Archive for May, 2008

On the very day of a special election to fill a vacated congressional seat last week in Mississippi, The New York Times accused the Republican candidate of running racist ads against his Democratic opponent.

Talk about dirty tricks! By The New York Times, that is.

The Republican thus accused of racism narrowly lost the election the night the Times article appeared, so I guess the Times can proclaim: “Mission Accomplished.”

The ad in question, on behalf of Republican Greg Davis, pointed out that Barack Obama had endorsed Davis’ opponent, Travis Childers — another in a long line of fake-American goobers claiming to be “conservative Democrats,” but who get to Congress and promptly vote to ban guns, surrender in Iraq and fund full-term abortions.

These days, I guess you can call yourself a “conservative Democrat” if you refrain from being sworn into Congress with your hand on a Quran.

The ad showed a clip of Obama’s pastor g-damning America and mentioned Obama’s recent remarks ridiculing rural folks for clinging to guns. It then concluded that Childers “took Obama’s endorsement over our conservative values.”

The Republicans had also run ads connecting Childers with other Washington liberals, such as Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry. (Times editors are still looking for the racist angle to those ads.)

To call that ad racist is a monstrous libel. Greg Davis and the Mississippi Republicans should bring a defamation action against The New York Times — although such an action might be perceived as “racist” because some black people work at the Times.

Republicans are constantly linking the local hayseed Democrat to national liberals like John Kerry. The technique goes back at least to Michael Dukakis in 1988.

It is beyond outrageous for liberals to complain about the practice of linking Democrats to the national party when their calculated strategy in race after race in the red states has been to run Democratic candidates who appear to be Americans. They’re not Americans. They’re liberals! I don’t care how much hay is sticking out of their straw hats.

In the 2006 midterm elections, Sen. Chuck Schumer and erstwhile ballerina Rep. Rahm Emanuel (now there’s a couple of raw-boned Americans for you!) famously rounded up yokels from the local square dance contests to run as “macho Dems” — as the Times admiringly called them. Schumer and the ballerina were hailed for their brilliant strategy to fool the hayseeds.

The phony blue-collar Democrats won their elections by driving around in pickup trucks and shooting guns, then moved to Washington and began voting against war in Iraq and in favor of taxpayer-funded abortions.

One of the Democrats’ paragons of regular guy-ness that year was Jon Tester of Montana, who wore cowboy boots and had a buzz cut. The crew cut absolutely transfixed liberals in places like Manhattan. Search “Jon Tester and crew cut” on Google, and you’ll get more than 200,000 hits. Even this tonsorial affectation was a liberal fake-out, inasmuch as Tester has no military service.

After campaigning throughout Montana in a pickup truck, Tester got to Washington and compiled a voting record more liberal than Chuck Schumer’s, according to the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (Tester: 95 percent; Schumer: 90 percent). Tester also has a 100 percent rating from the pro-abortion group NARAL. There’s your truck driving, gun-totin’ Democrat.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. was another consumer fraud perpetrated on voters in 2006 by the Democrats. Casey ran for office on the strength of his father’s name and his alleged pro-life position. It was the pro-life position of his father — the popular Democratic governor of Pennsylvania — that disqualified Casey Sr. from speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.

Despite rumors that Schumer had assured Hillary Clinton that Casey was not really pro-life, the good people of Pennsylvania made him their senator, throwing out Rick Santorum, the kind of pro-lifer who actually opposes abortion.

In Casey’s first year in office, he voted in favor of an amendment to a foreign appropriations bill introduced by the fanatically pro-abortion Barbara Boxer that overturned U.S. policy against providing taxpayer money to groups that perform abortions overseas. It also granted overseas abortion providers taxpayer money. There’s a “pro-life Democrat” for you.

In elections in the patriotic parts of the country, Democrats keep producing candidates that look like they’re out of a Norman Rockwell painting but vote like Karl Marx — which is to say, they vote like the typical member of the Democratic Party. Naturally, Republicans respond to this tactic by linking the local phonies to the national party.

As soon as the Democrats stop running these mountebanks, Republicans will stop exposing them as lickspittles for their liberal masters in Washington.

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You always know you’ve struck gold when liberals react with hysteria and rage to something you’ve said. So I knew President Bush’s speech at the Knesset last week was a barn burner before even I read it. Liberals haven’t been this worked up since Rev. Jerry Falwell criticized a cartoon sponge.

Calling the fight against terrorism “the defining challenge of our time” — which already confused liberals who think the defining struggle of our time is against Wal-Mart — Bush said:

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

The way liberals squealed, you’d think someone had mentioned Obama’s ears. Summoning all their womanly anger, today’s Neville Chamberlains denounced Bush, saying this was an unjustified attack on Obambi and, furthermore, that it’s absurd to compare B. Hussein Obama’s willingness to “talk” to Ahmadinejad to Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Hitler.

