March 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

Just saw a poll on the CNN site. Looks like the Bosnia thing (and one or two others) have really hurt Hillary’s reputation for trustworthiness:


What’s more surprising is that Obama and McCain are even in this, even though Barack has undoubtedly been much worse in trying to pad his resume and make his achievements sound more grandiose than McCain has. Arguably, McCain has the opposite problem – over-honesty about his weakness in financial matters, for example. But I guess that can be put down to partisanship as much as anything else. Obviously this isn’t scientific – it’s just an online poll with self-selection and no attempt to make the result representative, but it’s telling nonetheless.

March 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I occasionally catch some Republican talk radio – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levine and the rest – though I usually find that I’m put off pretty quickly by their obnoxious attitudes. I often find myself in agreement with most of what they say, but in violent disagreement with their tone.

At any rate, the few times I have caught these shows, I’ve been struck by the listener call-in segments, and the fact that there appear to be a very small number of personality types who call in:

  • Sycophants – those who call in merely to suck up to the host. On Sean Hannity’s show, they begin by telling him he’s a great American, and he returns the favor. The host’s response? Talk over them as soon as he’s figured out which personality type they are
  • Belligerent Marxists who think they’re going to do their cause some good by arguing with the host. The host’s response? Belittle their beliefs, and talk over them, as soon as he’s figured out which personality type they are
  • People who are basically on board but want to disagree with one thing the host has said. The response? Talk over them as soon as he’s figured out which personality type they are.

I’d say 90% of the people who call in fit into one of these three categories. And the host responds in pretty much the same way to all of them: figure out which type they are, and then start interrupting and talking over the top of them. Kind of makes you wonder what the point of the call-in segment is. I think I want to inaugurate a prize for the caller who can speak for 20 consecutive seconds without being interrupted and shut down by a host.

March 28th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The Wall Street Journal had a piece a couple of days ago on Chris Cox, currently SEC Chairman and a former Congressman and Reagan staffer, suggesting that he is being considered by some as a VP option for McCain. The Journal’s suggestion is that his financial knowhow would counter-balance McCain’s self-confessed weakness in that area. But does McCain really need a VP with financial credibility enough to worry so little about everything else?

Now, no-one is suggesting that Chris Cox is a liberal in conservative clothing. His time working for Reagan is reassuring, and the fact that he earned law and business degrees from Harvard (though not, apparently, at the same time) reminds me of another VP candidate… It’s also an intriguing thought that we might have a ticket with two men with severe physical handicaps. But the Journal’s case for this man seems to rest entirely on his financial street cred and the strongest words it uses in support of him are “serious,” “sober minded,” “careful,” and finally “successful” (in reference to his stint at the SEC).

Presidents have Treasury Secretaries to deal with the detailed economic stuff (although you hope they’re committed to some basic principles like low taxation, tight spending and sound monetary policy). Does McCain really need to give away so much of what the VP choice could provide just to solve the financial issue? Does anyone believe that either Obama or Clinton has the financial chops to make this a serious problem for McCain? It seems misguided to believe any of that, and McCain would do much better to select a VP who would provide a more clearly conservative counter-balance to his own more centrist positions on some of the issues.

March 27th, 2008 by Rightsideup

John McCain is apparently not afraid to say what many of us are really thinking about the mortgage crisis: the two sets of people most to blame are the lenders who lent the money to people who couldn’t pay it back and the lenders who took those loans:

Lenders ended up violating the basic rule of banking: don’t lend people money who can’t pay it back.

The past decade witnessed the largest increase in home ownership in the past 50 years. Home ownership is part of the American dream, and we want as many Americans as possible to be able to afford their own home. But in the process of a huge, and largely positive, upturn in home construction and ownership, a housing bubble was created.

A bubble occurs when prices are driven up too quickly, speculators move into markets, and these players begin to suspend the normal rules of risk and assume that prices can only move up – but never down. We’ve seen this kind of bubble before – in the late 1990s, we had the technology bubble, when money poured into technology stocks and people assumed that those stock values would rise indefinitely. Between 2001 and 2006, housing prices rose by nearly 15 percent every year. The normal market forces of people buying and selling their homes were overwhelmed by rampant speculation. Our system of market checks and balances did not correct this until the bubble burst.

