RealClearPolitics Cross Tabs Blog

Cross Tabs Blog Home Page --> July 2008

Do NASCAR Fans Wear $520 Shoes?

By John Riley

Maybe this will slow the efforts to portray Obama as an arugula-eating elitist:

HuffPost identifies McCain's footwear. Something called the Ferragamo Pregiato Moccasin -- "Calfskin loafers, with silver-tone 'Gancini' buckles...imported from Italy." Retailing for $520.

Let's stipulate: It has nothing to do with his ability to be president. But for a guy who decided to insert Paris Hilton and Britney Spears into the campaign today, it's a little piece of trivia that seems richly deserved.

Huffington Post has lots of photographic evidence, zooming in on McCain's feet at various campaign stops. Our favorite caption: "July 23: Senator McCain helped a family shop for discount food items in King's Supermarket in Bethlehem, PA...in $520 shoes."

Didn't find a beer heiress to marry for nothing, did he? Picture below from the Bergdorf website:

pregiato.jpg

John Riley blogs regularly at Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

Hillary to Speak on Second Night of Convention

By Justin Gardner

Well, looks like the Obama and Clinton camps have settled on a spot for her to talk on August 26th

From CNN:

Two sources close to Clinton said the former presidential candidate will speak August 26 with all female U.S. senators on stage with her.

"Tuesday night is Hillary night," said one supporter.

The significance?

That night is the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

And then two days later on August 28th Obama will speaking on the 45th anniversary of MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Could the historical timing be any better for the Dems?

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

Racist Double Standards

By Donald Douglas

The left's deafening silence on Ludacris' controversial rap that Barack Obama's going to "paint the White House black" is matched today with the latest hypocritical campaign by Obama backers to smear the GOP as racist.

In response to John McCain's new ad buy questioning Barack Obama's experience to lead, the nihilists have charged the McCain campaign with exploiting white fears of black predation on young white women. Here's Crooks and Liars:

The McCain campaign is looking increasingly desperate with each attack ad has chosen to take a tried and true approach to their latest ad -- veiled racism. Referring to Barack Obama as the "biggest celebrity in the world," McCain's ad conveniently and quite overtly slides footage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton into the mix.
Here's Melissa McEwan's attack:

Once again, McCain reveals himself to be eminently, shockingly willing to embrace the heinous tactics of the Bush team that he once deplored. That anyone still considers this guy an honorable rogue, a maverick, or a hero is beyond laughable. He doesn't possess any lingering shred of integrity, and his alleged independent streak came to a screeching halt as it collided with the stumbling zombie corpse of his credibility the moment he stood in New Hampshire with his arm around the shoulders of the man whose operatives called his wife a junky and his adopted daughter illegitimate. He may have been honorable and brave once upon a time, but he's not anymore.
Is there any reason left in the political world?

Various observers, including journalists at the major national dailies, have noted the presumptuousness of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. But making that argument, too, it turns out, is racist:

But what I'm most interested in today is the new meme the McCain campaign has been pushing for the last few weeks that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant and well ... just a bit uppity.

Both sides, left and right, make the same allegations - that the other has nothing going for itself but allegations of corruption or racism.

Yet throughout the entire 2008 campaign, the genuine racism that Americans have seen has been in the Democratic Party ranks, from Bill Clinton to Jesse Jackson to Luducris' incitement for John McCain to be shot and paralyzed.

Donald blogs daily at American Power

John McCain's Silly Analysis of Oil Prices

By Brendan Nyhan

Via TNR's Chris Orr, John McCain made this fantastical claim about President Bush's influence on the price of crude oil:

"In case you missed it, soon as the President announced that we were going to end the moratorium on offshore drilling the price of a barrel of oil went down $10," the presumptive Republican nominee said at a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania town hall.

Orr links to an CNN.com article that instead attributes the decline to reports of "higher-than-expected stockpiles of crude and gasoline," but isn't the problem with McCain's claim more fundamental? Bush's action lifting the presidential moratorium on offshore drilling has no effect unless Congress also acts. Here's the New York Times:

By itself, the move will have little impact, because Congress enacted a moratorium in 1982 that remains in place.

So why on earth would the market care? When McCain said "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should," he wasn't kidding.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Lone Madman Used to Smear GOP

By Donald Douglas

I put out the call this morning, perhaps idealistically, for partisans of both sides to end to the politicization of personal tragedies, with reference to Sunday's shooting tragedy at Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It turns out that the alleged killer, Jim David Adkisson, was a fan of right-wing media personalities such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. In a four-page letter outlining his intentions, Adkisson reportedly declared not only his hatred of the "liberal movement," but also "anyone different from him." Adkisson was deeply frustrated with his employment prospects and he was divorced after a deeply troubled and potentially violent marriage.

Carol Smallwood of Alice, Texas, an acquantaince of Adkission's for 25-30 years, suggested he was facing psychological crisis:

He always had the attitude the government was trying to get him ... He's a very intelligent man but he couldn't get in the mainstream and hold a job, Smallwood said. He's not a beast. He needed help a long time ago and never got it.
More information will certainly be forthcoming throughout the week, but media reports and blogging analyses have zoomed in on Adkisson's professed hatred of liberals while ignoring his economic dislocation and his statements signaling a larger social-psychological alienation. Yet, I'd argue it's unwise to generalize from this one case, to impugn the entire conservative establishment as "out to kill" left-wingers.

It's happening anyway, however. The Huffington Post has this:
Jim Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee was the man with his finger on the trigger. He had mental health problems, and a hard and bitter life. He apparently left a letter explaining that he hated the church for its liberal beliefs and opinions. And the church had a sign outside indicating it welcomed gays and lesbians.

Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them "traitors" and suggests you speak to them "with a baseball bat"? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?

If you ask me, it was all of the above.

You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News.
TBogg argues:
Adkisson ("...a loner who hates blacks, gays and anyone different from him") probably could have landed a sweet gig at the Bush Justice Department.
Melissa McEwan argued:
As I've said before, and will no doubt say again, this shit doesn't happen in a void. The conservative media has long been centered around violent, eliminationist rhetoric and "jokes."
Note, especially, Dave Neiwert's attack:
Right-wingers love to "joke" about mowing down, rounding up, and otherwise "wiping out" all things liberal. It's become a standard feature of conservative-movement rhetoric. And whenever anyone calls them on it, they have a standard response: "Aw, c'mon - it's just a joke!"

In reality, of course, rhetoric like this has historically played a critical role in some of the ugliest episodes in American history, as well as thousands of little acts of xenophobic brutality: functionally speaking, it gives violent - and frequently unstable -- actors permission to act on these impulses. People like this always believe they're standing up for what "real Americans" think - and the jokes tell them that this is so.

So we can see that prominent left-wing outlets are using the example of one deranged loner to brand the entire "conservative movement" - from conservative evangelists, to corporate media, to right-wing radio shock-jocks - as xenophobic exterminationists.

This is an unprincipled stretch.

Before people criticize me as hypocritcial for routinely reporting on left-wing extremism, note that I denounce both sides fair and square. I have taken down, for example, Ann Coulter for her anti-Semitism, Rush Limbaugh and various other conservatives for their rabid McCain derangement, and extreme right-wingers for their racist extremism.

Most of these people are either promoting a personality shock-cult not always in the interest of the GOP, or they're not real conservatives at all. The most extreme racists and black-helicopter conspiracy theorists are well outside the GOP establishment (indeed, John McCain has repeatedly repudiated exactly this kind of far right-wing fringe activity).

The mainstream blogosphere left, on the other hand, seems to become positively energized by any and all opportunities to demonize conservatives. The tragedy of the Unitarian Universalist murders is held up as purportedly representing some kind of essentialist right-wing killing project. For all intents and purposes, Adkisson's a protean Heinrich Himmler, indoctrinated by the institutional xenophobes of the conservative hate-machine.

In other words, the Adkisson case provides a case study in the secular demonology of the left. We're seeing the politics of hatred in action. It's marked by demands for vengeance and modes of discourse seeking to protect the perceived purity of the liberal sensibility. It is irreligious and opportunistic. It is the repudiation of decency. It is the absence of divine soul. With it, we see the Bush adminstration, John McCain, Bill O'Reilly, and Fox News attacked as the manifestation of the Fourth Reich.

I am not so naïve to think that the next left-winger who's accused of commiting a brutal crime will be spared the wrath of the conservative blogosphere. I do think, however, that there's a qualitatively ideological distinction between left and right when it comes to moral judgment and the relative balance of grace.

