Peter Suderman poses the question:
If McCain is not a real conservative, then shouldn’t principled conservatives be justified in refusing to vote for him?
They should, but I take Joe Carter’s point, which is more or less the point I have been making for months, that there is not really a conservative argument for a vote for Obama. Anti-McCain arguments are abundant, and this is what almost every Obamacon argument is, because it has to be. As I said yesterday, the most credible pro-Obama argument that can be made is that the GOP must be held accountable and Obama is not McCain, but I still don’t think that is a persuasive case for casting a vote for Obama, much less urging others to do likewise. You have to believe strongly that a McCain Presidency would be an intolerable disaster for our country, but for the most part the people who are most inclined to believe this about him are not the ones going over to Obama. Many have hedged their Obama endorsement with paeans to the “old” McCain whom they once liked and their alleged Obama endorsements are filled with disappointment that McCain has let them down, as if to say, “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.” Pretty clearly, the Obamacon phenomenon is on the whole not really an endorsement of Obama or anything he proposes to do, which is why most of the endorsements coming from the right cannot withstand much scrutiny. That’s the whole point: the Republican ticket is so unappealing to these people that they will vote for its defeat in full knowledge that there is little or nothing to say on behalf of the man they’re electing. That is how complete Republican failure now is. Imagine how much worse it might have been had the Democrats nominated another “centrist” Southerner.
Endorsing Obama is a vote of no confidence in the Republican Party, but in a weird way it is also an expression of what is probably utterly misguided hope that the Republicans will learn from the defeat and adjust to new political realities. It is also a failure of imagination to the extent that Obamacons sometimes rhetorically ask, “How much worse could it get?” It could get much, much worse, and Obama endorsers have put themselves in the odd position of taking on some responsibility for what is to come while having absolutely zero influence, but if it doesn’t bother them I can’t get very worked up about it.
Everyone who is voting Obama to punish the GOP thinks that there is some small chance that the GOP might change its ways. The diversity of views among Obamacons reflects how many different future directions are expected, guaranteeing that many will be disappointed, but it also reflects how badly the GOP has failed on multiple fronts that it is simultaneously losing so many prominent and obscure Catholic pro-lifers, libertarians, foreign policy realists, moderates and small-government conservatives, among others, to a Democratic nominee who genuinely is the most liberal of any they have had since 1972. Under normal circumstances, a vote for Obama ought to be unthinkable for almost all of the people on the right who have endorsed him, but the GOP has failed so badly that it has made the unthinkable mundane and ordinary. It’s reaching a point where the report of another Obamacon endorsement is no more remarkable than when the leaves start falling in autumn. Far more important in the aftermath than coming up with new and amusing ways to mock the Obama endorsers is an effort to understand and remedy the profound failures that made this phenomenon possible before a major realignment does occur.
Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama’s associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks [bold mine-DL]. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate’s free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.
“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.” ~Political Radar
If they’re not negative attacks, what are they? Charming compliments?
Having hidden behind every P.C. shield her defenders could think to set up around her (i.e., criticism of Palin is sexist, elitist, etc.), Palin has now adopted the most extreme victimization pose that equate criticism and news reporting with oppression and violations of her rights. This just seems silly at first and increasingly irrelevant as the election approaches, but since we are being informed on a regular basis that Palin is the future of the Republican Party it seems worthwhile to consider what this remark means. It seems to me that this dresses up contempt for accountability as zeal for free speech, and it remarkably makes the press the enemy of freedom of the press when the press has the gall to report accurately that a candidate is engaging in negative campaigning. There is an old tradition of “working the refs” in political campaigning, and it is actually a bipartisan practice, but here Palin is implying that accurate reporting of a candidate’s activities should be considered illegal. This is an elected public official saying that the press violates politicians’ rights by characterizing negative attacks as negative attacks–just imagine how oppressive it must be when journalists point out that you lie about or distort your record!
