State of the Union

McClellan Madness

As the blogosphere’s commentary on former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s new book slows a bit, it seems that amongst conservative bloggers two opinions have developed on the integrity of McClellan’s work. In one camp is the majority of “movement conservatives” that feel this book can be written off as the work of a backstabbing, disgruntled employee who, due to his piteous stature when speaking to the Press Corps, is not worth a second look. A writer over at Red State, commenting on a smiling photo of McClellan with Bush in the eloquently titled “When You Suck at Your Job, Quit and Write a Book Ripping Your Old Boss Who Stuck With You,” writes:

Here we find Scott McClellan shaking hands with the President as he leaves his post back in November 2007. I can’t help but wonder if that smile on his sorry face was hiding thoughts of the book advance he had coming once he signed on to rip his former boss..in the name of a couple bucks and a shot at rewriting his sorry history as Press Secretary.

He was no Ari Fleischer, but Bush stuck with him…until, apparently, he got the book deal. What a scumbag.

Another common attack, this time from Kathryn Jean Lopez on The Corner:

The question: Is he a liar then or now? He should have resigned in protest if he thought Bush was the liar and dolt he claims he was. What a disgrace this kind of book is.

On the other side of the argument sits an admittedly small group of reasonable conservatives–a few of them pro-war–who feel that McClellan’s poor performance in front of the media matters little when considering the fact that he was an arbiter of pro-war propaganda during a most-contentious time in history.

Ramesh Ponnuru partially attempts to defend McClellan with the following:

He should probably have waited a year before publishing his book. But I don’t agree with two of the criticisms of him I’ve been reading today.

Yes, he was an unimpressive press secretary. But I wouldn’t say it quite as dismissively as people are doing. It’s an extremely difficult job, one I certainly wouldn’t be up to.

I also wonder if the people who are now saying that he should have spoken out at the time instead of waiting until he had left office would really have patted him on the back had he taken that advice. Would they really be saying, “Good for him for speaking up now and not waiting for a few years”? Or would they be saying that he was failing to do the job the president had appointed him to do, and that he should speak out on his own time?

Color me unimpressed by both sides. Other than possible revelations about Bush’s cocaine use, McClellan reveals information that is for the most part already widely understood by most Americans. That the administration exaggerated claims about WMDs, ignored intelligence that ran contrary to their ambitions, and was run by a President possessing a dangerous brand of hubris, are all revelations of the past 7 years, not the past 7 hours.

Far be it for me to criticize a man who held a job more difficult than I ever hope to hold, but it is probably correct to say that McClellan’s written words will be looked upon with significantly less importance than his spoken words were when he held his former position. Too bad for him, and for us.

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Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar

Michelle Malkin is officially insane. Her latest crusade is against a Dunkin Donuts ad (now yanked) in which she sees Rachel Ray wearing an Arab Keffiyeh. A little Dhimmitude with your glazed madam?

Of course, sane people see what the Boston Globe reported. “Said the suits in a statement: ‘’In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by her stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial.’”(emphasis added)

Malkin is joined in her delusion by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs and Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugged live in Malkin’s fantasy world. It’s just a scarf people.

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The Present Mets

Reyes

On assignment in the “Land of Steady Habits,” I’ve been watching my New York Mets during a period in which they’ve lost seven of their last nine. Let’s just say that when you have an underachieving team in the Big Apple, the temperature rises quickly. Two weeks ago, after a tough loss, closer Billy Wagner lashed out in the direction of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado’s lockers, yelling “Can somebody tell me why the closer’s being interviewed and I didn’t even play?…Why they’re over there not getting interviewed? I get it. They’re gone. Shocker.” And last week Willie Randolph wondered aloud whether the portrayal of him as an aloof do-nothing manager has something to do with his race. Of course it did. (What was “stoic” for Joe Torre is “passionless” for Randolph.) He was scourged from pillar to Post for broaching the subject.

And the sports media isn’t much of a help. At night Steve Somers (his show is a treasure) begs the media-darling third baseman David Wright to “step up” and lead the club. In the morning on 1050 ESPNradio, Max Kellerman insists that “there is no racial divide in the clubhouse” and recommends the team hire Barry Bonds.*

Finally, one New York sportswriter had the courage to join the conversation Mets fans were already having. Writing in the New York Post, Larry Brooks used hockey as an example for talking about ethnic divisions on teams.