Meanwhile, the suffering of the church victims and their families is largely forgotten amid the mutual recrimination.

May those who have died rest in peace, and may their friends and family be blessed.

Donald blogs daily at American Power

McCain's NY Promise Morphs into His NJ Strategy

By Dan Janison & Craig Gordon

John McCain stood at Rockefeller Center earlier this year and made a bold prediction: I will carry New York in the fall campaign, something no Republican has done since 1984.

"We're going to campaign all over this magnificent state. We're not going to give it up to anybody!" he told a cheering primary Super Tuesday crowd in February.

So when it came time to set up his New York campaign office, where did McCain put it? Times Square? Albany?

No. New Jersey.

Woodbridge, N.J., to be exact, a good 45 minutes from midtown. And it chafed some New York politicos that the grand opening of McCain's "New Jersey/New York" regional headquarters June 25 was headlined by five pols - Garden Staters all.

There's a saying in politics that the candidates' travel schedules don't lie but reveal their true strategy. In this case, so does the real estate.

For all of McCain's big-city bravado, even his most loyal supporters know it's hard to flip bluer-than-blue New York against Democrat Barack Obama. But in Jersey? They're optimistic.

"I would say right now New York is a long shot," said Rep. Peter King (R- Seaford), a longtime McCain supporter. "But we can get the benefit of the New Jersey campaign, and if the numbers pick up, you might see more in New York."

To be sure, McCain has a lot of fans upstate and on Long Island, where he thumped George W. Bush in 2000's primary. He can count on "Reagan Democrats," who carried the state for the former president in 1984.

McCain's top man here, Ed Cox, in photo at left, insists he can put the state in play. "New Yorkers like people who solve problems, and John McCain is a problem-solver," Cox said.

 

So far, there are few signs of a full-court McCain campaign push in New York - except for fundraising, like his recent trip to the Hamptons that netted $2-million-plus for GOP committees. But experts see slim odds of stopping Obama here.

"There's little doubt that some red states will turn blue and some blue states will turn red" this fall, said Lee Miringoff of the Marist Poll. "But it's pretty unlikely that New York would be in that mix."

New Jersey is more competitive, with McCain holding Obama to a single-digit lead in an average of recent state polls.

But a Siena Research Institute poll this month gave Obama a 13-point edge in New York - 50-37 - and others in recent weeks put Obama up by 20-plus points.

Both candidates will be on the Island for a debate Oct. 15 at Hofstra University. King said Long Islanders will see a healthy dose of McCain ads, because he'll use New York stations to reach Jersey voters.

Obama's camp has a slate of local activities planned, including a Sept. 14 rally in Mineola, which Obama isn't expected to attend. If the race did start to tighten in New York, that would probably mean it's tightening across the country - and would be a real trouble sign for Obama.

"If we lose New York, then obviously 'Game Over.' But we're not," said Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper, Obama's Long Island campaign chairman. "We certainly don't want to appear overconfident. That's the worst thing that can happen."

Dan & Craig both write and report for Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

Is Obama Vetting Tim Kaine's Eyebrow?

By Brendan Nyhan

Via Drudge, the Washington Post and Politico are suggesting that Virginia governor Tim Kaine is high on Barack Obama's vice presidential shortlist.

Substantively, I don't have strong feelings about Kaine either way at this point. But on a more practical level, did Obama and his vetters watch Kaine's State of the Union rebuttal back in 2006? After watching it, I wrote that Kaine's left eyebrow is "too distracting for the party to ever put him on national television again," prompting the Columbus Dispatch to call this "the site for chatter about 'Tim Kaine's crazy eyebrow."

You really have to watch the C-SPAN Real Player video with the volume off to understand, but here's a screen shot that gives you some sense of what he looked like:

Captny13802010350state_of_union_democrat

It's true that (a) Kaine got elected in Virginia anyway and (b) vice presidential nominees probably don't have a significant effect on election outcomes. But given that national politics is centered around television, do you want someone who looks that strange on TV on the ticket? Maybe I'm being superficial, but it seems like a legitimate strategic question.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

The Far Left's Attack on Direct Democracy

By Donald Douglas

I'm not always a big fan of the initiative process, one of the mechanisms of direct democracy. For the most part, at least in California, the measures have been taken over by the moneyed interests, exactly the opposite of what the Progressive reformers had in mind a century ago.

Yet, there's a majoritarianism to initiatives that's hard to dismiss, and in recent years conservatives have been able to beat back the excesses of the postmodern rights movement with popular revolts from the ballot box.

It's no surprise then, that entrenched minority special interests would work to thwart the will of the voters by abusing the signature petition process by which intiatives qualify for the ballot. John Fund has the story:

The initiative is a reform born out of the Progressive Era, when there was general agreement that powerful interests had too much influence over legislators. It was adopted by most states in the Midwest and West, including Ohio and California. It was largely rejected by Eastern states, which were dominated by political machines, and in the South, where Jim Crow legislators feared giving more power to ordinary people.

But more power to ordinary people remains unpopular in some quarters, and nothing illustrates the war on the initiative more than the reaction to Ward Connerly's measures to ban racial quotas and preferences. The former University of California regent has convinced three liberal states -- California, Washington and Michigan -- to approve race-neutral government policies in public hiring, contracting and university admissions. He also prodded Florida lawmakers into passing such a law. This year his American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) aimed to make the ballot in five more states. But thanks to strong-arm tactics, the initiative has only made the ballot in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.

"The key to defeating the initiative is to keep it off the ballot in the first place," says Donna Stern, Midwest director for the Detroit-based By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). "That's the only way we're going to win." Her group's name certainly describes the tactics that are being used to thwart Mr. Connerly.
Fund details a long list of abuses by BAMN and other left-wing actors: Claiming that random "duplicate" blank lines on a petition sheet is evidence of fraud; completely rewriting an initiative's ballot summary to negatively influence voter understanding of the measure, as in case of Missouri's Secretary of State; and harassing and citing local signature-gatherers for circulating petitions in front of a local library in Kansas City, for example.

The article goes on:

In Nebraska, a group in favor of racial preferences ran a radio ad that warned that those who signed the "deceptive" petition "could be at risk for identity theft, robbery, and much worse."

Those on the left are asssumed to be more concerned with the "rights" of the people, and with the "democratic process." Indeed, leftists are often thought to be more "tolerant" than the mean, old conservative troglodytes.

In truth, it's a mistaken view that liberals are more concerned about "rights," and they're not more "tolerant." In fact, precisely the opposite is true.

Donald blogs daily at American Power

Forced Political Donations

By Betsy Newmark

The Wall Street Journal
highlights how some labor unions are getting the tens of millions of dollars on this year's election.

The mighty Service Employees International Union (SEIU) plans to spend some $150 million in this year's election, most of it to get Barack Obama and other Democrats elected. Where'd they get that much money?

That's a question the Departments of Labor and Justice are being asked to investigate by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Specifically, the labor watchdog group wants Justice to query a new SEIU policy that appears to coerce local workers into funding the parent union's national political priorities.

The union adopted a new amendment to its constitution at last month's SEIU convention, requiring that every local contribute an amount equal to $6 per member per year to the union's national political action committee. This is in addition to regular union dues. Unions that fail to meet the requirement must contribute an amount in "local union funds" equal to the "deficiency," plus a 50% penalty. According to an SEIU union representative, this has always been policy, but has now simply been formalized.

No other major institution could get away with its bosses demanding that every single one of its workers step in line behind its political preferences. This is the sort of imposed political obeisance that infuriates so many workers and turns them away from unions.

And once the Democrats get increased majorities in Congress plus a Democratic president, they will pass the oxymoronic check-off provision to allow unions to win a vote without having secret ballots. Using peer pressure and intimidation, they'll attempt to spread unionization in places where it's been declining. And if the SEIU gets away with these forced contributions this year, expect other unions to follow their example.

Even when the FEC later decides that some of the actions of private groups have violated the law, the fines were dwarfed by the actual contributions that those groups made to the election.

The Federal Election Commission later imposed a $775,000 penalty on ACT for violating campaign finance laws, the largest ever against a 527. Big as it was, the fine equaled less than one cent on the dollar for the $100 million that ACT improperly used to influence a national election. [SEIU President] Mr. Stern was only a founder of ACT. But the political lesson is that the benefit of breaking the rules and potentially winning an election far outweighs a minuscule financial penalty well after the outcome is decided.

