Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Barack Obama is Winning

General David Petraeus deployed overwhelming force when he briefed Barack Obama and two other Senators in Baghdad last July. He knew Obama favored a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, and he wanted to make the strongest possible case against it. And so, after he had presented an array of maps and charts and PowerPoint slides describing the current situation on the ground in great detail, Petraeus closed with a vigorous plea for "maximum flexibility" going forward.

Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the briefing and promise to take his views "under advisement." Or he could tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course of action — especially with a general not used to being confronted. Obama chose to speak his mind. "You know, if I were in your shoes, I would be making the exact same argument," he began. "Your job is to succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. But my job as a potential Commander in Chief is to view your counsel and interests through the prism of our overall national security." Obama talked about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the financial costs of the occupation of Iraq, the stress it was putting on the military.

A "spirited" conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. "It wasn't a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way." The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama's perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.

Barack Obama has prospered in this presidential campaign because of the steadiness of his temperament and the judicious quality of his decision-making. They are his best-known qualities. The most important decision he has made — the selection of a running mate — was done carefully, with an exhaustive attention to detail and contemplation of all the possible angles. Two months later, as John McCain's peremptory selection of Governor Sarah Palin has come to seem a liability, it could be argued that Obama's quiet selection of Joe Biden defined the public's choice in the general-election campaign. But not every decision can be made so carefully. There are a thousand instinctive, instantaneous decisions that a presidential candidate has to make in the course of a campaign — like whether to speak his mind to a General Petraeus — and this has been a more difficult journey for Obama, since he's far more comfortable when he's able to think things through. "He has learned to trust his gut," an Obama adviser told me. "He wasn't so confident in his instincts last year. It's been the biggest change I've seen in him."

I asked Obama about gut decisions, in an interview on his plane 17 days before the election. It was late on a Saturday night, and he looked pretty tired, riddled with gray hair and not nearly as young as when I'd first met him four years earlier. He had drawn 175,000 people to two events in Missouri that day, larger crowds than I'd ever seen at a campaign event, and he would be endorsed by Colin Powell the next morning. He seemed as relaxed as ever, though, unfazed by the hoopla or the imminence of the election. Our conversation was informal but intense. He seemed to be thinking in my presence, rather than just reciting talking points, and it took him some time to think through my question about gut decisions. He said the first really big one was how to react when incendiary videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's black-nationalist sermons surfaced last spring. "The decision to make it big as opposed to make it small," Obama said of the landmark speech on race relations he delivered in Philadelphia. "My gut was telling me that this was a teachable moment and that if I tried to do the usual political damage control instead of talking to the American people like ... they were adults and could understand the complexities of race, I would be not only doing damage to the campaign but missing an important opportunity for leadership."

The speech was followed by a more traditional form of damage control when Wright showed up in Washington still spewing racial nonsense: Obama cut him loose. And while Obama has followed a fairly traditional political path in this campaign, his strongest — and most telling — moments have been those when he followed his natural no-drama instincts. This has been confusing to many of my colleagues and to me, at times, as well: his utter caution in the debates, his decision not to zing McCain or even to challenge him very much, led me to assume — all three times — that he hadn't done nearly as well as the public ultimately decided he had. McCain was correct when he argued that Obama's aversion to drama led him to snuggle a bit too close to the Democratic Party's orthodoxy. But one of the more remarkable spectacles of the 2008 election — unprecedented in my time as a journalist — was the unanimity among Democrats on matters of policy once the personality clash between Obama and Hillary Clinton was set aside. There was no squabbling between old and new Dems, progressives and moderates, over race or war or peace. This was a year for no-drama Democrats, which made Obama as comfortable a fit for them as McCain was awkward for the Republican base.

And at the crucial moment of the campaign — the astonishing onset of the financial crisis — it was Obama's gut steadiness that won the public's trust, and quite possibly the election. On the afternoon when McCain suspended his campaign, threatened to scuttle the Sept. 26 debate and hopped a plane back to Washington to try to resolve the crisis, Obama was in Florida doing debate prep with his top advisers. When he was told about McCain's maneuvers, Obama's first reaction — according to an aide — was, "You gotta be kidding. I'm going to debate. A President has to be able to do more than one thing at a time." But there was a storm brewing among Obama's supporters in Congress and the Beltway establishment. "My BlackBerry was exploding," said an Obama aide. "They were saying we had to suspend. McCain was going to look more like a statesman, above the fray."