Unlike liberals, I will honestly report their point before I attack it.

The New York Times editorialized: “Sen. Obama has called for talking with Iran and Syria,” but has not “suggested surrendering to these countries’ demands, which is, after all, what appeasement is.”

“Hardball’s” Chris Matthews gloated all week about nailing a conservative talk radio host with this brilliant riposte: “You don’t understand there’s a difference between talking to the enemy and appeasing. What Neville Chamberlain did wrong … is not talking to Hitler, but giving him half of Czechoslovakia.”

Liberals think all real tyrants ended with Hitler and act as if they would have known all along not to appease him. Next time is always different for people who refuse to learn from history. As Air America’s Mark Green said: “Look, Hitler was Hitler.” (Which, I admit, threw me for a loop: I thought Air America’s position is that Bush is Hitler.)

This is nonsense. Ahmadinejad looks a lot like Hitler did when Chamberlain agreed to meet with him at Munich, except that Hitler didn’t buy his suits from ratty thrift shops. Much of England reacted just as today’s Democrats would because, like today’s Democrats, they feared nothing more than another war. (Lloyd George lied, kids died!)

Lots of Britons cheered when Chamberlain returned from Munich and announced “peace in our time.” Without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, what on earth makes Chris Matthews think he would not be among them?

As Bush said at the Knesset, “There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words.” That was Chamberlain. And that is today’s Democratic Party.

What Matthews and the Times are saying is this: We can have a Munich, but we promise to be tougher than Chamberlain was. Therein lies the flaw in their logic. Yes, in the abstract, it is technically possible to “talk” without giving up Czechoslovakia (or in today’s case, Iraq or Israel).

But in reality, when talking to a lunatic without having first bombed him into submission, the only possible result is appeasement. Any talk with Hitler, or a McHitler like Ahmadinejad, that does not include handing over Czechoslovakia or Israel, like a game show parting gift, is going to be a relatively brief chat.

Churchill knew that before Chamberlain went to Munich. But a lot of Britons then, like a lot of Americans today, refused to see that blindingly obvious point.

Liberals think the way to deal with dangerous tyrants is to send in a sensitive president who will make Ahmadinejad fall in love with him. They imagine Obama becoming Ahmadinejad’s psychotherapist, like Barbra Streisand in “The Prince of Tides.”

President Bush described such people perfectly with his reference to Sen. William Edgar Borah, the one who said World War II could have been avoided if only he could have talked to Hitler.

Liberals refuse to learn from history because they put their hands over their ears and tell themselves over and over again: “Hitler was different.”

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Well, yesterday, Barack stuck his foot in his mouth, again.

While addressing the audience on Memorial Day, he stated – and here I quote:

“On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.”

Memorial Day honors those who have died in our nation’s military service. Is it possible that Obama does not know this? Sometimes the things that come out of his mouth defy understanding.

Can he be that stupid? I guess he can.

Someone should tell him the difference between Memorial and Veteran’s Day.

As well – there are only 50 states in the USA (not 57- as there are in Islam), and that the various languages of Pakistan – I’m sure you’ve already heard about his stumbling, bumbling, fumbling speech- are mainly Urdu, English, Sindhi and others . To top it all off, he now has invented an ‘Uncle’ who “was one of the first people to enter Auschwitz to ‘rescue’ the interned prisoners.” I didn’t know Barack had an Uncle who was Russian.

What was really offensive about Obama’s New Mexico appearance, however, was what followed his very brief, but generally appropriate, tribute to America’s war dead. He continued with a town hall-style question and answer period that cast veterans in the only role with which the Democrats are comfortable–victims–and sought to politicize the holiday. A few excerpts:

OBAMA: We’re going to have hundreds of thousands of new veterans coming in, many of them who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. They are not being diagnosed quickly enough, they’re not getting the services that they need quickly enough.And, sadly, the group of veterans that are probably being most neglected in this area are women veterans. We’ve got to do a better job of creating facilities…


… specifically for women veterans.

And part of what we need is to recognize that oftentimes our women servicemembers are more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder partly because they — there’s a sad, but real, problem of sexual harassment and sexual abuse for women veterans, and that makes them much more prone, then, to have post-traumatic stress disorder.


OBAMA: I want a much more aggressive [Small Business Administration]; one that’s reaching out. And I want it particularly to reach out to our veterans.

This whole transition in terms of veterans coming home and establishing themselves economically, there are a bunch of different components to it.

Number one, is what we just talked about which is making sure that the G.I. bill for a 21st century is passed. And although George Bush has threatened to veto it, our intention is to override that veto when it comes back to the House and the Senate…



QUESTION: What would you do with Blackwater?

OBAMA: I am not a believer in private contractors as a mechanism for serving our — this United States.


You know, I, in fact, actually currently have legislation that I introduced that would do a full audit on Blackwater.


