Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama and Unity

When Obama emerged on top in Iowa he spoke of Unity. He would heal the divisions in this society, he would bring together disparate interests, he would transcend the blue and red state divide. He would unify the nation. Many of us were unimpressed but enough were taken by him and his rhetoric to carry him to victory over Hillary Clinton.

Now the Democratic National Convention is upon us and Obama and company are still preaching Unity. But this time it’s a plea, a prayer, not to the nation as a whole but merely to Democratic delegates to his own nominating convention to heal the rift between Obama and Hillary supporters and unite behind Obama.

How sad.

Obama may win the national elections in November. But currently, despite all factors pointing to an easy Democratic victory in November, the tracking polls have Obama and McCain running neck and neck. Obama struggled to close the deal in the primaries against Hillary. He’s having even more trouble closing the deal with the general electorate against McCain. Many, including vast numbers of Hillary supporters such as myself, continue to doubt that Obama is ready for prime time. His campaigning since Hillary withdrew has been lackluster. People continue to wonder exactly how he intends to solve the many problems facing America. While he has shown great talent in delivering soaring addresses to large masses of people, he has failed to show a talent for engaging people in small town meetings. In place of his soaring rhetoric is a delivery full of “you know”; in place of a definite cadence is a stammering delivery. The content continues to lack specificity and his flip-flopping has not helped him in developing a coherent message.

Did Democrats make the wrong choice? That’s difficult to say. Obama still is the likely winner in the November elections. And it isn’t as if Hillary Clinton had all the answers either. She failed to put together a coherent campaign strategy and embarrassed herself on a number of occasions, such as with claims to have landed under fire in Bosnia, during the campaign. Then, too, Bill Clinton proved an embarrassment on his own and caused many to fear the role he might play were she to become president, or vice president for that matter.

Nonetheless, many of us would have favored Hillary as the Democratic nominee. Her voice strengthened and her message crystallized over the course of the primaries and by the end she appeared to be the stronger candidate.

Democrats should close ranks behind Obama. But the constant complaints emanating from his campaign and from his supporters, including former Governor Wilder of Virginia, that Hillary and Bill are the main obstacles to unity are poppycock, to use a socially acceptable term. Most Hillary supporters are quite educated and informed. They are not waiting for some signal or sign from Hillary in order to support Obama. They are troubled by the campaign he is running as well as his lack of experience and are simply hesitant in their support. Ultimately most will vote for Obama. Despite McCain’s maverick label, they will see McCain as continuing too many of Bush’s policies and as a bedrock conservative when it comes to several crucial social issues.

But Obama had better get his act together, stop blaming Hillary and Bill, offer specifics to the voters on how to solve major issues now, and learn how to connect better with that so-called “average” voter, whatever the voter’s gender, age, ethnicity or race.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Open E-mail to David Gergen

I wrote the below e-mail to David Gergen after reading Sam Stein’s article in the Huffington Post, “Gergen: McCain Using Code Words To Attack Obama As ‘Uppity’” and the accompanying video of David Gergen on This Week on August 3, 2008.



I've watched and listened to you on TV since you and Shields participated in civil discourse on the McNeil/Lehrer Report. I've tended to appreciate your calm, cautious commentary but in recent times I have found you far less interesting and informative, particularly in your service as one of the political analysts on CNN.

I caught a video of your recent comments on This Week on McCain's use of code words against Obama. Please, David, take more time to reflect on what you say. As George Will sought to remark, McCain was asked about affirmative action (and it appears gave a response not entirely different from Obama's in speaking out against quotas) and he honestly answered. His comments, to you, were code words? My gosh, how far you have drifted from the kind of careful observation I used to find helpful.

Frankly, as a 60-something professional, former political scientist, and former Hillary supporter, I am not impressed by Obama. His recent flip flopping, whether on public financing of campaigns, FISA, the 4th Amendment, handling Iran, or off-shore oil drilling, has left me cold. For many Americans, myself included, we're still searching to learn who he is; he remains relatively unknown, a sudden star on the horizon.

I believe that the constant analyses, such as yours, that suggest that race is the key to the election are not helping him. Race is absolutely an important factor but I truly believe that the more his defenders, including you, David, whether you admit you've come to defend him or not, and others suggest that McCain or others are using race to defeat Obama, the more voters will be turned off by Obama and his candidacy. I would suggest, albeit without firm empirical data at this point, that many Americans are tired of having race thrown in their faces every time someone strongly criticizes Obama. Again, as Will noted, the Republican theme that the Democratic candidate is an elitist did not start with Obama, but when critics attempt to make that charge against Obama many of his defenders immediately suggest there is a racial component. In your case, you claim it is a code word apparently for an “uppity black”. David, please. Enough of this shallow analysis. Recognize that while Obama bested Hillary, albeit because of her campaign's ridiculous failure to contest the caucus states, many voters who hardly participated in the Democratic primaries are now focusing on the Democratic nominee and having difficulty discerning who he is, what he stands for, and whether he is someone they can trust as President, and race, while not irrelevant, isn't necessarily the determinative factor.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Molten Core of Barack: Why Obama Can't Win

