Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Sex celebs: Why Britney and Paris?"

Spin Cycle (Newsday's political blog-John Riley):

We just got off a conference call with Camp McCain, defending their new ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

They said they thought the ad was legitimate because Obama is a big celebrity (which happens to be what John McCain was, too, when he came home from Vietnam and started to build his political career), and Britney and Paris were Number 2 and 3.

The problem: Anyone with even a vague sense of pop culture knows that Britney and Paris are yesterday's news. Here's a link to Forbes' Celebrity 100. Paris and Britney don't even make the list any more.

Instead, the top 10, in order: Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce Knowles, David Beckham, Johnny Depp, Jay-Z, The Police, JK Rowling, Brad Pitt.

So, they didn't pick other big celebrities, who were either men, or black, or married.

What they picked was two sexually available white women.

But it must have been a coincidence, because we know John McCain wants to run an elevated campaign focusing on the serious issues that America faces.

"Karl Rove's media birds chirp about Obama's 'arrogance'"

Glenn Greenwald (Salon):
(Updated below - Update II - Update III -

Update IV -- Response to Jon Chait)

Displaying the startling prescience and unconventional insights that have long been the hallmark of his magazine, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait wrote on June 30:

The best aspect of a McCain presidency is that, while it would probably follow the policies of George W. Bush, it would put an end to the politics of Karl Rove . . . . In Bush's Washington, critics are enemies to be dismissed rather than engaged. A McCain presidency would promise to dismantle the whole Rovian method that has torn open such a deep wound in the national psyche.
From The New York Times Editorial Page, yesterday:

On July 3, news reports said Senator John McCain, worried that he might lose the election before it truly started, opened his doors to disciples of Karl Rove from the 2004 campaign and the Bush White House. Less than a month later, the results are on full display. The candidate who started out talking about high-minded, civil debate has wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Rove's low-minded and uncivil playbook.

From The New York Times today:

After spending much of the summer searching for an effective line of attack against Senator Barack Obama, Senator John McCain is beginning a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency. . . .

Mr. McCain’s campaign is now under the leadership of members of President Bush’s re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, the czar of the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite, and equivocal through a daily blitz of sound bites and Web videos that were carefully coordinated with Mr. Bush’s television advertisements.

The run of attacks against Mr. Obama over the last couple of weeks have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive, including the Bush team's tactics of seeking to make campaigns referendums on its opponents -- not a choice between two candidates -- and attacking the opponent's perceived strengths head-on.

There's obviously nothing surprising about the McCain campaign's reliance on the standard, personality-based attacks that the GOP uses every election year. It's long been obvious to everyone outside of The TNR Circle that McCain's only prospect for winning would be to move the election away from debates over issues (where his positions are widely rejected by the public) and instead demonize Barack Obama as an effete, elitist, effeminate, far Leftist, terrorist-loving radical, and it was equally obvious that McCain -- "drooling for power like a fruit bat with rabies," as Matt Taibbi put it in November, 2006 -- would eagerly employ those Rovian tactics. That may be a surprise to long-time Beltway McCain worshipers such as Chait and The Washington Post's David Ignatitus (who today longed for McCain's "healing gift," "this fiercely independent man," and "not the heroism but the humility"), but not to anyone else.

What is far more notable than McCain's now almost-complete reliance on Rovian demonization themes is how obediently the establishment media has been spouting and disseminating them. Five weeks ago, on June 23, Karl Rove appeared at a breakfast with Republican insiders at the Capitol Hill Club, mocked Obama as "the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by," and labeled him "cooly arrogant." Ever since, that Obama is "arrogant" -- and the related sin: "presumptuous" -- has become standard, mandated media script.

It's now literally difficult to find a discussion of Obama in the establishment press that isn't based on this personality-based theme -- with media stars either expressing the opinion themselves or repeating it as a McCain talking point. Last night, CNN's Campbell Brown, hosting Anderson Cooper's show, framed the show this way:

But is Obama vulnerable? Is he arrogant? . . . David, the McCain campaign, Republicans, they are consistently playing up this notion that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant. Can they stick him with this label?

Here's the front page of Politico today:

This is exactly what happens every single election cycle. The Right spews some petty, personality-based attack, and the chirping media birds then mindlessly repeat it until it's lodged into our discourse as accepted fact. That's the media strategy on which the Right is relying to win the election this year again -- dictating the songs sung by the vapid, chirping press birds -- even as they petulantly and incessantly complain that the same media stars who serve this strategy are stacked against them. Yesterday's, National Review's Rich Lowry posted what he called "musings from a shrewd friend" about a Dana Milbank column in yesterday's Washington Post that repeated every last "Obama-is-arrogant" cliché ("there are signs that the Obama campaign's arrogance has begun to anger reporters"). Lowry's "shrewd" friend:

[Obama's] showing hubris and contempt for the rest of us in how he considers America fundamentally broken and he's the solution. Messianism is usually a quality you don't want in a president. This was always the soft underbelly of his candidacy. They've gotten too caught up in their own story. What always does in a celebrity? Overexposure. The question now is whether Dana Milbank is the bird leaving the wire and every other bird in the press follows him or not. If this narrative sets in, Obama might have to move up his VP announcement to change the story.

Actually, Milbank wasn't pioneering anything. He was just doing what Beltway reporters do -- repeating what he's been hearing as standard conventional Beltway media wisdom handed down from Rovian/McCain operatives: Obama is an arrogant, presumptuous elitist. The birds who led the flock are Karl Rove, Steve Schmidt and comrades. Milbank was just one of the many birds "leaving the wire" and following along.

After elections are completed and the GOP wins, the establishment media loves to look back and admit what they did -- only to do it over and over. During the 2004 election, The New York Times' Adam Nagourney pathetically granted anonymity to Bush campaign operatives -- in a front-page NYT article -- to label John Edwards "The Breck Girl" and to say that John Kerry "looks French." That's how the NYT's premiere political reporter used a grant of anonymity. In 2007 -- in the midst of the media's pathological obsession with John Edwards' haircuts -- Nagourney wrote a partial mea culpa with this bleedingly obvious insight:

The tale of John Edwards’ $400 haircuts may have ended -- or at least his campaign hopes it ended -- when Mr. Edwards told Iowans on Friday that he was embarrassed by the episode. It arguably began four years ago this weekend with a story in The New York Times about the White House's strategy for dealing with prospective Democratic challengers to President Bush.

In the last paragraph of that story, which I wrote with a colleague, Richard W. Stevenson, an unnamed "Bush associate" was quoted as referring to Mr. Edwards as "the Breck Girl of politics." Another Bush adviser, again unnamed, was quoted as saying of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, "he looks French."

In both instances, we were attempting to flesh out for readers the White House's plans for discrediting prospective Democratic opponents. Both people quoted were at the senior levels of the Bush political operation. And in both cases -- as Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards could certainly attest by the end of 2004 election -- the Bush machine had followed through on the plan it laid out 18 months earlier to define the Democrats on Republican terms.

Our story may have had the result of not only previewing what the Bush campaign intended to do, but, by introducing such memorably biting characterizations into the political dialogue, helping it.

Was that a mistake on our part? Perhaps. . . .

As anyone who has interviewed Mr. Edwards, or seen him this year talking with voters about, say, his health care plan, the lightweight label seems unfair, whatever you think of his politics. Voters routinely walk away from such events describing him as a substantial candidate immersed in serious issues.

But last week, as the story of the haircuts reverberated across Iowa and New Hampshire, on to the Drudge Report and finally to both David Letterman and Jay Leno, it was a reminder that, fair or not, this remains a persistent vulnerability for Mr. Edwards.

GOP operatives whisper insipid, petty, snide (though highly coordinated) gossip into the hungry ears of Beltway reporters about the effete, girly, arrogant liberal. Reporters then -- uncritically and endlessly -- repeat what they hear until it completely dominates and overwhelms our political discourse, and then -- "fair or not" -- becomes entrenched narrative.

This is what happens over and over and over. Media stars love to be used this way. The themes never change and neither does the process. Still, it's amazing how fast it travels from Karl Rove's lips and then out of the mouths of the vast bulk of "journalists" covering the presidential race for establishment media outlets. As Gloria Borger of CNN and U.S. News & World Report said: "when Rove speaks, the political class pays attention -- usually with good reason."