"I didn't believe it," Obama told me. "I have to tell you, one of the benefits of running this 22-month gauntlet is that ... you start realizing that what seems important or clever or in need of some dramatic moment a lot of times just needs reflection and care. And I think that was an example of where my style at least worked." Obama realized that he and McCain could be little more than creative bystanders — and one prominent Republican told me that McCain was "the least creative person in the room at the President's White House meeting. He simply had no ideas. He didn't even have any good questions." Obama had questions for the Treasury Secretary and the Fed chairman, but he was under no illusions: he didn't have the power to influence the final outcome, so it was best to stay calm and not oversell his role. It was an easy call, his natural bias. But, Obama acknowledged, "There are going to be some times where ... I won't have the luxury of thinking through all the angles."

Which is why the Petraeus moment is so interesting. Obama's gut reaction was to go against his normal palliative impulse and to challenge the general instead. "I felt it was necessary to make that point ... precisely because I respect Petraeus and [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker," Obama said, after he reluctantly acknowledged that my reporting of the meeting was correct. "Precisely because they've been doing a good job ... And I want them to understand that I'm taking their arguments seriously." Obama endorses Petraeus' new post, as the commanding general at Central Command, with responsibility for overseeing both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. "He's somebody who cares about facts and cares about the reality on the ground. I don't think he comes at this with an ideological predisposition. That's one of the reasons why I think he's been successful in moving the ball forward in Iraq. And I hope that he's applying that same perspective to what's happening in Afghanistan."

Actually, Obama and Petraeus seem to be thinking along similar lines with regard to Afghanistan. I mentioned that Petraeus had recently given a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he raised the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. "You know, I think this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq," Obama said without hesitation. "The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally," he said, referring to the Petraeus-led effort to turn the Sunni tribes away from the more radical elements of the insurgency. "Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored," he said. In fact, senior U.S. military officials have told me that there is a possibility of splitting Pashtun tribes away from the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan. "But we have to do it through the Karzai government," a senior officer told me, referring to the fact that the Army had acted independently of the Maliki government in creating the Anbar Awakening. "That is one lesson we've learned from Iraq."

Almost exactly two years ago, I had my first formal interview with Barack Obama — and he appeared on this magazine's cover for the first time. It wasn't an easy interview. His book The Audacity of Hope had just been published, but his policy proposals didn't seem very audacious. He actually grew a bit testy when I pushed him on the need for universal health insurance and a more aggressive global-warming policy — neither of which he supported. He has stayed with his less-than-universal health-care plan, and I still find it less than convincing. And his cap-and-trade program to control carbon emissions has taken a backseat to the economic crisis — although Obama insisted that he still favored such a plan, so long as consumers are cushioned with rebates when energy prices rise.

But Obama seems a more certain policymaker now, if not exactly a wonk in the Clintonian sense. He has a clearer handle on the big picture, on how various policy components fit together, and a strong sense of what his top priority would be. He wants to launch an "Apollo project" to build a new alternative-energy economy. His rationale for doing so includes some hard truths about the current economic mess: "The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit." But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, "because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt." A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and "there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy ... That's going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office."

That sort of clarity is new. At the beginning of the year, Donna Brazile said of Obama, "We know he can walk on water — now where are the loaves and fishes?" The inability to describe his priorities, the inability to speak directly to voters in ways they could easily comprehend, plagued Obama through much of the primary season. His tendency to use big rhetoric in front of big crowds led to McCain's one good spell, after Obama presumptuously spoke to a huge throng in Berlin after his successful Middle East trip. Only a President should make a major address like that overseas. Obama seemed to learn quickly from that mistake; his language during the general-election campaign has been simple, direct and pragmatic. His best moments in the debates came when he explained what he wanted to do as President. His very best moment came in the town-hall debate when he explained how the government bailout would affect average people who were hurting: if companies couldn't get credit from the banks, they couldn't make their payrolls and would have to start laying people off. McCain, by contrast, demonstrated why it's so hard for Senators to succeed as presidential candidates: he talked about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the sins of Obama, and never brought the argument home.

But even with his new populist skills, Obama hasn't been as plain as he could be. If an Apollo project to create a new alternative-energy economy is his highest priority, as he told me, why hasn't he given a major speech about it during the fall campaign? Why hasn't he begun to mobilize the nation for this next big mission? In part, I suppose, because campaigns are about firefighting — and this campaign in particular has been about "the fierce urgency of now," to use one of Obama's favorite phrases by Martin Luther King Jr., because of the fears raised by the financial crisis and because of the desperate, ferocious attacks launched by his opponent.

If he wins, however, there will be a different challenge. He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into "teachable moments." He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity. His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I've seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven't seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.

-- Joe Klein Time Magazine

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber: Making Obama Look Very Good

Anyone who watched last night’s presidential debate quickly heard more than enough references to “Joe the plumber.”