A sustained period of rising home prices made many home lenders complacent, giving them a false sense of security and causing them to lower their lending standards. They stopped asking basic questions of their borrowers like “can you afford this home? Can you put a reasonable amount of money down?” Lenders ended up violating the basic rule of banking: don’t lend people money who can’t pay it back. Some Americans bought homes they couldn’t afford, betting that rising prices would make it easier to refinance later at more affordable rates. There are 80 million family homes in America and those homeowners are now facing the reality that the bubble has burst and prices go down as well as up.

I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers. Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy.

In our effort to help deserving homeowners, no assistance should be given to speculators. Any assistance for borrowers should be focused solely on homeowners, not people who bought houses for speculative purposes, to rent or as second homes. Any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren’t. I will consider any and all proposals based on their cost and benefits. In this crisis, as in all I may face in the future, I will not allow dogma to override common sense.

When we commit taxpayer dollars as assistance, it should be accompanied by reforms that ensure that we never face this problem again. Central to those reforms should be transparency and accountability.

Apparently, Barack Obama doesn’t like this truth-telling, although he disguises in it in the robes of a critique of the supposed lack of concrete proposals from McCain:

“John McCain has admitted he doesn’t understand the economy as well as he should. Yesterday he proved it in a speech he gave on the housing crisis.” Obama told a town hall audience Wednesday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“According to John McCain he said the best way for us to address the fact that millions of Americans are losing their homes is to just sit back and watch it happen. In his entire speech yesterday he offered not one policy, not one idea, not one bit of relief for the nearly thirty five thousand north Carolinians who were forced to foreclose on their dream in the last few months. Not one, not one single idea or a single policy prescription.”

John McCain’s campaign pushed right back on this:

John McCain 2008 spokesman Tucker Bounds today issued the following statement on Barack Obama’s old-style political attacks today:

“Senator Obama’s blatant mischaracterizations aren’t the new politics he’s promised America, they’re the old attack and smear tactics that Americans are tired of.

“Barack Obama’s diagnosis for our housing market is clearly that Barack Obama knows best — raise taxes on hardworking Americans and give government a prescription to spend.

“John McCain has called for an immediate and balanced approach to provide transparency and accountability in an effort to help homeowners who are hurting, while Barack Obama has made a $10 billion election-year promise that is sure to raise taxes and handcuff an already struggling economy.”

Good that they came back to effectively and challenged the allegation head-on, but you can’t help but feel that they should also have capitalized on McCain’s straight-talking approach to the whole issue too. If he won’t be honest about it, who will?

March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has the latest inconvenient truths on climate change, which appeared the same day as a scare story about a major piece of polar ice breaking off. No time now to cover it here but go see Ed’s piece for a great summary.

March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Carl Bernstein is guest blogging on Anderson Cooper’s site (and in typical CNN.com fashion it’s not really obvious that it’s not Mr 360 himself from the word go). His subject is Hillary’s lack of candor, in light of the Bosnia / Tuzla story this week. The most striking thing about the piece is how hard Bernstein seems to find it to call Hillary a liar. He goes out of his way to avoid this construction, using almost comically contorted language and double negatives to make it implicit but never explicit, mostly quoting from his own biography of Hillary. Some samples:

Since her Arkansas years [I wrote], Hillary Rodham Clinton has always had a difficult relationship with the truth… [J]udged against the facts, she has often chosen to obfuscate, omit, and avoid. It is an understatement by now that she has been known to apprehend truths about herself and the events of her life that others do not exactly share. ” [italics added]

“Almost always, something holds her back from telling the whole story, as if she doesn’t trust the reader, listener, friend, interviewer, constituent—or perhaps herself—to understand the true significance of events…”

“Hillary values context; she does see the big picture. Hers, in fact, is not the mind of a conventional politician,” I wrote in A Woman In Charge. “But when it comes to herself, she sees with something less than candor and lucidity. She sees, like so many others, what she wants to see.”