And they need to be held accountable for some of the actions that have already been taken.


QUESTION: [Y]ou know, we’re in a world of real serious crisis in our country, as you know. You know, people are paying up to over $4 a gallon. They’re really having to make sacrifices to put food on the table.

Affordable housing for the medium-income people is really an issue. Health care — there’s a lot of people going out without — going working without health care.

And I wonder if you could just address those issues, and the economy, how you’re going to jumpstart it, as president of the United States.

Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, obviously, the problems you just listed affect veterans and nonveterans alike. And part of what this president hasn’t understood that I think the American people understand is that part of our security is our economy — our economic security.


Our tax code has to change. It rewards the wealthy and the powerful; it doesn’t help you.

So I want to give you a middle-class tax break. If you’re a senior citizen — if you’re a senior citizen, I don’t want you to have to pay income tax at all if you make $50,000 a year or less, because you’re already on fixed incomes…


… and the way we’ll pay for it is to close loopholes; for example, on companies that ship jobs overseas. They shouldn’t get a tax break. We should save those tax breaks for companies that invest here in the United States of America.


I want us to invest in infrastructure, to put people back to work. We could put 2 million people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, laying broadband lines in rural communities.

And if you think that we can’t afford it, just remember we are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq.

All in all, a shameful performance. President Bush, meanwhile, gave a moving Memorial Day speech–not a partisan stemwinder–at Arlington National Cemetery. You can read his speech, and watch a video of it, here. The contrast is not, to put it politely, favorable to Obama.

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When the House of Representatives take up arms against $4 gas by voting 324-84 to sue OPEC, you know that election-year discourse has entered the realm of the surreal. Another unmistakable sign is when a presidential candidate makes a gaffe, then, realizing it is too egregious to take back without suffering humiliation, decides to make it a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chávez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers. But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that. Unprepared, he said sure — then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration’s refusal to do so not just “ridiculous” but “a disgrace.”

After that, there was no going back. So he doubled down. What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.

Should the president ever meet with enemies? Sometimes, but only after minimal American objectives — i.e., preconditions — have been met. The Shanghai communique was largely written long before Richard Nixon ever touched down in China. Yet Obama thinks Nixon to China confirms the wisdom of his willingness to undertake a worldwide freshman-year tyrants tour.

Most of the time, you don’t negotiate with enemy leaders because there is nothing to negotiate. Does Obama imagine that North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela are insufficiently informed about American requirements for improved relations?

There are always contacts through back channels or intermediaries. Iran, for example, has engaged in five years of talks with our closest European allies and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to say nothing of the hundreds of official U.S. statements outlining exactly what we would give them in return for suspending uranium enrichment.

Obama pretends that while he is for such “engagement,” the cowboy Republicans oppose it. Another absurdity. No one is debating the need for contacts. The debate is over the stupidity of elevating rogue states and their tyrants, easing their isolation, and increasing their leverage by granting them unconditional meetings with the president of the world’s superpower.

Obama cited Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as presidents who met with enemies. Does he know no history? Neither Roosevelt nor Truman ever met with any of the leaders of the Axis powers. Obama must be referring to the pictures he’s seen of Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, and Truman and Stalin at Potsdam. Does he not know that at that time Stalin was a wartime ally?

During the subsequent Cold War, Truman never met with Stalin. Nor Mao. Nor Kim Il Sung. Truman was no fool.

Obama cites John Kennedy meeting Nikita Khrushchev as another example of what he wants to emulate. Really? That Vienna summit of a young, inexperienced, untested American president was disastrous, emboldening Khrushchev to push Kennedy on Berlin — and then nearly fatally in Cuba, leading almost directly to the Cuban missile crisis. Is that the precedent Obama aspires to follow?

A meeting with Ahmadinejad would not just strengthen and vindicate him at home, it would instantly and powerfully ease the mullahs’ isolation, inviting other world leaders to follow. And with that would come a flood of commercial contracts, oil deals, diplomatic agreements — undermining the very sanctions and isolation that Obama says he would employ against Iran.

As every seasoned diplomat knows, the danger of a summit is that it creates enormous pressure for results. And results require mutual concessions. That is why conditions and concessions are worked out in advance, not on the scene.

What concessions does Obama imagine Ahmadinejad will make to him on Iran’s nuclear program? And what new concessions will Obama offer? To abandon Lebanon? To recognize Hamas? Or perhaps to squeeze Israel?

Having lashed himself to the ridiculous, unprecedented promise of unconditional presidential negotiations — and then having compounded the problem by elevating it to a principle — Obama keeps trying to explain. On Sunday, he declared in Pendleton, Ore., that by Soviet standards Iran and others “don’t pose a serious threat to us.” (On the contrary. Islamic Iran is dangerously apocalyptic. Soviet Russia was not.) The next day in Billings, Mont.: “I’ve made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave.”