I know that McCain is displeased to the point of desperation over his recent showings in the polls and is scrambling for something, anything, to turn the trend around. Desperation apparently makes you stupid, because using Joe the plumber as the centerpiece of a debate strategy was as dirt-dumb a move as I’ve ever seen.

I had never heard of Joe the plumber before last night’s debate. With the candidates focusing vast amounts of time on him, I said “Who the fuck is Joe the plumber?” My sweetie said she’d tell me all about it after the debate.

Turns out that Joe the plumber is Joe Wurzelbacher of Ohio. Mr. Wurzelbacher showed up at an Obama campaign event in Toledo, Ohio a few days back. He talked with Obama outside the event venue about how he’s been a plumber for some fifteen years and is ready to buy a plumbing business that grosses a little over $250,000. The point of the encounter, of course, was showing that Obama’s tax plan would impose “higher taxes” on Joe for wanting his piece of the American dream.

Anyone who was the least bit curious about Joe the plumber could have found video of the encounter on youtube. Obama spoke with Joe politelty and in great detail for over five minutes. Check it out. I think you’ll agree that Obama did a superb job of addressing the guy’s concerns. Obama pointed out that that only the money earned above $250,000 would be subject to the higher tax rate. Toward the end Obama pointed out his proposed capital gains tax cut and noted that if Joe built his company to a $500,000-per-year business, he’d probably end up paying less in taxes under Obama’s plan than under McCain’s.

It was truly superb work on Obama’s part. Really. See for yourself.

Mr. Wurzelbacher had a “gotcha” look about him throughout the encounter, so it was pretty apparent that something was up. Sure enough, soon after the encounter Mr. Wurzelbacher was on the phone with Neil Cavuto of F[ederal]O[ffice of]X[enophobia] News blabbering about socialism and Robin Hood.

The last time I looked, some poll showed that 30% or so of respondents thought they were in the top 1% of income earners. In my own experience, many who know they aren’t in the top 1% think they will be within the couple of years or so.

And then there’s always a core group of dumbasses who don’t understand the marginal rate system we use to tax income. Those idiots are convinced that there comes a point when making more money actually means making less because tax increases outstrip income gains.

These, along with the VARR (violent, angry, racist retard) community, are the fools that McCain, Fox News and obvious shills like Joe the plumber are playing to. It’s all they’ve got left.

The sad part is, it may be enough.

-- Complete Defeasance

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Alaskan Independence Party: The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

In 2004, America's malleable mainstream media allowed itself to be manipulated by artful Republican operatives into devoting weeks of broadcast attention and drums of ink to unfairly desecrating John Kerry's genuine Vietnam heroics while obligingly muzzling serious discussion of George W. Bush's shameful wartime record of evasion and cowardice.

Last week found the American media once again boarding Republican swift boats against this season's Democratic candidate armed with unfair and hypocritical attacks artfully designed by GOP strategists to distract attention from the cataclysmic outcomes of Republican governance. Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin has taken to faulting Senator Barack Obama for his casual acquaintance with a respected Illinois educator Bill Ayers, who forty years ago was a member of the Weathermen, a movement active when Obama was eight and which he has denounced as "detestable." Palin argues that the relationship proves that Obama sees "America as being so imperfect that he is palling around with terrorists who would target their own country."

The Times dedicated a page one article to Obama's relations with Ayers and CNN's Anderson Cooper obliged Palin by rewarding her reckless accusations about Obama's patriotism with a major investigative report. Fox, meanwhile, is still riveting its audience with wall to wall coverage of this pressing irrelevancy.

But if McCarthy-era guilt-by-association is once again a valid political consideration, Palin, it would seem, has more to lose than Obama. Palin, it could be argued, following her own logic, thinks so little of America's perfection that she continues to "pal around" with a man--her husband, actually--who only recently terminated his seven-year membership in the Alaskan Independence Party. Putting plunder above patriotism, the members of this treasonous cabal aim to break our country into pieces and walk away with Alaska's rich federal oil fields and one-fifth of America's land base--an area three-fourths the size of the Civil War Confederacy.

AIP's charter commits the party "to the ultimate independence of Alaska," from the United States which it refers to as "the colonial bureaucracy in Washington." It proclaims Alaska's 1959 induction as a state "as illegal and in violation of the United Nations charter and international law."

AIP's creation was inspired by the rabidly violent anti-Americanism of its founding father Joe Vogler, "I'm an Alaskan, not an American," reads a favorite Vogler quote on AIP's current website, "I've got no use for America or her damned institutions." According to Vogler AIP's central purpose was to drive Alaska's secession from the United States. Alaska, says current Chairwoman Lynette Clark, "should be an independent nation."

