THE TIMES GIVETH, AND THE TIMES TAKETH AWAY

Reading the latest New York Times John McCain puff piece makes you wonder whether the Times and company only started pulling the guy down with McCain deathwatch stories so that they could have the pleasure of building him up all over again:

Between jokes, he is steadfast in his support for the present course in Iraq, his voice hushing to a near-whisper during paeans to the United States military. He is also prone to solemn monologues against the evils of torturing prisoners and the atrocities committed by “those thugs in Burma” against pro-democracy demonstrators, neither of which are top-of-the-agenda issues for most Republican voters. But they are important to John McCain, never mind the polls and focus groups, which are too expensive anyway.

Groan. Mark Leibovich also refers to “his campaign bus, christened the Straight Talk Express during his insurgent presidential campaign of 2000,” a weird use of the passive voice that could leave us with the idea that it was so christened by David Broder or Saint Peter and not by John McCain. I guess the myth of McCain is just more fun when he’s the underdog.

THE MCCAIN STRATEGY

A couple weeks ago, the Hotline started trumpeting polling showing that 5% more Americans support a surge in Iraq when it’s described as the “McCain strategy” than as the “Bush strategy.” Like most political polls, it shows that people think differently than they think that they think – that is, few people like to think that they would come down differently on otherwise identically described plans based on who they were named after. But as a demonstration of the power of the McCain brand, I’d have to say it’s underwhelming.

John McCain, bearer of the faith of our fathers, guide to a braver life, darling of ostensibly liberal journalists and avowedly partisan Democrats, can only lift the surge from 32% to 37%? Five percent? And that’s only three percent over the support it garners with nobody’s name stamped on it.

Clearly McCain’s plan to defend his hawkish stance on the grounds that Bush failed by being insufficiently hawkish is taking a beating as Bush takes a page from his book. Now McCain is left hoping that voters give him points for the courage of his convictions, that they believe that McCain would have done the surge way better than Bush, or that the surge will have Iraqis belatedly throwing rose petals at the feet of American soldiers. Of those possibilities, none is super promising. The first is maybe the most interesting, because it provides an interesting test case on the question of how voters weigh what your issue positions say about you versus how much they agree with yours.

Paul Waldman makes a strong case that McCain’s advocacy of campaign finance reform shows that, in Mark Schmitt’s words, “It’s not what you say about the issues – it’s what the issues say about you” – that is, that McCain’s advocacy of reform is a winner not because people care about the issue one way or the other but because it casts him as a man of integrity. It’s an important point that many Democrats with a congenital need to split the difference on issues of the day would do well to remember. On the other hand, the difference between campaign finance reform and escalation in Iraq is that most Americans aren’t hell-bent against campaign finance reform – that just don’t care that much about it.

As for what this means about John McCain’s general election chances, I still think he’s a formidable opponent, certainly more so than Mitt Romney or Sam Brownback. But as a raft of polls the past few days have confirmed, he can be beaten. Which is all the more reason for progressives to seek out a candidate who would do a great job governing the country.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

This Times piece features a silly and all-too common turn of phrase (emphasis mine):

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who joined the Senate in 2005 and thus escaped the Iraq vote that has come to haunt Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry, used the platform of Senate hearings to lacerate the Bush Iraq policy and affirm his own opposition to the war.

Sure, one of the annoying things about being an elected legislator is that along with your deliciously nuanced views on the issues of the day, you need to vote for or against bills you didn’t write yourself to say just what you wanted them to. But is there anyone who knew who Barack Obama was in 2002 who didn’t know his position on invading Iraq?

The man spoke at an anti-war rally and called the proposed invasion “dumb” and an “attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us.” Do Adam Nagourney and Patrick Healy really believe that he was hedging on whether or not the bill for the war should pass?

WHITHER THE GROWN-UPS?

Via Greg Sargent, a quote from Condi Rice that doesn’t inspire much confidence:

“”It’s bad policy to speculate on what you’ll do if a plan fails when you’re trying to make a plan work.”

Of course if it were a prominent liberal saying that about something liberal she were up to, it would prove how liberals are cloudy-headed and un-pragmatic and hopelessly ideological, right?

WWGD?

