Monday, September 15, 2008


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why I Like John McCain

I know. Some of you are probably wondering if my blog has been overtaken by GOP hackers.

But, following the lead of our candidates -- who are appearing together today, in a spirit of solidarity on the seventh anniversary of 9/11 -- I've decided to take this moment as an opportunity, and put partisanship aside.

Thousands of people died on that day seven years ago, and multiple thousands have died since -- Americans and Iraqis alike -- because of it, and most of us would agree that something precious -- something that has to do with our optimism and hope for a better world -- was snatched from every single one of us on 9/11. A pause is appropriate, and, frankly, welcome.

First, a story. My friend in Chicago, who I mentioned in Right Tactics, Wrong Strategy, actually reminded me of this a few months back:

I first met John McCain when I was a cub reporter, working for Congressional Quarterly's Web site, and for CQ's Congressional Monitor -- a daily recap of Hill activity -- back in the mid 90's. I was assigned to cover Senate floor votes, which meant that I had access to a small room, just off the Senate floor, that lawmakers generally walked through after voting.

One day, I was working on a story on deadline, when John McCain came off the floor and into that room. I was relatively new -- I'd never met him before -- and I wanted to get his perspective for my piece.

Excuse me, I said. Senator McCain?

I introduced myself, explaining what I was working on. He said he would be glad to help me. Only, just as we started speaking, a staffer corralled him. The Senator told me he needed to talk with this staffer, and would be right back to continue our discussion.

I stood, waiting, looking over my notes. Just as the Senator was finishing up a few feet away, two other reporters approached him -- from the New York Times and Washington Post -- seeking interviews. I have to say, my memory of them is that they were self-important and pompous, though, that may be colored by the years.

In any event, what I remember clearly, is Sen. McCain's response to them: I've promised Josh an exclusive interview, he said. I'll be with you in a moment.

He didn't really owe me an exclusive. He was just being kind. And he was saying that rank -- pecking order -- meant less to him than what was right. Even if it meant he wouldn't get his name in the papers of record the next day. And I have to say, it meant more to me than a hundred Senator interviews.

I really liked Senator McCain -- and for a long time, I imagined that he might be the first Republican I could vote for.

I like that he bucked his party and reached across party lines to work with Ted Kennedy, a hated figure to many on the Right, on immigration reform, advancing the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. (It was never acted on, and Republicans ultimately prevented a compromise bill from coming to a vote.)

I like that he again scorned his party -- and went against his own political interests -- reaching across party lines to work with Russ Feingold, another progressive lion of the Senate, to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which attempted to curtail soft money in campaigns and thwart issue ads.

I love that he led the Gang of 14 -- the bipartisan group of Senators that stopped Republican Bill Frist from using the so called "nuclear option," which would have let Republicans cut off Democratic filibusters by a majority vote -- preventing the Democratic minority from exercising its constitutional prerogative to block Bush court appointees. (Effectively, the nuclear option would have meant that Republicans could ignore years of accepted Senate procedure and, for the first time in history, run roughshod over the Democrats -- by taking away their right to filibuster. It was a reprehensible stone cold political play that Democrats had never threatened to use on their stonewalling Republican peers, when the GOP was in the minority.)

I like that McCain did eventually criticize the conduct of the Iraq war, when Bush was still stoically pretending nothing was wrong. (Though I disagree strongly with McCain's judgments that got us into the fight in the first place. See again: Right Tactics, Wrong Strategy.) I'm also very thankful that against a strong political tide, McCain pushed for the surge in Iraq, which has vastly improved the situation on the ground, and made Obama's exit strategy much more actionable.

Having said all this, I should add that I sincerely hope this convinces none of you to vote for John McCain.

The truth is, the John McCain that I felt I knew, even up to a few years ago, is not the John McCain I see running for president today. I don't recognize the Senator who showed me that kindness all those years ago in the Senator who angrily attacks Obama as an un-American opportunist, who puts political ambition over country; the Senator who let his running mate's acceptance speech be used as a crude cudgel against community organizers; the Senator who ignored a Wall St. Journal reporter's question because he didn't like the article she'd written the day before. I don't recognize that John McCain in the Senator who, when it was time to make his first big decision, reached out not to the middle -- not toward me -- but to a running mate who is further to the right on most social issues than even our current Administration.

While I admire his working with Kennedy on immigration, I truly wish he hadn't retreated, in the face of right wing pressures within his own party, to his current position, which is, essentially: First, build a wall along the Tex-Mex border. And while I sincerely appreciate his work with the Gang of 14 and campaign finance reform, those aren't the issues that get me up in the morning these days: I want a president who understood from the start that the Iraq War was a mistake, and understands the pressing imperative of restoring America as a respected global leader; a president who believes that in this time of great economic hardship, environmental degradation, over-reliance on fossil fuels, and educational decline vis-a-vis the rest of the world, that government can play an important, sensible -- fiscally responsible -- role in lifting people up. And, yes -- a president who can inspire us to take personal responsibility and lift ourselves and our communities up, as well.