Vogler was murdered in 1993 during an illegal sale of plastic explosives that went bad. The prior year, he had renounced his allegiance to the United States explaining that, "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government." He cursed the stars and stripes, promising, "I won't be buried under their damned flag...when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home." Palin has never denounced Vogler or his detestable anti-Americanism.

Palin's husband Todd remained an AIP party member from 1995 to 2002. Sarah can be described in McCarthy-era palaver as a "fellow traveler." While retaining her Republican registration, she attended the AIP's 1994 convention where the party called for a draft constitution to secede from the United States and create an independent nation of Alaska. The McCain Campaign has reluctantly acknowledged that she also attended AIP's 2000 Convention. She apparently found the experience so inspiring that she agreed to give a keynote address at the AIP's 2006 convention and she recorded a video greeting for this year's 2008 convention. In other words, this is not something that happened when she was eight!

So when Palin accuses Barack of "not seeing the same America as you and me," maybe she is referring to an America without Alaska. In any case, isn't it time the media start giving equal time to Palin's buddy list of anti-American bombers and other radical associates?

-- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The McCain-isms that Lost the Debate, If Not the Election


In presidential elections, winning and losing results less from the facts presented, than the keywords and key phrases repeated. At no time was this more true than last night's debate in Tennessee.

Second Debate Turns McCain-isms into Major Problem for Republican Chances
More than clarifying John McCain's policy positions, the second Presidential debate showcased the Arizona senator's idiosyncratic tendency to repeat (and repeat, and repeat) certain peculiar phrases while speaking to voters. Over the course of 90 minutes, these oft-repeated 'McCain-isms' not only sank any chance the Republican candidate might have had at winning the debate, but decreased significantly his chances of winning the election.

Without question, Obama appeared much more comfortable in the circular open stage of the Town Hall setting than McCain. Despite having called for more Town Hall debates, McCain seemed physically lost at times in the format. At one point, McCain walked backward while delivering an answer, creating an unmistakable image of anxiousness.

But beyond the staging, there were three phrases that McCain repeated, thereby binding himself over and over with the unfavorable trappings of an earnest, but ultimately untrustworthy politician.

McCain-ism #1: "My Friends" - The Neurotic
Last night, John McCain repeated the phrase 'my friends' 19 times:

MY FRIENDS, until we stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy
I know how the do that, MY FRIENDS
MY FRIENDS, do we need to spend that kind of money?
MY FRIENDS, we are not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that we are going -- that present-day retirees have today
MY FRIENDS, some of this $700 billion ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations
MY FRIENDS, the last president to raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover
So let's not raise anybody's taxes, MY FRIENDS
We know what the problems are, MY FRIENDS, and we know what the fixes are
MY FRIENDS, what we have to do with Medicare is have a commission, have the smartest people in America come together, come up with recommendations
Let's look at our records, MY FRIENDS
That's the good news, MY FRIENDS
MY FRIENDS, I know you grow a little weary with this back-and-forth
I vote against them, MY FRIENDS. I vote against them
We've got to drill offshore, MY FRIENDS, and we've got to do it now
MY FRIENDS, we have gone to all four corners of the Earth and shed American blood in defense
We don't have time for on-the-job training, MY FRIENDS
Well, let me just follow up, MY FRIENDS
There was a lot at stake there, MY FRIENDS
I'll get Osama bin Laden, MY FRIENDS
If there was any phrase that defined John McCain in last night's debate, it was not a phrase about foreign policy or the economy or the military. It was the phrase 'my friends.' So what does it say about McCain when he repeats this over and over--how does this quintessential McCain-ism ring in the ears of American voters?

In a word: neurotic.

I spoke to about a dozen people after the debate last night, and listened to about as many pundits. Almost everybody noticed McCain's repetition of the phrase 'my friends,' but not one person said that the McCain-ism made them feel positive about the candidate. Instead, people said that 'my friends' gave McCain an air of nervousness, phoniness--strangeness. Rather than connecting 'my friends' to some positive quality of McCain, debate observers used the phrase as a starting point for attempts at explaining what was 'wrong' with McCain in this debate and in general. Several voters voiced some version of thought in response to hearing 'my friends' from McCain:

McCain said 'my friends' so many times! But it's not like he actually is my friend. He sounds phony when he says that so much. Annoying.

One has to guess that McCain uses the phrase 'my friends' as part of a rhetorical strategy to connect with the audience, but the effect is the opposite. The phrase has a grating result on people, pushing them a way from McCain and towards a conversation about 'what is wrong' with the candidate and why a candidate would repeat such a phrase so often.