That’s the very next day, mind you. Such rhetorical flailing has done more than create an intellectual mess. It has given rise to a new political phenomenon: the metastatic gaffe. The one begets another, begets another, begets . . .

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Have a kind of empty feeling? Sense that something has been missing these last couple of months? Me, too. Campaign 2008 is completing its fifth month, and we haven’t had a vicious fight about the Vietnam War yet.

Vietnam is the only war in American history never to end. The War of 1812 was contentious, especially in the Northeast, but no presidential election was fought over it beyond 1812. The Mexican War stirred great passions and slopped over into the 1848 election but has hardly been heard of since, except if you are taking a course in 19th-century America. World War I was debated in 1916 (mostly as a question of how to keep the nation out of it) and in 1920 (mostly as a question of how to return to normalcy after the war), but its impact on American elections was basically nil.

Not Vietnam. It’s been a major theme in six American elections — a remarkable feat when you consider that not one person who fought the Vietnam War ever has been elected president. Compare that with World War II, which touched seven American presidents (nine, if you count Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman) but which was an issue in at most one election, the contest in 1944, and even then it was not a major point of contention, as Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York, the GOP nominee, didn’t substantially question FDR’s prosecution of the war.

The question for 2008 is whether America can finally bring the Vietnam War to an end. It has looked that way so far this year. The Democrats conducted 21 presidential debates and hardly a peep was heard about Vietnam. Not only that, hardly a disparaging word was heard about the 1960s, another hardy perennial in American politics.

It helped that one of the leading candidates, Sen. Barack Obama, was born in the first year of the Kennedy administration and was only 6 during the Tet offensive. No one questioned what he did during the war. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn’t eligible for the draft, so she couldn’t have dodged it even if she had wanted to.

Now, as we brace for a confrontation that is likely to be between Mr. Obama and Sen. John S. McCain, there will be little contention over Vietnam. As a Naval airman in the war, Mr. McCain was shot down over North Vietnam and endured five years of brutal imprisonment in Hanoi, making him one of the bona fide heroes of the war and shaping his life after his release. No one will question Mr. McCain’s service in Vietnam, and even Democrats acknowledge that it provides him with an aura that no New Frontier baby can match.

But the passing of Vietnam from our presidential politics at the same time that a Vietnam veteran might occupy the Oval Office is a curious development.

Americans throughout history have elected military men to the presidency, beginning of course with George Washington. The Civil War provided six presidents, all of them volunteers: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.

Despite the presence of so many veterans in the presidential politics of the 19th century, political candidates confined the waving of the bloody shirt — political shorthand, popularized by James B. Weaver and Horace Greeley, for reminding voters of the Democrats’ identification with the Confederacy during the Civil War — to the elections of 1868, 1872 and 1876, petering out in 1880.

George H.W. Bush was the last of the World War II presidents, but so prominent a part of the political landscape were those war veterans that both major-party candidates in 1960, 1964 and 1972 were veterans. (Hubert Humphrey, the 1968 Democratic presidential nominee, tried repeatedly to enlist in the war but was rejected because of a hernia.) For 11 consecutive elections, from 1952 to 1996, at least one of the major-party nominees had served in World War II.

If Mr. McCain, as expected, is nominated for president by the Republicans late this summer, he will be the third Vietnam veteran to run in a general election; the first two, former Vice President Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, both Democrats, were defeated by George W. Bush, who did not serve in Vietnam. The other baby-boom president, Bill Clinton, maneuvered to avoid the draft.

Vietnam was a long war — most accounts put its length at about 16 years, from 1959 to 1975 — but the controversy over it has lasted even longer, which is perhaps why Vietnam veterans have been unable to win the presidency.

“It is not a good story,” says Thomas J. Vallely, who directs the Vietnam Program at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and who counts himself a friend of Mr. McCain’s. “In World War II, America is triumphant. In Vietnam, America gets to know itself, and in some ways Vietnam is helpful to America because it focuses so many questions that are important. But its veterans are complicated people, and America sometimes doesn’t go for complicated people.”

All of which may explain the rise of McCain, who has had a complicated life but who seems to live life as an uncomplicated man. He sees things in blacks and whites, and approaches life as a choice between rights and wrongs. It is wrong, he already has signaled, to beat up on Mr. Obama about his preacher or to suggest that the Illinois Democrat is somehow un-American because his middle name is Hussein or he doesn’t customarily wear a flag pin in his lapel.

The Vietnam War will be an issue in the 2008 general election only to the extent that McCain’s travails during that episode in American life provide insights into the Arizona Republican’s character — and because it is impossible to separate the man McCain has become from the war that molded him. We may debate his positions on the issues this fall, but we almost certainly will not debate the Vietnam War. Maybe that means the war finally has ended.

