Friday, November 30, 2007

Chris Rocks Obama @ The Apollo (with video)

Cameron's Corner, with video (02:56).

"So how is Hillary's attack playing?" (videos)

Hillary Clinton speech on health care in Ankeny, IA. News piece from WHO-TV in Des Moines (video 03:13).
Howie P.S.: That evening (11/28), NBC news had this coverage, ABC had this and CBS went with this.

Charlie Rose Special Edition: John Edwards (video), video (52:10).

"The Candidate's 'Catch Me if You Can'"

Howard Kurtz (WaPo):
CONCORD, N.H. -- ABC correspondent Kate Snow was ready to push through the crowd and ask Hillary Clinton a question until an aide blocked the path of Snow's sound man as he aimed his boom mike in the senator's direction.

"Sorry, we've gotta go," the woman said, though it was clear that Clinton would be shaking hands for some time.
Moments later, as the Democratic presidential candidate was mobbed by well-wishers, Boston television reporter Joe Battenfeld managed to shout a question -- a meaningless question, truth be told -- about whether she needed to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. Clinton was defiantly bland in response, as if determined that her comments not be used.

"Oh, I don't think about it like that. I'm just thrilled to be competing in Iowa and New Hampshire. . . . There's something very special about the New Hampshire primary. . . . I take nothing for granted. . . . We have wonderful candidates running."

Such is life spent trailing the Clinton juggernaut, where reporters can generally get close enough to watch but no further, as if separated from the candidate by an invisible sheet of glass.

National correspondents are increasingly frustrated by a lack of access to Clinton. They spend much of their time in rental cars chasing her from one event to the next, because the campaign usually provides no press bus or van. Life on the bus means journalists don't have to worry about luggage or directions or getting left behind, since they are part of the official motorcade. News organizations foot the bill for such transportation, but campaigns have to staff and coordinate the buses -- and deal with the constant presence of their chroniclers.

With rare exceptions -- John McCain chats endlessly with reporters aboard his bus -- leading presidential candidates take a wary approach to the press, doling out access in carefully limited increments. Journalists sometimes question whether it is worth the time and energy to trail politicians who rarely engage them. In this regard, Clinton differs only in her degree of discipline, honed during eight years of often testy media relations in her husband's White House.

Clinton blames an overtaxed schedule for the arm's-length approach, but something more fundamental is at work here. She, like her rivals, wants to deliver a daily message, usually framed around some policy prescription, while reporters want to ask her about the latest polls, tactics or blast from Barack Obama or John Edwards. And answering questions off the cuff always risks the possibility of a blunder, as when Clinton told NBC's Andrea Mitchell during the 1992 campaign that she had chosen to pursue a career rather than stay home and "bake cookies."

At the same time, much of what Clinton wants to communicate -- the nuances of her health-care plan, for instance -- doesn't fit the media's cramped definition of news.

Clinton did a phone interview this week with the Chicago Tribune and a previously scheduled feature interview with The Washington Post, which included a question on her husband's claim that he had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. But such opportunities are relatively rare. Obama, for his part, held a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Clinton aides say they try to stage a "press avail," or brief news conference, every five or six days, but they acknowledge the schedule often slips. (Obama is also on a weekly schedule; Edwards, third in the national polls, is more accessible.) The result is little red meat for the press pack. In fact, much of the chatter among the reporters is about MapQuest and GPS devices and Hertz's NeverLost technology as they trade tips on how to track their constantly moving quarry.

Earlier this month, Snow ignored the speed limit as she chased Clinton from a Manchester diner to a Concord state office where the candidate was filing to run in the primary. "I parked seven blocks away," Snow says. "I ran up the street in my high-heel boots. I got there out of breath, and the Secret Service stopped me and said, 'You can't come in.' "

Snow and other late-arriving reporters talked their way in through the back door, but the room was so packed with supporters that her crew couldn't get near the former first lady, whose news conference was almost over. "We're constantly playing catch-up," Snow says.

Newsweek's Andrew Romano says the press didn't even get to take the tour when Clinton visited a Las Vegas sheet-metal factory. "The way we were herded into a small area to watch her walk into a room and meet with union officials just seemed slightly absurd," he says. When a colleague asked the staff for a chance to question Clinton, "they just kind of laughed it off."

My day-long pursuit of the senator on Monday was typical. She arrived more than an hour late, from Iowa, at a 19th-century Victorian mansion here and spoke for all of nine minutes about the importance of health care. With half a dozen cameras rolling, Clinton accepted the endorsement of pediatrician Susan Lynch, wife of the state's Democratic governor, John Lynch.

When Clinton stepped away from the microphones, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" began blaring from the speakers, which effectively drowned out any attempted queries from the journalists sprinkled throughout the room. Battenfeld, the Boston reporter, launched his horse-race question during a brief lull between songs.

"It's kind of an art form," he said afterward. "I would have asked her about Obama, but I figured she would have turned and run."

While candidates operate in something of a bubble, their headquarters staff conducts an outside game with tougher language, and Clinton is no exception. As reporters awaited her arrival here, an e-mail arrived by BlackBerry, sparked by a Washington Post report on Obama using a political action committee to make donations to officials in early primary states. "It was surprising to learn that he has been using his PAC in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the prevailing election laws," the Clinton release said.

After the Concord event, Clinton retreated to a previously scheduled taping with Katie Couric, her only sustained encounter that day with the national media. The CBS anchor asked how disappointed she would be if she isn't the nominee. "Well, it will be me," Clinton said. When Couric pressed, Clinton insisted -- not terribly convincingly -- that she hadn't even considered the possibility she could lose.

Reporters, meanwhile, were making their way along unmarked back roads, past moose crossings and flocks of geese, to find a home on an isolated cul-de-sac in Goffstown. There, Judy Lanza, a nurse, and her husband, Joe, a retired police officer, hosted Clinton in a small kitchen adorned with pumpkins, apple baskets, a cookie jar and a straw doll affixed to the wall.

For more than an hour, 30 journalists watched from the small, darkened living room as Clinton chatted, awkwardly at first, with the five preselected guests. Her rhetoric against health insurance companies was harsher than might have been expected. They give patients the "runaround," deny care, "slow-walk" the payment of bills, she declared. "This is all part of their business model. This is how they make money. . . . The small-business health-care market is really rigged."

From there, Clinton drifted into special education, meetings she had as first lady on religious tolerance, how she was "deeply involved" in the Northern Ireland peace process, and her plans for a "post-Kyoto agreement" on global warming. But although the meeting was staged for the assembled journalists, there was no chance for follow-up, and the event received virtually no coverage.

As Clinton made her way to the door, she observed: "All this good food -- can we feed the press?" But the press was feeling undernourished.

Campaigns often brush off national correspondents in favor of local journalists, who tend to be less critical. Clinton did hold an off-the-record session with New Hampshire reporters and spoke to an Exeter radio station on Monday. But she paid a price for her limited interaction with reporters on the 6 p.m. newscast of WMUR-TV, the state's only network affiliate.

Obama, in New Hampshire that day, was shown talking to one of the station's reporters about Oprah Winfrey's decision to campaign for him. Edwards, also in New Hampshire, was seen talking to reporters about the need for a candidate who "tells the truth." But Clinton's endorsement by the governor's wife warranted only a brief mention, with no sound bite from the candidate.

Her last major event was a potluck dinner at a cavernous union hall in the town of Brentwood. But only a handful of reporters attended and I arrived late, driving down unlighted streets in a heavy rain as confused Clinton aides kept giving me the wrong directions.

The candidate spent half an hour signing campaign posters and posing for pictures, and I persuaded her tired-looking staff to grant me a single question as she made her way out. The question: Wouldn't providing more media access help get her message out?

