"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
October 31, 2008
POLITICS: Big Money
Just to tie up a loose end from yesterday's post on Obama's money machine: only a quarter of his donations are from under-$200 donors, compared to 31% for Bush in 2004 and 37% for Kerry in 2004. So the myth that Obama's enormous financial advantage comes from small-dollar donors is just that, a myth.
October 30, 2008
POLITICS: The Credit Card Fraud Campaign
I have not spent nearly enough time on this issue, but given the centrality of Barack Obama's amazing internet fundraising machine to everything he's been able to accomplish in the primary and general elections, it's been staggering to discover the extent to which his website has been deliberately designed to permit donations without the safeguards other campaigns and online businesses use. A lot of credit goes to Kenneth Timmerman of Newsmax (more here) for beginning the serious investigation of Obama's sources of funds - Newsmax has run a lot stories over the years that have contributed to its devalued credibility as a source, but on this one it was dead-on, as subsequent investigations have confirmed. The Washington Post had a piece yesterday giving an overview of the various types of illegal fundraising that the structure of the website enables:
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed.
In recent weeks, questionable contributions have created headaches for Obama's accounting team as it has tried to explain why campaign finance filings have included itemized donations from individuals using fake names, such as Es Esh or Doodad Pro. Those revelations prompted conservative bloggers to further test Obama's finance vetting by giving money using the kind of prepaid cards that can be bought at a drugstore and cannot be traced to a donor.
The Obama team's disclosures came in response to questions from The Washington Post about the case of Mary T. Biskup, a retired insurance manager from Manchester, Mo., who turned up on Obama's FEC reports as having donated $174,800 to the campaign. Contributors are limited to giving $2,300 for the general election.
If you are keeping score at home, that's five different kinds of illegality that can come from reduced security on the web:
(1) Donations by foreign nationals
Moreover, it appears that - as has traditionally been true of voter fraud - it will be exceptionally difficult to follow the trail to apprehend the real donors, precisely because of the use of false or stolen identities. In fact, it may take some time to even get a handle on the scope of the problem.
How'd the campaign do this? RedState's tech guru, Neil Stevens, walks through some of the technical changes that had to be made to the standard website credit-processing system, a subject that has produced something of a cottage industry in the right side of the blogosphere in the last week or two, and which I haven't adequately covered in the links above - more here (with a roundup and explanation of methods, most notably disabling the Address Verification System), here, here, here, here. It's quite clear not only that the campaign has not had adeqaute safeguards in place but that routine ones were deliberately disabled, and their vague response has basically been "trust us." New politics, indeed.
Remember: Obama's campaign is itself his only executive experience (he has claimed it as significant experience himself), and fundraising is the single most impressive thing his campaign has done, the core operation from which everything else flows. And at the core of his web-money machine (as Mark Steyn notes, the web has done two-thirds of Obama's fundraising in September) is a deliberate effort to permit evasion of the law. Whether Obama personally authorized that or not, it is very much relevant in evaluating how he has conducted his campaign. After all, if he's elected, a lot will happen on his watch without his express permission. And the people inside his campaign are likely to be the same ones holding jobs in his Administration.
October 29, 2008
Jonathan Last on Obama's informercial: "Never before have I noticed how wonderful commercials are. It's not until you're forced to go without the Geico cavemen for 30 straight minutes do you realize how much you appreciate them."
For those of you, like me, with no desire to watch the thing, sit back and watch the master at work in the same 30-minute ad format - here he is on the October 27 before Election Day 1964, then a 53-year-old private citizen standing in to make the case his party's presidential nominee had been trying and failing for months to get across to the American public, the "A Time For Choosing" speech:
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The text of the speech is here, and while the precise challenges of the present day have changed, so many of the principles Reagan talked about then (especially the segment on the soft, slow slide towards socialism starting around 18:20) is still vital to today's election.
Notice three things. One, this predates the happy-warrior Reagan - he's tough and uncompromising. Two, you won't get lost in a fog of generalities - Reagan was pithy and philosophical, but as always he also came loaded for bear with statistics and specifics to back up his points. And three, I had seen clips of that speech before but this is the first one that showed the crowd.
It's instructive to compare Reagan's stark choices to Obama's "Closing Argument" speech on Monday in Ohio. There's a bunch of interesting and telling tropes in that speech, but just to touch on two of them - the speech may as well have been entitled "A Time For Not Choosing," because a core theme speech was the idea that hard tradeoffs are, in fact, not really tradeoffs at all:
We don't have to choose between allowing our financial system to collapse and spending billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street banks.
The choice in this election isn't between tax cuts and no tax cuts. It's about whether you believe we should only reward wealth, or whether we should also reward the work and workers who create it....
When it comes to jobs, the choice in this election is not between putting up a wall around America or allowing every job to disappear overseas. ...
When it comes to health care, we don't have to choose between a government-run health care system and the unaffordable one we have now. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change under my plan is that we will lower premiums....
When it comes to giving every child a world-class education so they can compete in this global economy for the jobs of the 21st century, the choice is not between more money and more reform - because our schools need both....
And when it comes to keeping this country safe, we don't have to choose between retreating from the world and fighting a war without end in Iraq....
Both Reagan and Obama do a play on the "this is not right vs. left" argument, but Reagan argued that "left" is really "down" to a socialist future, while "right" means America's traditional liberties:
You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.
Obama, by contrast, does the same thing - but while Reagan insisted, into the teeth of an electoral disaster, that his ideas could stand the test of history, Obama uses the "no left, no right" meme to disguise his Great Society big-government liberalism behind an updated version of Michael Dukakis' "competence, not ideology" slogan:
Understand, if we want get through this crisis, we need to get beyond the old ideological debates and divides between left and right. We don't need bigger government or smaller government. We need a better government - a more competent government - a government that upholds the values we hold in common as Americans.
Not exactly the words of a man confident that he can openly proclaim a "progressive" ideology and survive. To the very end, Obama will refuse to admit what it is that he is selling. A time for choosing, indeed.
« Close It
BASEBALL: And So It Ends
World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, for only the second time in 126 years.
Not the way I wanted this season to end - it's been a rough 7 1/2 weeks all around - but congrats to the Phillies phans out there.
POLITICS: Robbing Peter To Pay Peter
"Our hope is that the leadership of both parties will be able to confer and come back after the election, and see what we can do to provide assistance to our local and state governments, as we have been able to do for our banking and finance industry," Rep. Rangel said at the outset of a committee hearing Wednesday on stimulus discussions.
This is nonsensical.
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I was a grudging supporter of the Paulson Plan (a/k/a the "Wall Street bailout") on the theory that it was absolutely necessary at the time as a policy matter to restore confidence and liquidity in the financial markets, which have ripple effects for pretty much the entire rest of the world economy. One of the main policy arguments in favor of the Paulson Plan was that it was relatively minimalist and not really going to be a long-term money-loser for the government. One of the sounder political arguments against the plan was that casting it as a "bailout" of the unpopular financial industry would lead to a long procession of pretty much everybody else coming to Washington to ask to be bailed out of whatever was ailing them, at large expense and without any analogous hope that the taxpayers would get their money back. This has come to pass quickly, and the Rangel proposal is its reductio ad absurdum. Consider:
Q: Why Does New York State Need A Bailout?
A: Because it can't pay its bills.
Q: If New York Does Not Cut Spending or Get A Bailout, How Will It Pay Its Bills?
A: Raise state/local taxes on New York taxpayers.
Q: So, Who Will Pay New York's Bills If There Is A Bailout?
A: Federal taxpayers.
Q: Aren't Those The Same People?
A: Basically, yes. If states and cities aren't bailed out in equal proportion to the tax money they send Washington, then it's not precisely the same, it's a "spread the wealth" transfer. So it's possible that New York will get to soak the taxpayers of some other state, especially with Rangel chairing the committee; then again, the high cost of living in NY means that the state's taxpayers generally pay a high per-capita share of federal taxes and will pay a much larger share if Obama gets in and passes his tax plan. But in the aggregate, the burdens of state and local taxpayers are being relieved by ... those same taxpayers' federal tax dollars.
Q: What Is The Purpose Of This Shell Game?
To diffuse responsibility. If Gov. Paterson or Mayor Bloomberg raises taxes or cuts spending, they take the blame. But if the same dollars get laundered through the colossal federal budget, it's easier for the impact to get lost. The purpose is thus to ensure that taxpayers do not directly see where the money is coming from, and get to imagine that somebody else is paying it.
Of course, they could consider cutting spending. Presumably Gov. Paterson is asking for help because he has wholly eliminated non-essential spending from the New York State Government, right?
Obviously the other way to do this is, have the federal government use borrowed money, since the feds can borrow at a lower rate and with fewer state-law restrictions on borrowing. But the accountability point stands. Politicians should not spend money they can't afford to raise from their own constituents.
« Close It
POLITICS: The Integrity Gap, Part III of III: John McCain and Joe Biden
III. John McCain: The Zeal of the Convert
Given the length and public nature of John McCain's career on the national stage, I won't go here through his record in the depth that I explored those of Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama. But I will lay out a number of examples that show the sharp contrast between McCain's approach to situations calling for integrity and Barack Obama's.
Senator McCain's former, false friends in the media used to paint him as some sort of secular saint, a man who infused politics with a unique brand of noblity that elevated the grubby business of Washington to a higher plane of bipartisanship, reform and self-sacrifice. St. John the McCain was always a myth; we should put not our faith in politicians, and nobody gets as far as McCain has in national politics wholly unsullied by politics and all that comes with it. But if McCain the saint is a myth, McCain the public servant is nonetheless an admirable figure who has passed many tests of fire (in some cases, literally). McCain looks more rather than less impressive when we view him through the justifiably jaded eye that should be cast on any politician.
McCain has been, in his words "an imperfect servant" of this country; I will not try to convince you otherwise, and will deal up front with the two major and deserved blots on his reputation. I will not try to convince you that over 26 years in politics he's been above consorting with lobbyists, accepting endorsements from unsavory people, pandering to constituencies, or changing positions when it suits his needs. But however you define the negative features of "politics as usual," we expect our Presidents to have that quality that allows them to rise above it - perhaps not every day on every issue, but often enough, and forcefully enough, and in spite of enough slings and arrows that we can have confidence that they can be trusted to stand up for us even when it's hard to do so, even at great cost.
There is no question that McCain has shown, over and over and over again, his ability to do just that. He's publicly called out waste and corruption, even in his own party. He's taken on powerful vested interests on the Left and the Right - not just wealthy and well-connected ones but grassroots interests as well. McCain may not fight every battle that needs to be fought, but he will always be fighting, and he will not be afraid to take on targets that can hit him back.
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(1) McCain The Faithful Warrior
John McCain is a professional soldier by birth, upbringing and career. We have had war-hero candidates in several recent elections - George H.W. Bush, John Kerry, Bob Dole - but these men were fundamentally citizen soldiers, men who left behind the world they grew up in to meet their country's call of duty. They were men who were asked to be heroes and discovered that they had it in them. John McCain was raised to be a hero.
That doesn't make the professional soldier more or less noble than the citizen soldier; for most of our nation's history, we have depended upon the ability to meld professional warfighters with citizen soldiers to create an armed force that greater than the sum of its parts. It just means that we have to remember that McCain's internal code of conduct is much more expressly military - a code that places honor, the keeping of one's word and one's loyalty to country and comrades above all else and against all perils.
I won't recount here in any detail the most famous of all McCain stories, his refusal to accept early release as a POW in Vietnam, at the cost of solitary confinement and torture that left him with permanent injuries. But recall that what McCain was doing in that episode was all about the POWs' code of conduct and code of honor. McCain saw the other men around him suffer greatly for that code of honor, and he refused to betray them by betraying it. Indeed, when McCain speaks even to this day about the episode in which he finally broke one night under torture and signed a false confession, you can hear in his voice that he has never forgiven himself even for that moment of wholly understandable weakness. But when morning came, he still refused to go home. He established then and there that when McCain perceives that an issue of his honor is at stake, he will not yield no matter what he must suffer.
(2) McCain The Unfaithful Husband
McCain's code of honor does not, unfortunately, extend to every aspect of his life; most famously, he failed at what most of us regard as the most solemn vow a man can take. His first marriage collapsed in the late 1970s due principally to McCain's serial infidelity to his first wife, who like McCain had suffered serious injuries during his imprisonment, in her case in a car accident. Under all the circumstances - their long time apart, the hardships of war, the burdens of their physical disabilities - we may find it understandable that the marriage fell apart; but that doesn't in any way justify McCain in cheating on his wife and eventually leaving her to marry a younger, healthier, wealthier woman.
It's beyond the time and space I have available here to fully explore the relevance to a public official's career of purely private sins such as marital infidelity. I would briefly digress to suggest the following points, and apply them to McCain:
First, character does matter, and matters more for executives than for legislators due to the nature of the job and the broad discretion executives enjoy. Elections are never just about "the issues," given the broad range of unforeseen circumstances that can arise and given the serious questions voters must always ask about whether a candidate will keep his or her promises on the issues. That's why I'm writing this series, after all. I never bought the argument made by the Democrats throughout the 1990s that character is wholly irrelevant.
Second, private character is not irrelevant. We know that private problems can become public ones if, for example, a philanderer has an affair with, or sexually harrasses, a subordinate employee (Clinton, Foley), gets busted for hiring prostitutes or soliciting sex (Spitzer, Craig), puts unqualified lovers on the public payroll (McGreevey) or has to negotiate or regulate public business with an ex-mistress (Corzine, Frank). While it is true that men will do things for sex they might not do for other temptations, the weakness of character still tells us something about the man, and I am not at all convinced that strength of character can be so subdivided as to make private failings irrelevant to predicting public behavior. (This is aside from issues of deceit and recklessness involved when a public official dares the press to catch him when he knows he's guilty (Hart), chases skirts after he has been caught before (Clinton), engages in illegal activities to cover up an affair (Clinton) or lies directly to the public, to his supporters and to his closest aides (Clinton, Edwards)). Finally, a man with private sins may feel unduly and improperly constrained by his own glass house, and may let the fear of a hypocrisy charge frighten him away from standing up for virtue when it is appropriate or necessary to do so.
Third, however, character is not a series of yes/no questions. It is the test of the whole man, and the test of a lifetime. We understand that all our leaders have sins. Some are more serious than others (surely, marital infidelity is one of those), and some are more recent and current than others, but we are well-advised to judge the whole man, the whole record. A 24-year-old DUI conviction did so much damage to George W. Bush in the week before the 2000 election because, relatively speaking, he did not have a long, countervailing record of positive proof of his character when he ran for president. The same is true of rookie candidates like Obama and Edwards and Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin - having less by which to judge them, each incident and each failing grows larger in proportion. And a character flaw becomes more serious when it reinforces negative impressions about a candidate's public career. For conservatives, at least, Bill Clinton's serial infidelity and pervasive dishonesty about the matter was troublesome because it was so completely consistent with the public Clinton.
McCain comes to us with an exceptionally long public career and many, many incidents that have called upon him to show us his character and what he has made of. He has passed many tests, sometimes tests few living men have been exposed to. He has taken many stands. He is, in short, the ultimate known quantity; he is not going to be anyone in office but the John McCain we already know so well. Nor is there any real fear that McCain will get himself into similar messes in office - this is 30 years ago, and he's been happily and steadily married ever since. He is, frankly, 72 years old; he's not 42 anymore.
Do we see patterns of McCain's infidelity in his public life? Well, I suppose you could argue that we have, in the sense that he's been less than faithful to the Republican party over the years. As you can see from the examples I cite below, McCain obviously does not see loyalty to political ideas or institutions as covered by his code of honor, and so he can be tempted away from his loyalty to them. But on the fundamental question of whether the government should serve the general public interest or more narrow interests - even when those interests are the interests of large or influential groups - and on those issues, such as national security, that he plainly regards as matters of honor, McCain's military code of honor does, in fact, compel him to take stand after stand by the light of his conscience even when it's not obviously in his own best interests. We can trust him to do the same in office because we have been watching him do it all these years.
B. The Keating Five
I referred previously to Sarah Palin as an unlikely source for political reform, and in his own way, so is John McCain. Befitting his background, McCain came to Congress as a defense hawk who sought a place on the key national security committees; nothing in his background suggested a guy who would be a leading voice on domestic policy. But you can't really tell the story of John McCain's career as a Washington gadfly of reform without its origins in the "Keating Five" scandal of the late 1980s (McCain's so old even his scandals are ancient). While some of McCain's reformist streak predates the scandal, virtually every account of his career notes that having his honor called into question was the deepest cut McCain could possibly suffer, and one that motivated many of his later forays into cleaning up the ethical morass of Washington as a form of personal redemption.
Here's how the Arizona Republic describes the genesis of the scandal:
It all started in March 1987. Charles H Keating Jr., the flamboyant developer and anti-porn crusader, needed help. The government was poised to seize Lincoln Savings and Loan, a freewheeling subsidiary of Keating's American Continental Corp.
Despite his history with Keating, McCain was hesitant about intervening. At that point, he had been in the Senate only three months. DeConcini wanted McCain to fly to San Francisco with him and talk to the regulators. McCain refused.
After the meeting, McCain was done with Keating.
You can read the whole thing for an accounting of McCain's longstanding relationship (financial and political) with Keating and the blow-by-blow of the meeting. The five Senators - four Democrats, including John Glenn, last seen stumping for Obama, and McCain - got reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee under the Democrat-controlled Senate in 1990:
In the end, McCain received only a mild rebuke from the Ethics Committee for exercising "poor judgment" for intervening with the federal regulators on behalf of Keating. Still, he felt tarred by the affair.
McCain owns up to his mistake this way:
As Adam Clymer of the New York Times noted in 1995, partisan politics was behind even the tepid reprimand McCain received:
During the Keating Five scandal, committee Democrats resisted dropping the case against John McCain, the Arizona Republican, because that would have left only Democrats accused of improper dealings with Charles Keating, the savings and loan executive.
Basically, McCain's self-assessment is correct: like Glenn, he exercised terrible judgment in associating his good name with Keating, benefitting Keating in his dealings with the regulators. Neither McCain nor Glenn was as culpable in the scandal as DeConcini, Cranston or Riegle - fundamentally, all they really did was show their faces at a meeting - but they were wrong to do even that much. It's a lesson McCain shouldn't have had to learn, but learn he did.
C. The Maverick
We've now assembled the essential picture of John McCain as he stood nearly two decades ago, as a first-term Senator in his mid-50s: war hero who suffered greatly for his code of honor in Hanoi; philanderer who wrecked his first marriage, trying to make better on the second try; legislator tarred by scandal for his association with a crook and burning with a desire to reclaim his reputation for honor. I will freely admit that if McCain had run for President in 1992, at the stage of his career that Obama is at now, he would have had difficulty extricating proof of his honor and integrity from the wreckage of the Keating Five, and would have lacked much in the way of a record. But McCain has walked many miles since then to earn our trust; let us review the portrait that emerges:
(1) Party Disloyalty
The list of issues on which McCain has fought powerful interests inside and outside his own party is too long to recount here. Let us start with McCain the un-party man. For example, Gamecock has rounded up a fairly comprehensive list of McCain's deviations from conservative orthodoxy, including national security issues like interrogation policy. Jonathan Chait has described McCain's apostasies during Bush's first term:
It is no exaggeration to say that, during this crucial period, McCain was the most effective advocate of the Democratic agenda in Washington.
As Chait recognizes, McCain's stands on these issues is not really about ideology; it's McCain going his own idiosyncratic way. Some of these issues, of course, smell to conservatives like media or populist grandstanding. And as I stressed with Obama, I don't view adherence to principle or party loyalty as bad things, nor do I see deviation from the party line as necessarily good. I'd prefer that the GOP was running a principled conservative. But when we fill in the broader picture of McCain's tilts at Washington windmills, a clearer focus emerges, one that is about more than just what is passingly popular or fashionable. The picture that shows that no exterior influence can wholly explain John McCain's stubborn independence. McCain may tack at times with the wind, but he very frequently steers by his own stars.
(2) Scourge of the Hill
Let's touch on a few more that illustrate specifically my point about McCain's independence from powerful forces in all camps:
-Campaign finance reform, of course, is McCain's most famous signature domestic issue. I've never agreed with McCain's policy precriptions on this issue, nor have most conservatives. But nobody questions the sincerity of his crusading spirit on the issue, nor the price he has paid for it. It's not just that McCain has made lifelong enemies of principled conservative commentators like George Will; he also burned his bridges with the leadership of activist groups like the National Right to Life Committee and the NRA who chafed at the way his restrictions on issue ads interfered with their ability to promote their positions during elections. As a result, McCain to this day faces reactions ranging from indifference to seething opposition among the grassroots leadership on the Right that cuts across issues and blocs. (Indeed, it is quite possible that without Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket and Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee, the NRA would never have endorsed McCain).
-Then there's McCain's years-long battle against pork barrel spending projects, a battle that Tom Coburn has since joined but on which McCain for years led alone. The AP describes the origins:
McCain's crusade started with the line-item veto.
As the AP piece notes, and as we have seen on the trail, McCain still has to answer tough questions about his opposition to this or that local project. But he stands his ground - it's who he is.
-McCain opposed President Bush, the GOP Congressional leadership, the pharmaceutical companies and the AARP in opposing the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs, something George Bush and Al Gore had campaigned on in 2000 and which was regarded as universally popular. McCain thought it was fiscally irresponsible, and he was right.
-McCain has battled for years against subsidies and trade barriers that use taxpayer funds to artifically prop up the price of corn ethanol despite serious questions about whether ethanol is a boondoggle as an alternative fuel. There's a reason why ethanol subsidies have such a lock on the political process: would-be presidential candidates must swear fealty to the ethanol lobby if they hope to compete in the crucial Iowa caucuses. McCain, nearly alone among recent presidential candidates (I believe Bill Bradley was an exception) refused to bend on the issue, as a result of which he skipped Iowa in the 2000 primaries, finished third there in 2008, and appears well behind ethanol-backing Barack Obama in this year's general election in Iowa. Remember: ethanol isn't just a moneyed lobby, it's also a popular cause in Iowa. But in this case the people are wrong, and McCain's not afraid to tell them that.
-McCain has likewise stubbornly supported free trade, proudly declaring himself a free trader in this year's debates. As with immigration and his foreign policy views, trade is a core part of McCain's internationalist worldview. He's been unfraid to campaign for it even in NAFTA-hating sectors of Ohio. It's who McCain is.
-As he has noted in a few of the debates, he opposed President Reagan on the use of Marines as peacekeepers in Beruit in 1983, a deployment Reagan later regarded as the worst mistake of his presidency. (Even efforts to spin this as somehow not the case note that "What McCain voted against was a measure to invoke the War Powers Act and to authorize the deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon for an additional 18 months. The measure passed 270-161, with 26 other Republicans (including McCain) and 134 Democrats voting against it."). *
-While many of McCain's positions over the years have been popular with the press, in 1999 he cast just about the most unpopular vote, from the media's perspective, in recent Washington history, to remove the President of the United States from office. As he explained at the time, with a nod to the inevitable hypocrisy charge given McCain's own marital history as well as the fact that he would be voting to wound a man who would still be in the White House, sitting atop high approval ratings, for the remaining year and a half of his term (while his primary opponent, George W. Bush, maintained studious silence on the issue), McCain, typically, viewed the vote as a matter of honor:
All of my life, I have been instructed never to swear an oath to my country in vain. In my former profession, those who violated their sworn oath were punished severely and considered outcasts from our society. I do not hold the President to the same standard that I hold military officers to. I hold him to a higher standard. Although I may admit to failures in my private life, I have at all times, and to the best of my ability, kept faith with every oath I have ever sworn to this country. I have known some men who kept that faith at the cost of their lives. I cannot--not in deference to public opinion, or for political considerations, or for the sake of comity and friendship--I cannot agree to expect less from the President.
-McCain then turned around and took a position that was unpopular with his party - to support President Clinton's pursuit of a war in Bosnia following on ths heels of his acquittal - but also angered the White House by calling for more ground troops and for formal Congressional approval of the war. McCain's resolution was shot down by a joint effort of Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle. (McCain took a similar middle course on the recent FISA debate, angering the Bush White House by arguing that the issue should be sent to Congress but also angering opponents of the Bush surveillance policy by supporting the effort to enshrine it in law).
At stake is a $21 billion contract, of which Boeing, as prime contractor, gets the lion's share. The FCS program is billed by the Pentagon as an "overwhelmingly lethal" weapons system integrating battlefield computers into one vast communications network. It supports 550 workers at Boeing's Kent site and, according to the company, puts roughly $175 million into Washington state's economy each year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, McCain has had trouble attracting support from defense contractors. * * * McCain's battles with defense contractors are a sign of his view, shared by Gov. Palin, that being pro-business doesn't have to mean accepting longstanding deference to the interests of particular businesses.
-Wall Street: Of course, we know about McCain's calls for reform of lobbying powerhouses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even during times when they were employing as a lobbyist Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager in 2000 and still a major figure in McCain's current campaign. But McCain also has a fairly long record of dissenting from his party by supporting regulation of the private sector of the financial industry. This, again, is not a stand I agree with, but it is yet another sign of how McCain marches to the beat of his own drum.
-Vietnam: McCain's integrity is also shown by his capacity for forgiveness. In 1996, in conjunction with the Clinton Administration, McCain joined across the aisle with John Kerry to work on normalizing relationships with the regime in Vietnam that tortured him. This wasn't always popular work; families of long-missing POWs often didn't appreciate the conclusions of McCain's and Kerry's work on the POW-MIA issue. But McCain answered the call to move forward rather than dwell on entirely justified grievances.
(3) Taking Names
I referred to this in the last installment - McCain hasn't just been willing to fight for reform, he's been willing to name names and make a lot of enemies to do it. McCain frequently embarrassed individual fellow Senators with his attacks on pork projects, including the now-famous "Bridge to Nowhere." McCain also chaired hearings on the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, despite the damage it did to the GOP's reputation on Capitol Hill. (Here's Salon in 2005 describing one such session). (Tom DeLay still hasn't forgiven him). *
(4) Iraq and Immigration
If you want an illustration of how John McCain's integrity played into his presidential campaign, even at great political risk, look at Iraq and immigration. McCain entered the race in 2007 as the consensus front-runner or co-front-runner for the nomination - the next guy in line, with a national reputation and good standing in the polls. By the late summer of 2007, his campaign was basically dead in the water. His public approval ratings tell the tale:
McCain's crash in 2007 was not the result of the rise of any one opponent, or any new scandal. It was, principally, driven by his decision to lead the fight in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform, a hugely controversial piece of bipartisan legislation (his co-sponsor was the hated Ted Kennedy) that was massively unpopular with the Republican base. Grassroots activists were up in arms, and pundits branded McCain "McAmnesty." It was practically a textbook example of how to destroy a primary campaign by picking a fight with his party's base. But McCain saw the Senate fight through to the end.
It could be argued, of course, that McCain was playing to the middle and aiming for the general election. After all, Latino voters are an important general election constituency in a number of states. But at the same time that McCain was risking his neck with primary voters over immigration, he was doing the same with the general electorate over what was then the massively unpopular war in Iraq.
We can all well remember how setbacks in the Iraq War in 2006 helped the Democrats capture Congress and emboldened previously waffling candidates like Obama to become full-throated advocates of immediately commencing a withdrawal from Iraq. Many on the Right thought that the main challenge of 2008 would be the unpopularity of the war, and careful observers noted that throughout the spring and summer of 2007, Mitt Romney was leaving himself room to run away from the war effort in time for the general election if it went badly.
