The boy in the bubble ...


The self-evident stupidity of American politics can be almost as hard to stomach as it is to understand, but yes, it's possible the worst president in American history will be followed by one who embraces that legacy because Barack Obama said something that was inarguably true in San Francisco last week. The weird, almost supernatural power of the word "elitist" when used by elitists is the topic of the excerpt from Why We're Liberals that published in The Nation last week, and you can read it here. (Of course, the idea is still to get you to buy the book.)

Thing is, this silly issue was hatched and ready to sprout wings long before Obama made his easily manipulated and exploitable remarks, and not just by the morons on cable TV and talk radio. Look at the subhead of the profile of Obama in the current Newsweek: "Obama says he knows the globe better than his rivals. Does he know it too well?" Is it not a pathetic comment on this country's politics to ask if a presidential candidate knows the world "too well?" We all know what it means, and yet ... reels the mind, particularly since one of its authors is a Brit and one is the author of a book on foreign policy.

Now look at the evidence:

This supposedly unique sense of empathy, however, could easily remind some people of Bill Clinton's propensity for "feeling their pain" -- and it opens Obama up to charges of naiveté. "It is a danger," says biographer David Mendell, the Chicago Tribune reporter who wrote "Obama: From Promise to Power." "He believes that he can turn anybody to his side. His former Senate campaign manager says Obama thinks he can go into a room full of skinheads and come out with all their votes. But some people just aren't going to be won over." Obama was harshly criticized after he declared, during a debate last year, that he would sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without setting preconditions. The Bush administration and McCain have declared they would not do so at least until Tehran stops enriching uranium, and even Clinton has criticized Obama's stance. The candidate still insists that a major power like Iran must be engaged. But he's now careful to inject a note of realism into his position, telling NEWSWEEK last week that "it wouldn't make sense for us to negotiate or even have discussions with Iran probably when they are in the midst of a political season." (Iran's presidential elections are in 2009.)

Well, yes, Obama was "harshly criticized"; after all, the guy is running for president. It's the job of the people who want to beat him to do that. Does anyone actually give a reason why he should be, however? Oh, never mind. One side, the other side, with nary a thought to separate them.

It continues:

Even some Dems who'd favor him in any contest against McCain also worry that Obama is overplaying his experience. "I don't know whether he's drinking his own Kool-Aid," says a former senior member of the Clinton administration who is not backing either Democratic candidate but would talk only on condition of anonymity because of his private-sector job. "I'm all for talking to the Cubans, or to the Iranians. I'm just not sure he's the guy to do it. The biggest administrative job he ever had was collecting articles for the Harvard Law Review."

Hey, wait a minute. The only quote here is a former Clinton administration official who refuses to give his name or his position who says he is "not sure Obama is the one to do it." That's it? Again, no evidence? No argument? Not even a name? They call this journalism? And remember, this is Newsweek -- they are supposed to set a standard. It makes one feel hopeless about both journalism and democracy.

See this story yesterday? The rabbi and his wife were killed in a house fire apparently started by a lightning bolt from the sky. Do any of you folks who are always insisting that God intervenes in the daily lives of those of us on Earth want to offer an explanation of what's going on here?

Maybe Joe Lieberman can explain. Embracing Bill Kristol's arguments, he's wondering if Obama is a commie:

On the Brian and the Judge radio show today, Fox News' senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asked Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) if Obama is "a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case?"

"I must say that's a good question," replied Lieberman, before stepping back to say that he would "hesitate to say he's a Marxist[.]"

George Zornick writes:

We mentioned last week that, after its long vacation from the topic of Iraq, Nightline was returning to the subject with an hour-long interview of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, on the Army's pre-set terms. So how did it go? Well, let's be charitable and say, not terribly well.

Terry Moran, who conducted the hour-long sit-down, did gently prod the two officials on how long, in years, they think we need to stay in Iraq; what the country will look like, best-case, once the U.S. leaves; the recent news of violence in the Green Zone; the basic failure of the recent clash in Basra; and the heavy burden placed on a very small number of American citizens being called to fight in Iraq. But the prodding was, to be sure, gentle, without much follow-up.