"We try to balance what we do every day," Clinton said. "I'm trying to reach as many voters as possible one-on-one" while also dealing with the local press, "which has a very big role to play," and making time for occasional interviews with national news outlets. "It seems I have mushrooming demands," she said. "The balancing is really intense."

With that, she was off to a waiting plane to South Carolina, while reporters headed for commercial flights to follow her there.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

NOW: "Will The 2008 Vote Be Fair?" [Streaming video of this program will be available online after broadcast]:
How safe is your right to vote? Former Justice Department official and voting rights lawyer David Becker, who worked under both President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton, alleges a systematic effort to deny the vote to hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans. In a revealing interview with NOW's David Brancaccio, Becker openly worries that the 2008 election will not be free and fair. Is our government part of the solution, or part of the problem?
Howie P.S.: This NOW segment will air in Seattle on Friday November 30th @8pm.

TIME: "Q&A: Obama Talks with Rick Stengel" (with audio)

TIME, with audio:
TIME managing editor Richard Stengel met with Senator Obama in Portsmouth, N.H., for a talk on their flight to New York City. Here are highlights of their conversation:

You've been engaging with Senator Clinton in a more direct way. Is there a danger of damaging your brand of new politics?
If you look at every public statement I've made over the past two months, you'd be hard-pressed to say that at any point we've been gratuitous, nasty, personal. We've had some policy differences that we described. We're running for the presidency of the United States of America, not for student-council president. This has been a relatively civil campaign.

Her campaign just issued a statement saying you had less foreign policy experience than any President since World War II.
They want to press what they consider to be a comparative advantage. It seems to get less traction as people hear me talk. If Senator Clinton has specific differences with me on Iraq, Iran, Burma, she can pick her hot spot, and we'll have a fruitful debate. The American people might not agree with everything I say, but I don't think they'll say, "The guy doesn't know what he's talking about."

How do you deal with the idea that some people might not vote for you because of your race?
Racism is a function of our society. There are some people who aren't going to vote for me because I've got big ears. Part of my optimism about Americans is that I don't think they expect me to be deracialized in order to represent them.

A few months ago, we ran a cover story called "The Case for National Service."
One of the things I think I can bring to the presidency is to make government and public service cool again. There's such a hunger among young people for some outlet for their idealism. That's why you see these movements around Darfur or climate change. You don't see it expressed in terms of people wanting to serve in the Justice Department or the foreign service. Why should they, when the core missions of those agencies have been gutted?

Would you say Al Gore is really the catalyst for concern about climate change?
He has been working on this for decades. The country and the world caught up to him.

Would you offer him a job in an Obama Administration?
In a minute.

What about Bill Clinton?
In a second. There are few more talented people.

Howie P.S.: In a companion piece in TIME, "Obama Finds His Moment," you can find the "momentum" thread, if you that's what you seek.

"Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him"

WaPo, page one:
In his speeches and often on the Internet, the part of Sen. Barack Obama's biography that gets the most attention is not his race but his connections to the Muslim world.

Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10. While his father was an atheist and his mother did not practice religion, Obama's stepfather did occasionally attend services at a mosque there.
Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible, as did Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only Muslim in Congress, when he was sworn in earlier this year.

In campaign appearances, Obama regularly mentions his time living and attending school in Indonesia, and the fact that his paternal grandfather, a Kenyan farmer, was a Muslim. Obama invokes these facts as part of his case that he is prepared to handle foreign policy, despite having been in the Senate for only three years, and that he would literally bring a new face to parts of the world where the United States is not popular.

The son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, Obama was born and spent much of his childhood in Hawaii, and he talks more about his multicultural background than he does about the possibility of being the first African American president, in marked contrast to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who mentions in most of her stump speeches the prospect of her becoming the first woman to serve as president.

"A lot of my knowledge about foreign affairs is not what I just studied in school. It's actually having the knowledge of how ordinary people in these other countries live," he said earlier this month in Clarion, Iowa.

"The day I'm inaugurated, I think this country looks at itself differently, but the world also looks at America differently," he told another Iowa crowd. "Because I've got a grandmother who lives in a little village in Africa without running water or electricity; because I grew up for part of my formative years in Southeast Asia in the largest Muslim country on Earth."

While considerable attention during the campaign has focused on the anti-Mormon feelings aroused by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), polls have also shown rising hostility toward Muslims in politics. It is not clear whether that negative sentiment will affect someone who has lived in a Muslim country but does not practice Islam.

In an August poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 45 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for any office who is Muslim, compared with 25 percent who said that about a Mormon candidate and with 16 percent who said the same for someone who is an evangelical Christian.

In Ellison's case, much of the controversy focused on his decision to take his oath of office with a Koran, one owned by Thomas Jefferson.

"It's good for America to have a president who has diversity at many levels in his background. That would be a benefit in reaching out to the rest of the world, particularly the Islamic world," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group for Muslims. "But that kind of thing provides talking points for political detractors."

Obama aides sharply disputed the initial stories suggesting that he was a Muslim, and in Iowa, the campaign keeps a letter at its offices, signed by five members of the local clergy, vouching for the candidate's Christian faith. Aware that his religious belief remains an issue, Obama has denied a separate charge: that he does not hold his hand to his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. This rumor stemmed from a photo that was taken while the national anthem was being played.

"If I were a Muslim, I would let you know, " he said in Dubuque, Iowa, recently, according to "But I'm a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. We've got the best choir in town, and if you want to come and worship with us, you are more than welcome."

In the past few months, Obama has actively touted his Christianity, particularly in South Carolina, where his campaign hosted a gospel tour to appeal to black voters. He describes his movement from a "reluctant skeptic" to a believer during his 20s while he was working with black churches in Chicago as a community organizer. The title of his second book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," comes from a sermon by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

An early rumor about Obama's faith came from Insight, a conservative online magazine. The Insight article said Obama had "spent at least four years in a so-called madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." It attributed this detail to background information the Clinton campaign had been collecting.

After Obama denied the rumor, Jeffrey Kuhner, Insight's editor, said Obama's "concealment and deception was to be the issue, not so much his Muslim heritage," and he suggested that the source of the madrassa rumor was the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign denied the charge.

Human Events, another conservative magazine, published on its Web site a package of articles called "Barack Obama Exposed." One of them was titled "The First Muslim President?"

Robert Spencer, a conservative activist, wrote in Human Events that "given Obama's politics, it will not be hard to present him internationally as someone who understands Islam and Muslims, and thus will be able to smooth over the hostility between the Islamic world and the West -- our first Muslim President."

Conservative talk-show hosts have occasionally repeated the rumor, with Michael Savage noting Obama's "background" in a "Muslim madrassa in Indonesia" in June, and Rush Limbaugh saying in September that he occasionally got "confused" between Obama and Osama bin Laden. Others repeatedly use the senator's middle name, Hussein.

The rumors about Obama have been echoed on Internet message boards and chain e-mails.

Bryan Keelin of Charleston, S.C., who works with an organization of churches there, posted on an Internet board his suspicion that Obama is a Muslim. "I assume his father instructed him on the ways of being a Muslim," said Keelin, who described himself in an interview as a conservative Republican who will vote for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

"The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the U.S. from the inside out," says one of the e-mails that was posted recently on a blog at, the campaign's Web site, by an Obama supporter who warned of an attempt to "Swift Boat" the candidate. "What better way to start than at the highest level, through the President of the United States, one of their own!"

Another e-mail, on a site called that tracks Internet rumors, starts, "Be careful, be very careful." It notes that "Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim," and that "since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when you are seeking political office in the United States, Obama joined the United Church of Christ to help purge any notion that he is still a Muslim."

A CBS News poll in August showed that a huge number of voters said they did not know Obama's faith, but among those who said they did, 7 percent thought he was a Muslim, while only 6 percent thought he was a Protestant Christian .