The fines should match the amount spent. Now that would be a deterrent.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

McCain, Obama and the "Shorthand" of the Surge

By Donald Douglas

Here's John McCormack's comment on McCain and the surge from yesterday morning:

The "surge" ... is often shorthand for both the addition of U.S. troops as well as the adoption of a counterinsurgency strategy.
Debate on this shorthand is currently raging across the left blogosphere.

Matthew Yglesias says, for example:

So John McCain said the surge led to the Anbar Awakening even though the Awakening, in fact, happened before the surge began. So he's ignorant. Or maybe dishonest....

Shawn Brimley
tries to bring common sense to bear on this: "The word "surge" has always been used to as shorthand referring to President Bush's decision to deploy about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq in early 2007, the first of which did not arrive in Iraq until later in the spring." McCain is arguing, I guess, that "the surge" doesn't refer to the manpower boost more formally termed the "surge of forces" by the military. Instead, "surge" is, perhaps, short for "counterinsurgency."

The main problems here would be that nobody uses "surge" that way...
Well, that's not correct.

Security studies experts do indeed use the term as a "shorthand" for the Bush administration's overall combined military AND political adjustments designed to bring order and progress to the Iraq deployment.

For example, in "The Price of the Surge," the lead article from the May/June 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, Steven Simon noted:

In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new approach to the war in Iraq. At the time, sectarian and insurgent violence appeared to be spiraling out of control, and Democrats in Washington - newly in control of both houses of Congress - were demanding that the administration start winding down the war. Bush knew he needed to change course, but he refused to, as he put it, "give up the goal of winning." So rather than acquiesce to calls for withdrawal, he decided to ramp up U.S. efforts. With a "surge" in troops, a new emphasis on counterinsurgency strategy, and new commanders overseeing that strategy, Bush declared, the deteriorating situation could be turned around.
Thus, while there are technically discrete elements in the overall approach to strategic adjustment in Iraq, it's generally understoood that reference to the "surge" implies a macro-analytical concept, and the direction of success is evaluated by unpacking the various components in the military/political balance and making additional revisions .

Of course, the whole debate's something of a smokescreen hiding the fundamental issues: Victory in Iraq's impending, and the left forces are out to portray John McCain as a bumbling, fumbling old man, confused about the facts on the ground. This meme combines with a second thrust currently in play on the Iraq debate: that victory in Iraq means American troops can come home, and that Barack Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan is the ticket to "responsibly" ending the deployment.

All of this spin is geared to smothering the fact that Obama's been consistently wrong about the mission in Iraq, and thus his judgement as commander-in-chief is questionable. This strange turn of events sees those who not only opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but who resisted the initial surge of troops while endlessly announcing the failure of the increase in troops, as the beneficiaries of the administration's resolve and McCain's forbearance.

The New York Times puts it all in perspective:

Conducting a presidential campaign in the middle of a war is somewhat unusual, and several foreign policy experts lament that a great deal of nuance and thoughtful discussion is lost in the political back-and-forth.

If Mr. McCain found himself criticized for seeming to confuse the chronology of events in Iraq, some analysts said Mr. Obama seemed to be giving too little credit to the surge for improving conditions in Iraq. Mr. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, said in an interview with "Nightline" on ABC this week that if he had to do it all over again, knowing what he knew now, he would still not support the surge.

Mr. O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution, said he did not understand why Mr. Obama seemed to want to debate the success of the surge. "Any human being is reluctant to admit a mistake," he said, noting that it takes on added risk in a political campaign.

And Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the political debate did not always illuminate the issues very well. "There are times, I think, where maybe we really ought to step back from this semantic horror show, and remember that this is a political campaign, it is posturing," Mr. Cordesman said. "Would anyone want either presidential candidate to keep any promise they made today if reality was different in January, or in any point afterwards?"
That's it, then.

An unenlightening semantic debate, which is the forte of left-wing partisans, who've consistently opposed most everything geared to success in Iraq and peace for the Iraqi people.

Here's more examples, from the Huffington Post, "Depends on What the Meaning of the Word 'Is' (Surge) Is," and MyDD, "Depends What The Meaning of "The Surge" Is."

Okay, if ya'll say so...

McCain Caught Simplifying History

By Alan Stewart Carl

Rattling around the Internets yesterday was this report that, in an interview with CBS, John McCain misstated the timeline for the Iraq surge and the Anbar Awakening. The Awakening began before President Bush announced the troop increases but McCain's statements made it sound as if the surge directly led to the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Now, McCain is denying that he misstated the timeline, insisting that critics misunderstand the meaning of "surge." McCain says the surge included numerous counterinsurgency initiatives, some of which began several months before Bush announced the strategic change in January of 2007. McCain continues to maintain that, without the surge/counterinsurgency efforts, the sheiks who revolted in Anbar could not have succeeded because we could not have protected them.

While McCain can validly argue that our increased troop levels and improved counterinsurgency efforts helped insure the success of the Anbar Awakening and similar Iraqi-led revolts against al-Qaida, he knows full-well that the common definition of the surge is the increase in troop levels President Bush initiated in January 2007. The Anbar Awakening was underway well before then.

I think McCain got caught simplifying history for the sake of a clean argument. It's not that he doesn't understand the order of events it's just that the order of events are inconvenient to his argument. Much like the success of the surge is inconvenient to Barack Obama's arguments. Both men are struggling to present the facts as they stand and not as they wish they stood. We will need some serious media and citizenry vigilance as we go forward in this campaign to make sure both candidates are painting an accurate portrait of Iraq and our successes and failures there.

McCain deserves to get smacked for simplifying events and appearing ignorant of the historical timeline. But his greater point is not wrong. The surge helped insure that the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida succeeded. Will Obama ever admit the same?

Alan blogs regularly at Donklephant.com

Obama's Iraq Checkmate

By Andrea Tantaros

For months Republicans have been taunting Senator Barack Obama for not visiting Iraq. From press releases to countdown clocks, it's been a key theme and it's put Obama on the defensive. The GOP has also been hitting him hard for not supporting the McCain surge that has proved fruitful, though not originally popular.

So what does Obama do? He goes to Afghanistan. Then Iraq. He meets with leaders in these countries and talks with soldiers. His aides have scripted him carefully, positioned him wisely and kept him away from any goofy looking hats to prevent another Dukakis-tank photo gaffe.

In an interesting turn of events, German magazine Der Spiegel Saturday quoted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as giving apparent backing to the withdrawal plans discussed by Obama, who has pledged to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months if he is elected. Though Ali al-Dabbagh, the chief spokesman for al-Maliki, said in a statement Sunday that the prime minister's comments were "not conveyed accurately," Der Spiegel is sticking to its story.

Al-Maliki has now given enormous cover to Obama and allowed him to pivot around McCain. The one issue Obama should be on the defensive about has effectively put McCain in a corner.

There's no question that Obama has altered his position on Iraq troop withdrawal. What was once a rigid promise to pull troops out is, well, still a rigid plan to pull troops out--with a new timetable. There's also no question Barry believed the surge would increase violence. He believed it would do the converse. But that conversation is now stale.

Part of the problem is the McCain team's insistence on playing "gotcha" on the success of the surge. McCain's message has remained unchanged: "the surge has worked, the surge has worked." It has worked. But, the next question -- the more important question -- is: "Now that we are winning, are we done here yet?" Americans have a tradition of de-mobilizing too fast from costly wars (post-WW2, we created problems in Berlin, Korea and elsewhere because we simply got rid of the Army so fast). Democracies tire of long wars. Obama will be on the side of American sentiment by saying we need to get out faster. Now that our friends in Baghdad agree with him on the withdrawal plan, he no longer looks like he is out of touch with the situation on the ground. The elected leaders on the ground in Iraq now agree with him.

Obama could even go as far as to acknowledge the surge has worked, and that he made a mistake and it would likely do no harm except for another minor exacerbation from the far left (though it's highly unlikely he'd admit wrongdoing. He, after all, "never doubts himself"). Obama can be vague about whether he is sticking to the 16 months, he just needs to make it clear that he will go faster than McCain.

The McCain camp dared Obama to come to Iraq. So he did. And while Obama is discussing the best way to bring the troops home, McCain is whining about the New York Times not publishing his most recent op-ed on Iraq. Chess verses checkers. Which do you think Americans care more about?