The book concludes with this paragraph:

“As Hillary has continued to speak from the protective shell of her own making, and packaged herself for the widest possible consumption, she has misrepresented not just facts but often her essential self. Great politicians have always been marked by the consistency of their core beliefs, their strength of character in advocacy, and the self-knowledge that informs bold leadership. Almost always, Hillary has stood for good things. Yet there is a disconnect between her convictions and her words and actions. This is where Hillary disappoints. But the jury remains out. She still has time to prove her case, to effectuate those things that make her special, not fear them or camouflage them. We would all be the better for it, because what lies within may have the potential to change the world, if only a little.”

What’s behind this? Is Bernstein really worried that he’ll be sued for using the obvious word to describe this obvious behavior? Or did he get just enough cooperation from Clinton and her people in writing the book that he couldn’t go the whole hog?

The most invidious thing about all this, though, is his assertion in the third-to-last paragraph quoted above that in being an inveterate liar, Hillary is really just like the rest of us: “She sees, like so many others, what she wants to see.” No, Mr Bernstein: the rest of us may not see clearly some of our shortcomings, encumbered with beams in our eyes that obscure our self-image. But the rest of us do not stretch that lack of clarity about who we really are to invent from whole cloth stories about our past or entirely distort versions of our personal histories when speaking in front of the national news media. That honor is Hillary’s alone.

March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

According to a new Gallup poll, just over a quarter (28%) of Clinton supporters say they will vote for McCain rather than Obama if she doesn’t win. By contrast, just 19% of Obama supporters say they will support McCain. As with any poll, especially one taken so far ahead of the event it relates to, this must be taken with a large dose of salt, but it’s educational nonetheless.

Allahpundit over on Hot Air suggests that this is a measure of “sore-loserness” but I think that misses the point. The point is that there are at least two reasons why someone willing to vote for Clinton would be more likely to switch to McCain than someone who wanted Obama. The first is that, for those few people who can accurately place all three candidates on a traditional left-right spectrum, Hillary is closer to McCain than the comparably more left-wing Obama.

The second, though, and one more likely to be at play here, is that those favoring a serious candidate will prefer both Clinton and McCain over the less substantive Obama. While Clinton has of late taken to embellishing her own credentials she has overall focused far more on specifics and has a greater record on which to draw than does Obama. It’s likely that voters favoring experience and substance shy away from Obama and prefer Clinton to McCain by a greater or lesser margin.

Allahpundit goes on from his initial premise that this is about Hillary supporters being sorer losers to suggest that they key to keeping these numbers high is to make those supporters as sore as possible. But I think the correct strategy would actually be to continue to highlight Obama’s lack of substance, which is behind at least some Democrats’ distrust of him.

March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Perhaps he wrote these paragraphs himself, but whether he did or someone wrote them for him, this is some fantastic writing, from the speech he is due to give today:

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed. I rarely saw him again for four years.

My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home to the country they loved so well. I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description.

When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation’s finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly.

Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.

These words open the major speech on foreign policy he is giving. They do a wonderful job of introducing his personal and family history of service in the military while making forcefully clear that this history makes him less, not more, prone to wage war. The rest of the speech is worth reading too – let’s hope it gets the coverage it deserves in the news this evening and tomorrow.

March 25th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The recent Obama’s pastor furore has reminded everyone again how disingenuous candidates can be when they set their minds to it. It’s particularly ironic when it involves Obama because he claims to be so much above the fray, but the fact is that they all do it. They mock their competitors and seek to discredit them when they make mountains out of molehills, but then turn around and do exactly the same thing back.

Obama’s pastor problem is a problem, because he chose this man, sought his advice and blessing, and maintained a close personal asssociation with him over the years. But it was easily fixed, and by all accounts his race speech was impressive in the way it dealt with the issue (some voters have apparently not responded so well). But whether it’s this issue, or Hillary’s Geraldine Ferraro problem or now her Bosnia problem, or McCain’s Iran gaffe, everyone gleefully makes much of the shortcomings of other candidates but wails with false pain when the same dirty tricks are played on them.

These issues only really matter if they tell us something fundamental about the candidate that we didn’t already know, or only suspected. The Jeremiah Wright problem had legs because it belied Obama’s contentions that he is not running on race or on a racial platform or as the candidate or representative of a particular race, and yet there is a suspicion that he is more militant than he lets on. This is also the reason why his wife’s remarks have been so well covered – they reinforce this perception too.

