Saturday, June 21, 2008

Barack's descent into paranoia

It is rather sad how quickly Barack's commitment to "hope" and "change" has virtually evaporated and now he is totally committed to a path of paranoia. An article on Reuters by Caren Bohan entitled "Obama says Republicans will use race to stoke fear" tells us that:

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama said on Friday he expects Republicans to highlight the fact that he is black as part of an effort to make voters afraid of him.

"It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy," Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. "We know what kind of campaign they're going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid.

"They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"

He said he was also set for Republicans to say "he's got a feisty wife," in trying to attack his wife Michelle.

"We know the strategy because they've already shown their cards. Ultimately I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn't moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us," he said.

Here he is attributing actions to the opposition before the opposition has taken such actions. So much for his sense of "hope."

A CNN post by Alexander Marquardt entitled "Obama: 'They're going to try to make you afraid of me'" also tells us that:

In similar comments at a Chicago fundraiser last Thursday, Obama told supporters that Republicans would try to portray both him and his wife Michelle as "scary."

"They're going to try to make me into a scary guy," he said last week. "They're even trying to make Michelle into a scary person. Right?" And so that drumbeat – 'we're not sure if he's patriotic or not; we're not sure if he is too black.'

"I don't know, before I wasn't black enough," said Obama. "'Now he might be too black. We don't know whether he's going to socialize – well, who knows what.'"

Last week, the Illinois senator's campaign launched a Web site to directly respond to and discredit Internet rumors about him and his wife that have dogged his presidential effort.

First he complains about rumors and then he traffics in rumors. Sigh.

I always suspected that there was a dark side to his whole "Hope and Change" shtick. It was based on emotion rather than merit. Now he find out that his "other shoe" is fear and paranoia. Maybe that is just par for the course in "The Black Community", something he picked up from his Pastor, but it is very disheartening to hear him so deeply committed to that paranoid fear in public. OTOH, maybe this is a case of the old saying that it isn't paranoia if they really are out to get you. Even so, it is still doubly deeply disheartening that Barack is not able to rise above it all so early in the campaign. Much worse, these people who he claims are out to get him are the same people that he will need to reach out to and work closely with in Washington if he really does want to accomplish anything of substance while he is President. Why is he unable to exhibit a little of his much vanted "community organizer" skillset in the here and now? So much for his commitment to "the urgency of now." Who is advising this guy? I am sure that he can do better. Of course, he has to want to do better.

-- Jack Krupansky

Is Barack's financing decision good or bad?

Personally, I have never gotten excited about where any political financial contribution comes from or the merits of a public financing system. Sure, there is always the potential for "favors" to be granted in return to "big" contributers, and certainly that does happen, but I remain unconvinced that such favorable treatment is actually a real problem of a size worth worrying about. Favors will be granted even when no money is directly involved. There are always a lot of different factors involved in any "political" decision, so trying to zero in and say "Aha!" that a financial contribution was the key factor is truly a fool's errand. Nonetheless, a lot of people do get emotional about these things and are opposed to "big" contributers.

In theory, the concept of publically-financed political campaigns is a really good idea, but only for high-minded politicians who value commitment to fairness over personal desire to "win." Barack has just shown his true colors. He does not want to play by the rules of fairness, so he is going to play outside the rules. He continually says that he wants to refrain from playing the "game" of politics in Washington, but here we have him gaming the game itself.

As I said, I don't get excited about financing of political campaigns. If millions of hard-working Americans wish to throw away their hard-earned money in a political campaign, that is their choice. I think that is a poor choice, but that is their choice. They probably would have wasted the money on other ill-conceived expenses anyway.

I personally have never given even one dime to any political campaign and do not expect that I ever will.

I am disappointed that Barack has chosen the cynical route and talks in a paranoid manner about his opposition. For someone who is supposedly committed to hope and change and not playing the games of Washington, he is certainly starting off on the wrong foot. He is basically saying "I am one of them."

Ultimately, I do not think this decision is either good or bad. It simply shows that Barack is committed to the concept that a politician needs to "buy" an election and that large quantities of money trump ideas, ideals, values, and merit.

Will the decision guanrantee a win? Maybe. Probably. Is that a justification for the decision? Sadly, the answer appears to be "Yes." Maybe someday we will see a true leader on campaign finance reform. At least for now, Barack is not such a leader.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, June 20, 2008

Will Edwards or Gore help Barack in November?

I read comments about people getting excited at the thought of Barack picking Gore or Edwards for VP, but I do not see any real upside for Barack. I think Barack could win despite whoever he picks for VP, but I do not see any prospect that either Gore or Edwards would broaden Barack's appeal beyond the votes that he is already likely to get even with "any of the above" as VP. Ultimately, it is still a question of how Barack intends to govern once elected. He could decide to stick tightly to the so-called "progressive" agenda and have very limited success at true "change", or he could decide to broaden his base and achieve a much broader degree of change, albeit at the cost of watering down the "progressive" agenda. To date, he hasn't offered much in the way of clues, one way or the other. Personally, I think he is simply being a shrewd politician, the kind he claims he is not, and simply waiting to see how the political wind is blowing as the various subgroups of America's political landscape gradually firm up their collective opinions of him. I strongly suspect that he is simply waiting for the right moment to announce a "visionary grand compromise" where he sticks to a core subset of liberal/progressive "values" and principles (e.g., universal health care) and couples that with a collection of compromises designed to lock in the centrists (e.g., Hillary supporters and moderate Republicans) and implicitly put limits on how hard he will push on conservatives on their "values" in areas such as abortion, religion in schools, flag desecration, gun control, etc.