If Obama can make it through this trip without a stumble, controversy or policy goof, he is poised to remove McCain's biggest criticism by turning the tables while McCain appears vulnerable on his biggest strength.

In other words, checkmate.

Andrea Tantaros is a Republican Strategist and former press secretary to the House Republican Conference

Obama's Bi-Racial Background Hints at Communism?

By Justin Gardner

I literally could not believe it when I read it (the article is from February), but here we go...because Obama came from a white mother and a highly educated black father...it follows that he's more predisposed to be a Communist.

I know, it sounds like the stuff of fiction, but take a read from Lisa Schiffren of the National Review:

Obama and I are roughly the same age. I grew up in liberal circles in New York City -- a place to which people who wished to rebel against their upbringings had gravitated for generations. And yet, all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics. (During the Clinton Administration we were all introduced to then U. of Pennsylvania Professor Lani Guinier -- also a half black/half Jewish, red diaper baby.)

I don't know how Barak Obama's parents met. But the Kincaid article referenced above makes a very convincing case that Obama's family, later, (mid 1970s) in Hawaii, had close relations with a known black Communist intellectual. And, according to what Obama wrote in his first autobiography, the man in question -- Frank Marshall Davis -- appears to have been Barack's own mentor, and even a father figure. Of course, since the Soviet Union itself no longer exists, it's an open question what it means practically to have been politically mentored by an official Communist. Ideologically, the implications are clearer.

I like how the author of this piece of agit-prop talks about New York City as if it's the place where Communists meet, and then goes onto say she doesn't know how his parents met in Hawaii, but hey...there's this Communist that his parents knew and so...

Paging McCarthy...Joseph McCarthy...

And here's the best part...

Political correctness was invented precisely to prevent the mainstream liberal media from persuing the questions which might arise about how Senator Obama's mother, from Kansas, came to marry an African graduate student. Love? Sure, why not? But what else was going on around them that made it feasible?

Yes Lisa, that's why political correctness was invented...precisely to make sure that your inane theories don't get any traction.

Obviously this meme never stuck to Obama, but make no mistake...if this is the level of crazy we were seeing in February just wait until after the convention.

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

McCain Raises Obama's Lack of Service

By Brendan Nyhan

ABC's Jake Tapper reports that John McCain is questioning Barack Obama's judgment because he didn't serve in the military:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Monday hit Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, not for only being, in his view, wrong on the surge of troops in Iraq, but also for not having served in the military. Arguing that he, unlike Obama, doesn't "need any on-the-job training," McCain said, per ABC News' Jen Duck, that "I also agree with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who said it would be very dangerous...to do what Senator Obama has advocated."

Added the former Navy flier and Vietnam P.O.W.: "I hope we'll pay attention to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Particularly someone that has no military experience whatsoever."

As Tapper notes, McCain previously responded to Obama's criticism of his position on a GI bill by saying he "will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did." McCain also once jabbed incorrectly at Obama for using the spelling "flack jacket" rather than "flak jacket."

Practically speaking, these comments are silly. McCain's heroic service as a Vietnam War fighter pilot and POW is not relevant to being commander-in-chief. As Wesley Clark said somewhat tactlessly, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

But what's really objectionable is the anti-democratic idea that candidates have to serve in the military to serve as president and command American troops. Bill Clinton was handicapped throughout his presidency by this perception, which weakened his leverage in trying to get the military to go after Osama bin Laden. Some liberal pundits and bloggers have bought into a similar notion by describing pro-war conservatives who didn't serve in the military as "chickenhawks," which suggests that only veterans can argue for war.

A related problem is the growing politicization of the military itself, which has an increasingly conservative tilt, especially among officers. Since 9/11, President Bush has used military imagery for partisan purposes and repeatedly attacked Democrats during speeches at military bases. Rather than decrying these tactics, Democrats like John Kerry have fetishized their support from retired officers and hyped any criticism of President Bush by active-duty officers.

It's time to restore balance in this relationship. The presidency is a civilian institution that controls the military, not the other way around.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Justice Patrick? Not.

By Jon Keller

It's the baseless rumor that just won't go away, that a President Obama might appoint his old law school chum Deval Patrick to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Fun, but my guess is, totally false. I suspect the last thing a newly-elected Obama will want is a polarizing Supreme Court nominee whose hard-line views and actions at the Justice Department earned him the nickname "Quota King" in right-wing circles. Can you imagine the scene at the confirmation hearings as conservative - and moderate Democrat - senators quiz Patrick about his push for, in essence, backroom short-circuiting of the constitutional process for repeal of gay marriage, a prioritization of politics over law that earned him an indirect rebuke from the state supreme court?

However, unless I've been misled about the closeness of the relationship between the two men, I do believe Obama will reach out for Patrick should he win, more likely as a trusted player in an inside job like the White House staff or legal office. And I also believe Patrick might go for it, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. He aggressively markets himself as a governor for the long-term, whose most significant initiatives likely won't bear fruit for as much as a decade or more. Exit spin: hey, I've planted the seeds, now it's up to you all to make sure the harvest comes in, my commander-in-chief needs me. See ya.

Then again, who in their right mind would want to walk away from a staggering state economy, a hemhorraging state budget, sagging job-approval ratings, and near-daily sniping from virtually everyone around you?

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

What a Gift from the New York Times!

By Betsy Newmark

The NYT has handed John McCain a small gift by refusing to publish his column answering Barack Obama's column from last week. In his reply to McCain, NYT editorial page editor, David Shipley spelled out what he wanted McCain to say in a rewritten draft.

It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the Senator's Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan.

It's awfully kind of David Shipley to decide that McCain's plan for Iraq has to include elements such as troop levels and timetables that McCain has specifically said should be determined by conditions on the ground and not by American political concerns. The translation of Shipley's demands are - believe what we and Obama believe or we will not publish you.

If McCain's column had been published, few would have cared. As you read the text of the column as posted on Drudge it's just the standard stuff that McCain has been saying over and over on the campaign trail. But by refusing to publish McCain's column after they published Obama's, the NYT has given McCain the bonus of a talking point on media bias. And conservatives, who are suspicious of McCain, can't stand the New York Times. Every time the Times shows such blatant bias, there are probably some conservative voters somewhere deciding that they can hold their noses and vote for McCain. Nothing unites conservatives more than their dislike of the MSM. And during a week when the networks are displaying their bias in favor of Obama, the NYT is kind enough to pile on some more.

UPDATE: It's so lovely to see that the New York Times was proud of publishing a column by a Hamas spokesman, yet they reject a column from the Republican nominee. Remember this response by the Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt to complaints when the Times ran that Hamas column.

Many readers were outraged, complaining that The Times had provided a platform for a terrorist. One, Jon Pensak of Sherborn, Mass., said that allowing Yousef space in The Times "isn't balanced journalism, it is more the dissemination of propaganda in the spirit of advocacy journalism."

Well, yes. The point of the op-ed page is advocacy. And, Rosenthal said, "we do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage, because it is opinion."

David Shipley, one of Rosenthal's deputies and the man in charge of the op-ed page, said: "The news of the Hamas takeover of Gaza was one of the most important stories of the week. ... This was our opportunity to hear what Hamas had to say."

I agree that Yousef's piece should have run, even though his version of reality is at odds with the one I understand from news coverage. He wrote blandly, for example, about creating "an atmosphere of calm in which we resolve our differences" with Israel without mentioning that Hamas is officially dedicated to raising "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine," which would mean no more Israel.

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that's the way a free society decides what's right and what's wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

So they were willing to run the controversial ideas of Hamas, a terrorist group responsible for the death of many Israeli civilians as well as of Palestinians accused of cooperating with the Israelis. Yet the Times wasn't willing to run an opinion column by a presidential candidate from the Republican Party because they don't agree with his approach to the war in Iraq.

The Times is even willing to run a political column by an astrologer!

How delicious of the Times to once again expose its bias so openly. With all the political attention of the day focused on Obama's trip to Iraq, it was going to be hard for the McCain campaign to break through at all. Thanks to the New York Times, there is now a McCain-related story that can gain him a little publicity and put conservatives on the same side as McCain, not a position they always occupy.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

Quoting Emails from "John McCain"

By Brendan Nyhan

Isn't the New York Times really stretching it by attributing an email message to John McCain today?

"I returned to the Senate with greater influence than before I ran, and I used that influence to work with senators on both sides of the aisle," Mr. McCain said in an e-mail message. "I don't believe in hoarding political capital just for the sake of possessing it."