The Clinton Ferraro issue didn’t matter because no-one really associated the views expressed by Ferraro with Clinton. But the Bosnia scam did because it played to a suspicion people have about Clinton: that she will say and do anything to get elected, and that she is desperate to build a false foreign policy resume by reference to the times she accompanied her husband on overseas trips. Almost entirely lacking in her own experience, she must rely on his, but can only do so by exaggerating her role in past events. The Bosnia comments – so easily disproved in this age of online video – were unwise precisely because they revealed more to us about her character than she wanted to.

For the same reason, McCain’s Iran comments didn’t matter, because no-one doubts that this man knows foreign policy. He is returning from his eighth visit to Iraq and famously served in the armed forces himself many years ago. This was an anomaly and not a revelation, and that’s the difference. But all candidates always act as if every indiscretion or revelation were an anomaly, which discredits their claims even when they’re reasonable. But there’s no real hope of any change in that department soon, unfortunately.

March 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

Jack Cafferty of CNN has an article asking whether America needs a third party, an idea apparently thrown up recently by Chuck Hagel.

The opening two paragraphs of the piece are as follows:

The U.S. needs independent leadership and maybe even a new political party.

Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican and one of the very few class acts in Washington, has a new book out, “America: Our Next Chapter.” Hagel writes, “In the current impasse, an independent candidate for the presidency, or a bipartisan unity ticket… could be appealing to Americans.”

The first line / paragraph isn’t in quotes, so I’m guessing it’s Cafferty’s own view. But it appears to closely mirror Hagel’s, as taken from his book. Because the rest of the context is missing we don’t know what the “impasse” is that Hagel refers to here. Apparently he believes there’s a big problem with the current two-party system, which is ironic in the middle of one of the most interesting and hard-fought primary campaigns of recent years, which is likely to remain a closely-run campaign as it moves past the primaries and into the presidential election itself.

It’s as if Hagel is projecting his own uncertain party political identity onto the electorate. This is the man who has famously been one of the least Republican Republicans in Congress, mulled switching to the other side and/or running with Bloomberg as an independent. It’s not at all clear that this guy has any kind of following – he just seems to have decided that he’s not really going to make it to the big time in either of the existing parties and he’s figuring out what’s next. I lost count of the number of times he held a press conference about whether or not he was running for president only to tell the assembled media he was still undecided, but I’d hate to think how indecisive he’d become if he had three parties to choose from…

More seriously, though, this idea raises its head every few years, and it’s always nonsense. Third parties – be they the Green Party, the Reform Party, Libertarians or others, have fared pretty miserably in presidential elections, and the only times they’ve affected the outcome they’ve pushed the result toward the candidate with views most like their own. The current parties may not be perfect, and most people may have to take the rough with the smooth in order to embrace one or the other, but the fact is that people tend to identify more with either the party that believes government should be solving all our problems or that individuals have the power to do so; and with the party that believes that all behavior is moral or the party that believes there should still be limits on proper behavior, and that we should teach those to our children.

Obama’s campaign is actually an interesting test of what the kind of third-party Hagel is proposing would look like, which appears to be more about not being one of the other two parties than about any independent identity. To the extent that Obama is attempting to run by focusing on higher things and obfuscating his positions on the issues, he is mirroring the Hagel strategy. But, even with a large chunk of the Democratic party behind him, charisma and a gift for oratory, the man is not running away with the nomination, let alone the election. How would he have been received if this was all he had to offer, minus the oratorical gifts and the charming persona? He would have been left in the dust long ago. Add back the gifts and personality, and the party becomes about an individual and not ideas, which is a problem with Obama’s own candidacy but also with many of the third parties we’ve had of late.

Although I used the parties’ names above, I might easily have replaced two of them with the names of Ralph Nader and Ross Perot, because they effectively were their parties. And the cult of personality is the fastest way to dictatorship and bad decisions. Yes, we elect an individual in the US, and not a party as in the UK or other countries, but always as the head of a party with a separate identity, a platform of campaign promises, and an infrastructure of elected and unelected officials to hold to account.

Hagel’s best hope for a real shot at a presidential campaign may well be in the form of a third-party or independent ticket, but the best hope for the rest of us is to stick with the two parties we have, and if they need changing, to do so from within.