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January 12, 2008

"Filipino Monkey"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This is getting wierder and wierder

So with Navy officials unsure and the Iranians accusing the U.S. of fabrications, whose voice was it? In recent years, American ships operating in the Middle East have had to contend with a mysterious but profane voice known by the ethnically insulting handle of “Filipino Monkey,” likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps on the net shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets.

Navy women — a helicopter pilot hailing a tanker, for example — who are overheard on the radio are said to suffer particularly degrading treatment.

Several Navy ship drivers interviewed by Navy Times are raising the possibility that the Monkey, or an imitator, was indeed featured in that video.

Rick Hoffman, a retired captain who commanded the cruiser Hue City and spent many of his 17 years at sea in the Gulf was subject to the renegade radio talker repeatedly, often without pause during the so-called “Tanker Wars” of the late 1980s.

“For 25 years there’s been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats,” he said. “He could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship.”

And the Monkey has stamina.

What Good Are Policy Specialists, Any Way?
Posted by David Shorr

I take Ezra Klein's point that major policy moves need the backing of elected leaders, rather than a bunch of wonks, no matter how serious or with how much good faith. But to focus only on the steps that require the votes of senators is to have a pretty narrow view of the process of change.

Apart from legislation or treaty ratification, there also need to be shifts in the terms of debate, and I think specialists of good faith have something to offer here. If a set of duly credentialed conservatives can join in a statement calling on the U.S. to put the terrorist threat in perspective, stop overreacting to it, and place much higher priority on economic development and extreme poverty, I think that's at least reflective of a shift in the political center of gravity.

My own essay on the UN for the Stanley Foundation's Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide project was coauthored with Mark Lagon, a Bush Administration official and former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms. I think the ideas we present are quite different from far-right views that have been so prevalent for so long. I think the remaining differences between myself and someone like Mark offer the basis for a healthier debate and can only help marginalize those who use the world body as a scapegoat and punching bag. Likewise, when Steve Biegun -- another top former Helms staffer, whose coauthor was Jon Wolfsthal of CSIS -- endorses the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, even the Senate headcount is bound to be different from a decade ago. [You'll have to buy the book to read this one, sorry.]

Ezra isn't completely off the mark to note the difference between wonks and politicians (and their televised proxies). Funnily enough, the 'Bridging' project was motivated in part by frustration over how the debate at the political level was disconnected from (and misrepresenting) the views of many of us specialists. 

January 11, 2008

What Is Bipartisanship Good For, Any Way?
Posted by David Shorr

Does bipartisanship on foreign poliicy have anything to offer in an election season? Brian Katulis says not much -- it's time to have it out and let the better side win. Matt Yglesias says consider the source and the content. For me, it depends on what you expect to get out of bipartisanship.

Brian is right that there needs to be a vigorous debate about the recent policy and its consequences. I'm not really worried that this will slip off the campaign radar screen, though. But what we need to realize is that bipartisan can really help strengthen the argument for the major shift in direction we all want and need. Republican disaffection is significant, and it's not limited to Jim Leach and Chuck Hagel.

The bipartisanship I have in mind (and have actually been operationalizing) isn't so much about 2008 but laying the policy agenda ground for 2009. That was the purpose of the consensus-building confab the Stanley Foundation convened in late-November with the express purpose of re-posturing the US toward the world -- and which actually produced a consensus statement (with Brian Katulis as one of the participants).

It's also the point of our book, Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide, about which Matt is more ambivalent. Recently when I was on an Iowa Public Radio talk show (scroll to Dec. 19) with my conservative co-editor Tod Lindberg, he made the important point that these documents tell the next president which approaches and ideas s/he could find broad support for. And that's the other key thing about bipartisanship, whatever the outcome in November the reality of our two-party system is that broad support will be a sine qua non for almost anything important we want to do.

As Brian reminds us, we can't expect consensus on the entire foreign policy agenda. I readily admitted that Iraq isn't a ripe subject for bipartisanship in a post last summer, when I went one round with Matt and Anne-Marie Slaughter on the issue.

No one to call in Iran
Posted by Max Bergmann

It seems pretty clear that the Bush administration is trying to publicize the hell out of the incident in the Strait of Hormuz - posting it on the internet and holding press conferences - to make the case while Bush is in the Middle East that Iran is still a real and present danger. But let's not kid ourselves, these sorts of incidents are very serious. And they are even more dangerous when you have no way of talking to the other side. Fred Kaplan has an excellent run down on the incident in the Strait of Hormuz in Slate.

Many wars over the centuries have been triggered by misperceptions and by escalations from small-scale clashes. As historian Walter Russell Mead notes in an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal, "From the 18th century to the present day, threats to American ships and maritime commerce have been the way most U.S. wars start."

And yet, as Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, told the Boston Glob's Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman on Monday, the U.S. commanders have no systematic way to halt a conflict if it begins to spiral. "I do not have a direct link with my counterpart in the Iranian Navy," he said. "I do not have a way to communicate directly with the Iranian Navy or [Revolutionary] Guard."

Through the darkest days of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow maintained a hot line. During most of those times, there were parallel forums for communication between the two sides' senior officers. Iran doesn't pose anything remotely resembling the threat that the United States and the Soviet Union posed to each other in those years. Here is yet another reason to establish diplomatic relations with Iran. You don't have to be friends to talk.

January 10, 2008

Containing Iran
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, supposedly the President's trip to the Middle East is to push forward on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  But there is no question, that at least of equal or not greater priority for this administration is an attempt to bring in more support from our Arab allies and Israel on a containment strategy for Iran.  Unfortunately, as Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr explain in an excellent article in this month's foreign affairs, containment is not going to work and will likely make things worse.  Nasr and Takeyh describe the Administration's strategy:

Containing Iran is not a novel idea, of course, but the benefits Washington expects from it are new. Since the inception of the Islamic Republic, successive Republican and Democratic administrations have devised various policies, doctrines, and schemes to temper the rash theocracy. For the Bush administration, however, containing Iran is the solution to the Middle East's various problems. In its narrative, Sunni Arab states will rally to assist in the reconstruction of a viable government in Iraq for fear that state collapse in Baghdad would only consolidate Iran's influence there. The specter of Shiite primacy in the region will persuade Saudi Arabia and Egypt to actively help declaw Hezbollah. And, the theory goes, now that Israel and its longtime Arab nemeses suddenly have a common interest in deflating Tehran's power and stopping the ascendance of its protégé, Hamas, they will come to terms on an Israeli-Palestinian accord. This, in turn, will (rightly) shift the Middle East's focus away from the corrosive Palestinian issue to the more pressing Persian menace. Far from worrying that the Middle East is now in flames, Bush administration officials seem to feel that in the midst of disorder and chaos lies an unprecedented opportunity for reshaping the region so that it is finally at ease with U.S. dominance and Israeli prowess.