McCain-ism #2: "My Hero" - The Sycophant
Last night, McCain repeated the phrase 'my hero' only twice, but he impact was noticeable:

President Reagan, MY HERO
MY HERO is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt
For some reason, McCain peppers his campaign speech with references to 'my hero,' most often citing Ronald Reagan. In some instances, he calls someone 'my hero' in order to demonstrate that he bucked authority, while in other cases he is simply expressing admiration. But in both cases, the end result is very bad for McCain's candidacy.

The dictionary defines 'sycophant' as:

a person who acts obsequiously toward someone in order to gain advantage; a servile flatterer.

Perhaps Reagan and Roosevelt are McCain's 'heros,' perhaps not. Nobody can truly know what is in another person's heart. But what comes across to voters when McCain describes famous politicians as 'my hero' is a gut feeling that he is doing so to gain advantage--servile flattery.

No matter how old or young a voter may be, no matter where they were born, no matter what their ideological leanings may be, wealthy or poor, man or woman--we have all encountered a sycophant in or lives. And nobody--I mean absolutely nobody--observes a person engaged in servile flattery and thinks, 'Gosh, I really like this person.' We think instead, 'Yuck. Gross. Pathetic.'

Americans do not look kindly on people who flatter the boss to get ahead. Sycophants are ridiculed in thousands of movies and books because Americans believe that if you work hard you get ahead and that people who get ahead by calling the boss 'my hero,' are not really qualified or deserving of the job they landed.

McCain-ism #3: "I Know How To" - The Know-It-All
Over the course of last night's debate, Sen. McCain repeated the phrase 'I know how to' seven times:

I KNOW HOW TO do that, my friends
I KNOW HOW TO get America working again
I KNOW HOW TO fix this economy
I KNOW HOW TO do that
I KNOW HOW TO handle these crises
I KNOW HOW TO get him
The funny thing about a 'know-it-all,' as any kid in grade school can already explain: they rarely know what it is they claim to know. Constantly telling someone 'I know how to' says less about one's skills than about one's deep need to be seen as skillful.

This was the impression McCain gave to voters each time he repeated 'I know how to': insecurity.

Why would someone who claims to be an expert in foreign policy, who claims to be an expert in military policy, who claims to be an expert in energy policy, who claims to be an expert in backroom politics--why would McCain be insecure? Because despite all his supposed skills, the 2008 presidential campaign has brought to light very little actual accomplishment in the record of John McCain. Despite all the accusations from the McCain campaign that Barack Obama 'has no experience,' the McCain campaign has offered virtually nothing as evidence of John McCain's accomplishment. McCain has a decorated record as a war veteran, no question, but as a man who claims 'I know how to,' he has nothing to show for having done much.

What Americans hear when McCain repeats 'I know how to,' is not a man with actual skill, but a man who wants to be at the center, at the top more than he knows what to do if he should get there. Ultimately, the know-it-all becomes the least trusted person in the room because with each claim of expertise, we grow less and less convinced of anything but their egotism.

McCain-ism: The Neurotic, The Sycophant, and The Know-It-All
If anything lost the debate for McCain it was the repetition of these three key phrases, each of which gave the the impression that he was an insecure politician rather than a confident leader.

Above all else, Americans in Presidential elections look for a candidate to project an image of confidence. In his performance last night, McCain did just the opposite. And the weight of those phrases, repeated on the stage and amplified in countless stories throughout the media, will likely sink his poll numbers even further.

In an age of internet politics, policy arguments are the stuff of campaign websites. In the debates, voters get a chance to hear what the candidates repeat. And last night, what we heard over and over from John McCain was not the stuff of a candidate who claims victory in November.

© 2008 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is Palin Trying To Incite Violence Against Obama?

At her last rally in Florida, Sarah Palin told the audience that Barack Obama "palled around with terrorists" adding,"I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America." Upon hearing the Republican VP candidate's concern that Sen. Obama might be a terrorist, a voice in the crowd cried out 'Kill him!'

McCain Campaign Amplifies Violent Rhetoric, GOP Crowds Threaten Obama's Life
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported an incident at a Palin rally that should open America's eyes to the central role violent rhetoric now plays in the McCain campaign. Milbank describes how Palin told the crowd in Florida that Obama has close associations with a terrorist who sought to bomb the Pentagon and the U.S. Capital, in response to which the crowd responded with a threat on Sen. Obama's life:

"Now it turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers...And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,'" she continued.

"Boooo!" the crowd repeated.