Not McCain, whose famous declaration - "I'd rather lose an election than lose a war" - perfectly captured the extent to which the war remained a matter of principle to the old warrior. McCain had been a supporter of the war since the beginning (and an Iraq hawk for a decade before that), but had also repeatedly angered the White House and the Pentagon with his calls for more troops. When the Bush Administration adopted the "surge" strategy that incorporated a short-term increase in troop levels, McCain went all-in on the strategy, banking his campaign on America's success. Had the surge failed, McCain would have been toast in the general election, and probably early enough that it would have cost him the primaries as well. But as on immigration, McCain eschewed the cautious approach and the conventional wisdom in favor of his longstanding principles. That America stands within reach of victory in Iraq is in no small part due to his persistent advocacy of the war and the surge, even when they were especially unpopular with those people - moderates and swing voters disaffected from Bush - who McCain would need to court in the general election. But even when McCain most desperately needed votes, he still put the good of the war effort first. When has Barack Obama done anything like that? When has the moment ever called for anything that Barack Obama delivered?
IV. Joe Biden: Business As Usual
I'm not going to spend much time here on Joe Biden. First of all, nobody's voting on Joe Biden. Second, whatever Biden's intentions and however long his tenure in Washington, there just isn't any point in taking seriously the idea that Biden could be any sort of agent of "change"...let's review:
Biden served in the Senate for most of the 1970s without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Biden served in the Senate for all of the 1980s without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Biden served in the Senate for all of the 1990s without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Biden has served in the Senate for the first nine years of this decade without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Oh, and Biden's son is a Washington lobbyist.
None of this makes him a bad guy or a bad Senator. But Biden is practically part of the furniture in the Senate; it's pretty hard to define what "business as usual" in the Senate means if it doesn't include Joe Biden.
Anyone who expects their politicians to be saints is in for a lifetime of rude surprises. John McCain and Sarah Palin haven't gotten as far as they have in politics without understanding how to do the things politicians do; you can pick over their records for projects they shouldn't have funded, contributors or endorsers they shouldn't have solicited, lobbyists they shouldn't have hired or worked with, etc. They aren't otherworldly figures descended to this fallen vale of tears to save us from our own vice. Their motives aren't always purely altruistic, and their ideas of reform aren't even always well-advised. And neither, for that matter, is Barack Obama an especially spineless political climber, at least by Chicago standards.
But what matters on the issue of integrity in office on matters of both politics and policy is that both McCain and Palin have been willing to stick their necks out and crack heads to make things happen. Time and again, each of them has stood up against corruption and waste even in their own party, making important and powerful enemies in their own ranks in the process. And Obama has never had the courage to do any of that; he was always, at every turn, happy to take what the machine was there to give him and look the other way, or worse. Obama has his issues he can campaign on, but on the question of integrity, he has nothing at all to offer. Change? Change how Washington politics works - even a little, even gradually, even one grimy hand-to-hand battle at a time? There is no plausible case you could make that Obama's record shows him to be any kind of change agent at all, let alone the kind that McCain and Palin have proven themselves to be. If Obama tries to change Washington, it will only be to aggrandize his own power and that of his party.
As I always say, in politics you judge a man's vices by the friends he keeps and his virtues by the enemies he makes. McCain and Palin have made enemies worth having. But all around him, all through his career, any enemy worth making has ended up instead as one of Obama's friends.
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October 28, 2008
POLITICS: Party Loyalty and Its Limits
We have something of a matched set of editorials from the Directors up at RedState, on the one hand condemning the disastrously bad judgment of Republicans and conservatives who have failed to oppose Obama, and on the other hand urging Alaska voters to vote out Ted Stevens and Don Young.
Leon Wolf also looks at the common thread between the two stories: Colin Powell's appearance as a character witness for Ted Stevens and endorser of Obama. Powell has fought for a lot of good things in the past two decades, but he's pretty well turned his back on all of them at this point.
October 27, 2008
BASEBALL: It's Not Sunny In Philadelphia
I can almost hear the Rays fans tonight:
You mocked our domed stadium.
You derided our domed stadium.
You told us how much prettier yours was than our domed stadium...
UPDATE: I believe this may be the first suspended game in the modern postseason, and certainly the first time it has happened to an elimination game in the World Series. In the years before lights, there were, of course, World Series games called for darkness - Game One in 1907 was called 3-3 after 12, Game Two in 1912 was called 6-6 after 11, and Game Two in 1922 was called 3-3 after 10, all of which were declared ties. The most famous weather event in World Series history was Game Seven in 1925, played in Washington between the Senators and Pirates; as I described that game in an essay on the 1925 Pirates:
Although they were forced to rely on their pitching while the team was twice handcuffed by a 37-year-old Walter Johnson in the World Series, the Pirates' knack for hitting the ball with authority finally paid off handsomely in one of the wildest Game 7s in World Series history, played in a torrential downpour at Forbes Field without the benefit of lights. The Pirates mauled Johnson, battering out 15 hits, including 8 doubles and two triples (the 25 total bases absorbed by Johnson in going the distance is a World Series record unlikely to be broken), including the game-winner, a 2-run ground rule double by [Kiki] Cuyler into the darkness in right field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth (Goose Goslin said later that he never even saw where the ball went).
There were other disputes over fair/foul and strike calls in the darkness and the rain, unsurprisingly. Henry Thomas, in his book Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, recounts at p. 282 the scene with the Senators leading 6-4 after six innings:
As the sixth inning ended, a waterlogged [Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain] Landis, enduring the downpour from his box seat, turned to [Senators owner] Clark Griffith, sitting next to him. "You're the world champions," the commissioner told him. "I'm calling this game." Incredibly, Griffith talked him out of it. "No, you can't do it," he replied. "Once you've started in the rain you've got to finish it."
BLOG: Dean Barnett, Rest in Peace
Bill Kristol has the news here; this was the end of a long battle with cystic fibrosis. I'll repeat what I said earlier: Dean was one of the good and decent guys on the web, from his start as a pseudonymous baseball and politics blogger at SoxBlog to his tenure blogging with Hugh Hewitt to his gig at The Weekly Standard. I didn't always agree with Dean - he'd been a driver for Mitt Romney during Romney's 1994 Senate campaign and was a big believer in Romney as a presidential candidate - but I always respected his opinions.
Some samples of his writing:
*Wondering - oh, how long ago this was! - why John Kerry kept invoking John McCain. And arguing here, here, here and here about the idea that Kerry was a smart guy. I believe it was his posts on the topic of Kerry's intellect that put Dean on the map.
POLITICS: By Any Means Necessary
Looks like government computer "accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department" were all used to dig up dirt on Joe the Plumber. The investigation at the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency is continuing.
So much for the little guy. He doesn't stand a chance against Obama.
October 23, 2008
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Opening Your Mouth And Removing All Doubt
Megan McArdle advises Matt Taibbi to stop. And has some good advice for people who only tuned in to the financial world during the credit crisis:
No one who did not know what a CDO was before the crisis should be opining as to the causes or the possible solutions. And anyone who tells you that they understand exactly why this happened, why we got this crisis instead of the dollar crisis we were expecting, and what kind of regulations will unquestionably fix it, is definitionally too ignorant to be opening their mouth.
The funny thing is Taibbi ranting about the institutional market for securities backed by bad loans...while at the same time refusing to address the bad loans themselves except to deny they had any role. That failure of basic logic alone is hilarious.
The overextension of housing credit, which formed the collateral for the various instruments whose loss of value set off so many other dominos falling, was, by definition, at the root of the crisis. Now, was the root of the crisis the only cause, or the only thing we ought to avoid repeating? Are there other, second-order aspects of the system that made it more vulnerable to the contagion from loans to un-credit-worthy borrowers based on overvalued real estate? Of course not, and as McArdle says, the fact that we can piece together some significant contributors to the crisis does not equate to understanding fully why it happened.
Then again, while I understand McArdle's call for a cool, academic assessment of the multiple factors involved after we get more data, that approach is entirely impractical in the middle of a contested election, in which both sides are naturally going to have to answer voter questions about what happened and why. It would be political malpractice for Republicans not to make the (accurate) point that the roots in the lending/housing market are the part of all this in which bad public policy played the most direct role in distorting the market away from its natural equilibrium. And it's likewise a slam dunk to point out that had Republican-led legislative efforts to rein in the GSEs not been stymied in the 2001-2005 period, the situation would have been, at a minimum, much more tractable to deal with, and that Democratic opponents of such efforts had longstanding financial and ideological reasons to oppose them.
I kept meaning to do a longer post on the inevitable (even if McCain wins) mania for more regulation, although I could just as easily refer you to McArdle's entire blog for that. Here, for example, she points out the obvious fact that regulators are human and not generally wiser than the businesses they regulate:
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Nor is there any particular proposal for preventing that institution from falling prey to the same forces that grip the regulated industry. I have said it before, but it is worth repeating: the regulators became overconfident in the same way, and for the same reasons, that the bankers became overconfident. Just as a long and unusually rosy period in the housing market convinced the bankers that they had gotten better at pricing credit risk, a long period without a large bank failure persuaded the regulators that they had gotten better at regulation. They believed that their computer models, and an improved understanding of how markets and the economy worked, would allow them to see problems in time and halt them. Obviously, they were wrong.
Regulators, no matter how diligent or well-staffed or well-funded, never have
(1) The same degree and timeliness of access to information about a business and its daily operations as the people who run it and interact continuously with its employees; or
(2) The same incentive to ensure the continuing profitability of the business as the people who draw their income from it.
Also, while you do get good people who go into government for all sorts of reasons, people who have the specific skill set of being really shrewd observers of financial markets are probably the people least inclined to take far lower-paying jobs regulating those markets than making money in them; draw what conclusions you will about the ability of the regulatory agencies to be all-wise and all-seeing under the best of circumstances.
Now, if you are talking about regulating an industry to keep it from unscrupulously ripping off other people outside their businesses, at least you have an argument about whether people with less competence and less information are nonetheless properly charged with restricting the business' operations. But the crucial issue in debating the second-order aspects of the credit crisis (i.e., why institutions let themselves get overexposed to risks derived from bad loans), at the end of the day, is whether regulators were better situated to protect the interests of the financial industry itself than the people who worked in it. You should expect some skepticism about that kind of argument.
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BASEBALL: At The Trop
Last night's loss by the Rays drops the all-time World Series home record of teams in domed stadiums to 12-3. The Twins went 8-0 at the Metrodome in 1987 & 1991 (and 0-6 on the road), including the legendary Morris-Smoltz Game 7 in 1991, and the Blue Jays went 4-2 at home in 1992-93 (and 4-2 on the road), including the Joe Carter game. All four dome teams won the Series.
This is actually only the second World Series in my lifetime (after 2000's Subway Series) in which I have already visited both ballparks (Serieses where I've been to both subsequent to the Series? 1986, 1981, 1977-78, and if you go back before my lifetime and include Old Yankee, 1963. The longest-ago Series where the two parks are still standing is 1918, of course.).
POLITICS: Oh, Joy
More goodies to expect from a Democratic president and Congress:
*Bailout for Obama's buddies in the ethanol industry. (Yes, this one comes from Bush's Agriculture Department...but just remember that McCain is Big Ethanol's least favorite Senator, while Obama is its favorite).
*Obama says that taxes are bad, so he has a plan to reduce state and local property taxes by sending $25 billion to state and local governments. He will get the $25 billion from...voluntary charitable donations?
Meanwhile, here, here, here and here (and look at this and this), we are starting to see some very significant commonalities between Obama's phony or foreign donors, the donations made through credit card fraud, the phony voters ... and given the deliberate decision not to take the most basic steps to prevent these things from happening, it's not looking like isolated incidents at this point.
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While I am at it, no surprise that Gov. Palin isn't distancing herself from McCain on immigration. The devil is in the details, though, as far as what hoops people have to jump through to get citizenship and what law enforcement tactics short of mass deportations would be appropriate.
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POLITICS: Mixed Blessing
Stories like this one, from Ben Smith, are encouraging to people hoping for an Obama victory (all stories from Ben Smith are), but really you have to wonder what kind of stable platform for governing a man gets when he's banking on supporters voting for just the color of his skin. Every time Obama supporters make the "historic" argument, they are basically pushing their man further onto a foundation of sand that won't hold up in office. Which is, of course, why - if he wins - the crucial political issue of the next four years will be whether Obama succeeds in changing the electorate and the political process to avoid having to face the disillusionment of voters who voted for him without agreeing with his record or platform.
October 22, 2008
BASEBALL: There Is Still Only One National Pastime
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:25 PM | Baseball 2008 | History | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: "Is that socialist? Are you a Muslim?"
Via Ed Morrissey, watch as Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee* tries to defend "refundable" tax credits to people who pay no taxes as not being welfare because it's limited to non-taxpayers who meet a "work requirement"** - and then inexplicably snap at McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin that the McCain health care plan also includes refundable health care credits***, concluding "Is that socialist? Are you a Muslim?"
So update your "red is the new black" racism-decoder rings, because the Obama campaign now intends to argue that refundability=socialist=Muslim. Or you can just cut to the core of their argument: everything is off limits.
What is funny is the sheer desperation of this attack - it's the sort of thing frustrated campaigns say when they are on the ropes. Which leads to one of two possible conclusions:
(1) The Obama camp, despite good polls and outward confidence, thinks it's losing and is scared.
(2) The Obama camp is confident of victory but will nonetheless resort to cheap accusations of racism even when challenged on the most technical points, just out of habit and because it's easier than arguing in good faith. A conclusion that does not bode well for the next four years.
Pick one, you can't pick neither.
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* - Goolsbee is a living reminder that Obama never really gets rid of people who embarrass him, he just hides them a while until the coast is clear.
** - Mickey Kaus has explained how bogus, toothless 'work requirements' were an old dodge by opponents of welfare reform...hey, guess who was one of those in 1996? Barack Obama!
*** - Which are intended to replace the current tax subsidy for employer-provided health care. Funny how the Obama camp will attack removal of the tax subsidy as a tax hike and attack the refundable credit as a giveaway rather than admit that the two are linked - the point of the proposal is to shift people into the individual market and make health care more portable and less tied to your job.
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POLITICS: Nobody Knows Nothing
I'm not in the group that says McCain is secretly winning and the polls are a gigantic false-flag psy-ops program designed to discourage GOP turnout. We know, after all, that whatever the biases of various people and institutions involved, the final polls in 2004, properly understood, were highly accurate, and the 2006 polls were mostly so as well (2002, less so). Neither am I in the group that attributes potential poll inaccuracy entirely to Obama's race - while that may well be a factor, I think there are fair arguments that run deeper to polling methodology, and I also think Obama's inexperience, the absence of a candidate from the incumbent administration, the massive new-voter operation by the Obama camp, the Palin wildcard (this has to be the first time ever that a VP pick drew nearly the same convention speech audience as the POTUS nominees and the VP debate outdrew the POTUS debates, and now she's delivered the biggest ratings for SNL in 14 years) and the sudden, late external shock of the credit crisis are all reasons why public sentiment may be more volatile and harder to get a fix on than usual.
Polls are not votes. They are evidence. The likely answer from the evidence we have remains that McCain is losing and likely to lose; I'm not going to cocoon myself or anyone else from that (there's a reason why candidates who say "the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day" usually end Election Day with a concession speech). But there is more than enough uncertainty out there that I endorse wholeheartedly the view that the last thing Republicans and other McCain supporters should do is get discouraged and throw in the towel before every stop is pulled out to win this thing. You gotta be in it to win it.
UPDATE: Geraghty notes here and here the panicked frenzy of attacks he gets from the Left whenever he suggests that some polls are showing a closer race than the conventional wisdom (or the bulk of polls, for that matter). I chalk this up partly to the Online Left's longstanding view that the winner of any argument is the person who can demonstrate the greatest degree of anger, but it's certainly a curious phenomenon coming from people who would seem to have every reason to be confident and no particular reason to take time from their day getting angry at a conservative pundit for showing a glimmer of optimism. Unless you do buy into the view that such people really are banking very heavily on a demoralized opposition.
SECOND UPDATE: It appears that the AP poll showing Obama up only by one has a 4-point advantage for the Democrats in the party-ID breakdown. For anybody who has followed the polls this year, that's the single biggest question: when you factor in GOTV and whether the likely-voter screens and all have or have not accurately predicted who will vote, will the party ID numbers look like 2006, when a terrible climate for Republicans still produced just a 3-point advantage in party ID for Democrats in the exit polls? Or will it be more like a double-digit advantage in party ID, figures we have not seen since the 1970s? Note that the Geraghty posts I linked to up top show very few examples of dramatic changes in party ID year to year. Even in Jay Cost's chart of registered voter ID, the biggest swings are about 7 or 8 points in some years, 1984 and 1994 for the GOP and 1996 for the Democrats. It may well be that 2008 really will show a historic realignment away from the position the GOP held in 2006 (which was already awful, the worst Republican year in a decade), but just bear in mind that it has to be for the bulk of this year's polls to be accurate.
October 21, 2008
POLITICS: Department of Entirely Predictable Consequences
Hawaii is dropping the only state universal child health care program in the country just seven months after it launched.
Wow, if you give something away for free, people won't want to pay for it anymore! Nobody could possibly have seen that one coming.
BASEBALL: Better Pen
Following up on the issue of the Rays' improvement in keeping runs off the board, Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus studies the issue ($) and concludes that since 1954 - as far back as BP's database goes - they had the largest single-season improvement by a bullpen by two different measures.
POLITICS: "The most accessible of the four candidates"
That would be...Gov. Palin.
Granted, none of the four has the kind of open relationship with the media that McCain had for many years before he reorganized his campaign under Steve Schmidt, accepting as the price of a more disciplined message operation the end of his bantering ways with the traveling press.
UPDATE: Of course, one could write volumes on the questions Obama hasn't been asked.
Here's one set of questions we didn't hear at the McCain-Obama debates: Is there a war on terror? Do we plan on staying on the offensive against radical Islam? Or are we pursuing a strictly localized war in Afghanistan and Western Pakistan against the Taliban and the remnants of the old Al Qaeda leadership, and otherwise dealing with the rest of the region and the world as a series of discrete and localized issues unconnected by ideological struggle?
That set of questions was the predominant issue in the 2004 election. We got questions on individual foreign policy areas, but the central question of our overarching strategy in this war, and whether we will even continue prosecuting it as such after January 20, never cameup in the debates. I think we can all offer an educated guess as to what Obama's answer is, but it would have been nice to put the question to him before a national audience.
SECOND UPDATE: Just to pick one example: Patterico notes a contrast between an LA Times profile of Palin's college career and the absence of interest in Obama's time at Columbia. Tom Maguire and Andy McCarthy have more thoughts on that particular omission. (Amusingly, the LA Times says nobody remembers Palin from college, but then goes on to quote at length from three college classmates and a competitor from the beauty pageants she competed in to pay tuition. And a side note about the photo: the 80s called, they wish to apologize to Gov. Palin). Meanwhile, a number of Obama's friends from that period refuse to talk. I referred to this "missing witness" problem the other day in the Joe the Plumber post - with Obama there's a long track record from his past of people who won't talk or can't be located (Byron York had that problem even with his State Senate colleagues), as well as ongoing stonewalls and/or destruction of records (as Jim Geraghty relates here, here, and here), even articles suddenly disappearing from the web (see here and here). It certainly seems as if there is a concerted and continuing effort to protect Obama from reporting on his past.
We have a Directors' editorial over at RedState on the many ways in which Obama and the Democrats are likely to seek partisan entrenchment as a primary goal if Obama wins the election, especially if he gets a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Everything on the list has made prior appearances in Obama's agenda and/or the agenda of his Congressional and activist allies. I'm sure most Obama voters don't think they are doing so, but there is a very real possibility that a vote for Obama will be a vote to hand permanent power to the left wing of the Democratic party.
The core question I always ask in politics to determine how agitated to get is how long it will take to undo something. Obviously, my personal short-term concern with an Obama presidency is the vast damage he can do to national security in short order and the personal consequences for my physical security, and I'm not real thrilled about getting my taxes jacked up, either. And no matter how you slice it, the consequences to the judiciary are deeply and lastingly alarming for democracy (we are still dealing with Carter appointees to the federal bench, and even some LBJ appointees). But I think the list fairly well captures my larger concern, which is that the system will be changed such that persuading the current electorate that Obama has been a failure will be insufficient to get rid of him.
If you disbelieve us, I'd advise you to clip and save the list and judge three years from now how many of the things on the list have been at least seriously attempted. I guarantee you that we'll see a move on the first item, the card check bill, within the first 60 days.
POLITICS: Calm in the Storm
One of the more surreal arguments made on behalf of Obama is that he showed us something meaningful about his temperament by his handling of the credit crisis. It's certainly the case that we judge potential presidents by how they have been tested in crisis, and that we have no previous experience by which to judge how Obama handles crises other than hard times on the campaign trail. On the trail, the answer has generally been to see Obama get snippy, lash out in passive-aggressive fashion (at "bitter" Pennsylvanians, or with remarks like the "lipstick on a pig" line or similar efforts to personally provoke Hillary), duck debates and the press, and play the race card again and again and again to deflect criticism.
But the essential requirement for proving your mettle in a crisis is that you have to believe you are facing a crisis - and for Obama, the credit crisis wasn't a crisis at all. It was the best thing that happened to him all year. It was manna from heaven at a time when he was trailing in the polls, and at present it looks likely to deliver him to the White House in spite of his manifold errors and weaknesses as a candidate. As Jay Cost noted, for historical reasons there was pretty much no way the GOP could avoid taking damage from a banking crisis under any circumstances, much less while controlling the White House. Obama's main challenge was avoiding being seen visibly doing cartwheels.
(1) Stay calm.
(2) Remain at a distance from where the crisis was being handled unless directly summoned there.
(3) Continue going about his usual daily routine.
(5) Leave things uncritically in the hands of incompetent leaders in his party on the assumption that they'll call him if they need him.
This is not reassuring.
BASEBALL: Random Thought of the Day
Am I the only one who thinks David Price reminds me an awful lot of Tim Duncan?
October 20, 2008
BASEBALL: Not With Their Bats
In 2007, Tampa Bay scored 782 runs and finished 8th in the league in scoring, scoring 98.6% as many runs as the average AL team.
In 2008, Tampa Bay scored 774 runs and finished 7th in the league in scoring, scoring exactly as many runs as the average AL team (the AL average dropped from 4.83/game to 4.78/game).
What changed, obviously, was all the pitching and defense. The Rays reduced their runs allowed from 944 runs, the highest in MLB, to 671 runs, a staggering 28.9% reduction in a single year.
Bleg - I'm thinking of looking for historical comparisons to see what precedents there are for a team reducing its runs allowed so dramatically in one season (I had looked briefly before the season while scoffing, obviously prematurely, at Baseball Prospectus' notion that the Rays would do just that, but now we have a genuine point of comparison). Can anyone tell me if a study has been done on that? I may have missed it if somebody looked at this already and don't want to reinvent the wheel if it's already been done somewhere else.
Anyway, if you boil that down even further you see how much of their success is pure glove:
Rays pitchers reduced their homers buy a good chunk this year and cut their walks, and those are certainly steps forward, but they also struck out fewer batters - but the dropoff of 300 fewer hits allowed and 27 fewer errors is mainly attributable to radically improved defense, as they went from the MLB-worst .650 Defensive Efficiency Rating on balls in play to an MLB-leading .708. The dropoff in unearned runs reflects that.
POLITICS: No Third Terms
Just for the record, while I end up voting to re-elect Mayor Bloomberg if he ends up on the ballot next fall - depending on the alternatives, and in all likelihood there won't be many good ones - I think it's a bad idea to repeal the city's two-term limit for mayors. Those limits are in place for a reason: anyone who remembers Ed Koch's third term can tell you that the diminishing returns in terms of both quality and integrity on a Mayor's subordinates accelerates pretty rapidly by the time you get into a 9th year in office. By and large, Bloomberg's done a solid job trying to consolidate the gains made by Mayor Giuliani (h/t) and make incremental reforms, albeit with his own share of drawbacks, but really 8 years of almost anybody is enough.
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PS, you really do have to read that Tomasky piece on Rudy, one that such a liberal journalist would never have written if he'd been the GOP nominee in 2008:
There's one way of measuring a politician's success. The things he did in his day that were controversial - are they accepted wisdom now? One can't say "yes" to that question about everything Rudy did, by a long shot. But as far as that first year is concerned, this is true: No person could run for mayor and be taken seriously by saying or suggesting that he or she would depart radically from the basic path Giuliani set in 1994-95. Bring in more accountability, apply a new and needed standard of civic behavior, be forceful but fair with the unions, get the cops out on the street, prove that things that were broken could be fixed. It couldn't be done. The local Democratic Party, which I scolded eleven years ago in the pages of this magazine...for its tectonic adaptation to the new rules, has learned this lesson too slowly. Or has it even learned it yet?
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POLITICS/RELIGION: Disbelieving Obama
One of the recurring themes of the Obama campaign is that his supporters dismiss anything they find inconvenient in his record, platform or statements on the trail on the theory that he was just doing or saying stuff he doesn't believe to pander to somebody else, whereas when he says something I like, that of course must be what he really means. Only the shallowness of his record - the fact that he's almost never had to stick to any one position under enough fire to prove that he means it, never had to build a record of deeds and not just words - enables people to sustain this sort of wishcasting, which Iowahawk brilliantly skewered in his "who are the rubes?" post (for the Harry Potter fans, Tom Maguire has compared him to the Mirror of Erised in which one views one's deepest desires). It's almost a willful choice to get suckered. Obama gave millions of dollars to Ayers and ACORN and joined the New Party? Just needed to pander to the far left. Obama spent 20 years with a racist, America-hating preacher? Just needed to pander to African-Americans who thought he wasn't black enough. Obama spent years cozied up to and trading favors with the Chicago machine? Just needed to buy their support...of course, he's really a reformer. Etc.
It doesn't stop with his shady associates - Beldar finds example after example of this in the Washington Post's endorsement of Obama:
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Almost every favorable word the WaPo writes about Obama is based on their hopes and projections about what they think and hope he might do as president, not what he actually has done.
So how about international trade? Where's the historic evidence on that? "We also can only hope that the alarming anti-trade rhetoric we have heard from Mr. Obama during the campaign would give way to the understanding of the benefits of trade reflected in his writings." Let's see: Campaign promises made to anti-trade unions who've given him millions of dollars and votes, on the one hand, versus vague sentiments in his second book and the WaPo's "hopes," on the other hand. Which weighs more? Hopes!
There's never a "we know he would do this" because he "successfully championed legislation." There's never a "we know he's really committed to that" because "he risked his career by bucking his own party." Instead - as the WaPo again admits - "We had hoped, throughout this long campaign, to see more evidence that Mr. Obama might stand up to Democratic orthodoxy and end, as he said in his announcement speech, 'our chronic avoidance of tough decisions.'" Earth to WaPo: When you hope something, and it never comes true, that's called a "hoping in vain."
Iraq, of course, is one of the classic examples of this. Sooner or later, the next president will face decisions that create a tension between the desire to bring the troops home ASAP and the need to keep a certain number of boots on the ground to avoid having the hard-won successes of the past two years unravel. You can insist until you are blue in the face that such tradeoffs don't exist, but that's the reality: we may be less needed and in lesser numbers than before, but our troops are still performing important functions in helping the Iraqi government and military solidify the gains that have been made.
When those tensions arise, when top military brass and experts in the area are saying they need to have less aggressive withdrawal timetables and the anti-war movement is pressing for a rapid pullout, which side will Obama choose? The anti-war faction looks at his 2002 war speech and 2007-08 opposition to the surge, and tell themselves that Obama will side with them. The rest - including conservative Democrats who, like the WaPo editorial board, may not now think the war was a good idea but think precipitate withdrawal would be disastrous - look at his 'stay the course' position of 2003-06 and his more conciliatory statements during the general election, and tell themselves that he will side with security.
They can't both be right. And realistically, even given the strong signal of his opposition to the surge, there's no way for anybody to be quite certain which side is being lied to by Obama. Maybe he doesn't even know.
Of course, that sort of hedging act is done by almost every politician...but with Obama, it encompasses nearly everything in his record, because even on issues like abortion where he's staked out a very consistently extreme record for a period of years, people seem to convince themselves that he's been lying all along, he doesn't, for example, really support federal taxpayer money to subsidize abortions.
