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September 05, 2008



"the "where I can" is precious. It provides a hint-- amidst the furious pandering and fiscal delusions on both sides-- that McCain recognizes, at least to some extent, that you can't have your cake and eat it, and that tax cuts may not be his priority."

I agree that it's precious and I even agree with much of McCain's tax policy*.

What I think is a little funny is that this is precisely the sort of thing that I tend to like about Obama: making caveats when talking about things one knows one's base will love because you know it's irresponsible to promise them all the ideologues demand.

"...most of that time oil prices were low and "oil addiction" wasn't a problem."

Yes it was; it just wasn't often acknowledged as one.

"How to interpret this line-- "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell, but he won't even go to the cave where he lives"-- except as an allusion to Obama's willingness to invade Pakistan to capture Osama? Speaking of "charging into other countries!""

Obama said he'd "act" if Pakistan did not, and later clarified that he was talking about a stealthy special-ops type action. This is, perhaps, "charging into other countries," but neither does it intimate an invasion. In fact, recent policy changes in Afghanistan seem to have implemented this stance. All that's really unfair here is that Obama implies McCain wouldn't do the same: I'm sure he would, now. It would also be unfair to say that McCain refuses to consider a withdrawal timeline, now that essentially everyone's talking about one.

An important aside here: The Awakening could have happened earlier if we'd put more pressure on the political leaders to achieve real conciliation, and showing everyone that we really meant to leave seems like it may well have precipitated many if not most of the positive steps we've seen. Note my discussion of insurgents vs. terrorists in 2005:
All the dynamics were already there, waiting for us to take advantage. I submit that the huge political setback to the GOP in '06 may have had as much of a catalyzing effect on Iraqi faction planning as the surge did. The surge itself turned out to be both well-timed and better run than I'd dared to hope - I'm very glad my doom-saying of that time was wrong - but I would also submit that a withdrawal timeline laid down after the election of late 2005 might well have achieved as much, and without the ethnic cleansing of 2006-2007. Thus, I think Obama was militarily wrong (as I was) but conceptualized Iraq's challenges fairly close to correctly. McCain was right abut the surge, but his statements showed several times that this could not have owed to his understanding of the Iraqi predicament.

"...a word of credit to Obama. He started the "change" theme, even if all he really had to offer was paleoliberal reaction. He was never the man to deliver on that promise..."

That's true. The single thing I like most about Obama is his conservative, non-ideological temperament. I loathe Edwards' ideology.

*In fact, the main parts with which I disagree are pretty much compassed by those tax cuts he opposed once upon a time, but the extension of which he now advocates. Perhaps he would drop those first in negotiation with a Democratic Congress and I would end up quite satisfied with his tax regime.

Nathan Smith

re: "In fact, recent policy changes in Afghanistan seem to have implemented this stance."

Yes, unfortunately. I was just listening to the Pakistani ambassador on C-SPAN. One can't help but contrast Pakistan and Russia. In Pakistan, Musharraf goes peacefully to make way for a democratic opposition. Maybe too late, but still. And maybe he had no choice, but that only underlines that there's a bit of real substantive democracy in Pakistan. And what are we doing? Military operations in Pakistani territory, enraging the Pakistani public. Meanwhile, when Russia-- a country smaller in population than Pakistan, less democratic, much more hostile to the West-- invades a democratic US ally to annex territory, we won't strike back militarily against Russian forces even in Georgian territory, let alone carry the fight to Russia. Not that that would be a good idea, of course, but the comparison between our treatment of Russia and Pakistan is striking. I'm with McCain here. Whereas Barack is the one running for Bush's third term. Weird.

re: "The single thing I like most about Obama is his conservative, non-ideological temperament."

I have no idea what is meant by the word 'conservative' in this sentence. I guess that term has been used and abused so much it's hard to say what anyone means by it anymore. Maybe I'd agree in the sense that what he wants is the politics of 1960s/1970s liberalism, the kind that brought us stagflation and Carterist defeatism. The problem isn't so much with Obama's ideology-- whenever I hear him talk policy it's government-run medicine or support for unions or other bad ideas, but I don't feel like it's motivated by ideology exactly-- as that he won't stand up to his own party, to liberal interest groups. He's made a few verbal feints that way I guess. Not many. And he's never actually stood up to the left wing of his party. That's what makes his talk of "change" bogus. There *may* be some changes that really have a unity/centrist type of appeal. Of course, such moves are usually low-hanging fruit, which the political establishment will have grabbed long ago, on bipartisan votes that don't get much coverage because they don't generate much controversy. But sometimes-- often, I think-- there will be dead-enders or special interests, on the right or the left, that fight to block such reforms. So, if you want the sort of change-and-unity-together kind of reform that Barack gives the vibe of wanting, the *sine qua non* is that you have the backbone to take on some shrill people in your own party, to get smeared and branded a traitor and despised... and, maybe, eventually, vindicated, but that better not be your plan *ex ante*. Barack's record just doesn't show he can do that. That's why his whole candidacy is so phony. He might be a decent president, if (a) he exhibits a maverick-centrist streak in office which he hasn't shown to date, or (b) Democrats get crushed in 2010 and he has to reinvent himself, like Clinton. But his candidacy is still a depressing spectacle.

re: "What I think is a little funny is that this is precisely the sort of thing that I tend to like about Obama: making caveats when talking about things one knows one's base will love because you know it's irresponsible to promise them all the ideologues demand."