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Some people think they have seen this campaign movie before. The one with the big fuss about the flag. The one with the attacks on a man’s patriotism. The one where the candidate who was being attacked didn’t fight back. The one where the prey was a cerebral guy with an outspoken wife. The one where the Yale graduate accused the Harvard graduate of being an elitist. The one where the Democrats relinquished a huge lead. The one that happened in 1988.

The fashion today is to look in the rearview mirror of the 2008 presidential campaign and to see the 1988 campaign — to see 1988 gaining on us, catching up with us, moving into the passing lane right beside us. Maybe my mirror is tilted at a different angle — maybe I am not looking in the mirror at all, and just relying on memory as someone who was there, every mile of the way — but I don’t see it that way.

I know I’m the guy who specializes in the historical look, but there is a difference between looking back and seeing history, and looking ahead and seeing history repeating itself.

The campaign of 1988 offered one lesson; we’ll get to it in a minute, and you will see that no one learned it quite so well as former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts (Harvard Law ’60), the Democratic presidential nominee that year. But Campaign 1988 doesn’t offer a road map for Campaign 2008, and it tells us little that’s important about Barack Obama (Harvard Law ’91) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (Yale Law ’73).

That’s because all campaigns are different. They’re peopled with different candidates, they have different rhythms, they have different backdrops, they have different production values. Plus they have different technologies and standards.

There was a 24-hour news cycle in 1988 only because some of the slugs out on the campaign trail seemed to work all 24 hours. Armed with telephone credit cards that they used at pay phones, they wrote on primitive typing machines whose “screens” showed four lines of type. (When The Wall Street Journal bought a reporter one that held eight lines, the others on the campaign trail stared at it as if it were some exotic prop from a sci-fi film. Ironic, because most of them were more Raymond Chandler than Ray Bradbury, and still are.) So we’ve established that 1988 occurred in the dark ages, though I am hard-pressed to believe that a world without the crazy-eyed, face-lifted howlers on cable was somehow more primitive than the world in which politics is prosecuted today. But so much more was different.

In 1988, the country was at peace. In 2008, it is fighting two wars. In 1988, the Soviet Union was still the anchor of the Communist bloc. In 2008, even the Communists don’t practice communism. In 1988, Vietnam was still a major American preoccupation (“Good Morning, Vietnam” had just come out) and Libya was considered perhaps the world’s greatest terrorist threat (late that year Libya would be accused of the bombing of Pan Am 103 over southern Scotland). In 2008, both Vietnam and Libya are members of the United Nations Security Council.

There is more. In 1988, America enjoyed relative prosperity. In 2008, the country is debating how long the recession will last. In 1988, a vice president (George H.W. Bush, Yale ’48) was attempting to succeed a popular president. In 2008, the vice president isn’t running for anything and the president isn’t popular.

These elections have nothing in common, except perhaps that Mr. Obama is being accused — by whom exactly it is difficult to determine — of lacking the fiery patriotism required to occupy the Oval Office.

But that was no peculiarity of 1988. It happened also in 1992 (when Bill Clinton, who clearly maneuvered to avoid the draft, was the Democratic nominee) and in 2004 (when the phrase “Swift Boat” was transformed from a noun into a verb, meaning, roughly: to trash a decorated naval officer’s record, albeit correctly so).

The 1988 accusations revolved around the Pledge of Allegiance, and Dukakis’ veto of legislation in 1977 that would have required Massachusetts teachers to lead pupils, who in 13 years in Massachusetts public schools engaged in this ritual every day, to recite the pledge. More than two years later, while suffering from an inoperable brain tumor that led to his death at 40, Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater apologized to Mr. Dukakis for the tactics he used in the 1988 campaign.

“It doesn’t make any difference whether I’m the candidate, or it’s Bill Clinton or John Kerry,” Mr. Dukakis said in a telephone conversation last week. “The opposition will go after us on national security. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Mr. Dukakis — who served for 16 months with the Army in Korea in the mid-1950s and who often spoke of his pride in America as a land of opportunity, particularly for immigrants — knows there are no do-overs in national politics. But he has thought a lot about what he should have said, and when he should have said it:

“If I had to do it over again, I’d have asked my mother to stand up in the audience during that debate with George Bush and I’d have said: ‘You tell the first Greek-American woman in United States history to go away to college that she raised an unpatriotic son.'”

Just as there are no do-overs for Dukakis, there are no do-overs for 1988, the year the Soviets began withdrawing from Afghanistan, Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of Pakistan, and the Cubs began playing night games at Wrigley Field. The year 1988 is separated from 2008 by the same number of years that separated the Munich Agreement, the high-water mark of pre-World War II appeasement, from the launch of Explorer 1, the first American satellite in space. It was a very long time ago.

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Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification

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If you read a Barack Obama speech, you notice that, aside from the we-are-the-ones-we’ve-been-waiting -for narcissistic uplift and the Washington-needs-to-lift-people-up-not tear-them down bromides, almost everything he says is, well, nuts.