"The underlying point is that if you can somehow pin Islam on him, that would be a fatal blow," Hooper said. "It's offensive. It speaks to the rising level of anti-Muslim feeling in our society."

Obama's advisers say they are not worried that the candidate will hurt his campaign by invoking his connections to the Islamic world. "He understands that there are scurrilous attack e-mails going on underground that distort his religious affiliation and worse, but his judgment is that he trusts the American people more than that," said David Axelrod, a top Obama strategist. "He genuinely believes. . . . that people want to have a president that the world looks at and says, 'I believe this guy has an understanding of us and how we fit together on the planet.' "

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We interrupt the '08 campaign for.... "The Vigilante Journalist"

Campus Progress:

For the past few years, Matt Taibbi has delivered something invaluable to Rolling Stone’s one-million-plus subscribers: political reporting that brilliantly explains, exposes, and entertains. A roving national reporter who writes from a left-libertarian perspective, Taibbi has also called a lot of people a lot of nasty names. Ken Lay was “your typically unremarkable mealy-executive type, the kind of person you would expect to be eaten first in any lifeboat situation,” while Christopher Hitchens is “a man who has had his intellectual face lifted so many times, he can’t close his eyes without opening his mouth.” One of Taibbi’s columns was titled simply, “Eat me, Joe Biden.”
Taibbi’s new book, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, collects his work during George W. Bush’s administration, including pieces on Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Congress, the Lieberman-Lamont race, and the Lynndie England and Michael Jackson trials. What gives this latest collection—his past two were Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season and The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia—staying power is not Taibbi’s near-acrobatic talent as a takedown artist or his occasional undercover stunt, though those things do make his work great fun to read. Rather, it’s the solid research and reporting that informs everything he writes.

Taibbi spoke with Campus Progress last week about the war, stalking Thomas Friedman, and Jack Abramoff’s College Republican days.

Campus Progress: The most affecting piece in your new book is about Cindy Sheehan’s campout in Crawford back in 2005. Your article had a hopeful tone, and for a lot of people on the antiwar side of things, that was a hopeful moment. Two years later the war’s still going strong. What happened?

Matt Taibbi: The antiwar movement is always going to have a disadvantage in our modern political arena because we have an antagonistic commercial media that’s going to be inclined to not pay a whole lot of attention. They’re going to be inclined to paint it in a negative or ambiguous light if they can. What happened with Cindy Sheehan—it started out as this movement that had a really clear and unambiguous and simple, emotionally powerful message that was connected to this woman who had really lost a son overseas. And it morphed into something that was different. I hate to criticize antiwar protestors or people who showed up and gave their time to this whole thing—but one of the things that happens there is that you have Cindy Sheehan alone to start with, and then within like three days you have the Cuban Five and the Free Mumia people and every circus act of the protest crowd that came to plant their flag.

The message got watered down and there was a perception that the antiwar movement had been co-opted by a fringe slice of American society, whereas, in fact, if you went to the marches before the war started, the demographic was older people, working professionals, very middle-of-the-road people politically. But because of the kind of stuff you saw at Cindy Sheehan’s campout, the media was able to portray it as this out of control nut job thing.

But I don’t know how much of an effect that had on what happened with the war. The real bad thing with the antiwar movement was that the Democrats got elected and the entire apparatus of the non-profit so-called peace groups basically was taken over by Democratic Party operatives who used the energy of the antiwar movement to further their own legislative goals. And even though the Democratic Congress was elected almost specifically to end the war, they haven’t done it, even though they could have. We got sold out, basically.

What about the standard “we-don’t-have-the-60-votes” line? Do you think that’s legit?

Oh, it’s bullshit. Look, they can do whatever they want. If the Democrats control the Congress they could have put a choke hold on the money right from the start, if they wanted to. This notion that they needed all 60 votes to override a veto or something like that—look, force Bush to veto the thing. Or force a showdown. They didn’t even do that.

George Bush and the Republicans ran the Congress and bullied extraordinarily unpopular legislation into existence for seven consecutive years by using every threat and loophole available in the system. If you can pass CAFTA—it looked like there was no possible way that thing could have passed. But they passed it, even though every union in the country was against it and legislators felt that they were going to become one-term congressmen if they voted for the thing.

If you have 65 or 70 percent of the country that wants to end the war and somehow you can’t get a majority vote in Congress to cut off the money? That’s ridiculous. Of course they could have done it. It’s a cover-your-ass excuse that the Democrats are using so they don’t have to go into an ‘08 presidential election season carrying the albatross of being soft on terrorism or whatever the hell it is.

You called Jack Abramoff “the young progressive’s paranoid nightmare come shockingly true: the absurd campus Republican proto-geek effortlessly transformed at graduation into flesh-and-blood neo-Nazi spook.” Can the Abramoff affair be interpreted as an extended episode of College Republican hijinks?

There’s a whole long history of College Republicans suddenly rising to unpleasant prominence in American politics. Look back at the Watergate scandal. Half the guys who ended up being indicted or dragged before Congress got their start in University of Southern California student politics. That whole notion of “ratfucking,” that stuff was all born on the USC campus when these guys were rigging student elections back in the day.

Abramoff was the same kind of creature. He and Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed were all these very ardent College Republican intellectuals who had a lot of crazy dreams about how they were going to foster this right-wing revolution. And they were extraordinarily successful very early on in their careers. Abramoff is a wet-behind-the-ears college student in the early ’80s. Then immediately in 1983 he’s off—where it looks like he was working as a bagman for this neo-Nazi organization in South Africa. He ends up going to South Africa and hanging out with people like Russell Crystal, a South African crypto-fascist, and they’re funneling money for the South African army. Not your everyday 23- or 24-year-old kid goes off and does this stuff.

They took this student politics thing really seriously. You have to give them credit, it wasn’t just a popularity contest. With lefty-liberal political activists in college, the stereotype is a bunch of kids who go canvassing for PIRG or for Greenpeace or something like that and get baked afterwards. These guys are obviously sociopathic and have a lot more serious character flaws, but they were much more focused on the real power aspect of politics early on. They brought that to bear in their real go-around with politics when they finally did get power.

You also wrote that “the defining characteristic of lefty student movements is how few doors they open for you,” which will be disheartening to hear for Campus Progress readers. Are things really that bleak for the young committed progressive type?

Again, if you look at these guys—Abramoff and Norquist and Reed—they weren’t out to use politics to get girls or to hang out and trade stories over the keg. They were using their networking skills in college to find real opportunities for themselves in the world and to really learn lessons about how power politics works very early on. They were way too serious—far more serious than people should be at that age, but it was productive for them personally. Whereas with lefty politics, unfortunately, there’s no pipeline that takes committed ideological young progressives and puts them in positions of power. That’s probably because there is no progressive power structure in this country that is really seeking those people.

You wrote a column in the New York Press a few years back referring to journalism as “shoveling coal for Satan.” I believe you also said that journalism as a career was worse than being a worker in a tampon factory. Should any sane young person consider a career in journalism?

If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to know anything. I mean this whole notion of journalism school—I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days. My advice is instead of going to journalism school, go to school for something concrete like medicine or some kind of science or something and then use the knowledge you get in that field as a wedge to get yourself into journalism.

What journalism really needs is more people who are reporting who actually know something. Instead of having a bunch of liberal arts grads who’ve read Siddhartha 50 times writing about health care, it would be really nice if some of the people who are writing about health care were doctors.

Are there any journalists working today who you look up to?

Seymour Hersh is the guy I really, really admire. I met him last year for the first time—I had to interview him for Rolling Stone and I was really nervous about it because I was told that he was this famously irascible character. When I called him up to schedule the interview, he was such an incredible prick on the telephone—he just cursed me out and everything, it was awful.