"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.
Palin went on to say that "Obama held one of the first meetings of his political career in Bill Ayers's living room, and they've worked together on various projects in Chicago." Here, Palin began to connect the dots. "These are the same guys who think that patriotism is paying higher taxes -- remember that's what Joe Biden had said. "And" -- she paused and sighed -- "I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America, as the greatest force for good in the world. I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as 'imperfect enough' to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country." (link)

Palin's new rhetorical strategy signifies an alarming new development in the 2008 Presidential election, and one that has been not only been documented by such high profile newspapers as the Washington Post, but confirmed by the McCain campaign itself.

"It's a dangerous road, but we have no choice," a top McCain strategist recently admitted to the Daily News. "If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we're going to lose." (link)

The 'dangerous road,' however, is not just a generic attack on Sen. Obama's trustworthiness or honesty. Rather, the McCain campaign has chosen to stand before campaign rallies and accuse Sen. Obama of hiding sympathies with domestic terrorists--to accuse their opponent, essentially, of being a terrorist.

With the McCain campaign now using the Palin stump speech to accuse Sen. Obama of hiding a terrorist agenda, the McCain campaign has staked its future on rhetoric that skirts the boundary between character assassination and incitements of actual violence against their opponent.

Meanwhile, while McCain is not yet accusing Obama of terrorism in his own stump speech, the crowds at his rallies are.

In a recent video clip from MSNBC, McCain asked a rally, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" In response to McCain's rhetorical question, a voice from the crowd can be clearly heard to shout in response, "Terrorist!" (link)

Since the start of the election campaign well over a year ago, voters have been subject to ongoing smear campaigns in emails and push polls accusing Sen. Obama of ties to and sympathies with domestic and foreign terrorist groups. No matter how many times these smear campaigns have been exposed, they continued. Now that John McCain and Sarah Palin have echoed these accusations--the idea that Sen. Obama is secretly a terrorist has the stamp of approval of a presidential campaign, but of a multi-term U.S. senator and a U.S. governor.

One wonders at this point how the various agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting the Presidential candidates from violence will respond to this latest tactic from the McCain campaign. If, for example, a McCain supporter threatens the life of Sen. Obama by shouting 'Kill him!' at a Palin rally, should Sen. Obama's Secret Service contingent launch an investigation? Having been accused of terrorist ties by the McCain campaign, will Sen. Obama's name be put on the 'No Fly' list, effectively making it impossible for him to engage in normal airline travel?

An even more basic question, perhaps: Is Gov. Palin trying to incite violence against Sen. Obama as part of an ill-conceived campaign strategy to change the topic from the economy at any cost?

Time will tell how law enforcement will respond, but one thing is already certain: the more Palin and McCain incite calls for violence against Sen. Obama, the more their chances of achieving a victory in November disappear.

-- Jeffrey Feldman

Monday, October 06, 2008

Blacker Monday

Stocks Fall Sharply on Credit Concerns

New York Times

The selling on Wall Street began at the opening bell on Monday and only intensified as the morning went on. Shares moved sharply lower as the banking crisis tightened its grip on the global economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2004 after losing more than 500 points in the first hour. The index has lost more than 1,100 points — or about 10 percent — in slightly more than a week.

Shortly after noon, the Dow was down 450 points or 4.3 percent.

The broader American stock market was down more than 4.9 percent, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, its worst decline since last Monday’s 8.8 percent drop. At the same time, oil dropped below $90 a barrel.

The precipitous declines, which accelerated as the morning wore on, came a day after European governments were forced to scramble to save several major banks and lenders from collapse. The moves reinforced the global reach of the current crisis and alarmed depositors and regulators in the United States and abroad.

European stocks fell even further, with the major indexes in London, Paris, and Frankfurt down nearly 7 percent.

The sharp slides came despite a morning announcement from the Federal Reserve, which said it would significantly expand the amount of money it makes available to major banks. The Fed will now lend up to $900 billion in credit, an enormous sum that officials hope will reassure banks that the government will provide them with adequate capital.

The moves were aimed at resolving a problem at the center of the current credit crisis: the reluctance of banks to lend. The healthy functioning of the world’s economy is dependent on the easy flow of short-term loans among banks, businesses and consumers, a stream that has been cut off as banks become more fearful of giving out cash.

Borrowing rates remained very high on Monday despite the passage of the American bailout plan, although proponents of that package argue that its longer-term benefits will take time to carry out. Still, some gauges of anxiety in the market again reached record highs as the week began, and a benchmark overnight borrowing rate, the Libor rate, moved higher. A measure of volatility, the VIX index, jumped to its highest intraday level ever.