You better believe the question is asked every day around NHL front offices:Do we have too many Europeans? In Detroit, the answer is no. You better believe the question was asked by the Rangers when they collapsed late in 2005-06: Do we have too many Czechs?

Those posing the questions aren’t necessarily bigoted. They’re simply covering the bases in attempting to apply common sense to a complex equation in which two dozen men of disparate backgrounds must live and work together over eight months in order to achieve a common goal.

Brooks turns to the Mets:

…what’s the impact of having a roster dominated by players of Hispanic origin, but having the minority of English-as-first-language players speak for the team? Do we have an accurate assessment of the Mets when they are viewed through the prism of David Wright and Billy Wagner rather than through the eyes and reflections of Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Jose Reyes?

Is it our fault – the fault of the predominantly English-speaking press covering the team, that is – that Wright and Wagner (with Paul Lo Duca and Tom Glavine having departed over the winter and Cliff Floyd having left a year earlier) have become the go-to guys in the clubhouse for the daily temperature taking of the team?

Read More…

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Rogues Gallery

It’s the sort of news that puts Michael Gerson in the mood to (compassionately) attack somebody. Today’s column opens:

‘Things on the ground,’ e-mailed a friend from groaning Zimbabwe, ‘are absolutely shocking—systematic violence, abductions, brutal murders. Hundreds of activists hospitalized, indeed starting to go possibly into the thousands.’ The military, he says, is ‘going village by village with lists of MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] activists, identifying them and then either abducting them or beating them to a pulp…’

It’s a desperate scene to be sure, but he isn’t going after groaning Zimbabwe. He’s gunning for neighboring South Africa for having the gall to tell the U.S. not to interfere in its region. “’[President Thabo Mbeki] said it was not our business,’ recalls one American official, and ‘to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.’” Imagine!

This isn’t the first infraction. Gerson tallies a long list of symbolic trespasses: blocking human-rights discussions in the UN, voting against a resolution demanding that the Burmese junta stop ethnic cleaning and another denouncing rape in Darfur, and “demand[ing] watered down language” in the resolution condemning Iranian nuclear proliferation. At the root of South Africa’s sins against bureaucracy, he sees a predisposition to “quiet diplomacy with dictators instead of confrontation.” We can’t have that.

Thus a new designation—“rogue democracy”—and another nifty axis: “Along with China and Russia, South Africa makes the United Nations impotent. Along with Saudi Arabia and Sudan, it undermines the global human rights movements.” Try that on for size. Democracy isn’t enough anymore; any nation that doesn’t concede American global hegemony and adopt universal values as we define them is on notice. And we all know how that story turns out. We don’t do “quiet diplomacy with dictators.”

But why should South Africa stand in as our surrogate bully? Much as we may dislike Mbeki’s deference to Mugabe, it’s scarcely illogical. And “apparent indifference to all rights but their own” is a reasonable posture for an emerging nation. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for a more established one that seems to have trouble defining its boundaries.

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Day of reckoning

28quake-ledeinline-650.jpg

I would think millions were moved by Shiho Fukada’s photo above, printed on the front page of the New York Times. The kneeling man is a Chinese Communist Party official, pleading with parents who have lost their children in the earthquake to stop their protest march. Thousands of kids are dead, in most cases their parents’ only children. The quake collapsed their schools while government buildings right next door stood firm. Who were the officials who cut corners to allow shoddy construction? Judging from the response, evident in this photograph, and reported in the accompanying stories, the government is very worried.

We know China is a dictatorship, and America is a democracy. But isn’t it a little confusing that when Chinese officials screw up, there will be some real accountability? At the end of this some provincial officials who took bribes to grease the building of shoddy schools and dormitories will hang. And by contrast, we have our Iraq War architects: Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, Rumsfeld enjoying his millions, and Doug Feith holding forth on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Cheney and Bush going on to fancy GOP sinecures, Bill Kristol awarded a column at the Times. The “fellows” at AEI and the liberal hawks at Carnegie and Brookings still getting money streamed at them.

In his classroom, Fritz Stern once told me (quoting someone else, I think) that history is not a moral gymnasium where virtue is rewarded. But we do like to think that in a democratic system there is some reward for doing the right thing, some punishment for wrong doing. In America, we have yet to have our reckoning over Iraq.