Remember this is John "It's a Google" McCain, who has admitted that aides "go on [the Internet] for me. I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself." It's generally implausible that any email from a politician to a reporter isn't at least vetted by a press staffer, but in McCain's case there's almost no question that he did not write the email.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Why is O'Reilly Making Excuses for Jesse Jackson?

By Betsy Newmark

I couldn't get very worked up about Jesse Jackson's bitter rant against Barack Obama. Jackson seems so yesterday. All he did was display how jealous he is of Obama and his criticism of Obama for speaking out about the responsibilities of the African American community made Obama look so much better in comparison.

I was rather disgusted at Bill O'Reilly's unctuous defense of himself for not revealing that Jackson had used the n-word in his little rant. O'Reilly said that he wasn't interested in making Jackson look bad. So what? It was definitely news that Jackson, who has led boycotts against Seinfeld because Michael Richards used the n-word was using it himself. Debra Saunders exactly nails O'Reilly's hypocrisy on this.

So why did O'Reilly withhold mention of the more offensive n-word?

O'Reilly told viewers that Jackson had uttered other ugly words, but that he would not air them because they "did not advance the story in one way, shape or form."

Later he said, "I'm not in the business of hurting Jesse Jackson -- because it does hurt Jesse Jackson -- and I'm not in the business of creating some kind of controversy that's not relevant to the general subject: one civil rights leader disparaging another over policy. So we held it back. Some weasel leaked it to the Internet."

Some readers might consider Jackson's remarks off-limits as they represented pre-show chitchat not intended for public consumption. But Jackson is hardly the first public figure to get caught in this snare. He knew he had a microphone on his lapel, that people might hear him, and that what he was saying was in poor taste.

He simply could not help himself.

Granted, whether it should be or not, it is different when a black person, as opposed to a white person, uses the two-syllable n-word.

But when a civil rights leader disparages the very people whom he is supposed to champion -- that's news. And when the black person who uses the n-word word is a civil rights leader who challenged the entertainment industry not to use the word and called for a boycott of "Seinfeld" DVDs after one of the series' stars, Michael Richards, used the slur as a standup comic -- that's big news.

It is news that buries whatever credibility Jackson retained.

Which makes O'Reilly's decision not to broadcast the racist n-word incomprehensible. O'Reilly was giving a pass to Jackson -- something he would not do for an 18-year-old girl who posted a sexual photo on the Internet.

I don't know why Bill O'Reilly was in the Jesse Jackson protection racket. But the next time he shows some video clip that makes somebody look bad and then hauls that person in front of the camera to enter his grandiose "No Spin Zone" the person should challenge O'Reilly right back and ask why he's suddenly in the business of creating this controversy when he tried to hold back on a much bigger story.

I haven't ever thought much of Bill O'Reilly, but this story exposed him for an even bigger buffoon than I'd thought he was before. Note how he had a different reaction about people who criticized Don Imus for his riff on the Rutgers basketball team. At that time, with guest host Michelle Malkin interviewing him, he pretended that he was going to be all fearless in exposing those who criticized Imus but then used racist language themselves.

MALKIN: Well, I guess the rehabilitation of Don Imus will begin. But, I mean, how optimistic are you that the rehabilitation of all of the other hate-mongers and hate-tolerators is going to take place?

O'REILLY: Another excellent question.

I don't care whether their rehabilitation takes place at all. What I'm going to do is, I'm going to spotlight them now. And I think other people will, too, that, when they get back into this groove of hate, we're going to lay it out there, that we're going to layout there the gangster rappers, who they work for, who is paying them.

I wouldn't want to be Snoopy Dogg right now.

(LAUGHTER)

O'REILLY: And I wouldn't want to be Ludacris or 50 Cent, because every move they make is going to be on ""The Factor"."

I guess that that was just some self-promoting spin because Jesse Jackson was one of the biggest mouths out there protesting against Don Imus. But when Bill O'Reilly had an exclusive video shot of the sanctimonious Reverend using the n-word, he tried to bury the tape.

O'Reilly may bluster all he wants, but he's proven that his zone has quite a good deal of spin.

GOP Concerned About Georgia

By Justin Gardner

Why?

Two words: Bob Barr.

Republican strategists are privately conceding that the GOP could lose Georgia's 15 presidential electors for the first time since 1992 because of Bob Barr's ballot position as the Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

The most recent Georgia survey by the polling firm Insider Advantage, conducted July 2, shows 46 percent for Sen. John McCain, 44 percent for Sen. Barack Obama and 4 percent for Barr. George W. Bush, who carried all 11 states of the old Confederacy in both 2000 and 2004, had 58 percent of Georgia's vote in the last election.

But can Barr realistically keep that level of support up? Actually, I think he can because we're talking about a very small % of conservatives who simply won't vote for McCain because he's too aligned with Bush when it comes to fiscal and foreign policy matters. There's a healthy number of conservatives who are really angry with the current Republican status quo, and McCain isn't doing enough to convince them that anything will change.

So, do I think Obama has a shot at the state? No. But it'll be close enough that McCain will have to spend money, and that has to drive the Republicans nuts.

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

Clintonista Lanny Davis on the Iraq War

By Sister Toldjah

I know. You're probably thinking "What do I care what Lanny Davis thinks about the Iraq war?" Well, normally I would agree with you, but after reading what he wrote for the Washington Times (yes, the WaTimes), I think you'll agree with me that his opinion is worth reading, considering he at one point was an anti-Iraq war Dem. He's still a Dem of course, but his opinion on the Iraq war has significantly changed. Here's a bit of what he wrote:

But ... then came my first moment of doubt.

I saw on TV in early 2005, in their first preliminary democratic elections, long lines of Iraqis waiting to vote under the hot desert sun with bombs and shrapnel exploding around them. Waiting to vote!

And then there was that indelible image - an older woman shrouded in a carpetlike cape, smiling gleefully and holding her purple finger in the air for the TV cameras, purple with ink showing that she had voted.

Smiling! In the middle of war! At U.S. troops standing nearby!

[...]

Wow, I thought. Is it possible I was wrong?

Is it possible, I wondered, that Iraqis truly did want democracy and freedom and the right to vote and government of the people, just as we Americans do? And were willing to fight for it, with our help?

Wouldn't that be a good thing? Even a great thing?

Maybe another democracy, however imperfect, other than Israel in the Middle East could lead to more moderation, possibly other democracies? Democracies that could serve as bulwarks against al Qaeda-type of terrorist states?

Then in 2005-06 came the increased violence from the Sunni insurgents against American kids, then the sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites, with young Americans caught in the crossfire. My certainty in opposing the war and supporting a deadline for getting out re-emerged.

And then in early 2007 came the surge, which so many of us in the antiwar left of the Democratic Party predicted would be a failure, throwing good men and women and billions of dollars after futility. We were wrong.

[...]

Surely we owe the Iraqis who helped us, whose lives are in danger, immediate immigration rights to the U.S. Yet the shameful fact is that most are still not even close to having such rights.

Surely we owe the al-Maliki government and the Shi'ite and Sunni soldiers who put their lives on the line against Shi'ite and Sunni extremists and terrorists at our behest some continuing presence and support and patience as they strive to find peace, political reconciliation - and maybe even the beginnings of a stable democracy.

The only question is, for how long?

Forever? No. 100 years? No.

But for how long? I don't know.

I just know I can't get out of my mind that lady with the purple finger held up, smiling into the camera. If getting in was a mistake, then getting out - how and when - is not so simple as long as there is hope that she can someday live in a democratic Iraq that can help America in the war against terrorism.

There are the few Democrats who supported the Iraq war from the start (like Senator Lieberman, for example) whose support has remained strong and steady throughout. There are the many Democrats like Rep. John Murtha and Senator John Kerry, both of whom claimed to support the war in the beginning but who both took the easy way out when things got tough and demanded a quick pull out. Then there are the growing number of Democrats who were against the war at first but who slowly but surely have come to recognize how important it is that we not abandon the mission of freedom, stability, and security in Iraq, and realize the deadly consequences of a too-soon withdrawal. Lanny Davis, though not a member of Congress, understands this now and I commend him for not only conceding the points that continue to be made by Iraq war supporters, but doing it on the pages of what many (especially the left) call one of the most right wing publications in the country.