The fact that they all say the same thing at once ("up next: Is Obama arrogant?" -- "Obama's arrogance can hurt him" -- "Obama is striking many as arrogant and presumptuous" -- "Obama needs to be careful not to appear too arrogant") doesn't strike any of them as evidence that they're mindless, manipulated spouters of conventional wisdom. They actually think it proves the opposite -- that it's evidence that they are political sophisticates plugged into the important election themes ("Obama is arrogant and presumptuous").

The most inane part of it all is that even as they willingly serve as the GOP's attack amplifiers, they simultaneously and openly fret that they're being unfair to Republicans and too biased towards liberals -- a message that they also get from the same GOP operatives who so transparently write their script. Thus, without any recognition whatsoever of how contradictory the are, the two predominant themes from our establishment journalists are now this: (1) Obama is an arrogant, presumptuous, effete liberal whose arrogance is deeply unattractive, and (2) we in the media are far too enamored of Obama and unwilling to criticize him because we're biased members of the Liberal Media.

UPDATE: While on the subject of The New Republic, it's worth noting that Eric Alterman yesterday conclusively chronicled the latest reckless, purely fictitious "journalism" from Marty Peretz's personal assistant, Jamie Kirchick (also of Commentary and a frequent contributor to Politico). Even with journalistic standards as low as they are -- both at those publications and generally -- it's quite revealing that someone with Kirchick's record is continuously featured by TNR and in similar venues. Just read the mountain of quite representative comments to Kirchick's latest post to see how even many long-time, loyal TNR readers now view that magazine's product.

UPDATE II: In Salon's War Room, Alex Koppelman posts the latest Obama ad, clearly a response to these McCain attacks:

The Obama campaign is far better than the Kerry campaign was at aggressively responding to attacks launched at it, but they are still clearly unwilling (just as Kerry was, and just as Michael Dukakis was) to attack the GOP candidate with similar attack themes. The Obama campaign seems to believe that such attacks are counter-productive.

UPDATE III: As is often the case, Bob Somerby has many insightful observations today about how this process is unfolding, with a focus on what he aptly called Dana Milbank's "gruesome performance" in the Post yesterday (h/t Kitt). As sysprog notes: "Closing the circle -- Milbank came to the WaPo, in 1999, from . . . TNR." Beltway circles are always closed so tightly and reliably in that way. If its results weren't so ugly, there would actually be a perverse beauty to how it works.

UPDATE IV: Jonathan Chait denies he is a long-time McCain worshiper by citing some very recent criticisms he's voiced of various McCain positions. I'm more than happy to let Chait's words over the years speak for themselves and let others decide if the characterizations here are accurate.

Begin with Chait's piece a few weeks ago declaring that a McCain presidency would mark the end of divisive Rovian politics (written literally days before McCain hired a team of Rove's protegees to run his campaign). The article's headlined: "Old Flame: Why I still Kinda Like John McCain."

Chait writes: "McCain's charming, ironic, and self-deprecating." In that piece, he himself acknowledges: "Eight years ago, I was a hard-core liberal McCainiac" and "I still feel some pangs of affinity for the old codger." How irresponsible of me to describe him as a long-time McCain worshiper in light of Chait's own confessions.

Then review his unbelievably sychophantic April 29, 2002 TNR piece ("What's in a Name?; Why John McCain is the Democrats' best hope") where he pratically begs McCain to run for President as a Democrat ("McCain has guts" - "McCain's domestic agenda increasingly consists of bold reforms" - "McCain could redefine the Democratic Party once again as the champion of Wilsonian interventionism" - "Only a handful of politicians per generation capture the public's imagination and channel it toward moral and rational ends. McCain has the opportunity to do this. He can leave his imprint on history").

Then review his 2000 TNR article on McCain -- "This Man is not a Republican" -- in which he gushed that "McCain's truth-telling and his war against soft money made him a hero to the liberal press" and added:

But today, unlike six months ago, McCain's campaign stands for something beyond his character. He is introducing something new into American politics: a reform conservatism devoted to cleansing the basic institutions of government--the tax code, the campaign process, the federal budget--in order to restore the faith of the citizenry.

If that isn't a history of McCain worship, what is? I doubt Cindy McCain has heaped as much praise on her husband as Chait has. And that's just what I found in 5 minutes of looking; his own commenters suggest there is more of the same through 2006. For contrast, see this extremely clear-eyed account of what McCain has always been -- and how he has so easily deceived his simple-minded Beltway followers -- written today by the superb former blogger Billmon.
Howie P.S.: I really like Greenwald when he's ripping the likes of The New Republic (instead of Obama.)

Today's Online Video Pushback to McCain (videos)

"Gimmick," video (00:32) from
If you want others to see this video, help it climb the YouTube ratings. 5-star it, favorite it, comment, and pass to friends!

"Full-Nelson: John McCain v. Barack Obama on High Gas Prices," video (00:30) from National Sierra Club:
A new television spot airing in key battleground states that contrasts John McCain and Barack Obama's plans for dealing with America's energy crisis. This week's news—another quarter of billions in record profits for Big Oil—underscores why America cannot afford another president who sides with Big Oil instead of consumers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Low Road" (with video)

BarackObamadotcom, video (00:31):
"Low Road" addresses false and debunked attack ads that have recently run on television. On the air...
"Group Responds To McCain Ad: Britney And McCain Both Heart Bush!" (TPM Election Central, with video):
The vid shows a well-known, and particularly vacuous, Britney moment where she professes undying trust in Bush, and pairs it with McCain offering a similar sentiment, if not quite as mindlessly.
"Obama Reacts To 'Celeb' Ad" (WaPo, video).

"We Are the "War Room" that We Have Been Waiting For" (Al Giordano, The Field):
Politics has thus evolved from the centralized "war room" of the 1990s to a decentralized one that exists in a million or two homes right now, of which bloggers and independent media are a new kind of precinct captain that needs no orders from headquarters nor permission to take initiative. We saw that at work last weekend in the rapid response from the bottom up to the McCain campaign's false claims in a television ad about Obama's European trip. Only four days later, the McCain camp has backed down.
"A challenge for the cable and broadcast media" (Jed Report):
As several commenters and e-mailers have noted, now that Barack Obama has responded to John Bush McCain's attack ads with his most forceful counterpunch of the campaign, the question is whether the cable networks and broadcast news networks will spend as much time analyzing Obama's attack on McCain as they have today about McCain's attack on Obama.

"McCain Tries to Define Obama as Out of Touch" (NY Times):
Mr. McCain’s campaign is now under the leadership of members of President Bush’s re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, the czar of the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite, and equivocal through a daily blitz of sound bites and Web videos that were carefully coordinated with Mr. Bush’s television advertisements.

The run of attacks against Mr. Obama over the last couple of weeks have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive, including the Bush team’s tactics of seeking to make campaigns referendums on its opponents — not a choice between two candidates — and attacking the opponent’s perceived strengths head-on. Central to the latest McCain drive is an attempt to use against Mr. Obama the huge crowds and excitement he has drawn, including on his foreign trip last week, by promoting a view of him as more interested in attention and adulation than in solving the problems facing American families.

George W. Bush: "The Surge is my legacy"

"Keeping Track" of the slime

Josh Marshall (TPM) catches up with McCain's latest slime-of-the-day:
I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women. (See today's new ad and this from yesterday.)
Presumably, a la Harold Ford 2006, this will be one of those strategies that will be a matter of deep dispute during the campaign and later treated as transparent and obvious once the campaign is concluded.

But what I'm most interested in today is the new meme the McCain campaign has been pushing for the last few weeks that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant and well ... just a bit uppity. Ron Fournier picked the ball up early in his reporting for the AP. And John King was pushing it over the weekend on CNN. Is it arrogant or above Obama's station for him to meet with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve? If I'm not mistaken he is a sitting United States senator and also the presidential candidate of the Democratic party. Such meetings are actually the norm.