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On Buscheney and Webbama

Larison wrote:

Choosing Webb is another way of saying, “Yes, Democrats must have a military veteran with culturally conservative attitudes on their ticket in order to demonstrate their fidelity to the United States, which is otherwise suspect.” Selecting Webb and selecting him specifically because of what he represents, rather than what he can do, accepts the judgement that Obama’s patriotism and American-ness need bolstering. This has the risk of being every bit as self-defeating and embarrassing as John Kerry’s “reporting for duty” moment at the national convention.

Antle asks:

By the way, pre-Cheney didn’t major parties always pick their running mates on the basis of what they represented or could at least deliver electorally rather than what they could do?

The answer is: Yes!

And Bush selected Cheney because he represented that chunk of the American population that were not recovering alcoholics, who read books from time to time, who were curious about the world, and who were not manipulated and controlled by strong personalities… The message Bush was sending: “Well, I know that I’m not qualified to be a president. But I’m selecting a VP who is.” And it worked.

In any case, on a theoretical level it makes sense for Obama to choose Webb (for all the reasons that have been mentioned). But it’s also risky (personality, “baggage,” etc.)

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Webb as a VP Prospect

Larison and Antle debate the wisdom of Obama selecting Virginia Sen. James Webb as his running mate. I’m a Webb enthusiast (and voter) myself, and if he were on the ticket, I might vote for it. But not enough has been said so far about the senator’s deficiencies as a politician and campaigner. He has a great resume, but that’s not enough to guarantee that blue-collar white voters in Ohio and West Virginia — most of whom have never heard of Webb — will vote for him. Webb’s appeal to the working class is the whole rationale for picking him. But how would Webb sell with voters in general? He’s not charismatic or a rousing speaker, and while he’s one of the smartest individuals in the Senate, he might well come off as brusque or boring in a debate. (Then again, he could seem Cheneyesque — for once, I mean that in a good way — in a vice presidential debate against a younger opponent with a lighter resume.)

Webb would be an honorable choice for Obama, but not necessarily the most effective choice. His electoral appeal even in Virginia is not so firmly established: his victory over George Allen was by the slimmest of margins, and hardly anyone expects he would pull the Old Dominion into the Obama camp if he were the Illinois senator’s running mate. Would he really attract blue collar voters in sufficient numbers of compensate for Obama’s weakness with them? I’m skeptical — though I’m also skeptical of whether Obama will be as weak with these voters once the general election campaign gets under way.

Webb could enhance Obama’s post-partisan appeal, however: adding a former Reagan cabinet official to the ticket would only swell the ranks of Obamacans.

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Goldwater Unfiltered

My Reason review of Pure Goldwater, a collection of the late senator’s journals and miscellanea edited by his son, Barry Jr., and John Dean, is now up at their website. Unlike more famous Goldwater books like Conscience of a Conservative, this one is actually the senator’s own words (even though, weirdly enough, the publisher has credited Barry Jr. and Dean as if they were the authors).

This is as good a place as any to plug my review of Daniel J. Flynn’s Conservative History of the American Left, from the American Spectator online, too.

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The Spy Who Loves Us (and Much More)

The June 2 issue of TAC went to press on Thursday and should start showing up in bookstores and subscribers’ mailboxes by the end of the week. The mag includes Phil Giraldi’s cover story on Israel’s intelligence operations in the U.S.; Nick von Hoffman on Ben Bernanke’s impossible task of lowering food and fuel prices while trying to re-inflate the housing market; Nikolas Gvosdev on whether Bush should go to China (for my part, I just wish he wouldn’t come back); Michael Brendan Dougherty on the remarkable predictive powers of political futures markets; an article by yours truly on the philosophical implications of the Republican Congressional primary race in Virginia’s 8th district; Kelley Vlahos on lowered recruiting standards to which the military has had to resort to fill the ranks; plus columns and articles by Howard Anglin, Roger Howard, Daniel Larison, James Pinkerton, and Pat Buchanan; and reviews by Steve Sailer, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Lukacs, and W. James Antle III. All that and Fourteen Days, too!

The American Conservative, June 2, 2008

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Obama Looks West

Maybe he agrees with me that Bob Barr could throw a few quasi-libertarian states his way. Obama is spending time in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado this week, aiming “to lay claim to a region that Obama views as one of his best opportunities to pick off states in November,” reports the Politico.

On the other hand, Daniel Larison is skeptical about Barr’s Western appeal.

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