So I remain a committed, unwavering, passionate supporter of Barack Obama.

But I also think that it's crucial, as this campaign's last 54 days wind down, that we -- not just our candidates -- find ways to reach out to people who disagree with us and talk to them. Really hear them. Try to understand why it is they hold the views they do; what motivates them to support their candidate. I've done this a bit more in the last week, and heard interesting takes from people I disagree with, but respect and admire. Just last night, on a conference call with some friends, a Republican friend of mine who served in the military in Saudi Arabia told me that while America must never torture, he feels frustrated by people who don't recognize that we can be at a disadvantage, in the battlefield, because we hold ourselves to a much higher standard than the terrorists we are fighting. And he reiterated that at the end of the day, the world and the Middle East are much better off without Saddam Hussein.

My friend and I did not agree on everything. Hearing him out, though, reminded me again that there are serious, well-intentioned, critical-thinkers on both sides of the political divide. You forget this sometimes when your insides are boiling, watching the latest attack ad, or watching pundits shout at each other on CNN.

If I truly want our leadership to get beyond the hyperpartisanship of the last eight years, I need to be able to do the same thing with that family across the street that just put the "John McCain" sign up on their lawn.

I remember, after 9-11, when the planes first started flying again. The security lines at BWI airport were farcical -- they stretched the entire length of the terminal. I was nervous as hell. We all were. But I had fallen in love with an amazing woman who lived in Boston -- I lived in Washington, DC -- and I was not going to be kept away. I remember, distinctly, sitting on a Southwest flight, wondering what I would do if a terrorist stood up, at 30,000 feet, with a boxcutter in hand. I was heartened by the big dude in front of me, who didn't have the look of a terrorist. Nice to know he'd be on my side.

And then the pilot came on the PA. And he asked us to look to our left, and look to our right, and introduce ourselves to our row mates. Shake hands. Tell them something about us. You might be surprised at what you learn, he said, and we laughed -- and then we did exactly as he said. The tension was relieved. We got to know one another a bit. We took off on time.

So, take this day. If you're on Obama supporter and there is something you admire in McCain, post it on this blog. And if you are a McCain supporter but find something compelling in Obama, share it with us. Think about those weeks, just after 9-11, when instead of focusing instantly, reflexively on our differences, no matter how small, we looked deeper and found that really -- who knew? -- we all have so very much in common.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: Was more like 3 and a half hours yesterday. I had lunch with a friend, who is helping me organize the Jewish community here for Obama. Then my mother-in-law and I went to Obama headquarters, and from there to Akron University, where we spent 90 minutes registering voters. We didn't ask whether they were Obama or McCain -- though our hope, of course, is that the university is Obama's natural demographic. had been registering folks on campus all day -- many of the folks we asked had been asked a number of times already -- but we were still able to register five people to vote. You might say: Only five people. Or, you might just as well point out, as Judaism teaches, that each one is the whole world.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

GUEST BLOG: Obama Addresses Education in America

My wife and I attended Obama’s address this morning at Stebbins High School in Riverside, OH, just outside of Dayton. It had been a thunderously rainy night but the skies cleared just in time for the early arrivals and only a few stray drops misted the crowd while we waited to go through security.

Waiting in line we met another couple and began to discuss the current state of affairs. Joe is a retired research physicist who noted that his family had had to move when Dayton initiated its first urban renewal project and that he had benefitted from public education and from the much lower cost of higher education when he was young and when one could much more easily get government assistance. Jan is a retired high school teacher who, after volunteering for an Obama event was asked (and agreed) to be a team leader.

The event was held in the high school gym, with bleachers and seats on the first floor and additional seating above. The first to greet us was a young man whose name I could not hear but who is a Field Organizer for the campaign. He noted that he was from a Chilean family of seven; he and his siblings all attended public schools and public colleges and were very grateful that this country provides such opportunities to those willing to work hard. He was followed by a parent of a high school student who spoke about the importance of being involved in one’s children's education, to read to them when they are young, to see to it that they do their homework as they get older, and to support their other endeavors. He finished by saying that he had been a registered Republican until the primary and that it was his son who convinced him to look closely at Obama’s policies and who was responsible for his conversion. He noted, with pride I believe, that parental involvement is a two way street - parents and kids all benefit from it.

Senator Obama was greeted with loud applause and shouts of “Yes we can!” He opened by saying that his daughters had just started school this past week and recounted that when he’d asked a 5th grade teacher what to expect this year for Malia, she replied “Boys.” He countered that he was relieved that his running for president meant that the girls each had Secret Service protection.