Now, I note that the Post, which has generally been in McCain's camp, has a front page story today that comes about as close as they feel able to confirming that McCain campaign and McCain personally have spent most of the last week peddling what they knew was a lie about Obama's called-off trip to the US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. And there's also this piece in today's Times noting 'concern' among some Republicans over McCain's increasing use of personal attacks on Obama with what are often demonstrably false claims. How many demonstrable lies does the McCain campaign have to push before it colors the portrayal of his campaign?

As I alluded to at the top of this post, it is the norm that obvious campaign tactics that are treated as obvious after a campaign is over are nonetheless treated by most reporters as ambiguous or unclear during a campaign. But in this case it would be nice if that were not the case. Because here we have a candidate, John McCain, who is running on a record of straight talk and honorable campaigning running a campaign made up mainly of charges reporters are now more or less acknowledging are lies. But there's precious little drawing together of the contradiction. What's more, as everyone will acknowledge after the campaign, the McCain campaign is now pushing the caricature of Obama as a uppity young black man whose presumptuousness is displayed not only in taking on airs above his station but also in a taste for young white women.

So please keep an eye out for references to Obama's presumptuousness, arrogance, etc., from John King and other reporters. Let us know when you see them and send us in examples -- in text or video.

McCain gets to run the campaign he wants. Remember, he hired the operative who put together the Ford/Bimbo ad. But I want to keep tabs on which reporters are helping him retail the message.

Tell a friend: "McCain Charge Against Obama Lacks Evidence"

Photo from NY Times story, see below in Howie P.S.-
WaPo, page one:
For four days, Sen. John McCain and his allies have accused Sen. Barack Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true.
The attacks are part of a newly aggressive McCain operation whose aim is to portray the Democratic presidential candidate as a craven politician more interested in his image than in ailing soldiers, a senior McCain adviser said. They come despite repeated pledges by the Republican that he will never question his rival's patriotism.

The essence of McCain's allegation is that Obama planned to take a media entourage, including television cameras, to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany during his week-long foreign trip, and that he canceled the visit when he learned he could not do so. "I know that, according to reports, that he wanted to bring media people and cameras and his campaign staffers," McCain said Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."

The Obama campaign has denied that was the reason he called off the visit. In fact, there is no evidence that he planned to take anyone to the American hospital other than a military adviser, whose status as a campaign staff member sparked last-minute concern among Pentagon officials that the visit would be an improper political event.

"Absolutely, unequivocally wrong," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail after McCain's comments to Larry King.

Despite serious and repeated queries about the charge over several days, McCain and his allies continued yesterday to question Obama's patriotism by focusing attention on the canceled hospital visit.

McCain's campaign released a statement from retired Sgt. Maj. Craig Layton, who worked as a commander at the hospital, who said: "If Senator Obama isn't comfortable meeting wounded American troops without his entourage, perhaps he does not have the experience necessary to serve as commander in chief."

McCain's advisers said they do not intend to back down from the charge, believing it an effective way to create a "narrative" about what they say is Obama's indifference toward the military.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said again yesterday that the Republican's version of events is correct, and that Obama canceled the visit because he was not allowed to take reporters and cameras into the hospital.

"It is safe to say that, according to press reports, Barack Obama avoided, skipped, canceled the visit because of those reasons," he said. "We're not making a leap here."

Asked repeatedly for the "reports," Bounds provided three examples, none of which alleged that Obama had wanted to take members of the media to the hospital.

The McCain campaign has produced a television commercial that says that while in Germany, Obama "made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." The commercial shows Obama shooting a basketball -- an event that happened earlier in the trip on a stopover in Kuwait, where the Democrat spoke to troops in a gym before grabbing a ball and taking a single shot. The military released the video footage.

A reconstruction of the circumstances surrounding Obama's decision not to visit Landstuhl, based on firsthand reporting from the trip, shows that his campaign never contemplated taking the media with him.

The first indication reporters got that Obama was planning, or had planned, to visit the hospital came last Thursday morning, shortly after the entourage arrived in Berlin. On the seats of the media bus were schedules for his stop in Germany and the final entry -- a Friday-morning departure -- indicated that the senator's plane would fly from Berlin to Ramstein Air Base.

When a reporter asked spokeswoman Linda Douglass that morning about the trip to Ramstein, she said that the trip had been considered but that Obama was not going to go. At that point, the campaign provided no other information.

Later that night, after Obama gave a speech in Berlin, a campaign source spoke about the canceled stop on the condition of anonymity. The official said that the trip was canceled after the Pentagon informed a campaign official that the visit would be considered a campaign event.

Overnight, the Obama team issued two statements, one from senior campaign official Robert Gibbs and the other from retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, an Obama foreign policy adviser who was on the trip.

Gibbs's statement said the hospital visit, which had been on the internal schedule for several weeks, was canceled because Obama decided it would be inappropriate to go there as part of a trip paid for by his campaign. Gration said the Pentagon had told the campaign that the visit would be seen as a political trip.

Those two statements, while not inconsistent, did not clarify whether the visit was canceled in reaction to Pentagon concerns or because of worries about appearances. They also opened Obama's camp to charges that it was offering slightly different reasons at different times.

Gibbs said yesterday that the campaign had planned to inform the traveling media members sometime on the morning of the flight to Ramstein that Obama was intending to visit the hospital but had made no plans to take reporters, including even the small, protective press pool that now accompanies him most places.

Reporters, he said, probably would have been able to get off the plane but not leave an air base facility close by. "We had made absolutely no arrangements to transport the press to the hospital," he said.

On Friday afternoon, en route from Berlin to Paris, Gibbs briefed reporters traveling with Obama. He noted that the candidate had visited wounded soldiers several weeks earlier at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District and at a combat support hospital while in Iraq earlier in the week -- both times without reporters.

At one point, a reporter asked, "Why not just say it is never inappropriate to visit men and women in service?" -- a key McCain charge -- "What is your response to that?"

Gibbs replied: "It is entirely likely that someone would have attacked us for having gone. And it is entirely likely -- and it has come about -- that people have attacked us for not going."

On Saturday in London, Obama addressed the controversy during a news conference. He said Pentagon concerns about Gration's status triggered the decision not to visit Landstuhl.

"We got notice that [Gration] would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn't on the Senate staff," Obama said. "That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political, and the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not, or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns."

Obama's explanation, which came after more than a day of controversy, was the clearest in noting that it was Pentagon concerns about Gration accompanying him to the hospital that forced Obama to reconsider and, ultimately, cancel the visit.

Gibbs was asked yesterday about the continuing allegations from McCain that the real reason was a desire to bring a media entourage to the hospital.

"That's completely untrue, and I think, honestly, they know it's untrue," Gibbs said.
Howie P.S.: For a different story line about Obama today, check out "Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Apart" (NY Times). Before we can get too giddy over the WaPo story, Greg Sargent spoils the party:
Okay, just when we get done saying how great The Washington Post was for knocking down McCain's false troop visit attack, along comes a really, really bad one.

The "big story" of the morning is this post from WaPo which purports to reveal that in a closed-door meeting with House Dems, Obama said this:

"I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

My gosh, Obama thinks he walks on water! Now the Republicans will be able to create a narrative about presumptuous Obama!

Except that it looks like WaPo may have grossly distorted what he actually said.

A Dem leadership aide who was in the room has emailed me and other reporters this:

"His entire point of that riff was that the campaign IS NOT about him. The Post left out the important first half of the sentence, which was something along the lines of: 'It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol ... ."

...and Dem Rep. James Clyburn says this:

" wasn't about him. It was about Germany and Europe. And he said that he was a symbol of that hope."

Still no update on the original WaPo post.

Late Update: WaPo has now written up the leadership aides' pushback.
Of course, that hasn't stopped the GOP from attacking Obama over the quote.
Howie P.P.S.: Just double-down on the headline. A TPM commenter asks "How will Obama deal with McCain's bitch slaps?"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Obama Counters McCain's Gas Attack Ad" (video)

Jed Report, with video (00:31):
Two interesting things about Barack Obama's (not quite) new counterpunch against McCain's gas prices attack (via Ben Smith):

  1. As Ben notes, Obama's "new" ad has been running for two days. So for those who've been wondering when the Obama campaign will respond to McCain's attack ads, well, they already have
  2. Obama's ad counters McCain's gas attack ad, not the Landstuhl one. Despite all the attention we've paid to the troops ad, the gas attack ad McCain is actually emphasizing in his ad rotation. The troops ad is just a free media play.