They then offer a number of arguments for why it won't work  (I'm in a listing mood today if you haven't noticed from previous posts)

1.  Washington's containment wall, which would go across the entire Gulf and the rest of the Arab world (including Israel)  would have to run right through Iraq, only further destabilizing the country.

2.  The Arab World is not monolithic.  For example Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are extraordinarily concerned about Iran due in part to their significant Shi'a minorities.  The UAE and Qatar have been doing business with Tehran for years.  And Egypt and Jordan are more interested in intra-Arab politics and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

3.  Without a powerful Iraqi military the only force that can militarily contain Iran is the United States, but that would require large numbers of troops indefinetly in the region.  Not a good idea.

4.  The linchpin of a unified Israel and Arab state containment strategy is the successful implementation of a Middle East Peace agreement.  That's a tough one and is a massive project all on its own.

5.  And finally my favorite.  "The last time the United States rallied the Arab world to contain Iran, in the 1980s, Americans ended up with a radicalized Sunni political culture that eventually yielded al Qaeda. The results may be as bad this time around: a containment policy will only help erect Sunni extremism as an ideological barrier to Shiite Iran"

Finally, they offer a much more constructive strategy of engagement, which you should go read yourself.

Continue reading "Containing Iran" »

One year since the surge
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, if you haven't figured it out yet, today is the one year anniversary of the President's surge speech.  Joe Lieberman and John McCain are celebrating the fact the surge worked, even as  Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs Mark Kimmitt asserts that there's only a 3 in 10 chance that this will actually work in the long run.  (I actually put the odds at lower than that.)

Over at NSN, we have a piece outlining the lack of progress on the political front as well as a closer look at the dubious "Awakening" strategy.  Brian Katulis and Peter Juul outline four ticking time bombs.   In short form, here are the major concerns.  I've written about them many times before, but it seems appropriate today.

1.  There is still no political reconciliation at the national level or agreement on how Iraqis will share power.  Yes.  Yes.  We've heard this many times before:  political reconciliation, oil law, de-baathification, etc..   Ultimately all of these are the details of what is really a much broader question.  Can Iraqis come to some kind of national accommodation on how to share power.  So far, the answer seems to be no.  And they have been trying for a few years now.   If anything, the situation has gone backwards in the last year.

2.  The dubious nature and sustainability of the "Awakening." 
There are no clear indications that deals at the local level with various Sunni tribal leaders will actually lead to anything other than an exacerbated civil war.   The Shi'a Iraqi central government distrusts these groups, has refused to arm them, and at times there have been skirmishes between them and Iraqi Security Forces.  Meanwhile, the "Awakening" isn't as much a movement as a splintered group.  There is internal fighting for power, as well a struggle between the Sunnis who have been in the central government for the past two years and the tribal leaders who want more influence. 

3.  What about the North and the South?  We have no idea what is going in the South at this point.  Meanwhile, in the North you have major tensions between Kurds and Arabs around Kirkuk that could eventually explode into war.  You have Al Qaeda in Iraq gaining a stronghold in Mosul, and of course you have issues with the PKK and cross border fighting with Turkey.

In all, we are no sitting on a big, splintered, divided, ugly mess.  The basic fundamentals haven't changed and there really doesn't seem to be any strategy for how we might change that situation.  Instead, we are still one catalytic event away (Such as the Samarra bombing) from returning to full scale civil war   

Is it No Longer 1968?
Posted by Michael Cohen

In May 2004, I was riding the New York City subway when I picked up the Wall Street Journal and read and article about the presidential contest between Bush and Kerry and how the issue of Iraq would play in November. The piece quoted a senior administration official (likely Karl Rove) who commented on Kerry's dilemma in talking about Iraq by noting that "It's never stopped being 1968" for Democrats. It's a comment that speaks volumes about Democratic vulnerability on national security and the effectiveness of GOP attacks on the perception of Democratic weakness. For the past 40 years, the image of scruffy anti-war demonstrators (dirty hippies as some in the liberal blogosphere like to call it) has been a useful political tool for Republicans. At the same time, Democrats have fitfully tried to neutralize this political image with often poor results (think Dukakis in the tank or Kerry's lame salute before his DNC acceptance speech in 2004).

But, one of the striking elements from the Saturday debate in NH is the extent to which Democrats seem to be far less self-conscious about the perception of the party on national security. In one of the initial questions in the debate, the Democratic candidates were asked about the supposed success of the military surge in Iraq. None of them took the bait. They all cogently noted (as many of us have done here at Democracy Arsenal) that the initial surge was predicated on political reconciliation and that, of course, simply hasn't happened. Indeed, nearly all the candidates made the somewhat nuanced argument that the recent military success should provide even more impetus to bring the troops home because it will be the only effective lever for getting the Maliki government to move forward with political reform. Certainly, this is more complex take on the situation in Iraq then what I heard from John McCain who claimed Democrats are advocating a "surrender date" and criticized Time Magazine for not making David Petraeus Man of the Year. Indeed, the Democrats all staked out fairly solid middle of the road arguments refusing, neither kowtowing to the media fixation on "success" on Iraq nor playing to the anti-war elements in the party. The lack of posturing on foreign policy and national security was striking and frankly, quite refreshing.

Now I recognize that this was a Democratic debate, but one can't help but get the sense that each of the candidates sees the Iraq war as a political winner for Democrats - and with the GOP candidates all locked in to a reflexive support for the Bush policy it's not hard to disagree. Clearly Iraq was a boon to the party in 2006, but congressional elections are quite different then voting for commander in chief.

Come election time one can expect GOP "cut and run" attacks on Democrats to escalate but this might be the first election in my lifetime (and probably since 1960 or 1964) in which national security is a net plus for Democrats. If Democrats can go into 2008 with the confidence to talk about foreign policy and national security without being afraid of GOP counterattacks we might truly be on the verge of a real political realignment in this country.

Let's Get Started, Mr. President
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

We here at NSN are all in favor of the President making a big push for Middle East peace this year.  We want to help.  He's made a start by trying to big up Olmert and Abbas.  Here's Heather and Ilan's list of five more big projects we need to get started on right away:

1.  Come up with forces to provide security in Palestine, and for Israel, after an agreement.  This probably means UN or NATO monitors.  Better get started asking our allies now.

2.  Wind up Israeli settlement activity.  A major investment of a President's political capital, in Israel and with the American Jewish community, in an election year.  Maybe Karl Rove would come back and help with this.

3.  Find a way to get Hamas to the table.  Maybe it's not the US doing the talking, but Hamas will have to be convinced, at  minimum, not to play a spoiler role.  We'll need to recruit someone (Tony Blair?  France?) to do the heavy lifting on this.

4.  Significant economic investment in Palestinian institutions and business.  This would empower more moderate leaders and disempower Hamas -- and be incredibly hard to get through Congress.  Many, many chits will have to be cashed in to get that through in timely fashion.