This essay captures the same dynamic regarding how Obama's religion is viewed by people who find Gov. Palin's religious beliefs in and of themselves alarming:
Many critics stand ready to mock Palin's Christianity. Fair enough. Will they also mock Obama's and Biden's?
H/T, via Ace. It's the same thing again. Those who find Obama's Christianity reassuring tell themselves that he believes. Those who find Christianity disturbing tell themselves that he doesn't really mean it. Willing suspension of disbelief.
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BASEBALL: Treasure Beyond Price
Well, the nation last night got its formal introduction to David Price, and barring injury we're going to see a lot more of the man who is generally regarded as the best pitching prospect in baseball - Price's pennant-clinching ninth inning probably cements him a key, K-Rod-in-2002 type role in the Rays' pen in the World Series, and he left veterans like Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek (granted, not exactly Ruth and Gehrig at this stage of their careers) looking sadly overmatched.
October 17, 2008
POLITICS: Never Question Obama
Don't answer that door!
You will find no better illustration of the hazards of simply asking a question Barack Obama doesn't want to answer than the frenzy on the part of Obama's campaign and his allies in the media and the Left blogs to attack Joe the Plumber. The amazing thing is, this isn't a guy who was set up by one of the campaigns to tell a sob story that had to be checked. Obama was going door to door, he met this guy who was playing football in his yard *. Joe said he'd like to be more successful and buy his own business, and asked Obama why that meant he should have to pay higher taxes, and Obama gave his now-infamous answer that "I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." John McCain responded by retelling that story in the debate to illustrate Obama's instincts for redistribution, and both candidates ended up using Joe as an example of how their various plans would affect small businesspeople.
But fearful of the damage caused by Obama's answer, the Obama camp and its surrogates have gone on the attack against this ordinary citizen from Toldeo:
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*Here is a roundup of the media frenzy. Remember, read all these and ask yourself when the last time was you saw a report on, say, Barack Obama's relationship with the Chicago political machine.
UPDATE: McCain defends ordinary Joe:
The response from Senator Obama and his campaign yesterday was to attack Joe. People are digging through his personal life and he has TV crews camped out in front of his house. He didn't ask for Senator Obama to come to his house. He wasn't recruited or prompted by our campaign. He just asked a question. And Americans ought to be able to ask Senator Obama tough questions without being smeared and targeted with political attacks.
SECOND UPDATE: Brian Faughnan notes that the people attacking Joe used to claim to care about privacy. What a surprise. It's not shocking to find either side using double standards on this sort of thing, but as usual what's missing is some degree of perspective about what's even a relevant basis for invading this guy's private life - the whole point here is that he asked Obama a question, and Obama gave a revealing answer, and he winds up with goons trying to run him out of business and posting his address online and freaking out because he goes by his middle name.
In the Frost case Brian notes, I'd agree that some people went overboard - but the essential question was the assertion that the Frost family needed and deserved government assistance at their income level. Joe the Plumber's basic point wasn't even about his current income, but about what happened if he succeeded in making more money.
I generally despise this sort of politics by anecdote, precisely because it drags us into this sort of morass. But remember: the essential question here is what Obama said. It's rather telling the panicked lashing out at an ordinary citizen that has resulted even at a time when he's leading in the polls. And it doesn't bode well at all for the next person who asks Obama a question he doesn't like.
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POLITICS: Obamises, Obamises: Are His Tax And Spending Plans Real, or Not?
The media and the Obama campaign have repeatedly told us that the economy is the only issue in this campaign, and that Barack Obama's proposals, rather than his record, are the only way to judge him on the economy. If they mean it, they will demand that he clarify where he stands on the promises at the core of his tax and spending platforms.
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(1) No Taxes Hikes of Any Kind Below $250,000
Obama has made three unambiguous-sounding "read my lips" style promises about taxes and spending in this race. One of these he left himself no room to back away from:
If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, my plan will not raise your taxes. Period. Not income tax, not payroll tax, not capital gains tax, not any of your taxes. And chances are you will get a tax cut.
I suppose the Clintonian wiggle room there is the "my plan," present tense, and those of us who are familiar with the Democrats' M.O., who remember Bill Clinton throwing his middle class tax cut under the bus barely weeks after being elected, and who (as the McCain camp has pointed out relentlessly) saw Obama vote for a party-line budget resolution that would have extended tax hikes much lower down the income ladder know that Obama is highly unliklely to keep this promise. But it has, in fact, been stated with such clarity that if elected, Obama will properly be found to have lied to the American people if he breaks it by raising any tax of any kind paid by anyone with an income below $250,000. George H.W. Bush can tell you how that worked out.
(2) Tax Cuts For 95% of...Who?
Here is Obama in the second debate: "I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans, 95 percent."
Is that 95% of current federal taxpayers? 95% of all households? 95% of all Americans, including children? Phil Klein of the American Spectator has tried to get the Obama campaign to clarify who this is 95% of and what the plan actually consists of (what rates, if any, will go down, for example), and can't get an answer (this in contrast to, say, the Bush tax cut plan in 2000, which was famously detailed).
All but the clean car credit would be "refundable," which is Washington-speak for the fact that you can receive these checks even if you have no income-tax liability. In other words, they are an income transfer -- a federal check -- from taxpayers to nontaxpayers. Once upon a time we called this "welfare," or in George McGovern's 1972 campaign a "Demogrant." Mr. Obama's genius is to call it a tax cut.
To any sane person, sending a check to someone who does not pay taxes is called "spending," not tax cuts - a policy of taxes and spending designed explicily for purposes not of financing the government's necessary operations but to "spread the wealth around," as Obama now-famously told Joe the Plumber, or "for purposes of fairness" as he told Charlie Gibson in the debate back in April.
Obama should be forced to come clean: 95% of who? Will he cut any tax rates, or just offer to cut a bunch of checks? If he won't clarify his promise, he can fairly be blamed for breaking another pledge if the percentage of current federal taxpayers whose tax liability doesn't go down under an Obama Administration ends up being, as most of us expect, vastly lower than 95%.
(3) Has Obama Abandoned His Promise of a Net Spending Cut? Where are the Loopholes?
Here's Obama in the second debate again:
[W]hat I've proposed, you'll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut.
Pretty unambiguous: he has promised the American people a net reduction in federal spending. Even if we assume that Obama (silently) excludes spending on existing entitlements from that calculation, it's another read-my-lips promise he can be held to, and that he is 100% certain to break if elected.
Now here is Obama in the third debate - watch carefully:
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important for the American public to understand that the $750 billion rescue package, if it's structured properly, and, as president, I will make sure it's structured properly, means that ultimately taxpayers get their money back, and that's important to understand.
Some of Obama's blogospheric supporters on the far left, like Matt Stoller and Firedoglake, think that line about "once we get through this economic crisis and some of the specific proposals to get us out of this slump" means that he'll suspend his "pay as you go"/"net spending cut" promise for as long as he can say we are working to get out of a slump. On the Right, Soren Dayton and Jon Henke agree with Stoller's reading. (Ezra Klein noted in 2007 that Obama promised YearlyKos that he would not treat many of his new spending programs as subject to "PayGo" rules - he may be creating a loophole for himself by calling them "investment," although he revealed none of that in the debates.)
Me, I don't see it; I think a natural reading of Obama's statement was that he was promising that the spending discipline he claims to be imposing would persist even after budgetary good times returned. But the media should press him to commit on this. Those of us who recall the porous "firewall" of the "peace dividend" debates of 1991-94 remember well how skilled Congressional Democrats are at coming up with "exceptions" to spending rules that allow them to spend money they promised not to spend.
On that note, Obama should answer two more questions. One, which I think his plan already answers, is that he's not going to count cutting his "spread the wealth" checks to non-taxpayers as spending. If you can hand out a trillion dollars in checks, your political need to "spend" is greatly alleviated.
The second is whether he's planning to support billions in additional spending pushed by his party's Congressional leadership on top of this year's budget, in special sessions after the election:
After consulting with Barack Obama, Democratic leaders are likely to call Congress back to work after the election in hopes of passing legislation that would include extended jobless benefits, money for food stamps and possibly a tax rebate, officials said Saturday.
If Obama is planning to push $150 billion in new spending in November, will he insist on a net spending cut, or is this yet another loophole so he can tell the American people one thing and do something completely different?
Or will the press just focus on Joe the Plumber's record?
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October 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Sox-Rays Open Thread
OK, since I have admittedly been deficient in delivering baseball content lately - an open thread for readers who want to kick around tonight's game.
UPDATE: BJ Upton goes deep! 2-0 Rays. Upton is part of the real disjunct with the Rays - this team was ninth in the AL in runs scored, but they really can be a better offensive team than that when you consider the off years and/or injuries to Upton, Crawford, Baldelli and Longoria, all of whom are now healthy.
UPDATE: Two more homers, from Pena and Longoria (again), and it's 4-0. Dice K does not have it.
7-0. Papelbon in a 7-0 game. That says it all, doesn't it?
UPDATE: BIG PAPI WILL NOT GO QUIETLY! 3-run homer, 7-4 Rays.
7-6 after Drew goes deep. Wow, this is a game. And that's why you use Papelbon down 7 in a game like this.
Tie game! Amazing. It's 2004 all over.
Best Joe Morgan line ever: Miller: "Can you analyze Joe Maddon's managing tonight?" Morgan: "You don't want me to do that."
Unfortunately, he then proceeded to.
Ball gets by....Gross! Red Sox win! Red Sox win!
That was some amazing baseball. Man, the Red Sox are drawing on their vast account at the karma bank.
POLITICS: Obama on Ayers: Hey, Everybody Was Doing It
Here is what Barack Obama said last night about Bill Ayers and Obama's role in handing over millions of dollars to "education" programs designed by Ayers, long an advocate of using education for purposes of left-wing indoctrination:
Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.
The suggestion that Ayers somehow dominated the policy or direction of the bipartisan Challenge Board, imprinting it with radical views, is absurd. The Annenberg Challenge was funded by Nixon Ambassador and Reagan friend Walter Annenberg. Republican Governor Jim Edgar, who wrote to Walter Annenberg to encourage the creation of the Challenge, joined Mayor Daley to announce the formation of the Challenge and his administration continued to work closely on education reform with the Board.
There are two main problems with Obama's response. One is that Obama is basically passing the buck for his own decisions to other people - undoubtedly a preview of his presidential leadership style, like during the bailout vote when he essentially did nothing to help his party pass the bill when it came up for the original vote. The other is his effort to conflate the national Annenberg Foundation with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge; Obama served as chairman of the board for the latter.
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The first problem is self-evident: Obama, having entrusted money to Ayers and his radical theories and now being embarrassed by CAC/Ayers' funding of left-wing projects like "Afrocentric" education, wants to blame his partners on the foundation board. Not good enough.Obama's never been in charge of anything besides CAC and the Harvard Law Review, so maybe he needs to learn: when you are in charge, you are responsible for the decisions you make.
Second, Obama's trying to conflate the Annenberg Foundation, which provided $49 million in seed money for a grant proposal (partly written, yes, by Ayers as one of CAC's masterminds) with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which actually signed off on the distribution of those funds to Ayers-designed projects and had a much closer look at what was going on. FactCheck.org, which runs an extended and fairly tendentious apologia for Obama on this, notes that the Annenberg Foundation created by Walter Annenberg in 1989 "supports a wide variety of charitable causes - a total of 5,200 grants during its first 15 years of operation." The CAC was just one of those. The Foundation itself stresses that:
All participating sites in the Annenberg Challenge for School Reform were locally controlled and locally governed.
Which makes the parent foundation's affiliations (including FactCheck.org, among those thousands of recipients) and those of Walter Annenberg a red herring. If anything, the whole point of people like Obama is to make those folks believe they are giving money to something respectable. As Stanley Kurtz reminds us, this all is too commonly true of foundation work:
The Obama camp denies CAC's radicalism by pointing to the fact that this foundation was funded by Nixon Ambassador and Reagan friend, Walter Annenberg. Moderates and Republicans often support Annenberg activities, it's true. Yet the story of modern philanthropy is largely the story of moderate and conservative donors finding their funds "captured" by far more liberal, often radical, beneficiaries. CAC's story is a classic of the genre. Ayers and Obama guided CAC money to community organizers, like ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Developing Communities Project (Part of the Gamaliel Foundation network), groups self-consciously working in the radical tradition of Saul Alinsky. Walter Annenberg's personal politics don't change that one iota.
The only real relevant people here are Obama's partners on the board:
Founding members of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board were:
Now, notice a few things about the board. First, when a board like that includes university presidents and the like and they elect a young civil rights lawyer and State Senate candidate chairman...who do you think is doing the work? Second, note the presence of the Crown family, major Obama donors and recipients of significant earmarks from Obama in his legislative career. Once again, all the Obama stories have common threads that tie them together.
In any event, the involvement of other people who should have known better does nothing to absolve Obama of his decision to fund Ayers' projects. Nothing at all.
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BASEBALL: Grumble, Grumble, Congratulations, Grumble, Grumble
If you were wondering, no, I didn't have the heart to watch the Phillies wrap up the pennant last night.
Boy, this has been a fun last five weeks, hasn't it?
October 15, 2008
POLITICS: Left Unsaid
Quick impressions of tonight's debate:
1. Well, basically we got through 3 debates without a really dramatic, game-changing gaffe or jaw-dropping moment. Ironically, it's precisely because these were unusually good debates that they will probably not be remembered as well as some past ones (although the 2004 presidential debates didn't produce many memorable moments). Obviously, on the whole that's good news for Obama regardless of who performed better in any individual debate.
2. McCain's a good debater. We saw that again tonight - never at a loss for words, witty, likes to press the attack on the issues. If he has a flaw as a debater in general, it's a tendency to talk too fast and try to squeeze too much into a single answer. Those are the skills he developed from many years on Meet the Press and the Senate floor.
The problem is that McCain's used to debating Senators about the issues. He's not used to street fights where you have to call BS on the other guy to his face. While I accept that for various reasons McCain was the stronger general election candidate, we needed somebody like Rudy Giuliani in these debates, someone who was willing to call out not just Obama's policy platform but the entire concept of Obama as president - the relentlessly outside-the-mainstream left-wing record, the lack of experience, the machine politics, the intimate ties to extremists. We seem to have found ourselves in a situation where the truth about Obama is itself so outrageous that it's beyond the pale of political discourse to mention it. He did effectively support infanticide by voting against a bill to reverse existing practice in Illinois that left it to abortionists to decide what to do with babies born after a botched abortion, leading to their deaths. He did give tens of millions of dollars to a terrorist to educate kids. Etc. And Obama gets to shake his head in dismay that anyone would be so rude as to point these things out.
3. As to Obama, I do give him credit that he's become much smoother than he was even as recently as the Saddleback Forum in August. Probably his best line tonight was about how health care "will break your heart again and again." And I think he did outfox McCain on some of the health care debate sections. That said, he also told some seriously outrageous whoppers (like repeating false media claims about crowds at McCain events), he changed back and forth between $200,000 and $250,000 as the floor for his tax hike plan (I guarantee you it will go far, far lower if he's elected)...it was noticeable that Obama would not say Palin was qualified to be president, but of course he couldn't say flatly she's not, since she's more qualified than he is by any reasonable measure.
4. I agree with Ace that there's just a world of difference between what was said at the debate and what was unsaid. McCain did, by and large, do an excellent job (other than the health care discussion and his typically McCain-ish obsession with negative ads and campaign finance, although I was glad that he called out Obama on his baldly dishonest radio ads on immigration and stem cells, neither of which Obama could hope to defend) on the things actually said. I think he has to come out the winner on the spending debate, where I believe most voters would like his embrace of the label as the guy who'll finally go after the federal budget with a hatchet. And on taxes (hooray for Joe the Plumber!). And on trade and energy, too. And he did finally tell Obama flat out that he's not running against Bush.
But he let Obama off the hook on way too much. The killer line on the abortion debate was that Obama may say he's not pro-abortion, but he supports ending the 28-year-old ban on subsidizing it with taxpayer money - if you actually oppose something, you don't subsidize it. The killer line on Ayers is that what matters is the money Obama gave him to educate kids. The killer line on Obama's tax cut plan (other than the general unlikelihood of the whole thing) is that it's basically a welfare plan - when you are cutting checks to people who don't pay taxes, that's called spending. The killer line on Obama generally is that he's too liberal, too extreme where McCain is mainstream - on issue after issue, there's a conservative position, a moderate position, a liberal position...and an Obama position. And that you need to judge him on his record. The killer line of the entire campaign, really, is that on the two largest issues of Obama's short career in the Senate (winning the Iraq War and preventing the financial crisis), McCain was proven right, and indisputably so, and Obama was proven wrong, and indisputably so. And McCain didn't drop those hammers on Obama - he hit those points, but he didn't tie them up in a bow.
I suppose it's true that voters want to hear issues at debates, not about records. But Obama really is all talk - it's wholly speculative to say what he will actually do.
McCain's now going to go back to the slog in the trenches. I still don't wholly trust the polls (I don't write them off, but there's a definite grain-of-salt factor), and history tells us that the debates are sometimes not what moves the needle in the closing weeks. Republicans should not lose hope, because this race can still get tighter and that creates opportunities on Election Day. But the chapter in which the debates might have changed the game is over.
POLITICS: Spinning Anger
While we are on the subject of things that get written for reasons other than the relationship they bear to the truth, those of us who remember the successful effort to demonize Republican success in 1994-95 as "a temper tantrum," "angry white men," etc. (all the way to Bill Clinton essentially blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh) see the same campaign ramping up again with media claims that Republican voters are dangerously unhinged and the only cure is to stop saying bad things about Barack Obama's record.
If you have been following this "story," it's helpful to have a few reminders that a lot of these stories are based on misreporting, and that there are plenty of examples of this and worse on the Left side (really, after the last 8 years of Bush hatred and the outpouring of venom and slime directed at Sarah Palin, is "which side has more unhinged angry people doing and saying vile things" really the hill the Left wants to die on?).
There are, in fact, angry, crazy people on both sides, and this is in fact the point in the electoral calendar when a lot of people's emotions are running high. The decision to make a media narrative out of one side at precisely the moment when Obama badly wants to delegitimize any criticism of his record and his past...well, it's just a story someone wants you to hear.
UPDATE: Some may quibble with my view that Obama is afraid of being called on his record and his past - how can he be afraid, he's winning? - but of course it's precisely because he's ahead at this point that he's afraid of McCain doing anything that will alter the trajectory of the race. When you're losing, you don't try to lock down the dynamics of the race in a way that makes it hard to go negative.
POLITICS: Today's Word Is "Erratic"
This Message Brought To You By The Letter "O"
It's not a secret or a surprise that people on both sides of the political aisle try to drive stories and common themes, but one of the things that's especially amusing about the Left is the willingness of Democratic talking heads and lefty bloggers to mindlessly parrot verbatim the talking points handed down by their campaign, in the hopes of driving particular words into the news coverage. And it appears that the word of the moment being slapped on McCain is "erratic" - in contrast to the serene (sorry, "steady") inactivity of Barack Obama.
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"* This is John McCain's last chance to turn this race around and somehow convince the American people that his erratic response to this economic crisis doesn't disqualify him from being President.
Now, let's look at some samples from the lefty blogs collected by yesterday's Blogometer under the headline "MCCAIN: Reinforcing The "Erratic" Meme?"
Other liberal bloggers are portraying the McCain camp as "erratic":
Then we get John Podesta on what McCain needs to do tonight:
McCain needs to change the dynamic of this race, but his erratic responses to the economic crisis aren't the way to do it.
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October 14, 2008
POLITICS: The Integrity Gap, Part II of III: Sen. Barack Obama
In Part I of this series on the "Integrity Gap" between the two national tickets, I looked at Governor Sarah Palin's record of integrity in public office - her battles against corruption and wasteful spending, even by the powers controlling her own party in her home state of Alaska - even when she was putting her career at risk. As I explained, integrity is not just about honesty - it's also about one of the crucial presidential character traits, toughness. Palin has proven that she doesn't back down no matter who she has to take on.
In Part II, I will look at Senator Barack Obama, who is easily contrasted to Palin because they have careers of similar length in both local and statewide office, in states controlled largely by their own party. I have previously explained here why Obama lacks every kind of experience that we usually rely upon to test the character of potential presidents and teach them the lessons they will need to govern, and I've explained here why the flurry of flip-flops at the outset of his general election campaign raises questions specifically about his toughness, his principles and his convictions. During the recent financial crisis we got a taste of Obama's leadership style in crisis: do nothing and hope he can shift the blame to somebody else.
Nearly all of Obama's appeal requires his supporters to take on faith that he will do things he has never done. But on the question of whether Obama will ever take a meaningful stand against corruption or waste in his own party or stand up to vested interests and ideological extremists on his own side, we have a certain answer: he has bypassed too many opportunities to do so already. To the contrary, Obama is so thoroughly marinated in extremism and corruption that it would be nearly impossible to extricate himself and still have a meaningful identity left.
Given the length of this post - at over 21,000 words, it runs more than twice the length of Part I and 33% longer than my entire five-part series on Mitt Romney from the primaries - it was necessary to break the body of the post into six separate volumes that follow this introduction:
POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: Rootless Ambition
Chapter two of seven.
II. Barack Obama: The Greasy Pole
Note on sources: You can follow the links here, as I've linked to sources for nearly all the factual assertions, and mark additional sources with an asterisk *. Where appropriate I've indicated sources whose credibility I was uncertain of, but have generally tried to avoid citing much in the way of rumor. Fairly late in the game in assembling this post, I picked up David Freddoso's book The Case Against Barack Obama, which examines a lot of these same issues in more depth and with copious footnotes. I'm indebted to Freddoso's book for pointing me to additional sources in a handful of places, and for stories I'd missed like the Stroger saga, although in most cases I've cited additional web-based sources besides the book. I'd recommend the book and I refer the reader where possible to stories Freddoso has written up at more length.
Barack Obama talks a good game about being a reformer, a good government, "new politics" guy. But somehow his priorities never extended to actually doing anything that would rock the boat in Chicago politics or get in the way of his climb up the greasy pole of the Chicago machine. Instead, his rise has depended on the exchange of favors with crooked patrons and extremist friends and on the forebearance of the machine.
You will often hear Obama's defenders argue that his ties to this or that extremist or corrupt figure is an isolated aberration, an example of "guilt by association"; that the various favors he dispensed with public money and private charitable foundation funds are nothing unusual in politics. But when you look at Obama's record and biography taken together, what you see is that the favors, the extremists and the machine ties are all inextricably intertwined, and that far from being isolated incidents, Obama's modus operandi of mutual back-scratching with radicals and crooks extends to nearly every aspect of his life and career - his family, his faith, his home, his jobs and education, his significant election victories and legislative "accomplishments," his closest advisors and most important mentors, the money and organization that made up his campaigns.
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A. Rootless Ambition
"He's always wanted to be President," Valerie Jarrett, who has been a family friend for years, ever since she hired Michelle Obama to work in Mayor Daley's office, says [of Obama]...."He didn't always admit it, but oh, absolutely. The first time he said it to me, he said, 'I just think I have some special qualities and wouldn't it be a shame to waste them.' I think it was during the early part of his U.S. senatorial campaign. He said, 'You know, I just think I have something.'"
Michelle's brother... recounted one of the first times [in the early 1990s] Michelle brought Barack to a party...
(1) The Man From Nowhere
In Part I, I noted that Sarah Palin's integrity finds its foundation in her apolitical roots, her background, upbringing and family life as far outside of politics in general and national politics in particular as you can get. But with Barack Obama, the opposite is true: Obama really has no roots outside of politics and his political worldview, apparently few close friends outside of politics, no real hometown, and unlike John McCain (who was raised as a Navy brat) no real continuity as he moved from place to place. He had an itinerant upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia and a nomadic college career in Los Angeles and New York, and wrote - affectingly - in his 1995 memoir about his search for identity. "That whole first year seemed like one long lie," he wrote of his freshman year at Occidental College.
Obama's mother, Stanley Anne Dunham, after her short-lived marriages to Obama's father (a Harvard-trained Kenyan student of economics) and stepfather (an Indonesian student), worked as an anthropologist in Indonesia, even leaving Barack behind in Hawaii as a teen to return to Indonesia, while he attended an elite private school, and was raised by his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham; it was Stanley who had served in World War II. Obama's birth father Barack Obama Sr., with whom he had little contact, was a product of Kenyan socialism, albeit something of a skeptic of the Kenyan socialist project. * His stepfather, Lolo Soetero, who seems to have been a fairly lax Muslim, had apparently been sponsored to the U.S. on a student visa issued by the Sukarno regime, and had it revoked in 1967 when the regime fell (Sukarno was a quasi-Marxist leader somewhat typical of the Third World in the 1960s - he once received the "Lenin Prize" from the Soviet Union - but was deposed in 1967 and replaced by right-wing dictator Suharto), and when Obama was living in Indonesia, his stepfather worked for a U.S. oil company. Additional information from verifiable, non-crackpot sources about the political and social worldview of Obama's mother and stepfather is hard to come by; the Chicago Tribune's profile of her is probably the best we will get, while things like Spengler's inflammatory Asia Times profile (which I rely on here only for his educated speculation about Soetero's visa) rest on a lot of speculation with uncertain basis in fact. Indeed, liberal blogger Jeralyn Merritt has argued that even Obama's knowledge of his own family history seems to depend heavily on what his campaign staff tells him.
One thing we do know is that while various efforts have been made to read a lot into Obama's brushes with Islam growing up, especially his years in Indonesia, Obama himself had no real religious faith; he attended both Muslim and Catholic schools in his youth, apparently with disinterest in the religious instruction he was provided, but by his own admission had fallen away from faith of all kind by the time he encountered Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As Obama wrote of his youthful experience with religion, "my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detatchment as well." Like something bitter people cling to, one might say.
As a teen, "Obama felt like an outsider even in Hawaii's racially diverse community, because the African American population in the Islands was, and remains, miniscule, creating in Obama a feeling of isolation." And there were other symptoms of how he was, at that point in time, still something of a lost soul:
"I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years," he wrote. "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though."...
Amusingly, some friends from those days suggest that Obama may have exaggerated his drug use and alienation for effect: "He was known as a partier, as a guy looking for a good time, but not much more". But almost any account of Obama's early years finds him a young man not really sure where he belongs, and along the way he was imbibing some other unhealthy intellectual influences as well. Obama wrote in Dreams From My Father, his first memoir, about a major influence from his teen years, a man named Frank:
A careful reading of Obama's first memoir, "Dreams From My Father," reveals that his childhood mentor up to the age of 18 - a man he refers to only as "Frank" - was none other than the late communist Frank Marshall Davis, who fled Chicago after the FBI and Congress opened investigations into his "subversive," "un-American activities."
[T]he Obama campaign's attack on [Jerome] Corsi's book ... acknowledges on pages 9 and 10 of its report that the mysterious "Frank" in Obama's 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, is in fact the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) member Frank Marshall Davis.
Davis would hang out and smoke pot with Obama's grandfather and wrote a sexual autobiography that included he and his wife seducing a 13-year-old girl he refers to, creepily enough, as "Anne". You can click the links for some sampling of Davis' racist and Marxist words of ...er, wisdom. More: * * *
Now, you can't hold a man responsible for the family he was born into, or for his grandfather's friends. Certainly it's impressive by any measure how far Obama has come from where he started - part of his point in writing about his cocaine use, like George W. Bush's drinking, is to show the road he chose to stop taking. But the best you can say about Obama's roots and where they place him is that he arrived as a college student in Los Angeles and later Manhattan without the sort of support network and firm grounding that most Americans take for granted. Even after he started moving up the ladder of academia and community organizing, Obama remained an outsider wherever he went. For a decade between 1979 and 1989, he lived in four large, liberal cities, a single young man thousands of miles from his family with no faith and no real ties to the communities he lived in. At Columbia, for example, he lived with wealthy, drug-using Pakistanis * and barely anyone remembers him. * * As Charles Krauthammer has noted, Obama's campaign has been decidedly short on personal testimonials from old friends.