I don’t mean the moments when he gets carried away and announces that his administration would “stop the import of all toys from China.” As it happens, that’s a policy I’m not unsympathetic to. Almost 80 percent of American toys are made in the People’s Republic and, while that may well be appropriate given the whiff of totalitarian coerciveness that hangs around Barney the Dinosaur, I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with contracting out U. S. innocence to the butchers of Tiananmen. For one thing, come the Sino-American War, Beijing will have the ultimate fifth column inside the West: The nation’s moppets, resentful at having their Elmos and SpongeBobs cut off for the duration, will be shinning down the drainpipe after dark in ski masks and blowing up power stations to hasten the day of liberation.

But forget that. Worse than the painting-by-numbers demagoguery are some of the accidental glimpses of the senator’s worldview. For example: “The drug companies, they’re not going to give up their profits easily when it comes to health care.”

Well, gee, how unreasonable of them. But demanding they give up their profits “easily” comes easy to him. Until he wrote his recent bestsellser, the concept of “profits” was entirely theoretical to Obama’s life. As his wife put it, the Obamas “left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do. Don’t go into corporate America.” So Barack didn’t. Instead, he became a “community organizer,” whatever that is. It would make no difference to life in the great republic if every “community organizer” in the lower 48 were deposited on an atoll in the Antarctic. On the other hand, if America’s drug companies were no longer profitable, it might make rather a lot of difference.

In print, Barack Obama comes as close as any major-party nominee ever has to sounding like the kookiest college Marxist. But, as I say, that’s when you read his words. When you hear him, in that smooth baritone that would make “Would you like fries with that?” sound like change you can believe in, everything is terribly reasonable, moderate, evenly modulated.

I was thinking of the Obama technique while watching his campaign’s in-house pastor on TV. The senator had found himself obliged to plead that, alas, he’d chanced to be out of town for God Damn America Sunday, AIDS Conspiracy Sunday, and the American Had It Coming 9/11 Memorial Service, and defenders of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright had offered the reflexive response that his controversial remarks had been taken out of “context.” So the reverend supplied the context. He went to the NAACP and the National Press Club, and CNN & Co. broadcast the speeches live under the bizarre misapprehension that this was doing their man Barack a favor. Wright did impressions of the Kennedys and demonstrated the differing styles of black and white marching bands, attributing these to genetic differences: Blacks are “right-brainers,” while whites are “left-brainers.” Blacks have a vibrant oral tradition deriving from long-ago African tribesmen who were in effect the first hip-hoppers, while Mozart wrote down his symphonies on manuscript paper, which is all very well but, let’s face it, the powdered-wig set have no sense of rhythm.

I paraphrase, but not much. Underpinning every utterance of Reverend Wright was the assumption that these features are hardwired into us and no amount of culture or education can undo them. Presumably no amount of government money or employment quotas can undo them either, although the reverend didn’t go that far. Had a white man gone on national TV and given the speeches Wright gave, he’d be finished in public life, and so would any man who’d been dumb enough to spend 20 years in his company, get married by him, and entrust his kids’ religious upbringing to the guy.

As it happens, honky culture is also rich in oral tradition – Homer, for example, not to mention medieval nursery rhymes still known to every kid in the early 21st century. Of course, the white man then figured the big bucks were in writing things down and hiring a lawyer to enforce your copyright. But the idea that black artists are conditioned by their “oral tradition” to half-baked hoodlum exhibitionism barked over a pneumatic backing track would have struck, say, Scott Joplin as absurd. Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dog.

But the best refutation of Wright’s thesis is his protege. Were Obama carrying on in his pastor’s vernacular tradition, he’d be at single digits. I think the senator’s shaping up to be a tragic figure – a man born free of the bitterness of the black experience who by choice immersed himself in the toxic pool of Jeremiah Wright’s neo-segregationism. When Obama’s mask slips and he makes his throwaway observations about health-care profits, you glimpse the narrowness of the world in which he’s spent his adult life. But political candidacies are about the music more than the lyrics. And when he opens his mouth to sing, Obama’s baritone is reassuring and mellifluous, and the accompaniment beautifully orchestrated. Tonally, he’s the Nat King Cole of political candidates – which suggests he at least knows the limitations of Jeremiah Wright’s wacky race theories on vernacular authenticity.

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Well, it looks like it’s the end of the road for Hillary. Time for her to pack up her pantsuits and go back to … wherever it is she’s pretending to be living these days. Now we just have to get rid of the other two. Perhaps if (fill in the blank) endorses Obama…

This week, Bill Clinton lost his second presidential election for a protege.

Ronald Reagan was so popular, he not only won a 49-state landslide re-election for himself, but he also won a symbolic third term for his boob of a vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush (who immediately blew it by breaking his own “no new taxes” pledge).