5.  Deal with regional spoilers.  Yep, the same people we refuse to talk to about Iraq:  Iran and Syria.  Experts say that Syria is ready to talk with Israel -- and vice versa.  Guess who's in the way?  And Iran's resources can either enable peace or undercut it by empowering extremist groups.

That's a busy agenda for the next twelve months, Mr. President.  Good luck.

Decidedly Uncool
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Sean Duggan points me towards the understatement of the day regarding a Blackwater helicopter dropping CS gas on an Iraqi crowd.

"This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day. “It’s not a good thing to cause soldiers who are standing guard against car bombs, snipers and suicide bombers to cover their faces, choke, cough and otherwise degrade our awareness.”

January 09, 2008

A Surge Against Maliki?
Posted by Shawn Brimley

David Ignatius has an important piece in the Post today on what appears to be the gathering momentum to replace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The bottom line:

A new movement to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is gathering force in Baghdad. And although the United States is counseling against this change of government, a senior U.S. official in the Iraqi capital says it's a moment of "breakthrough or breakdown" for Maliki's regime.

The new push against Maliki comes from Kurdish leaders, who, U.S. and Iraqi sources told me, sent him an ultimatum in late December. "The letter was clear in saying we are concerned about the direction of policies in Baghdad," said a senior Kurdish official. He described the Dec. 21 letter as "a sincere effort from the Kurdish parties to help the government reform -- or else."

The Kurds are upset that Maliki hasn't delivered on promises they say he made to them last summer, when he was trying to stave off an earlier attempted putsch. Maliki pledged then that his government would pass an oil law and a regional-powers law, and that it would conduct a referendum on the future of Kirkuk. None of these promises has been fulfilled, and the Kurds are angry.

The piece goes on to describe some of the possible scenarios whereby a vote of non-confidence could succeed in the Iraqi parliament, and the concerns of the Bush administration, who are sympathetic but worried that a change of government now would jeapordize any remaining hope of positive political movement. 

To me, it seems like this would be a good moment for the Bush administration to finally start using the leverage created by the "unsurge" of American troops to demand that Maliki begin to lead or get out of the way. The Declaration of Principles signed by Bush and Maliki clearly demonstrate that Iraq desires American help, but the U.S. needs to make such help contingent on demonstrable political progress.

Somewhat relatedly, this is part of the reason why O'Hanlon's oped in the WSJ was so poor.  In critiquing Obama on Iraq, O'Hanlon argued:

Mr. Obama's second Iraq problem is his insistence that, whatever happens
there during 2008, he would withdraw all our main combat forces in the
first 16 months of his presidency. Such a message may resonate with
Americans, and particularly Democrats, right now. However, it is
unlikely that centrist voters will support such a policy once they fully
consider its likely implications for Iraqi -- and American -- national
security. Given Iraq's fragile institutions, and the fresh wounds among
its Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, it is doubtful that Iraq can avoid
renewed civil warfare after a rapid U.S. withdrawal.
16 months after Obama might take office puts us in the middle of 2010, which is 2.5 years from now! I would think it unlikely that any centrist voters much less most conservatives would support a policy that keeps approximately 100,000 troops in Iraq through the middle of 2010 - especially on a blank check basis. 

Yesterday and Terrible Sports Analogies
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Michael calls Hillary’s victory the “greatest upset ever.”  Joe Scarborough compared it to the Yankees-Red Sox 2004 3-0 comeback.  That’s crazy.  It was undoubtedly an impressive comeback, but greatest upset ever?  Is Clinton Appalachian St. and Obama Michigan?  Is Clinton Boise St. and Obama Oklahoma?  That’s absurd.  Structurally, Hillary had an impressive campaign, the establishment behind her and the Clinton brand name.  She was ahead a week ago but was undoubtedly behind going into election. 

So, to throw in my own terrible sports analogy.  This was more like Michigan (Clinton) beating Florida (Obama) in the Capital One Bowl.  Florida was the heavy favorite.  But Michigan is Michigan.  They have the program.  They have the talent.  Was anyone truly shocked? 

Another way to think about this is Game 2.  A big comeback.  A historic game.  But still Game 2 of a seven game series.  As an Obama supporter I’d like to think that this is Game 2 of the 2004 NBA Finals.  The young, defensive minded, team oriented Pistons (Obama) came out in game one (Iowa) and clocked the Lakers (Clinton) at the Staples Center.  No one expected that.  In Game two (New Hampshire) the Lakers were on the ropes, down 6 with forty seconds left and pulled out a miracle victory.  But at the end it didn’t help all that much.  The Lakers’ weakness was exposed and the Pistons won the next three games easily.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen either.  But if we're going to use irrelevant sports analogies in our attempts to explain politics, I might as well use one that suits my particular point of view.

The Gender Card?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Very weirdly enough, my first published academic article was on Western feminist discourse toward the Middle East (I have no idea why either). It's probably been two years since I actually wrote that, or even really thought seriously about the state of feminism (what "wave" are we at now?). So maybe I'm missing something, but the criticism of John Edwards for how he responded to Hillary's tearing up strikes me as so genuinely baffling that I'm issuing a plea for clarification. To fill you guys in, Amanda Marcotte threatened that she might shift her support from Edwards to Obama because of, as she termed it, "completely unacceptable amounts of sexism." (Michael lodged a similar complaint earlier today). For Marcotte, former Edwards blogger, to get this steamed, I thought it had to be pretty bad. Edwards' offending comment was:

I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business.

I read this once. Then I thought: am I missing something? I didn't feel my sexism radar go up. So I read it twice and three times, thinking that it might eventually settle in. After sufficiently convincing myself that I had parsed each word carefully, I got confused. Isn't sexism when you treat someone differently on account of their gender? Edwards' comment seems to be the opposite of that. Just think: if Obama started tearing up on the campaign trail, do you think Edwards, or any other candidate for that matter, would have ignored it? No, they would have jumped right in, attacked, and questioned Obama's readiness for the job. Can you imagine if Mitt Romney teared up? McCain would make him into mincemeat, grind him in a blender, and drink it, and chuckle uncontrollably while burping to adoring reporters on his Straight Talk Express.

And last time I checked, male candidates have lost campaigns on account of their crying. Remember Edmund Muskie? He got decimated for his apparent "weakness" because he had the audacity to show emotion on the campaign trail. I'm not an expert on the 1972 race, but I'm told that Muskie's crying was at least one nail in the coffin. It wasn't fair, but I guess that's how political campaigning works.

So, actually, it appears Edwards treated Hillary just as he would any of the male candidates. Isn't that ultimately what feminism was going for - to erase the double standard, and to have women and men treated the same without regard to gender? In short, if men get criticized for crying, then so do women. Edwards applied this standard. While this may mean Edwards is anti-crying, it doesn't mean he's anti-women. On the other hand, though, wouldn't it be sexist if he decided to withhold any comment on Clinton's tears precisely because she was female? As for Marcotte, something else should be said. She is actually going to shift her support because of one isolated comment, as opposed to making her choice based on substantive policy differences? You got to be kidding me.