“It’s not just a question clearing problem assets,” said Bob McKee, chief economist for Independent Strategy, a research consultancy. “If banks don’t have enough capital they will be paralyzed.”

Oil prices tumbled nearly $4 a barrel to below $90, the first time it has fallen that low since February, before recovering slightly to $90.90 around 10 a.m. The euro continued to fall against the dollar.

Falling oil prices provoked a decline of just over 1,000 points, or nearly 9.9 percent, on the Toronto Stock Market. The drop brought the S&P/TSX index below 10,000 points for the first time since May 2004.

Energy stocks drove the decline, falling 13 percent. Financial industry shares were down 7 percent in mid-morning trading with the Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s largest bank, down 8.43 percent. That drop came despite the fact that the Royal Bank, like most of Canada’s major banks, has relatively little expose to troubled debt in the United States.

Strong prices for oil and gas as well as commodities like metals, have allowed most of Canada to escape the economic downturn in the United States. But the Bank of Nova Scotia report released on Monday said that weakness in the manufacturing sector, which relies heavily on exports to the United States, will push likely Canada into a recession.

In Europe, governments worked over the weekend to prevent the collapse of two lenders, Hypo Real Estate in Germany and the Belgian operations of Fortis. The German government also said it would guarantee all private bank deposits as it sought to avert the spread of the financial contagion.

The FTSE 100 index in London fell 5.6 percent; the Frankfurt DAX was down 5.2 percent and the CAC-40 in Paris lost 5.9 percent.

A similar sell-off occurred in Asia, the Nikkei 225 stock average in Tokyo fell 4.3 percent, while the Kospi index in Seoul fell 4.3 percent. The Standard and Poor’s/ASX 200 index in Sydney fell 3.3 percent, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong was down 5 percent.

“People are really disappointed by the inability of Europe to react on a concerted basis,” said Andrew Popper, a fund manager at SG Hambros in London. “It’s still very much a country by country approach. There is also a realization that we haven’t seen any effects on economic growth so far but that now is starting and that’s having an effect on non-financial shares.”

Steps by some European governments over the weekend to guarantee deposits may avoid a panic among consumers but will not help banks cope with their financing problems, said Adrian Darley, a fund manager at Resolution Asset Management in London.

“There are still a lot of issues out there,” Mr. Darley said. “Deposit guarantees are just a short-term solution. It does not necessarily help with interbank loans or if you have bad loans on your books. It will take a lot more than that.”

In Iceland and Russia, trading on banking shares was halted after indexes fell more than 14 percent.

Shares of industrial companies were hammered in Europe with EADS, the parent of Airbus, falling 7.5 percent, ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steel maker, falling 8.6 percent, and the German automaker Daimler down 5.8 percent. British Airways slid 10.3 percent.

BNP Paribas, which acquired a majority stake in Fortis for about $20 billion in an emergency deal late Sunday, was unchanged, while shares of Fortis were suspended. Trading in Unicredit, the big Italian bank, was delayed for an hour after the bank said late Sunday that it would seek about $9.1 billion in new funding and cut its earnings outlook. And Hypo Real Estate, the second-biggest German mortgage lender, fell 28 percent in Frankfurt after it received a new $68 billion bailout Sunday from German banks and the national government in Berlin.

Shares also dropped because many clients are pulling their money out of hedge funds and other investment funds with disappointing returns. “We’re seeing forced sales from redemptions,” Mr. Darley said.

Shares in HBOS, the British mortgage lender that agreed to be bought by Lloyds in a government-brokered deal, opened 20 percent lower on Monday.

Nicholas Bibby, an economist in the Singapore office of Barclays Capital, said that falling share prices showed that many investors were still worried that banking difficulties might spread even after the passage of the financial bailout plan in Washington. “It’s a fear of contagion,” he said, while adding that Asian banks were better positioned than most to withstand the current problems because the region’s high savings rate tends to mean that Asian banks are net lenders in international money markets.

Concerns about Asian exports have also been rising for months, as the region’s high savings rate means that it also has weak spending on consumption and remains heavily dependent on overseas demand.

CFC Seymour, a Hong Kong securities firm, pointed out in an investment newsletter on Monday that even before recent problems in financial markets, the combined trade balance of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines had gone from a surplus of $19 billion as recently as last October to a deficit of $2 billion in July. Only China is still running consistently large trade surpluses.

The realignment in the currency markets that has lifted the dollar and yen against the euro continued, as investors worried about Europe’s banks and economic health and continued their flight to the apparent stability of Japan’s financial system.

The euro fell to $1.3609 in Paris morning trading, from $1.3772 in New York late Friday. The dollar fell to 103.42 yen from 105.32, and the euro declined to 140.74 yen from 145.07.

