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A Strange Way To Show Support

Do my eyes deceive me, or did Sullivan write:

One more thing: for Obama to pick Clinton [sic] needs to be – and be seen to be – an act of strength, not weakness. It must be diplomacy not appeasement [bold mine-DL].

Then one of his readers chimed in with a line of argument straight out of the Misopogon (a title that should amuse Sullivan to no end):

If he cannot stand up to Bill and Hillary, how can we be confident that he can negotiate from a position of strength with Kim Jong-il?

As someone who has been mildly critical of Obama’s original proposal about negotiations with “rogue” states in the past, but who finds the charge of appeasement that has been flung at Obama in recent weeks absolutely crazy, I am baffled that Obama supporters would want to frame Obama’s VP selection in terms that are maximally beneficial to his general election opponent.  To listen to them talk about selecting Clinton as his running mate in terms of “diplomacy, not appeasement,” it’s as if there’s some remote danger that if he chooses her in the “wrong” way (the appeasing way) that her hordes of well-armed Appalachian folk will storm the convention hall in Denver and annex it to West Virginia.  Should Obama choose Clinton, perhaps in deference to the legions of delegates she will have at the convention, these arguments will be turned back around on their candidate and cited as proof that the choice proves that he is weak, naive and an appeaser–even his own supporters have said as much!  (Indeed, one gets the feeling that his supporters are trying to make the choice of Clinton so radioactive with these arguments that Obama could not choose her even if that made the most sense.)  There is, of course, another view of Obama selecting Clinton that holds that it would make him appear to be a “wuss” (Kaus), which is just about as profound as thinking of international disputes in terms of “toughness” and “appeasement.”  In this view, choosing Clinton, even if it was a politically smart move, is by definition an act of weakness.   

The use of terms diplomacy and appeasement in this context confuses domestic political accommodations with the categories of international relations, casts a political opponent in the role of a potentially aggressive dictator and treats intra-party divisions as if they were disputes between armed camps.  Such is the new era of unity and amity!  It also compromises Obama’s attempt to break out of the rhetorical trap in which negotiation is supposedly tantamount to surrender by applying that bankrupt paradigm to domestic political maneuvering as well.   

P.S.  Reihan has qualified his original argument against the Obama-Clinton ticket in response to a criticism I wrote about it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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