Women, National Security and Change
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So instead of being triumphalist this morning, I'm going to put up some fun numbers I looked up yesterday about how men and women differ on national security issues.  All from the American Security Project poll this past spring.  Way too much fact-free columnist bloviating on gender issues, including by yours truly on bloggingheads, coming soon.  But here I introduce three intriguing and somewhat counterintuitive actual facts:

1.  Women are more scared than men.  Women are significantly more worried about the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the US, and personally concerned about the safety of their loved ones.

2.  Yet, women are less supportive of pre-emptive approaches and military action.

3.  And they are more supportive of diplomacy and "soft power" than men, despite being more afraid.

This leads me to a meditation about change:  what's it telling us if more than half of more than half of the voting population is heading for the future with hope and fear together?  If they want their fears heard and responded to as part of moving forward with hope? 

Just sayin... 

Winners and Losers
Posted by Michael Cohen

The Big Winner Not Named Hillary or John McCain: Michael Whouley. First he helps win Iowa for Gore and Kerry, now Hillary in New Hampshire. Apparently the guy is good.

Big VERY Darkhorse Winner: On the GOP side, clearly McCain is the big winner, but in a weird way tonight's result kind of helps Huckabee. If it was a two-man race, the GOP establishment would get behind the non-Huckster candidate. But now, it's a three man race. And more to the point, you have to figure Romney will aim his fire on McCain (after all he is the front runner). It might give Huckabee an opportunity to fly under the radar screen and do something in the South.  Plus all the confusion over what happened with the Dems might take some of the luster off McCain's win. I still have my money on PlasticMan, but Huckabee is hardly out of this thing.

The Other Big Winner:  Hotel owners and taxi cab drivers in South Carolina and Nevada! 24 hours ago there was talk of Hillary skipping those two votes. Now we have a race. Of course the real big winner here is all the reporters who get to go Nevada and hang out in Vegas for a week.

Big Losers: Too many to name, but clearly the pollsters and pundits are first, but here's my pick, Bill Richardson. Think he might regret telling his supporters to support Obama in Iowa. The Clinton's have a long memory . . .

Biggest Loser Message: Change. Remember how after Iowa, everyone was getting on the "change" bandwagon; change was the theme of 2008 . . . uh, not so much. Tonight a 71-year old Senator who's been in DC forever (and who won the 2000 NH primary) and Ms. Status Quo herself won. So much for that change thing. You actually have to feel sorry for Mitt Romney here . . . Obama wins in Iowa, Mitt quickly changes tack and embraces change and then change loses in new Hampshire. It ain't easy being a flip-flopper.

The Biggest Creep: John Edwards. First he jabs at Hillary for showing emotion. It was a political attack that was both classless and ungentlemanly (isn't Edwards from the South). Second, after getting pummeled in New Hampshire he insists he's staying in the race. Now I respect Edwards desire to compete, but honestly, the guy has run for President twice - the voters have clearly spoken, they're not interested in what he is selling. Moreover, by staying in the race he is clearly siphoning off "change" votes from Obama. If the guy really wants to defeat the forces of the status quo why is staying in the race and helping Hillary? The dishonesty and cravenness of his campaign just continues unabated.

Most Likely to be Doing Dry Heaves Around 10:45 Tonight: Andrew Sullivan. Do I really need to explain that one?

Best Post-Election Speeches: Hillary was pretty good tonight. She really came across well. I still find her message a bit hard to nail down, but she was confident, happy and she looked like a winner. Obama's speech was great, but I have to tell you, and I might be alone here,  the man needs to lighten up. His earnestness is getting to be a bit much. I know what I wrote the other day about the brilliance of his Iowa speech, but I'm starting to wonder if his uberseriousness is rubbing people the wrong way.

I know he lost, but still you got to smile once in a while. Tell some jokes, have some fun up there. I can't believe I'm writing these words, but when I watched their two speeches again, Hillary actually seemed like the one I wouldn't mind having a beer with, while Obama seemed more likely to give me a lecture.

The dark horse in this category is Romney. I actually thought he was great tonight. He even seemed somewhat human and not the pre-programmed robot he usually comes across as. Don't forget the guy lost by only five points. The Mittser lives!

Worst Acceptance Speech: Mccain. Ugh! John, great primary night acceptance speeches are pretty rarely read from a lectern. Actually, Hillary's speech began to falter when she started reading as well. Do what Obama does guys . . . get a teleprompter.

Biggest Overnight Rehabilitation: Bill Clinton. Today's attack on the press for not scrutinizing Obama's record was classic Clinton self-pity. I love the guy, but it made me cringe. If Hillary lost, it would have been an ignominious way to leave the political arena. Instead some of the exit polling shows he was a boon to Hillary. Seriously, if you want to stop Bill Clinton, you best bring Kryptonite.

Worst Op-ed of 2008: Gloria Steinem. I know the year is young, but it's going to hard to top the drivel she put in the New York Times today. First she argues that women don't get a fair shake in American politics. So what happens  . . Hilary wins New Hampshire and largely because of female votes. But here's the worst part, she won in some measure because she rallied female voters by playing on some of the worst stereotypes of women, namely emotion over strength (which of course Steinem railed against) You know it's a pretty bad op-ed when within about 18 hours of being published you are proven wrong not once . . . but twice.

Most Disturbing Explanation for Why the Polls Were Wrong: The Bradley Effect. For those of you unfamiliar, the Bradley effect describes a phenomenon whereby white voters tell pollsters they are voting for a black candidate, but then when they get in the polling booths vote for the white. I have no idea if this explains what happened. But when the polls are this wrong . . . Of course, tell that to the Des Moines Register.

The Greatest Upset Ever?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Ok, I was wrong, I'm the first to admit it. I thought Obama was going to crush tonight. And yet, even though I was proven horribly wrong, I think this was a great night for America. We're about to have a real national primary in this country; and it's about time! On both sides, the voters, not the pundits will decide. This is a long, long way from being over.

Now here comes a little self-serving justification for the wrongness of myself and every political prognosticator in America. I spent five days in New Hampshire. I talked to voters. I talked to reporters. I talked to campaign staff and volunteers. I talked to the ladies at the Dunkin' Donuts. And no one saw this coming. I don't even think Hillary's people saw this coming.

Moreover, it's not like the last five days were good to her. Obama was hitting on all cylinders (can anyone name a single mistake he's made since Iowa?); her campaign seemed desperate and was flailing; NH has a ton of independent voters, which based on the results in Iowa should have provided a big boost to Obama; tales of internal strife were everywhere and of course practically every national poll had Obama winning going away. If the signs of a miraculous comeback were there, they were damn well hidden.