The Shanghai stock exchange, closed for the last week for China’s National Day holiday, reopened on Monday with the Shanghai A-share market down 3.5 percent. The China Securities Regulatory Commission announced on Sunday that it would experiment with the introduction of short-selling and trading on margin on a limited basis, but did not say when the trial would begin.

Keith Bradsher, Ian Austen, David Jolly and Julia Werdigier contributed reporting.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Legacy

Among the many dispiriting things to come out of Bob Woodward’s quartet of books on George W. Bush is his observation that the president has not changed since he first started talking to Woodward in 2001.

No growth. No evolution. No regrets.

“History,” Bush replied, when asked by Woodward how he would be judged over time. “We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” Broke, as well.

It would have been nice to let Bush’s two terms marinate a while before invoking Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan from the cellar of worst presidents. But then — over the last two weeks — he completed the trilogy of national disasters that will be with us for a generation or more.

George Bush entered the White House as a proponent of a more humble foreign policy and a believer that government should get out of the way at home. He leaves as someone with a trillion-dollar war aimed at making people who’ve hated each other for a thousand years become Rotary Club freedom-lovers, and his own country close to bankruptcy after government did get out of the way.

It’s a Mount Rainier of shame and folly. But before going any further, let’s allow his supporters to have their say.

“He’s going to have an unbelievably great legacy,” said Laura Bush in an ABC interview, citing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Fifty million people liberated from very brutal regimes.”

Fred Barnes argues that Bush is a visionary on a par with Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Bush is a president who leads,” he wrote in a 2006 book. “He controls the national agenda, uses his presidential power to the fullest and then some, prepares far-reaching polices likely to change the way Americans live, reverses other long-standing polices and is the foremost leader in world affairs.”

Finally, from Karl Rove, the Architect. Bush will be viewed “as a far-sighted leader who confronted the key test of the 21st century,” he said.

After wading through books with words like “fiasco,” “hubris” and “denial” in the title, historians will go to first-hand sources, the people who worked with Bush daily. There they will find Paul O’Neill, the president’s former Treasury secretary. In 2002, he sounded an alarm, saying Bush’s rash economic policies could lead to a deficit of $500 billion. This, after Bush had inherited a budget surplus, prompted many to scoff at O’Neill.

He was wrong, but only in one respect – the projected deficit, even without a financial bailout, will almost certainly be higher.

This means a lot, for every bridge not built, every Pell grant not given to a kid who may never go to college without one, every national park road left to crumble, every sick person who cannot afford to see a doctor in a country that wants to be known as the best on earth.

Historians will also go to Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary. Bush may not be a “high functioning moron,” as Paul Begala called him recently. He is “plenty smart enough to be president,” McClellan wrote this year. But McClellan, in his job as the president’s mouthpiece, found him chronically incurious. He also said Bush deliberately misled the country into war, and in that effort, the news media were “complicit enablers.”

Historians will recall that in each of the major disasters on Bush’s watch, there were ample warnings — from the intelligence briefing that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike a month before the lethal blow, to the projections that Hurricane Katrina could drown a major American city, to the expressed fears that letting Wall Street regulate itself could be catastrophic.

Voluntary regulation. That phrase now joins “heckuva job, Brownie” and “mission accomplished” among those that will always be associated with the Bush presidency.

It’s painful now to realize, just as the economy craters and the world looks aghast at the United States, that the other cancer from the Bush presidency – his failure to even start the nation on the road to a new energy economy – gets short-changed during the triage of his final days.

Bush has hinted that his legacy will be about the war. So be it. He never caught bin Laden, the mass murderer who launched the raison d’etre of the Bush presidency.

But he did topple a paper army in Iraq, opening the drainage for our currency, blood and global reputation. It may go down as the longest, even costliest war in our history.

In a survey of scholars done earlier this year, just two of 109 historians said the Bush presidency would be judged a success. A majority said he would be the worst president ever.

But if you don’t trust those elites in academia, consider the president’s own base.

Bush leaves with his party in tatters. In the 28 states that register by affiliation, Democrats have picked up more than 2 million new voters this year while Republicans have lost 344,000. It seems only fitting that it was the last of the Bush dead-enders in Congress earlier this week who jumped ship when presented with the final horrendous hangover from this man who doesn’t drink.

If ever there was an argument for voting against politicians who are confident about their cluelessness, Bush is it. So it was heartening to see that a majority of the country, in some polls, now views Sarah Palin as unqualified to be president.

We may have learned something, even if Bush has not.

-- Timothy Egan - New York Times


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