April 22nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

It appears there’s growing frustration among the media following the Obama campaign that the candidate has stopped talking to them. Toby Harnden of the UK’s Daily Telegraph writes in a blog entry today that details some of what’s going on in the minds of the press:

On Obama One, there’s a sense of growing mutiny. There’s been no press availability for 11 days and only two in April.

A few hours later, Obama was unrepentant, again rebuffing a reporter’s question. This time, it was Margaret Talev of McLatchy – who was in the press pool with Anburajan for the day – who had a go. Just as Obama was sitting down to tape a session of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, Talev asked him why he felt it important to respond to the late-breaking Clinton television ad with an ad of his own and what he thought of her ad.

“Are you supposed to be doing this with the pool?” Obama responded, and laughed. Then he sat down and had his earpiece put in. Talev asked him if he’d comment after the taping. He said: “Maybe, it depends on how well behaved you are.” As Talev put in her poll report, however “after the taping, I was whisked off ahead of him and didn’t get to bug him again”.

On Obama One, the only official to venture back to the press seats was the affable David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, a former reporter who appears to enjoy relaxing in the company of us hacks and pops back fairly frequently. This time, however, we were so starved of access that he immediately had a dozen tape recorders pushed under his nose and was peppered with questions.

When we asked him why Obama wasn’t talking to us, he responded: “I’m sure that he’ll be spending time with you some time soon. He’s done a series of interviews today on national television, on local television with local press so he’s done a lot of media.”

The impression Harnden got – and one that’s difficult to escape, is that Obama has done so badly when he’s gone unscripted recently that essentially he’s almost always off message when speaking off the cuff. His handlers appear to have decided that the only way to keep him “on message” is to have him only deliver formal, scripted messages and essentially restrict him to “no message” in all other situations.

This is going to be problematic for a guy who is trying to avoid allegations of elitism. Not that journalists truly represent the common people, but they’re the only proxy there is in many cases, and his desire to avoid them smacks of a desire to avoid engaging with anyone in a real way. Perhaps he’s hoping that he can simply pull this strategy until Pennsylvania is over, then re-engage more afterwards once Hillary is seen off. Quite apart from the fact that CNN is currently projecting a Clinton win in PA, this strategy can’t pay off. There are almost seven months left until the general election, and Obama can’t simply hide out for that period. He must begin to engage again and no amount of spin and damage control can prevent him from putting his foot in it if that’s his tendency. The result may just end up being that it becomes too late for the Democrats to do anything about this tendency and then they’re stuck with him in the general election. Fine by me.

April 17th, 2008 by Rightsideup

As in almost every election cycle recently (or so it seems) there have been allegations from some quarters that there is little to separate the candidates on the issues, and this is one of the reasons why people aren’t engaging in the process more. There’s always some truth in this, and certainly (for all Barack Obama’s protestations to the contrary) all candidates and both parties are more or less equally guilty of playing the game of politics as usual.

But it is worth remembering that there are real and significant policy differences between the major candidates and especially between the two major parties, and pointing out what these are. This, after all, is what we’re all fighting for.

So, what are we fighting for?

  • Taxation – the Democrats want to revoke the Bush tax cuts and generally raise taxes, with the only significant difference being how open they are about the latter aim. Certainly the increases in spending they propose must lead to increases in taxation, but they’d rather leave the voters to connect those dots themselves than spell it out for them.
  • Foreign Policy – the Democrats are essentially embarrassed for America and want to make things right with the rest of the world. Rather than believe that the US needs to act in its own interests, they believe it needs to do what will make the rest of the world happy. This means mea culpas over Iraq and Afghanistan and a speedy withdrawal from the former regardless of the consequences to the US or Iraq itself.
  • Judges – at least in theory, John McCain would appoint the kind of judges Bush has to the Supreme and lower courts – that is, strict constructionists who will not read the constitution’s aura to find new “emanations” and “penumbras” containing hitherto hidden meaning justifying massive increases in governmental power. These judges would further continue to take the court in the direction it has been going in the last several years on abortion, finding room for more restrictions on it and perhaps eventually overturning Roe vs. Wade and leaving individual states to determine their own abortion laws.
  • Healthcare. Here, the Republican position is essentially to do nothing to change the current system, which has flaws but consistently provides higher standards of health care to the vast majority of Americans than citizens of any other country enjoy. Democrats, of course, want to effectively nationalize healthcare and turn the American system into a more expensive version of Britain’s National Health Service, with bloated bureaucracies and massive waiting lists coupled with second-world care.

These are, I think, the four key reasons why anyone who supports the Republican position on these issues needs to be actively engaged with the electoral process and committed to getting John McCain elected. The economy is a red herring as an issue, other than as it relates to tax policy. Education is another where there is little daylight between the positions of the candidates or parties. But these issues ought to get Republicans energized and invested in the process, because if they don’t win there will be a significant negative impact on our economy and way of life.

April 13th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I posted a few months back about JFK and Democratic snobbery.The thrust of that post was that Democrats, while claiming to be the party of the little guy – of the working class – in fact engages in a greater degree of snobbishness than the Republicans, who nominally favor the middle and upper classes and have little sympathy for the little guy.