He then spoke for about 30 minutes, touching on the problems with the state of education in America. He highlighted the reason that change is needed: the country’s long term security is at risk if we don’t take full advantage of the potential of every individual. He said that criticizing the “No Child Left Behind” law is not an education policy, that he agreed with its goals but not its implementation and not the failure to finance it fully. He said that children and teachers all lose when so much time has to be spent teaching to the test that creativity and imagination can not be sparked to their fullest, including having to drop music and art from the curriculum to accommodate mind numbing (my words) drills. The Senator addressed the risks we face if we continue to fail to teach all students the science and math skills they need to succeed, either at higher education or at high skill jobs. He said that it is in America’s heritage to lead the world in scientific innovation but that we will lose that lead if China and India turn out more math and science Ph.D.’s than we do.

Obama then laid out his plans, including bringing 30,000 highly skilled new teachers a year into America’s classrooms where they are most needed, whether in inner cities or in underserved rural areas, by giving grants or other aid in exchange for a promise of service in these schools. He made it very clear that responsibility for the success of any educational program is shared among students, teachers, parents, and government. He wants to introduce technology into schools so that parents can see, on a daily basis, if their child was in school, if he or she turned in that day’s homework and how their child did on quizzes or tests. He said that accountability should extend to teachers and that their performance should be measured in ways that are worked out within each district between the teachers and the school board so that they are relevant and meaningful. He emphasized, in an audience he knew to have a large complement of educators, that teachers who underperformed should be given help to improve, and that if they didn’t improve they should be removed from the classroom. And these words were greeted with loud applause.

Senator Obama differentiated himself from Senator McCain in his emphasis on early childhood education, noting that children who have benefited from quality preschool programs do better in school, are much less likely to fall below grade level, and are much more likely to graduate from high school and to attend college. And for any lower or middle class child who does attend college he wants to implement a $4,000 tax credit (fully refundable, meaning - as I understand it - that if the child or family does not pay enough in taxes to get the full credit, they would be reimbursed the rest).

What I took away from this speech is that Barack Obama recognizes the shortcomings in American public education and that he has a clear view of what needs to be done to address the problems. Right at the beginning of his speech he noted that every candidate for president promises to improve education, recalling that in 2000 Bush said he wanted to be known as ‘The Education President’ yet the numbers have gotten worse for high school graduation rates and dropout rates. In my mind he clearly wants all students to have the best education possible and is willing to commit government resources to it.

...And my commitment for Obama involves working with a committee to set up an early October fundraiser here in Dayton focusing on healthcare issues, hosting an Obama Field Organizer until the election, and doing whatever she asks me to do for the campaign. What are you doing?

Monday, September 8, 2008

That Sinking Feeling

What, exactly, was that that just hit us?

I'm thinking bus. But a bus, we would have seen coming.

Just over a week ago, I left Denver, inspired, euphoric, feeling that we were on the verge of truly meaningful change. We had just nominated -- I saw it with my own eyes! -- a black, progressive-minded, tough-as-nails candidate along with his running mate, perhaps the preeminent foreign policy expert in Washington, today. All week in Denver, the ticket spoke of restoring economic justice by lifting up the middle class, reaching out to the world to mend our tattered coalitions, ending the debacle of the Iraq war; they spoke of making climate change a national priority, and of investing in -- not just paying lip service to -- alternative fuel, to begin weaning ourselves off of our dependence on foreign oil. The party had come together. (Remember when that was the story?)

Today, I wake up in a terrifying new world. The ticket that promised above all else to fight special interest earmarks and drill baby drill, with a VP candidate whose foreign policy expertise boils down to "governs a state close to Russia," finds itself with an 11 point post-convention surge (compared to Obama's 3), and still rising. McCain leads 50-46 in the latest Gallup poll among registered voters, and -- are you sitting down? -- 54-44 among likely voters.

Sure, sure -- he may yet come down a peg from this bounce. But I'm the Neurotic Democrat -- what concerns me more is how I feel.

I meet once a week to study with a magnificent Chabad rabbi -- a self-described single issue voter (Israel) who supports McCain. We differ politically, but love to talk politics. All summer long he assured me -- in that calming way that only a Chabad rabbi can -- that McCain couldn't win because he didn't have his base. I was heartened, along the way, by polls that showed a major enthusiasm gap, with Democrats wild for Obama, and Republicans lukewarm on McCain. This morning's polls now show Republicans just as enthusiastic as Democrats, thanks largely to Palin. Last time I met my rabbi he was ebullient.