He cursed you out?

Oh yeah, totally. He was busy. He was like, “Go fuck yourself.” Then when I actually went to go meet him he was the nicest guy you could possibly imagine. I sat with him for four hours. He’s old school. He’s the kind of guy who sits and pores over the newsletters of all these minor government agencies to see who retired that week so he can approach that person to see if he’s got any stories to tell on his way out of service. There are a few guys like that who are still out there, but they’re all holdovers from a lost age. I’d like to say that I’m the continuation of that crop of journalists, but I’m totally not.

Obviously you don’t shy away from name-calling. You called David Brooks an “elitist fuckhead…”

Right, well he is…

... Rudy Giuliani you called “the electoral incarnation of Tommy Lee Jones’ acid-bath-surviving Two-Face character.” And you referred to Joe Biden’s “creepy poof of blowdried gray pubic fuzz.” Do you or your editors ever hear from these guys?

Yeah, sometimes. The biggest thing I get is people not wanting to talk to me again after. Nobody ever calls up and says, “Hey, I don’t have pubic hair on the top of my head.” I mean, what are they going to do, argue? There’s no upside in getting into an argument with a media creature like myself. With somebody who has to maintain a respectable air of decorum like a politician, there’s no winning end game to getting into it with a lowlife like myself.

Do you ever feel guilty for cheap shots? Or maybe they’re not cheap shots—maybe you disagree with that characterization.

That’s a fair question. I’ve had people take shots at me in print that are gratuitous and nasty and I know how it feels. It’s not fun. I wish I could tell you that there was some socially beneficial reason for all that name-calling, that there’s something that excuses all of it and elevates it to a level of something intellectually defensible. And there isn’t a reason, there isn’t an excuse for it, except that it makes them feel bad. I had this experience when I worked at the eXile—a newspaper in Russia—where people we wrote about actually started to change their behaviors because they didn’t want to get pounded in print every week.

People in politics and in the media, they’re extremely vain and they’re very, very sensitive to criticism. If you level some intellectual criticism of somebody like Thomas Friedman and say, “Well, this is a rich guy who is advocating for the rich under the guise of economic populism” or whatever, he’s going to shrug that off, he’s not going to worry about it. But if you say that he’s a buffoon who can’t speak the English language and has a porn star mustache, it’s going to bother him for sure, you know what I mean?

Did you get feedback on your scathing review of Friedman’s book?

Yeah, I’ve heard from various sources that Friedman is not
real pleased with me. Because it went beyond just that—I also did this thing where, a couple of years ago, I was calling Arthur Sulzberger and pretending to be Friedman and demanding a new parking space. I was like totally obsessed with Friedman for a while there. There was a period when I was doing all these drugs and I had this thing about Friedman, so I kept prank calling his office. I’m not real proud of all that stuff. But it did come through the grapevine that he’s not real happy about that. But fuck him. He makes like 12 million bucks a year and he’s married to a shopping mall heiress or something like that.

You said somewhere that the perfect symbol for the press corps of the 2004 presidential campaign was Candy Crowley from CNN sitting on the bus with cookie crumbs spilling out of her mouth, talking about how ugly Dennis Kucinich was. Is there any reason to hope for a better media performance this cycle round?

No, it’s all the same. And, you know, it’s not that a lot of these people are bad people. It’s a mistake to go into it saying that these people are all elitist snobs like David Brooks really is. A lot of them are Ivy Leaguers, they all come from a certain class. And you can’t be on the campaign trail unless you work for a massively funded organization. It costs like 3,000 or 4,000 bucks a day to cover the presidential election, just to be on the plane. Some big money has to be behind you. The group of people who end up being on the bus are a group of upper-class people who are all from the same general background, and they’re familiar and comfortable with each other and they’re comfortable with the candidates culturally. They’re living the high life when they’re on the trail, they’re mostly staying in five-star hotels. They get these delicious catered meals served to them four or five times a day. You get chocolates on your pillow, you get the best musicians in the city coming out to play for you everywhere you go. It’s like a big summer camp, like a big field trip.

For these people, with the proximity to power, being able to
sit in an airplane with Hillary Clinton or with John Kerry or John Edwards or Barack Obama—that’s like the sexiest thing they’re ever going to be involved with. And it’s a lot of fun for these people. It’s intoxicating. You can’t take some 25- or 26-year-old kid who is just out of college, put him in that environment, and expect him to be totally objective about it. If you break with the pack on the campaign trail and you’re shunned, it’s a very powerful thing. Nobody wants to do it, because to be friendless in that environment is very, very hard. There’s no way out, they’re the only people you ever see—you’re literally roped off from the rest of the world. There’s a real Stockholm syndrome that goes on. As a result of that, you get this collective worldview that develops where the campaign makes sense and everything that the candidates do is taken at face value. And they judge the candidates according to the internal logic of the campaign process, which, to an outsider or to someone looking at it objectively, is completely perverse and fucked up and wrong. But to them, it all makes perfect sense because you never ever are exposed to anything that shines a negative light on it. They never see any other thing.

You wrote an article for Adbusters on “The American Left’s Silly Victim Complex.” Some lefty blogs were pissed off about that piece.

Sure, yeah, I got so much hate mail about that.

I think your basic critique was that the left today sort of has its priorities out of place. Have you changed your view about that at all?

No. It’s not that I’m taking issue with anything that the American left stands for or how it behaves. It’s really a class issue more than anything else. The people who are the public face of the American left tend to be people like me. They’re upper class, liberal arts-educated white people, for the most part, who come from a certain background where the things that are important to them are these mostly intellectual issues—like the environment, or social issues like abortion, feminism, that sort of thing. The historical basis for the American left, if you go back to Roosevelt, is sort of a patrician structure where you had these upper-class people advocating on behalf of a wider working class base. What’s happened now is that it’s kind of splintered and the upper-class portion is overemphasizing the things that are important to them and deemphasizing the things that are important to their base. That’s why the party orthodoxies right now aren’t things like free trade and credit policy, for instance—like the bankruptcy bill. You would never find a celebrated lefty politician who is pro-life but voted against NAFTA, for instance. It’s always the other way around. What’s happened because of that—because the orthodoxies are all backwards—is that the American left has alienated its natural constituency, which is this vast, middle-to-working class underclass that has been fucked over by modern global capitalism.

Instead of standing up and fighting for those people, the left has gotten bogged down in political correctness and the environment and stuff like that. They’ve lost touch with those people, who are now flocking en masse to the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who are talking directly to them and who are actively courting their support. That’s all I was saying. It’s just a question of emphasis; it’s not that the stuff they stand for is bad.

Video: "The Sentinel Source Interview with Obama"

Think On These Things, videos:

Three videos of Barack Obama's interview @ the Sentinel Source, the online edition of the Keene Sentinel (NH).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"'No more Mr. Nice Guy'" (video)

MSNBC video (15:01):
Watch Brian Williams’ full interview with ’08 presidential hopeful John Edwards.
Howie P.S.: The CBS Evening News also did a story on Edwards yesterday (videos).

"Obama Against Permanent Bases in Iraq"

This morning, in response to questions from TPM Election Central, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign issued a somewhat hedged statement opposing permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

The campaign has now followed that up with a new statement offering much more definitive opposition to a permanent U.S. military presence.

We're still tracking down positions from other candidates. More soon.
Late Update: Sen. Hillary Clinton has sent a letter to the White House outlining her opposition to permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and saying they would "damage U.S. interests." As we reported yesterday, Sen. Chris Dodd is also opposed. We'll have a statement from former Sen. John Edwards' campaign shortly.

"A Day on the Campaign Trail - Barack Obama on Nightline" (video)

BarackObamadotcom, video (17:22):
Nightline follows Barack for a day in Iowa. November 26, 2007.