I think it may take a day or two for this to sink one, but THIS IS THE SINGLE GREATEST UPSET IN AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY. Honestly, there is no precedent for this. This is more stunning then Truman in 1948. That race happened before overnight polling and  Dewey ran a terrible campaign down the stretch. In hindsight there were plenty of signs that Truman would win. In hindsight of the NH primary, I'm hard pressed to come up with the signs we all missed. Sure the debate might have mattered more then we think; Hillary's show of emotion might have helped soften her image, but other than those events there was no outward sign to explain how the polling could have been so wrong. In this race, every single indication pointed to one result on Tuesday night - and the opposite happened! If there is some historical antecedent to what happened tonight I can't think of it. It almost takes your breath away.

January 08, 2008

On the Scene
Posted by Michael Cohen

The mood here at the Obama event isn't as glum as one would expect, but folks here look a bit shell-shocked. No one saw this coming and no one seems to have a good argument for why it happened. But I suppose this is the beauty of democracy; it doesn't really count until the voters have been heard. After five days in which everyone thought Obama couldn't lose (including yours truly) this is a veritable political earthquake; just stunning.

Everyone is talking up the tears effect, but I think Hillary's angered response to Edwards charge that she represents the status quo might have helped too. If you watched that Saturday debate you couldn't help but get the sense that Edwards and Obama were ganging up on her (I also think Obama's snarky "you're nice enough" might not have helped either). Maybe it's the Lazio effect; Hillary looked sympathetic. After Gloria Steinem's somewhat absurd op-ed this morning in the NYT about the anti-feminist element of the race, maybe that's what turned the tide - female solidarity.  My understanding was that the campaign really went after female voters in the past few days. Clearly it worked.

Even in defeat Obama's speech was pretty solid; he talked up the "Yes we can" theme last night, but now it looks like this is going to be the new message going forward. To his credit, he really didn't stray too far from his message. He's still peddling the same line, but there is a real question as to whether it will continue to work. I think he may need to more sharply delineate his message.

It's a whole new race. I'm not sure who's the new frontrunner, but it kind of feels like Hillary.

Continue reading "On the Scene" »

Results vs. Spin
Posted by Michael Cohen

Ok, McCain won, but if you listened to the spin on NBC you'd think the Mittster won.

All the talking heads noted that McCain gave a lackluster speech that seemed to meander -- and whose idea was it for him to read his acceptance speech. It's entirely possible that his speech performance could be the press narrative. On the other hand, Romney seemed relaxed and gregarious in his speech. I know he lost, but I don't think it's terminal. At the very least he's not giving up yet. As usual, the Huckster was quite good in his speech.

As for why the Dems are so tight . . . it's all about the tears.

America vs. Americans - how the rest of the world sees us
Posted by Shadi Hamid

What would a Democratic victory mean in 2008? It's worth considering one additional point (as if you needed more), that isn't often made, at least not explicitly. For a long time, as much as Arabs and Muslims hated our foreign policy, they would still, for the most part, make a distinction between Americans and American policies (former, good; latter, bad). It wasn't as bad in the 1990s as it is now, but let's not pretend that the Muslim world liked our policies then either. But at least, then, they didn't see us as an unfettered force for evil and destruction (no, I'm not exaggerating. As unfair as that may be, that's actually how people view us in the Bush era). It was difficult to hate us - the American people - because Bill Clinton, as the elected representative of Americans, wasn't exactly the kind of guy that easily inspired hatred in foreign lands. Strangely enough, Clinton, today, is one of the more beloved figures on the much-remarked upon "Arab street." I'm pretty sure that every time I've mentioned his name in Egypt, I've gotten big, beaming smiles. "Clintuuuuuuun!" Indeed.

However, beginning in 2004, the distinction between Americans and the American government began to blur. People throughout the world (and not just in the Middle East) began asking an obvious question. Americans had four years of Bush, and yet they voted for him again, knowing full well what he stood for. How could this be? They wondered. If Americans are so good, how did they elect someone so evidently bad? I never had an answer for this, partly because I didn't know the answer, and partly because I think I only actually knew one person who voted for Bush. So, I would plead innocence: "It wasn't me!" That and a sheepish smile would usually do the trick (public diplomacy in action!) Anyway, the anger once reserved primarily for the American "government" or American "policy" began to morph into full-on anti-Americanism. At least that's how I began to see it in my travels in the region. I saw it in the accusatory comments from my relatives and friends. The denunciations of American policy once usually included a disclaimer (of course, we like Americans, but...). After 2004, I was hearing the disclaimer much less often. This shouldn't have been a surprise. Contrary to popular perceptions, Arabs and Muslims know how democracy works: A majority goes to the polls and votes for who it prefers. It follows logically then, that if Bush got elected, a majority of Americans voted for him (50.73% to be exact).

If there is one thing a Democratic victory will do, it will send a very targeted message to those who have begun to wonder whether Americans are on their side, or on the side of blatant aggression and warmongering. It will say: "We have now officially repudiated the last eight years of foreign policy, and we are asking you to give us another chance to show that our country, America, can become what we wish it to be once again - a force for good in international affairs. We have wreaked havoc on the world, but, through the power of democracy, we have seen our faults and acknowledged them. And so we have decided to correct our errors and change course. We will show you something different. This is a new era for not only America but for the world. At the same time, as much as we will change, we will not be - we cannot be - perfect. You will again find fault with us. But, now, with a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, we are moving forward. We want the America of the 21st century to stand on the side of peace, progress, and development. We will begin moving, slowly but surely, in that direction, renewed by a new sense of humility and purpose."

The Preacher's Son
Posted by Shadi Hamid


The Huckabees would also be an interesting first family. His son, David – a fat fellow, who has clearly not been reading Dad’s diet book – was recently stopped trying to board an aircraft with a loaded pistol and was once sent home from scout camp after allegedly killing a dog.

What Brian and Matt Said
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Brian Katulis has a great piece on progressive national security and Matt Yglesias has an excellent addendum. 

A sign that Obama just might be “ready”
Posted by Moira Whelan

Joe Klein has the run down of Barack Obama’s recent efforts to confront the challenges in Kenya, his father’s homeland. He’s done a VOA message, talked to Desmond TuTu and Condi Rice among other things…all in the days and hours leading up to race that would define his political future.

I gotta say, I’m pretty impressed. You can say what you will about politics, but it seems to me that this was one of those things that transcended the Iowa Caucuses for Obama and it speaks volumes for how he would perform and what he expects from himself.

After all, look at what we’ve grown used to: Bush is getting on a plane tomorrow to go to Israel for the first time and to visit the Middle East in his first official trip…after 7 years!

It would certainly be nice to have someone running things who can walk and chew gum at the same time…and has the foresight to do it properly.

On top of that, Kenya is a major story in smallish circles. At a time when even where you buy a cup of coffee is calculated, Obama isn’t chasing the popular issue but is instead bird-dogging something about which he cares deeply and about which he knows has tremendous implications for the region.

Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, this sets the standard for what we should expect of any potential president.