Here's the ad, airing in the same markets as McCain's.

"The most effective anti-smear message of the campaign"

Jed Report:
One of the big challenges with defending Barack Obama -- or anyone else, for that matter -- against false, viral smears is that the last thing you want to do is to inadvertently reinforce the smear.

In late June, Professor Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton (mindgeek at Daily Kos), penned a New York Times op-ed describing how debunking falsehoods by repeating the falsehoods can in fact strengthen the original falsehood. Consequently, the best way to spread the truth is by leading with the truth to debunk the smear. For example, emphasize that "Barack Obama IS a Christian" instead of saying what he is not.

Today, Ben Smith posted a new mailer from AFL-CIO aimed at debunking several of the most prominent smears against Barack Obama, and it is by far the best effort I've seen during the entire campaign to combat the smears.

As you can see, instead of answering each smear in the negative, the mailer instead poses questions that can be answered positively. In this fashion, the flier is reinforcing who Barack Obama actually is instead of who Barack Obama is not.

It's excellent -- kudos to the AFL-CIO and whoever designed the mailer. Great job -- and thanks.

Update: Greg Sargent (who originally posted the flyer earlier today) picks up on this post here, noting the contrast between this flyer and the official anti-smear website, which leads with the smears.

Update 2: If you want to let the AFL-CIO know that you appreciate their flyer and want to encourage them to to distribute as much as possible, you can leave them thank you note here. pdf version of the mailer

Preparing for Victory

From Derek Shearer's commentary on The Huffington Post:
I have expressed myself already that to win the election Obama needs to sharpen his economic message and deepen his economic agenda, and there is no need to repeat the obvious. However, I strongly advise that progressive groups should be planning for victory, as well as working hard to elect Obama.
It is often during Transition periods between administrations -- in late November and during December -- that key decisions are made about personnel and policy, usually out of the view of the media and after public interest in the campaign has greatly diminished. This was certainly the case in Clinton's first term, and even in Bush's when he decided to bring in Don Rumsfeld to counter the influence of the more centrist Colin Powell.

I ran the Labor section of the Transition for the first Clinton term and saw first hand how unprepared the labor movement was for winning and then governing. They had no serious candidates for key positions in a Democratic administration -- even for Labor Secretary (and they got someone who didn't believe strongly in labor unions!) -- and no forward looking agenda for economic reform. Other progressive and public interest groups were just as bad. Ralph Nader had all but endorsed kooky Jerry Brown in the primary and spent most of his time personally attacking Bill and Hillary Clinton. He then behaved badly in his meetings with new White House staff, and gave no thought to lobbying for the appointment of progressives in the administration. As a result, the influence of the labor movement and progressive groups both on the inside and the outside of the Clinton administration was marginal at best. There is a lesson here for the major labor unions like SEIU and AFSCME that are going to go all out with their members and their treasuries to elect Barack Obama, and for groups such as Public Citizen, Moveon.Org and others, especially environmental organizations.

Yes, by all means, do everything you can to elect Obama and a Democratic Congress -- but devote some staff time and strategic thinking to planning for after the victory. Personnel determines policy more than campaign speeches and position papers,so have a list ready on November 5 of qualified individuals who might be considered seriously for top positions in government and for whom you will lobby the Obama administration to appoint. For example, at least one economist on the Council of Economic Advisors should be a labor economist; progressive economists should be appointed not only to the Labor Dept, but more importantly, to the Treasury Dept and to the Office of the US Trade Representative; pro-consumer and labor experts should be appointed to leadership positions on all regulatory bodies. And have a reform agenda of executive decisions and priority legislation in hand. Line up sponsors and advocates in the Senate and House, and start pushing the agenda with the White House the day after the Inauguration. To neglect these tasks and fail to think strategically about winning makes all the hard work in the fall to win the election only feel hollow later.

After all, as the candidate himself said, "We are the ones we have been waiting for." Not the one, but the ones.

"Send Karl Rove to Jail" (with video)

bravenewfilms, with video (03:27):
This sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Well, it's not. We have a unique opportunity right now to send Karl Rove to jail, but only if we take immediate action.

All we have to do is pressure the 40 members of the House Judiciary Committee, make them hold Rove in contempt and send him to jail. We've never had such a direct opportunity to hold Rove accountable. No, this is not enough punishment for his years and years of crimes, but it's a huge start, and will send a very clear message to the entire Bush administration.

The specific issue regarding Rove's failure to testify before Congress is a little complicated, so we put together this video that explains exactly why Rove should be held in contempt and sent to jail. Check out Send Karl Rove to Jail, and sign our petition to ensure that the HJC holds Rove in contempt.

After you watch the video, sign the petition:

"Big Media Hectors Obama on 'Surge'"

hec·tor [ héktər ] Definition: speak in intimidating way: to speak to somebody in a loud, threatening, or domineering tone intended to intimidate.

Robert Parry:
For six years, with few exceptions, the Washington press corps has been cheerleading for the Iraq War – and the pattern is continuing in Campaign 2008 with the endless demands that Barack Obama apologize for not supporting the troop “surge.” On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” NBC’s Tom Brokaw became the latest Big Media star to hector Obama about his opposition to George W. Bush’s troop “surge,” which the U.S. press corps and Republican John McCain credit with reducing violence in Iraq.
Obama’s efforts to point to other factors that predated the “surge” – such as the Anbar Awakening (the Sunni tribal rejection of al-Qaeda extremists) and cease-fires ordered by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr – fall on deaf ears.

Even further out of the U.S. news media’s frame are uglier realities that Obama doesn’t mention:

--Brutal ethnic cleansing has succeeded in separating Sunnis and Shiites to such a degree that there are fewer targets to kill. Several million Iraqis are estimated to be refugees either in neighboring countries or within their own.

--Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas have made “death-squad” raids more difficult but also have “cantonized” much of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, making everyday life for Iraqis even more exhausting as they seek food or travel to work.

--Awesome U.S. firepower, concentrated on Iraqi insurgents and civilian bystanders for more than five years now, has slaughtered countless thousands of Iraqis and has intimidated many others to look simply to their own survival.

--With the total Iraqi death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands and many more Iraqis horribly maimed, the society has been deeply traumatized. As tyrants have learned throughout history, at some point violent repression does work.

War as Fun

But for the major U.S. news media, the criminality of Bush’s invasion has never been part of the story. “Shock and awe” was a stupendous pyrotechnic display that looked cool on TV. The excitement in the voices of embedded journalists made the invasion seem like a great lark.

And back in the studios, there were the likes of NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, sitting among retired generals (many of whom were directly or indirectly on the Pentagon’s payroll), engaging in manly banter about the glory of the new war.

In the heady first hours of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Brokaw shed his journalistic objectivity and slid into the first-person plural. "In a few days, we're going to own that country," Brokaw said about Iraq.

If anything, the cable news networks – CNN, MSNBC and Fox News – demonstrated even less professionalism. In an apparent competition to "brand" themselves the most patriotic news channel, MSNBC and Fox News superimposed a waving American flag over scenes from Iraq.

The major print media may have been slightly more restrained, but they already had supplied intellectual heft to the imperial ambitions of the Bush administration and its neoconservative backers, including John McCain.

The New York Times famously promoted false stories about Iraq intending to use aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. The Washington Post’s editorial and op-ed pages treated Bush’s bogus claims about Iraq’s WMD as incontrovertible facts, not what they were: controversial claims that lacked factual support.

Meanwhile, there was little tolerance for war skepticism. MSNBC talk-show host Phil Donahue was fired for allowing on war critics. Politicians who dissented were ignored or mocked. American citizens, who objected to the rush to war or the misuse of intelligence, were treated as fools or traitors.

No Accountability

At no point since has the Washington press corps faced any meaningful accountability for its historically abysmal performance. With very few exceptions, such as the removal of the New York Times Judith Miller (co-author of the aluminum tube story), the major newspapers and the TV news offer up the same roster of pundits and journalists that rallied around the Iraq War.

In May 2008, when former White House press secretary Scott McClellan published his memoir, What Happened, his accusation that the press corps had behaved like “complicit enablers” drew defensive reactions.

