Archive: July, 2008
How about this for a deal: I'll stop writing about how John McCain is embarrassing himself when he stops embarrassing himself.
His latest, most personal, assault on Barack Obama is further proof that the so-called "maverick" has trashed his own promise of high-minded discourse, and instead embraced the gut-kicking Bush political template of the past eight years. Indeed, you don't have to be an Obama fan to conclude that the latest assault is juvenile. I say this because a fair number of Republicans - some speaking anonymously to the press, with others, including former McCain aides, speaking on the record - have already judged the assault to be juvenile. Or, as ex-McCain intimate John Weaver prefers to call it, "childish."
The federal indictment of the GOP's longest-serving U.S. senator - on seven felony counts, stemming from his seven-year sweetheart association with an oil-services company - is not merely a severe embarrassment to the minority party on Capitol Hill, a party that had been ousted from power in '06 partly because certain ethics-challenged members had already stained the Republican brand. The bottom line is that Ted Stevens' legal predicament is a gift to the Democrats, who dream of gaining nine Senate seats on election day, thus dominating the chamber next January with a filibuster-proof tally of 60.
That's still a pipe dream. But it can't hurt for the Democrats to have the dean of the Senate GOP serving as a poster boy for sleaze. As the GOP-friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page said this morning, the Stevens indictment - that he repeatedly failed to report, on Senate financial disclosure forms, the sumptuous feathering of his own nest - will surely undercut the party's attempts to minimize its November losses. As the editorial noted with asperity, "Minority parties don't typically defeat a majority when more of their own members are being indicted for corruption."
So let's use this occasion to assess the state of play in the Senate races. To reach the magic 60 on election day, Democrats need to snatch nine seats that are currently held by Republicans. Only 11 seats appear to be competitive, however, and one of those is a vulnerable Democratic incumbent, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. So, in baseball terms, this means the Democrats would have to retain the Landrieu seat and bat .900 on the others. It's hard to imagine that happening, at least in the absence of a pro-Obama tsunami that lifts all boats - and, contrary to the giddiest hopes of Obama's giddiest fans, it's hard to imagine that happening either.
The span of time between candidate George H. W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge, and his subsequent decision as president to break his pledge by supporting new taxes, was approximately two years. John McCain has now managed to violate that same pledge in just 20 days.
Here's the straight-talker's recent track record: Back on July 7, he told an audience: "Barack Obama will raise your taxes. I won't." More specifically, McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said on June 13 that the candidate would refuse to raise the Social Security payroll tax "under any imaginable circumstance."
More generally, McCain told Fox News on March 16 that he would try to cut taxes whenever possible, and never raise them. Host Sean Hannity pressed him on that pledge and asked, "None?" And McCain replied, "None."
As part of my ongoing mission to highlight voter gullibility, today I intend to address several of the virulent cyber-smears currently circulating online about Barack Obama.
I'm referring not to the old lies - that he's supposedly a Muslim (he's not); and that he supposedly refuses to put his hand on his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance (he does what we all do) - but, rather, to a pair of fresher lies.
I had barely begun reading the transcript of Barack Obama's Berlin speech when the alarm bells clanged in my head. Right there, in the second paragraph, was big trouble. Note the italicized phrase. Obama said:
"I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before, although tonight I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen, a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world."
The guy can't even sign a museum guest book without being smeared by the McCain campaign.
I can understand, up to a point, why the McCain campaign is freaked out by Barack Obama's largely flawless foreign foray. One of the presumptive Republican nominee's few advantages in this race is the public perception that he, not Obama, seems more credible as a commander-in-chief, a judgment that owes much to McCain's war hero profile and his long Washington experience. Indeed, the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, which is conducted jointly by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, finds that, by a margin of 53 to 25 percent, Americans choose McCain over Obama as the guy with the best commander creds.
In the interests of a political detente, maybe Barack Obama should admit that he was wrong about the '07 troop surge in Iraq, and John McCain should admit that he was wrong about the '02 decision to invade. But since neither candidate is likely to budge, perhaps the big question for voters should be: In hindsight, whose misjudgment was worse?
On his global tour, Obama has employed all sorts of artful verbal constructs in order to avoid addressing his previous pessimism about the troop hike. (Obama in January '07: "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse." Obama in July '07: "The surge has not worked." And Obama in November '07: "We're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.") For instance, while he told CBS News the other night that, yes, "our U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction in violence," he nevertheless parried the question of whether the reduction would have occurred without the surge. He replied, "I have no idea what would have happened...So this is all hypotheticals."
Now that Barack Obama is embarked on his glitzy global tour, having already won the Nuri al-Maliki primary, the McCain people are quite unhappy with their predicament. During all those weeks when they were baiting Obama as a rookie with scant war-zone exposure, they apparently never figured out that, if Obama did go, he would surely garner an outsize share of public attention. So now, until Obama returns home, they're stuck with the onerous challenge of competing for the spotlight.
Thus far, they have been reduced to bitter fuming (aide Mark Salter said yesterday, "'The One' went to Europe, and homage must be paid"); ahistorical sputtering (McCain said yesterday that Obama has "no military experience whatsover," conveniently forgetting that Ronald Reagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson didn't have any, either); and fact-free huckstering (a new McCain TV ad blames Obama for "rising prices at the pump," even though, in the world of factual reality, gas prices have been on the rise for 10 years, sparked largely by competing consumer demand in countries such as China and India - and besides, even if one is to accept the erroneous premise that U.S. senators control gas prices, hasn't McCain been a senator 18 years longer than Obama?).