"BODY OF WAR" Trailer (video)

Video, (02:29):
A film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue--Original songs by Eddie Vedder.

"Confident Clinton Takes Aim At Attackers" (with videos)

Update: I just wish Hillary hadn't forgotten that she called Obama "naive" and "inexperienced," before the current round of more aggressive attacks. Breaking almost-news: "Streisand backs Clinton's presidential bid."

CBS News, with videos:
With the Iowa caucus just over a month away, CBS News anchor Katie Couric sat down for an exclusive interview with Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton.

She’s the woman on everyone’s mind right now. But polls in Iowa are showing the race could shape up to be very close. Couric asked Clinton if she’s lowering her expectations as the primary approaches.
“I never raised them, you know when I got into race at the beginning of the year. I wasn't even in double-digits. I was so far behind in Iowa, it was embarrassing,” Clinton said.

Her campaign instead is “encouraged” she said, because “we're making progress - but I take nothing for granted, this is going to be a tight race.”

"I think everybody should just take a deep breath and say 'let's just go to the finish line,' which will be probably be midnight West Coast time on Feb. 5," she said.

Couric asked Clinton: “Many of Barack Obama’s supporters were urging him to be more aggressive and to fight back a little more when it came to your candidacy. It seems as if in recent days you've returned the favor; you've taken off the gloves a bit. And some people are interpreting that as your campaign being pretty nervous...”

“That's not the case at all. Campaigns have rhythm. And we're now down to end. We're going to have a mad dash to Iowa caucuses, turn around and have a mad dash to New Hampshire and then keep going,” she said.

Has the Clinton campaign gotten more aggressive?

“It's time. I have absorbed a lot of attacks for several months now - my opponents have basically had a free rein,” she said. "After you've been attacked as often as I have from several of my opponents, you can't just absorb it, you have to respond.

"But a lot of the attacks have been quite persistent, shall we say," she said. "Hardly a day goes by when I'm not attacked."

Clinton said she wants voters to know how her plans - particularly health care - stack up against those of other candidates.

“I figure it’s about time now for me to draw contrasts, which I think are pretty important to voters,” she said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”

She distinguished Obama’s plan from those of her Democratic opponents.

"All of us except Sen. Obama have universal health care ..." Clinton said. "I want people to know that."

It was announced Monday that Oprah Winfrey would be campaigning with Obama in three key states. "How do you feel about that?" Couric asked.

“I think it's great ... I'm proud to have a lot of very distinguished Americans [supporting me],” Clinton said.

Is she concerned Obama will get a major boost from Winfrey’s enthusiastic fan base?

“No,” Clinton said. “At the end of the day, it's among us as candidates. People will make their judgments. I’m proud to have my husband support me. It's wonderful to have someone with his knowledge and experience and incredible ability vouch for me campaign for me.”

"If it's not you, how disappointed will you be?" Couric asked.

“Well, it will be me,” she said.

But she said she would stand behind any other Democratic nominee, if it came to that. “We're going to have unified party, behind whoever we nominate.”

Clearly, she has considered the possibility she won't be the nominee?

"No, I haven't," Clinton said.

Live Webcast Now: "The Obama Foreign Policy Forum" with live streaming video:
Tuesday, November 27, 11:00 AM Eastern Time

The time has come for a fundamental change in the way we manage our nation's foreign policy. Barack Obama is committed to openness, honesty, and restoring America's place in the world.

On Tuesday, November 27th, Senator Obama is hosting a Foreign Policy Forum with leading local and national foreign policy experts. They will discuss the challenges we face and the leadership we need to overcome them.

You can watch it live starting at 11:00 am (Eastern).

Panelists will include:

* Richard Danzig – Former secretary of the Navy under President Clinton
* Tony Lake – National Security Advisor to President Clinton
* Adm. John Hutson (USN Ret.) – Bow, NH resident; Dean of Franklin Pierce Law Center; former U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General and nationally-known expert on detention and interrogation
* Samantha Power – Pulitzer Prize-winning author and renowned professor of human rights and foreign policy
* Susan Rice – Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
* Senator Barack Obama

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Transcript: On the Trail With Barack Obama"

ABC News, with audio:
The Democratic Presidential Candidate Talks Candidly With 'Nightline' Co-Anchor Terry Moran--Nov. 26, 2007—Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., sat down with "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran on Nov. 24th, 2007 in Iowa. The following is a transcript of the interview.

Watch the exclusive interview tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. EDT
TERRY MORAN: So let's talk about experience, which you talk about a lot. You said recently that the strongest experience you have in foreign relations is that you grew up for four years as a child in Southeast Asia.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, that's not exactly what I said. What I said was I think one of the things that sets me apart is that I spent time in other countries. And this wasn't just the four years that I was actually living in another country. My mother was a specialist in international development, and she, throughout my high school years, was traveling back and forth.

And so I was traveling all around the world at a very early age. And that had a formative influence on how I view the world. So at a very early age, I understood what deep, dire poverty meant, in a way that is hard for Americans to appreciate unless you've seen it up close, outside of this country, in the same way that I had and still have relatives who live in small villages in Africa, where they don't have electricity or running water.

And those shape and inform my judgments and, in many ways, I think give me insights into how the world thinks about America, thinks about us, that I think are unique in this field.

MORAN: And so what you learned at age 10, say, in Indonesia will really, truly make a practical difference for what you would do in the Oval Office in 2009?

OBAMA: You know, I think it's the same as the experience, the story that I tell about my mother dying of cancer, and those experiences of watching her and the health care system. It's the same experience presumably that John Edwards draws upon when he talks about growing up and seeing his father in a mill town.

You know, those kinds of experiences shape your attitudes in a way that reading books or, you know, taking seminars or taking a congressional delegation do not.

MORAN: It's different, isn't it?


MORAN: Do you think Americans are challenged by voting potentially for a presidential candidate who didn't have an American boyhood?

OBAMA: Oh, well, I think that it is both a challenge and an opportunity. I think there's no doubt that the fact that my name is Barack Obama and that my father was from Kenya and that I grew up in Hawaii that there's that whole exotic aspect to me that people, I think, have to get past. But they also, surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa, recognize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that, you know, we are not as ingrown, as parochial as you may perceive or as the Bush administration seems to have communicated, that we are, in fact, embracing the world, we are listening, we are concerned, we want to be engaged.

We want to be safe. We want to be treated fairly. We want to make sure that, whether it's on trade relations or dealing with terrorism, that our national interests are dealt with. But we also recognize that we're part of the world community. And I think it was interesting, just here in Dunlap, you notice that some of the biggest applause was when I talked about wanting America to be respected again in the world. People understand this in a very significant way.

MORAN: Now, Hillary Clinton mocked your claim that your childhood experience would be relevant to foreign policy. She said she is a person that world leaders know, they look up to, and they're confident in, and she wouldn't need on-the-job training to be president. That's a pretty sharp jab.

OBAMA: You know, we must be doing pretty well in Iowa. She wasn't paying much attention to what I said before then.

MORAN: But she does -- her claim is that as somebody who was in the White House, lived in the White House for eight years, she's far more prepared to deal with world problems than you are.

OBAMA: Well, look, you know, if this a resume contest, then she certainly doesn't have the strongest resume of the people on the stage. I mean, I think that -- you know, if the question is longevity in Washington, then probably the top three candidates right now in the Democratic primary can't make that claim.

The question is, who's got the judgment and the vision to move the country forward? And I believe -- I wouldn't be running if I did not think that I've got the best judgment, in terms of what the country needs right now, both internationally and domestically, and if I did not believe that I can be the most effective agent for change, in terms of how we do business.

