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Focus Group: "Change" is Tired, Hello "Accountability?"

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

Time's Joe Klein sat in on a focus group of undecided voters yesterday. The results were sobering for both candidates, he writes: for McCain, because he is seen as "more of the same," and for Obama, because his "change" message no longer resonates. What do these people seem to want? Accountability.

What do they want? Given a list of 31 personal attributes the next President might have and asked to pick the eight most important, "Accountability" finished highest with 13 votes, next was "Someone I can trust" with 12, "honest and ethical" was third with 11. "Agrees with me on the issues" got one vote. They didn't care if the candidate was a Washington insider or outsider. "A dynamic and charismatic leader" got two votes...

Worth a read.

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The Hillary Hold-ons: Causing Trouble in Denver and Beyond?

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 1:23 PM EDT

Former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, was standing outside a Walgreen's on 16th Street in downtown Denver yesterday. It was a beautiful afternoon, and scores of his fellow Democrats who had arrived for their party's conventions were strolling up and down the 16th Street Mall, past high-end chain stores and restaurants. It felt like something of a block party. Ford, an African-American who lost a 2006 Senate bid after his foes ran an ad featuring a young white woman noting that Ford had attended a Playboy mansion party and asking him for a date, joyously greeted members of Congress, political operatives, and reporters who happened to pass by. But he did have a worry. A worry regarding Hillary Clinton. Not the Senator herself. But her die-hard supporters. Ford said that he feared that Clinton supporters who had come to Denver to demand Clinton receive the party's presidential nomination--and who were planning demonstrations and events during the week--could cause trouble.

Two blocks away, two of those Clinton supporters were hoping--and planning--exactly for that. Nancy Kirlen, a middle-aged woman from San Diego, and Kathy Skerl, also middle-aged and from Asheville, North Carolina, stood at the entrance to the Sheraton Hotel, where media credentials were being distributed, and enthusiastically told reporters of their intentions to derail the convention.

With Senator Barack Obama recognized by the vast majority of Democrats as the presumptive nominee, with Senator Joe Biden tapped as his running-mate, with no major debates under way about the party platform, the convention appears to be short on news, suspense and conflict. With the exception of one possible plot-line: the revenge of the Hillaryites. Reporters looking for a story have focused on the possible clash between this band of activists and the party.

Their goal--to get Clinton nominated by persuading superdelegates to ditch Obama for her--is certainly far-fetched. The question is, can they create enough sound and fury--amplified or not by the mainstream media--to make it appear that there is significant dissension within the ranks? Outside the Sheraton, Kirlen said she expected thousands of Hillary-backers to take to Denver's streets for a Tuesday march. Skerl lowered expectations, saying the crowd might number in the hundreds. In addition to the march, several other rallies for Hillary are planned before the roll call vote at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night.

Georgia Update

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 1:17 PM EDT

GEORGIA UPDATE....Events are proceeding apace in the Russian parliament today:

Lawmakers in both houses of parliament voted unanimously for the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where a decades-old rebellion ballooned this month into a bitter, bloody struggle between Russia and U.S.-backed Georgia.

...."Currently, it is important for us that South Ossetia should gain independence legally from the point of view of the world community," South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioyev told the Interfax news agency. "After this, we shall be able to seek accession into the Russian Federation, but this issue will be postponed for the future."

Not too far in the future, would be my guess. For more, check out Megan Stack's report on how thrilled the Russian public is about giving the U.S. a poke in the eye.

One Last Shot

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 12:55 PM EDT

ONE LAST SHOT....I won't pretend to know why Newsweek chose to turn over 3,000 words (!) to professional liberal Obama hater Sean Wilentz in their current issue (his opening claim that "I would like to see him succeed in fulfilling his promise" is one of the more transparent howlers I've seen recently), but it really has to be seen to be believed. Be sure to especially check out the second-to-last paragraph:

Liberal intellectuals actually could have aided their candidate, while also doing their professional duty, by pressing him on his patently evasive accounts about various matters, such as his connections with the convicted wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko, or his more-than-informal ties to the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, including their years of association overseeing an expensive, high-profile, but fruitless public-school reform effort in Chicago. Instead, the intellectuals have failed Obama as well as their readers by branding such questioning as irrelevant, malicious or heretical.