Of course, there is nothing necessarily wrong with negative campaigning, which is not the same as making false and dishonest claims about one’s opponent. Palin wants us to identify the two and then wants to claim that she is not engaging in negative campaigning, by which she means to say that she believes she is not launching scurrilous or misleading attacks. Even this latter point is debatable, but it is instructive that Palin’s instinct when confronted with media scrutiny and bad coverage is to wrap herself, the public official, in the First Amendment that is supposed to protect a free press from intimidation by and interference from the government. If that does not worry her admirers, particularly those who are journalists, it should.
Reihan has taken up the thankless task of making the argument for why McCain should be elected. It is an interesting short read, but I think he goes a bit awry when he says this:
The past seven years have been a time of extraordinary tumult in international affairs, and the world badly needs a period of consolidation and sweeping reform. Our diplomatic and economic institutions are ill suited to tackling the diffuse threats posed by climate change, financial contagion, mass epidemics and catastrophic terrorism. Only Nixon could go to China, and only McCain can reconcile conservatives to some of the hard steps the US will have to take [bold mine-DL].
Let us suppose that the “real” McCain has indeed been hidden, perhaps having been locked away in a dungeon (or at Guantanamo!) Man In the Iron Mask-style while his doppelgaenger roams free working his mischief on the campaign trail. After the election, the double will be slapped back into chains and the “real” McCain will emerge to govern, and perhaps at that point the “real” McCain’s real VP selection will also be presented to us. Regardless, this is the same “real” McCain conservatives cannot stand. They support him primarily because of his hawkishness and his embrace of the war in Iraq, but their enthusiasm for him becomes even more tepid each time he mentions climate change, to take one issue where he commands no loyalty from the right. Should he pursue the kind of institution-building agenda that I think Reihan has in mind, which will include more than a little international institution-building, he would run straight into a brick wall of opposition from the same populist and nationalist forces that rebelled against Bush the Elder in the early ’90s. The reason why it was claimed that only Nixon could go to China, as I’m sure Reihan knows, was that he was a zealous anticommunist throughout his career, so he was immunized against the charge of being soft on communism.
By the “only Nixon” logic, only McCain can end the Iraq war, even though he has no intention of doing so, and only McCain could improve relations with Russia, which he wishes to isolate, demonize and harrass. The trouble with the “only Nixon” dynamic is that those who are given the most flexibility to take the necessary or prudent move in a given situation are those least likely to make that move. Indeed, their unwillingness to make that move 99 out of 100 times is the source of the credibility that allows them to make that move that one other time. This is clearly a crazy way to approach things, but this seems to be the way the world works. However, note that no one ever applies the reverse logic that only a friend of Islamists can wage the “war on terror” or that only a communist can de-nationalize industries.
This is why the pleasant story that the “real” McCain has gone missing, but will be back any moment now, is so pernicious and misleading. The reason McCain could not “bring along” conservatives were he to be the next President is the same reason he performed so poorly in the campaign. The “real” McCain was forced to woo the right in the general election because he had never won them over in the primaries. Never fully trusted by conservatives, he was constantly appealing to the core of the party down to the very last week of the campaign. Even as he engaged in one pander after another, conservatives still found him lacking and thought that he was just going through the motions. Even as he took the recommended Ayers-ACORN-Khalidi route to failure, conservatives thought he was not aggressive enough. Nothing he could have ever done would have satisfied them, because most conservatives wanted anyone other than McCain as their nominee and were never fully reconciled to him. If he became President, we would see the same response time and again, so that McCain would either give up trying to appease the base and become politically weakened or he would find himself constrained to go through the motions once again. Either way, conservatives would be unsatisfied with him, because they know, as we all know, that the “real” McCain has not gone anywhere, and they also know, as we should know by now, he is quite willing to do whatever he thinks is necessary to advance his career.
Yes, on Planet Khalidi, even Jimmy Carter could be seen as being overtly hostile to the Palestinians. ~Philip Klein
This prompts the obvious question: what reason would anyone have to assume that the Carter administration would not be perceived as hostile to the Palestinians (and to the PLO itself) by what Klein himself identifies as the Palestinian “hardliners” whose views Khalidi was describing? These days it is fashionable to loathe Carter for his statements and actions concerning Israel and Palestine in recent years, but it seems to me that this has blurred the memory of what his administration actually did (or rather didn’t do) with regard to Israel and the Palestinians in the late ’70s. From a Palestinian “hardliner” perspective (which does not appear to be Khalidi’s perspective, but one that he was referring to), and it seems to me also as a matter of objective fact, the Carter administration was hostile to the PLO and the Reagan administration proved to be even more so.