Moran also pulled sleights of hand like this:

MORAN: Here's a figure that may come as a surprise to you. A majority of Iraqis now say their lives are going well, and 60 percent say local security is good. That's according to the latest Where Things Stand poll, conducted by ABC News, the BBC and others. Well, this new-found comfort level is a product of several factors, including the U.S. troop surge.

First, I doubt this bit of good PR came as a surprise to the two officials chosen to promote the president's policy to Congress and the media. But second, a quick Google search will lead you to the poll in question. It's true what Moran says, that a (narrow) majority of Iraqis, 55 percent, say their own life is going well. But here's the important context Moran didn't include -- this number still doesn't bring that confidence indicator anywhere near pre-2007, pre-surge levels, something the ABC poll is careful to note. In November 2005, the number of Iraqis who said their own lives were going well was 71 percent. It plummeted to 39 percent in March and November 2007, when 70 percent of Iraqis said the surge "worsened rather than improved security." Yes, mentioning the recent uptick is worthwhile, but in trying to evaluate the overall success of the surge here, shouldn't Moran have noted that on balance, it still hasn't actually improved the lives of Iraqis?

When we wrote about jailed AP photographer Bilal Hussein yesterday, it was in reference to whether the United States was going to follow an Iraqi court's order and release him. Good news: they will. Remember, though, the problem isn't solved -- according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "Hussein's detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last four years, dozens of journalists -- mostly Iraqis -- have been detained by U.S. troops ... some for weeks or months."

Alter-reviews: Paul Simon, Under African Skies at BAM by Eric

Part II of Simon's residency at BAM focused on his African and Latin music and featured David Byrne, Kaïssa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Vusi Mahlasela, Luciana Souza, Cyro Baptista, and much more. Paul Simon then did his first show, "Songs from the Capeman," which may have been a function of the fact that neither Hugh Masekela nor Milton Nascimento were able to attend. Being a much bigger fan of Graceland than Rhythm of the Saints, I found the second part of the show appropriately thrilling and transcendent -- it's amazing that the guy who wrote "Sounds of Silence" and "Duncan" can also write songs that, when performed by David Byrne ("You Can Call Me Al," "I Know What I Know"), sound like Talking Heads songs -- but Simon, of course, can do that and much, much more. One's favorite parts of the concert would, I imagine, depend on one's taste, but Mr. Simon is really a wonder and his music both a balm and boon in our lives. I also liked the part where he endorsed throwing the guy out who wouldn't stop dancing, but perhaps that's just me. Anyway, this was in the big BAM, not the Harvey Theater, but he and these magnificent musicians filled it like nobody's business. Sorry to have to keep bringing this up, people, but this is a great city. Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield MA

Apparently, and unfortunately, your new book is not being read fast enough, because the brouhaha over Obama's "bitter" comments shows Liberals reverting to effete apologetic form. It is not merely that they are hesitant to stand by and for the principle that economic hardship is psychologically and socially corrosive; it is that having the courage of the conviction entails more than fearlessly enunciating the principle in public. The fact of the matter is that those among us who vote against their own self-interest are hurting more than themselves -- they are e.g. inflicting the likes of Bush on the rest of us as well. Liberals need to tell them such truths not out of condescension, or even out of honesty, but out of righteous anger, to help ensure that there is no repeat of what has gotten us into what 81% agree is a real mess.

Name: Megan
Hometown: Seattle

It is amazing to me that Obama can profess to meet with America's enemies but Clinton cannot meet with another American citizen without being called a "whore" ... I don't care WHO you're for, if you can't disagree with a candidate without name-calling perhaps you haven't done all the homework you profess to.

Name: Brian Donohue

I'd like to venture a comment to a baseball-centric blog about another, admittedly corporate but steroid-free, sport. On Sunday, a kid from South Africa accomplished what many golf pundits deemed impossible: he beat a guy who is more indomitable than that other Tiger was in 1968 (Denny McClain, that is).

Yet the MSM has proclaimed it all an "anti-climax" in which "nothing happened." Whatever became of the good old American love for the underdog? This kid Immelman not only played four superb rounds of golf at the site of what is arguably the nastiest test of the game; he also held his nerve in fending off a challenge from the most irresistible force in sports history. But the media yawns: no grand slam this year, another no-name winner at Augusta.

Pandering, it would appear, is not limited to political punditry. So let me add a point that the golf pundits appear to have missed: young Mr. Immelman's got game. Congratulations, kid.

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