I know it's crazy -- this is politics, hardball politics; there are no entitlements -- but I feel cheated. And compared to where I was when I woke up Friday morning in Denver, deflated. The advantage that we had been building, bit by bit, from the grassroots up, for the last 19 months, has been wiped out, as MacDuff would say, "at one fell swoop."

(By the way -- even Sarah Palin sensed that advantage. An incredible piece in the latest New Yorker quotes Palin -- prior to being tapped as McCain's running mate, speaking admiringly of how Obama had been turning red Alaska purple. "Obama's doing just fine in polls up here, which is kind of wigging people out, because they're saying, 'This hasn't happened for decades that in polls the [Democratic candidate] is doing just fine.' To me, that's indicative, too. It's the no-more-status-quo, it's change.")

Does anyone have the sense that I'm not the only dispirited Dem today? That Obama, too, was knocked on his keister by McCain over the last seven days?

It's in his language. Remarking in Terre Haute Indiana on Palin's earmarks flip-flops, he said: "Come on! Words mean something. You can't just make stuff up."

An exclamation point in the Times. Come on! That, to me, reads like frustration, more than exhortation. Because the truth is, you can. Make stuff up. The Republicans just did. And, far from being punished by voters, they've been handsomely rewarded.

For me, it's not just the convention, it's a steady drip ... drip ... drip seemingly everywhere I look that has me reeling.

  • Perhaps at no moment did I more think, We could actually win this thing, then the night Barack Obama claimed the nomination, before thousands of cheering supporters in Minneapolis. Moments later, McCain appeared, angry and sullen, as the Times put it, countering "with a lackluster speech in a half-empty hall, posed in front of a pea-green screen that became fodder for late-night comedy." I wondered, at the time, if that would be McCain's Nixon debate moment. But there the two candidates were yesterday, on p. 1 of the Times, Obama speaking to what looks like a few dozen folks, standing on some hay in a barn; McCain and Palin literally swamped by thousands at an airport rally in Colorado Springs. Images matter.
  • Obama went on the O'Reilly factor Thursday, and, on Stephanopoulos's show yesterday, and, while more than holding his own substantively, let himself get interrupted, repeatedly, by a couple of disrespectful windbags. Bearing matters. (It was incredible, by the way, to see O'Reilly deftly undermine Obama, positing in rather ho-hum fashion that Obama's initial opposition to the war was right and declaring him "perspicacious" -- thereby taking it away from him as an issue -- before going on to grill him relentlessly about his opposition to the Surge -- as if that tactical decision was far more important than the original strategic one to invade Iraq. Obama's opposition to the war should be issue No. 1 on the commander-in-chief question. See yesterday's post: "Right Tactics, Wrong Strategy.")
  • Obama is having difficulty "connecting" to the middle class (despite the fact that his tax policy would reduce taxes on the middle class). In William Kristol's column today (he tries, but he can barely contain his glee at the turn this election has taken), he describes a scene in 1990 when, as mayor, Sarah Palin presided over a wedding at Wal-Mart. ("It was so sweet," she told the Anchorage Daily News. "It was so Wasilla.") Kristol concludes: "A Wasilla Wal-Mart Mom a heartbeat away? I suspect most voters will say, No problem. and some -- perhaps a decisive number -- will say, It's about time." In coming to this conclusion, he doesn't mention any of her policy proposals. Did I mention image matters?
  • Little things. The Times has a big article today about Palin and motherhood, detailing her last pregnancy. There's a picture inside with her and her husband, holding the baby and a baby shower cake. Her husband, Todd, is wearing a shirt that says "F. Atlee Dodge Aircraft Services, Anchorage, Alaksa," with a picture of a dented-up biplane. All I could think when I saw it was: Obama bowled a gutter ball. Image. Matters.
  • Remember that book of lies "The Obama Nation"? Just because it's slipped from the headlines doesn't mean it's gone. I checked the Best Seller list yesterday, and Corsi's book is safely ensconced at No. 1 for the fourth-straight week, with David Fredoso's book, "The Case Against Barack Obama," sitting pretty at No. 6. I notice no book that will be in every airport in America this week that similarly sets out as its premise to destroy John McCain.
  • The Times had a great, but depressing, article Sunday about how the McCain campaign has changed since Steve Schmidt took over. Schmidt is the guy who pushed to get Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in the attack ads; it was Schmidt who pushed hard to mock Obama's convention setting as the "Temple of Obama"; he approved all of the scathing GOP convention speeches. He centralized McCain's war room. Here is the frightening nub: "Junior aides work shifts across 24 hours, scouring news outlets for tidbits with the potential to embarrass Mr. Obama through circulation to bloggers, the Drudge Report, cable news and newspapers." Not the potential to make a thoughtful point about an issue. The potential to embarrass Obama.