By contrast, in addition to not being able to get half the country to vote for him in two tries, Clinton’s connection to any other presidential candidate spells utter doom. Both his vice president and his wife have been defeated in elections they should have won, but lost because of their unfortunate association with him. The country has spoken. It wants to be rid of the Clintons.

The reason two elections in recent history — the 2000 presidential election and the 2008 Democratic primary — were razor-close is that in both cases there was some strange, foreboding, otherworldly force dragging down the presumptive winner.

Clinton‘s vice president, Al Gore, lost an election that should have been his in a walk. In fact, he was the first incumbent president or vice president in 100 years to lose an election in peacetime with a good economy. Mind you, that was before we even knew that Gore was a deranged conspiracy theorist who believes the Earth is in serious peril from cow flatulence.

What was the mystery factor to explain such a historic loss?

The media’s pollsters may have lied to the public about Clinton’s vaunted popularity, but Gore’s pollsters got paid not to lie to him. And they told Gore the truth: Clinton was killing him.

After the election, Gore pollster — and erstwhile Clinton pollster — Stanley Greenberg told Vanity Fair magazine that if Clinton had helped, he said he would have “had Bill Clinton carry Al Gore around on his back.” (This was when one man could still actually carry Al Gore on his back.) But research showed that whenever Clinton was mentioned, Gore’s numbers went down faster than — oh, never mind.

Steve Rosenthal, political director of the AFL-CIO, also blamed Clinton for Gore’s loss, saying polls showed that voters who cared about character voted for Bush. (I know, I know. Are there actually people who care about character and vote Democrat? Yes, apparently they exist.)

Poor Gore did everything he could to distance himself from Clinton, publicly criticizing Clinton’s sexual exploits with an intern, refusing to allow Clinton to campaign with him and taking as his vice president Joe Lieberman — the first Democratic senator to scathingly denounce Clinton’s antics with Lewinsky from the Senate floor.

But voters couldn’t forget Gore’s boss, the purple-faced lecher.

As election predictors go, the Dow Jones has been remarkably accurate. If the Dow goes up from the end of July to the end of October, the incumbent president or vice president wins; if it goes down, the incumbent loses. It has been wrong only four times since the Dow was created in 1896.

Thus, on Nov. 1, 2000, an article in The New York Times began: “The verdict of the Dow Jones industrial average is in, and it says Al Gore is headed for the White House.”

And yet Gore lost. It was only the third time in more than a century that the Dow went up in the three months before the election and the incumbent lost. The two other times were: (1) Herbert Hoover in the middle of the Great Depression, and (2) Hubert Humphrey in the middle of the Vietnam War. (The only time the Dow went down and the incumbent won anyway was for popular Dwight Eisenhower.)

So we have documented proof: Americans rank Bill Clinton with national misfortunes on the order of the Great Depression and the Vietnam War. (This, of course, is an overreaction: The Great Depression wasn’t that bad.)

And now Bill Clinton has wrecked Hillary’s campaign, too. He’s like the creepy guy who graduated last year but still hangs around the high school cafeteria chatting up sophomores.

In a Time magazine poll taken earlier this year, more than twice as many voters said Bill Clinton’s involvement in Hillary’s campaign made them less likely to vote for her as said they were more likely to vote for her. (Some even said that “having Bill Clinton around makes me less likely to vote for What’s-Her-Name.” One-third of the respondents were upset Bill didn’t call the next day, like he promised.)

So before remembering that we are now left with two dangerous choices for president — a young liberal who is friendly with terrorists or an old liberal who is friendly with Teddy Kennedy — take a moment to revel in the fact that our long national nightmare is over. It turns out getting rid of the Clintons was the change we’ve been waiting for.

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The battle over voting rights will expand this week as lawmakers in Missouri are expected to support a proposed constitutional amendment to enable election officials to require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote.

The measure would allow far more rigorous demands than the voter ID requirement recently upheld by the Supreme Court, in which voters had to prove their identity with a government-issued card.

Sponsors of the amendment — which requires the approval of voters to go into effect, possibly in an August referendum — say it is part of an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from affecting the political process. Critics say the measure could lead to the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal residents who would find it difficult to prove their citizenship.

Voting experts say the Missouri amendment represents the next logical step for those who have supported stronger voter ID requirements and the next battleground in how elections are conducted. Similar measures requiring proof of citizenship are being considered in at least 19 state legislatures. Bills in Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina have strong support. But only in Missouri does the requirement have a chance of taking effect before the presidential election.

In Arizona, the only state that requires proof of citizenship to register to vote, more than 38,000 voter registration applications have been thrown out since the state adopted its measure in 2004. That number was included in election data obtained through a lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates and provided to The New York Times. More than 70 percent of those registrations came from people who stated under oath that they were born in the United States, the data showed.