Barack Obama this week has demonstrated that, for all his appeal to the little guy and his suggestion that he had a hard-knocks upbringing, he’s just as guilty of this as his predecessors have been. The comments in question came at a poorly-reported event in California, and ironically were only reported by a liberal blogger at the Huffington Post:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them…And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

The comments were made to a snooty crowd and so to some extent the snobbishness is not out of place. But of course these days you can’t tailor your message to audiences in such a way that you can cater to one with comments that will be taken hard by another, and Obama’s found out the hard way. Both McCain and Clinton have pounced on the remarks and made hay as much as they could. But this is just another signal that Obama may not be quite the friend of the little guy many think he is.

April 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

CNN screenshotIs this just wishful thinking on CNN’s part? In a story about the fact that Alan Greenspan has endorsed John McCain, the caption on the picture reads, “Greenspan said he is supporting Obama.” Obama, who is mentioned nowhere else in the article, and who does not appear to be the object of Greenspan’s support or endorsement. I wonder if CNN will correct this at some point…

Click through on the screenshot for a fuller version.

April 5th, 2008 by Rightsideup

What is it with the Democratic candidates and trade agreements? Although both of them are reportedly against elements (or all) of NAFTA, and criticize most others, they have both now had senior advisers talking up such agreements to foreign governments. In Obama’s case, of course, it was the advisor who told the Canadian government that Obama didn’t really mean what he was saying about NAFTA and that they shouldn’t take it too seriously. It still isn’t 100% clear whether he was acting on his own or on behalf of the campaign – but it is clear there was a disconnect between his own beliefs and those of the candidate.

And then this week we had a similar situation with Clinton. Mark Penn, a lobbyist who advises Clinton, reportedly met with the Colombian government to promote a trade agreement that Clinton opposes. In his case, he was at least clearly promoting the agreement in his capacity as a lobbyist and not as a Clinton staffer, but there is once again a massive disconnect between the candidate and the adviser.

On the one hand, this suggests some laxity on the part of the candidates in choosing their advisers on these topics. On the other, it suggests that even prominent people within their campaigns disagree with them about their positions on these trade agreements. Is it really that hard to find an adviser who holds similar positions on these issues? And if so, isn’t that a sign that the candidates’ views are dangerously at variance with what the best minds think about trade agreements? Should the candidates perhaps be revisiting their views on these issues and moderating their criticisms? If not, then they should at least replace these advisers with ones who will parrot their union-driven, economy-destroying opposition wholeheartedly instead of undermining and contradicting their positions.

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 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 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 4th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Obama is now plagued by two quasi-scandals: the Rezko case and the NAFTA case. But the irony with both is that the purported scandals themselves are pretty tame – what’s really getting him is the fact that he and his campaign have not been truthful or open about them. In fact, the latest evidence suggests Obama is trying to run as far away from them both as possible. There’s a good summary of how this has panned out in relation to the NAFTA story here. It’s as if Obama has been such a carefully stage-managed candidate that the only response his campaign has when things like this come up (as they do, inevitably, even with the most squeaky clean campaign) is to deny and run.

In some ways, the timing here is similar to the Times story about McCain – it may all come together just too late to make any difference in the primary election, but it has the potential to still be out there for the general election, with the Rezko trial in particular throwing up fodder for more stories on the Rezko-Obama relationship.

March 3rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

This is one of those times when my two worlds collide: technology (which is what I do for work) and politics (which is what I do for fun). Netscape founder Marc Andreessen has a blog entry up about a meeting he had last year with Barack Obama, and technology blog TechCrunch has an article about it.

Both articles / blog entries draw the same conclusion about this particular exchange:

We then asked, well, what about foreign policy — should we be concerned that you just don’t have much experience there?

He said, directly, two things.

First, he said, I’m on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I serve with a number of Senators who are widely regarded as leading experts on foreign policy — and I can tell you that I know as much about foreign policy at this point as most of them.

Being a fan of blunt answers, I liked that one.

But then he made what I think is the really good point.

He said — and I’m going to paraphrase a little here: think about who I am — my father was Kenyan; I have close relatives in a small rural village in Kenya to this day; and I spent several years of my childhood living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Think about what it’s going to mean in many parts of the world — parts of the world that we really care about — when I show up as the President of the United States. I’ll be fundamentally changing the world’s perception of what the United States is all about.

He’s got my vote.

The TechCrunch blogger (Erick Schonfeld) then goes on to add:

That last point is a pretty powerful rejoinder to the criticism that foreign policy is not Obama’s strong suit. His unique life history arguably puts him in a better position than any other candidate to change the anti-American attitudes rife in many other countries. What other candidate could do that simply by being elected?

This is the nub of the matter, isn’t it? That liberals (Democrats, whatever) think the goal of foreign policy is to get everyone outside the US to like us more, and therefore the key qualification here is being likable by non-Americans. Conservatives (Republicans, whatever) know that foreign policy is about securing the United States against foreign attackers and ensuring that the interests of the United States are protected.

The question about Obama’s foreign policy experience is entirely legitimate, because he has spent no time at all immersed in the real business of foreign policy, namely the art of diplomacy and the art of war (or “the continuation of diplomacy by other means,” as Clausewitz once said). He mistakenly believes that having spent time in foreign countries and having relatives there is the key thing (recall that George W Bush was criticised for not having spent enough time outside the US – whatever the failings of his foreign policy, they don’t have their roots in where he spent his vacations).

Obama’s arrogance on the topic of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is pretty breathtaking too. That committee is headed by Joe Biden and Dick Lugar, both of whom have several decades of foreign policy experience. For Obama to suggest that in the few months he spent in the Senate before running for President he amassed more knowledge than these two men or the others who serve on that committee is preposterous, and again suggests he is dangerously naive about the real meaning and importance of foreign policy experience.