that their nomination battle is going to doom the party to defeat in the presidential election. I’d like to make the case that all this worrying is a waste of time and energy.
Now let’s remember that modern Democrats are born worriers. They are certain, to paraphrase their not-hero Ronald Reagan, that behind every gift horse must lie a pile of manure. Democratic pessimism is deeply ingrained. Here’s why I think it is wrong headed.
1. The notion that this is an election Democrats should win, but might blow, is wrong. The fact is that Democrats have always had to struggle to win presidential elections. There hasn’t been a true sure thing for Democrats since Lyndon Johnson smashed Barry Goldwater in 1964, and before that you have to go back to FDR. Only one Democrat since 1964 has won a majority of the popular vote, Jimmy Carter in 1976, who barely crossed 50% against an unelected incumbent, Gerald Ford, who had pardoned Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton never beat 50%. Republicans, by contrast, have piled up majorities numerous times. All other things being equal, Republicans should be favored in presidential elections.
Generic polling on the presidential race shows a Democratic edge, at least until you put actual candidates in the mix. And then it’s very close. So Democrats should stop acting like they are blowing a sure thing. It was going to be a challenge no matter what the state of the economy, the unpopularity of Bush, etc.
2. It’s only March. Sure, it would be great if the Democratic race were over, but consider that the campaign has only been really going on in earnest since late January. The election, may I remind you, is in November, several eons away.
3. Sticks and stones may break my bones…. The Clinton and Obama campaigns are saying nasty things about each other. Some of the stuff seems over the top. But then both camps spend days arguing about who is the most over the top. The latest battle is over who is more negative. I’d almost rather hear one of them say, “bring it on, give me your best shot”, and then laugh it off. Sometimes I find the high ground a little boring and pointless. For example, when Bill Clinton implies that only Hillary and McCain are patriotic, Obama ought to just say, “well that’s what people say when they’re desperate. Personally I’m looking forward to taking on John McCain in the fall. If they’re not up to that task, maybe they should get out of the way.”
Politics is kind of colorful and lively, and I wish people didn’t have to spend so much time apologizing for saying wild things about opponents. Democrats ought to spend more time practicing the art of political teasing because they will need it in the fall, and less time trying to win the argument about who is the most appropriate. This excessive sensitivity that is causing Democrats to say they will bolt in the fall if the other one wins the nomination has time to dissipate.
4. John McCain has plenty of problems of his own. Lately, the Democratic buzz is how incredibly strong McCain will be in the fall. The theme is also being pushed by the Clintons, who are trying to both make that point, and then form a tacit alliance with McCain against Obama. Sure, McCain is a strong candidate, with a great image.
And see point #1 above. But he’s got money problems. He just passed the legal limit for spending in the nomination phase despite a statement by the Federal Election Commission Chair that he can’t do that. He’s being hugely outraised by both Clinton and Obama. He’s showing confusion about foreign policy, mixing up Shiites and Sunnis, and seems uninterested in economic policy. Think the economy might be a big issue this year? His spectacularly supportive media coverage is being nicked a bit here and there, and reporters are beginning to show some interest in covering him not as their personal friend but in a more professional way.
5. Republicans are even more worried than Democrats. Republicans think they have a decent chance at holding the White House, and that makes sense. But they are extremely worried about the Congress, facing Republican retirements, a big fundraising deficit to Democrats, and issues that bode poorly for them. For Republicans, holding the White House is critical because they expect to do badly everywhere else.
So Democrats should put away their worry beads, and relax a bit.
It’s a long way to November.
March 21, 2008 | 4:10 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
Today, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama for president. I’d call this a turning point for sure, if all previous turning points hadn’t simply turned out to be wrong turns that take us who knows where.
But it certainly changes the chemistry of this race one more time.
The last few weeks have pushed the Obama campaign to the limit. Hillary Clinton’s case in recent months has been that the delegate count is less important than whether Obama is ready to be the candidate in November or to be the president in January. Nobody gets a free ride at this stage of national politics, here in the semi-finals. The scandal over inflammatory sermons by Obama’s former pastor led to a powerful Obama speech on race that garnered rave critical reviews, but we still don’t know where public opinion will end up on it.