And so, you know, I've been in Washington long enough to know how it works. I've sat on Senate Foreign Relations Committees. I have traveled around the world in my capacity as a U.S. senator. I have confidence in my knowledge base to deal with the problems around the world. But what is most important, I think, is my capacity to prepare the damage that's been done around the world, and I think that I can present a new foreign policy and a new way of doing business that the world will respond to.

MORAN: I want to get to some specifics on that, but let me stick with this question of experience and the back-and-forth that you had with Senator Clinton on this. You got a little snarky there. You said, "Well, she wasn't treasury secretary."

OBAMA: Well, this is when, you know, she was making a claim about her vast economic experience, which is not evident just looking at her resume. I mean, I think the fact of the matter is that Senator Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it. So NAFTA, for example, which was probably as significant an economic policy as ever came out of the Clinton administration, in the last debate, she suggested was a mistake. So, look, I have no problem with her making claims on behalf of her work as first lady being relevant to the presidency. That's her prerogative.

What she can't be is selective, in terms of, you know, cherry-picking and making determinations that she's now suddenly the face of foreign policy, that she shaped economic policy, except the stuff that didn't work out, in which case that was somebody else's problem or somebody else's fault.

MORAN: So you think her being first lady isn't all that, isn't as much as she's claiming?

OBAMA: Well, look, I have no doubt that she is an intelligent, capable woman. There's no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in her and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle, if there were issues. On the other hand, I don't think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States senator by virtue of me talking to her on occasion about the work that I've done.

And I think that Senator Clinton certainly has experience that she should tout, and I don't think anybody would suggest that somehow she's not qualified to be president of the United States, in terms of the work that she's done in the United States Senate. I think she's done some good work. But I think that, you know, there is a tendency to overestimate some of the experience that is out there. In fact, our most successful presidents have been people who were successful not because of their wealth of Washington experience, but because of the life lessons and schools of hard knocks that they had gone through. And that's true whether you're talking about Lincoln, or FDR, or any of our greatest presidents.

MORAN: And you're now calling her out on that?

OBAMA: Well, I just think it's important that if we're going to talk about who can be a most effective agent for change in this contest that the issue of that particular kind of experience I think is less relevant to the American people right now than who can break down the grip of lobbyists in Washington, who is actually going to be able to deliver on promises that have been made, who is going to break out of the partisan gridlock that has prevented us from dealing with issues like health care, energy, or education? nd not only do I think that I'm best equipped to do that, but I think increasingly a lot of Americans are concluding that, as well.

MORAN: So change, let's look backwards for a moment. What does the word "Clintonian" mean to you?

OBAMA: You know, well, I wasn't sure that -- I didn't know that that was a verb or an adjective.

MORAN: You've never heard that word, that it's a "Clintonian" tactic or a "Clintonian" style of politics?

OBAMA: Well, you know, it's something that probably bounces around on the cable shows, and I don't watch them enough to know. I haven't heard it used on "Nightline" that much. Be more precise.

MORAN: All right, I'm raising an issue, I guess, of character, and that is sort of what is surfacing here around the edges of what you're saying about Senator Clinton. Is she the person that can be believed in when she says she's the agent of change? Is what she represents really what the country needs? Are you raising questions about her credibility?

OBAMA: Well, I am suggesting that she is running what Washington would consider a textbook campaign, which is you avoid answering real, tough questions, in part because you don't want to make yourself a target to Republican attack in the general election, that you shift positions when necessary in order to garner votes. This isn't unusual. I mean, this is, I think, stock and trade political practice.

And all I'm suggesting is that that's not what I think the country needs right now. I think we're at a unique time. The challenges we face are profound. Climate change is real and serious, and it's going to take a lot of work to solve. Overhauling our health care system is going to meet a lot of resistance from insurance companies, drug companies, from people who are accustomed to the status quo, even if they don't like it that much.

If we want to revamp our education system, that's going to require changing practices that date back to the agricultural age. And if we want to repair the damage that's been done around the world, we're going to have to initiate some diplomatic breakthroughs.

All of these things require, I think, a boldness that we haven't seen in a very long time, and the only way to get that boldness is to get a mandate from the American people. You can't finesse your way into taking these bold steps. You essentially have to say to the American people, "Here's what I'm going to do, and I'm banking that I can get a mandate from you to carry it out, because times are serious enough."

And so part of the debate taking place between myself and Senator Clinton and some of the other candidates really has to do with, what do you, American people, think is needed right now? If you think that we just need to tinker around the edges, if it's a matter of just sort, you know, muddling through and managing the status quo more effectively than George Bush has done, then I may not be the candidate who's the most obvious choice.

If, on the other hand, you think that we've got to do things fundamentally differently, and restore a sense of trust in our government, and have greater transparency, and that the American people have to be challenged a little bit more than they're being challenged right now, then I might be your guy.

MORAN: Policy. Iraq, there's no question at this point that there's been dramatic decreases in violence, just about across Iraq.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

MORAN: You still call for a withdrawal of combat troops. What would you say to somebody who says that is sacrificing, surrendering the progress that Americans have fought and died for?

OBAMA: Well, understand -- look, I am pleased with the reduction in deaths that have taken place. I intend to be the next president of the United States, and as such no one is rooting more than me for success in Iraq, so that I'm not inheriting this big mess. So I have no stock in failure in Iraq.

But here's the facts: 2007 was the highest -- had the highest death rate for U.S. troops of any year since this war began in Iraq. Same is true, by the way, in Afghanistan. We have reduced the levels of violence from the completely out of control, horrific levels that existed before the surge to the merely intolerable levels of violence that existed two years ago.

So we've essentially squared the block. We're back to where we started two years ago, except we've made no political progress. And my simple point is this, that the only way that we can secure a long-term stabilization of the country is if Iraqi leaders start arriving at some sort of political accommodation. They have not done so.

So the theory behind the surge, which was that we will give the breathing room for Iraqi politicians to make some better decisions about how they can live together, that has not happened. Now, the fact that fewer people are dying is terrific, but what that does not show is the kind of progress that would allow us over time to give the country back to the Iraqis.

And unless we set up a situation in which that can occur, it's never going to happen, and we could be there for 10 years, 20 years, with enormous implications, both for U.S. deaths, our standing the region, and our standing in the world, our capacity to negotiate with other countries around large problems like Iran's nuclear program or what's happening in Pakistan. Our overall national security I think is damaged the longer that we stay in Iraq.

MORAN: Let me press you on that. The surge did accomplish, in combination with some decisions that Sunni leaders made, the defeat of Al Qaida in Anbar province. If you had had your way, Al Qaida would still be in charge of that portion of Iraq.

OBAMA: Oh, not necessarily, because what I was always very clear about -- in fact, I would argue what's happened in Anbar argues for precisely why we need to start withdrawing. What changed in Anbar was the Sunni leadership making a determination, "You know what? The U.S. isn't going to be here forever, and we're starting to see, get a taste of what Taliban-style rule by Al Qaida in Iraq means for us, and it's not very attractive, so we'd better realign ourselves, start getting armed, and start getting trained so that we can make sure that we are determining our own fate."

It was a response to the recognition they had to be responsible for their own situation. And I would argue that, as we send a signal that we're going to initiate a withdrawal, but not a precipitous one -- the quickest we can get our troops out safely is one to two brigades a month. So you're looking at 16 months to get our combat troops out. If it hasn't started before I'm sworn in, you're talking about two years from now.

Now, if we cannot execute an intelligent, thoughtful exit strategy, and the Iraqi government cannot respond in an effective, positive way, over the course of the next two years to end our occupation in Iraq, then we may be looking at a decade- or two decade-long stay in Iraq. And that, I believe, would be disastrous for our long-term national security.