Which raises the issue of what rushed in to fill the vaccum in Obama's life in the years between 1979 and 1989. It wasn't religion, it wasn't family, it wasn't community and it wasn't even money - it was political activism.
(2) The Activist
"[Obama] always talked about the New Rochelle train, the trains that took commuters to and from New York City, and he didn't want to be on one of those trains every day," said Jerry Kellman, the community organizer who enticed Obama to Chicago from his Manhattan office job. "The image of a life, not a dynamic life, of going through the motions... that was scary to him."
Given that Barack Obama doesn't have much in the way of accomplishments or biography - see the timeline of his career here - the tales told about him at the Democratic Convention focused heavily on his first real decision as an adult, to walk away from more lucrative job opportunities in the private sector to become a "community organizer" in Chicago for less money, followed by the same decision to forego life as a big-firm lawyer to work at a plaintiffs' firm doing civil rights work after law school. Certainly the basics of this story speak well of Obama's interest in things other than money, but the truth is more complicated, and reflects as much as anything the fact that Obama's early career was driven by his political ambitions - the same ambitions that would lead him over and over again in his brief career to make accomodations with so many unsavory people and projects.
As you can see from the line about the New Rochelle train, Obama never wanted a job in the private sector. As even the New York Times notes of Obama's time after graduating college, "In his memoir, he says he had decided to become a community organizer but could not persuade anyone to hire him. So he found 'more conventional work for a year' to pay off his student loans."
Obama got into the community organizing field in New York with NYPIRG (Obama in 2004: "I used to be a PIRG guy. You guys trained me well"), and as Megan McArdle has explained, the PIRGs are basically Ponzi schemes financed by exploiting their own workers; it doesn't necessarily say good things that Obama was successful in this line of work. While this did indeed entail financial sacrifice compared to the private sector, as Jim Geraghty notes, Obama's salary as a community organizer, while hardly princely, wasn't even all that bad for a guy in his 20s with no dependents, no mortgage, and no real obligations:
[T]he man who hired Obama, Jerry Kellman, [is quoted] as saying that the $12,000 was Obama's "training salary" for the first few months. "After three or four months, he was up to 20,000, and after three years he was probably making $35,000 or so."
As it turns out, "[t]he Chicago-based Woods Fund provided Kellman with his original $25,000 to hire Obama. In turn, Obama would later serve on the Woods board" from 1993 to 2002; it was one of the boards Obama served on that brought him in contact with Bill Ayers, who was also on the Woods board. (In fact, in one of his community organizing roles, Obama served as Director of the Developing Communities Project from 1985 to 1988, part of a coalition of groups headed by Ayers at the time).
Obama, who did not even graduate with honors from Columbia, was nonetheless able to parlay his community organizing experience into the leg up he needed to get into Harvard Law School, with letters of recommendation from a left-wing Northwestern University professor and from Percy Sutton, a former Manhattan Borough President and 1977 contender for the Democratic nomination for New York City Mayor (Sutton has claimed in a TV interview that he did so at the insistence of "Khalid al-Mansour, principle adviser to radical Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal"):
"I was introduced to him by a friend who was raising money for him and the friends name was Dr. Khalid al Mansour from Texas. He is the principle adviser to one of the world's richest men. He told me about Obama. He wrote to me about him and his introduction was 'there is a young man that has applied to Harvard and I know that you have a few friends left there becasue you used to go up there to speak, would you please write a letter in support of him?'...I wrote a letter in support of him to my friends at Harvard saying to them I thought there was a genius that was going to be available and I sure hoped they would treat him kindly."
(Via here, and read here about the Sutton family spokesman's vague efforts to retract the interview *). Sutton, of course, was a respected mainstream political figure; less clear is how tightly the radical al-Mansour's other connections were plugged in at Harvard as of 1989 - Prince al-Waleed would later become a great benfactor of Harvard (he's the namesake of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard, established by a $20 million gift in 2005), and Saudi money was a longstanding fundraising priority of the Law School, which in 1991 established its Islamic Legal Studies Program, bolstered by the "King Fahd Chair for Islamic Shariah Studies [which] began with a $5 million dollar donation by the Saudi royal family in 1993."
In any event, by the time Obama left Chicago for law school, he had his sights set firmly on political office:
In their conversations, he described politics--and winning political office--as the most important step toward achieving change. And, instead of seeing Harold Washington as buffeted by forces beyond his control, he now aspired to be Washington. "He was fascinated by Mayor Washington," says Kruglik. "Harold Washington inspired him to think about becoming a politician." Kruglik says that Obama wanted to follow in the mayor's footsteps: Washington had gone to law school, later becoming a state senator, then a congressman, and finally Chicago's mayor. "He told me that he was thinking of running for mayor some day, " Kruglik says.
During law school, Obama "spent eight days in Los Angeles taking a national training course taught by [left-wing theorist Saul] Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation." * (More on Alinsky and Obama's community organizer days here, and on the Alinsky's explicit advocacy of dissembling and moral relativism here). He spent his first summer after law school at a large law firm in Chicago, but Obama told the senior partner who hired him that he wasn't interested in coming back to work full time because "he wanted to go into politics." Instead, he went to work for a firm that got him directly involved in Chicago's power politics:
Obama was part of a team of lawyers representing black voters and aldermen that forced Chicago to redraw ward boundaries that the City Council drew up after the 1990 census. They said the boundaries were discriminatory.
Of course, even if it wasn't his primary motivator, Obama was going to need money to do the things he wanted to do. And that's where a stroke of outrageous good fortune came in: after the New York Times wrote up his election to head the Harvard Law Review in March 1990, a literary agent called him out of the blue and offered to get him a book deal. (You have to have some knowledge of the book business to know how bizarre it is for any non-famous person to get solicited to write a book with no manuscript, let alone a 28-year-old law student with no prior publications). Obama got a six figure book deal with a major publisher but was unable to complete the book. Undeterred, his agent landed him a second book deal with a $40,000 advance, and at some point he switched from the planned book on race relations to a memoir. Despite being given an office to work from at the University of Chicago, he still didn't finish the thing until he took time off to go back to Indonesia and write, finally having Dreams From My Father published in time to launch his run for office in 1995; it somehow got reviewed by both the New York Times and the Boston Globe.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Extremists
Chapter three of seven.
B. The Extremists
To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our setereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society's stifling constraints. We weren't indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.
-Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, describing his choice of friends as a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, which he attended for two years. He also wrote about "socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union" after transferring to Columbia, and "went to hear Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and Black Power fame, speak at Columbia." Carmichael, of course, was a famous Sixties radical, a subject that apparently interested Obama as early as his college years.
If Obama was going to pursue his dreams of political activism, he wasn't going to follow the route of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in relying on his roots to his home town, nor did he have John McCain's advantage of a famous war record. He was going to need a political base that would accept an outsider, and needed to bring something to the table. And this is how he built one. The groundwork for Obama's entree into Chicago politics was laid through networking in the very same radical chic circles he described in the passage above. There's not adequate space here to revisit in full the left-wing radicalism of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Fr. Michael Pfleger, the New Party, Alice Palmer, Rashid Khalidi, Khalid al-Mansour, and others in Obama's circle, but the thumbnail sketches and links below should clue you in to the common theme - Obama carefully cultivated an image as a friend of Sixties radicals, race-baiters, Marxists and worse. Maybe this was due to the same romantic impulse of his college years and maybe it was craven political opportunism, but the record shows how firmly he ingratiated himself with these people, with the result that he gets endorsements to this day from avowed Communists. * Even as a presidential candidate, Obama is willing to lend his appearance and good name to the operations of wholly disreputable far-left figures like Al Sharpton. *
Yet while Obama was adept at showing one face to the hard left, he and the organizations he worked with were also acutely aware of the need to present a more respectable face to the broader community, as the Woods Fund noted in a report on its grant to ACORN (more on which below):
Indeed, the report brags about pulling the wool over the public's eye. The Woods Fund's claim to be "nonideological," it says, has "enabled the Trustees to make grants to organizations that use confrontational tactics against the business and government 'establishments' without undue risk of being criticized for partisanship."
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(1) Rev. Wright, Fr. Pfleger & Racialism
The most notorious of Obama's associations is his spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the United Church of Christ. You can find samplings of why Rev. Wright's race-baiting, his crackpot anti-American conspiracy theories and his all-purpose loathing of this country have caused Obama so much justifiable grief at the following links * * * * *. Obama has written movingly of the impact that Wright's preaching had of shaking him from his agnosticism and leading him to Jesus, and I have no way of evaluating the sincerity of any of that, or for that matter criticizing the strange ways that men are brought to the Lord. But the overtly political nature of Wright's preaching was evident from the very beginning, starting when ""[a]s a young biracial man building a black identity, Obama found Wright's Afrocentrism appealing. The first time he visited the church, in 1985, he saw a 'Free South Africa' sign on the lawn." As he sat through years of Wright's fiery sermons, Obama could easily, at any time, have chosen to move on to a less divisive church (Protestants have no particular religious obligation to stay with any one preacher or congregation), but as the liberal magazine Salon explains, Obama had obvious political motives for coming to and staying with Rev. Wright:
[J]oining a black mega-church was also a quick way for a young man on the move on the South Side of Chicago to address some gaps in his resume.
Obama's political motivations for sidling up to Wright are evident in a 1988 essay by Obama touting the need to organize black churches:
Possessing tremendous financial resources, membership, and-most important-values and biblical traditions that call for empowerment and liberation, the black church is clearly a slumbering giant in the political and economic landscape of cities like Chicago.
* * Indeed, far from being repelled by Wright's Manichean view of race relations, Obama himself sometimes took the posture of enforcer of strict racial solidarity in Chicago:
A Chicago Defender story of 1999 features a front-page picture of Obama beside the headline, "Obama: Illinois Black Caucus is broken." In the accompanying article, although Obama denies demanding that black legislators march in perfect lockstep, he expresses anger that black state senators have failed to unite for the purpose of placing a newly approved riverboat casino in a minority neighborhood. The failed casino vote, Obama argues, means that the black caucus "is broken and needs to unite for the common good of the African-American community." Obama continues, "The problem right now is that we don't have a unified agenda that's enforced back in the community and is clearly articulated. Everybody tends to be lone agents in these situations."
When the 2000 census revealed dramatic growth in Chicago's Hispanic and Asian populations alongside a decline in the number of African Americans, the Illinois black caucus was alarmed at the prospect that the number of blacks in the Illinois General Assembly might decline. At that point, Obama stepped to the forefront of the effort to preserve as many black seats as possible. The Defender quotes Obama as saying that, "while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African-American seats." As in the casino dispute, Obama stressed black unity, pushing a plan that would modestly increase the white, Hispanic, and Asian population in what would continue to be the same number of safe black districts. As Obama put it: "An incumbent African-American legislator with a 90 percent district may feel good about his reelection chances, but we as a community would probably be better off if we had two African-American legislators with 60 percent each."
(UPDATE: Via Ed Morrissey, Stanley Kurtz and others look at how the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, under Obama's direction, spread funding around to "Afrocentric" educational programs that espoused many of Wright's racial ideas).
Obama has also come under fire for his ties to the Catholic priest Fr. Michael Pfleger, due to Fr. Pfleger's own racially incendiary remarks (more: * * *) from the pulpit of Rev. Wright's church. Fr. Pfleger, too, has a long rap sheet of extremism:
[H]e has welcomed the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan to preach in his church; he has hired prostitutes to worship there; he has been arrested for defacing billboards; and he once urged the crowd at an anti-gun rally to hunt down a gun store owner 'like a rat' and 'snuff' him.
Obama's alliance with Fr. Pfleger, "a longtime Obama friend," is similarly decades-long in duration and political in nature. Pfleger supported Obama in his primary battle with Bobby Rush in 2000. Among the many causes on which they worked together was a joint appearance in 2000 to protest the payday loan industry.
(2) Ayers & Dohrn and Alice Palmer
The hot issue of the moment is Obama's relationship with unrepentant terrorist and unreconstructed left-wing radical Bill Ayers and his wife and fellow Weather Underground terrorist Bernadine Dorhn, an alumna of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. I've discussed the nature of Ayers' and Dohrn's radicalism, Obama's ties to them, and the implausibility of Obama's claim to not have known who they were here, here, here, here, and here. (To add another example of Ayers' and Dohrn's decades-long national media press clipping file: Dohrn was profiled in the New York Times in 1993 *). Leaving aside for now the debate on exactly when and where Obama and his wife first met Ayers and Dohrn - among the evidence that he'd known him since the 1980s is the relationship I mentioned above between the organizations Obama and Ayers were running at the time - the short summary, from Stanley Kurtz:
From 1995 to 1999, [Obama] led an education foundation called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), and remained on the board until 2001. The group poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists.
To briefly summarize, CAC was largely Ayers' brainchild; Ayers' anti-American, left-wing beliefs haven't changed a whit since the Weather Underground days, and he now espouses the view that his radical left-wing ideas should be passed on to children through political indoctrination posing as education; and Obama, who headed the CAC's process for disbursing funds and who could not possibly have been unaware of Ayers' views on education, nonetheless funneled millions of dollars to educational projects under Ayers' direction in 1995. The core of the Ayers issue is not friendship but money, and Obama's judgment that a left-wing terrorist was an appropriate person to entrust with the education of children.
And that same year, 1995, Obama had what was essentially his coming-out party as a first-time candidate for public office - the State Senate seat to which he'd be elected the following year - at Ayers' and Dohrn's home, as his predecessor, Alice Palmer, announced that she was passing the torch to Obama:
"I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers' house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress," said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. "[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor."
Dr. Young and another guest, Maria Warren, described it similarly: as an introduction to Hyde Park liberals of the handpicked successor to Palmer, a well-regarded figure on the left.
* Obama's alliance with Ayers didn't end when he got into office, either. In 1997, Ayers' book on juvenile justice, which like everything else about Ayers was bursting with radical left-wing sentiments, got 'a rave review in The Chicago Tribune by Mr. Obama, who called it 'a searing and timely account.'" What did that book say, and how closely did Obama embrace Ayers' theories?
Ayers opposes trying even the most vicious juvenile murderers as adults. Beyond that, he'd like to see the prison system itself essentially abolished. Unsatisfied with mere reform, Ayers wants to address the deeper "structural problems of the system." Drawing explicitly on Michel Foucault, a French philosopher beloved of radical academics, Ayers argues that prisons artificially impose obedience and conformity on society, thereby creating a questionable distinction between the "normal" and the "deviant." The unfortunate result, says Ayers, is to leave the bulk of us feeling smugly superior to society's prisoners. Home detention, Ayers believes, might someday be able to replace the prison. Ayers also makes a point of comparing America's prison system to the mass-detention of a generation of young blacks under South African Apartheid. Ayers's tone may be different, but the echoes of Jeremiah Wright's anti-prison rants are plain.
Ayers walks the reader through his Hyde Park neighborhood and identifies the notable residents therein. Among them are Muhammad Ali, "Minister" Louis Farrakhan (of whom he writes fondly), "former mayor" Eugene Sawyer, "poets" Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and "writer" Barack Obama.
Here are Ayers and Dohrn on national TV in 1998, reiterating how completely unrepentant they were and are:
In fact, Obama went on to collaborate closely with Ayers in 1997-98 on a joint push for "reform" of the juvenile justice system, including appearing on a panel with Ayers hosted by Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago, where Obama was then teaching and Michelle working. Ayers donated $200 to Obama's campaign in 2001, and Obama appeared on another panel with Ayers at a conference Dohrn spoke at as late as 2002.
More on Obama, Ayers, Dohrn and Ayers' and Dohrn's radicalism: * * * * And here's Obama's original effort to downplay the relationship.
At the meeting at Ayers & Dohrn's house, Obama was introduced by the woman who was then vacating the seat, Alice Palmer. * Obviously the blessing of the incumbent is a thing of great usefulness - what convinced Palmer that Obama was an ideological comrade? Consider who Alice Palmer is, and what that says as well about the district Obama was courting:
Ten years earlier she was an executive board member of the U.S. Peace Council, which the FBI identified as a communist front group, an affiliate of the World Peace Council, a Soviet front group.
(3) Rashid Khalidi, AAAN, and Ali Abunimah
Obama also had a longstanding relationship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi, among other Palestinian activists going back to a class Obama took with Edward Said at Columbia. Khalidi has acted as an adviser and spokesman for the PLO, which of course was long on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations for obvious reasons: "From 1976 to 1982, Mr. Khalidi was a director in Beirut of the official Palestinian press agency, WAFA. Later he served on the PLO 'guidance committee' at the Madrid peace conference." * (Khalidi denies that the PLO ever formally employed him). Khalidi was, typically enough, "practically the best friend of Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers features Khalidi in some of his books about how to politicize the teaching for students....Bill Ayers publish[ed] Rashid Khalidi’s essay in [his] book of collected essays".
Khalidi's wife headed the Arab American Action Network, which received grants from the Woods Fund during Obama's and Khalidi's tenure on the Woods Fund's board, including $40,000 in 2001 and $70,000 in 2002. (More on AAAN, its vice president Ali Abunimah and his website Electronic Intifada, which frequently refer to Israel as an "apartheid" state, here: * * * * * * * * * *) And he, too, repaid the favor: "Khalidi, a former spokesman for Yasser Arafat, held a fundraiser for Obama in 2000 during his unsuccessful bid for Congress." For his part, Obama spoke warmly in 2003 about many meals shared at Khalidi's house.
He is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a "war crime" and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi's opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians' right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.
This would be more encouraging if not for the long history of dissembling for Western audiences practiced by the PLO and its spokespeople.
Khalidi is hardly Obama's only tie to people and groups who take a hardline pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli view. More recently at his side was his presidential campaign's former senior foreign policy adviser Samantha Power. (Note the video here). Another is Obama military adviser Merrill "Tony" McPeak. * This is how we end up with Palestinians in Gaza phone-banking for Obama * and kind words for Obama from Hamas * and Jesse Jackson last week telling a foreign audience "that, although 'Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades' remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House". And MyDD.com quotes Abunimah having this to say about Obama's own efforts to cater to Palestinian anti-Israel sympathies in Chicago:
I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator -- when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that's just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation.
* Certainly despite Obama's assurances today, his courage in standing up for Israel has never proven to be much of an obstacle to cozying up to those who mean it ill.
(4) The New Party
Obama wasn't content to give radicals, terrorists and racists his money, his name and his seat in a pew; he also went and joined the New Party, a far-left outfit that served as an umbrella coalition of Marxists and others too far to the left for the Democratic Party. * * Under the laws in effect at the time - changed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision - it was possible for candidates in Illinois to run on two party lines, and Obama sought out and received the New Party line endorsement - in fact, to do so, he had to follow New Party policy requiring all NP-endorsed candidates to sign a contract supporting the party's agenda. Obama was undoubtedly viewed and touted by the New Party as a member, and sought to leverage that membership to appeal to the NP base: "Barack Obama, victor in the 13th State Senate District, encouraged NPers to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration." * As discussed below, the NP connection also cemented his relationship with ACORN.
The far Left didn't forget Obama's NP days after the party essentially faded from the scene; in 2000, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America wrote warmly of him:
Barak Obama is serving only his second term in the Illinois State Senate so he might be fairly charged with ambition, but the same might have be said of Bobby Rush when he ran against Congressman Charles Hayes. Obama also has put in time at the grass roots, working for five years as a community organizer in Harlem and in Chicago. When Obama participated in a 1996 UofC YDS Townhall Meeting on Economic Insecurity, much of what he had to say was well within the mainstream of European social democracy.
What does Obama really believe about all these people? Is the real Obama the deeds of yesterday, or the more soothing words of today, when he distances himself from so many of his old friends?
I don't actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of Bill Ayers; I only know that he was content to send millions of dollars Ayers' way to "educate" the children of Chicago and give a glowing review to Ayers' book. I don't actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of Rev. Wright; I only know that he was content to sit in Wright's pews for two decades, bring his young daughters to have their heads filled with Wright's ravings, donate to Wright's church, declare Wright to be his spiritual mentor and name his best-selling book after one of Wright's incendiary sermons. I don't actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of the New Party; I only know that he was content to put his name on their party line and sign a contract to support their platform. (For that matter, I don't even pretend to know for certain whether Barack Obama shares the sex education agenda of Planned Parenthood; I only know that he was content to push their agenda through the State Senate and never object to statutory language extending sex education all the way down to kindergarteners).
In short: maybe Obama isn't a dyed-in-the-wool radical left-wing culture warrior; maybe he was just too afraid to stop lending his moral and financial support to such people and stop currying their favor. Either way, he never stood against them in any way. And the pattern of his relationship with the extremists would be repeated.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: ACORN
Chapter four of seven.
The left-wing group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national umbrella group of, well, community organizers, sits at the intersection of Obama's ties to extremists and his ties to machine politics. ACORN is indisputably Sixties-style "New Left" in its orientation, pursuing what Sol Stern describes as an agenda of "undisguised authoritarian socialism." The group has both money and foot soldiers, as it "uses banking regulations to pressure financial institutions into massive 'donations' that it uses to finance supposedly non-partisan voter turn-out drives." See here for a more thorough description of the mischief ACORN plays in forcing banks to make subprime loans. And:
In one of the first book-length scholarly studies of ACORN, Organizing Urban America, Rutgers University political scientist Heidi Swarts describes this group... as "oppositional outlaws." Swarts, a strong supporter of ACORN, has no qualms about stating that its members think of themselves as "militants unafraid to confront the powers that be." "This identity as a uniquely militant organization," says Swarts, "is reinforced by contentious action." ACORN protesters will break into private offices, show up at a banker's home to intimidate his family, or pour protesters into bank lobbies to scare away customers, all in an effort to force a lowering of credit standards for poor and minority customers. According to Swarts, long-term ACORN organizers "tend to see the organization as a solitary vanguard of principled leftists...the only truly radical community organization."
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ACORN's rap sheet for voter fraud alone is extensive. This is "an organization that has a "decade long history of voter fraud, embezzlement and misuses of taxpayer funds" that Consumer Rights League Chief Public Advocate, James Terry testified about last month to the House Judiciary." For example: flagrantly fraudulent voter registrations in Nevada; "5,000 ACORN registrants in St. Louis were sent letters by election officials asking the recipient to contact them. Fewer than 40 responded"; "In Kansas City, 15,000 ACORN registrations have been questioned and in November, 4 ACORN employees were indicted for fraud. Additionally ACORN officials have been indicted in Wisconsin and Colorado, and there are on-going investigations in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Tennessee." * * * * * * * * * * * *
Meeting last November with the leaders of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) - the nationwide network of left-wing community groups that taps government money for a host of causes - Obama declared: "I've been fighting alongside Acorn on issues you care about my entire career," including representing Acorn in a court case in Illinois. Acorn members apparently reciprocated by working hard to turn out voters for Obama's Illinois campaigns, according to a 2003 piece in the magazine Social Policy by a Chicago-area Acorn organizer. After the candidate's November appearance, Acorn's affiliated political action committee endorsed Obama for president.
* What he now admits to is having been their lawyer: "the Obama campaign has sought to distance the Senator from the radical organization, claiming Obama merely represented ACORN in a lawsuit enforcing the Illinois 'Motor Voter' law." * *
A sampling of Obama's ties to ACORN, and specifically to the aspect of ACORN - its voter registration drives - that are at the heart of its criminal activity:
Obama trained ACORN activists. A 1995 Chicago Reader article on Obama stated "Obama continues his work largely through classes for future leaders identified by ACORN and the Centers for New Horizons." Obama also ran Project Vote, known for widespread voter fraud, which Time magazine called "a non-partisan arm" of ACORN.
During the Democrat primary, the Obama campaign paid Citizen Services Inc., a subsidiary of ACORN, more than $800,000.
A payment that Obama's campaign somehow managed to misreport to the FEC. * Obama's "Fight the Smears" website likewise falsely denied his role in training ACORN activists until confronted by evidence contradicting his denials. *
In 1992 Obama took time off to direct Project Vote, the most successful grass-roots voter- registration campaign in recent city history. Credited with helping elect Carol Moseley-Braun to the U.S. Senate, the registration drive, aimed primarily at African-Americans, added an estimated 125,000 voters to the voter rolls
Conveniently enough, it appears that at one point, ACORN, Project Vote, and the New Party all listed as headquarters the same address in Brooklyn. Obama is, of course, ACORN's favorite politician:
[ACORN] Founder Toni Foulkes enthusiastically backed Obama's U.S. Senate run in 2004, declaring: "ACORN is active in experimenting with methods of increasing voter participation in our low and moderate income communities to virtually every election. But in some elections we get to have our cake and eat it too: work on nonpartisan voter registration and GOTV, which also turns out to benefit the candidate we hold dear [Obama]."
Foulkes claims that Acorn specifically sought out Obama's representation in the motor voter case, remembering Obama from the days when he worked with [former Chicago ACORN leader] Talbot. And while many reports speak of Obama's post-law school role organizing "Project VOTE" in 1992, Foulkes makes it clear that this project was undertaken in direct partnership with Acorn. Foulkes then stresses Obama's yearly service as a key figure in Acorn's leadership-training seminars.
And like Ayers - and sometimes through Ayers - ACORN was a recipient of money from Obama's tenure as a director of the charitable Woods Fund:
Chicago ACORN Received Grants Of $45,000 (2000), $30,000 (2001), $45,000 (2001), $30,000 (2002), And $40,000 (2002) From The Woods Fund.* * These are not discrete stories. They are all one story.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Machine
Chapter five of seven.
D. The Machine
Chicago politics, of course, have been famously corrupt and totally dominated by the Democratic machine since beyond living memory. (In Illinois at the state level, corruption is endemic and bipartisan: "four of the last nine governors have been indicted on charges of corruption, and three were convicted"). This is the city where top aides to Mayor Daley were convicted in May 2006 of federal felonies for rigging hiring in city jobs. It's a city where an alderman who pleaded guilty in August to a "general practice" of shaking down real estate developers was caught on tape saying "Most aldermen, most politicians are hos.". (A Rezko-linked alderman, in fact, who is the daughter of a Rezko-linked housing developer once represented by Obama's law firm * * - small world, indeed). It's not an uncommon sentiment (several aldermen found it necessary to hold a press conference stating that they were not, in fact, hos).
The Chicago machine is nothing if not an equal opportunity honeypot; machine corruption and its close cousin, racial/ethnic politics, has endured over decades as different ethnic and racial groups have taken their turns running the city, all the while doling out favors within their wards. The current machine is topped by Mayor Daley, two decades in office and the son of the city's most notorious mayor; at the state level, it envelops Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich.
To all appearances, Barack Obama's home neighborhood of Hyde Park - affluent, academic, ethnically diverse - should be a natural base for that rare breed in Chicago, the real reformer, with the independence to not only stand aloof from the politics of the greased palm and the dead voter, but actually make that politics more difficult:
The neighborhood invariably elects a goo-goo alderman who pulls killjoy stunts like, you know, asking to see what's in the mayor's budget before voting on it. The most famous, Leon Despres, who just turned 100, once spent five days at Trotsky's place in Mexico City.
Of course, as noted above, Obama's original district also extended to what Salon calls "the weary black neighborhoods to the west, with threadbare street corners that might hold a liquor store, or a chicken shack. (It did not include Trinity United.)." (Todd Spivak, who covered Obama in 2000, says Obama's district "spanned a large swath of the city's poor, black, crime-ridden South Side")
Certainly Obama frequently postured as a political reformer in Illinois ("My reputation in Springfield was as an independent"), as well as in the U.S. Senate. Was that posture any more, or any less, genuine than his posture as a friend of left-wing radicals? I don't know the answer to that either; I only know that Obama, with his sights set beyond Hyde Park, made sure never to get in the machine's way. "Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, notes that, while Mr. Obama supported ethics reforms as a state senator, he has "'been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state, including at this point, mostly Democratic.'" The Chicago Sun-Times isn't fooled either:
Obama friend Tony Rezko was convicted of corrupting state government, but Obama was never implicated and has returned contributions Rezko made to his Senate campaign. Obama did run as an independent Democrat but worked closely with state Senate President Emil Jones, an old-school organization Democrat. Obama runs for president with the full blessing of Mayor Daley.