The Mittster
Posted by Michael Cohen

So someone asked me last night who I thought was going to win the GOP primary and while everyone you talk to seems to think McCain is going to win, I couldn't get his utterly uninspiring performance in Concord yesterday out of my head. It wasn't just that he
seemed tired and abrasive, but there was no lift at all in his remarks; zero sense of where he intends to take the country. Even the opening speakers pretty much fell back on McCain's military career as "an American hero" as opposed to offering any sense of what a McCain Presidency would offer.  (In fairness, it's not clear what the Presidency of any Republican would be like, with the possible exception of Rudy "More war" and Thompson "The Return of the Afternoon Nap")

McCain's lead here really feels more like a process of elimination; Romney is a phony; Huckabee is too religious; Thompson is too lazy and Rudy is . . . well Rudy; so McCain just seems like the lesser of several evils. But I'm not sure that's much of a viable message. It reminds me of a great line I once heard Pat Caddell say about the Mondale 84 campaign, simply put "it exists." If Hillary had a problem using the experience argument against Obama, I just don't see how McCain is going to be able to make it more effectively. That and the fact that half the electorate says they won't vote for someone over the age of 70.

Now having said all that about McCain, this is hardly an endorsement for Romney and if anything it would be an endorsement for Huckabee, but I can't help but escape this sneaking suspicion that Romney still wins this thing. If only because this new bogus change message he is running on might actually resonate with voters in later primary states not familiar with his shameless flip-flopping and phoniness.

The irony is that competence and outside the Beltway change is exactly the message that Romney should have run on from the beginning . . . instead he sold his soul to the hard right and made a deal with the devil. Is it too late to get it back; everyone except Joe Klein seems to think so, but with his resources and his determination I stand by my prediction of a Romney victory (which may be the dumbest thing I've ever written on this site!).

As for Huckabee, I think he's being sorely underestimated. Already polls are showing him with a big lead in South Carolina.  Any advantage McCain gets from NH (if he wins) may well be blunted by a good Huckabee performance in the South and as long as Romney is viable after NH, he has the money to and the organization to crush McCain and Huckabee.  Of course, if Romney ekes out a win tonight it could be over; after all the GOP establishment will certainly rally around him if it's between him and Huckabee.

Whatever the case, however, I think the last two weeks have demonstrated the extraordinary fissures in the GOP and the stunning weakness of these candidates. They all have crippling liabilities and outside immigration and terror they have little to run on in November. So for all the current intrigue on the GOP side, I'm not sure it's going to make much of a difference ten months from now.

The Future
Posted by Michael Cohen

There's a great line from rock journalist Jon Landau describing the feeling he had when he saw The Boss perform in concert for the first time, "I've seen the future of rock n' roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen."

Tonight, I went to high school gymnasium in Concord, New Hampshire and I saw the future of American politics. And his name is Barack Obama.

Watching Obama on stage tonight I actually felt sorry for Hilary Clinton. She's a nice woman, a good Senator, a fine public servant, a true progressive . . . but quite simply she is swimming against the tide of history. She's running the right campaign at the wrong time in American history. When you look at Obama, his very appearance seems to embody the message of change - after all he is a black man running for President who refuses to define himself as a black man. As if there is nothing out of the ordinary with a black man seeking the White House; and of course there really shouldn't be anything unusual about it. In a post-partisan world, he is the ultimate post-partisan messenger. For all her positives, when one looks at Hillary it's just very difficult not to think of the partisan wars of the 1990s. It's the double-edged sword of experience; yeah, she's been around for a while . . but that's part of the problem.

I unfortunately missed the Hillary event in Manchester tonight, but in Concord you could absolutely feel the energy in the room when Obama spoke. I've never been to a political rally where the crowd seemed so energized and so excited.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I had this palpable sense that the people in Concord tonight wanted to believe not just in Obama but in the very notion that they can feel pride in their country again. It's a lesson that Ronald Reagan understood in 1980 when he spoke about national greatness. But Obama's message is different and is more reflective of its time. I think I share the feeling of many progressives that over the past eight years we have lost faith in the idea of America, in the sense of hope that government can bring real change. When many of us have looked to government, we have seen nothing that has given us hope and everything that gives us despair. As much as many progressives want to see Bush leave office, they want to believe in American again; they want to have hope again - and in a real sense that's the message Obama is peddling.

I think it's simplistic to simply define Obama's message as change vs more of the same. Change is certainly part of the equation, there is no question about it. But there is something deeper going on here. Going back to Tocqueville, there has long been a idea in American politics that Americanism, for lack of a better word, is a type of civil religion; it is a secular belief system. I don't want to venture too deeply into an exceptionalist argument here, but America is founded of course on a creed rather than a sense of ethnic or religious identity. Belief in the "ideal" of America (while not always realized) is a strong undercurrent in American politics and Obama seems to have put his finger on it. 

His message is not "Change!" it's "Change We Can Believe In."  It's a message with a crucial distinction because it's based on the idea of Americans once again believing in the power to affect real change in this country. There's a good reason why, in Obama's stump speech, he presents this election as a continuum, from the minuteman to the abolitionists, to the union movement, to the greatest generation to the civil rights workers to today. We look back at the Revolutionary War and the ending of slavery and the defeat of fascism and the civil rights movement as great moments in American history; because they represent times when Americans not only affected change, but made a concerted effort to ensure that this country lived up to its founding ideals.  Obama is selling the idea that America can produce that type of change again, but only if Americans are willing to take the leap of faith and believe that it's possible. Indeed, this notion of believing is the climactic element of his stump speech.

Obama's message is not about change; it's about belief in the future and it's about hope. Quite simply, there is not another candidate who seems to get that; and I'm not sure that even if they did, they could sell it as effectively as Obama. If Hillary loses, I have no doubt the long knives will come out; people will blame Mark Penn; they will blame Bill; they will accuse Hillary of being too programmed; but in the end I'm not sure she ever had a chance. She's running against not simply a movement; but the palpable sense of hope and belief in America's revitalization and in its potential that Obama represents.

I think if I was her in shoes, I'd probably shed a few tears too.

January 07, 2008

Moments in punditry
Posted by Max Bergmann

While we pick on political pundits all the time, national college football pundits deserve some serious scorn as well.

I may have to eat some serious crow here, but I am in shock that the ESPN gameday crew almost unanimously picked Ohio State to win. Are you kidding me? This is like a home game for LSU, their defense is healthy, and Ohio State beat absolutely no one (yes they beat Michigan who was without a healthy Chad Henne and Mike Hart). Ohio State lost to Illinois.

(Disclosure --- I am from Gainesville, FL and I am a huge Gator fan, my great grand pappy also graduated from LSU --- so there may be some SEC bias here)

Update: Okay so that was a horrible start for LSU...but remember last year.