Interviewed about McClellan’s book, Brokaw refused to admit that he and most of his well-paid colleagues had shirked their journalistic duties to the American people. Instead he offered excuses.

“It needs to be viewed in the context of that time,” Brokaw said about the war fever that followed “when a President says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom cloud.”

Brokaw also sought to shift the blame to others, such as members of Congress who didn’t raise enough objections to the war.

“But there are other parts of America that also have a responsibility,” Brokaw said. “How many senators voted against the war? I think 23 is all.”

Brokaw, however, left out the fact that even when senior members of Congress did speak out against the rush to war, their opinions were virtually ignored by NBC and other news outlets.

The truth, which Brokaw wouldn't acknowledge, was that few in the Big Media were willing to buck the powerful Bush administration and suffer the career consequences. It was easier and safer (for the journalists at least) to join the stampede for war rather than to stand against it and ask tough questions.

As Brokaw explained: “This President was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That's pretty hard to deal with.”

So, instead of doing the “pretty hard” thing and challenging the President’s “theology,” Brokaw saddled up and helped drive the stampede toward the cliff of the Iraq War. He added, lamely, “all wars are based on propaganda.”

Demanding Obama’s Apology

While much of this is now history, another part of this reality is the present.

Not only won’t Brokaw apologize for his earlier lack of journalistic courage – which has contributed to the deaths of more than 4,100 U.S. soldiers – but he still won’t go against the grain and question today’s “conventional wisdom” about the success of the “surge.”

Like every Big Media journalist who has interviewed Obama in the past two weeks, Brokaw opened this Sunday’s “Meet the Press” with a barrage of questions demanding that Obama acknowledge that he was wrong to oppose the “surge.”

“Let me ask you a direct question,” Brokaw said. “Do you believe that [Iraq’s] President Maliki would be in a position to more or less endorse your timetable of getting troops out within 16 months if it had not been for the surge?”

In response, Obama referred to the broader need for political reconciliation in Iraq – and his belief that “we could not stop a civil war simply with more troops” – before harkening back to the original strategic mistake of invading Iraq.

But Brokaw wouldn't stand for that.

“We have to talk about the reality of what's going on in Iraq right now,” Brokaw countered. “The Anbar Awakening, most people believe, was successful in large part because the American troops did come in and make it possible for them to have the kind of political reconciliation. Do you disagree with that?”

Brokaw didn’t say who the “most people” were, but the reference apparently included “surge” advocates, like Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who are often treated as objective observers on the war even though they supported the invasion as well as the “surge.”

Obama responded, “As I said before, our troops made an enormous contribution, but to try to single out one factor in a very messy situation is just not accurate, and it doesn't, it doesn't take into account the larger strategic issues that have been at stake throughout this process.

“Look, we've got a finite amount of resources. We've got a finite number of troops. Our military is stretched extraordinarily because of trying to fight two wars at the same time. And so my job as the next Commander in Chief is going to be to make a decision what is the right war to fight, and, and how do we fight it?

“And I think that we should have been focused on Afghanistan from the start. We should have finished that job. We have not, but we now have the opportunity, moving forward, to begin a phased redeployment and to make sure that we're finishing the job in Afghanistan.”

Still not satisfied, Brokaw cited an editorial in USA Today that said, "Why can't Obama bring himself to acknowledge the surge worked better than he and other skeptics thought that it would?"

However, one might wonder why another question isn’t asked: “Why can’t Tom Brokaw and other media stars bring themselves to acknowledge that they failed their profession and the American people by enabling the Iraq War?”

"Mrs. Obama and the Women"

The Trail, WaPo's political blog:
CHICAGO -- Women will choose the next president, Michelle Obama said at a rally here Wednesday as she described one of her husband's most important challenges in his race against Sen. John McCain: "We need to educate more women and bring them into this campaign."
"They need to know about this candidate and understand what the issues are that are at stake. And then we have to get them out to vote," she told about 800 supporters at a Women for Obama lunch overseen by Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters.

"We're going to decide the outcome of this race. Whether the bad guys or the good guys win, it's going to be up to us."

Fifty-four percent of voters in 2004 were women, said Obama, who predicted the figure will be higher this year.

Obama has emerged as the most prominent voice on women's issues in Sen. Barack Obama's campaign. She told stories about women she had met while campaigning and described a series of policies that she said would help working women and families.

"This is personal," said Obama, who talks often of juggling family and career. "These are the issues that I carry in my heart every single day."

The immediate challenge is also political. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ran strongly among women during the Democratic primary season, taking the women's vote in more than half the primaries.

"In the 35 states that held primaries over the course of this year, Barack won the women's votes in 15 of those states," Obama said. "So, there's something going on. We're doing something right, but we have more work to do."

Waters traveled from her chic Berkeley restaurant to oversee the preparations of grilled organic chicken and baked stuffed Hargrande apricots with vanilla ice cream. Before introducing Obama, she made a pitch for healthier eating, more leisurely mealtimes and the use of more local produce.

Waters said the next president should set an example by planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn.

"How Chicago Shaped Obama: A Look at the Rise of a Politician" (with audio and video)

Democracy Now, with audio and video:
We take an in-depth look at how the presumptive democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, was shaped as a politician by his years in Chicago and how he navigated the tough world of Chicago politics. We speak with Ryan Lizza, the political correspondent for The New Yorker magazine. His latest article, “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama,” traces Obama’s political rise in Chicago.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Senator Barack Obama is back in Chicago after his overseas trip. We turn now to the story of how the senator from Illinois and the presumptive democratic presidential nominee was shaped by his years in Chicago and how he navigated the tough world of Chicago politics.

Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker magazine. His latest article traces Obama’s political rise in Chicago. It’s called “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama.” He joins me now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

RYAN LIZZA: Hey, thank you, Juan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ryan, you had a fascinating article in The New Yorker magazine. It, to some degree, was overshadowed by the front-page cartoon that got all the attention.


JUAN GONZALEZ: But it really was one of the most in-depth looks I’ve seen at the rise of Barack Obama. And we’d like to spend time going in detail into that article and for you to tell us a little bit about how it was that, when he gets there—I think it was 1985—he begins to—initially as a community organizer.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us a little bit about his—because he often refers to that experience in his speeches, but it was really a pretty short experience of about three years. Could you talk about what he was doing as a community organizer in Chicago?

RYAN LIZZA: Yeah. So, by 1985, he had graduated from Columbia University. And Obama had this sort of vague sense, as he writes about very eloquently in his book, Dreams from My Father—he had this vague sense that he wanted to go work in predominantly African American communities and sort of, you know,give something back. He had gone through a—I mean, it’s probably not much of an exaggeration to call it an identity crisis, growing up in Hawaii, a very multicultural place, with a white mom and a Kenyan dad, who had left him. And he was basically looking for a more authentic African American experience. I think that’s what drew him to Chicago.

And now, why Chicago, of all places in America? Chicago, you know, is—some describe as the capital of black America. And I think he was really drawn to that place. You know, it’s where Jesse Jackson is based. It’s where Farrakhan is based. It’s the sort of capital of black thought in America. And I think that’s one reason he wanted to go there.

The other reason is, it’s one of the few places where he was offered a job. And there were a few guys—one of them was named Jerry Kellman, a white, Jewish—and they were working in the inner city in Chicago, trying to organize the South Side, the Far South Side of Chicago, predominantly black, to—basically for things like job centers, and they were basically dealing with some plant closings. There were some steel plants that had closed outside Chicago and in Indiana that had really devastated the area. And so, these guys were looking—and they were having some trouble organizing in—on the South Side of Chicago, and they were specifically looking for an African American organizer to help them. And Obama applies for this job, and he gets it, and he moves to Chicago in 1985. That’s a long run-up to explain sort of where he was coming from and what brought him there.

When he gets there, what he does for about two-and-a-half, three years is work through the local churches on the South Side, which in a sense are all sort of independent operators. They weren’t working together. So one of the big challenges for Obama and the organizers he was working with was to get the Baptist minister on one street and, you know, maybe the Catholic priest on another street to start to get to know each other and work together to tackle some of these common problems. And so, a lot of what he did was go around to the churches, talking to the church leadership, and finding out what these guys had in common and how they could come together under an umbrella organization to deal with some of the problems from these steel plants closing.