I wonder if this latest flap came from one of those junior aides.

I heard about it this morning, after dropping my son off for preschool. A right wing talk radio host (hey -- we need to hear what the other guys are saying, right?) was merrily talking up what he called "possibly the greatest Freudian slip" of all time. Apparently, on Stephanopoulos's show yesterday, Obama had slipped up and referred to "my Muslim faith" instead of "my Christian faith." This, the host noted, on the heels of Obama's "57 states" comment. Remember, the host said -- there are 57 Islamic states. His point was clear: Given Obama's latest slip, maybe it's not a "smear" afterall; maybe there is something to this a secret radical Muslim stuff.

Now, I'm an educated voter on this topic. I know Obama's a Christian, and has been smeared, relentlessly, as a Muslim, by those trying to make him seem strange and scary. Here is the truly scary -- and embarrassing -- part. There was a part of me, for a split second, that allowed myself to hear what this host was saying as truth. (Did that happen to any of you, reading the paragraph above?) It was an emotional response, not a reasoned one. At the same time I knew, intellectually, that Obama must have just slipped up, there was something compelling, something that appealed directly to my fear instincts, in the way the host tied the two together.

So I went home, weary, feeling down, and looked it up.

In fact -- in truth -- Obama did not slip up. Stefanopoulos did. Here is the relevant part of the transcript:

SEN OBAMA: You're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith, and you're absolutely right that that has not come -
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Your Christian faith.
SEN. OBAMA: My Christian faith - well, what I'm saying is -
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Connections, right.
SEN. OBAMA: - that he hasn't suggested that I'm a Muslim, and I think that his campaign upper echelons haven't either. What I think is fair to say is that coming out of the Republican camp, there have been efforts to suggest that perhaps I'm not what who I say I am when it comes to my faith, something which I find deeply offensive, and that has been going on for a pretty long time.

Obama said exactly what he meant to say. Stephanopoulos interrupted him -- incorrectly inserting words into Obama's mouth, making it seem as if Obama had slipped up. Obama immediately corrected the record, which you see if you watch the video: "What I'm saying is that he hasn't suggest that I'm a Muslim."

Which is exactly what he said. It would have been wrong had he said, as Stefanopoulos wanted him to: "John McCain has not talked about my Christian faith"; Obama was giving McCain credit for not smearing him. Anyone -- anyone -- who is even the slightest bit fair-minded will see this, immediately, upon watching the tape.

And yet, within a day, it's insidiously portrayed as a Freudian slip all over right wing radio.

(For the record, I also looked up the 57 states thing. Obama was exhausted when he made that comment -- he clearly meant to say 47 states. And there are actually 60 Muslim states in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Snopes debunks the whole thing fairly effectively.)

What's so instructive -- and terrifying -- to me about this is that for an instant this morning, I fell for it. An educated, passionate Obama supporter, who has dedicated his entire summer to debunking this very rumor. How many voters who listened to that show this morning will actually take the time to go watch the video and find the truth for themselves, as I did?

I started this day -- this blog -- feeling like Tony Romo under 750 pounds of Cleveland Browns linemen. But as so often happens through the writing process, something happened on the way from there to here -- and I am finishing angry. Flat-out furious that once again, our guy is being worked through a shredder -- at the GOP convention, in best selling books, on the Internet and right wing radio -- and we're letting it happen. Every one of us.

A few days ago, I blogged about Jewish Values and Going Negative. In it, I spoke about the conflict I was feeling between the Jewish prohibition against speaking negatively against someone -- even when what you say is true -- and the notion that we are prohibited from standing idly by while the blood of our fellow is shed.

Team McCain and the right wing radio/blogosphere have just done me an enormous personal favor. I'm no longer conflicted. We have 57 days to punch them, straight in the mouth, with everything we've got.

Sen. Obama, if I could speak to you directly for a moment. This is a bad day. A tough, hard, bitter day. But you need to look no further than your own running mate for advice on where to go from here. As Joe Biden put it in his vice presidential acceptance speech: "My dad, who fell on hard times, always told me, though, 'Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Get up.'"

Get up, champ. Get up. Millions of us have your back.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: Went with my mother-in-law to volunteer with the Obama campaign ... am continuing to organize local Jewish folks as Team Leaders for Obama ...

ND KUDOS: Go to our left coast cousin, who has registered to vote in her first presidential election, has volunteered with the Tallahassee Florida Democratic Party, and will be hosting an Obama Night in her neighborhood in three weeks!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Right Tactics, Wrong Strategy

Every four years, the Republicans run for president in an alternate reality, and win.