As we shall see, this is not the half of it.
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(1) It's Good To Have Friends
Obama's first run for public office was at age 34 in 1996, when Alice Palmer announced she was leaving her State Senate seat to run for Congress. As noted above, Palmer was one of Obama's many far-left allies. As it turned out, Palmer lost her bid for Congress (to Jesse Jackson Jr, now Obama's national campaign co-chair) and tried to come back and reclaim her job, but Obama stayed in the race. Unlike Sarah Palin's three hotly contested races against incumbents, however, Obama and his allies were able to use the legal machinery of the city avoid a contested campaign:
According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama operatives flooded into the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on Jan. 2, 1996, to begin the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of Palmer and three other lesser-known contenders for her Illinois state Senate seat. They kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama's Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.
The Trib account attributes his success to the fact that "when he filed his challenge the city of Chicago had 'just completed a massive, routine purge of unqualified names that eliminated 15,871 people from the 13th District rolls.'" and his "competitors had 'relied on early 1995 polling sheets to verify the signatures.'" * Obama himself faced no such challenge.
See, here is where we have to take a step back and look at the realities of how corrupt urban political machines operate...because this sort of outrageous good fortune does not, in machine-controlled cities, ordinarily fall into the lap of candidates who present any threat to the machine. Obama's opponents all just happened to get shoved off the ballot, leaving him standing unopposed? (Freddoso, at p. 5 & 246 and n. 17, cites 1994 & 1995 press accounts in the Tribune and the Sun-Times indicating that Mayor Daley was worried about Palmer running against him for Mayor, and thus his interests were served by her defeat).
This would not the last time things like this just happened to Obama's opponents, while Obama himself slid by on the greased skids. It would certainly seem as if Barack Obama has important friends who want him in high places.
There's also Obama's 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, a race in which he was generally regarded as something of a longshot (as you may recall - Freddoso cites polls showing this at p. 47 - a little more than three weeks before the March 16, 2004 primary, Obama was in a second-place tie with 17% of the vote). The favorite was Blair Hull, a multi-millionaire who spent $29 million on his campaign (Hull was the subject of a sympathetic Atlantic profile in January 2004 by liberal writer Joshua Green comparing him to Jon Corzine and not even mentioning Obama). But Hull's campaign unraveled when the Chicago Tribune pressured Hull to release his divorce records, showing a record of menacing his ex-wife including the filing of an order of protection. Now, the Trib was just doing its job as a newspaper - but how did the Trib find out where to look? After all, unsealing divorce records isn't routine - John Kerry was running for president that year and successfully resisted calls to unseal his divorce papers, without facing much pressure from the big news organizations to do so.
Well, we can make an educated guess and then some: Obama campaign chief David Axelrod had previously interviewed to work for Hull, and Freddoso notes (p. 47-48) that in the process he'd learned about some of Hull's marital history, although he protests to this day he didn't tell anybody. As the NY Times notes, "[t]he Tribune reporter who wrote the original piece later acknowledged in print that the Obama camp had 'worked aggressively behind the scenes' to push the story." Axelrod himself is a former Tribune reporter. It's good to have friends, isn't it?
Winning the nomination for what was then a Republican-held seat meant Obama would be expected to face off against Jack Ryan, a wealthy and charismatic former investment banker and subject of a famously glowing "is he too good to be true" November 2003 profile by George Will. But Ryan's campaign, too, imploded when the Tribune persuaded a California judge to unseal Ryan's divorce records, revealing his actress wife's testimony about him pressing her to attend sex clubs. (The sympathetic judge was a Gray Davis-appointed Democrat). Again, it was nice for Obama that he had friends, and he was instead able to face off against Alan Keyes in a walkover election. (One cannot miss the irony here of Obama today complaining loudly about any discussion of his own past after using sex scandals to KO his prior opponents).
Of course, speaking of powerful and sinister friends, the fact that Obama had those well-financed opponents at one time enabled him to use a loophole in the campaign finance laws to accept $60,000 in contributions in that campaign from left-wing billionaire George Soros and his family:
Obama ... is different from most Democrats because of his willingness to embrace the controversial Soros. Shortly after Soros equated the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Obama joined him for a New York fund-raiser June 7.
Little has been made of his connection to Soros, although it is quite unique. Not only did George Soros donate to Obama's campaign, but four other family members - Jennifer, sons Jonathan and Robert and wife Susan - did as well.
* Then there's the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the smoking gun of Obama's ties to Bill Ayers - documents detailing Obama's and Ayers' role in the CAC were held at the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but Stanley Kurtz faced a lengthy and frustrating stonewall before he was finally able to get a look at them. * (Kurtz also faced intimidation when he took to local radio in Chicago to talk about his research *). Because the one thing Obama's friends in Chicago don't want is a close look at his record.
(2) Mr. Jones and Me
You have undoubtedly already heard plenty about Obama's ties to Wright and Ayers and to Tony Rezko, who I discuss below. But probably the single most important relationship in Obama's rise, and the one that tells us the most about Obama, is with Emil Jones. As The New Republic's Ryan Lizza notes, when he arrived in Springfield in 1997, "Obama sought out Jones in the legislature and let him know he was eager to work with him" despite having portrayed Jones in Obama's first book as an "old ward heeler." Jones' background before he was a State Senator? "His career included 30 years on the city payroll, 20 with the Sewer Department, where he retired as an inspector in 1993. He denied wrongdoing when in 1997 the city released federal subpoenas in a ghost-payrolling investigation that included requests for records regarding his employment. He was never charged." The Chicago Tribune calls Jones "a transparent, old-school advocate of governance as the management of spoils" and notes that in 2002, "after Jones helped engineer the delivery of $4.5 million in taxpayer-funded grants to the City Colleges of Chicago, it was revealed that $300,000 of that money made its way to a firm run by his relatives."
Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama's seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative achievements.
Jones became the State Senate President when the Democrats took the majority in 2003, and basically created most of Obama's legislative record by adding Obama's name on other people's bills. As Jones once said (apparently at Obama's instigation), "I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator":
Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.
Jones further helped raise Obama's profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news headlines.
(See also Freddoso pp. 27-33. Taking credit for other people's legislative work is a pattern Obama has continued in Washington). What did Jones get out of the relationship?
So how has Obama repaid Jones?
Mr. Obama secured several million dollars for a project at Chicago State University. Emil Jones Jr., the president of the Illinois State Senate and an early and powerful political benefactor of Mr. Obama's, has been a dogged champion of Chicago State, and one of Senator Obama's closest friends.
Freddoso notes at p. 32 & n. 24-25 (citing Obama's own website and this report) that Obama requested $11 million in earmarks for Chicago State, that Chicago State has named a building after Jones and his wife, and that since 2001, Jones has received about $55,000 in contributions from Chicago State's trustees, foundation directors and administrators.
What kind of patron is Emil Jones? Freddoso, again, notes (citations at at pp. 28-29 & nn. 5-10 of his book), a variety of questionable projects in which Jones got jobs and funding for his wife, son and stepson:
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last July that his son, Emil Jones III, does not have a college degree, but obtained an unadvertised $57,000 job with the Illinois Department of Commerce. The hire was made shortly after Senator Jones agreed to back Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D.) budget plan. The younger Jones is expected to succeed his father in his senate seat.
* While Jones' backing of Obama's legislative resume focused on 2003, Freddoso, among others, cites Obama biographer David Mendell to say that on the Illinois ethics reform bill that passed the State Senate in 1998 by a 52-4 vote, "former Rep. Abner Mikva convinced Jones to let Obama handle the legislation. Sen. Dick Klemm (D.) was removed as chief cosponsor and replaced by Obama on May 22, 1998 - the very day the bill passed." * * * But Obama can take all the credit he wants for that one, when you consider how it led to the final payback for Emil Jones:
Before championing a big legislative pay increase, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones provided himself with tens of thousands of dollars in interest-free loans from his campaign fund.
* It gets worse: not only was Jones, under the Obama "ethics" bill, able to borrow money from his campaign contributions, he is allowed to keep half a million dollars of it as a golden parachute following his retirement, which was announced in August:
Part of the price for that victory was leaving a major loophole in the law. While new legislators were barred from using campaign money for personal use, those already in office could keep using the campaign money they already had for anything they wanted - Cadillacs, college tuition, whatever.
You want an illustration of the influence Obama could have exerted for reform if he'd wanted to? Jones spent months bottling up ethics reform legislation in the State Senate, reform with more teeth than the flaccid bill passed by Obama:
Designed as a response to the "pay-to-play politics" that have flourished under Gov. Blagojevich, the plan would bar firms with more than $50,000 in state contracts from donating to the officeholder in charge of the deals.
On Wednesday, the Illinois House rejected Blagojevich's rewrite, 110-3. Under the state Constitution, the Senate has "15 calendar days" to follow suit, or the plan as originally written will die.As late as mid-September 2008, Obama was resisting calls to lift a finger to help the real reform bill pass. Finally, after media pressure that crested while Obama was behind McCain in the national polls, he made the call - and the retiring Jones immediately complied: "'I plan to call the Senate back into session to deal with the issue of ethics only at the request of my friend Barack Obama,' Jones said in a statement..."
Just think of what Obama might have accomplished in Illinois if he'd made more calls like that.
(3) Married To The Machine
When Obama married Michelle Robinson in 1991, he was literally marrying into the city's Democratic machine:
[H]er father, Frasier Robinson, spent some time as a maintenance worker for Chicago's Department of Water Management.
Shortly before the Obamas were married, Michelle went and got a job at the heart of the Chicago machine:
In 1991, she wrote to Valerie Jarrett, deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Jarrett...offered her a job in the mayor's office. But before Michelle would accept, she asked that Jarrett have dinner with her and Barack.
From Mayor Daley's office, with the connection to the very well-connected Jarrett firmly established, Michelle went on to head the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit community organization, from 1993 until 1996, and served on its board until 2001; Barack Obama was a founding member of the board of Public Allies in 1992 *, and would go on to send them taxpayer money:
Senator Obama has trained several classes of Allies in community organizing, spoken at Public Allies Chicago events, and helped Senator Durbin secure an appropriation from the Department of Justice that successfully helped us better recruit and retain young men of color for our Chicago program and learn practices we are applying nationally.
The Chicago-based Muntu Dance Theatre received a $4.5 million grant to help pay for a $10 million cultural center.
(See also Freddoso p. 31). Notably, the theater's website now lists Emil Jones as "Honorary Campaign Chair" of the "Campaign for the Muntu Performing Arts Center."
In 1996, when Barack Obama was elected to the State Senate, his wife moved to a job at the University of Chicago. In 2002, she moved over from the University to its Hospital, where she "developed the University's first office of community service" and "quickly built up programs for community relations, neighborhood outreach, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity and minority contracting." Then in 2004, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate; shortly thereafter, Michelle was given a promotion and a pay raise that more than doubled her salary "from $121,910 in 2004, just before her husband was elected to the Senate, to $316,962 in 2005." Her new duties would include "all programs and initiatives that involve the relationship between the Hospitals and the community...[and] management of the Hospitals' business diversity program." In short, she had yet again a perfect job for deciding who would and would not find favor in the community and local business with a powerful institution - and one that itself sought favor with her influential husband. In 2006, Obama tried to return the favor, requesting a $1 million earmark for his wife's employer to build a new pavillion (the earmark did not ultimately get passed).
(4) I'm Barack Obama, and I Approve This Machine
There are a number of ways for an honest politician to get in the way of a crooked machine, or of waste or fraud in the government. She can resign in protest, as Sarah Palin did in Alaska. He can hold hearings smoking out members of his own party, as John McCain has done in the Senate. She can back candidates in primary battles against the establishment, as Palin has also done in Alaska. He can bring national attention to self-interested wastes of taxpayer money, as McCain has also done in the Senate. You will look high and low in his record for Obama doing any of these things.
In fact, Obama has repeatedly either sat out opportunities to support reform in Chicago or affirmatively supported the machine. By January 2007, the Justice Department and the Chicago press had laid bare the corruption of the administration of Michelle's old boss Mayor Daley, including the May 2006 convictions of Robert Sorich, Timothy McCarthy, two of Mayor Daley's most senior aides, and two sanitation officials for what the New York Times described at the time as running "City Hall's legendary patronage machine" :
Prosecutors said Mr. Sorich and Mr. McCarthy had concocted "blessed lists" of preselected winners for certain jobs and promotions based on political work or union sponsorship. The scheme involved sham interviews, falsified ratings forms and the destruction of files to cover it up, they said.
* * * (See also Freddoso, pp. 20-26, discussing the broader pattern of bribery, shakedowns, corruption in city employment and contracting, you name it). Yet Daley, preparing for his 2007 re-election bid, had one voice spinning furiously to direct attention away from the rampant corruption: the man Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet calls "Mayor Daley's key adviser" - David Axelrod, better known now nationally as the guiding strategist and campaign manager for Obama's presidential campaign. (The NY Times: "'David Axelrod's mostly been visible in Chicago in the last decade as Daley's public relations strategist and the guy who goes on television to defend Daley from charges of corruption,' Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who is now chairman of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me.") Freddoso (p. 23 & n. 72) cites a 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer article in which Axelrod declared, a la Mario Cuomo denying the existence of the Mafia, that "The so-called 'machine' doesn't exist anymore."
As Freddoso recounts (p. 26), while Daley's position remained strong, he faced two black opponents in the 2007 primary, so an endorsement from the popular Obama would help remove any remaining obstacles to re-election. * Moreover, as NPR noted at the time, before those weaker challengers stepped up, there had been "talk that the corruption issue would lead to some big-name Democrat challenging him this year (Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and/or Luis Gutierrez had been mentioned)" - and Jackson, as we know, is a key Obama ally. But unlike Sean Parnell's Palin-backed challenge to Don Young in Alaska, Obama apparently didn't persuade Jackson to run, and may not even have tried. Instead, Obama endorsed Daley, and Daley endorsed Obama for president. One hand washes the other.
Notably, Obama's one serious intra-party battle in Chicago, his primary challenge to Congressman Bobby Rush in 2000, followed on the heels of Rush challenging Mayor Daley in the primary in 1999 *. David Ignatius of the Washington Post says that Obama was "[p]rodded by the Daley machine" into that race.
In 2006, the Cook County Board President, John Stroger, faced near-daily chronicling of the incompetence, scandal, and patronage under his administration. These revelations included not only the typical employment of family members and friends, but more disturbingly what one Chicago newspaper referred to as a "catalogue of horrors" at a County hospital and what another uncovered at the Juvenile Detention Center where staff encouraged fights among the youth in "the gladiator room". Although normally untouchable, challenging Stroger was a formidable reform candidate, Forrest Claypool, who had been endorsed by every major paper in Chicago. This 'machine versus reform' race provided Obama with a seemingly tailored opportunity to demonstrate his new brand of politics and yet, although Claypool was a senior advisor to him during his Senate race, Obama chose not antagonize the machine and remained silent throughout the campaign, even after Stroger suffered a debilitating stroke a week before the election. Following Stroger's victory (52% to 48%), local committeemen selected Stroger's son, Todd, to replace him on the general election ballot, and despite general voter outrage over this cynical act of nepotism, Obama immediately embraced Todd Stroger, calling him a "a good progressive Democrat" who will "lead us into a new era of Cook County government." To no one's surprise, since winning the general election, Todd Stroger has hired a plethora of family members and friends, while slashing essential positions and services, including nurses and law enforcement officials, and proposing massive tax increases. When asked about the situation at the County under Todd Stroger, Obama said he was not following it, something he apparently has the luxury to ignore.
* * (See Obama's letter supporting Todd Stroger here). Remember Todd Stroger next time someone asks you what Obama's definition of "progressive" is. And note once again the contrast between Obama's embrace of Todd Stroger and Palin's endorsement of a primary challenger to Lisa Murkowski. Why did Obama sit out the primary and back Todd Stroger in the general? Maybe because Obama doesn't like to rock the boat with powerful machines (How powerful are the Strogers in Chicago? Cook County Hospital is now named John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital) Maybe because Obama's close friends were also Stroger's - besides Stroger's alliance with Mayor Daley, Tony "Rezko had served as John Stroger's finance chairman and raised $150,000 for him (Stroger put Rezko's wife on the county payroll)." Or maybe because the Strogers are black and Forrest Claypool is white. No matter how you slice it, Obama put his stamp of approval on Stroger control of Cook County.
But wait! The hits keep on coming. The Tribune again:
In the 2006 Democratic primary... Obama endorsed first-time candidate Alexi Giannoulias for state treasurer despite reports about loans Giannoulias' family-owned Broadway Bank made to crime figures. Records show Giannoulias and his family had given more than $10,000 to Obama's campaign, which banked at Broadway.
Giannoulias spoke for Obama at the 2008 Convention. Bad decision? It is rumored that Tony Rezko is now talking to the feds about Giannoulias and his family (Ed Morrissey collects those reports and more background on Giannoulias here).
Freddoso also notes, at p. 19-20, Obama's 2007 endorsement of Dorothy Tillman, a corrupt, race-baiting Alderman who once brandished a gun at a city council meeting - the Chicago Tribune noted that when Obama endorsed her, Tillman "was then under fire for her stewardship of the scandal-plagued Harold Washington Cultural Center, where contracts benefited members of her family" - what mattered was that she had endorsed Obama in 2004. *
Then there's Obama's 2004 endorsement of his poker buddy State Senator Larry Walsh, a guy Obama liked so much he put thousands of Obama volunteers to work campaigning for Walsh. Walsh is now a lobbyist, and Obama has requested $6 million in earmarks for his client. And now, Walsh is under FBI investigation. (As it happens, Walsh was also tied to a Rezko construction project).
Freddoso cites this Ryan Lizza piece quoting an Obama ally:
[Obama] recognizes that Daley is a powerful man and to have him as an ally is important. While he was a state senator here and moving around in Chicago, he made sure to minimize the direct confrontational approach to people of influence and policymakers and civic leaders.
Barack Obama take on the people who run the machine? Not a chance. He'd have to stop endorsing them first.
(5) Rezko and Friends
Yet another of Obama's closest and earliest political supporters is Tony Rezko, who was convicted in June in federal court in Chicago of corrupting the government of Illinois.
[In 1999, E.J.] Dionne wrote about a young Barack Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reelection. "They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest," Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself.
Following the M.O. he explained to Dionne, Barack Obama went out of his way to do favors for Rezko, writing to federal and state officials to get Rezko a lucrative contract to build senior citizen housing:
The deal included $855,000 in development fees for Rezko and his partner, Allison S. Davis, Obama's former boss, according to records from the project, which was four blocks outside Obama's state Senate district.
Among the direct benefits to Obama in return, from his alliance with Rezko? Well, Rezko was in the business of demanding state jobs for people he favored, sending Gov. Blagojevich (who was identified in the indictment of Rezko as "Public Official A" under Rezko's corrupt influence) a list of 39 people he wanted jobs given to - including "two people who appear to have Obama links and a third who's now an Obama presidential campaign staffer." A very valuable thing to have in politics, a man who will arrange jobs for your campaign staff between campaigns.
Obama also got significant campaign contributions from Rezko: "Over the years, Rezko, Mahru, their wives and businesses have given more than $50,000 to Obama's campaign funds, records show. And Rezko has helped raise millions more." Rezko's corruption also extended into Iraq; federal prosecutors have argued that Rezko paid a $1.5 million bribe to get a contract in Iraq, which naturally involved yet another kickback donation to Obama. (Rezko's corrupt Iraq connections included still seedier and more ominous figures including a Saddam-linked billionaire, although efforts to tie the Iraqi connections to Obama have been speculative at best). To say nothing of a $10,000 contribution in 2004 funded by a recipient of a $250,000 kickback from a corrupt Rezko deal, from a donor whose son was then awarded an internship in Obama's U.S. Senate office.
Rezko, in fact, himself offered Obama a job straight out of law school in 1991:
He once told the Chicago Tribune that he had briefly considered becoming a developer of affordable housing. But after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, he turned down a job with Tony Rezko's development company, Rezmar, choosing instead to work at the civil rights law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, then led by Allison Davis.
When Obama opened his campaign for state Senate in 1995, Rezko's companies gave Obama $2,000 on the first day of fund-raising. Save for a $500 contribution from another lawyer, Obama didn't raise another penny for six weeks. Rezko had essentially seeded the start of Obama's political career.
Rezko's projects were not so beneficial to the not-so-well-connected citizens who lived in them, and his predations victimized Obama's own constituents who were left to live in decrepit housing - and other close Obama allies were similarly involved in developing substandard housing projects:
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama's presidential campaign and a member of his finance committee. Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.
Over the next nine years [1989-98], Rezmar used more than $87 million in government grants, loans, and tax credits to renovate about 1,000 apartments in 30 Chicago buildings. Companies run by the partners also managed many of the buildings, collecting government rent subsidies.
Where was Obama?
Eleven of Rezmar's buildings were located in the district represented by Obama, containing 258 apartments. The building without heat in January 1997, the month Obama entered the state Senate, was in his district. So was Jones's building with rats in the walls and Frizzell's building that lacked insulation. And a redistricting after the 2000 Census added another 350 Rezmar apartments to the area represented by Obama.
* Doug Ross has a great photo essay on Obama's blind eye towards Rezko's abuses. You can read the Obama campaign's decidedly lawyerly responses here (Sample: "Senator Obama did follow up on constituency complaints about housing as matter of routine. Further questions about their condition should be addressed to the CHA [Chicago Housing Authority]. It is our understanding that, according to CHA, the buildings owned by Rezmar were maintained in good condition and good standing." Because, you know, the Chicago government is always diligent and trustworthy where guys like Rezko are concerned.)
Obama, while on the board of the charitable Woods Fund, steered $1 million to Davis. He was, of course, not just a low-income housing developer but also the boss who had given Obama a job out of law school:
Obama began serving on the Woods Fund board in 1993, the same year he was hired as an associate lawyer with Davis' small Chicago law firm, Davis Miner Barnhill. Obama kept working there until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
The grant to Davis is intertwined with Obama's effort to steer taxpayer money to Rezko:
As a developer, Davis' partners have included Tony Rezko, the now-indicted political fund-raiser who has been among Obama's biggest political supporters.
Consider what Obama got out of working for Davis' firm. In 2007, during the primaries, Obama cracked at John Edwards' expense that his preference for making change rather than money was "why I didn't become a trial lawyer." But of course Obama was, technically, employed by a trial-lawyer firm, and participated in class action filings against big corporations. But in so many ways, the job seems to have been little more than a sinecure for an aspiring politician - hence the time off to run a voter-registration drive to help a Democrat get elected to the US Senate, hence the time off to go to Indonesia to finish his book, hence keeping him on the part-time payroll while in the State Senate, hence Obama's secrecy about what particular clients he represented.
As for Rezko, he too was no ordinary donor or bundler for Obama; it was Rezko whose help was necessary to help Obama buy his home, the place where his wife sleeps and his children play with their toys:
Two years ago, Obama bought a mansion on the South Side, in the Kenwood neighborhood, from a doctor. On the same day, Rezko's wife, Rita Rezko, bought the vacant lot next door from the same seller. The doctor had listed the properties for sale together. He sold the house to Obama for $300,000 below the asking price. The doctor got his asking price on the lot from Rezko's wife.
* In fact, the adjacent property fairly clearly was not of any independent use to Rezko. Basically, Rezko's wife's purchase of the lot had no purpose other than to subsidize Obama's mansion. A payoff that hits, literally, close to home for Obama.
Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecutorial net has been closing of late around Rezko and his corrupt circle. Gov. Blagojevich has admitted that he's been interviewed multiple times by federal investigators. (Naturally, Obama endorsed Blagojevich's re-election in 2006). Rezko is now talking to federal prosecutors, and federal investigators apparently now think they have enough to indict Gov. Blagojevich himself. * "[F]ederal agents are preparing charges of tax fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice against the governor... involving alleged trading of jobs for five-figure campaign donations" and Blagojevich's wife receiving "$200,000 in real estate commissions - some on deals done with the convicted Tony Rezko [that] allegedly coincided with the award of state contracts by her husband's administration" Even some Illinois Democrats have had talk of impeaching Blagojevich. *
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Favor Factory
Chapter six of seven.
E. The Favor Factory
With the expansion of federal intervention in the economy that will inevitably follow the current financial crisis - ranging from the $700 billion financial industry bailout to the $25 billion auto industry bailout to the federal government investing billions directly in major banks - there will be even more opportunities than usual for the next Administration to use federal dollars to reward friends and cronies instead of serving the taxpayers. Indeed, House Democrats tried in the bailout package to earmark proceeds to go to Obama's old friends at ACORN, and succeeded in subsidizing ACORN in the housing bill that passed in July. It's important that the next White House be resistant to opening the favor factory for business.
Senator Obama now claims that he will be a good steward of federal taxpayer money - such a good steward, in fact, that he'll be able to cut spending enough to offset every dollar of his many hundreds of billions of dollars of planned new spending programs. But his record throughout his career shows him to be a man who has always been quite liberal in every sense of the word in using public money and private charitable money to reward his friends, and who is wholly disinclined to saying "no." Obama knows how the favor factory works, and he isn't shy about using it.
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(1) Pork and Earmarks
As I noted in Part I of this series, one of the major controversies of the last several years in American politics has been pork barrel spending, and specifically "earmarks" - legislative directions that money be routed to particular projects. Earmarks are not an enormous part of the budget - in the last debate, Obama dismissed $18 billion as being basically chump change - but they contribute to governmental bloat, and more problematically the reasons why politicians like directing money to benefit particular people often get them in ethical or legal trouble.
As I also discussed in Part I, on the most notorious pork project in recent years, Obama voted against Tom Coburn's effort to strip funding from the "Bridge to Nowhere" and send it to victims of Hurricane Katrina, presumably out of fear that such a vote would bring down retaliation on his own pork barrel. That said, Obama does deserve some credit on one corner of Coburn's Porkbusters campaign: when Coburn needed a Democratic sponsor in 2006, Obama stepped up and co-sponsored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, a/k/a the Coburn-Obama bill, capping off the Porkbusters crusade for earmark transparency by creating an internet database of federal spending requests; as I wrote at the time:
H. Res. 1000 and the Coburn-Obama bills don't cut a dime by themselves, but anybody who knows Washington can tell you that changing the procedures is half the battle; by providing increased public and media oversight over earmarks and pork-barrel spending - as well as simply a better mechanism for Members to see what they are voting on and at whose behest - the rule and the bill together provide a first step towards getting the pork problem under at least the beginnings of control.
While the indefatigable Coburn carried the laboring oar on the bill - as he did in the battle against the Bridge to Nowhere - Obama certainly deserves some credit for co-sponsoring it, a move that was not entirely popular in the Senate or within his own caucus. Of course, the main opposition at the time was Old Bull GOP Senators like Ted Stevens and Trent Lott, not exactly Obama's best buddies. In any event, Obama's record on the spending itself is nonetheless poor.
For his Senate career, Obama has requested nearly $1 billion in earmarked spending all by himself, "$931.3-million... nearly a million dollars for every [working] day that Obama's been in the United States Senate." Obama repeatedly voted against Coburn's initiatives to rein in pork and earmarks, including an effort to re-route bike path funding to bridge safety after the bridge collapse in Minnesota. Looking at the watchdog groups that follow this stuff (these are conservative groups, but they don't hesitate to take on Republicans who go astray on these issues), Citizens Against Government Waste gave Obama a lifetime rating of 22 out of 100, and the Club for Growth rated him a 33 out of 100 for 2007. And the earmarking was already a habit from his State Senate days, as "Obama doled out more than $3.6 million in state grants in just the last half of his state legislative career, records show...Records from 1997 to 2000 weren't available." Another report states that "Obama awarded about $6 million for everything from literacy programs and park improvements to drill team uniforms and jazz appreciation events."