At the same time, Juan, what’s happening in Chicago is a real—Chicago from ‘85 to ’88, the period when Obama was there, when he was first there, is a really fascinating, tumultuous political world. Harold Washington is the mayor. He’s the first African American mayor in Chicago history, the first and the only one. And just when Harold Washington was getting his mayoral office organized in 1987—he was elected to his second term—he drops dead of a heart attack. And then there was a very tumultuous period after that to find a successor to Harold Washington. Anyway, the point being that Obama was sort of watching real gritty urban politics up close, and it was something that, I think, stuck with him later in life.

So there are two experiences, I guess, in the ’80s. The one is the on-the-ground organizing he’s learning and the concepts he’s learning as an organizer. And the second is he’s watching the first African American mayor of Chicago deal with trying to run that city, and he also sort of watched this grand white-black coalition that Mayor Washington put together then completely fragment and fall apart after his death. So I think those are the sort of two main things he’s watching in the ’80s.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, he apparently doesn’t have a whole lot of success with the community organizing and eventually decides to go to Harvard Law School and then returns to Chicago.


JUAN GONZALEZ: But now, as your article lays out, he really has a bigger plan in mind when he returns to Chicago, and he deliberately goes not to the South Side, but to another neighborhood of Chicago, to settle in and to build political allies. Could you talk about that period?

RYAN LIZZA: Yeah, no, by the time he finishes Harvard Law School in 1991, he’s already telling friends that he wants to return to Chicago and get into politics. He had realized that community organizing was not an effective way to deal with the problems he saw. He wasn’t all that successful at it. The problems were too entrenched to really make much of a difference, as he once told me in an interview.

And so he settles in Hyde Park. Now, Hyde Park—let me just correct you—Hyde Park is on—it’s on the South Side of Chicago. It’s sort of an island in Chicago. It’s integrated, multicultural. The University of Chicago is this sort of anchor of Hyde Park. And then the surrounding area is filled with academics and students, and it’s a very progressive, integrated environment, like a lot of college towns. You know, you might compare it to Berkeley, California or Madison.

And he starts doing a couple of things. One, he meets his wife, and he gets married. Two, he joins a law firm, and the law firm that he decided to join was very much a political statement. He joined the firm that was in opposition to the longtime ruling family of Chicago, the Daleys. After Harold Washington died in—by 1989, Richard Daley was elected mayor. His father had ruled the city for a few decades, from—let me just get this date right—from the ’50s through the late ’70s. In 1989, his father was gone—excuse me, by the late ’70s his father was gone, but by 1989, a Daley is back in power. Obama joins a law firm that is sort of defined by its opposition to the Daley political machine. So, in other words, he was making a sort of a political statement.

And it’s about this time that he starts to sort of look around for an office to run for, and that happens in 1995. He gets his first chance to run for office. And do you want me to—Juan, do we have enough time to sort of tell that story of his first run?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I think it’s—yes, it is critical, in terms of being able to understand how he forms his political vision, yes.

RYAN LIZZA: Yeah. So, what happens, it’s very interesting. He—1995, which, if you think about it, is really not all that long ago, there’s a woman named Alice Palmer, and Alice Palmer is a longtime local community leader, an education expert, someone with a lot of ties to the African American leadership of Chicago. Her husband, a guy named Buzz Palmer, he had actually started a reform group in the notoriously racist Chicago Police Department, a sort of group to sort of—of African American police officers. So, the Palmers were a family who had a lot of ties to the black establishment in Chicago. They were longtime activists, older than Obama.

Alice Palmer decides to run for Congress, and she decides to leave her—excuse me, she decides to leave her State Senate seat. And Obama decides that he’s going to make a run for that State Senate seat, since Alice Palmer is leaving. He starts going around to all of the key Democratic political operators on the South Side of Chicago and lining up support, and eventually he gets the blessing of Alice Palmer herself, and she endorses him as the replacement for her State Senate seat. And she goes off and runs for Congress.

Now, what happens is, she loses her congressional race very badly. She loses the primary to Jesse Jackson, Jr., who holds the seat to this day. She garners only about ten percent of the vote. And she decides that—she has second thoughts, and she decides that now that she’s forced—she’s, you know, looking at being out of politics altogether, she decides she wants her State Senate seat back. And a group of her supporters tell Obama that he now needs to back down, because Alice Palmer, even after she’s endorsed Obama for the seat, she’s going to return and represent the South Side in the State Senate again.

So, Obama is faced with this incredible dilemma: does he back down, does he bow to the support—to Alice Palmer and her supporters or not? And this really split—this just divided the political community on the South Side of Chicago in half. Some of the people who had backed Obama decided to go back to Palmer. Some of Palmer’s old supporters decided to stick with Obama. And there was a lot of pressure on Barack Obama to back down.

And what happens is, Obama decides to stay in the race. And not only does he decide to stay in the race, but he sends some of his political operatives down to the Board of Elections in Chicago to look at the petitions that Alice Palmer used to get on the ballot. They realize they’re filled with irregularities. They challenge these signatures. And Barack Obama gets Alice Palmer and all of his other opponents kicked off the ballot, and he wins his first race unopposed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ryan, I just want to say—we’re talking with Ryan Lizza, political correspondent for The New Yorker, about his latest article in The New Yorker about the rise of Barack Obama. You also mention in the article that, by this time, Barack Obama has become very good at cultivating important people—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —or people that could help him on his rise in politics. And you mention a former Congress member who talked to you and said that whenever you mentioned an influential or important person in front of Barack Obama, the first thing he wanted to know was how can you arrange for me to meet them. Could you talk about that tendency in him?

RYAN LIZZA: Yeah. This comes up over and over again. I mean, you know, one of the points of this piece is, I wanted to sort of write a political biography of this guy, right? I realized he was not born on stage in 2004, and I wanted to really explain how this guy operates in the sort of messy world of Chicago politics. And I think it’s essential to understanding how he’s gotten where he is.

And Abner Mikva, a former congressman, former federal judge, former White House counsel for Bill Clinton, and also someone from Chicago, he sort of befriended Obama very early on in Chicago and sort of helped him in his earliest years meet people in Chicago. And he talked about Obama as sort of the ultimate networker. And all politicians are networkers. All politicians—all the good ones—are famous for remembering everyone’s name and sort of sussing out who the—where the sort of levers of power are, where the sort of key influentials are. And Obama was absolutely amazing at this.

You know, as a community organizer, one of the skills you learn—I mean, people hear the term “community organizer,” and they think of it as this sort of fuzzy-headed, you know, “Kumbaya” profession. It is not that at all. Community organizing, it’s, you know, best to think of it as labor organizing. This is hard—this is—you’re taught a very hardheaded approach to politics. And one of the things you’re taught is how to do something called power analysis. And this is something that Obama not only learned, but he taught in workshops all the way through the ’90s. And power analysis is about figuring out who’s got power and how to get it for yourself, so—and not necessarily in a crude way, but in a way to effect change.

So, anyway, like you say, Juan, Obama was very shrewd about understanding the power landscape of Chicago, understanding who the influentials were, and being aggressive about meeting them, introducing himself to them and making it known that he was someone who would be running for office and whose support—and sort of laying the groundwork for some of these people to support him down the road.


RYAN LIZZA: And that was—yeah, go ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As he moves forward, obviously, he links up with what you call the Chicago—the independents in Chicago politics—

RYAN LIZZA: That’s right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —or the reformers—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —that included David Axelrod. Could you talk a little bit about his relationship and the development of his long-term, now, relationship with David Axelrod?

RYAN LIZZA: Well, look, to simplify things, you know, you could look at Chicago politics, at least back when Obama first got there, as the independents versus the Daley machine, OK? So the Daley machine ran the town forever. You know, there’s no real Republican Party, so this is all intra-Democratic politics. Where Obama settled in Hyde Park, that was the home base of the independents. These are the guys that had been fighting Daley for years and years and years. By the ’90s, things were a little more scrambled. The son, the younger Daley, was more effective at co-opting some of the independents at reaching out to some of the African American leadership. So the old Daley-versus-the-independents dichotomy breaks down a little bit, but at least in Hyde Park, that’s the way that most of the leading political figures still think.