Already, 25 states, including Missouri, require some form of identification at the polls. Seven of those states require or can request photo ID. More states may soon decide to require photo ID now that the Supreme Court has upheld the practice. Democrats have already criticized these requirements as implicitly intended to keep lower-income voters from the polls, and are likely to fight even more fiercely now that the requirements are expanding to include immigration status.

“Three forces are converging on the issue: security, immigration and election verification,” said Dr. Robert A. Pastor, co-director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington. This convergence, he said, partly explains why such measures are likely to become more popular and why they will make election administration, which is already a highly partisan issue, even more heated and litigious.

“Whether the U.S. government combines these different initiatives into a coherent plan with safeguards for privacy instead of dozens of separate ID cards that could be the source of discrimination and confusion is the question,” he said.

The Missouri secretary of state, Robin Carnahan, a Democrat who opposes the measure, estimated that it could disenfranchise up to 240,000 registered voters who would be unable to prove their citizenship.

In most of the states that require identification, voters can use utility bills, paychecks, driver’s licenses or student or military ID cards to prove their identity. In the Democratic primary election last week in Indiana, several nuns were denied ballots because they lacked the required photo IDs.

Measures requiring proof of citizenship raise the bar higher because they offer fewer options for documentation. In most cases, aspiring voters would have to produce an original birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport. Arizona and Missouri, along with some other states, now show whether a driver is a citizen on the face of a driver’s license, and within a few years all states will be required by the federal government to restrict licenses to legal residents.

Critics say that when this level of documentation is applied to voting, it becomes more difficult for the poor, disabled, elderly and minorities to participate in the political process.

“Everyone has been focusing on voter ID laws generally, but the most pernicious measures and the ones that really promise to prevent the most eligible voters from voting is what we see in Arizona and now in Missouri,” said Jon Greenbaum, a former voting rights official at the Department of Justice and now the director of the voting rights project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a liberal advocacy group.

Aside from its immediacy, the action by Missouri is important because it has been a crucial swing state in recent presidential elections, with outcomes often decided by a razor-thin margin.

Supporters of the measures cite growing concerns that illegal immigrants will try to vote. They say proof of citizenship measures are an important way to improve the accuracy of registration rolls and the overall voter confidence in the process.

State Representative Stanley Cox, a Republican from Sedalia and the sponsor of the amendment, said that the Missouri Constitution already required voters to be citizens and that his amendment was simply meant to better enforce that requirement.

“The requirements we have right now are totally inadequate,” Mr. Cox said. “You can present a utility bill, and that doesn’t prove anything. I could sit here with my nice photocopier and create a thousand utility bills with different names on them.”

From October 2002 to September 2005, the Justice Department indicted 40 voters for registration fraud or illegal voting, 21 of whom were noncitizens, according to department records.

In 2006, the Missouri legislature passed a photo identification bill that the State Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional because it placed too much of a burden on voters. It was that ruling that has spurred state lawmakers to try to change the constitution.

The proposed amendment does not require the signature of the governor but would need to be approved by the voters in the state’s August primary in the governor’s race to take effect before the presidential election.

If passed this week, the amendment clears the way for a pending bill that would require some kind of identification in order to prove citizenship and to register to vote. But many questions about the bill — like whether current registered voters will have to obtain a new form of identification — have not been resolved.

Lillie Lewis, a voter who lives in St. Louis and spoke at a news conference last week organized to oppose the amendment, said she already had a difficult time trying to get a photo ID from the state, which asked her for a birth certificate. Ms. Lewis, who was born in Mississippi and said she was 78 years old, said officials of that state sent her a letter stating that they had no record of her birth.

“That’s downright wrong,” Ms. Lewis said. “I have voted in almost all of the presidential races going back I can’t remember how long, but if they tell me I need a passport or birth certificate that’ll be the end of that.”

A 2006 federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid was widely criticized by state officials for shutting out tens of thousands of United States citizens who were unable to find birth certificates or other documents proving their citizenship.

Supporters of citizenship requirements, however, say the threat of voting by illegal immigrants is real. Thor Hearne, a lawyer for the American Center for Voting Rights, a conservative advocacy group, cited a California congressional race in 1996 in which a Republican, Bob Dornan, was narrowly defeated. Mr. Dornan contested the results, claiming that illegal immigrants had voted.

After a 14-month investigation by state, county and federal officials, a panel concluded that up to 624 noncitizens may have registered to vote. The report came to no firm determination of whether any of those people had actually voted.

Mr. Hearne said the requirement would not pose a significant hardship on voters.

“There were a lot of the same alarmist charges regarding Indiana voter ID law and how it would disenfranchise so many people,” Mr. Hearne said, “and those allegations were not accepted by the Supreme Court.” He added that if states actively provided a free form of identification proving citizenship, the number of people who would be disenfranchised would be very low.

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