Clinton needs to keep superdegates from moving en masse to Obama, which would effectively end the race. The last few weeks have given her a chance to make her closing argument, and to introduce “reasonable doubt” to the jury. She may even be getting help from Republicans who are being urged by Rush Limbaugh to re-register as Democrats and vote for Clinton to keep the battle alive.
But the refusal of Michigan and Florida to revote their primaries really hurt Clinton, and Richardson’s endorsement gives Obama a chance to refocus. It’s all been about black and white for a few weeks, and that’s a tough conversation for Democrats. Richardson opens the door to Latinos giving Obama a second look despite their strong support for Clinton so far. Mostly, his endorsement changes the subject and offers Obama some desperately-needed good news.
It has seemed for months that the race has been right on the knife’s edge. Clinton seemed done for, and then revived, and then the race thing seemed on the verge of almost knocking Obama out. The odds still strongly favor Obama because of his delegate lead, and it would take a sudden drop in national polls to change that. Like any good competitor, Clinton is “hanging around” meaning that she is in a position to take over if Obama falters.
If the Richardson endorsement is followed by others among the key superdelegates and former candidates, however, today’s events will be seen as the beginning of the end of the race.
Given the pack mentality of many politicians, it would not take many similar endorsements to set off a flood.
March 16, 2008 | 1:48 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
In the 1990s, the political aggressiveness of the Clintons, what some would call “ruthlessness,” was a tonic for Democrats used to being savaged by Republicans in national campaigns. Several weeks ago, Democrats had to face the fact that the Clinton ruthlessness was now being turned inward, against the party that seems on the verge of rejecting them in 2008. This is the significance of the set of comments made by Hillary Clinton praising Republican nominee John McCain in order to attack Barack Obama.
Ruthlessness is a topic of great ambivalence among Democrats. Democrats love to idealize Bobby Kennedy, and seem to think of him as a sort of hippie political poet of the 1960s because he quoted classical Greek poets. Actually, he was one of the most ruthless politicians of his time, and it was only near the end of his life that he was able to transcend that reputation.
Once upon a time, Democrats were a very tough party. Built on working class and rural voters, and with significant appeal to intellectuals, the Democrats could take a punch and throw a much harder one back. Listen to the speeches of FDR, Harry Truman, and Jack Kennedy, and you’ll hear confident politicians who used humor, sarcasm, and political rhetoric to fight, and often win battles.
The takeover of the party by its more intellectual wing in 1972 gave the party a more thoughtful approach, but also a less battle-hardened one. And as Republicans did better and better in national politics, they had an easy time smacking Democrats, who would often respond with “I won’t dignify that charge by responding to it,” or some other such nonsense. It’s a fairly short step to caving into an unpopular Bush administration on national security matters.
The Clintons were a pleasant surprise in 1992. They were tough, savvy, and aggressive. Their campaign manager James Carville pointed out sarcastically that “Democrats have an instinct for the capillaries.” No more. They vowed that no charge would go unanswered. Bill Clinton could level a charge with a smile. They drove Republicans crazy.
Democrats flocked to support Bill when Republicans counter-attacked, and a loyal party base carried the Clintons through the impeachment battle. When Al Gore faced the crisis of his career in Florida in 2000, though, it was back to the “nice guys finish last” model. While Republicans fought the Florida recount like a pitched political war, Gore went to the courtroom. Would the Clintons have fought for every single, last vote and would they have tried to rally the public behind them? Would they have agonized about seeming too tough and calculating and ambitious? You tell me.
But there is one problem with the Clintons and their ruthlessness. Ultimately, is what gives them their strength, their energy not the Democratic party but their own survival? Once, in the 1990s, the two were identical. The survival of the Clintonswas
the survival of the Democrats.
But the Democrats have grown out of that era, and are ready to spread their wings. Now, Hillary Clinton is fighting for every delegate as she has every right to do. If only Al Gore had fought like this for every Florida vote! But she is also scorching the earth as she does so, elevating the Republican nominee and degrading her Democratic confrere. Some day soon, I imagine that the broader, more dynamic Democratic party will pull down the curtain on her campaign, through a movement among uncommitted superdelegates. The turning point may be the comments about McCain.
