Unfortunate Headlines

Via Wonkette, solid headline in the New York Times.

Sub-heading unfortunately not “Obama hopeful friendship will remain.”


Well, it’s official — Clinton will be brought on for State, Gates will be retained, and Jim Jones will be the national security adviser. Not much more for me to comment, other than this encouraging report in the New York Times:

Yet all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.

The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — “will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisers said recently.

The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced “a rebalancing of America’s national security portfolio” after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.

Even during the campaign, Obama never made overtly political moves — he opposed the gas tax holiday, he didn’t tap Hilary for VP — so it’s not really surprising that the so-called “team of rivals” represents far more comity than dissonance. This will surely also be encouraging to progressives who have expressed some concern that Obama was likely to eschew liberal internationalism entirely.

The March of Centrism

Look, I won’t dispute that Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates are centrist foreign policy figures, and I understand the point Ezra is trying to make here, but I still think this needs some push back.

Conversely, Obama’s foreign policy picks have been aggressively centrist. Obama ran against Clinton’s conventional foreign policy instincts in the primary, but is ready to elevate her to secretary of state. And all reporting suggests that Robert Gates may well remain as secretary of defense. Both may be good choices, but they’re a sharp break with the campaign’s primary posturing.

There is some element of truth to this inasmuch as Clinton might staff the State Department with her people, but Ezra only applies half of the observation that positions in the primary are “impossible to disentangle [from those] motivated by principle and which by politics.” That is, it’s very likely that Clinton and Obama feel the same way about Iraq, it’s probably just that Hillary was forced to defend her vote for the war because politicians generally assume that stubborn adherence to the Jedi Mind Trick strategy of communication is better than admitting error. This is especially true if a pillar of your campaign is the superior wisdom granted by experience as was Hillary’s. Meanwhile, it’s also true that if your campaign is running against someone who posits their incorrect position on Iraq as a good thing, you would probably elevate the significance of your opposition to the war, as did Obama. Anyway, in light of the fact that the presumed foreign policy appointees are quite amicable to the ideas outlined by Obama during the campaign it’s really more likely that Clinton is politically breaking to the left than Obama is breaking to the right.

The other alternative — which is far less popular in the media and I also believe to be correct — is that the center itslef has shifted, and thus, “centrist” politicians representing views that were previously left of center are still adorned by the coveted the mantle of centrism.

All the News Analysis That’s Fit to Hide

The New York Times has virtually unparalled resources for reporting the news. This is their strength, and they should stick to it. Instead, to compete an industry that places emphasis on opinion rather than intellectual honesty, the New York Times is now in the business of producing tripe so-called “news analysis” that misguidedly strives to speak to the “conventional wisdom” of some amorphous and totally non-existent “middle opinion.” This piece of post-modern excrement is so stupid it makes you wonder how the New York Times hasn’t gone out of business yet.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of the left wing of his party, fueled by his vehement opposition to the decision to invade Iraq and by one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

The choices are as revealing of the new president as they are of his appointees — and suggest that, from its first days, an Obama White House will brim with big personalities and far more spirited debate than occurred among the largely like-minded advisers who populated President Bush’s first term.

  1. The differences between Obama and Clinton during the primary were essentially a wash. Clinton voted for the War in Iraq, but their positions during the primary were both critical of the war. What’s more Clinton supported a universal mandate for health care, a measure marking Clinton’s proposal to the left of Obama’s. There were other minor spats like the gas tax holiday, but these were far more emblematic of Clinton’s desire to pander to working class white voters than anything else.
  2. The fact that Obama and Clinton agreed on a substantial majority of issues during the primary suggests that either Clinton is to the left of her perceived ideology or Obama was to the right. In either case, this makes a “shift” impossible.
  3. Geithner was widely supported by left-leaning liberals.
  4. The article also mentions the possibility of keeping Gates at Defense as further evidence of a “shift”, but misses the obvious conclusion that agreement doesn’t constitute a “shift.”
  5. The selection of “pragmatists” like Rahm Emanuel is entirely consistent with Obama’s vision of change; namely that change does not mean a liberal being a conservative all in one, but rather it means producing substanitive policy changes.
  6. Even if you buy that “change” equates to a liberal being a conservative, then the appointment of people ostensibly to the “right” of Obama is entirely consistent with that message, thus making a “shift” yet again impossible.