MORAN: Thank you. Another thing you said which got you into some trouble, you said you would negotiate&

OBAMA: Oh, so many things get me into trouble.

MORAN: You said you'd negotiate with the leaders of Iran and North Korea. So the United States, other countries believe Iran is bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon. What would you actually say to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that would persuade him to stand down?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, Ahmadinejad is not the only power in Iran. In fact, he's not the most powerful person in Iran. The clerics are in Iran.

MORAN: And you'd talk to them?

OBAMA: And I would talk to them, as well. And here's the argument that I would make. The United States reserves its military options, and we are gravely concerned about the development of a nuclear weapon in Iran. We think it destabilizes the region, portends a nuclear arms race. Sunni powers, like Saudi Arabia, may then decide they need to pursue a nuclear weapon. It threatens Israel, our staunch ally in the region.

And given the track record of Iran helping terrorist organizations, like Hamas and Hezbollah, there's the possibility that a nuclear weapon fell into the hands of terrorists. So we cannot abide by them developing a nuclear weapon.

On the other hand, we recognize that they have interests, as well, that is important for them to be part of the World Trade Organization. It is in their long-term interests if they can normalize diplomatic relations with other countries, including the United States. They're under enormous economic pressure, and they do need energy, ironically, despite being an OPEC country, because of their lack of refinery capacity.

So are there ways for us to work through a situation where the Iranians are able to meet their energy needs, their sovereignty is respected, and their economy grows? And they are able to partner with the world community to benefit their people long term. If we can work out a deal, that's something that we should be open to.

MORAN: President Obama would do a deal with Iran.

OBAMA: I think what you want is carrots and sticks. The notion that this is controversial indicates the degree to which the Bush-Cheney administration have shifted the debate in such a profoundly damaging way. I mean, think about it. We negotiated with Stalin. We negotiated with Mao, people who we knew had slaughtered millions of their own people. I mean, the notion that this country that spends 1/100th of what we spend on military equipment every single year, that somehow we are treating, elevating them to this level that we can't even talk to them makes no sense.

And the irony is, is that, of the original axis of evil countries that the Bush administration identified, the one country that was probably the most dangerous and most volatile, North Korea, is the one that we've talked to and where we're seeing the most progress in getting them to stand down on nuclear weapons. So the notion that anything I said was controversial, given the track record of the alternatives, I think indicates the degree to which we have governed by fear when it comes to our foreign policy, as opposed to thinking in tough, strategic, smart ways, ways that have historically, by the way, been bipartisan. I mean, this is not something that is uniquely Democratic or left-wing. I mean, this is standard -- should be standard, realistic, tough, thoughtful, diplomatic strategy.

MORAN: So your cousin, Dick Cheney, has got it all wrong?

OBAMA: You know, he's definitely got this one wrong, yes, yes.

MORAN: Thanks.

OBAMA: Thank you.

"Obama in Iowa: Gloves Off!"

ABC News:
With a little more than a month until the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is out to show voters that he can take a punch -- and throw a few, too.
Over the course of a long day on the campaign trail in rural, western Iowa, Obama seemed to relish the chance to mix it up on policy and personalities with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the national front-runner. The two -- along with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards -- are locked in a tight, rollicking and increasingly acrimonious race in first-in-the-nation Iowa.

Last week, Clinton -- apparently feeling the heat -- took one of her sharpest jabs yet at Obama, mocking his claim that his childhood years in Indonesia provide him with unique insight into foreign affairs. "Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face," Clinton said.

Obama fired back in an interview with "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran: "You know, we must be doing pretty well in Iowa. She wasn't paying much attention to what I said before then."

Watch Terry Moran's interview with Sen. Barack Obama tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.

And then, Obama went out of his way to belittle Clinton's experience as first lady.

"I think the fact of the matter is that Sen. Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it," Obama said, and added, referring to his relationship with his wife, Michelle, "There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in her and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle, if there were issues," Obama said. "On the other hand, I don't think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States Senator by virtue of me talking to her on occasion about the work I've done."

With this line of attack, Obama is openly calling Clinton out on one of the basic arguments of her candidacy and her career -- that her experience at Bill Clinton's side in the White House and before, make her the most qualified person in the race.

Obama continues to paint himself as the most "authentic" candidate whose real life experiences distinguish him from his democratic rivals. He claims that his experience living abroad, traveling the world, witnessing poverty and even facing racism as a black man has given him a perspective that some of America's best presidents have also possessed.

"Our most successful presidents have been people who were successful not because of their wealth of Washington experience," Obama said, "but because of the life lessons and schools of hard knocks that they had gone through."

Obama often makes the argument that these "hard knocks," in addition to his outsider status in Washington, give him the unique ability to change U.S. politics. "I think this whole argument about 'He speaks well, he's got good ideas, but he needs more experience,'" Obama said to a crowd gathered in a School in Western Iowa. "What they really mean is I haven't been in Washington long enough. They want to boil all the hope out of me."

He is hammering on the theme that he is the candidate with fresh ideas--the real "change agent" to take on the status quo in Washington.

"If you think that we've got to do things fundamentally differently, restore a sense of trust in out government, and have greater transparency--then I might be your guy," Obama said.

Restoring America's Reputation Abroad

Obama presents himself as the one candidate -- partly because of his international background, who can repair America's image abroad. "I think I can present a new foreign policy and a new way of doing business that the world will respond to," he said.

Critics disagree and believe Obama is naive for saying that he would meet with the leaders of Iran and North Korea without preconditions. Obama discounts his critics, blaming Bush and Cheney for having "shifted the [foreign policy] debate in a profoundly damaging way."

"We're still operating under an old model, we don't recognize the new threats of the 21st century" Obama said. "How the world perceives us will have a great deal of influence on how safe we are."

While Obama acknowledges that violence has decreased in Iraq, he believes the surge has failed to create the space for Iraqis to make political progress. He argues that it is in the interest of national security to start withdrawing US troops.

"If we cannot execute an intelligent, thoughtful exit strategy, and the Iraqi government cannot respond in an effective, positive way, over the course of the next two years to end our occupation in Iraq, then we may be looking at a decade-or two decade long stay in Iraq," he said. "And that, I believe, would be disastrous for our long-term national security."

Iowans' 'Extraordinary Privilege'

While Obama is leading in Iowa, he is showing no signs of relaxing. According to the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 30 percent of Iowans support Obama, 26 percent support Clinton, and 22 percent support Edwards. Obama continues to press hard against Clinton, reach out across party lines, and convince Iowans of just how important their votes will be.

"Those of you who live in Iowa, you have this extraordinary privilege," Obama told a crowd gathered in a school in Western Iowa. "You are going to decide, more than probably any other American who the next president is going to be, who the next leader of the free world is going to be--So I hope all of you decide to take advantage of this opportunity."

Citing the compressed primary calendar and thus the increased influence of early states, Obama recognizes the importance of winning Iowa. "I think if you don't do well in Iowa, it's going to be hard to make up for it later," he said.

However, he believes that Clinton is under more pressure to carry Iowa because of her front-runner status and her portrayal in the media as inevitable. "The overwhelming favorite who has been touted as inevitable over the last six months better win Iowa," Obama said. "Don't you think?"

Obama is also counting on some Republicans to help him carry Iowa. Which is why he has been spending time campaigning in the rural, more conservative, Western Iowa.

"We got Democrats and Independents and yes we even have some Republicans," Obama said to a crowd in Dunlap, Iowa. "I know this because when I'm shaking hands afterwards they whisper to me. They say 'Barack, I'm a Republican, but I support you.' And I say 'thank you, why are you whispering?'"

Winning Republican votes is just one way Obama aims to set himself apart from Clinton. As the Caucuses near, his offensive against Clinton will likely only heat up more, in hopes of knocking the "inevitable" candidate down in Iowa.