When you turn to specific cases, Obama's record doesn't get prettier:
+In 2001, Obama was desperate for cash after maxing out his credit cards to cover debts from his unsuccessful run for Congress. Enter the kind of donor who seems to come out of the woodwork whenever Obama needs help:
Chicago entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr. paid Obama an $8,000-a-month retainer to give legal advice to his growing technology firm, Electronic Knowledge Interchange. It allowed Obama to supplement his $58,000 part-time state Senate salary for over a year with regular payments from Blackwell's firm that eventually totaled $112,000.
Yes, that's right: taxpayer money for ping-pong tournaments. All for the greater good of retiring Obama's campaign debts. How critical was the money from Blackwell to Obama's financial well-being?
Obama's tax returns show that he made no money from his law practice in 2000, the year of his unsuccessful run for a congressional seat. But that changed in 2001, when Obama reported $98,158 income for providing legal services. Of that, $80,000 was from Blackwell's company.
+Obama rewarded Fr. Pfleger with a $225,000.00 earmark for programs at Pfleger's church when Obama was a State Senator, and "Pfleger gave Obama's campaign $1,500 between 1995 and 2001, including $200 in April 2001, about three months after Obama announced $225,000 in grants to St. Sabina programs."
+"Englewood got $100,000 for its botanical garden even though it was outside of his state Senate district. Obama needed votes from the neighborhood when he ran for Congress - but after he lost, he reneged on a promise to complete the project. Nothing but a plywood gazebo and a field of weeds sits on the garden plot now."
In 2001...Obama steered $75,000 to a South Side charity called FORUM Inc., which promised to help churches and community groups get wired to the Internet. Records show five FORUM employees, including one who had declared bankruptcy, had donated $1,000 apiece to Obama's state Senate campaign.
His campaign's list said the senator had secured $1.3 million of an $8 million request in 2006 for a high-explosive technology program for the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The list said the program was overseen by General Dynamics.
And there's more
Senator Obama's ties to the Crowns run deeper than one corporate earmark. Paula and Lester Crown are also both directors of the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, an organization for which Senator Obama has requested a total of $7 million in earmarks since 2006. The first was a request for $4 million in 2006 to fund the Children's Memorial Medical Center's Electronic Medical Record Project, and the second was a request for $3 million in 2008 to build an intensive care unit. All told, one third of the directors at CMH, including the Crowns, have donated $95,124 to Barack Obama’s senate campaign, and $119,137 to his presidential campaign. These include Director Vicki Heyman, who along with her husband is a prominent Democratic fundraiser and bundler for the Obama campaign. In total, bundlers on the CMH board and their relatives, the Crowns included, have raised and pledged a total of at least $1.15 million for Obama for America. To top it all off, James Crown and his wife Paula are both bundlers for the presidential campaign, and are members of his National Finance Committee. James Crown was also on Barack Obama's 2004 campaign finance committee, and is currently co-chair of his Illinois finance committee.
+As McCain has noted, Obama in 2008 managed to snag more than $3 million in federal dollars for a projector for a planetarium in Chicago, after requesting $300,000 for the same project in 2006. How'd they get his attention? "The Chairman and two of the Vice Chairman of the Adler Planetarium Board of Trustees raised a total of almost $250,000 for Sen. Obama's 2008 Presidential campaign. The Adler Planetarium was probably pleasantly surprised when they found that their earmark increased by $2.7 million dollars, in other words, by a factor of ten." *
In contrast to the tough and unpopular line-item veto decisions made by Sarah Palin even in good budgetary times in Alaska, Obama's spending record in Illinois shows a man incapable of saying "no" to domestic spending, even stealing a famous 1999 line from George W. Bush (I noted this previously here):
In a 2007 speech to Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN), Obama touted his Illinois legislative experience and challenged members of Sharpton's group to find a candidate with a better record of supporting the issues they cared about. ...Intrigued by Obama's challenge to Sharpton's group, Randolph Burnside, a professor of political science, and Kami Whitehurst, a doctoral candidate, both at the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, decided to put Obama's Illinois record to the test. The two scholars made a study of bills sponsored and cosponsored by Obama during his Illinois State Senate career.
Obama hasn't been better in Washington - to pick one egregious example, he voted for the appalling farm bill. Obama remains a major supporter of the ethanol boondoggle (see Freddoso pp. 92-93) - the issue on which every major presidential candidate but John McCain has kowtowed in order to compete in the Iowa caucus - and perhaps not coincidentally, Obama is very closely tied to the ethanol industry, and "briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland, which is the nation's largest ethanol producer and is based in his home state." (Now it turns out that even his vaunted "95%" tax cut plan consists largely not of tax cuts but of disguised social welfare spending, by cutting checks to people who currently pay no taxes.)
You are probably familiar by now with Obama's role in joining with Senate Democrats to resist needed reforms of the government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the role that played in the current housing crisis, as well as Obama's status as the largest annual recipient of Fannie/Freddie campaign cash, his tabbing of one Fannie CEO to head his veep vetting process and another's role (if you believe him) as an Obama economic advisor. *
Some may view this as somehow an odd coincidence, that Obama was so especially popular with these enterprises. But if you have read this far, you've undoubtedly noticed how many of Obama's shady associations and grubby favors have involved housing interests. Obama's in this all the way. For example, Obama's old friends at ACORN likewise have their hands in the subprime debacle:
ACORN Housing Corporation (AHC) was beyond knee-deep in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failures which have riveted our economy. Promoting an ACORN housing development in Texas on its website in 2006, ACORN boasted "in addition to providing access to AHP grants, ACORN's lending partners provide low cost, easier to qualify for mortgage loans."
* Or consider this April 1995 Chicago Sun-Times description of ACORN's pitch to home buyers at a time when Obama was pushing his foundations to expand funding for ACORN: "You've got only a couple thousand bucks in the bank. Your job pays you dog-food wages. Your credit history has been bent, stapled, and mutilated. You declared bankruptcy in 1989. Don't despair: You can still buy a house." The Stanley Kurtz article has much more on ACORN's specific efforts to influence Fannie and Freddie to loosen credit standards for subprime housing loans, including this:
This sweeping debasement of credit standards was touted by Fannie Mae's chairman, chief executive officer, and now prominent Obama adviser James A. Johnson. This is also the period [1993-95] when Fannie Mae ramped up its pilot programs and local partnerships with ACORN, all of which became precedents and models for the pattern of risky subprime mortgages at the root of today's crisis. During these years, Obama's Chicago ACORN ally, Madeline Talbott, was at the forefront of participation in those pilot programs, and her activities were consistently supported by Obama through both foundation funding and personal leadership training for her top organizers.
And of course, Obama in private practice participated in litigation against a major national bank to force them to extend more loans to minorities (I have no doubt that the borrowers he represented were not prime borrowers or the bank would have been much happier for their business). *
(4) Cycles of Money
As should be clear from the discussion of his ties to radicals, Obama has also benefitted from the support of those to whom he directed private funds entrusted to him. During his time on the Woods Fund board, he spread cash around to many community organizations, and lo and behold:
Dozens of the board members and officials from these organizations in turn would donate money, in many instances up to the legal limit, for Obama's Senate and Presidential races between 2004 and 2008.
(5) Racial Favoritism
Obama in Chicago was likewise a strong proponent of using strict race-based quotas and set-asides to steer government contracting along racial lines, a practice that catered to the narrowest and most provincial interests of his constituents:
In 2004, a U.S. District Court disallowed the ordinance under which Chicago required the use of at least 25 percent minority business enterprises and 5 percent women's business enterprises on city-funded projects. In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, Obama and Jesse Jackson were among the prominent voices calling for a black leadership summit to plot strategy for a restoration of Chicago's construction quotas. Obama and his allies succeeded in bringing back race-based contracting.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: "New Politics," Principled Positions, and Conclusion
Chapter seven of seven.
F. "New Politics" In Old Wineskin
Obama's supporters like to shift the conversation away from his record at all costs and focus on his campaign. One of the principal themes of that campaign has been his commitment to "a 'new politics for a new time' shorn of partisanship and division," exemplified by a higher standard of integrity in campaigning, what John Dickerson of Slate called "a national seminar for 16 months on changing politics and shedding the old insider way of doing things." Frankly, I pity anyone who was ever foolish enough to believe in that, but at any rate, even if you leave aside the traditional "who lied more and said meaner things about who," you can see that Obama's campaign has repeatedly broken the very promises that underpinned the "new politics" theme:
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+Obama claims not to take money from lobbyists, but he's basically playing word games:
[H]e takes money from lobbyists' spouses and holds fundraisers at the offices of law firms that lobby Congress. He won't touch money from PACs or lobbyists representing big oil and drug companies, but he happily accepts huge amounts of money from executives at those companies and many others. In fact, he's relying on two oil company executives to raise $50,000 apiece for his campaign.
+Jake Tapper has noted that Obama's recent push to talk about McCain's involvement in the "Keating Five" scandal in the 1980s contradicts Obama's assertion earlier in the campaign that the Keating Five story was "not germane to the presidency." (This, while calling in Keating Five member John Glenn to stump for Obama in Ohio).
Obama has also been in hot water lately for doing nothing to prevent potentially illegal campaign donations, including possibly from foreign sources. Now, I'm not much of a starry-eyed idealist about this sort of thing, so I won't pretend for your benefit to be scandalized by Obama acting exactly like a conventional politician on a bunch of political-process issues. But once again, Obama's repeated abandonment of his prior promises on these sorts of issues reminds us yet again how malleable Obama is when it comes to any principle that stands in the way of his political self-interest.
G. Barack Obama, Man of Principle?
(1) Keep Left to Avoid The Traffic
As John McCain has now noted multiple times in their debates with no response from Senator Obama, Obama has never bucked his own party or its major interest groups in any significant way on any significant issue. Now, I'm a great believer in taking principled stands and having a coherent philosophy; the mere fact of being ideologically consistent is not necessarily in and of itself a character flaw. In fact, in a politician who is willing to take difficult stands on principle it can be positive proof of integrity.
But in Obama's case, his unwillingness to confront his own party and supporters on the issues raises two questions about his character. The first is that his career has insulated him from ever having to take a tough position and hold it under fire; until the current general election, he has never faced a contested election against a Republican or faced any real push-back from the Right (previously the only candidate to test him from his right was Hillary Clinton...think about that one a while). We have little enough evidence that Obama's positions are, or are not, deeply held convictions he would hold to at any political peril - like so much about him, they are untested. What we do know is that Obama's flurry of flip-flops this summer, most notoriously his craven capitulation on the FISA bill he had pledged to draw a line in the sand on, combined with his continuing effort in the debates to recast himself as a tax-cutter, spending-cutter and foreign policy hawk and his outright obfuscation of his position on the Born-Alive Infant Protection bill in Illinois, suggests that Obama's not actually all that willing to openly defend controversial positions.
Second, it is positively contradictory for Obama's supporters to argue that (1) his extensive ties to left-wing radicals were some sort of disingenuous camoflauge, and at the same time that (2) his rigidly left-wing voting record in public office is the mark of sincere high principle. Maybe Obama has a hardline left-wing record and far-left friends because that's who he really is, and maybe he has both because that's who he wanted to be to his constituents - but it's not plausible to separate the two.
In the absence of any battles against his own side or even any principled risks taken for his own side, most odes to Obama's judgment, character and principles begin and end with his opposition to the Iraq War - his 2002 war speech and his 2007-08 primary campaign as the sole principled anti-war candidate:
In a September 26, 2007, debate at Dartmouth College, Obama congratulated himself for "telling the truth to the American people even when it's tough, which I did in 2002, standing up against this war at a time where it was very unpopular. And I was risking my political career, because I was in the middle of a U.S. Senate race."
Obama's best shot at the  Democratic [Senate] nomination involved consolidating a coalition of lakefront liberals and African Americans. "He knew, and I knew, that the liberal progressives were key in any Democratic primary," says Dan Shomon, Obama's then-campaign manager...though it may have been unpopular to oppose the war in Washington, that was not the case among liberals in Chicago--among the first cities to pass an antiwar resolution. (Obama also had an interest in pleasing Saltzman [the organizer of the 2002 rally]. The spunky grandmother was an important local ally who has since raised more than $50,000 for his campaign.)
In the African-American community -- which is paid scant attention by national media -- anecdotal evidence and polling suggest there is heightened concern about the administration's credibility and the wisdom of this war. According to a new Gallup Poll, 68 percent of African-Americans now oppose the war.
And his 2002 speech pandered to that view, even pressing some decidedly anti-Semitic notes. Of course, after giving that one speech, Obama basically disappeared from the war debate without a trace; if you were listing the nation's loudest voices against the war in 2002 and 2003, you'd run through thousands of names before you reached Obama. From 2004 through the fall of 2006, Obama was essentially grudgingly in support of finishing the job in Iraq, and refused even to say flatly that he'd have voted against the war, telling the Chicago Tribune in July 2004, "[t]here's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." * As he pivoted to the general election in 2004, before Ryan flamed out, Obama denied that he'd ever called for withdrawal from Iraq. Only in January 2007, after the Democrats proved they could win Congressional elections with anti-war candidates and just weeks before launching his primary campaign, did Obama come out as a full-throated anti-warrior. In short, his Iraq position may never have encompassed a complete flip-flop, but it has surely tacked repeatedly with the political winds, and provides us no evidence of any particular principle or integrity on Obama's part.
H. Who Obama Isn't
Less than a month from the general election, we can say who Barack Obama isn't, but we still don't really know who he is. To be sure, Obama is to all appearances affable, a good speechmaker and a good family man, but when we look beyond talk to what the man has done, we find an awful lot not to like in such a short and parochial career.
Three times now in the debates, John McCain has challenged Obama to name an example of standing up to the vested interests on his own side or the leadership of his own party. Three times, Obama has failed to respond. Those of us who have studied his career know that that's because there is nothing he can say (the best David Axelrod could come up with was a Russ Feingold bill that passed the Senate 96-2). We can't know what Obama truly believes, and we haven't seen what it would take to get him to stand his ground under fire. We only know that time and again he's taken the path of least resistance with people who really needed someone to say "no" to them, and reaped the rewards of their favor.
A President Obama would be faced with many challenges and crises and tests, not a one of which he has ever passed. He would have the ability to appoint scores of people to federal executive, judicial and administrative agency jobs - what kind of people would he appoint to positions of responsibility? He would have control over vast quantities of federal spending - how would he spend it, how would he restrain spending, who would his spending and regulatory decisions benefit? Would he stand up to sleaze, to powerful vested interests that support his party, to ideological extremists? Can he be trusted to operate these vast powers when we know that a compliant Democratic Congress led by the likes of Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers and Chris Dodd will have no motivation to provide meaningful oversight? Everything in his record tells us that he cannot. Obama supporters who tell you otherwise are simply wishcasting their own desires and ignoring his actual record. Because Barack Obama has no record of integrity. Only words, and people who badly want to believe them.
In Part III: McCain's battles; Biden's long tradition of existence in the Senate.
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October 12, 2008
POLITICS: Beldar on the Branchflower Report
I'll have more detail on this later in the week after I've finished with the big Obama post. In the meantime, here's Beldar, who has actually followed this story from the outset and has read the whole thing.
POLITICS: Obama Rumor Mill
If you go out on the web you will find with Barack Obama, as with any national political figure, a broad spectrum of charges ranging from the indisputably true to the undeniably crackpot, and plenty in between. Here's two of the hot recent ones that fall in the gray area, as well as one example of how the mainstream media can follow up on stuff like this.
This essay by Jack Cashill argues somewhat convincingly that Dreams of My Father had the assistance of a ghostwriter, and more speculatively that the ghostwriter was Bill Ayers. I don't know a lot about Cashill but the essay is basically in the category of "plausible but unproven speculation." On the upside, Cashill doesn't make any really uncheckable assertions of fact other than his linguistic analyses (which could presumably be rechecked by MSM sources), so you can apply your own judgment.
Then we have this report sourced out of the Daily Mail in London suggesting an extramarital affair by Obama. (H/T Ace, who applies the Andrew Sullivan standard). Aside from Clinton and Gary Hart, we've had rumors of this kind in the past with Kerry, McCain (aside from the known affairs on his first wife, that is), George H.W. Bush, Palin and John Edwards, and only the Edwards one panned out. I don't put much stock in this or think the media should report it without investigating and getting the facts right. But I would hope they do seriously investigate stuff like this even when it's about Obama.
Then we have this September 29 report from Ken Timmerman of Newsmax about Obama's lack of financial controls and resulting receipt of large numbers of shady and quite likely illegal campaign contributions, including from foreign sources. Newsmax is not the most credible of sources - I generally don't cite their work unless it can be corroborated - but Timmerman, too, made clear what his sources were (FEC records) and you had to wonder why no major media outlets had tried the same thing. Shamed by Newsmax, which the IHT version of this credits, the New York Times ran basically the same investigation and seems to have come to basically the same conclusion, albeit without bringing themselves to address the more problematic foreign-donor angle. But it's a key example of the major media lacking the initiative to do basic due diligence on Obama until a fringe-y right-wing source delivers them a completed story on a platter.
October 10, 2008
POLITICS: Not The ACORN He Knew
I'll cover this in more detail in a few days in Part II of my series on the Integrity Gap between the two tickets, but as the evidence mounts* of the involvement of the left-wing community organizer group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in extensive voter fraud across multiple states, Barack Obama has tried to minimize his involvement with ACORN and the critical role it played in his rise in the world of the Chicago political machine.
Fact: Barack was never an ACORN community organizer.
As the Cleveland Leader points out, this is flatly contradicted by an article written by ACORN head Toni Foulkes, which was conveniently removed from the internet (a common practice in the drive to scrub all evidence of Obama's career prior to 2004) after it was quoted by Stanley Kurtz of the National Review and other sources, while the rest of the articles on the same site remain up:
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Obama then went on to run a voter registration project with Project VOTE in 1992 that made it possible for Carol Moseley Braun to win the Senate that year. Project VOTE delivered 50,000 newly registered voters in that campaign (ACORN delivered about 5,000 of them).
This stuff has been out there in plain sight, yet still Obama denies it:
As recently as March 2008, the Los Angeles Times also made reference to Barack Obama's involvement with ACORN:"At the time, Talbot worked at the social action group ACORN and initially considered Obama a competitor. But she became so impressed with his work that she invited him to help train her staff." (LA Times, March 2, 2008)
A 1995 Chicago Reader article on Obama stated "Obama continues his work largely through classes for future leaders identified by ACORN and the Centers for New Horizons."
During the 2008 Democrat primary, the Obama campaign paid Citizen Services Inc., a subsidiary of ACORN, more than $800,000, a payment that Obama's campaign somehow managed to misreport to the FEC
As of yet, we can only speculate about why Obama is lying about his involvement with ACORN, what other aspects of that relationship he has failed to disclose, and what other things have been conveniently "disappeared" from his Chicago past.
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October 8, 2008
BLOG: Say A Payer For Dean Barnett
I would echo every word Ed Morrissey writes in this post. I take some pleasure in Dean's success since I was one of the early people to link to him at SoxBlog before he hit it big and ended uo at The Weekly Standard (and, sadly, left the baseball part of his blogging days behind). He really is one of the good and decent guys on the web.
POLITICS: Stay Class-Conscious, Barack Obama
From the annals of silly, and perhaps revealingly silly, arguments - an email from the Obama campaign following last night's debate repeats a line he's used before:
I will fight for the middle class every day, and -- once again -- Senator McCain didn't mention the middle class a single time during the debate.
It's true that Senator McCain didn't use the words "middle class." But let's go to the transcript and look at what he did say:
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I think you have to look at my record and you have to look at his. Then you have to look at our proposals for our economy, not $860 billion in new spending, but for the kinds of reforms that keep people in their jobs, get middle-income Americans working again, and getting our economy moving again.
So let's not raise anybody's taxes, my friends, and make it be very clear to you I am not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. I am in favor of leaving the tax rates alone and reducing the tax burden on middle-income Americans by doubling your tax exemption for every child from $3,500 to $7,000.
When he ran for the United States Senate from Illinois, he said he would have a middle-income tax cut. You know he came to the Senate and never once proposed legislation to do that?
That's right: on three occasions, McCain used the term "middle income" to describe Americans whose incomes are in the middle of the spectrum. Apparently, Senator McCain doesn't think in terms of dividing Americans by "class" or running to represent only one such class against others; he simply looks at income groupings to discuss how his plans will affect people at different income levels. He doesn't think of himself, being a wealthy man, as being in a different class of people than everybody else. In terms of language, the difference is subtle, and for most of us the terms are interchangeable...what is telling is how indignant Senator Obama is that McCain would not think in terms of class.
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October 7, 2008
POLITICS: The Second McCain-Obama Debate
Who won this one? Well, it depends where you stand, where you think the candidates stand, what they were trying to accomplish and whether you saw the first debate.
The elephant in the room for those of us who follow these things carefully - and for the candidates - was Obama's recent surge in the polls. Obviously that colors everything, in the sense that it creates the sense that McCain needs to slaughter Obama rather than just beat him on points. I think McCain did a better job in this debate than Obama did in several respects (slightly moreso than in the first debate, although much of the debate was almost literally a replay of the first debate) but if you think he needed to flatten Obama and utterly destroy him in a single night, he didn't do that. As in the first debate, both candidates basically did what they wanted to do, but I give the advantage to McCain mainly because he was much more able to throw Obama on the defensive and dominate the body language of the debate.
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As we have seen before, these two show the hallmarks of their professional training. Obama's a lawyer and an academic, and he prefers to leave no point unrebutted; McCain's a fighter pilot, so he prefers to be aggressive and throw his opponent off rythm. He's clearly the more belligerent debater. Also, McCain showed up looking to debate Obama, because he's running against Obama; Obama showed up looking to debate Bush, because he's running against Bush. Thus, Obama would often launch harsh, negative attacks against Bush and mention McCain as an afterthought, whereas McCain more consistently went directly after Obama's integrity, his accomplishments, and his promises. McCain prowled around the stage and left Obama literally complaining about keeping up with him - not the dynamic you'd expect given their ages - whereas Obama stuck more to the traditional Democratic script in focusing on emoting to the crowd (McCain was more interested in channeling the audience's anger).
(BTW, the townhall debates tend to favor the Democrats, since they tend to involve a lot of people asking for personal government solutions to their problems, although Bush excelled at the town hall in 2004 against Kerry, who was stiffer and less comfortable talking about the social issues that came up. If Palin ever runs at the top of the ticket, though, I could see her doing well in that format. McCain, of course, has traditionally excelled at town halls but in more wide-ranging formats).
Obama looked much more forlorn this time when McCain was talking, much less able to stand at his podium and smile. Undoubtedly that was partly due to the lack of podiums and partly due to the aggressiveness of McCain's early attacks, especially on the Fannie/Freddie stuff (when McCain mentioned cronyism he pointed at Obama). Obama also stammered more, though he's still doing better at this than earlier in the race, not trying to ad lib without a net.
Probably the highlight of the evening was McCain shaking hands with the Chief Petty Officer...you could tell, visibly, that McCain's voice dropped to a different range and he got more comfortable and more serious when talking about national security.
It's hard to add more to the foreign policy side of this debate, which largely and in some cases verbatim repeated the first debate (other than Obama saying "If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in?" - hmmm, maybe we should have sent troops to Europe in the 1940s to stop Hitler...) The big opening Obama created that McCain hit but never quite exploited was the fact that Obama's willing to consider going in to countries with military force for humanitarian purposes, like Clinton or Woodrow Wilson, but he lacks the willingness to stay until the job is done. That is the real lesson of the debate about the surge in Iraq (McCain again successfully called out Obama's inability to admit error on that one, drawing no response). Which of course is why McCain opposed interventions in the first place in places like Lebanon and Somalia where we didn't have the willingness to take sides, stay and fight to the finish.
Other than McCain's new plan to buy up and renegotiate mortgages (which is rather more government than I can ever get comfortable with), probably the weakest point of the night for McCain, and the one where Obama really did give a better answer, was on priorities; even when I backed McCain in 2000, I thought George W. Bush did a better job of realistically setting and ranking priorities. Obama took the Bush path in that sense tonight, and I do tip my hat to him for that. (Although you will note that he basically all but dropped entitlements off the list)
On the Fannie/Freddie issue McCain roared out of the gate well, but he could probably have used to hit that one a second time, since he really does need to hammer home his theme on that point. Unfortunately, that sort of sustained negative assault is hard to carry in the townhall format. McCain also kept up his theme of looking beyond the rhetoric to the record...Obama also never responded to McCain pointing out that Obama's never taken on his own party, since there's nothing he could say.
We did get a number of sharp contrasts tonight. On GSE reform, McCain supported legislation; Obama wrote some letters. McCain sees health care as a responsibility and favors choice and a national market, and wants to decouple health care from employemnt, Obama sees it as a right, prefers state mandates on the contents of plans, and won't answer McCain's questions about the penalties for non-participation. McCain wants a spending freeze and to take a hatchet to the budget; Obama is proposing massive new spending (he claims he'll offset the many billions in new spending with cuts in...oh, nobody really believes that) and prefers a scalpel. I think a lot of voters would like to see somebody take a hatchet to the budget for once. Obama wants to stress energy conservation, McCain more drilling and nuclear. Obama wants a "Volunteer Corps" and WPA-style highway projects as jobs programs.
Obama was clearly hugely relieved that there were no questions about Bill Ayers, as his campaign's panicked tone whenever they deal with the issue suggests concern that he's genuinely vulnerable on that point.
Both gave solid closings, McCain's was better but different.
Naturally, it's always hard to evaluate these things free of your own views as a partisan, and hard as well to avoid dwelling on the additional things that could have been said. Clearly, this was a strong performance by McCain and an OK one by Obama. Probably, given the dynamics of the race, Obama is happier with that outcome.
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POLITICS: Hey, Big Spender
Stanley Kurtz has been doing tremendous work on Obama's ties to Bill Ayers lately, but his examination of Obama's Chicago years doesn't end there. Given the sharp contrast presented by the first debate - when John McCain called for across the board spending cuts to tighten our collective belts for the coming recession, while Obama's effort to answer the same question found him launching into a barrage of new spending he intends to promote - it's useful to look back at Kurtz's reportage on Obama's spending record as a State Senator:
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In a 2007 speech to Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN), Obama touted his Illinois legislative experience and challenged members of Sharpton's group to find a candidate with a better record of supporting the issues they cared about... Intrigued by Obama's challenge to Sharpton's group, Randolph Burnside, a professor of political science, and Kami Whitehurst, a doctoral candidate, both at the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, decided to put Obama's Illinois record to the test. The two scholars made a study of bills sponsored and cosponsored by Obama during his Illinois State Senate career.
And here is how Obama responded to the fiscal mess he had helped create:
A watershed moment in Illinois's fiscal decline came in 2002, when crashing receipts and Democratic reluctance to enact spending cuts forced Republican governor George Ryan to call a special legislative session. While Ryan railed at legislators for refusing to rein in an out-of-control budget, the Chicago Tribune spoke ominously of an "all-consuming state budget crisis." Unwilling to cut back on social welfare spending, Obama's chief partner and political mentor, senate Democratic leader Emil Jones, came up with the idea of borrowing against the proceeds of a windfall tobacco lawsuit settlement due to the state.
This was why as recently as last spring, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was pushing the largest tax increase in Illinois history, which proved too much even for Obama's former colleagues. If there's one thing Obama is absolutely not prepared to do, it's cut spending in tough budgetary times.
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POLITICS: Obama: Yeah, OK, Maybe I Kinda Sorta Did Know Ayers Was A Terrorist
In light of the mounting common-sense evidence of the total implausibility of Barack Obama's claim to have not known that Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were not just terrorists but nationally famous terrorists when he worked with Ayers in the mid-1990s (including funnelling millions of dollars to left-wing "education" projects under Ayers' control, giving a favorable blurb to Ayers' book, and holding a crucial reception to launch Obama's political career at Ayers' home), Obama campaign manager David Axelrod is now partially backing down on what Obama knew but continuing to deny when he knew it:
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So when did Obama learn that Ayers, now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a founding member of the militant Weather Underground in the 1960s?