Then there are those Democrats like Senator Barack Obama, nominee for president of the US, who opposed the Iraq war from the start, who opposed the surge, and who up until recently refused to admit to the many gains that had been made in Iraq as a result of the surge effort, an idea supported early on (before it became popular) by Senator John McCain -the other nominee for president, and then eventually by our current president who, like McCain, knew the risks associated with a too-quick withdrawal.

Senator Obama is in Iraq now. I have said previously that because the Senator has been all over the map on the issue of withdrawing from Iraq, that I simply do not trust him on the issue. Even at that, though, I hope that now that his feet have actually touched Iraqi soil for the first time since the surge, and now that he is having a chance to meet with our generals on the ground as well as leaders in the Iraqi government, that Senator Obama will quietly reassess his position on withdrawal and at some later point down the road, admit, like Lanny Davis and some other anti-Iraq war Democrats have done, that even though he was opposed to the Iraq war from the start and wished it never started, that the successes on the ground cannot be denied and that he will not withdraw our troops from Iraq until it is clear that the Iraqi government, its military, and its security forces (aka law enforcement) can stand on its own feet without a large-scaled US presence there.

I'm not naive, and know the odds of him actually admitting this are long. He's staked his entire candidacy on his opposition to the war and promises to pull out all combat brigades within 16 months. But even if he won't actually admit it, I pray that if he is elected CIC that he really does rely on what the commanders and generals on the ground say (as he has said once or twice that he would do) about the situation in Iraq before he makes any more promises about a 16 month withdrawal.

It might be that if Obama is elected that by the time he takes the oath of office that the situation in Iraq will be even more improved to the point that a 16 month withdrawal plan might be a feasible option. Maybe it won't be. But if the guy has got a shred of the humanity in him that he acts like he has, he'll shelve his original plans for Iraq and go about conducting the Iraq war as any capable Commander in Chief would: by letting the generals and commanders who live the war every day be his eyes and ears, and forgetting the noise of the naysayers whose sole goal in all of this is not to aid in the security of the United States, but to hand George W. Bush a defeat, even though he will no longer be in office by the time future decisions on Iraq are made.

Read more at SisterToldjah.com

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

By Mark Thompson

There is an assumption in both conservative and libertarian circles that anything that the private sector is inherently better at doing things than the government. And on many things, this philosophy is, I think, correct (it is also something that liberals/Progressives agree with more than they get credit).

But where it gets tricky is when you get to the concept of "privatization" of various things. Libertarians and conservatives hear the root word "private" and they reflexively think that it is better than "public." But "privatization" is different from "free market," and in many cases "privatization" can mean the worst of all worlds.

For instance, if by privatization, you mean the contracting out of various government services and needs, you are often just asking for trouble. Why? Because this is a setup for the epitome of "crony capitalism." Sometimes, to be sure, this kind of "privatization" is a necessity in instances where the government is seeking to obtain products or services that it simply has no ability to provide on its own. Frequently, however, where the government is contracting out a product or service it already provides or can easily provide, this kind of "privatization" at best has the effect of doing no more than adding an extra layer of bureaucracy. At worst, though, it is an invitation for corruption and a particularly convenient means of avoiding government accountability. Far from allowing market forces to take over, this kind of privatization creates a market that would not otherwise exist, in which firms seek to please only one customer: the government. And contrary to popular belief, "the government" is not synonymous with "the people," but is rather more frequently synonymous with "elected and/or appointed government officials." What privatization does in this context is to make the purpose of the service provider to please the government official who awarded them the contract - not to offer "the people" with the best possible services at the lowest possible price. Oftimes, pleasing the responsible government official means nothing more than shielding the official from responsibility for the implementation of that official's policy preferences.

The other type of "privatization" that libertarians and market conservatives should fear is anything that suggests a public-private "partnership." Such partnerships all too often take the form of placing the risk of loss on the taxpayer while placing the benefits of profit on the private ownership side of the equation. To say the least, this creates frequently undesirable market distortions best exemplified by Amtrak, and, now, the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The bottom line is that "privatization" only works if it actually allows genuine, basic market principles to play out. Where "privatization" simply means that the government will seek to make purchases in a market that would not exist at all without the government intervention, it is a virtual guarantee that the "privatization" will result in no more and no less than something resembling the much-maligned and ever-expanding military-industrial complex. Where "privatization" means a "partnership" under which government agrees to back what would otherwise be a purely private entity, the government is both granting that company an unnatural market advantage and virtually begging that company to engage in really, really bad business practices. Finally, I would add that the manner in which government has incentivized employer-based health insurance is another example of a "public-private" partnership gone terribly wrong.

This isn't to say that "privatization" is always bad - far from it, and I remain a firm believer that market forces are the far superior manner of economic policy. Indeed, where "privatization" literally means the selling off of a government asset to the highest bidder, no strings attached, I would rarely disagree with it. But when it creates a situation where the entire raison d'etre of a firm is to serve the government or where the government has immunized the firm from market realities, the effects of privatization can often be worse than the disease.

The fact is that as between public ownership of an asset and the fictional "privatization" of that asset, I think public ownership is superior (again, if the choice is between public ownership and actual private ownership in a free market, then the free market wins hands down). At least where a service is entirely provided by the public sector, you know who to blame (and how to blame them) when things go wrong. In a representative democracy, this can be a non-trivial power. But when that service is provided by the private sector on behalf of the public sector, the question of who to blame and how becomes much more muddled....and frequently I suspect that's the point.

So as far as libertarian blind spots go, the belief in the private sector is often the "four legs good, two legs bad" of large segments of the libertarian movement.

Mark blogs regularly at Publius Endures

Marshall Suggests AP Biased Against Obama

By Brendan Nyhan

In All the President's Spin, we wrote about how liberals were increasingly adopting conservative tactics. The latest example: Josh Marshall saying the "Associated Press officially endorses McCain" (to which he added "Well, pretty much") for running a negative story about Barack Obama.

The article itself is less than ideal -- it's an example of the genre of campaign story in which the reporter says one candidate is "dogged" by accusations and then repeats all of them in a less-than-critical way, implicitly giving credence to them. But surely there's a more constructive response than suggesting the AP is biased against Obama, which apes the standard conservative tactic of blaming all negative stories on liberal media bias.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

The Truth About ACORN

By Betsy Newmark

ACORN is a nonprofit group whose goal is to register new voters and other activism efforts to help low income groups. Ostensibly. Mostly it is a leftist organization that wishes to put more liberal politicians in office. It has been involved in several voter registration scandals for its loose system that actually encourages phony registration because they pay low income people per person registered which provides those workers to submit phony names. Most recently it was involved in the biggest case ever of voter registration fraud in Washington state. While ACORN and the Washington prosecutors deny that ACORN officials were directly involved, their system of pay per registration only encourages such fraud. John Fund reported on this last year.

But the most interesting news came out of Seattle, where on Thursday local prosecutors indicted seven workers for Acorn, a union-backed activist group that last year registered more than 540,000 low-income and minority voters nationwide and deployed more than 4,000 get-out-the-vote workers. The Acorn defendants stand accused of submitting phony forms in what Secretary of State Sam Reed says is the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.

The list of "voters" registered in Washington state included former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, New York Times columnists Frank Rich and Tom Friedman, actress Katie Holmes and nonexistent people with nonsensical names such as Stormi Bays and Fruto Boy. The addresses used for the fake names were local homeless shelters. Given that the state doesn't require the showing of any identification before voting, it is entirely possible people could have illegally voted using those names.

Local officials refused to accept the registrations because they had been delivered after last year's Oct. 7 registration deadline. Initially, Acorn officials demanded the registrations be accepted and threatened to sue King County (Seattle) officials if they were tossed out. But just after four Acorn registration workers were indicted in Kansas City, Mo., on similar charges of fraud, the group reversed its position and said the registrations should be rejected. But by then, local election workers had had a reason to carefully scrutinize the forms and uncovered the fraud. Of the 1,805 names submitted by Acorn, only nine have been confirmed as valid, and another 34 are still being investigated. The rest--over 97%--were fake.

All this fraud was hard work.

To boost their output, the defendants allegedly went to the downtown Seattle Public Library, where they filled out voter-registration forms using names they made up or found in phone books, newspapers and baby-naming books.

One defendant "said it was hard work making up all those cards," and another "said he would often sit at home, smoke marijuana and fill out cards," according to a probable-cause statement written by King County sheriff's Detective Christopher Johnson.

Yup, fraud can be tough work.