"Ms. Oprah Winfrey cometh"

Ben Smith:
The Obama campaign won't have any trouble getting voters' attention during mid-December.

She'll be in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids on December 8, Columbia and Manchester on December 9.
Howie P.S.: The NY Times' political blog, The Caucus, continues the punditry.

"In Iowa, Clinton Intensifies Attacks"


With Race Close, Obama Stresses His Electability--PERRY, Iowa, Nov. 25 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), her status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in jeopardy, stepped up attacks on her closest rival with fewer than six weeks until the first nominating contest.
Just weeks ago, Clinton chastised her opponents for "mudslinging." But she unapologetically pursued her main challenger, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), over the weekend, standing by her decision to mock Obama's foreign policy experience and attacking his health-care plan -- part of what her advisers described as a new phase of her campaign that will present voters with a "real choice."

"I think that there are differences among us on issues and on qualifications and on experience -- and voters are going to begin drawing those judgments," Clinton said in response to a question Sunday about whether Democrats should attack one other.

Clinton proceeded to hammer Obama over his health-care proposal, saying that only her approach would ensure coverage for all Americans, and mocking him for what she called a "kind of confusing" approach to health care.

Obama and Clinton are locked in a tight race in Iowa with former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and each is putting renewed focus on electability -- a factor that helped turn the state for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in the 2004 Democratic contest. Although most Democrats at the national level view Clinton as the most viable nominee, Iowans are more receptive to viewing Obama and Edwards that way. All of the campaigns concede electability is a top concern among caucusgoers. Health plans and war policy aside, they want to back a winner.

Strategists for Obama said over the weekend that they see an opening for their candidate on the question of electability, and campaign manager David Plouffe also predicted a "relentlessly negative" barrage from the Clinton campaign in the days ahead.

Central to the new Clinton push will be the argument that only she can beat the eventual Republican nominee, a claim Obama is also seeking to make to voters here.

Advisers said her message will be: "You can't have change if you don't win." Her rivals, meanwhile, are moving aggressively to capitalize on Clinton's weaknesses in Iowa -- and, they hope, block her path to the nomination.

Obama's campaign continues to voice increasing optimism about its chances in Iowa, seeing growth opportunities for him even among what was expected to be Clinton's core constituency. On Sunday morning in Des Moines, Obama held a health-care forum in which five of the six panelists were women, the heart of the Clinton voter base.

Senior strategist Steve Hildebrand, who is organizing Iowa for Obama, said Clinton appeared to be boxed in with caucusgoers, still dominant with retirement-age and lower-income Democrats, but with few areas to advance.

Most glaring, Hildebrand said, was Clinton's 26 percent standing in last week's Washington Post-ABC News poll, particularly because she is so well-known. "She is barely getting one-fourth of the Democratic vote, and that number says more about her candidacy than any other number," Hildebrand said.

Clinton advisers acknowledge that, in a state that has never elected a woman to statewide office or sent a woman to Congress, she has challenges, and promised that she will not leave them unaddressed.

Former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to return to the state to boost the effort on Tuesday, and will keep arguing that she is both the most electable and experienced, advisers said.

Clinton operatives are also targeting Democrats who list her as a second choice after Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) or Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), who have gained little traction in the polls but share what her advisers see as Clinton's chief asset: experience. Under the Iowa caucus rules, candidates must meet a threshold of 15 percent of delegate strength at each site; supporters of non-viable candidates often switch at the last minute to back a winner.

Obama is banking on that quirk of the Iowa system. He is now focusing on caucusgoers who are backing another Democrat but who list Obama as their second choice.

To expand its Iowa support, the Obama campaign is also targeting the 10 to 15 percent of Iowa Democrats who remain undecided. Hildebrand said he believes Obama is already beginning to make inroads with two core Clinton groups, non-college-educated voters and older voters.

Although Clinton makes the case that she has more experience than her rivals, especially Obama -- who was elected to the Senate three years ago -- Plouffe said Democrats in Iowa as well as New Hampshire are increasingly coming to view Obama as the candidate most likely to win next November.

"We're picking up a lot more on the ground on electability," Plouffe said. "What voters are looking at is: Who's got the best chance to win the election . . . and second, who can govern."

The electability question continued to trouble even some committed Clinton supporters. Among them here on Sunday was Colleen Clopton, the Clinton chairwoman for Greene County, who said she worries about what Republicans will do to Clinton if she is the nominee.

As a result, Clopton said she is still debating whether to vote for Biden, who as a white male without the Clinton baggage might be a safer choice, she said.

"I'm so afraid of the Republicans against her," Clopton said.

Clopton later asked the same question of the candidate herself during an open question-and-answer session. Clinton replied that her record in New York demonstrates she can win over Republican strongholds.

Clinton also appeared to have other persistent problems, particularly with her image as a Washington insider rather than as a fresh face.

At a Clinton event in Sioux City on Saturday, one undecided Democrat, Brenda Oehlerking, 54, a computer technician, said she is leaning toward Obama, because he "is about change."

"I think Obama is a little more exciting," Oehlerking said. She left halfway through the Clinton event.

Advisers to rival campaigns said they have seen signs of panic from the Clinton campaign in the wake of a disappointing debate performance at the end of October. Joe Trippi, Edwards's campaign manager, said it was revealing that Clinton made fun of Obama for citing his childhood in Indonesia as part of his experience around the world.

"If she was up by 20 points, I doubt those words ever would have crossed her lips," said Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's losing campaign in 2004. He said he detected a "sense of foreboding" from the Clinton campaign after having failed to gain ground in recent weeks.

The campaigns of all three front-runners predict that as caucus day draws closer, the second-tier candidates will begin to lose support to the top three. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has consistently polled in fourth place, packed in eight campaign stops on Saturday, four on Sunday and another three scheduled for Monday.

"I feel that Iowans are taking a second look at other candidates like myself because they're getting tired of the Washington media and the pollsters saying the race is over and Senator Clinton is the victor," Richardson said in an interview Sunday. "There's a real undercurrent here of shopping around."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Clinton says she is 'by far' most electable"

The Swamp (Chicago Tribune political blog):
NEVADA, Iowa—Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton declared herself "by far" the most electable candidate for the White House among those in her party, citing a history of tempestuous dealings with Republican critics.

The New York senator, who has made "experience" a theme of her campaign in challenging the credentials of first-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, also said she doesn't take the GOP criticism personally.
"You know people talk about who can be elected and all that. But I believe I am by far the most electable Democrat, because I know exactly what I am getting into. I've got no illusions and there are no surprises and I am 100 percent ready," Clinton told a crowd of about 300 people at a community center in the north-central Iowa community of Nevada.

"I think my political experience of having been on the receiving end of so much incoming fire over the years equips me for understanding you don't take this personally. You can't take it personally," she said.

The former first lady said Republicans are welcome to continue to try to make her a polarizing figure.

"I drive the Republicans crazy because they've spent hundreds of millions of dollars attacking and defaming me," she said. "I don't care. I mean, if that's how they want to spend their time and their money, let them do it. Ultimately, I trust the American people."

Clinton, who had a day full of stops in Iowa, was more than 40 minutes late to the late-afternoon Nevada, Iowa, appearance. She apologized for speaking too long at her previous stop and promised not to do it again.

But about a half-hour through her one-hour visit to Nevada, she began to lose her voice and took some sips from a glass of water. After drinking the water, she had a bit of a coughing fit that gave her a hoarse-sounding throat and teary eyes until an aide handed her a lozenge.

"Anybody want to talk?" she asked the audience as she regained her voice. "Iowans have a lot to say."
Howie P.S.: I wish I was as confident about Hillary's ability to unite the Democrats behind her as I am about her ability to unite the Republicans against her.