Someone explain this to me. According to the latest CNN poll, 64 percent of Americans currently oppose the war in Iraq. According to an ABC poll, 72 percent of Americans -- including many Democrats -- believe McCain would make a good commander-in-chief. That same poll found only 48 percent felt Obama would make a good commander-in-chief. It also found respondents were evenly split between supporting Obama's plans for getting out of Iraq, and McCain's for staying in.

It seems to me that the best way to assess fitness for commander-in-chief is to look at how McCain and Obama have approached the Iraq war. Here are some basics:

We invaded Iraq March 19, 2003. On April 9, we toppled the Saddam statue. On May 1, Bush stood on the aircraft carrier in front of the Mission Accomplished banner, declaring: "My fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

As Frank Rich argues in his column today, McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as VP is very reminiscent of his early support for the Iraq War:

We’ve already seen where such visceral decision-making by McCain can lead. In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America. That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely. He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.

I did a little research, just to be more specific, and found this Salon article, which details McCain's ardent support not only for the war -- but for the original war plan. ("I have no qualms about our strategic plans," he told the Hartford Courant in a March 5 article, [14 days] before the invasion. "I thought we were very successful in Afghanistan.")

It wasn't until August 29, 2003, after the U.N. headquarters was bombed, that McCain told NPR: "we need more troops," adding: "When I say more troops, we need a lot more of certain skills, such as civil affairs capability, military police. We need more linguists."

In other words, to put a finer point on Rich's point, McCain made the first tentative criticism of the war plan five months after the invasion.

Here is how Salon puts it:

To buy into the McCain-knows-best version of the Iraq war, you have to ignore a lot of history. McCain was among the most aggressive proponents of a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein, cosponsoring the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. He also expressed full faith in the way it would be executed -- a war plan conceived and executed by Rumsfeld.
He did call for more troops in Iraq sooner than some, but later than others who made the same argument before the first shots were even fired. And McCain's support for Rumsfeld only evaporated over time, as it became painfully clear that the war in Iraq was going south.
Bert Rockman, the head of the political science department at Purdue University, said McCain's commander-in-chief argument is tarnished because he advocated "the right tactics and the wrong strategy."

Putting aside the fact that, at the very start, he didn't even have the right tactics ("Our technology, particularly air-to-ground technology, is vastly improved," McCain told CNN's Larry King on Dec. 9, 2002. "I don't think you're going to have to see the scale of numbers of troops that we saw, nor the length of the buildup, obviously, that we had back in 1991."), this seems to me an accurate and irrefutable description of McCain's fitness for commander-in-chief. Let's flash forward and give him the Surge (I know -- it's not that simple, given the lack of political reconciliation -- but violence is way down, and even Obama just said the Surge was wildly successful, so for the sake of argument ..) Right tactics, wrong strategy.

Now, here is what Barack Obama said on Oct. 2, 2002, in part, about the Iraq war. (If you haven't yet read the speech, it's worth clicking through):

Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the middle east, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.

It goes on -- and gets even better; thoroughly prescient. For the record, here, four months later, just a month before the start of the war, is what might have been McCain's rejoinder to Obama:

"As Vice President Cheney has said of those who argue that containment and deterrence are working, the argument comes down to this: Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is," McCain said in a saber-rattling speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Feb. 13, 2003. "We just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it," he added sarcastically.

Could the record be any more clear that Obama had the right strategy?

In the alternate political reality in which we now live, McCain is credited with pushing the Surge, at great political peril; he gets away with blurring his early record, saying that he called for more troops and opposed Rumsfeld. He has never once been forced by Fox 5 to admit -- as Obama was Thursday regarding his stance on the Surge -- that he was flat-out wrong in his persistent advocacy for the Iraq war; flat-out wrong in his tactical approach.

A friend of mine -- a doctor, who lives in Chicago -- said to me the other day, effectively: the war's over; we are moving ahead; it's not an issue any more. His point was, for forward-looking people, the difference between McCain and Obama on Iraq is not that great: both will get us out, sooner or later. Maybe my friend is in tune with what most people are thinking on this one.

To me, though, this wrinkle in time thinking is incomprehensible.

I'm not easily stamped as a bleeding heart anti-war lefty. I'm pretty upset at, still, for their callous and petty name-calling of Gen. Petraeus. But I insist on examining the record when determining for myself whether Obama or McCain is more fit to be commander-in-chief. After eight years of bluster and sabre-rattling from the Oval Office, eight years that has left our country adrift at home and strained our alliances the world over, nothing could be more relevant; nothing, more important.

Obama had the right strategy. He advocated his strategy at a time when few people were willing to stand up and say they opposed the war -- it seemed like a great political risk at the time. So lump me in with the 48 percent.

Obama is exactly the kind of commander-in-chief this country desperately needs.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: Today, I emailed a friend here in Akron -- the start of my efforts to organize the local Jewish community for Obama.