Fraud seems to be the byword at ACORN. The New York Times recently reported on how the brother of ACORN's founder embezzled nearly a million dollars from the organization. While any organization can mistakenly hire a bad seed who looks at the organization as a source of illegal funds, what is disturbing about ACORN is the way they handled it. They knew about the corruption, but covered it up.

Acorn chose to treat the embezzlement of nearly $1 million eight years ago as an internal matter and did not even notify its board. After Points of Light noticed financial irregularities in early June, it took less than a month for management to alert federal prosecutors, although group officials say they have no clear idea yet what the financial impact may be.

A whistle-blower forced Acorn to disclose the embezzlement, which involved the brother of the organization's founder, Wade Rathke.

The brother, Dale Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000, Acorn officials said, but a small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group's board members and not to alert law enforcement.

Dale Rathke remained on Acorn's payroll until a month ago, when disclosure of his theft by foundations and other donors forced the organization to dismiss him.

"We thought it best at the time to protect the organization, as well as to get the funds back into the organization, to deal with it in-house," said Maude Hurd, president of Acorn. "It was a judgment call at the time, and looking back, people can agree or disagree with it, but we did what we thought was right."

The amount Dale Rathke embezzled, $948,607.50, was carried as a loan on the books of Citizens Consulting Inc., which provides bookkeeping, accounting and other financial management services to Acorn and many of its affiliated entities.

Wade Rathke said the organization had signed a restitution agreement with his brother in which his family agreed to repay the amount embezzled in exchange for confidentiality.

Wade Rathke stepped down as Acorn's chief organizer on June 2, the same day his brother left, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International L.L.C.

He said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a "weapon" into the hands of enemies of Acorn, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to its often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers.

Can you imagine if a conservative group hushed up such an embezzlement and didn't inform donors until the whole thing came out and still kept the embezzler, the brother, and those who knew about it on the payroll or the board?

The New York Post reminds us of why conservatives have criticized ACORN, most of which information the New York Times didn't seem fit to include to explain why conservatives have long been critical of ACORN.

ACORN has been implicated in similar schemes in 14 other states - including Ohio, where a worker traded crack cocaine for fraudulent registrations.

Back in the '80s and '90s, ACORN's tactics included trespassing, illegal seizure of private property, physical harassment, intimidation and outright extortion.

For example, in 1985, ACORN illegally seized 25 abandoned buildings owned by New York City and installed squatters as residents. A weak-kneed City Hall eventually gave the group title to the buildings - proving that crime can pay.

Amazingly, a large chunk of ACORN's budget is provided by taxpayers.

Much of the rest comes from gullible foundations and groups like the United Federation of Teachers - which has partnered up with ACORN in efforts to kill Mayor Bloomberg's school reform.

Michelle Malkin recently reported on how the federal government is funding this organization. Barack Obama worked closely with ACORN when he was in Chicago and he sent money their way when he served on the board of the Woods Foundation and ACORN is, of course, supporting his candidacy. It's all very cozy. But it's about time for the federal government and ACORN's donors to rethink their support of this organization.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

The Myth of the Moderate - Why the "Political Center" is Meaningless

By Mark Thompson

There has been much discussion of late regarding Obama's long-awaited "move to the center," (essentially his break from his party's so-called "base") as well as to a lesser extent McCain's tilt right on various other issues. Most notably of course has been Andrew Sullivan's praise of Obama's position shifts.

The implication is that this is smart politics by Obama because in so doing, he is seeking to increase his appeal amongst so-called "moderate" or "centrist" voters who are allegedly unaffiliated with either party, or are at least more independent-minded than more ideological voters. The problem is that this argument, which is so often taken for granted in the press and by many people who should know better, has very little basis in reality. At its base, this conventional wisdom assumes a one-dimensional politics in which we are all just varying degrees of liberal and conservative and/or Democrat and Republican. Under this view, American politics consists of exactly three factions, with a couple of radical extremists on the fringes: center-left Democrats, center-right Republicans, and moderate independents. By "moving to the center" a politician in theory succeeds in getting more votes by expanding the portion of the spectrum willing to vote for him, or at least unwilling to vote for the other guy.

But this ignores political reality: independents and "moderates" or "centrists" are two very different things. For instance, libertarians and populist Lou Dobbs supporters would both be smack dab in the middle of any linear conception of politics - these days, both are about equally likely to support the Dems as they are the Republicans on any given issue, and neither could be remotely consider "moderate." But the views of libertarians and populists are almost completely opposite to each other. This is equally true of many - probably even most - of the other groups in the so-called "center." By "moving to the center," a politician isn't necessarily winning over the support of many of those groups, and may even wind up hurting his standing with a majority of those groups.

When pressed, I suspect many of the advocates of this conventional wisdom would concede that a linear conception of politics is worthless (except as a measure of a politician's level of partisanship - but that is a different issue entirely), and would instead turn to something akin to the Political Compass or the Nolan Chart. To be sure, this two-dimensional view of the political spectrum is much more useful - but it still has plenty of limitations since it fails to account for views on international relations, provides only a minimal measurement of intensity of political beliefs, and tell us nothing about a person or group's actual positions on specific issues - ie, someone who opposes gay rights but favors gun rights can score precisely the same on the Authoritarian/Libertarian axis as someone who favors gay rights but opposes gun rights. Despite these limitations, the two-dimensional view is enough of an improvement that it can provide a better understanding of the political spectrum - but only if you understand these limitations. The problem is that too many of even those who prefer the two-dimensional view of the political spectrum fail to understand these limitations.

The result is that the two-dimensional Political Compass is used to justify a view that is only minimally different from the linear view of the spectrum. In essence, the Political Compass (and related grids) is used to conceptualize the political parties as falling in either the top right quadrant (Republicans) or the bottom left quadrant (Democrats) of the American political spectrum (which itself falls primarily within the upper right quadrant of the global political spectrum). Under this conception, "moving to the center" is still logical because it positions a politician closest on the political spectrum to the maximum number of people. Unfortunately, there are some major problems with this view:

1. It assumes that people in the same area of the grid have similar views on any given issue, and that the "center" specifically is essentially monolithic - but as I noted above, this is simply not the case. Therefore, by "moving to the center" on a given issue, a politician might - and often does - wind up alienating many of the very voters he is trying to reach (some of whom may have been in his camp already on the strength of the politician's original stand on the issue). Think of the so-called "Obamacans," many of whom support Obama because of their anger at the GOP on civil liberties issues, and who would certainly fall close to the center of the average Political Compass - by abandoning those positions, Obama may be sacrificing this group's support just as he seeks to gain it since it may effectively remove the issue as a primary motivation to support Obama.

2. It assumes that the Democrats fall squarely in the bottom left quadrant and the Republicans in the top right quadrant, and mainstream independents in a separate block in the center for the parties to fight over. Put another way - it makes the assumption that political parties have coherent ideologies when, as I have said repeatedly, they are really just coalitions of various interest groups. In fact, the rank and file of these interest groups (as opposed to their leadership, which often consists primarily of party hacks whose views are on average indistinguishable from the group's preferred political party's leadership) tend to have views that deviate wildly from the party's established norms - they just tend to vote for that party because it happens to be better for them on their most important issue(s). If the membership's most important issue(s) change, then their support of a given coalition/political party may change as well.

3. It assumes that all issues are created equally for all voters/interest groups, and does not account for the relative weight that a voter/interest group will give to an issue. This is particularly important because "moving to the center" usually involves making one's views appear less "extreme" and more "moderate." The problem is that people with "moderate" views on an issue are extremely unlikely to vote on that issue. So "moving to the center" accomplishes little to nothing in terms of gaining votes. It may, however, drive down turnout as it forces voters to feel like they have little choice in the election.

This isn't to say that flip-flopping or moderating one's position on an issue is always a bad idea - just that it is frequently not a particularly good idea. In Obama's case, his capitulation on FISA, and his shift rightward on Iraq have significantly reduced two of the main reasons he was getting a tremendous amount of support from traditionally Republican-voting libertarians; to be sure, I expect he will still do better than McCain amongst libertarians, but I also expect that his moves on these issues will drive down libertarian turnout and/or force more libertarians to Bob Barr. So by "moving to the center," Obama may have actually hurt his position with a good number of independents - which is precisely the opposite of the conventional wisdom that arises out of the one and two-dimensional understanding of the political spectrum.