Here’s what I don’t quite understand. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that everything this article says about Khalidi is true–this article is supposed to be the damning indictment not just of Khalidi, but somehow also of Obama? Because Obama said he hoped that there should be more dialogue and conversation around the world? Perhaps even a reasoned discussion concerning Israel and Palestine? We certainly can’t have that (apparently, we really can’t). Quick, get a rope!
Would a scholar with a similar relationship to, say, the ANC be considered such a political untouchable that it is impermissble to have befriended him ten or twenty years after his involvement with the group? If Khalidi taught here at Chicago and lived in the neighborhood, was Obama supposed to snub the man and have nothing to do with him? Would that make him sufficiently zealous for the cause? In any case, how is it politically significant or indicative of any views he held five years ago or today if Obama offered up some kind words for an academic colleague’s conversational and debate skills on the occasion of his colleague’s departure? Apparently Khalidi showed Obama what his blind spots and biases were, which doesn’t mean that Obama changed any of his views since then, but it might suggest that Obama sees some value in questioning and testing his own assumptions. That suggests a less rigid, ideological cast of mind, and if that is true the people who will find him most unsettling are ideologues who never question their assumptions.
The problem with the “spokesman” claim is that you can actually prove it’s not true. In saner times, “prove it’s not true” would be a phrase frowned on in an innocent until proven guilty culture. Khalidi’s denial would be enough in the face of a lack of evidence as to same. Those promoting the claim cite a single 1982 article by Tom Friedman; Khalidi says Friedman got it wrong, and that the term “PLO spokesman” was used promiscuously in 1982 Beirut.
More important is this point:
So here’s the thing: What everyone acknowledges is that Khalidi was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid talks. That delegation – to a person – could not have had any formal affiliation with the PLO.
Kampeas has more here.
P.S. It should have to go without saying that Khalidi has done nothing wrong, and associating with him should not be treated as if it were something that needed to be justified. Khalidi’s ethnicity and political views are the only reasons why anyone is trying to make this into an issue. Obama’s critics on this point seem unable to conceive of the possibility of someone having a friend who is Palestinian while at the same time holding conventionally “pro-Israel” views.
Freddy correctly identified the musical instrument used in this McCain ad as a duduk, which I find to be one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments in the world, but then I am also a fan of the bagpipes. While the duduk is typically Armenian, it is used along with a host of other instruments in Armenian folk music that are found throughout the Near East and along much of the Mediterranean basin, such as the kamancha, the ud and the like. Armenian and Iranian musical traditions have strongly influenced one another, not only because of the countries’ geographical proximity but also because of the many linguistic, cultural and historical ties between Iran and Armenia that date back into antiquity. The strange thing is that duduk music is not menacing, so it is lousy accompaniment for an attack ad that is supposed to instill fear. Very often, duduk music is very melancholy and sad (as is so much Armenian folk music), which puts it almost entirely at odds with the images used in the video. The ad is part of the last, dying gasp of the McCain campaign, which does not even seem to know how to instill fear properly anymore.
P.S. I have to thank the McCain campaign. They may be absolutely terrible in putting together effective advertisements, but they have inspired me to spend more time brushing up on my Armenian. Apren!
TAC’s endorsement issue has many different arguments for a number of candidates and write-ins, as well as for the option of not voting. Having already endorsed (and voted absentee for) Chuck Baldwin, I won’t restate my points here, but I would recommend Joe Sobran’s endorsement of Baldwin as a good, succinct argument for voting for the Constitution Party candidate. I have a lot of respect for the non-voting, don’t-legitimize-the-result, withdraw-in-disgust option, and it was tempting, but for whatever reason voting has become an ingrained habit that I have always felt compelled to practice despite understanding full well its staggering irrelevance. Having been inclined to back Barr at one time, I can’t fault anyone who ended up supporting him, but in the end I’m not a libertarian and I don’t see the point in casting protest votes against the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency (which I should specify is really just the appropriate designation of whichever major party holds the most power in Washington) when the candidate is not really protesting against one or more of these things. Paul Gottfried makes a related point in his Baldwin endorsement.