ND KUDOS: Go to loyal, for his first dailykos diary, about Palin's descision to run for VP with a Down's baby at home, which, last time I checked, had 32 responses! ... and to my cousin for registering voters outside Target in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a crucial swing state! ... and to my other cousin, for heading up Obama efforts outside Philly, in another crucial swing state! ... and to barbara w, for spending time at the Obama phone bank this weekend ... and to barbara w's family, for circulating all those pro-Obama emails! Keep letting us know what you are doing! ... And keep fighting the good fight!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

One Minute a Day

It's fitting, I think, that the Torah portion for today was Shoftim, which includes, in its first graf, one of the most important exhortations in Jewish thought: "Justice, justice, you shall pursue."

My Torah includes this Midrash, or explication, of the phrase:

"The term 'pursue' carries strong connotations of effort, eagerness," A.J. Heschel taught. "This implies more than merely respecting or following justice,' we must actively pursue it."

It goes on to quote the Sages: "This command also means to 'pursue justice justly,' for just goals can never be achieved by unjust means; the worthiest of goals will be rendered less worthy if we have to compromise justice to achieve it."

This brings us back, again, to the topic of "Jewish Values and Going Negative." (See post.) I continued to struggle with this. Just this morning, my mother-in-law mentioned to me that Team McCain has launched an ad in Detroit, picturing Obama next to the just indicted mayor. It's an obvious smear -- guilt by association -- in a crucial swing state for Obama. My first thought was: Let's run an ad with McCain and Jack Keating. Or McCain and Abramoff. (See, for instance, this connection.) Then, I thought: Do that, and Obama-Wright ads can't be far behind. But we could counter with a Palin-Buchanan spot! Or Palin and the Alaska Independence Party! Although, surely, wall-to-wall Obama-Rezko would follow.

Maybe this is the wisdom of the Sages.

My Uncle Jon is right, though -- we can't fight with one hand behind our back. But I truly believe that something in Obama's high road approach is resonating in this time of hyperpartisanship. We know negative works; but so far, at least, Obama seems to have found a formula to combat it -- a mixture of rapid response, claiming the moral high ground, and running issue-based contrast ads.

Which brings me to my post yesterday -- we are part of that response. Here is what I am advocating:

Thank god for my sister, who, today -- depressed in the aftershock of this GOP convention -- emailed me a Buddhist saying that she has on her wall, in her apartment in New York City: "He who says it cannot be done should get out of the way of the person doing it."

We have 60 days until the election. I know it seems daunting to think about getting out and pitching in. But look -- when I was in graduate school for writing at Johns Hopkins, a teacher of mine gave me a trick to get us going: Don't think about writing every day -- that may seem too hard -- just start out with 30 minutes a day, and go from there. Later in my career, a teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop went even further, saying: Write for one minute a day. That's it. You'll see, he said -- it will turn into more.

Start there. Take one minute a day, for the next 60 days, and do something for this cause. Send an email to a wavering friend or family member. Send the Obama campaign $5 through the Web. Put a bumpersticker on your car, a button on your shirt, a lawn sign in front of your house. Do something -- no matter how small -- every day for the next two months. It will matter. And it will add up!

I wanted to reiterate that today, because I think it's so important. It's so easy to feel we are too busy, and can't make a difference. But in the Internet age, everything we do can be viral. And one minute a day is doable. Post in response to a blog, or post on a local newspaper blog. Write in to this blog, and suggest creative ways that people can make good use of their minute.

To that end, I took a few minutes today to write a letter to the editor to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I know from my newspaper days that whether or not your letter gets published, it has an impact, because publications tend to run letters that represent the letters they receive. So, for example -- if they get 50 pro Obama letters and 10 pro McCain, they may shoot to run 4 or 5 pro Obama letters and one pro McCain. In that way, we can have an impact, even if no one sees what we write.

You can also, of course, post your letter on this blog!

Here's the letter I emailed to the Plain Dealer:

In your editorial Saturday ("McCain looks to the future"), you characterize John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin for vice president as "bold," noting that she is "relatively unknown and untested."

Isn't it also reckless? Especially given John McCain's previous insistence on the importance of foreign policy experience?

You note that McCain is looking to the future with this pick. But you might also have pointed out that by picking a staunch social conservative who opposes abortion rights even in cases of incest and rape, he is looking primarily to his right-wing base.

McCain, you conclude, while short on policy specifics thus far, has two months to prove "he can chart a course that leads from a disappointing presidency to a more prosperous future." But he's already had 26 years in Washington to chart that course.

It's time for a real change.

