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 14th, 2008 by Rightsideup

One assumption about Romney has been that if he (or anyone else) were selected as McCain’s VP, he would be in pole position for a run at the presidency next time around (whether 2012 or 2016). Most people trumpet this as if it’s received wisdom, but how much sense does that really make?

Incumbent VPs from the last 70 years fall into one of several categories:

  • Succeed sitting president through death or resignation (Truman, Johnson, Ford)
  • Seek and win nomination, win election (Nixon, Bush)
  • Seek and win nomination, lose election (Humphrey, Nixon, Mondale, Gore)
  • Seek and fail to win nomination (Quayle)
  • No running for presidential office (Cheney, Rockefeller, Barkley)
  • Resign while in office (Agnew)

Eight of these 13 men have therefore gone on either to be the nominee of their party or president, which seems good odds. But of those, four lost at least their first attempts to be elected to the presidency, and three became president through no fault or merit of their own. Just two of them – Bush and Nixon – actually won election in their own rights.

The records in office of those that did become president are not stellar:

  • Truman may be the exception, at least in some eyes, although he failed to win re-election for a second term
  • Johnson (who failed to be elected to a second term in his own right and presided over several miserable failures)
  • Nixon disgraced the office and his party
  • Ford replaced him and unsurprisingly failed to be elected in his own right even once
  • Bush won on Reagan’s coattails, but again failed to win a second term.

Taken together, none of this suggests either that VPs are more likely to be elected than anyone else (for example former Governors, who have been elected four of the last five times), or that they make particularly good presidents when they are elected. Romney, Huckabee and others (especially John McCain) should all bear this in mind.

Now, part of the problem is the kind of men chosen as VPs, often more for the states they can bring in, their unlikeliness to challenge the candidate in the personal dynamism stakes, and the balance they bring to the ticket rather than any admirable qualities they possess in their own rights. Romney might prove the exception to that rule, although Huckabee arguably fits the mold better in some ways. But anyone assuming that the Vice Presidency is the best path to the presidency is making a shaky assumption at best. I’m glad to see that Romney is also setting up a PAC to elect Republican candidates as a way of shoring up his other main option for setting himself up for 2012.

March 12th, 2008 by Rightsideup

There has been a growing stream of articles over the past couple of weeks talking about Romney as a possible VP candidate. My own view has always been that he wouldn’t accept it – he’s been running the show wherever he was (Bain Capital, the Olympics, Massachusetts, his Presidential campaign) for 20 years or so, and playing second fiddle to a guy with whom he shared so much animosity during the campaign just seemed unlikely.

But, it appears that he may be willing after all. The reason must be that he wants to position himself as the leading contender for the presidency in four or eight years’ time, and thinks this is the better approach. Regardless of whether he and McCain won or not, he’d get lots of time in the public eye, be seen as someone willing to do what’s best for the party (that’s the tone of his remarks in this interview). This is certainly a cheaper and in some ways easier option than the alternative of spending four years in the wilderness burnishing his conservative credentials by starting a foundation of some kind. But he’ll be miserable being the VP unless he’s given some sort of substantive role after all his executive experience over the last several years.

And all this also begs the question of whether McCain would even ask him. But with Rove and others pulling for it, it’s not such a long shot at this point.

February 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

A phenomenal set of charts showing public perceptions of progress in Iraq over the last two years, which illustrates fantastically the impact of the surge, not just on the reality over there but on people’s perceptions of progress. In every case, the light blue lines represent negative perceptions, while the dark blue represents positive perceptions.

These come from a set of Pew surveys published here, and there’s more interesting stuff where this came from.

Great to see the surge working, and being perceived to be working. I’ve been a believer in the surge from the beginning, although I was by no means sure it would work – I just believed that it was, as Churchill once said of democracy, the worst option except for all the others. This should also provide a good boost to McCain’s campaign and also damage Obama’s ability to make hay out of his consistent opposition to the war and desire to bring troops home. The latter is addressed by this chart, from the same source:

February 28th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Occasionally I get behind on my reading / posting and that’s been happening again. The best thing to do is take the articles I wanted to write about and just post the links here:

February 27th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Nice mature response here from Barack Obama to a legitimate criticism from John McCain. (From Jim Geraghty at The Campaign Spot on National Review Online.)

Obama apparently said the following in the Democratic debate Tuesday night:

As commander in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests. And if al-Qaida is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.