One of the Times’ blogs highlights this post from a member of the FireDogLake crew on the posthumous revelation that Ford had his doubts about the Bush Iraq strategy:

But when a reporter is in possession of information that is vital to the country, that might change whether we go to war or whom we elect for president, and the only reason for withholding the information is to protect the person interviewed from embarrassing his own party — well, there must be some other principle that applies, don’tcha think?

This argument is less than persuasive for a couple reasons. First, barring time travel, nothing said in July 2004 could have stopped Bush from invading Iraq in March 2003. Unless Scarecrow is predicting a future War in Iraq fought for lack of candor from Gerald Ford about this one. Or expecting Gerald Ford’s criticism of the War in Iraq to keep us out of a war with Iran.

Which brings us to the second problem with this argument: Gerald Ford doesn’t sway swing voters. If the man had endorsed John Kerry, that would’ve been big news. Expressing doubts about the Bush plan for Iraq is just what every respectable conservative neither working for George Bush nor running to succeed him nor named Rush Limbaugh was doing two years ago. That includes Paul Bremer.

Henry Kissinger, who many more folks credit or blame with the foreign policy of the 1960s than Gerald Ford, expressed concerns at least as strong about the Iraq invasion, and he did it before the invasion happened. And yet it happened anyway.

Of course the expectation that ex-Presidents should be elder statesmen in a way that doesn’t include weighing in on the performance of current Presidents is silly. And swallowing criticism of your party’s nominee in the months before the election is less than courageous (here’s looking at you, Christie Todd Whitman). And no story you broke four decades ago is an excuse to cozy up to the President for as long as he remains popular. But did George Bush ride to reelection on the imagined confidence of Gerald Ford? Not so much.

DUMP DENNIS

In the wake of Dennis Prager’s furious condemnation of Congressman-Elect Keith Ellison’s plan to be sworn in on his own holy text – a story Prager described this week as more important to the future of this nation than what we do next in Iraq – the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for his removal from the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. As M.J. Rosenberg notes, President Bush appointed Prager three months ago to the Council, which oversees the Holocaust Museum.

That appointment demonstrates that George W. Bush has not fully learned the lessons of the Holocaust.

That language bristles no doubt, because there’s an unfortunate tendency to see big, dramatic historical events on whose moral character there’s a broad consensus – the Civil Rights Movement, the Abolition movement, the Holocaust – as somehow beyond the bounds of politics. But these are all political events. They are seismic moments not because they transcend politics but because they both expose and transform fundamental conflicts between different social visions held by different people and advanced through the exercise of power.

The Holocaust was a genocidal murderous enactment of an ideology of racial, religious, and sexual hierarchy and bigotry. It was an act of murder writ large in the name of Aryan heterosexual non-disabled Protestants being more human, having more worth, and possessing more rights than others. There are still those in this country who hold some or all those prejudices. There are some who will say so openly.

History does not interpret itself. But it demands meaning-making by responsible citizens.
That is not and never has been a process divorced without influence from or impact on our politics.

The Holocaust Museum’s “primary mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.”

No one espousing the view that the “acceptance” of Judaism “as equal” to other religions “signifies the decline of Western civilization” would have a shot at a spot overseeing the Holocaust Museum. But someone who believes such about homosexuals was appointed to the Board three months ago by the President. That’s because the full humanity of Jews is considered a settled question in mainstream American political discourse, and therefore inappropriate to “politicize,” while the full humanity of gays is up for debate, and therefore it’s inappropriate to judge those bravely taking the “politically incorrect” stance.

RUSS WON’T RUN

Not a shocker, given that the past year and a half has seen the rise of John Edwards as Un-Hillary lightning rod and intensifying inklings of a run by Barack Obama, who like Feingold vocally opposed the war – and worst of all for Feingold’s chances, his second divorce and lack of a third marriage by the midterms (despite the efforts of the erstwhile Committee to Find Russ Feingold a Date).

That said, Feingold’s popularity in the country’s most representative state, which drew him votes from a quarter of Bush voters two years ago and has stayed strong as he talked about running for president and came out for phased withdrawl from Iraq, equal marriage rights, and censuring Bush, should be a lesson for the field of Democratic presidential contenders, and for the primary voters who’ll choose among them. You remember them: the ones who cleverly voted for John Kerry because he was the most electable.