For example, I suspect that he will agree to tighten regulations on businesses in some ways, but agree to loosen other regulations to foster economic growth. But timing is everything, so it is unclear when he might make or announce such "compromises" which are blatantly unacceptable to the hard-core left-wing "progressives', but essentially to form a coalition that can govern effectively in Washington without immediately encountering legislative and social gridlock.

In short, Barack might pick Gore or Edwards simply to assuage his "progressive" supporters, but it would be a move that would require him to commit to very strong principle and policy compromises in order to build an effective governing coalition after the election.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Barack's commitment to the security of Israel and the threat from Iran

Even when Barack Obama gives a fairly detailed speech on some topic or issue, I find myself wondering where he really stands. He famously declared that he was prepared to talk with Iran "without preconditions", but then "clarified" that he meant that he is "willing to meet, without preconditions but with preparation, the leaders of Iran." This not-so-subtle distinction between "preconditions" and "preparations" is simply a pile of rhetorical crap. There are different stages in sincere talks, and in the early stages the parties typically do not agree on anything other than the need to talk, even if nothing substantial is accomplished. Then talks and "relations" can move incrementally on to "confidence building", and only eventually get to talks that are actually getting down to resolving "preparations" or whatever fuzzy rhetorical term you want to use. But only after all of that preliminary shuffling will the parties be prepared to finally get down to working out the real issues. In any case, one litmus test of what he "means" is what he tells the U.S. Jewish community. In his speech to AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee, "America's Pro-Israel Lobby") on June 4, 2008 he "clarified" a number of elements of his position on Israel, Iran, and the Middle East, but all of these clarifications still leave me wondering what his core beliefs really are. In his speech is said:

  • "And I know that when I visit with AIPAC, I am among friends. Good friends. Friends who share my strong commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, tomorrow, and forever."
  • "We must mean what we say when we speak the words: "never again.""
  • "... as President I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security."
  • "I have been proud to be a part of a strong, bi-partisan consensus that has stood by Israel in the face of all threats."
  • "But part of our commitment must be speaking up when Israel's security is at risk, and I don't think any of us can be satisfied that America's recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure."
  • "And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."
  • "That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat – from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened."
  • "Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable."

Okay, that certainly sounds clear... when it comes to the security of Israel, Barack is much more of a right-wing hawk than a dovish peacemaker. That's what his speech sounds like. The words "never compromise" do not sound like a facilitator, a conciliator, a "uniter", or a peacemaker. In fact, they sound awfully like those of right-wing hawks like Dick Cheney. But, as I continue to say, despite Barack's flowery rhetoric, I still wonder where he really stands, on Israel, on Iran, or anything else. I strongly suspect that he actually is willing to compromise in search of peace in the Middle East, but for now he is "committed" to the "old politics" of telling different groups what they want to hear.

Back to Iran, Barack tells us in his speech that:

  • "The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat."
  • " I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
  • "That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests."
  • "There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing - if, and only if - it can advance the interests of the United States."
  • "Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel."

I am all for "principled diplomacy", but I would like to hear a lot more about the principles.

Personally, it seems very clear to me that Iran is not very susceptible to aggressive pressure. They seem to revel in external pressure. The issue for Barack will not be to ramp up his rhetoric, but simply the fact that unless he intends to string out "The Iranian Threat" for a full eight years and longer, he will need to come up with a plan for the "Or what?". The problem with really "tough" sanctions, the kind that would cause Iran real pain, is that they very quickly begin to boomerang and either directly cause us significant pain (e.g., disruption of business deals and U.S. exports and oil supply disruptions) or have significant indirect effects such as further fueling resentment and extremism towards the U.S.

I do believe that diplomacy can work in the Middle East, but it needs to be quiet and completely behind the scenes and even and fairhanded and open to significant compromise with all parties. Let's hope that Barack's speech to AIPAC was mostly a lot of posturing to gain the support of an influential lobbying group and less a statement of his core beliefs and intentions. Let's hope that once elected he turns back towards being a pragmatic, centrist realist, and away from the ultra-hawkish extremist that he tried to pass himself off as when speaking before AIPAC.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Where does Barack really stand on anything?

Now that Barack really has finally "closed the deal", the big question in my mind is that we really do need to figure out where he really stands on anything, whether it be health care, the economy, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the progressive movement, centrism, how he intends to govern once elected, or whatever. All of this information is urgently needed so that voters can decide whether he is a true, blue, middle-of-the-road centrist who will govern all Americans fairly or simply a shrill left-winger comparable to many of his "progressive" supporters. Sure, there will be a lot of excitement and "passion" this election season, but most Americans simply want someone who can simply keep the country running smoothly so that they can go about their own lives without worrying about what might or might not be going on in Washington, D.C. Overall, Americans want the country "back on track", which means they want some change, but not necessarily the whole enchilada of the left-wing progressive agenda.

The good news is that Barack and Hillary will no longer have to waste time splitting hairs about relatively minor differences in their positions and proposed policies.

What I want most to hear from Barack now is how he intends to govern, namely how he intends to compromise and work with the rest of America that does not share the progressive agenda.

What I do not find helpful is when the Democrats repeatedly label McCain as wanting simply to "continue Bush's failed policies" and that the main reason to elect a Democrat is simply as an alternative to "Bush's failed policies." That kind of "spin" misrepresents McCain and is a form of negative campaigning when I thought Barack was committed to refraining from negative campaigning.

So, Barack, please proceed to tell us where you stand on all of the important issues, in terms of what we can realistically expect to see happen from 2009 through 2012. I am not so much interested in all of the fine details of policy (well, actually I am, but that's another story), but I am interested in what outcomes you expect to produce, in addition to what an Obama administration will "feel like" for those who do not share the progressive agenda.

-- Jack Krupansky