David Axelrod, interesting—has an interesting history. He’s the preeminent political consultant in Illinois, and certainly in Chicago no one even comes close. He worked for Harold Washington, the great champion of the independents and the person who represented the independents’ greatest success. However—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Was originally a Chicago Tribune reporter, wasn’t he, before that?

RYAN LIZZA: Exactly, exactly. He actually went to the University of Chicago, and he then wrote for a small community newspaper in Hyde Park called the Hyde Park Herald, and then he covered politics for the Chicago Tribune, before eventually entering into politics himself, worked for Paul Simon and then Harold Washington. But he then works for the younger Mayor Daley, so Axelrod is very unique, in that he was a top consultant to both Harold Washington and Mayor Daley in the middle of the independents movement and in the middle of the great enemy of the independents, Richard Daley.

So, by the time—so, Axelrod and Obama, in those early years, don’t really know each other. At that point in the early ’90s, Axelrod is a much bigger deal in Chicago politics than Barack Obama is, and they don’t really link up until about 2002, when Obama decides to run for the US Senate. And that was an incredible coup for Obama to get Axelrod on his side. It was a big multi-candidate primary. There were a lot of tempting—there was one wealthy candidate in there that Axelrod thought about working for. But eventually Obama lands Axelrod, and just by the fact that he had this sort of pre-eminent political consultant, it sent a signal to a lot of the donors and a lot of the political elite in Chicago that Barack Obama was a serious Senate candidate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, even before he hooks up with Axelrod, though, he makes his decision to run against Bobby Rush for the House of Representatives—

RYAN LIZZA: Yeah, in 2000.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —and also then, at that point, according to your article, realizes where his major base of support is—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —that it’s not necessarily in the African American community of Chicago at that time.

RYAN LIZZA: Yes. That—you know, the 2000 race, I mean, the more I studied that race, the more I realized that that was the great turning point in Barack Obama’s career. You know, and a lot of politicians at Obama’s level have at least one loss that teaches them a lot. George W. Bush had a congressional loss in Texas, where he was sort of identified as the outsider and not an authentic country boy, and he never made that mistake again. Bill Clinton had a devastating loss in Arkansas.

Anyway, so the point is, one of the things he learned in that 2000 race against Bobby Rush, who’s a former Black Panther and a real icon in the black community in Chicago, I think he—it was a very tough race. There was a lot of, you know, “Barack Obama, you’re not black enough” accusations thrown at him. And I think he came out of that race thinking that his natural coalition was different than what was in—than a strictly majority African American congressional district. He had a lot of—he had a real tough time winning over the African Americans in that race. I mean, and he got pummeled. I think he lost by thirty-something points. And at that time, he’s doing a lot of fundraising among what they call in Chicago the lakefront liberals, a lot of wealthy whites north of Hyde Park. And I think he started to realize that he had this sort of appeal to people beyond just his South Side base, and at the very least, that if he could put a coalition of sort of black, white, liberal coalition together, that that would be a sort of natural base for him.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And eventually, then, he’s able to get his Senate district redrawn—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —in the reapportionment to actually include much more of downtown Chicago and the wealthy areas of the city.

RYAN LIZZA: Yeah. You know, he got very lucky. He almost left politics after he lost that race in 2000 to Bobby Rush. But everything after that turns his way. The Democrats in Illinois were—won the right to redistrict the state, and like all Democrats in Illinois, Obama was deeply involved with the redrawing of his own district. In fact, one day in the spring of 2001, he sat down at a computer with sophisticated mapping software and began the process of redrawing his own district.

And his district changed in fundamental ways after that. He used to represent just an area in the south of Chicago that went east to west. His district changed; it now pointed north—it was a north-to-south district—and it included a huge chunk of downtown Chicago, including the famous Loop, which is the big business district; the Gold Coast; all—almost all of the Chicago Lakefront. He represented now all the museums, all the finest shopping areas of downtown Chicago, as well as his original Hyde Park base. So it was a very, very different district. It became whiter. It became wealthier. It became more white-collar. It became more Jewish. And it had one of the highest concentrations of Republicans in Chicago. And the folks that lived and worked in that district now would be the important donors for his US Senate campaign that started—that he started to run for in 2002. So it was a big dramatic change, and that redistricting really was a huge turning point in Obama’s political career.

The other thing that it did, besides the fact that his constituents now were so much different, the overall goal of redistricting in Illinois was to take back the State Senate for the Democrats. They gerrymandered the state, and they accomplished that in 2002. So, after 2002, Barack Obama, who had been a state senator since January of 1997 in the minority, where he couldn’t get much done, he’s now a state senator in the majority. And that allowed him to do—to actually get some things passed and get all of the issues—and get all of the things passed that he would then use as a platform for his 2004 Senate campaign. So that redistricting was incredibly important to his political career. I think you could make an argument that without that redistricting, he may not have been a real contender in that US Senate race.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And finally, Ryan Lizza, I’d like to talk a little bit about that famous antiwar rally—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —where Obama constantly refers to when he first took a stand against the Iraq—or the looming possibility of a war in Iraq, while other political candidates did not. But you talk about the rally, and specifically what he said at that rally and how calculated he was even then in the political message he was sending out.

RYAN LIZZA: Look, you have to remember, Obama was from Hyde Park. It’s one the most liberal State Senate districts in Illinois. He could have been as left-wing, as liberal as he wanted. But he wasn’t. He was always—and, you know, there are various reasons he wasn’t. I think genuinely he’s—he was a little to the right of some of his constituents. But I also believe that he had his eye on higher office, and he was careful not to be pigeonholed as too far out on the left.

And his speech at the antiwar rally is a good example of that. And just like redistricting, I think you can argue that if he hadn’t opposed the war in Iraq, he would not have been a plausible presidential candidate, because that was the key distinction, of course, with Hillary Clinton. But the speech was not a—what you might call a typical antiwar speech. He started off by talking about wars that he supported: the Civil War—he talked in almost glorious terms about the Civil War and World War II. Now, nobody opposes the Civil War and World War II, so they’re not exactly the riskiest things to support. But he was in front of a pretty, you know, partially pacifist crowd, and it is an antiwar rally, and he was very careful to point out that—where he disagreed with folks in that crowd. In other words, he was trying to push off the left a little bit. He was trying not to be defined as strictly an antiwar candidate.

At the same time, he made a—if you read it today, it still stands up very well. He made a very powerful case against the Iraq war at a time when a lot of Democrats weren’t doing that. But there were certainly some politics in mind. And if you talk to some of the people who were in that audience that day, one of the common things you hear is, “Wow, this guy is not just talking to us, he’s talking to either some statewide or national crowd. This speech seems pointed for the—seems more like for the history books than just for us here at this antiwar rally.” And this comes up throughout Obama’s political history. He often had his eye on the next rung of the ladder, if you know what I mean.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ryan Lizza, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Ryan Lizza is the political correspondent for The New Yorker magazine. His article is called “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama.” It’s a fascinating read.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"When a presidential campaign gets caught lying, it should be news"

Steve Benen (Carpetbagger Report) with video (00:32):
We talked yesterday about the new ad from the McCain campaign, which marked a new, dishonorable low in an already-embarrassing presidential campaign.
The 30-second spot features one deceptive claim after another.

Reporters no doubt realize that the scurrilous ad is a work of fiction, but as Greg Sargent noted today, news outlets are simply unwilling to pass this information along to the public.

CNN has a piece here, The New York Times has one here, The Washington Post has write-ups here and here, and the Associated Press has one here.

The stories did dutifully note the Obama camp’s push-back against the ad. But not a single one of these reports told you that the ad is false.

McCain’s ad makes a stark assertion about the reason the trip was canceled: “Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.”

But there is no evidence whatsoever supporting this assertion. It’s false. That isn’t the reason the trip was canceled. Shouldn’t that be explicitly noted in stories about this?

Of course it should. It’s fine that the reporters sought out comment from the Obama campaign, but that’s the bare minimum. It creates a typical he-said/he-said story that pretends there are no objective truths at issue here. McCain launches an attack; Obama says the attack is false. Maybe reporters could help cut through the rhetoric and let voters know the truth?