As for support for Nader, it is getting harder and harder to disagree with our left conservative friends when they say:
The anti-imperial, pro-civil liberties, pro-constitution base is not on the right. It is on the left.
This doesn’t mean that there is no support for these things on the right, but it does mean that it is pretty clearly much weaker. That will be driven home yet again as Nader stands to get twice or even three times the level of support of either right-wing third-party candidate. This is one of the reasons why many dissident conservatives are understandably so wary of left-right alliances, as the numerical superiority of left-libertarians and antiwar progressives promises to make any protest movement into a movement dominated by the left.
What of McCain? Leave aside for the moment that the outcome of the election is all but certain, and that McCain is probably going to suffer the worst defeat for a Republican nominee since 1964. The divided government argument for McCain sounds appealing at first, and I can see some merit in it, but McCain is exactly the wrong kind of Republican to have as President during a Democratic ascendancy. Eager to get back in the good graces of his first and true love, the media, and anxious to demonstrate his willingness to collaborate with Democratic leaders to re-establish the public persona he spent so many years cultivating, he will roll over for almost anything the Congress sends to him, unless it involves bringing an end to unnecessary foreign wars. An amnesty bill is far more important to him and it is a much higher priority for him than it is for Obama, whose position on the question is admittedly no better, so I think it is correct to assume that an immigration bill is much less likely to be passed under unified government than it would be under divided government. There was significant opposition for different reasons on the Democratic side to the last “comprehensive” bill, and there is an even greater chance of a purely anti-Democratic backlash if an Obama administration attempted to force the legislation on their reluctant conservative and marginal district House members. As with the deeply unpopular bailout, the Democrats will want the cover of broad bipartisan support for an amnesty bill, and that support will be much more likely if McCain is in the White House.
The only main argument for Obama from the right that is remotely persuasive combines a call for accountability and a correct, negative assessment of McCain. Whatever else you might say about him, Fukuyama makes exactly this argument and so has made what is to my mind the most credible case for why someone on the right would vote for Obama. I have never found this argument persuasive enough, and in the end I don’t quite see how anyone on the right can endorse a candidate with whom he disagrees on most or all things for purely punitive or negative reasons, but as an argument why McCain should not President (and why, by default, Obama will have to be President) it is difficult to find a flaw in this statement:
It is hard to imagine a more disastrous presidency than that of George W. Bush. It was bad enough that he launched an unnecessary war and undermined the standing of the United States throughout the world in his first term. But in the waning days of his administration, he is presiding over a collapse of the American financial system and broader economy that will have consequences for years to come. As a general rule, democracies don’t work well if voters do not hold political parties accountable for failure. While John McCain is trying desperately to pretend that he never had anything to do with the Republican Party, I think it would a travesty to reward the Republicans for failure on such a grand scale.
McCain’s appeal was always that he could think for himself, but as the campaign has progressed, he has seemed simply erratic and hotheaded. His choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was highly irresponsible; we have suffered under the current president who entered office without much knowledge of the world and was easily captured by the wrong advisers. McCain’s lurching from Reaganite free- marketer to populist tribune makes one wonder whether he has any underlying principles at all.
Sonny Bunch asks an interesting question in response to Obama’s
waste of money clever final appeal to the nation:
Are the few remaining undecideds really going to be swayed by soft focus personal interest tales?
I don’t mean to berate undecided voters yet again, but…well, yes, I do. The sort of cloying, saccharine, “I understand your problems” presentation Obama offered is probably much closer to what undecided voters find most satisfying, and it isn’t just the undecided voters who respond to these things. Undecided voters trick pollsters and political writers with their traditional complaints that the candidates are not “specific enough,” when specificity and wonkery are the last things they want. These voters have standard responses that they use when they are talking to pollsters, journalists and focus group leaders. We’ve heard them all. They say, “They’re just saying the same old things” or “it’s just politics as usual” or “they’re not talking about what matters to me.” An undecided voter will say the last one even when the candidate has directly addressed a subject that the pollster or journalist knows for certain matters to him. The biggest flaw in attempting to reach these remaining undecided voters through a half-hour paid political ad is the assumption that undecided voters are likely to watch a half-hour paid political ad. One of the distinguishing features of being an undecided voter is a lack of attention to and interest in the election. Those who have a greater interest have already aligned themselves with one candidate or another by this time.