John McCain rightly pointed out when asked about the comment later:

I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al-Qaida in Iraq,’ [unless of course, you’re the New York Times, in which case Al-Qaida (or Al-Qaeda) is not in Iraq but in Mesopotamia, wherever that is…]

When presented with this snippet, Obama responded as follows:

I’ve got some news for John McCain, that is there was no such thing Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade.

“I’ve got some news for John McCain. I’ve got some news for John McCain. He took us into a war, along with George Bush that should have never been authorized, never been waged. They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 and that would be Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, that is stronger now than at any time since 2001. I’ve been paying attention John McCain!

“John McCain may like to say that he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell. But so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that’s cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars and that I intend to bring to an end so that we can actually start going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, like we should have been doing in the first place. That’s the news John McCain!

“I respect John McCain, but he’s tied to the politics of the past; we’re about the policies of the future. He’s the party of yesterday. We want to be the party of tomorrow. That’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.”

This is kind of the 46-year-old politician’s version of the schoolchild’s “oh yeah? well, you suck!” It doesn’t address the question itself, but instead tries to change the subject and counter-attack with something completely different. But, thankfully, Obama “respects” John McCain – phew. That’s alright then.

Now, I think it’s inevitable that during a campaign as long and arduous as all these guys have to go through, they’re going to goof every once in a while, and when it’s a Republican who goofs, it gets blanket coverage (see Romney saying Osama instead of Obama compared with this Obama goof and Hillary’s “Medvedev – whatever” comment from the debate last night). But it sure would be nice if the candidates would just say, “you know what? I misspoke. I apologize. What I meant was….” I guess we can dream on with that one…

February 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

USA Today has done an analysis of the likely impact on deficits and spending under the Democratic candidates. It draws on analysis released by the National Taxpayers Union, which suggests that Obama’s plans, to the extent they can be nailed down, would lead to increases in spending of $287 billion annually compared with an increase of $218 billion for Hillary Clinton’s plans.

The findings are pretty predictable, although the exact amounts are rather meaningless (see the NTU’s detailed analysis for the kind of methods they used to come up with the numbers). We get the gist, though: either candidate would require a lot more spending. And the main strategies for funding the spending are repealing the Bush tax cuts (i.e. a big tax increase) and withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. So they would fund their big spending plans by taxing us more and giving up on the efforts to stabilise those two countries.

Even these two things taken together, leaving aside the fact that the campaign’s estimates of how much they would contribute, would leave a shortfall, meaning more taxes, of course. And none of this takes account of the fact that spending is increasing anyway, especially as regards social security. But of course reducing spending or reforming social security doesn’t come into the equation at all.

Ultimately, these tax increases, the reduced freedoms enjoyed by individuals under a Democratic admininstration, and the appointment of judges to the higher courts are the biggest reasons to vote Republican (McCain) this year, even if he’s not the candidate a lot of Republicans had hoped for. Certainly, McCain may cause other problems, but on these three big issues there is clear blue sky between his positions and those of Obama and Clinton.

February 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

More on the NY Times / McCain story, thanks to the NY Times’ publication of reader questions and the responses of its senior staff. A couple of fun quotes:

Much as we prefer on-the-record (or even documentary) information, and editors and reporters push hard on sources to let us use their names, without the ability to protect sources newspapers would not have been able to report on important activities of the government and other powerful institutions, and political reporting would be much more a kind of event-driven stenography.

Nice to see the Times come out and say that simply reporting the news (“event-driven stenography”) is too boring, and it’s much more interesting to do something else. Of course, by this they mean investigative journalism, but it applies too to hatchet jobs, doesn’t it?

Another quote plays nicely to / helps explain the “Two papers in one!” narrative used by James Taranto of the WSJ occasionally in his Best of the Web column:

The short answer is that the news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion.

It also repeats the claim that timing was unaffected by anything other than the editorial process, and states that the endorsement process occurred entirely separate from the writing of the article (though it concedes that it was public knowledge from December onwards that it was working on the article, thanks to Drudge.

February 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

A huge dustup over the last couple of days about the New York Times’ article on John McCain and his ties to lobbyists, and in particular Vicki Iseman. The visceral reaction from the McCain campaign itself and many conservative commentators, bloggers, radio hosts and politicians is now been followed by a more measured approach to evaluating the article.