Well, they could, except the truth has a liberal bias.

In case you missed it, here, once again, is the ad:

“Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan,” the ad’s announcer says. “He hadn’t been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops. And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops. McCain: Country first.” It concludes with the candidate’s voice: “I’m John McCain and I approve this message.”

There are eight sentences in this campaign commercial, and the only honest one was McCain approving of this message.

The claim about Senate hearings is wildly misleading. The attack about voting against funding the troops is ridiculous. The argument about Obama not spending time in Iraq is disingenuous. The notion that Obama would rather go to the gym than visit wounded troops is insane. The claim that Obama would only visit troops if he could bring cameras is an inflammatory, transparent lie. The notion that McCain is “always there for our troops” is demonstrably false.

I’m not trying to tell campaign reporters how to do their job. Actually, scratch that. I am trying to tell campaign reporters how to do their job.

The McCain campaign is airing an intentionally deceptive ad, hoping that a) voters won’t know the truth and can be easily misled; and b) the media won’t raise a fuss about the campaign lying to the public.

By refusing to do even the most basic level of fact checking, news outlets are encouraging the McCain campaign to engage in its most cynical and dishonorable tactics.

"MoveOn Up with new pro-Obama ad" (video)

First Read (MSNBC), with video (00:30):
MoveOn has announced it will spend $150,000 to air this new pro-Obama TV ad on MTV and Comedy Central. The ad -- which won MoveOn's “funniest video” in its recent ad contest -- features Rider Strong of "Boy Meets World" and Amber Benson of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Howie P.S.: Reader Advisory--I am told this video is for the "under 30" demo.

"Obama Campaign Responds to McCain Attack Ad" (video)

videocafeblog, video (05:55):
Robert Gibbs on Morning Joe explaining why Barack Obama did not visit the military hospital in Germany and he has to school Scarborough on the fact that Armed Forces Television, not the press corps filmed Barack Obama playing basketball with the troops.

Howie P.S.: Andrea Mitchell backs up Obama's side of the story in this video--Andrea Mitchell: McCain attack ad "literally not true" (01:58).

"Obama at UNITY convention in Chicago"

John McCormick (The Swamp-Chicago Tribune political blog):
In his first U.S. appearance after a nine-day foreign tour, Sen. Barack Obama told a convention of minority journalists in Chicago today that he believes affirmative action will still be needed, even if the nation elects its first black president.
Obama also criticized Republican challenger Sen. John McCain for a position he took earlier Sunday in support of a proposed ballot initiative in Arizona that would prohibit affirmative action policies from state and local governments.

"I am disappointed that John McCain flipped," the Illinois Democrat said during an appearance broadcast on CNN before an alliance of minority journalists called UNITY gathered at the McCormick Place convention center.

McCain, who made his remarks on ABC's "This Week," has previously called similar efforts "divisive," although he has also consistently expressed opposition to hiring quotas based on race while supporting affirmative action in limited cases.

Obama said the ballot initiatives like the one being considered in McCain's home state are "all too often designed to drive a wedge between people."

While saying he is a "strong supporter" of affirmative action, Obama said it must also be structured so that it is not just a quota system.

"We are becoming a more diverse culture, and it's something that has to be acknowledged," he said. "I've also said that affirmative action is not going to be the long-term solution to the problems of race in American because, frankly, if you've got 50 percent of African-American or Latino kids dropping out of high school, it doesn't really matter what you do in terms of affirmative action. Those kids are not getting into college....There have been times where affirmative action has been viewed as a shortcut to solving some of these broader, long-term, structural problems."

Obama said minority children who come from wealthy homes should not be given greater consideration for college, for example, than "a poor white kid who has struggled more."

He also expressed reservations about making reparations to African Americans and other groups for past deeds. "The best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people that are unemployed," Obama said.

McCain declined an invitation to speak to the journalism group, which says it represents nearly 10,000 members of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

Obama was also asked whether in his repeated efforts to denounce false rumors that he is a Muslim he has gone too far, thus hurting impressions of Muslim Americans, including some who believe he should visit a mosque, as he has done with churches and synagogues.

"This is a classic example of a no win situation, right?," he responded. "So, I try to correct something that is false, and then people say, well why are you correcting this thing in a way that isn't sufficiently, ah, well, let me put it this way: first of all, I have repeatedly on various occasions said, I am not a Muslim, but this whole strategy of suggesting that I am is indicative of anti-Muslim sentiment that we have to fight against. So, maybe you haven't see those quotes, but they're out there and I have said them on more than one occasion....I just don't like the idea of somebody falsely identifying my religion...If you were a Muslim and somebody consistently said that you were a Christian, I suspect that you would want to have that corrected because that's offensive to your faith. I think my credentials on supporting Muslim Americans are very strong."

Obama reminded the audience that he spoke out against discrimination of Arab Americans in his 2004 Democratic national convention speech in 2004.

"I have visited mosques here in my community, repeatedly, and met with Muslim leaders on a wide range of occasions," he said. "So, what I would ask is that I am treated like other candidates in terms of expectations, and that people look at my entire record."

Obama was asked a follow-up question on whether he could have gotten as far as he has, had he been a Muslim.

"That's a hypothetical that I don't know how to answer," he said. "I will tell you this that the American people are more tolerant and more open minded than I think a lot of the pundits give them credit for."

Obama also reflected on his foreign trip and his return to Chicago Saturday evening, saying he had not gotten enough sleep and planned to take a nap Sunday afternoon.

He said he was surprised by a rare airport greeting by his wife and two daughters.

"Usually, I have to beg just to make sure that they're not asleep when I get home," he said. "But they surprised me at the airport, which was wonderful."

Obama said his tour of the Middle East and Europe revealed to him that the "world is waiting for the United States to reengage."

He said a crowd of 200,000 he attracted for a speech in Berlin showed "how hungry" Europe is for more American involvement.

"If we can get more support for actions in Afghanistan, those are fewer troops from the United States that we need to send," he said. "It is very difficult for us to meet these 21st Century challenges, unless we've got more effective partnerships with our allies and other countries overseas, and I think they are ready for it, and it offers the next president enormous opportunity."

Obama expressed confidence that he was well received by foreign leaders. "If you talk to the people I met with, they feel confident that I know what I'm talking about and what I'm doing," he said.

He said meeting with foreign leaders is "part of the job" he is applying for, so he should not be questioned on whether he showed too much audacity in making the trip.

"Now, I'll admit we did it really well, but that shouldn't be a strike against me," he added.

When pressed on why he seems hesitant to express regret for his opposition of a troop surge in Iraq that many now view as successful, Obama responded that a more fundamental question should be asked of McCain.

"I have not heard yet somebody ask John McCain whether his vote to go into Iraq was a mistake," he said. "I haven't, during the entire week that we were having this conversation."

Obama said he plans to pivot his campaign's message from foreign policy back to the economy this week, as he meets Monday with economic advisors in Washington, including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and investor Warren Buffett.

Obama's appearance at UNITY coincided with renewed efforts by his campaign to appeal to minority journalists and media properties.

A week ago, Corey Ealons was named "communications director for African American media," essentially replacing Candice Tolliver, who is moving to the Democratic National Committee as director of surrogate booking.

The appeal will also be made at a more local level. Late last week, for example, the campaign announced a new "deputy communications director for the Tampa Bay area and African American media."

As he did selectively during the primary season, Obama will also seek to use local and national African-American radio and television stations in making his appeal.

The Black Entertainment Television network has already said it plans to broadcast Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic national convention next month, something it does not intend to do for McCain.

At UNITY, the applause was restrained, after organizers reminded conference participants that the appearance was being nationally broadcast and they should make every effort to maintain "professional decorum."

Still, Obama received a standing ovation from many in the audience at the start and end of his appearance. There was also a rush toward the stage after his speech, as Obama shook hands and signed autographs.

One journalist was also overheard wishing him luck, while another squealed, "He touched me!" as she left the ballroom.

Before Obama arrived, a panel discussed the question of journalistic objectivity, including whether journalists should clap for politicians when they appear.

"The mainstream media loves John McCain. They cheer for him all the time. And now we're going to tell our black journalists, our Hispanic journalists, that they can't clap for Obama?" African-American columnist Les Payne responded.