It is not as if undecided voters are savvy consumers of campaign literature who are torn between the promise of McCain’s health care tax credit on the one hand and Obama’s pledge to incorporate labor and environmental standards in future Latin American trade deals on the other. These are not typically people who tie themselves into knots because they feel drawn to different aspects of the two platforms, or find both candidates’ policy addresses compelling in different ways. These are not the people who ponder the virtues of future card check legislation. There is a reason political ads, including those that last for half an hour, are consistently unsatisfying to people who actually pay attention to the campaigns. Especially at this stage of the election, they are geared to appeal to people who pay very little attention to the election and whose interest in and information about policy are minimal.
The latest Pew poll confirms this portrait of undecided voters:
On most issues, the positions held by undecided voters fall between those of Obama and McCain supporters, although they are somewhat more similar to McCain supporters on the issue of illegal immigration. Overall, these voters are more likely than supporters of either candidate to say they don’t have an opinion about most issues [bold mine-DL].
Undecided voters do clearly distinguish themselves from supporters of both McCain and Obama in their lower levels of participation and interest in this election, and partisan politics in general. A majority (51%) of undecideds do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic parties and fewer than half (48%) report having voted in the primaries this year; by contrast, 63% of both Obama and McCain supporters say they voted in a primary.
Fewer than four-in-ten undecided voters (37%) say they are following news about the election very closely.
As Chris Hayes discussed in his item on undecided voters four years ago, the undecided do not have opinions about most issues because they do not think in terms of issues:
These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances.
Who are these people? Per the Pew poll, half of the undecideds have a high school education or less, almost two-thirds are women, and three-quarters make $75,000 a year or less. If most undecided voters watched Obama’s infomercial, this profile suggests that many will probably have come away with a favorable impression.
Bunch also asked these questions:
Wouldn’t they be more interested to know how Obama plans on paying for all his new policy proposals while maintaining lower tax rates for the middle class? Wouldn’t they be interested in hearing just how Obama would extricate our troops from Iraq in a reasonable manner?
The answer for most undecided voters is no, they wouldn’t be interested, because these things do not interest them. That is not to say that they are indifferent to the realities in question, but detailed plans aren’t what they want to hear, either. When political bloggers, pundits and journalists ask these questions on behalf of undecided voters, we are explaining what we wanted to hear Obama say. Obama did not persuade many high-information voters last night, because most of these voters at this point are no longer persuadable and have already chosen their candidate. In any case, they were not Obama’s target, because they do not constitute the bulk of the undecided vote.
If there are six days until the election, it must be time for a ginned-up phony controversy. The phony controversy derives from the story about the L.A. Times‘ Khalidi tape combined with the confident foreign policy pronouncements of Joe the
Plumber Geopolitical Strategist that voting for Obama is voting for the “death of Israel.” These are not necessarily directly related, but it seems likely that the latter’s claim about Obama has some connection to the Khalidi tape or to other reports about Obama’s alleged sympathies with Palestinians. There is presumably also some connection to Obama’s proposal to hold negotiations with the Iranian government, which is at least a position that Obama actually holds and affirms in public.
For those of you who have wisely been ignoring the final days of the campaign, here is the story about the tape: back in 2003 when Khalidi was about to leave Chicago to fill Edward Said’s post at Columbia after Said had passed on, there was a farewell party attended by Obama, and there was a video record of it that was leaked to the L.A. Times that the newspaper first reported on in April. This party and Obama’s attendance at it have been more or less common knowledge to anyone who has spent much time following Obama’s career, and the party and the relationship between Obama and Khalidi have been made out to be meaningful evidence that Obama harbors some pro-Palestinian attitudes because of things he said at this party about Khalidi. Pro-Palestinian activists and advocates for “even-handed” U.S. policy ardently hope this is the case, and hawkish “pro-Israel” people desperately fear that this is true, or at least they are willing to pretend that they think it is true if it helps to defeat Obama, whom they may dislike for various other reasons. Now some are claiming that the tape purportedly has a record of Obama saying things not just about Khalidi, but about Israel and Palestine as well, but as far as I can tell this is just more baseless rumormongering.