Friday, September 5, 2008

McCain's Israel Omission

A party convention speech is an important thing. It gives us a sense of a candidate's priorities. So what are we to make of the fact that, after allowing his convention to be used as a platform to batter Barack Obama on Israel (see, for example, Rudy Giuliani's speech), John McCain took to the stage on the most important political night of his life and didn't mention Israel, even once?

More than 4,400 words, by my count, and no mention of the Jewish State.

I know McCain supports Israel. And I suppose I might be feeling more charitable -- more willing to overlook his unfortunate omission -- were it not for groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition, which consistently seeks to use Israel as a wedge issue against Democrats. (Its home page states: "A Risky Choice Just Got Riskier: Obama-Biden," claiming the Democrats have a poor record on Israel; it features articles like "Why Sarah Palin Will Likely Be Better For Israel Than Joe Biden.") Likely? They do this, despite the fact that it's ultimately detrimental to Israel, the very cause they espouse. (As even AIPAC notes, the best thing for Israel is strong, bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress.)

Unlike McCain, Obama did choose to mention the Jewish State during his moment in the international spotlight. (My wife was the one who pointed this out to me -- it meant something to her.)

"You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq," he said. "You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice, but that is not the change that America needs."

Indeed, in his speech, McCain was all too happy to talk tough.

"We have dealt a serious blow to Al Qaida in recent years, but they're not defeated, and they'll strike us again, if they can," he said. "Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and is on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons."

Obama, of course, talked tough on Iran, too. He said:

"I will end this war in Iraq responsibly and finish the fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts, but I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation, poverty and genocide, climate change and disease."

I'm a writer -- a words guy. Words matter, especially when they are spoken by presidential candidates. Listen to the difference in their approaches.

McCain speaks in a language of fear, warning of imminent attacks. (See yesterday's post: "A Tale of Two Speeches") Obama speaks of partnerships and building up our military strength. He criticizes Bush's strategic decision to attack Iran. He presents an argument: By that action, we have neglected the true fight against terrorist networks in 80 countries across the globe. He speaks of deterring Iran (rather than bomb, bomb, bomb ... bomb, bomb b, bombing it), protecting Israel. I looked it up -- it means: "to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.; cover or shield from injury or danger."

He made this pledge on a world stage before 42 million people.

McCain, apparently, didn't feel the need to mention it.

Now, I know McCain supports Israel. But he also picked Sarah Palin, as his running mate.

A recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency article includes these startling grafs:

Republicans have been scouring the archives to uncover evidence of Palin’s outreach to Jews and to Israel.
Her single substantive act is signing a resolution in June marking 60 years of Alaska-Israel relations, launched improbably in 1948 when Alaska Airlines helped shepherd thousands of Yemeni Jews to Israel. However, she did not initiate the legislation: Its major mover was John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House.
The paucity of material led the Republican Jewish Coalition to tout the appearance of a small Israeli flag propped against a window of the state Capitol in an online video in which Palin touts the virtues of hiking Juneau.

The best the RJC can do, in terms of her Israel record, is a small Israeli flag in an online video? And yet they are not only okay with this -- they are pushing Palin, hard, on the Jewish community? This, after months criticizing Obama for his supposedly thin Israel resume?

Look, I'm nothing if not a Neurotic Democrat. I understand that rational and electable are two very different things. Do I need more proof than the AP article today, indicating that in the latest polling, Palin is more popular than Obama or McCain, with a 58 percent favorability rating? For picking her, McCain's favorability ratings jumped 12 percent. About 51 percent believe reporters are deliberately trying to hurt Palin. Her numbers are better than Bidens'. And Friday mornings' numbers already see the start of a McCain bounce that could totally wipe out Obama's.

Thank god for my sister, who, today -- depressed in the aftershock of this GOP convention -- emailed me a Buddhist saying that she has on her wall, in her apartment in New York City: "He who says it cannot be done should get out of the way of the person doing it."

We have 60 days until the election. I know it seems daunting to think about getting out and pitching in. But look -- when I was in graduate school for writing at Johns Hopkins, a teacher of mine gave me a trick to get us going: Don't think about writing every day -- that may seem too hard -- just start out with 30 minutes a day, and go from there. Later in my career, a teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop went even further, saying: Write for one minute a day. That's it. You'll see, he said -- it will turn into more.

Start there. Take one minute a day, for the next 60 days, and do something for this cause. Send an email to a wavering friend or family member. Send the Obama campaign $5 through the Web. Put a bumpersticker on your car, a button on your shirt, a lawn sign in front of your house. Do something -- no matter how small -- every day for the next two months. It will matter. And it will add up!

In his acceptance speech last night, John McCain said: "My friends, if you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them ... Fight for what's right for our country. Fight for the ideals and
character of a free people."

John McCain -- you can bet your bottom dollar we will.

Shabbat Shalom.