The bottom line, as I have written and suggested many times before, is that the Dem and Republican party establishments don't fit neatly into any ideological divide because ultimately they only represent the top priority issues of their constituent interest group/coalition members at any given time, often under the umbrella of one or two primary priority issues about which most or all coalition members are highly motivated. But when push comes to shove, the rank and file members of any given interest group are individuals whose loyalty to a political party only goes so far as that party can represent their top priority issue(s). Although we consider these groups to be either "conservative" or "liberal" based on whether they are most commonly associated with Democrats or Republicans, the fact is that this is a tremendous oversimplification- many political beliefs of so-called "neo-conservatives" are both economically "liberal" (as that word is used today) and deeply unconservative to the extent they wish to pursue an activist foreign policy; similarly the social policy views of many union members and "blue collar" workers are often quite at odds with Dem Party orthodoxy. In reality, true philosophical "conservatives" and "liberals" are difficult to find; instead, these words usually represent nothing more than the existing conventional wisdom of a given political coalition's rank-and-file.

Similarly, political "moderates," "centrists," and "independents" are not a monolithic group. While many may well vote for a candidate they think is a maverick from their party's orthodoxy, the fact is that this group of voters does not have their own platform - the individuals within this oft-cited block of voters simply do not have a unifying issue on which you can say a politician's "move to the center" is necessarily likely to bring many of these voters into the politician's fold. The only real difference between "independents" and partisan voters is that independents don't belong to a group that is firmly entrenched in one of the major party's coalitions. Put another way - independents are largely people whose primary issues of concern are poorly represented by both parties, and so they are forced to vote on issues of lesser importance to them. As such, the way to capture the "center" (if we define independents as the "center") is for a politician to hit on the issue or issues that are most important to these groups. Rarely will an attempt to blur the distinctions between a politician and his opponent accomplish this - if the independent really preferred the opponent's position to begin with, then that independent is either already voting on the basis of that issue (in which case he has no incentive to vote for the flip-flopping candidate, whose position is by definition simply weaker than the opponent's position), or has already decided that the issue is not important enough to form the basis for his/her vote (in which case flip-flopping accomplishes nothing).

All of which is an extremely long way of saying that the so-called "political center" is a myth, at least in the sense of being a group worth pandering to. Indeed, I would even argue that pandering to the "political center" - by both parties - has major potential long-term consequences that result in the country as a whole moving in a less centrist, and more statist direction. But alas that is a story for another time.

Mark blogs regularly at Publius Endures

Is the Senate Broken?

By Betsy Newmark

Norm Ornstein details how more and more maneuvers are being used to block action in the Senate. It's more than just the filibusters. An individual Senator can place a hold on a bill or a nomination and thus block action.

So what is different now? For one thing, everybody is an obstructionist in today's Senate, thanks to the dramatically expanded and different role of the hold. What is a hold? It is an informal procedure--nowhere mentioned in Senate rules--where an individual senator notifies the body's leaders that he or she will hold up a bill or nomination by denying unanimous consent to allow it to move forward. The hold was originally employed simply as a courtesy--a way to delay action for a week or two if a lawmaker had a scheduling conflict or needed time to muster arguments for debate. But over the past 30 years, it has morphed into a process where any individual can block something or someone indefinitely or permanently--and often anonymously. Now, at any given time, there are dozens of holds on nominees for executive positions and judgeships, and on bills. Of course, bills can be brought up even if there is not unanimous consent, but to do so is cumbersome and often requires 60, rather than 50, votes to proceed.

Read the rest of Ornstein's article about the expanded use of the filibuster for ordinary bills and not just a tactic that the minority resorts to in rare instances.

But after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the filibuster began to change as Senate leaders tried to make their colleagues' lives easier and move the agenda along; no longer would there be days or weeks of round-the-clock sessions, but instead simple votes periodically on cloture motions to get to the number to break the log-jam, while other business carried on as usual.

As so often happens, the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned move took over; instead of expediting business, the change in practice meant an increase in filibusters because it became so much easier to raise the bar to 60 or more, with no 12- or 24-hour marathon speeches required.

Still, formal filibuster actions--meaning actual cloture motions to shut off debate--remained relatively rare. Often, Senate leaders would either find ways to accommodate objections or quietly shelve bills or nominations that would have trouble getting to 60. In the 1970s, the average number of cloture motions filed in a given month was less than two; it moved to around three a month in the 1990s. This Congress, we are on track for two or more a week. The number of cloture motions filed in 1993, the first year of the Clinton presidency, was 20. It was 21 in 1995, the first year of the newly Republican Senate. As of the end of the first session of the 110th Congress, there were 60 cloture motions, nearing an all-time record.

This is a bipartisan problem. When a party is in the minority they resort to these tactics and as each party expands their use, the other party is taking notes and getting ready for their time in the minority. The Democrats perfected these maneuvers when they were in the minority and the Republicans have picked up where they left off. If the Democrats were to return to the minority, it would be the same story.

We have gotten to the point that it takes 60 votes now to pass most bills. You could argue that this is not all bad and necessitates each party to move to the center to pick up votes from the other side.

Since the Constitution gives each House the power to make their own rules, there is no way to change these shenanigans unless the Senators themselves agreed to limit the power of the minority. And there really seems no hope that either party would vote for such limitations because they each want to be able to use those powers when they are in the minority. So don't expect this to change anytime soon.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

The Real Reason Republicans Are Backing Obama?

By Justin Gardner

They're not Obamacans, they're Obamacons...and they're pissed at George W.

From SF Gate:

[...] the Iraq war and President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" that led to an expansion of government have ruptured the coalition. Many conservatives are aghast at the rise in spending and debt under the Bush administration, its expansion of executive power, and what they see as a trampling of civil liberties and a taste for empire.

"I do know libertarians who think Obama is the Antichrist, that he's farther left than John Kerry, much farther left than Bill Clinton, and you'd clearly have to be insane to vote for this guy," said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "But there are libertarians who say, 'Oh yeah? Do you think Obama will increase spending by $1 trillion, because that's what Republicans did over the past two presidential terms. So really, how much worse can he be?' And there are certainly libertarians who think Obama will be better on the war and on foreign policy, on executive power and on surveillance than McCain."

So what is it about Obama that some Obamacons do seem to trust?

As I've said in the past, tone matters and Obama can often be one of the best at setting the right kind when talking to philosophical opponents:

Many conservatives and their brethren, the free-market, socially liberal libertarians, are deeply skeptical of Obama's rhetorical flirtations with free-market ideas and view his policies as orthodox liberalism. Yet one measure of their rupture with the GOP is their open disregard for Republican nominee John McCain and their now almost-wistful view of a president the Republicans tried to impeach.

"When he leaves the room, everybody thinks he just agreed with them," Greve said of Obama. "We don't know if you're really buying a pig in a poke here. It could be the second coming of the Clinton administration. If people have any confidence in that, I think a whole lot of conservatives would vote for him."

Will they? I think so. After talking with many Republicans who just can't or won't get excited about McCain, they're willing to give somebody like Obama, a guy who seems reasonable, a chance. And let's be clear...we're not talking about a massive party swing here. That's not needed for him to win big. More like a 10% shift and you're starting to get into landslide territory.

We shall see...

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

How to Fool Colombian Guerrillas

By Betsy Newmark

The story of the rescue of the hostages being held in Colombia is just wonderful. Kudos to the Colombian government for a well-executed deception of the FARC terrorists to make them think that an order had come from their leaders to release the hostages and that a helicopter had been sent to transport them. And how do you convince a bunch of terrorist guerrillas that national soldiers are really other guerillas? Well, you just have to don their recognized costume!

Yesterday, two white helicopters arrived in a jungle clearing where the hostages were being held. The men in the helicopters looked like guerrillas, Betancourt later said, describing details of the rescue at the military airport.

"Absolutely surreal," she said, noting that some of the men who got off the helicopter wore T-shirts emblazoned with the iconic image of the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. "I thought this was the FARC," she said.

Their hands bound, the hostages were forced aboard the helicopters, wondering where they would be taken next in their long ordeal. But once aboard, Betancourt said, Cesar and another guerrilla were overpowered and the crewmen announced that the passengers were now free. "The chief of the operation said: 'We're the national army. You're free,' " she said. "The helicopter almost fell from the sky because we were jumping up and down, yelling, crying, hugging one another. We couldn't believe it."

How sublime that the government was able to free the hostages by donning the FARC garb - Che Guevara T-shirts. I guess that is the standard guerrilla uniform.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page