Of course, it was always laughable for Obama to claim that he, a guy who went to a Stokely Carmicheal lecture in college, was represented in Congress by a former Black Panther, and immersed himself in college in "neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy" and wrote in 1995 of wanting an edgier brand of friends than "so-called campus radicals, most of them white and tenured and happily tolerated," would have no idea who Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn really were.
As always with these guys, Obama supporters like Paul Begala are pushing McCain's ties to a guy they claim is the equivalent of Ayers, John Singlaub, who is...wait for it......"a decorated retired Army major general with a background in special operations and intelligence." Well, that does, in fact, tell us just as much about who McCain hangs with as Ayers does for Obama, doesn't it? Could you pick a more perfect example, short of when they were blasting McCain for associating with Bud Day, America's most highly decorated living veteran?
The gist of the charge against Singlaub seems to be that his organization was criticized for becoming a gathering place for anti-Semitic cranks and the like, but even the Politico piece admits that "Singlaub eventually won some praise from the anti-defamation group for working to purge those elements from the league." Other than that it's an attempt to refight the Iran-Contra brouhaha. Nice try.
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POLITICS: 10/7/08 Quick Links
*As Glenn Reynolds would say, they told me that if George W. Bush was re-elected, billionaires would have a veto over political speech...you really should watch that SNL skit if you can before it is deep-sixed permanently. It's so rare for late-night comedy to take on the Democrats' policies, rather than just gingerly needling their personalities.
*Via Ace, we have Patterico on the track of an LA Times report that simultaneously refused to report McCain's criticisms of Obama on the economic crisis while accusing McCain of being afraid to talk about the economic crisis. I heard a radio report last night on WINS that did exactly the same thing - it quoted McCain and Palin's lines about Obama's integrity but not McCain's specific factual charges about Obama and the economy, accused them of "dredging up dirt" and then pivoted to Obama talking about the economy...you could not make this stuff up. It's why McCain needs to do his own dirty work tonight.
*On the other hand, thumbs up to CNN for this, which calls out Obama's untruths about Bill Ayers, and includes new reporting quoting Alice Palmer, the leftist state senator who Obama succeeded in office:
The Obama camp and its media allies have used a couple of rhetorical strategies to deal with this. One is to talk solely about occasional meetings; believe nothing you hear from anyone who refuses to address Stanley Kurtz's reporting (which CNN actually reveals here) on Obama steering millions of dollars to Ayers' left-wing "educational" programs. Another is to claim that Ayers and Dohrn were somehow obscure figures (who just happened to be profiled periodically by national newspapers) and that Obama had no reason to know they were terrorists...of course, even aside from the fact that their background was well known in Hyde Park, Erick at RedState notes the extensive publicity about the Weather Underground at the time of the 1996 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and there's also the fact that Obama was living in New York attending Columbia University in October 1981 during the Brink's heist, which was huge front-page news in New York for months. The Brink's case is why I immediately knew who these people were when Obama's ties to them surfaced, and I'm ten years younger than Obama. One of the defendants in that case was Kathy Boudin; when Obama dealt with Ayers & Dohrn, Boudin and her husband were in prison and Ayers and Dohrn were raising her son as their own. I may not think much of Obama but even I don't think he was obtuse enough not to have known who these people were.
(Note to Obama supporters insistent on denying that this story means anything: please first have the decency to admit Obama's lying about it).
UPDATE: Want another piece of the puzzle? Kathy Boudin's brother Michael was a lecturer at Harvard Law School when Obama was there (in fact, he was my antitrust professor). Did Obama take his class? Michael Boudin is, of course, an infinitely more respectable figure than his sister - he'd served in the Reagan Justice Department and in 1992, shortly after Obama graduated, Judge Boudin was appointed to the federal appellate bench by George H.W. Bush - but his family ties were the sort of thing one would routinely discuss about a member of the Law School faculty.
*Ross Douthat argues that Republican appeals to social issues, or even ads that were accused of being racially divisive, have tended to be effective only when they were grounded in concrete economic or safety concerns. Meanwhile, when it's racist to criticize Barney Frank, well, the word has lost its meaning. One liberating feature of this campaign is that Republicans have been accused of being racist for pretty much every single thing that has been said or done, or at least every thing that was even remotely effective...after a while even the most timid of Republicans have to accept that the charge will get made no matter what means that it should not act as any sort of a restraint or deterrent on political dialogue. I mean, if it's racist to criticize Barney Frank and Bill Ayers, if it's racist to connect Obama to a multimillionaire CEO and former Cabinet official, if it's racist just to show video of Obama in front of backdrops he himself chose, well, the word is apt to lose all its meaning.
POLITICS: Yes, We...Can?
So far as I can tell, nobody in the history of modern polling has won a presidential election from as big a hole as John McCain now stands in, at last check a national polling advantage in the neighborhood of 5 points for Obama. Now, if you are a betting man, surely you like your odds on Obama. But does that mean that the race is over? Perhaps, but not necessarily. While the circumstances are of course different, we have seen two past Republican campaigns, neither of them headed by the most dynamic of campaigners, provide examples of strong closing-month performances.
The most obvious recent example was 1996. The Gallup poll, which admittedly is one of the more volatile polls (Obama presently leads it by 8) on October 6/7, 1996 showed Bill Clinton with a commanding 22 point lead, 56-34 over Bob Dole with 5 points for Ross Perot (the first of two debates was on October 6). Four days later, after the first debate and the Vice Presidential debate, that lead was 57-34 (Clinton +23). In an October 14-15 poll, conducted on the eve of the second, October 16 debate, Dole pulled much closer (48-39, Clinton +9), but as late as October 20-21 the poll showed Clinton up 19, 52-33 with 8 for Perot. Dole then began his serious charge, pulling above 40% for the first time on November 4-5, to finish at Clinton +11 (52-41-7), and ended up at Clinton +8 on Election Day, 49-41. Dole thus ended up shaving as much as 15 points off Clinton's lead in less than a month.
Then there's 1976. Jimmy Carter had, of course, famously led by 34 in one midsummer poll...in a poll conducted September 24-27 (the first debate was September 23), Carter led 51-40 (+11), but in one conducted September 27-October 4, that lead dropped to +2, 47-45. Carter widened his lead to +6 on October 8-11 after the famous "Democrat wars" gaffe by Bob Dole in the October 6 VP debate, led +6 (47-41) on October 15-18 (the second debate, with Ford's Poland gaffe, was October 15), was still at +5 on October 22-25 (the third debate was October 22), but an October 28-30 poll for the first time showed a Ford lead, 47-46. On Election Day, Carter won 50-48.
Polling today is more sophisticated, of course, and there are other distinguishing factors as well. On the one hand, the 1996 election had a third party candidate who surged up to double digits in late October, and Dole was running so far behind a still-strong GOP Congressional brand (Republicans held both Houses of Congress through that race) that a good deal of his late surge was just natural Republicans coming home. Some of the same was true of Ford's surge. On the other hand, the 1996 race should have been much less volatile than this one - it matched a 3-decade Senate veteran with a sitting president in a time of peace and prosperity - yet the polls showed significant movement late in the game. 1976 was more similar to the present race, as it pitted a moderate Republican running in a time when the GOP brand was as destitute as it has been since the New Deal, matched against a relatively green and unknown opponent. And of course, this year's race involves not only an unprecedentedly inexperienced and far-left presidential candidate and times of economic uncertainty and foreign war but also the triple complicating factors of no incumbent, Obama's race, and McCain's age coupled with Palin being not a whole lot more experienced than Obama. Those are all reasons why we might expect more, rather than less, real underlying volatility in voter preferences in addition to the possibility that the polls themselves are having trouble measuring the race. And at the end of the day, while it may at first glance seem harder to push upward in the polls against the headwind of a bandwagon once the media has (correctly) called the race for the frontrunner, as in 1996, there is a difference in the degree of difficulty between pulling up close to 50 and breaking through it.
Again: none of this should be reason for Republicans to celebrate - as I said, nobody in a hole like this has actually won a race. But history tells us that voter preferences can still shift in the last month, and if Obama's lead now is accurately reflected by the RCP average of +5.3, it is still very much worthwhile for McCain-Palin and their supporters to fight on to the end.
POLITICS: In a Just World, This Would Be The End of EJ Dionne
From today's Best of the Web, one of the classic examples of replacement-level, conventional wisdom-spouting liberal punditry makes a complete fool of himself in his rush to pronounce himself superior to Sarah Palin:
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A hilarious example of press bias against Palin occurred last Friday on "The Diane Rehm Show," a production of Washington's WAMU-FM. The exchange between hostess Rehm, caller Tom of Norwich, Vt., and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne begins at about 46:10 of the "10:00 News Roundup":Tom: I just wonder why not more has been made of the statement by Palin during the debate last night that "Maliki and the Talabani"--this is a quote from the transcript--"also in working with us are knowing again that we are getting closer and closer to the point of victory." The Talibani obviously are our absolute enemy and have been since 9/11; Maliki, our central ally in Iraq. This to me is a tremendous blunder, revealing a very superficial familiarity with these sorts of terms.
(It was also obvious if you were actually watching the debate). You know, the other night I laughed when Joe Biden called Bosnians "Bosniaks," but before I wrote something making fun of him for this, I did a little Googling and it turned out that this was actually not one of Biden's many misstatements in the debate (most notoriously his fantasyland account of a mythical US/French offensive to drive Hezbollah out of Lebanon) - Biden's spent a fair amount of time dealing with Bosnians, and it turns out that that's actually what they call themselves. I don't always get things right here, but you know, I don't get paid to do this, and it still occurred to me to check that one before mocking Biden.
Whereas Dionne gets paid to be a pundit and to do things like sneer at Gov. Palin's ignorance of foreign affairs ... as evidenced by the fact that she knows who the President of Iraq is, and Dionne plainly does not. Remind me again what value the Washington Post gets out of employing him instead of running a rotation of bloggers who would work for peanuts?
Relatedly, apparently Matt Yglesias' Harvard education did not extend to the ability to spot satire, and not even very good satire at that (sorry Matt, you should have gone to the Law School). I don't think I have ever in my life seen so many people make such utter fools of themselves in their rush to prove how much they hate a Vice Presidential candidate.
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October 6, 2008
POLITICS: It Is Brung
McCain, after two weeks of unwisely pulling his punches while Congress worked on the bailout package and his opponent made partisan hay instead of phone calls, is now going for the jugular. Quite possibly too late, but really, when there is one overwhelming issue in an election, and you were right about it and your opponent was wrong, and he was in bed with the people who had an interest in him being wrong, it is advisable to point that out. Let's hope he pounds this theme home tomorrow night.
I'm sure the response will be the usual chorus of claims that Obama's time in the U.S. Senate was a long time ago, doesn't matter, etc., etc., etc.
Oh, and by the way: this is just hilariously off-message.
PS: What are the two biggest decisions of Obama's short Senate career? This and the surge in Iraq. He was wrong on both, and McCain was right on both.
UPDATE: Video below the fold. After all his delay, McCain is relishing this line of attack:
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October 5, 2008
BASEBALL: These Are The Saddest of Possible Words
I really do have to feel for the Cubs fans today. I mean, there are more wrenching ways to end a season, as I have been forcefully reminded the past three years, but this was a team that had a sufficiently long run as the best record in the league that their long-suffering, century-without-a-championship fans, really had good reason to expect a long march through an exciting postseason, with a good shot at the NL pennant for the first time since 1945 and a fighting chance to reclaim the World Championship at last...and three games in, they are just gone with hardly a ripple, without winning a single game. It's just so deflating. Even the Mets in 1988 and 2006 went seven games, and in 2006 they had won the NLDS first. For Cubs fans, it's just...empty.
Do Cubs fans have a long period of success ahead of them to recover from this? I'm not so sure. Ramirez and Lee are still in their primes and Soto is young, but Theriot, Soto and Mike Fontenot, who may have had a career year this season (he's 28 and his career minor league slugging % is .437), are the only significant non-pitchers under 30. The rotation depends on the much-the-worse-for-wear Zambrano and the brittle Rich Harden. Other than Harden, Fontenot and DeRosa there aren't a lot of guys here who obviously can't repeat their 2008 seasons next year, but this is also not a team stocked with young talent in bloom.
Wait 'til next year.
October 4, 2008
POLITICS: Whitewashing Ayers
We should not be surprised, exactly, that when the NY Times finally deals with the Bill Ayers story, it tells it entirely from the Obama campaign's preferred point of view...Stanley Kurtz looks at what is left out. Sample:
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Obama was perfectly aware of Ayers' radical views, since he read and publically endorsed, without qualification, Ayers' book on juvenile crime. That book is quite radical, expressing doubts about whether we ought to have a prison system at all, comparing America to South Africa’s apartheid system, and contemptuously dismissing the idea of the United States as a kind or just country. Shane mentions the book endorsement, yet says nothing about the book’s actual content. Nor does Shane mention the panel about Ayers' book, on which Obama spoke as part of a joint Ayers-Obama effort to sink the 1998 Illinois juvenile crime bill.
Kurtz notes a tellingly Clintonian qualifier:
On the one hand, toward the end of the piece we read: "Since 2002, there is little public evidence of their relationship." And it’s no wonder, says Shane, since Ayers was caught expressing no regret for his own past terrorism in an article published on September 11, 2001. Yet earlier in Shane's article we learn that, according to Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt, Obama and Ayers "have not spoken by phone or exchanged e-mail messages since Mr. Obama began serving in the United States Senate in January 2005." Very interesting. Obama's own spokesman has just left open the possibility that there has indeed been phone and e-mail contact between the two men between 2002 and 2004, well after Ayers’ infamous conduct on 9/11.
A small detail taken in isolation, but yet another example of the kind of thing the media might have followed up on, if they were not sending all their available investigative resources to Alaska.
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BASEBALL: Say What?
One of the broadcasters on the Brewers-Phillies game actually just said, on national television, that Geoff Jenkins left the Brewers because he got tired of watching young players like Jeromy Burnitz and Carlos Lee come out of the Brewers system and then leave.
Wow. Reminds me of the time Howard Cosell said during a Monday Night Baseball Mets-Reds game in about 1986 that Keith Hernandez had begged him not to mention on the air that Keith's lifetime batting average was .152. I'd love someday to ask Hernandez how he kept a straight face for that one.
BASEBALL: Hit and Run
I've admittedly been in hiding a bit on the baseball front the past few weeks, partly out of bitterness/depression over the end of the Mets season, partly with stuff going on at work, and of course partly due to being wrapped up in the election and the bailout and having some labor-intensive posts on the topics (I have some long-brewing baseball posts as well but none that are close to completion).
Anyway, hope to be back on the beat at least in time for the LCS...for now, about the last bit of news the Mets bullpen needed was an arrest warrant out for Ambiorix Burgos for killing two women in a hit and run accident (although perhaps needless to add, for perspective it helps to remind yourself that this turned out worse for the women than it did for the average Mets fan). I assume this is curtains for Burgos' baseball career.
UPDATE: If it makes you feel any better, Brian Bannister had a 5.76 ERA this season. Actually Bannister seems like a good guy, I hope he rights the ship, but it's a reminder that a good head without a real good arm isn't really that much more useful than the opposite.
October 3, 2008
POLITICS: Palin's Night
(1) Is Sarah Palin a Blithering Moron?
Why no, in fact; amazingly, it turns out that a politician who has won six elections, served in public office for 13 years, participated in more than a dozen debates for statewide office two years ago and is the most popular Governor in the nation is actually perfectly capable of handling herself on her feet. But thanks anyway to those of you who worked so hard to make that the question everyone was asking and to reset expectations to exactly where they were entering her convention speech. The Left didn't see that they were marching into a trap in 2004, but then they keep making the same mistake year after year after year even when we are telling them to their faces what they are doing.
Palin had one hit-and-miss interview with Charlie Gibson and a bad one with Katie Couric, but very few presidential candidates, even successful ones, have avoided having those kinds of days (Obama, for example, has often been tongue-tied and stammering in interviews; his debate performance Friday was well above his usual standards). That said, the gaps in her knowledge of national politics is an object lesson in why Governors, often elected to the Presidency, are rarely elected Vice President (Spiro Agnew is the only one since Coolidge).
Palin wasn't quite the masterful populist she is on the stump or was at the Convention, but she was close. There were a few moments of fractured grammar ("What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"), a few episodes of falling back on generalities, and of course more than a few missed opportunities, but overall her performance was quite good indeed, and got back to the roots of why she's such an effective politician. Some of that is mannerism - Biden talked to the moderator, Palin to the camera, and Palin was confident and bouyant, even on one occasion winking at the audience - some is her down-to-earth persona and ability to handle hot-button issues with a low-key, conciliatory tone, and some is simply the willingness to keep returning to hammer home a core theme, which in this case first and foremost was Obama's plans to jack up taxes in the teeth of an oncoming recession (ironically, Biden pretty much fatally undermined the fiscal plausibility of his ticket's tax hike strategy by repeatedly reasserting how few people it would be aimed at. That's exactly why nobody who is remotely familiar with Democratic politicians or with Obama's spending plans expects the lower limits on the tax plan to hold). There were no awkward pauses, no gaffes, nowhere she looked unprepared - she changed the subject on a number of occasions, but like McCain in the first debate, it had the effect of forcing Biden (who like Obama has a lawyer's inability to resist responding to everything) to play on her turf.
Of course, Palin's tendency to use generalities will come in for fire from the people who spent months swooning whenever Barack Obama read the words "hope" and "change" off his TelePrompter, but that can't be helped.
Some of Palin's best moments, despite the less than perfect syntax, came on things like global warming and same-sex marriage, where she was able to articulate positions that have one foot firmly planted in the conservative camp but with a nod to moderate positions as well. And of course, she again resisted efforts to take Henry Kissinger's name in vain - it's hilarious to me that Kissinger, of all people, is still an issue in multiple presidential debates 32 years after leaving office (then again, Biden brought up Mike Mansfield). And she handled pretty much all of the foreign policy questions flawlessly, threw some good shots at Biden over his past criticisms of Obama (unfortunately we didn't get to hear him put on the spot about his nutty plan to cut Iraq into three separate countries). She was very effective in arguing that Biden is running against Bush instead of the actual ticket ("there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.") The one trap she generally avoided being baited into was testing the depth of her knowledge of McCain's 26-year legislative voting record.
The lowlight of Palin's performance for me, at least, was when she kept saying that "there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that." Threatening to punish Wall Street after the events of the past month is like threatening to punish the Branch Davidians after Waco. Another discordant note, but an example of how Palin was more liberated last night, was on education, where her answer was all about teacher salaries, more funding and loosening the standards of No Child Left Behind - in contrast to McCain's platform, laid out in detail in his Convention speech but basically ignored since then, of school choice, standards and accountability.
Palin benefits, of course, from being the running mate, so she doesn't have to carry as much of the argumentative, persuasive load. But she did a good job last night.
(2) Was Joe Biden...Joe Biden?
Surprisingly no, and in ways that were both good and bad for him. Stylistically, Biden seemed old, tired and grumpy; Biden can be quite charming and very much the happy warrior himself, and there was little of that in evidence. The mike picked him up emitting Al Gore-style exasperated sighs while Palin was talking on one or two occasions. Like McCain on Friday, he warmed up (or more properly, thawed out) as the evening went along. On the upside, while Biden had some moments that were amusing to knowledgeable viewers, he didn't really produce any of the gasp-inducing gaffes that have been his signature for so many years, and of course, like McCain, he wore the mantle of his long experience effortlessly.
Although this debate was, like the first one, quite lively, it was also considerably more detatched from the truth, and Biden was mainly at fault for that - hammering John McCain inaccurately for being anti-regulation; falsely claiming that Obama's Iraq plan was the "same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating," when Obama's plan called for complete withdrawal by March 2008; confusing a windfall profits tax with a severance tax; claiming, absurdly, that McCain was voting to cut off funding for the Iraq War when he voted against an amendment to a funding bill. And when Biden said, "[t]hat's the fundamental change Barack Obama and I will be bring to this party, not questioning other people's motives," well, he must not have read Obama's 2002 war speech, in which Obama did just that as the centerpiece of his argument:
What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
Biden also probably went a bit too far in suggesting that Obama needed him as training wheels:
Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he'll be making, I'll be sitting in the room to give my best advice.
One of the more jarring moments, and maybe people at home didn't pick this up, was when Biden suggested that we should have repeated Reagan's greatest mistake (one McCain made a point of noting his 1983 opposition to) and sent troops into Lebanon:
When we kicked -- along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, "Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't know -- if you don't, Hezbollah will control it."
And I think Biden overreached in his assumption that Americans are opposed to all of Bush's foreign policy; I suspect even among people who don't like the Iraq War you'd find a fair amount of support for his approach to Iran, Israel, Pakistan, etc. That said, if I was the McCain campaign, the commercial I'd want to cut of Biden was this line about foreign policy: "Talk. Talk. Talk." Well, there's your Obama foreign policy in a nutshell.
(3) Was Gwen Ifill Biased?
Ifill wasn't a terrible moderator the way Chris Matthews was during the primaries, nor had I expected her to be based on the Cheney-Edwards debate four years ago. Still, you would not have had a ton of difficulty figuring out whose side her sympathies lay with. Biden got the last word in and overran his time finishing a sentence an astounding number of times, whereas she cut Palin off at the knees in mid-sentence when Palin was on a roll reciting examples of McCain's push for more regulations: "Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform...." Or when she sneered at Palin, "Governor, are you interested in defending Sen. McCain's health care plan?" And she did ask one truly awful question:
Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?
This was a terrible question because it's so inside-baseball, relating to an arcane legal dispute nobody much follows who isn't an obsessive political junkie. If she wanted to ask a more open-ended question about Cheney's view of executive power and secrecy, that might have been enlightening. As it was, it was Biden who got his answer all wrong - besides asserting incorrectly that the executive power is set forth in Article I of the Constitution (maybe Biden needs 36 more years in the Senate to get up to speed on that one) and that the VP may "preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote." That's not quite as bad as former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson not knowing the permanent members of the UN Security Council, but it's staggering that a guy who has been in the Senate that long and spent years heading the Judiciary Committee and grilling Supreme Court nominees would blow such basic concepts of constitutional law.
(4) Will It Matter?
Let's be frank here: McCain is now behind in all the important polls, and has lost significant ground since his high point around September 12-14. The overwhelming reason for this has been the credit crisis that has been the financial equivalent of the Madrid train bombing, working naturally against the party in power in the White House pretty much regardless of all other facts and circumstances, and pretty much sweeping consideration of every other issue out of the spotlight. The drawing out of the bailout debate has only worked to the Democrats' advantage. With a month to go in the race and a fair amount of additional things that could happen, it's premature to declare that this is the end of the line, but it does mean that McCain needs game-changing events; the ticket just scoring two more narrow debate victories like the first two won't be enough unless we get another external shock to the system and/or Obama does something really stupid. Of course, that was really never possible with this debate, since there was no realistic way to mortally wound Obama's ticket by something Biden did; the best Republicans could hope for was to reestablish Gov. Palin, and that worked out pretty much as well as one could have hoped. Which leaves to McCain the job of taking out Obama.
October 2, 2008
POLITICS: The Integrity Gap, Part I of III: Gov. Sarah Palin
I have previously discussed at length the extent to which the public mood has focused on the issue of integrity in this presidential election. If anything, the recent credit crisis has heightened that concern - frankly, the public doesn't understand the crisis and isn't convinced the candidates do, either, but wants reassurance that the next President will be above outside influence in dealing with its aftermath and preventing similar economic crises in the future.
Now, you may not be interested in the integrity issue, or at any rate may be voting primarily on other issues; certainly I have other things much higher on my priority list. But if this is truly an election about who has the independence to bring about change in Washington, this is an issue the campaigns cannot ignore.
One of the most basic ways in which a candidate can demonstrate the integrity voters are looking for is to build a record of standing up to corruption and waste - and doing so even when it appears in his or her own party, or on the part of his or her own allies or backers. This is not just a matter of honesty and prudence, but of toughness and courage. Let me offer a contrast between the two tickets on this issue - an Integrity Gap that Obama simply can't surmount and can only hope to obscure. If you look at the record of the McCain-Palin ticket and compare it to the Obama-Biden record in this regard, it really is no contest. I will start with the junior members of the two tickets. Governor Sarah Palin, in her short career, has fought many battles against her own party's entrenched interests; Senator Barack Obama, in a career of similar length and scope, has consistently looked the other way, and worse. Sen. Obama simply lacks the courage and the record of accomplishment of Gov. Palin. Today I will look at Gov. Palin's record; in Part II I will deal with Sen. Obama. Part III will deal with the senior members of the two tickets, Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Biden.
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On the surface, Sarah Palin's career path looks much like Barack Obama's: both spent around a decade laboring in the vineyards of local politics before seeing their careers abruptly go up like a rocket all the way to the center of the national political stage. But look closer, and you will see all the difference in the world in the choices they made to get there.
I. Sarah Palin: The Whistleblower Who Took The Statehouse
I should add up front, as you'll see from all the Hat Tip links below, that I am very heavily indebted to Beldar for all the work he's done on Palin's career in Alaska. Additional supporting links marked with an asterisk.
A. The PTA Mom
Sarah Palin is, let's face it, an unlikely force for political change. In contrast to Obama, Palin didn't start off with two Ivy League degrees, a surplus of idealism, and an armload of theories about political and social organization; she seems hardly to have considered a career in politics at all. In high school, she was a jock, earning early plaudits as the point guard on an underdog state championship basketball team, playing the championship game with a stress fracture in her ankle. * * Her husband says she was shy in high school and not someone he would have pictured having a political career. She seems to have been an indifferent college student, more interested in sports than studies, and worked after college as a sportscaster before marrying, having children and helping out her husband's commercial fishing business (another example of the toughness that would serve her well in politics: continuing to help Todd on his fishing boat after breaking several of her fingers). Her entree into politics was the PTA, and from there the City Council in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, a fast-growing suburb of a few thousand people near the state's largest city, Anchorage. A lifelong Republican but not previously a political activist, she was elected to the City Council in 1992 after getting involved in a citizens' watch group that wanted Wasilla to have its own police force, ousting an incumbent, as she did in all of her significant races:
She did so by going door to door to campaign, pulling a red wagon with her son Track in the back. She ran her campaign out of her kitchen... Within weeks of her election, she'd taken on another councilman who had a city contract for garbage pickup that favored his own company.
Why do I mention Palin's apolitical roots? Because they help explain three things about her that become important later. One, how she's been able to stay grounded to have a normal, non-political person's reactions to the kinds of things politicians get inured to seeing. Two, why her views on reform, corruption and waste were not a pre-designed program but the evolving product of those reactions kicking in over time in response to things she observed first-hand. And three, how she was able to make the most important decision of her political career - to walk away from it all on principle with the significant chance that she was ending her career in politics.
B. Mayor of Wasilla
In 1996, Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla, ousting the incumbent mayor, who had previously supported her. As Beldar explains, citing Palin's biographer Kaylene Johnson:
[Mayor] Stein had ignored the sentiments of Wasilla residents who'd approved term limits in 1994, and he continued to take advantage of a loophole exempting incumbents (he'd been mayor since 1987). Palin had originally crossed Stein by voting against a pay increase for the mayor's position shortly after she was first elected as a city councilman in 1992; accordingly, in 1996, she campaigned against him with a promise that she would start trimming the city budget by taking a voluntary pay cut as mayor (Which in fact she did.). She also promised to reduce property taxes. (Which in fact she did.) And she promised to promote new economic development that would increase the local tax base and permit higher levels of city services. (Which, again, she did.)
This was not the last time she would face a tough campaign against more experienced opponents. But while the 1996 race bore the early hallmarks of Palin's fiscal conservatism - as she battled to avoid expanding the city's budget - she was still a conventional Alaska Republican, supported by the state GOP establishment. Palin's success in Wasilla marked her as a leader among her peers, helping get her "elected president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors."