More on McCain
Posted by Michael Cohen

Caught a McCain rally in Concord today. Uninspiring is putting it generously. First, I hate to say this, but he looked his age. His voice was shot and he looked really tired. Second, his speech was kind of a mess. He started off by oddly talking about the need to combat global warming. I couldn't tell if this was planned or a response to folks in the crowd who were carrying global warming posters. (Once again, there were more Ron Paul signs then McCain signs; a phenomenon also seen at the earlier Huckabee, "Huckaburger" event. For those of you curious, a Huckaburger is a bison burger on a multigrain bun with bean sprouts . . . I wasn't too sorry that I didn't get into this event).

Next he attacked government spending and then made a joke about comparing Congress to drunken sailors was unfair to drunken sailors. That got a good laugh, but no one in the crowd seemed to make note of the fact that this was an ironic attack coming from a guy who has been in Congress longer than any other person currently running for President. This seemed to be his "change" message of the day, but I can't say it really revved up the crowd.

Finally, he launched an attack on Islamic radicals, extolled General Petraeus (saying that he, not Putin, should have been Time's Man of the Year. In fact, he even made a joke at Bush's expense noting that when he looked in Putin's soul he saw the letters K G B) and claimed that when it came to the Iranians "he knew how to deal with them."  Not surprisingly, McCain praised the troops for a while in an obvious effort to draw a contrast with Romney and his message was, for the most part, boilerplate, GOP rhetoric on the war and terrorism in general.

In the end, I was pretty confused about McCain's message and frankly he came across as a bit angry. All in all, not his most impressive performance. It only reinforced my belief that Romney is going to do better then expected on Tuesday (although I appear to be the only person in Manchester who feels this way).

John McCain's Red Coat
Posted by Max Bergmann

Ana Marie Cox on the trail tried to get McCain to expand a little on his "100 years" comment, but came away annoyed.

What frustrated me yesterday was his refusal to engage on what it would take to make the transition from an occupying force in a country torn by civil war to something less intrusive... and also to address the mixed feelings that Iraqis greet the prospect of perpetual American presence.

She should be frustrated. The notion that a permanent presence of U.S. troops will be readily accepted by a country that has already marshaled a powerful insurgency to eject U.S. occupation is ridiculously naive. McCain, despite emphasizing his experience on foreign affairs, seems to have forgotten about that whole nationalism thing that facilitated widespread and rapid decolonization following WWII  - and which has made any future efforts at old school imperialism impossible. A long term U.S. presence in Iraq is almost guaranteed to spawn a continuous insurgent effort to evict the U.S.

So McCain's strategy is what? To just stay and continue to fight for the occupation's sake? It reminds me of a quote from former Centcom Commander Joe Hoar a few years ago at CAP,

I just finished reading [David] McCullough’s book, 1776.  We’re in there.  (Laughter.) … Yeah, but we have red coats.

Tone Deaf
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Wow!!  Not only is Mike O'Hanlon attacking Barack Obama for 1)  Opposing the war, and 2) wanting to get our troops out of Iraq.  But he's doing it on the Op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal!!!  (Subscription Only)

This is like the trifecta.  If the Obama campaign had begged and pleaded it couldn't have come up with a better example of how Obama's Iraq position stands in contrast with those advisors and experts who supported the war in the first place.  Here are some of the best pieces:

First, he seems contemptuous of the motivations of those who supported the war. While showing proper respect for the heroic efforts of our troops, he displays little regard for the views of those many Americans who saw the case for war in the first place -- even as he has called for a more civil and respectful political debate.

This is unfortunate. Saddam Hussein was one of the worst and most dangerous dictators of the late 20th century. The basic proposition of unseating him was hardly an unconscionable idea, even if President Bush's approach to doing so was unilateralist, arrogant and careless. With our last image of Saddam a resigned figure heading for the gallows, it is easy to forget who this monster was.

He had used chemical weapons against his own defenseless people, as well as the armies of Iran; he violated 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions that demanded his verifiable disarmament; he had the blood of perhaps one million people on his hands; he transformed his country into what Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya famously called the "republic of fear." (Saddam's behavior didn't improve when we tried the kind of high-level diplomacy Mr. Obama favors by sending envoys like Donald Rumsfeld and April Glaspie.)

Saddam's worst may have been behind him by 2003 -- but he was grooming his sadistic sons Uday and Qusay as successors with unknowable consequences. His WMD programs were in limbo, we now know. But before the war even German intelligence thought him only half a dozen years from a nuclear weapon.

Sanctions limited his funds for military programs, but the sanctions were eroding fast in the years before the invasion. Saddam's links to al Qaeda were overdramatized, but Saddam's own record of atrocities against his own people, Iranians and Kuwaitis, as well as his support for anti-Israeli terrorists, were heinous enough.

Yet Mr. Obama consistently accuses those who supported the war of political motivations -- and unsavory ones at that. On Dec. 27, for example, Mr. Obama said in Des Moines, Iowa, "You can't fall in line behind the conventional thinking on issues as profound as war and then offer yourself as the leader who is best prepared to chart a new and better course for America."

A unifying message doesn't have to unify 100% of the county.  It needs to unify the 70% of the country that can be unified.  And 70% of the country thinks the war was a bad idea.

Observations From NH
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today I sort of saw both sides of the political coin here in New Hampshire and it was an interesting experience.

On the one hand when you talk to politicos and those "in the know" there is a palpable sense that Hillary is dead in the water. Not a single person I spoke with seems to think she can come back from this. Part of what is driving this is the creeping air of desperation around her campaign.

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall had an interesting observation that bears repeating:

Through the day I got pitched, formally and informally, by various Clintonites on Obama stories, most of which were almost embarrassing to hear. I don't use these words and phrases lightly or indiscriminately. I find it difficult to conceive of how unprepared her team was for this not-that-hard-to-predict turn of events. What it tells me is that they never really planned for this. And they literally have no idea what to do at the clutch moment. For the now they are grasping for anything and everything.

Just to give an example of this I saw a release sent out by the Clinton campaign that accused Obama of violating NH law because he was calling people on Don't Call lists as well as other picayune campaign violations. For lack of a better word, it was laughable and hardly the type of campaign attack that one could realistically have any hope of swaying an undecided voter. When I saw it, my first response was "desperation" and I wasn't alone.

To be honest, this was hardly the most desperate or even despicable attack I heard about coming from the Clinton folks, but it should give a good flavor of what's going on. To all those people who argue that the press hates Hillary, I think that's too simplistic; one gets the sense that more than a few reporters are a little tired of the unceasing Clinton spin machine. How many years have some of these folks been listening to Ann Lewis, Howard Wolfson, Mark Penn and other Clintonites try to convince them that the sky is indeed, green? I imagine it becomes grating after a while. Back in the 90s spinning about Ken Starr was acceptable, but against a guy like Obama it just seems more ruthless. I'm not a reporter and I could be wrong about this, but that's been my sense.