It seems that the only reason why anyone suspects that there is something “damaging” (i.e., something not reflexively “pro-Israel”) on the tape is that the Times won’t release it because of an agreement it made with its source(s), but if the Times were to break its agreement with the source(s) and release the tape it would then presumably be accused of violating ethical standards in order to vindicate its preferred candidate. This is a very odd case of a newspaper being accused of “suppressing” evidence after having published a report on the very thing it is supposedly suppressing. Had it acquired the tape and never reported on it, that would be one thing, but it did just the opposite. What is most bizarre about all of this is that from everything we do know about what Obama said, his remarks about Khalidi clearly implied that he didn’t agree with his colleague, which is why in classic Obama fashion he applauded Khalidi for challenging him and making him face his own biases. Presumably, if the Times had always been trying to follow the directive, “do and say nothing that hurts Obama,” it would never have reported on statements made at the party by other attendees. As it is, these other statements don’t count for much, and they have nothing to do with Obama’s views on Israel and Palestine. Perhaps Joe the Plumber can return to worrying about incipient socialism and leave foreign policy to others.
After Ralph Peters’ last laughable effort (the short version of which was “Obama might not save Bolivia from itself!”), we might just as easily ignore his new column, but it serves as a useful example of the adaptability of fearmongers. Once certain states have been put on the enemies’ list, they never come off, even when they have objectively ceased to pose much of a threat to anyone. When they are stronger but not particularly aggressive, it is because they are biding their time; when they become weak they are going to start lashing out as a distraction from their economic problems. At no point are these states treated as if they have their own self-interest that may not entail attacking or invading other states at all.
When the petro-states were flush with cash and seemed to be gaining ground on all fronts, we were hearing grim warnings about the reconstitution of the Soviet empire, Russian naval visits to Venezuela (which even Peters acknowledged to be a meaningless display) and the growing power of the Tehran-Caracas axis, sometimes as recently as early September of this year. Now that they are becoming weaker as oil prices drop in response to the global downturn, it is their bankruptcy and weakness that make them terrible threats to the world, even though the sudden change in their fortunes shows how limited and frail their ability to project power always was.
Here is one scenario Peters proposes: Russia starts going broke, and so has no incentive not to start invading other countries. No incentive, that is, except for the possibility of foreign investment and aid to shore up its slumping economy. Another scenario: Iran goes broke, but somehow has the resources to acquire a nuke, which it would naturally then launch on Israel. This makes as little sense as Iran committing national suicide in boom times. If Iran is going broke and suffering from the significant internal disorder that will accompany a worsening economy, doesn’t it seem more likely that it will have more pressing concerns than developing a nuclear weapon? Peters has to acknowledge that Venezuela is such a shambles that it cannot threaten anyone–but it might collapse in on itself in nasty ways! I suppose that has always been true, but it hardly fills the rest of the world with dread and it makes Santorum’s warnings against Venezuelan-Bolivian conquests in Latin America seem even more outlandish than they were at the time.
Economically weakened authoritarian governments have even less interest in and opportunity for aggressive actions outside their borders as they become increasingly preoccupied with internal dissent and upheaval and the basic problems of economic failure and excessive dependence on natural resource extraction. Ahmadinejad was elected on a platform of additional subsidies to the poor and some kind of solution to the chronically high unemployment Iran has, but now finds himself failing to control rampaging inflation (officially at 30%) and has fewer and fewer resources at his command as revenues shrink. Remember–this failure is the clown that filled interventionists with fear and became synonymous for them with the threat represented by Iran. We should never have been afraid of these people, and now that he is flailing and failing and the entire regime is suffering from the economic downturn we are supposed to be more afraid?