The Clintons have been great teachers of real political combat to a political party that needs to be believe not only in its ideas, but in its courage and effectiveness in fighting for them. Ironically, much of that party now finds itself fighting the Clintons to break free of their teachers.
(Image courtesy http://www.redstategraffix.com/)
March 11, 2008 | 11:18 pm
Posted by Raphael Sonenshein
“I think you’ll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say. He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.”
This quote from Hillary Clinton stopped me cold.
I’ve been thinking of it ever since she said it less than two weeks ago. I wracked my brain to find a time when a potential nominee placed the other party’s nominee above their own party’s possible nominee.
Well, I could think of two times when it might have made sense. Both were cases of ideological outliers on their way to party nominations. Rockefeller Republicans, ideological moderates, were devastated that conservative Barry Goldwater led in 1964, and many certainly thought Democrat Lyndon Johnson was more sensible. In 1972, many “Scoop” Jackson hawkish Democrats thought George McGovern far less reliable than Republican Richard Nixon.
It wouldn’t have been shocking for Nelson Rockefeller to harbor a greater preference for Johnson over Goldwater (although he never stated it), and the same with the Jackson folks for Nixon over McGovern (more often stated).
But here we have a case of two Democrats whose ideological differences are nearly non-existent. So what could Clinton’s comment possibly mean? it would make more sense to say that she is ready to be commander-in-chief and Obama is not? That at least counts as intraparty debate. It’s the McCain part that stands out.
I have finally decided that this nomination race is really not about two candidates with different constituencies, although that is certainly part of it. I wonder now if this is really about Bill and Hillary Clinton and their complex relationship to the Democratic party.
Let me play this out a bit, and you can tell me what you think.
The Clintons are clearly the most talented and successful Democrats since the Kennedys. Unlike the Kennedys, who rose up along with an ascendant Democratic party, the Clintons emerged in a time of Republican dominance. Although Bill was the candidate, they were certainly a team. Through sheer intellect, determination, and creativity they managed to create a small space for the Democratic party in the midst of a period of intense Republican political power. Their skill was to find a way to adapt to the Republican wave, and by going with it, and reshaping it, to win unlikely victories and even attain some progressive policy change in government.
What drove Republicans crazy was that the Clintons did not offer up a simple target of orthodox liberalism. They improvised, with mixed ideologies, and often got close enough to Republican beliefs to evade full scale destruction. Most of all, they survived. Clinton was elected, and re-elected, and survived impeachment to finish with a high approval rating. With a booming economy, they gave Democrats something to brag about.
Let’s face it. For that period of time, the Clintons were the Democratic party at the national level. Their survival was remarkable. And yet the party was weaker when Bill Clinton left office than when he arrived. Republicans took Congress in 1994, and their power was shown when a Republican Supreme Court handed the White House to George W. Bush without major upheaval.
Gore’s exclusion from the White House and subsequent low profile maintained the Clintons as the party’s leadership. Republicans gained seats in Congress in 2002 and 2004. Kerry’s 2004 campaign merely borrowed the party mantle from the Clintons and moved toward yet another party failure. The less successful the party was, the more the Clintons were its sole proprietors.
Democratic rage at the Bush regime and the Iraq war fueled the first signs of life in the party in the 2006 midterms, which the Democrats dominated. And that set the stage for the possible resurgence of progressive politics and the Democratic party. Since then, party fundraising has skyrocketed with new donors by the hundreds of thousands coming across the Internet. New types of candidates, including Iraq War veterans, won House and Senate seats. The party was coming alive, perhaps for the first time in years.
Did that mean that the Clintons were no longer the be-all and end-all?
These changes meant that the 2008 election would be fought on terrain less dominated by Republicans and their ideas. Democrats might be able to put some distance between the parties and take some solid swings at their own agenda. And had the Democratic field been comprised of the usual suspects of Democratic wannabees, Hillary Clinton might have ridden that wave. But instead she faced Barack Obama, who was built to thrive in this new environment.
Suddenly, the Democratic Party was not a needy, dysfunctional organization unable to win an election. The Republicans didn’t look quite so formidable. The party was changing, and the emotional grip of the Clintons on the party might be shaken. But of course, these changes happen slowly and 2008 turned into an election that painfully illustrated the transition. The skill of getting Republicans into a close clinch and then eaking out a policy victory seemed a lot less appealing than “hope” in this new environment.