But McCain has actually stood against his party ideologues and come under fire for it. Obama's voting record is pure ideological liberalism. It seems more likely that Obama's caveats are ways to trick sensible centrist voters into voting for a much more liberal president than they'd be willing to vote for if his ideology were more explicit and prominent. But who knows? Obama is still, to a large extent, a "blank screen."


"In Pakistan, Musharraf goes peacefully to make way for a democratic opposition. Maybe too late, but still. And maybe he had no choice, but that only underlines that there's a bit of real substantive democracy in Pakistan."

...because we're no longer propping up Musharraf.

Point taken on the dangers of even covert ops in Pakistan, but both Afghanistan and the Western world has a vested interest in dismantling the Taliban and Al Qaeda. If Pakistan is unable to take action on those attacking Afghanistan and others, then there's legitimate cause to take action and it may well be worth it to enrage certain Pakistani elements. I don't know enough to take any kind of confident position, so I'm certainly open to persuasion that Pakistani anger would outweigh any advantage to killing/capturing Osama et al.

Nathan Smith

Hmm. I guess I should admit that to the extent that Obama was pointing out that McCain's "gates of Hell" line is a little bit at odds with his reluctance to go into Pakistan, he might have had a valid point. I think that Obama's idea of covert ops in Pakistan is a terrible idea, but then, I wouldn't claim to be willing to follow Obama into the "gates of Hell." In fact I'm not terribly worried about al-Qaeda and bin Laden, or the Taliban, in general. I never liked McCain's "gates of Hell" line.

But then, if Obama had said "McCain says he'll follow bin Laden into the 'gates of Hell,' yet he won't support covert ops inside Pakistan, where bin Laden probably is," he would have spooked his own base and maybe caused a diplomatic spat with Pakistan. That's the sort of nervy straight talk that Obama doesn't do. Instead, he drops a hint that is indecipherable to 99% of the public, and irrelevant to the savvy because it is indecipherable to the public and therefore doesn't have the commitment force of a campaign promise. It sounds like he's calling McCain a coward. Or something.

Now, I'm inclined to hold the "gates of Hell" line against McCain less because he didn't repeat it last night. Why not, since it was a hit? Probably because of Obama's hit, but it might also reflect a response to 8/8/08. He's shifted gears. For a new president-- the lame duck Bush administration has less precedent-value now-- to conduct military operations within Pakistan would undermine our case that the Russians shouldn't be operating inside Georgia. The Russians would say, and I must admit that the argument seems if anything less bad than the Kosovo analogy, that it's hypocritical for the US to be conducting operations in Pakistan while condemning them for conducting operations in Georgia.

Very interesting. Last night John McCain said not a word in justification of the Iraq War, little on the war on terror, and most of what he said on foreign policy was dedicated to Russia, including a condemnation of "aggression" and "international lawlessness." He also said he hates war. Whereas Obama jabbed McCain, in veiled language, for preferring to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan. John McCain, liberal internationalist; Obama, neocon. What an interesting development!


btw - I meant small "c" conservative in the sense of being skeptical of ideological excess and unwillingness to diverge sharply from the past. This is, of course, at odds with the "charge" narrative, unless you see it - as I do - as a retreat from politics in which we assume bad faith on the part of those who disagree with us. For example, "would rather lose a war than lose an election" assumes that the only reason Obama could take his position is in a cynical bid for electoral victory. Of course, there's no monopoly on that sort of attitude - Shakesville regularly excoriates Obama for treating pro-lifers, anti-gay marriage folks, and Republicans in general as if they're people with whom common ground can be found. This is also about going after independents or whomever, so it's not like it's totally against Obama's self-interest, but neither has he focused on a polarizing base-vs-base turnout fight such as we saw in '00 and '04. McCain isn't, as a politician, prone to that sort of politics (which got him assassinated in '00), but his selection of Palin seems to have been forced on him by elements in the GOP who still want to go that route. Foolish, in a year like this one. Bush won in '00 and '04 because the GOP was much better organized and motivated than the Left. If McCain wins this one, it'll be in spite of his dysfunctional party rather than because of it. So far, the small "c" conservatives of the GOP remain beholden to movement Conservatives for whom partisanship qua ideology trumps principle. For that, McCain bears no fault, and insofar as the GOP has a chance in '08, it's because of him.

Palin might not be a disaster, but I wouldn't count on it.


I am completely opposite of Nathan when it comes to speeches: they do absolutely nothing for me but irritate. It doesn't really matter who's giving the speech, or what the speech is about, they almost always annoy me. I'll take a heated discussion any day over a speech.

McCain looks like he's switching gears to Mr. Nice Guy now that he has Palin to be the attack dog. I expect McCain to remain mostly cordial for the rest of the election cycle, and I expect Palin to be vicious and unrelenting.


I prefer chilled disputes. With maraschino cherries. Not on top of the disputees, of course. I just like stealing cherries out of the fridge during late-night arguments.


I think it's really quite impressive that the criticisms for Obama I read from both right *and* left tend to remind me what I like about him rather than turning me away. I don't think he's a hero and I dislike plenty of his policies, but I swear, if I read only the criticisms leveled at him by opponents on the right and left, I might be inclined to think him a political saint.

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