I recommend that you read Alex Castellanos' article on the Huffington Post.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

I made the following comment on the Post:

Alex, I realize you're a professional consultant to the McCain campaign. I also realize you will be flamed no end here on the Huffington Post. Nonetheless, I think your article captures some of the reasons many Democrats, particularly those who supported Hillary Clinton, are still having great difficulty in embracing Obama. His flip-flopping on issues has been incredible, whether on public financing of campaigns, FISA, the Supreme Court's 4th amendment decision on guns, opening the strategic oil reserve, off-shore drilling, or Iran. I do not share your views on Obama's personality but I do think that he is not helping a nation develop a sense of who he is and that he can be trusted.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Notes on al-Maliki and Barak Obama

On Maliki and Chutzpah

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s comments a few weeks ago that seemed to back Obama’s 16 month schedule for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq were not only no mistake or misinterpretation but also seemed to me to be a classic example of that ancient principle know to many as chutzpah! Think about it: had America followed Obama’s “policy” toward Iraq from the outset, there would have been no invasion; Hussein would have remained in power as a repressive dictator, particularly of the Shia population, and Maliki and the Shi’ites would have remained out of power if not in prison or brutally repressed.

But, alas, that was then and this is now. Maliki clearly feels enormous political pressure from Shia in Iraq to retake greater control of Iraq’s own affairs. The American surge appears to have been successful in bringing greater military stability to Iraq and in seeing an improvement in Iraq’s own ability to maintain its own tranquility. Then, too, we know that politics makes strange bedfellows. As several have remarked, Maliki is using Obama’s candidacy as a pawn in his chess game with Bush over the terms of a status of forces agreement to cover the presence of American troops in Iraq in the future. At this point, perhaps American interests are best served by a withdrawal of its forces over the next two years, but on a certain level I was nonetheless offended by Maliki’s conduct. Maliki, whose ascent to power would not have happened but for Bush’s war, turned around during a visit by the opposition party’s candidate to succeed Bush and a long-time critic of Bush’s policy, and essentially bit the hand that fed him.

On Obama and Nation-Building in Afghanistan

While continuing to strongly criticize the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, Obama has underscored his commitment to fighting al Qaida and its allies in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan.

In watching and listening to him during his trip to Afghanistan, I wondered whether Obama has a strategy toward prosecuting the war against terrorism in that part of the world; whether he has any formula for “winning” in Afghanistan and an exit strategy in that theatre of war. He has been outspoken about prioritizing Afghanistan and moving American forces from Iraq to Afghanistan but what is his overall strategy there? Many have written that outsiders, whether British, Russian or American or others before them, have not fared well in bringing stability to Afghanistan for any significant periods of time. Does Obama believe that the United States, with NATO support, can nation-build in Afghanistan? Does he believe that the Taliban can be defeated in some finite period of time through a stronger American presence than it currently has there? I haven’t heard Obama lay out a clear policy on this issue.

There can be little debate that the threat from al Qaida was greater in Afghanistan than in Iraq (where there appears to have been none at all) in September 2001 and thereafter. In that sense, I believe Obama accurately reflects a consensus among many Americans that the Iraq War was a needless diversion of American resources and focus. But what now? Wither Afghanistan? Could it become the new Iraq, a country in which America will bury more treasure in a frustrating effort to repress Muslim terrorism?

And what of neighboring Pakistan? Wasn’t it Obama who, during the primary campaign in an effort to avoid being described as simplistic and na├»ve, raised the real possibility that he might dispatch American forces into Pakistan or at least launch cross-border attacks without Pakistani government consent? Obama has stated recently that the Bush Administration is not pressuring Pakistan to deal with Taliban and other al Qaida terrorists within its borders and that he would do better. It isn’t clear to me that the Bush Administration has been remiss in this regard or how Obama will pressure the post-Musharaf government to do more. While I’m not opposed to the somewhat nebulous policy statements Obama is currently making about American interests in Afghanistan, not only do they not appear terribly different than McCain’s position, but, as stated, I wonder what Obama’s overall vision is in that part of the world.

Clinton was accused by neo-conservatives who eventually dominated the Bush Administration of trying to nation-build in Bosnia and surrounding areas and condemned by them as hubris. Bush’s neo-conservatives then turned around and committed enormous American treasure toward nation-building in Iraq, a policy that thrust American soldiers into the middle of a sectarian civil war and that most Americans came to condemn. Now Obama is making statements that sound like a commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan, an incredibly remote area that has long resisted foreign intrusion. Obama had better think carefully about the implications of such an undertaking. He should have an exit strategy for the United States from Afghanistan and be sharing it with us now. I haven’t heard anything to date; just strong talk on the campaign trail.