The Times has indeed erred in several key ways here:

  • it appears to have taken from December until this week to publish an article, virtually all of the details of which were known from the beginning of that period, and appears to have rushed the article to publication in response to a pending article from the New Republic. The Times denies this, but at the very least, this denial requires belief in a huge coincidence of timing. The timing is also convenient in that the Republicans now have their nominee, and the only way it can influence voters’ minds is in the general election, not the primaries, in contrast to, say, three weeks ago.
  • it uses innuendo and implication to suggest a romantic (if that’s the right word) relationship between McCain and Iseman despite the fact that none of its sources – even the unnamed ones – actually outright claimed this was the case.
  • it rehashes old scandals in great detail, even when one of them happened 20 years ago and the other was adequately explained as a non-scandal at the time.

The most egregious excerpt is the following:

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

That there was a romantic relationship – or any inappropriate closeness – has been denied by the one aide quoted by name in the article and by everyone associated with the McCain campaign now and previously. There is no doubt that the Times screwed up on this one, both in telling a story without basis in fact, and in its claims about the timing. It has also been ridiculously defensive since the publication:

Later in the day, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers leveled harsh criticism at The New York Times in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign strategy to wage a war with the newspaper. Mr. McCain is deeply distrusted by conservatives on a number of issues, not least because of his rapport with the news media, but he could find common ground with them in attacking a newspaper that many conservatives revile as a left-wing publication. [my emphasis]

Since the New York Times’ views on war are well known, it’s perhaps not surprising that it sees any counter-attack by an entity it doesn’t like (whether McCain or the United States) as “waging a war”, but this does seem a particularly long stretch even for the Gray Lady. At any rate, it puts its endorsement in exactly the light in which several of McCain’s Republican opponents suggested it should be seen: as ultimately self-interested from a paper with an agenda that includes electing a Democratic President. Since that endorsement came during the time between the paper’s first thoughts about publishing the article and its eventual publication, the contents of the article must have been in the editorial board’s minds as they wrote it. It neatly excludes any positive or negative references to McCain’s character or integrity, leaving the door open to the smear they published this week.

However, despite all this – and the likelihood that the suggestions of an affair are a complete fabrication, the article itself (four pages long in its online version) does make some reasonable points which have more substance to them. The article it should have written is the one the Washington Post wrote today. There are real problems with McCain’s ties to lobbyists, and a big part of the problem is that McCain himself doesn’t seem to realise it. This was also what Mitt Romney was referring to when he said he didn’t have lobbyists running his campaign, although that conversation turned into an argument about semantics as they related to Romney’s own campaign instead of heading where it should have. The Post article summarises as follows:

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington’s lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O’ Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

McCain really does have lobbyists running his campaign, but he doesn’t seem to think it matters. While doing all he can through McCain-Feingold and other means to restrict the kinds of activities candidates can engage in to avoid the appearance of impropriety, he seems to believe all he has to do himself to avoid such an appearance is to simply state “there’s nothing to see here”:

“I have many friends who represent various interests, ranging from the firemen to the police to senior citizens to various interests, particularly before my committee,” McCain said. “The question is . . . do they have excess or unwarranted influence? And certainly no one ever has in my conduct of my public life and conduct of my legislative agenda.”

And we’re just supposed to take his word for it? Aren’t there other campaign managers around who aren’t (or haven’t been) lobbyists? The problem is that McCain believes so strongly in his own integrity that he can’t see why others wouldn’t, even when faced with glaring conflicts of interest. It reminds me of Tony Blair (see this previous post) of whom it was said:

Mr. Blair suffered from a condition previously unknown to me: delusions of honesty.

McCain, too, seems to suffer from delusions of honesty, or at least integrity. And he is blind to the things he does which give an alternative view. This is a legitimate cause for concern and legitimate fodder for newspaper articles, from left-wing and right-wing organs alike. He must confront it head on, and ideally he should clean house, as he has occasionally done before when confronted with previous lapses in judgment. He also needs to have someone in his campaign who has his ear and is not afraid to tell him when he’s wrong. This has been a huge problem for President Bush (Rumsfeld’s Rule #20 notwithstanding) and McCain must avoid it being a problem for him too, not just in the campaign, but also in the presidency.

UPDATE: not a huge fan of the Boston Globe, but it appears they made the right call on this and actually did run the article the Post wrote instead of the one the Times wrote, despite being owned by the Times company:

But one interesting aspect of this combined political and professional controversy went widely unnoticed. The Boston Globe, which is wholly owned by the New York Times, chose not to publish the article produced by its parent company’s reporters.

Instead, the Globe published a version of the same story written by the competing Washington Post staff. That version focused almost exclusively on the pervasive presence of lobbyists in McCain’s campaign and did not mention the sexual relationship that the Times article hinted at but did not describe or document and which the senator and lobbyist have denied.