It must feel to the Clintons that an ungrateful party is deserting them. After all they have done, shouldn’t they get their just reward? How could party voters turn to a new, fresh face? Is there a sense that if the Democrats do this, then the heck with them?
To be continued . . .
March 5, 2008 | 8:10 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
I was right on the button about Tuesday’s results when I swore that I had absolutely no clue what was going to happen. But now that it has happened, and Hillary Clinton has had a really big night, we can certainly try to make sense of where things go from here.
The main story is no secret. Clinton came off the mat to push back, hard, against Obama, and is back in the race. She’s still the underdog but unquestionably this is a significant momentum shift. If there is a revote in disputed Michigan and Florida, she could pick up a lot of ground. Michigan’s auto workers and Florida’s Jews and Latinos are right now Clinton constituencies.
So much for the obvious…
I like to keep my eyes open for the side story we might miss. One is the role played by the Canadian Conservative party leadership in tripping up Obama in Ohio. A memo suddenly appears (we later find that it was leaked from a top staffer in the PM’s office) that says that Obama’s people dismissed his opposition to NAFTA as pure rhetoric not to be taken seriously. Now nobody asks whether a second hand statement about comments allegedly made by an unofficial Obama aide mean anything. And as the days have gone by, the memo has seemed to be less and less solid. Nobody asked the obvious question: who benefits from the timely leak? My guess is that Canada’s conservatives wanted to derail Obama’s momentum, and if that meant helping Clinton to keep the two-person race going, that’s a two-fer. The memo story hurt Obama badly in anti-NAFTA Ohio, with its strong blue collar base.
Looking back, Obama should have done what John McCain did when the New York Times story on his ties to lobbyists hit: attack the messenger. Who in Canada’s politics wants to derail my campaign, and why? instead, the media treated the charge as solid, and ignored the origin of the memo. Of course, Obama had to wait to see if the story was true, and that was time lost. (Meanwhile, there is a hot debate in Canada over the politics of the memo.n As usual, we are always the last ones to find out what’s going on in our own politics.)
The second thing that stuck out for me in the midst of all this is the odd visit John McCain made to the White House to pick up George Bush’s endorsement. McCain showed up late, and Bush had to hop around (literally) and make conversation until McCain appeared. Then, when a reporter asked how McCain would change Bush’s policies, Bush jumped in and said McCain wouldn’t change a thing.
Did anybody realize that Bush and McCain were writing the Democratic nominee’s campaign commercial for the fall, tying McCain to Bush? Did they think nobody would notice the event, with the excitement over the Democratic voting? Who in the Bush and McCain camps planned this particular fiasco? While Democrats are terrified that the continuing nomination battle will hurt them in the fall, they could draw some satisfaction from this White House visit.
Obama has some work to do over the next few weeks to regain his lost momentum. Being tag-teamed by Clinton and McCain (with Clinton even saying that McCain is ready to be president, but Obama is not) he is going to have to up his game a bit. If he does, he should be able to hang on to win the nomination. Superdelegates who were ready to jump to Obama are now watching warily, and wondering if they were moving too soon. In part, that’s Obama’s audience right now.
Clinton is doing something pretty smart, which is talking up a ticket with Obama. If conflicted Democrats come to believe that they will be two for the price of one, they may find a vote for Clinton to be safe now that Clinton has made Obama seem a little more risky. That’s why Obama has to get moving before that possibility settles in.
I don’t think this extended race is fatal for Democrats. Democrats, born pessimists, are certain that bad things lie around each turn in the campaign. In fact, every state that is voting in these primaries and caucuses wants to be heard, and the turnouts are gigantic. Texas alone was historic in the size of the Democratic vote. My guess is that the worst bitterness will be among the staffs and families of the candidates, and that can be an ugly thing. But it probably won’t reach into the grass roots, where there is still lots of enthusiasm for both. And it’s only March!
This front-loaded nomination process had happened so quickly and so dramatically that it seems as if the conventions are around the corner.
They are still a long way away.