Now for the contrast. This sort of inside baseball back and forth doesn't seem to be trickling down to the electorate. I was very struck today, talking to Democratic voters, how many of them seemed genuinely to be agonizing about having to choose not only between Hillary and Obama, but also Edwards and Richardson. These aren't voters who are trying to choose between the lesser of two evils. They like several of the candidates; they just can't decide which one they want to support.

Kevin Drum wrote with a slight tinge of bitterness earlier today:

In related news, apparently the flinty-eyed independents of New Hampshire aren't quite as flinty-eyed as they'd like you to believe. After a solid year of town halls, coffee klatsches, and early morning doorbell ringing — because, you know, New Hampshirites take their electoral responsibilities so much more seriously than the rest of us — all it took was a few thousand Iowans to flip them from one side to the other in less than 24 hours. Feh.

But again I think that's a but unfair. Let's face it, supporting someone like Obama means taking a bit of a leap of faith. The guy does not have a ton of experience. So I think for a lot of voters who are deciding between her and Hillary, the Iowa results were sort of the impetus to take that leap. Heck if Iowans think he's a safe bet, maybe we should get on the bandwagon. Moreover, if you look at past results, Iowa doesn't always translate into a New Hampshire victory. Keep in mind, in 1988 George Bush finished third in Iowa (18 points behind Dole) and won New Hampshire. In 1996, Dole won Iowa and lost NH to Buchanan. In 2000 W won Iowa and got hammered in NH. On the Dem side, we had different winner of Iowa and NH in 84, 88 and 92. In defense of New Hampshire voters, I think they take their responsibility, for the most part, pretty seriously. But this year, the choices are not easy, esp for Dems, and I think Obama's win in Iowa has served as sort of confirmation for genuinely agonizing voters in the Granite State. At least that's the sense I've gotten from the admittedly small sample of voters that I've spoken to.

Tomorrow I hope to attend some Huckabee, McCain and Romney events so an update on the GOP side of things is coming soon. However, I'll offer a quick observation - the dislike of Mitt Romney among both voters and politicos alike is just palpable. Now I have met a few Republicans who indicated they are voting for Romney, but for everyone else . . . well the only word that comes to mind is loathing. Apparently the other GOP candidates are not alone!


January 06, 2008

On The Campaign Trail
Posted by Michael Cohen

So a few thoughts on the ground here in New Hampshire. People are sick and tired of the primary. Even the ones enthusiastic for a candidate just want the whole thing to be over with.  Part of me is sympathetic and then I remember that New Hampshire insists on being the first primary state.  These guys have a disproportionate say over who will be the next President; a little pain seems like a small price to pay.

Once again, I’m really impressed with the Ron Paul folks. I just drove through downtown Manchester and there were Paul supporters on every corner with a smattering of Kucinich folks. I’m not sure it will make much of a difference on Election Day, but when it comes to enthusiasm the Paul folks are doing a heckuva job. 

You see spontaneous rallies on street corners and major junctions all over the place. The Hillary and Paul folks seem to be the best at visibility. I haven’t seen a single Edwards or Romney visibility, but of all the Republicans I've talked to, they are all supporting Romney.  I'm sure that means nothing, but I pass it along nonetheless.

I’ve really been trying to check out a Huckabee rally, if only to see Chuck Norris. I make no exaggeration that everyHuckabee event features special guest . . . Chuck Norris. I mean I enjoyed Delta Force as much as the next guy, but this is getting ridiculous.

I’d like to say I have some insights into what’s going to happen on Tuesday based on voter reaction, but alas New Hampshire residents are very tight-lipped about who they are supporting. I got into a fascinating conversation with some folks at a Dunkin Donuts about the Dem primary race and it was clear that a lot of folks on the Dem side are deciding between Hillary and Obama. One got the sense that people wanted to vote for Obama but were still not quite ready to make the plunge. However, if the latest CNN poll is any indication people are moving toward Obama. Apparently his lead is up to ten points.

My favorite story came from an Obama volunteer who said he met one undecided who said he was trying to decide between Obama and Huckabee, but he wasn't sure about Huckabee because he doesn't like "the whole religion thing." I'm sort of befuddled how you could even considering supporting the Huckster if you don't like the "religion thing" but hey, to each his own.

That's all for now. More to come tomorrow!

The JFK Thing
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last night Matt Yglesias had a post where he expressed his mystification with the fascination so many Democrats "of a certain age" have with John F Kennedy.

But from where I sit JFK, um, wasn't a very good president. His signature accomplishment was . . . the Peace Corps? Basically, boomers seem to have taken the Kennedy/Johnson years, attributed all of the Vietnam stuff to Johnson even though Kennedy initiated the policy, then attributed all of the popular domestic stuff to JFK even though almost none of it passed while he was president, and then you get a lot of hand-waving. At some point, can't we act like grownups and let this drop. The Republican hagiography of Ronald Reagan is embarrassing but the JFK business is even more detached from reality.

It bears mentioning that JFK's signature accomplishment was probably resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis without blowing the world to kingdom come, but certainly it is true that Kennedy's achievements as President were threadbare. And a few years ago I would have likely written a post seconding Matt's point, but then I wrote a book on presidential campaign speechwriting and came to see JFK in a whole new light.

The fact that so many Dems of a certain age "idolize" Kennedy is because he was an extraordinarily inspiring figure. His speeches preached sacrifice, patriotism and yes, change. Take a look at this passage from his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for President:

The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook – it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.

But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric – and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me regardless of party.

But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age – to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”

For courage – not complacency – is our need today – leadership, not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously. A tired nation, said David Lloyd George, is a Tory nation, and the United States today cannot afford to be either tired or Tory.

There may be those who wish to hear more – more promises to this group or that – more harsh rhetoric about the men in the Kremlin – more assurances of a golden future, where taxes are always low and subsidies ever high. But my promises are in the platform you have adopted. Our ends will not be won by rhetoric and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves.

This is stirring and courageous language and for millions of Americans, it changed the way they think about politics. This is to not even mention the soaring rhetoric of his inaugural address. Maybe as a younger generation that grew up after Vietnam and Watergate and in the midst of discussions about stained blue dresses we have become cynical about the power of political rhetoric to inspire people . .  and bring real change. But I think for a lot of folks who came of age in the 60s and who saw or heard Kennedy speak, these words and, more important, his youthful and vigorous image stuck with them.  For better or worse the guy embodied political and generational change and I hardly find it surprising that so many Americans who came of age in the 60s were inspired by Kennedy -- even if he didn't accomplish much. After all, us wonks who look exclusively at policy accomplishments are in the minority. For millions of Americans, political image is just as salient if not more. As Obama suggested last night in the Democratic debate words can make a difference; they can inspire people. Never underestimate the power of the bully pulpit!

My mother who would pretty much agree with much of what Matt said about JFK's conduct as President once said to me she knew all his faults, but "we loved him." And I think that pretty much sums it up.

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