Alaska, of course, has a major addiction to federal pork-barrel spending; for years it has led the nation in per-capita federal dollars, and still does. Alaskans will tell you that there are reasons for this, not least the fact that the federal government owns so much of the land in the state. Then-Mayor Palin was no exception to this process; like many local officials, and perhaps more successfully than most, she sought to relieve the tax burdens of her own constituents by lobbying the federal government for funds for Wasilla, in 2000 even retaining a Washington lobbyist - the former chief of staff to Republican U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and law partner of Stevens' son Ben - to represent the town. Unsurprisingly, this brought home the bacon, over $6 million in fiscal year 2002.
It was during Palin's two three-year terms as Mayor of Wasilla that she began a long practice, which I noted here and which Ed Morrissey discusses here based on New York Times and Washington Post profiles, of firing lots of people, basically anyone who cost too much, didn't get on board with the things she was trying to accomplish, was publicly insubordinate to her leadership, or was a holdover from prior administrations. As I've noted before, one of the principal obstacles to real change in any public-sector job is the inertia of entrenched incumbents; sacking them is a good way to get bad press and stir up lawsuits and trumped-up investigations, but it's also evidence of the unsentimentality and independent streak that any genuine reformer needs.
Term-limited out of running again for Mayor, Palin in 2002 ran for the Lieutenant Governorship, but when long-time Republican U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski entered the Governor's race, other more experienced and better-known candidates shifted into the Lt. Gov. field, and Palin was defeated in a crowded 5-way primary. She nonetheless impressed observers as a coming star by posting a strong second despite being badly outspent by 3 opponents.
C. The Oil and Gas Commission
Following her loss in the Lieutenant Governor's race, Palin was out of a job, and as promising but unemployed politicians often do, she accepted an appointment from the powers that controlled her state party. In February 2003, she was tabbed by Murkowski to chair the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, a regulatory body with jurisdiction over the state's most important industries:
The commission and its 21 staff members usually labor in obscurity unless they are responding to a serious oil-well accident or violation. Founded in territorial days and modeled after commissions in other oil states, the AOGCC is a regulatory board charged with protecting public resources when oil or gas is developed. The AOGCC has three basic functions: to ensure that producing oil and gas fields achieve maximum recovery; to ensure that wells are safely constructed and operated; and to protect groundwater when oil and gas wells pass through aquifers or when drilling wastes are legally disposed underground.
The job was a plum patronage position, paying $118,000 a year, doubling her salary as Mayor and for the first time making her the family's chief breadwinner. The Anchorage Daily News has a lengthy and extensive description of the events that followed, as Palin uncovered significant ethical improprieties at the AOGCC, focusing on Alaska State GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who the ADN noted had "played a major role in Gov. Frank Murkowski's election":
[S]he focused on ethical lapses by fellow Commissioner Randy Ruedrich, who was also (and unfortunately still is) the statewide GOP chairman. Ruedrich was refusing to complete and file disclosure reports that would have detailed his personal dealings with energy-related companies. When Ruedrich ignored her complaints, she went to the state attorney-general, Gregg Renkes. When Renkes ignored her (and threatened her with prosecution if she became a public whistle-blower), she went to the GOP governor who'd appointed her, Frank Murkowski. Murkowski was then, of course, one of the troika of Grand Poobahs of Alaskan GOP politics, along with Congressman Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens.
Think about that again. Palin wasn't independently wealthy, although her family is now well off; her husband made good money as a commercial fisherman and working in the oil fields, but with four children to raise, their status as a two-income family was undoubtedly financially important to them. Yet she was walking away from a plum job with a six-figure salary that had given her a more than 60% pay raise from her job as Mayor. Palin herself had worked only in politics since leaving her sportscasting job some 16 years earlier, and by picking up a crusade against the state's most powerful political figures, she stood an extremely good chance of burying her promising political future for good. But she was willing to walk away from all of that at age 40 to do the right thing. If you can picture Barack Obama doing that, you have a very vivid imagination.
As the ADN article explains, her investigation involved a fair amount of sleuthing by Palin, including a review of Ruedrich's computer files after he quit the AOGCC. There were a variety of ethical issues involved, including matters tied up in a number of criminal investigations, multiple conflicts of interest, failure to file required disclosure forms, and use of AOGCC time, facilities and resources to conduct Ruedrich's partisan activities with the GOP. While some of these issues may seem minor in isolation, they obviously added up. Palin's resignation in January 2004 eventually freed her to go public:
[W]hen Ruedrich settled state ethics charges June 22 by paying a record $12,000 civil fine and admitting wrongdoing, Palin said she finally felt some measure of vindication for bucking Ruedrich and members of her party. Over the months leading up to the settlement, Ruedrich had been saying the accusations were overblown, while other Republicans, including Murkowski, complained Ruedrich was unfairly targeted, primarily by the news media.
She wrote a famous op-ed for the state's largest newspaper ...And ...continu[ed] to direct public attention to the scandal.
After slamming Murkowski for "hiring his own counsel, paid for by the state, to investigate his long-time friend, confidant, and campaign manager [Renkes]," Sarah concluded by writing, "Despite those in Juneau who think otherwise, it's healthy for democracy to ask questions. And I'll bet there are hockey moms and housewives all across this great state who agree."
The result was a thorough burning of her bridges with the state party:
By that time, Palin was an outcast. The state Republican Party in May had just reconfirmed its support for Ruedrich, after party leaders assured the central committee that charges against him had been overblown by the media. Even Murkowski had voiced support for Ruedrich, calling him a "survivor."
In 2005, she continued to take on the Republican establishment by joining Eric Croft, a Democrat, in lodging an ethics complaint against Renkes, who was not only attorney general but also a long-time adviser and campaign manager for Murkowski. The governor reprimanded Renkes and said the case was closed. It wasn't. Renkes resigned a few weeks later, and Palin was again hailed as a hero.
D. Taking Down Murkowski
Murkowski, meanwhile, was in the process of alienating the Alaskan public with a variety of high-handed and self-interested moves that came to symbolize the way in which the Alaska GOP establishment treated federal and state office as their personal property. One of the more egregious examples was his appointment of his daughter Lisa to fill out his term in the Senate. Palin considered running against Lisa Murkowski in 2004, but decided not to in deference to her son Track's reluctance at the time to endure a statewide campaign, although she did deepen her rift with the Murkowskis by endorsing one of Lisa Murkowski's primary opponents. Yet Palin's name ended up getting misused on Murkowski's behalf:
A measure of Palin's growing political stature came in the closing weeks of Lisa Murkowski's campaign against Tony Knowles. Voters started getting recorded messages from a chirpy woman saying, "Hello, this is Sarah," and urging their support for Murkowski and the Republican team. The calls were paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
By 2006, Palin was ready to take on Gov. Murkowski himself, and despite entering the race as a serious underdog, and even with the third candidate in the race out-fundraising her by 3-to-1 margin, wound up scoring 51% of the primary vote (Murkowski finished third with just 19%). Palin made clear she would be cleaning house:
On the night she won the party nomination, she asked for Ruedrich to step down as Republican chairman -- he declined -- and also called for the resignation of national committeeman Sen. Ben Stevens.
Moving on to the general election, David Dittman, "a consultant to Palin's 2006 campaign," observes that Palin was "[o]utraised by her well-known Democratic opponent [former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles] .... Dittman noted, "She didn't have the support of the party. She did not have the support of labor unions, environmentalists, the oil industry. She did it all by herself." Knowles was no makeweight opponent; running in a year when Democrats swamped Republicans in one traditional GOP stronghold after another, Knowles had been a two-term governor who only left the office in 2002 due to term limits and ran on a platform of superior experience, and Palin also faced a third-party campaign by Andrew Halcro, formerly a Republican state legislator. Palin's lead in the polls dropped as low as two points just days before the election (*), but ended up winning 48-41.
E. Governor of Alaska
Palin was sworn in as Governor on December 4, 2006. In the nearly two years she has been in the office, she's made strides on multiple fronts to combat waste and clean house, becoming in the process the most popular of the nation's 50 governors. The job's not done, and like anybody with a record of actually governing, Palin has her critics on this or that issue. But her record on issues of public integrity and wasteful spending is one to be proud of on issues large and small.
(1) The Perks
Just as with the pay cut she took as Mayor of Wasilla, Palin chose to start at the top with her budget cuts in Alaska. Gov. Murkowski had infuriated voters and the State Legislature by insisting on buying a $2.6 million jet; Palin campaigned against the plane and famously put it up for sale on eBay, although the eventual sale required hiring an aircraft broker so as to try to limit the losses inflicted on the state by Murkowski's folly. Palin cut $45,000 in costs by eliminating the day-to-day services of the gourmet chef at the Governor's Mansion, arguing that she and her family could cook for themselves (although the chef was apparently still under contract with the state for official receptions). Palin also cut her per diem reimbursements by the state by 80% from her predecessor, declining to claim all the expenses she could legally have had reimbursed.
(2) Adventures In The Pork Barrel and The Bridge To Nowhere
In the past few years, there's been a growing public outcry over wasteful pork-barrel spending in general and "earmarks" in particular - i.e., riders to federal appropriations bills that direct that money be spent on particular projects. Technically, earmarks don't necessarily increase the amount of spending in a bill, but of course the expectation of being able to insert earmarks (sometimes with little public disclosure and debate, and often for projects favored by people with financial interests in them) inevitably inflates the amount of money appropriators are inclined to start off with in a bill, which is why John McCain (among others) has described them as a "gateway drug" to overspending. The online "porkbusters" coalition was formed to help pre-existing efforts by McCain and Senator Tom Coburn to highlight particularly abusive projects.
The most notorious earmark in recent memory was a bridge connecting the town of Ketchikan, Alaska to nearby Gravina Island, which has only 50 residents and is presently connected to the mainland by ferry. The bridge was dubbed "the Bridge to Nowhere," and McCain and Coburn, among others, made it nationally famous.
Gov. Palin was not one of the early heroes of this battle, and in fact continued to support the bridge as a candidate. But her ultimate decision in office to pull the plug on the bridge subjected her to criticism from the state's Congressional powers and other proponents of the bridge, while making her an instant hero to the many people who had fought against the project for years. At the time, everyone understood what Gov. Palin had done. It's entirely proper for her to take credit for that decision, and no amount of revisionist history can change those facts. Least of all from Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who supported the bridge out of a craven desire to protect their own pork projects.
a. The Bridge to Nowhere
The McCain campaign produced, belatedly, a detailed fact sheet with a chronology of the bridge dispute here, and if you are familiar with the saga, it checks out. Wikipedia, as usual, has an uneven and slanted account but one with a lot of useful links to primary sources.
The way transportation bills work in general is to distribute funds by state, and earmarks in the bill then direct funds to particular projects. The original controversy over the bridge earmark was in 2005, when the transportation bill included a $223 million earmark for the bridge, supported by Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, Gov. Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young, who at the time chaired the House Transportation Committee. Gov. Murkowski's wife, in fact, owned land on Gravina Island that would go up in value if the bridge was built. Coburn brought the controversy to a head with a bill to strip the earmark and the funds from the bill and redirect the money to rebuild a bridge in New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Ted Stevens gave a melodramatic speech threatening to quit the Senate if the bridge was defunded, and he and Young essentially threatened to retaliate against other Senators' pork projects in their own states; as Kos put it at the time, "the reason senators would vote against these amendments is because if any of them pass, it puts every single pork project in their own states in danger." In the end, Coburn got only 15 votes (McCain was absent, but supported the Coburn amendment) - Barack Obama and Joe Biden both voted "no." * Kos accurately summed up the vote thus:
Simply unconscionable. Those who voted against these amendments have zero credibility on issues of fiscal responsibility. Zero.
Obama and Biden also voted to support the final transportation bill that included the bridge earmark, but it was eventually stripped out in negotiations with the House in response to the outcry. (You can go here for Deroy Murdock's PowerPoint presentation on Obama's and Biden's role). That left the decision on how to fund the bridge up to Alaska's governor, subject to some limitations on how much of the transportation money could be allocated to the project. Gov. Murkowski set aside either $91 million or $113 million, depending on which sources you cite, but as of the end of 2005 there wasn't enough federal money for the project to be built, and cost estimates were starting to rise to over $300 million.
Enter Sarah Palin, then a private citizen and candidate for Alaska Governor. Of course, the core of the pork barrel/earmark problem is people in Washington trying to buy support back home with taxpayer money; Governors and candidates for Governor don't create earmarks, and Mayors in particular rather understandably like to agitate on behalf of their narrow parochial issues. Even today, Palin notes that her decision to kill the bridge was largely motivated by a desire first and foremost to protect state taxpayers:
After taking office and examining the project closely, realizing the Feds were not going to fund it as Alaskans had assumed was the case, I cancelled the project...Alaskans will have to prioritize for the Knik Arm Crossing if it is truly a top state priority because Congress won't fund it either.
That said, those of us who find the pork/earmark dynamic appalling understand that state/local politicians who support federal pork barrel spending are part of the problem, and those who resist are part of the solution; so her views on the matter are certainly relevant.
Now during her campaign, Palin did two things. One, which is entirely understandable although something she's reversed herself on when addressing a national audience, is to object to the rhetorical device of calling it a "bridge to nowhere," which naturally irked the residents of the Ketchikan area. Hence, her photo op with the "Nowhere" T-shirt and criticism of "spinmeisters".
Palin entered office in December 2006 with the federal funds in hand but discretion whether to use them on the Ketchikan Bridge or less wasteful projects, as a result of the funds being provided without being earmarked. And from then on, as her budget team reviewed the project in the context of competing priorities, she began casting a more skeptical eye, building up to her killing of the project. 11 days into her term, she proposed her first budget which included no additional funds for the "Bridge to Nowhere" saying, "We need to make wise, sensible choices." State funds would have been needed because the federal dollars were not enough to keep up with the escalating cost estimates for the bridge.
In February 2007, National Review noted that the bridge's cost estimate had reached $395 million and that opponents were encouraged by Palin's hesitancy to fund the out-of-control project:
"This projected increase [in the bridge's cost] comes at a time when the governor has asked for all agencies to reduce spending by 10 percent," a spokesman for the governor tells National Review Online. Needless to say, building a half-billion-dollar bridge between a town of 8,000 and an island of 50 is not on her list of state transportation priorities.
That leaves the Alaska DOT stuck between the local officials who want the bridge and a governor who hasn't set aside any money for it. Add a congressional delegation unable to bring home the bacon like it used to and it's no surprise that morale at the department has cratered. According to the AP, Gov. Palin's transition team discovered a department in which obtaining "federal earmarks in congressional appropriations trump all other priorities... and the state suffers as a result." The team's advice? Alaska needs to go on a diet from federal dollars and focus on "developing a state-funded transportation and maintenance program."
* The necessary state money was not included in the state budget in May, and the DOT put the project on hold in August. Finally, on September 21, 2007, Palin officially killed the bridge project, although her statement was couched in conciliatory terms:
"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," Gov. Sarah Palin said in a prepared statement.
Palin on Friday said the Ketchikan project was $329 million short of full funding.
Palin's decision instantly split those who had followed the saga, but nobody had any doubt who killed the bridge. ABC News reported on September 21, 2007:
Friday, the state of Alaska officially sank the Bridge to Nowhere. Governor Sarah Palin, also a Republican, said "Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport." "But," she said, the bridge "is not the answer." Palin has told state transportation officials to look for the most "fiscally responsible" alternative.
The McCain press release collects some of the immediate commentary:
September 22: Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan: "For somebody who touts process and transparency in getting projects done, I'm disappointed and taken aback ... We worked 30 years to get funding for this priority project."
Instapundit, who had given his megaphone to the Porkbusters crusade, wrote on September 22, 2007 of Palin's Vice Presidential prospects that "I certainly like her action on the Bridge to Nowhere" Alaska Democrats campaigning against Ted Stevens continued to credit Palin for stopping the bridge until she was tabbed as McCain's running mate. And here's Newsweek in October 2007:
In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Palin said it's time for Alaska to "grow up" and end its reliance on pork-barrel spending. Shortly after taking office, Palin canceled funding for the "Bridge to Nowhere," a $330 million project that Stevens helped champion in Congress. The bridge, which would have linked the town of Ketchikan to an island airport, had come to symbolize Alaska's dependence on federal handouts. Rather than relying on such largesse, says Palin, she wants to prove Alaska can pay its own way, developing its huge energy wealth in ways that are "politically and environmentally clean."
It should be noted that Palin's action didn't only save money for state taxpayers. State transportation needs and requests are not a one-time thing; as noted in some of the quotes above, projects like the Ketchikan bridge send state politicians back to the federal well year after year. By eliminating the bridge and routing the money to other transportation projects, Palin saved federal taxpayers in two ways. First, she took more projects off the list for future requests to Uncle Sam. And second, she insured that - unlike famous long-running "Big Dig" type projects elsewhere in the nation - she wouldn't be coming back to future Congresses to cover additional cost overruns. By being a good fiscal steward to the people of Alaska, she also helped save money for the nation as a whole.
Talk, in politics, is cheap. When it came time for Palin to make decisions, she, and only she, finally killed the "Bridge to Nowhere." Had the funds remained earmarked, as Obama and Biden voted to keep them, she would not have had that option (that's what happened to the highway that was to connect to the bridge). Palin's is the courage and integrity we need.
b. Palin, Pork and Spending
Put in its larger context, Palin's killing of the Bridge to Nowhere is part of the broader picture of her effort to wean Alaska off its dependence on federal pork barrel spending in general and earmarking in particular. From the Anchorage Daily News, a description of how that has brought her yet again into conflict with the powers that be in the Alaska GOP:
Palin has increasingly distanced herself from earmarking since she made her first trip to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress for money in 2000. And over the past year, it has been the leading source of tension between Palin and the state's three-member congressional delegation.
H/T This is hardly a cold-turkey approach, but the numbers demonstrate that she has been making headway:
For the 2007 federal budget year, the administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski submitted 63 earmark requests totaling $350 million, Palin's staff said. That slid to 52 earmarks valued at $256 million in Palin's first year. This year, the governor's office asked the delegation to help them land 31 earmarks valued at $197 million.
The battle to cut back on earmarking is also part and parcel of a broader effort by Palin to bring some fiscal sanity to Alaska. Palin took a buzzsaw to the budget in her first year, including numerous line-item vetos of items inserted by the GOP-controlled legislature: "The cuts, the Anchorage Daily News said, 'may be the biggest single-year line-item veto total in state history.'" In 2008, she used line item vetoes to strip $268 million in wasteful pet projects from the state's budget. (H/T) * Her nearly half a billion dollars in vetoes over two years "were deeply unpopular with legislators of both parties."
As is often the case with efforts to cut the budget, Palin's hatchet hasn't cut down every last tree; for example, she "cut funds for 40 sports-related projects around Alaska, saying sports was not an essential government service," but found $630,000 in the 2007 budget for the Wasilla sports complex that had been one of her main accomplishments as Mayor, arguing that it would serve an additional public function as the town's emergency shelter in case of an earthquake, forest fire or other disaster. And of course, there have been a flood of stories complaining about this or that program she cut or capped the growth of. But as I always say, you don't have a budget until you have said "no" to everyone at least once. Palin has definitely shown that she is willing to say "no" to protect the taxpayer.
(3) Big Oil & Gas
When you talk about powerful interests in Alaska, there's nobody bigger than the oil and gas companies. Palin, of course, has been a huge advocate of more oil and gas production in Alaska and nationwide, and often refers to the oil and gas companies as the state's partners (in a sense they are literally business partners), but she's also shown in office that far from being a puppet of these industries, she's willing and even eager to drive a hard bargain with them on behalf of the taxpayer and limit the influence of any one particular company.
A prime example of this was her renegotiation of the state's severance tax, a tax imposed on oil and gas companies by the state that owns the land they drill on. This is different from taxes on corporate activity generally, and is basically a matter of the state acting like a market participant to drive a hard bargain; Palin raised the base tax from 22.5% to 25%, and made a point of renegotiating in public, arguing that the tax had been previously set behind closed doors between Murkowski and industry lobbyists. USA Today notes that the oil companies were not happy with the new fees:
Oil executives said the law amounted to a $6 billion tax increase this year and criticized it ...They said it would cost jobs and reduce investment in exploration.
From the same article:
Palin got tough with major oil producers in other ways, too. She moved to revoke ExxonMobil's license to develop oil and natural gas at Point Thomson on the North Slope, arguing the company had sat for too long on the site without developing the reserves. ExxonMobil says it will begin drilling this winter, but the state says the plans are inadequate.
One of her most significant accomplishments as governor was passing a major tax increase on state oil production, angering oil companies but raising billions of dollars in new revenue. She said the oil companies had previously bribed legislators to keep the taxes low. She subsequently championed legislation that would give some of that money back to Alaskans: Soon, every Alaskan will receive a $1,200 check.
Then there's the pipeline project intended to develop Alaska's vast natural gas reserves, which "had been a top economic goal for the state for nearly two decades" - Gov. Murkowski had never delivered on his promise to get the pipeline deal done, but "had offered the major firms exclusive contracts to build the pipeline and had agreed to freeze oil taxes for 30 years and natural gas taxes for up to 45 years." Palin, having run against Murkowski's coziness with the three main producers, decided to open the process to formal bids, a move that didn't go over well with them:
The three major North Slope producers - BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil - have panned Ms. Palin's approach as too restrictive, and say they prefer to negotiate a deal directly as they did with her predecessor, Frank Murkowski.
Eventually, this January, Gov. Palin settled on TransCanada, a Canadian company. The $26 billion project is "what analysts say could be the largest private capital project in U.S. history." The deal required her to call a special session of the state legislature, signing the bill on August 27. Once again, Palin had asserted her independence from the state's largest vested interests, and in so doing broke a longstanding policy logjam. It still faces challenges, as the disgruntled Big Three are threatening to build a rival pipeline:
The Palin administration now stands in a nerve-racking faceoff with the multibillion-dollar oil industry interests that have for 40 years been the bedrock of the state's politics and economy. Who blinks first -- Palin, or companies like BP Alaska, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil -- will determine who controls transport of Alaska's massive untapped gas resources and future tax revenues for a state dependent on petroleum revenues for 85% of its budget.
(4) Putting Her Own Stamp On State Government
Political analysts in Alaska refer to the "body count" of Palin's rivals. "The landscape is littered with the bodies of those who crossed Sarah," says pollster Dave Dittman, who worked for her gubernatorial campaign. It includes Ruedrich, Renkes, Murkowski, gubernatorial contenders John Binkley and Andrew Halcro, the three big oil companies in Alaska, and a section of the Daily News called "Voice of the Times," which was highly critical of Palin and is now defunct.
Days after she was sworn in as governor, Sarah Palin began to clean house at the department of natural resources, firing and demoting several top officials and eventually appointing a new director at the agency that oversees the energy companies that provide the state with 85% of its revenue.
More examples? Her firing of an aide who had a messy affair and covered it up; her sacking of the entire state Creamery Board in a dispute over $600,000 in state funding. Palin's been unafraid to make waves, removing people who stood in the way of her policies and working to change the ethical climate.
One of Palin's major priorities in her 2006 campaign was ethics reform, and in July 2007 she signed a new ethics bill that took a number of steps forward in requiring disclosures and limiting sources of compensation for public officials. The new law had bipartisan support behind the new Governor's leadership, including a State Senator who is now a prominent Obama supporter:
State Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said the law closes several loopholes and includes a ban on outside compensation for official acts. It also bans legislators from accepting campaign contributions as bribes.
Now, the ethics reform bill, under the circumstances, is more an example of bipartisan leadership than of courage or independence, as it did not exactly incite a groundswell of opposition, and some people even wanted it to go further. But Palin has also shown her willingness to put pressure on, or cut ties entirely with, powerful people in her own party as she seeks to remake the Alaska GOP into a cleaner organization.
For example, Palin has injected herself into the state's Congressional races. She cut ads for her Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, in his primary challenge to Don Young, a race that was so close it took weeks to resolve it despite Young's status as a hugely entrenched incumbent. As Matt Moon explains, Palin's backing was one of the reasons why Parnell entered the race with a huge advantage, and his loss was largely the result of being out-campaigned by Young, which doesn't change the fact that Palin made a significant effort to throw her personal prestige behind removing one of the icons of corruption in her own state party. We'll get in Part II to how this stacks up to Obama, but of course the short answer is that he never tried anything remotely comparable.
Palin's often been cold-blooded about cutting off former friends and allies who had ethical troubles, as even a hostile Salon profile notes:
Alaska state Rep. Victor Kohring, another key Palin supporter during her political rise in Mat-Su Valley, found this out after he became a victim of the FBI's oil corruption sting operation. Kohring, who used to accompany Palin on her campaign jaunts, angrily points out that he was abandoned by his fellow Christian conservative before he even went to trial. The former Alaska legislator, who now resides in the Taft minimum security prison outside Bakersfield, Calif., communicated his views of Palin through his friend, Fred James. Kohring, said James, feels "betrayed" by Palin.
I've discussed above some of her specific breaks with Ted Stevens; for another example, in 2007 she again demanded the resignation of his son Ben from his role as Alaska's representative on the Republican National Committee. Granted, despite their many battles, Palin hasn't entirely cut ties with Stevens, who after all remains the state's senior senator:
Palin, an anti-corruption crusader in Alaska, had called on Stevens to be open about the issues behind the investigation. But she also held a joint news conference with him in July, before he was indicted, to make clear she had not abandoned him politically.
At last check, Palin was pointedly declining to either support or oppose Stevens or Don Young in the general election: "Ted Stevens trial started a couple days ago. We'll see where that goes." Not precisely a hard line, but after Palin's multiple feuds with Stevens and her backing of the primary challenge against Young, she's already gone about as far as you can expect any Governor to go to make clear to the voting public her disapproval of the methods of the leaders of her own party's Congressional delegation in her own state.
All of these moves, of course, have made her enemies. This post is long enough already without delving into the whole Tasergate/Troopergate investigation, but to focus on the relevant point for these purposes, the investigation was touched off when Palin sacked Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, who broke openly with Palin over her efforts to cut his agency's budget:
* 12/9/07: Monegan holds a press conference with Hollis French to push his own budget plan.
This is all of a piece with Palin's willingness to butt heads to get control of the budget, to the advantage of the taxpayer. Hollis French, the Democratic State Senator and prominent Obama supporter, is effectively controlling the investigation, which was designed to release its report five days before the election and which would be essentially guaranteed to do zero political damage to Palin if it was released at any other time (you can tell this by comparing how much time Palin's critics spend discussing the investigation's procedures as opposed to its underlying facts). Anyone remotely familiar with the history of political reform can tell you that this sort of vendetta is exactly the risk you run when you try to bring about genuine change in the public sector, and why so many politicians shy away from necessary confrontations that create enemies of people like Monegan. The investigation is just another badge of Palin's fearlessness.
As we look back over the last four years in national politics, this much is certain: we needed more people like Sarah Palin in Washington.
In Part II: How Barack Obama climbed up the greasy pole of Chicago machine politics without upsetting any applecarts.
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October 1, 2008
POLITICS: Full Disclosure
A number of conservatives, led by Michelle Malkin, are up in arms now about the fact that the moderator of the vice presidential debate, Gwen Ifill, has a book coming out January 20, 2009 - Inauguration Day - entitled "Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama." You can read Malkin's post for the full details of why this clearly gives Ifill a financial interest in there being an "Age of Obama" commencing January 20, to say nothing of her sympathies for her subject.
Moe Lane and Beldar are completely right here: this doesn't mean Ifill should be replaced at the last minute, likely with some other liberal journalist, and it doesn't mean Gov. Palin should be forced to eat into her precious debate time pointing the conflict out - but ethically, Ifill really must disclose to the national audience her book, its title and subject and release date at the outset of the debate, and let the viewing public decide if that tells them anything about the moderator.