I could go on, but it’s just making me upset. For all the hand-wringing in the newspaper business, it seems like there could be tremendous benefit in evaluating the quality of the content produced. Again, the New York Times is considered the best newspaper because it is the best at reporting the news. You don’t see AC/DC producing emo-punk not only because they are famous for rock, but also because it’s not what they do best. Please New York Times, leave opinion on the opinion page and just stick to the basic reporting.

The Opportunity Cost of Biography

Matt Yglesias adds his two cents on an article by Timothy Noah ruminating on why the war hero candidate always loses (McGovern-Nixon, Bush-Clinton, Dole-Clinton, Kerry-Bush, McCain-Obama).

Noah interviews various people for their theories as to why this is, but I think the important larger point to recall is that the evidence suggests that candidate attributes in general don’t matter very much in presidential elections. The hard part is winning your party’s nomination, where amidst a field of ideologically similar members of the same party these kind of things can help you stand out.

I think this analysis is generally right, but (admitting I haven’t bothered to read Noah’s article yet, so this might be in there) I would hypothesize that war heroism — or for that matter, simply excessive emphasis on the candidate’s biography — focuses the election too greatly on the candidate and leaves other things, like platform, by the wayside (Kerry, cough cough). One of Bill Clinton’s greatest political strengths was his ability to translate fairly recondite economics into language that made sense to lower information voters. In an election following economic decline (1992), this was far more valuable than prominently featuring biography, which would have eclipsed discussion about the fundamental issues in that election. Certainly in this election, John McCain was woefully equipped to grapple with the economy to begin with and it seems plausibly that the opportunity cost of discussing biography exacerbated an already difficult situation.

Get Him a Cigar and an Intern, stat

Bill Clinton needs to be bound and gagged immediately. Who is he campaigning for anyway? Here are his remarks introducing John McCain and his suspended campaign at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting this morning:


“I am personally, profoundly honoered that Senator came here today,” he said, recognizing Governor Sarah Palin as well.

He lavished praise on McCain’s foresight on global warming.

“When most people in his party were thinking that global warming was overstated and maybe even a myth designed to help people like me who love solar and wind get into it, he decided to look into it,” Clinton said, recalling McCain’s and Hillary Clinton’s trips to the Arctic.

“The point I want to make is there aren’t any votes on this in Arizona,” Clinton said. “He just wanted to know. That’s what we want from everybody. John McCan wants to know and I am profoundly grateful to him for coming here today.”


And then, Big Dog goes on to say this on Good Morning America (!):

“We know he didn’t do it because he’s afraid because Sen. McCain wanted more debates,” Clinton said, adding that he was “encouraged” by the joint statement from McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

“You can put it off a few days the problem is it’s hard to reschedule those things,” Clinton said, “I presume he did that in good faith since I know he wanted — I remember he asked for more debates to go all around the country and so I don’t think we ought to overly parse that.”

If the debate moves forward as planned for Friday night, Clinton says “they should be able to talk about this some of the debate because it is a security issue.”


Dude, don’t you have a cigar to shove in an orifice or something?

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Via Matt Yglesias, check out this chart graphing job growth under the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Republicans are quick to point out that imputing Bill Clinton with all the credit for the economic growth during his administration is unfair and that it’s similarly unfair to lump all the blame for our current mess at the feet of George W. Bush. This is most certainly true, but it basically misses the point that if you’re willing to give presidents any credit (and since John McCain has a “plan” for the economy, Republicans do obviously believe the president has power over the economy), you have to give Clinton’s policies some credit and Bush’s policies some blame and that it might be a good idea to fashion our future policies accordingly. And yes, I realize you could make the argument that the economy grew in spite of Clinton’s policies and that Bush’s policies staved off even worse maladies, but this is a non sequiter akin to David Frum suggesting that the War in Iraq made America safer because terrorist attacks have lessened in sophistication since the time when George W. Bush roundly ignored a memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Anyway, even if you do subscribe to this sort of illogic, you would still be forced to admit that Democratic policies like the ones proposed by Barack Obama are not anathema to the economy. Of course, this being politics, John McCain doesn’t believe in any such admissions and still thinks Obama’s plan will cause “economic disaster” while Bushonomics on steroids will right the ship.