Um, sure. That would have been a great way to help out Obama. Should liberal intellectuals also have viciously attacked his wife just to toughen him up for November? Questioned whether he was really the father of his children? Dug more deeply into his Muslim heritage?

If Newsweek wants to publish stuff like this under Karl Rove's byline, whatever. At least everyone knows what axe is being ground. But how many of Newsweek's readers know that Wilentz was a one-man hurricane of pro-Hillary/anti-Obama agit-prop for months and months during the primary? Not many, I'd guess, and they might read this bitter diatribe a little differently if they did.

Biden's Worldview

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 12:19 PM EDT

Barack Obama's pick for his running mate Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has a more than three decade track record in the Senate on foreign policy and national security issues. I asked a former Senate Foreign Relations committee staff member of his about Biden's worldview and foreign policy sensibilities. "Liberal interventionist," says the former Biden staffer, who asked to speak on background, comfortable with the use of American miliary power, in some contrast perhaps to Obama's inner circle of foreign policy advisors. Here's more of the former staffer's response.

Joe Biden firmly fits into the liberal interventionist school of thought that dominated the Democratic Party during the latter half of the 1990s through 2003. At his core, he is a man comfortable with the use of American military power, as demonstrated by the key role he played in encouraging the Clinton Administration to launch air strikes in the former Yugoslavia, setting the stage for the successful Dayton peace talks and the NATO peacekeeping mission. Biden came of age politically in the 1970's, when he saw first hand what the "Vietnam syndrome" did to the Democratic Party for more than a generation. By no means is Biden a "Scoop Jackson" Democrat, as Joe Lieberman has become. He recognizes that military power is but only one tool in our nation's arsenal, and that soft power plays an equally critical role. However, he is not afraid to advocate for military power where appropriate, as he did correctly in the Balkans, to his regret in Iraq in 2002, and today when it comes to Darfur (the judgment remains out on that score).
Obama's worldview, by contrast, appears to be a work still in progress. In his speeches and writings, Obama has made clear that he is not afraid to exercise the ultimate powers of the Commander in Chief. Indeed, he drew criticism from all sides in the summer of 2007 when he advocated the unilateral use of American military force to go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan if Islamabad would not do the job itself. Yet the fact remains that Obama came of age politically this decade, when we all witnessed the disastrous results of a hasty and ill-thought U.S. military intervention. One cannot deny that this experience will have influenced Obama's thinking when he faces the decision on a future U.S. military intervention.

The Mortgage Meltdown

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 11:57 AM EDT

THE MORTGAGE MELTDOWN....From the LA Times this morning:

Long before the mortgage crisis began rocking Main Street and Wall Street, a top FBI official made a chilling, if little-noticed, prediction: The booming mortgage business, fueled by low interest rates and soaring home values, was starting to attract shady operators and billions in losses were possible.

"It has the potential to be an epidemic," Chris Swecker, the FBI official in charge of criminal investigations, told reporters in September 2004. But, he added reassuringly, the FBI was on the case. "We think we can prevent a problem that could have as much impact as the S&L crisis," he said.

You gotta be kidding. Even a guy at the FBI saw this coming? But the rocket scientists at the Fed somehow slept through it anyway? Yeesh.

Still, the conclusion of the story should restore your faith in the federal bureacracy: after writing his memo, Swecker's budget was cut. "Nobody wanted to listen," Sharon Ormsby, the chief of the FBI's financial crimes section, explained. Partly this was because of an increased focus on counterterrorism, but apparently much of it was also because Ashcroft & Co. insisted on shifting resources into the movement hot button areas of illegal immigration and child pornography. Now that's the approach to regulatory and fraud issues we've come to expect from the Bush administration.

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Those Olympic Ceremonies

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 11:47 AM EDT

THOSE OLYMPIC CEREMONIES....I think I've finally figured out what it is that bugged me so much about the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing a couple of weeks ago. I know there are plenty of candidates for this honor, but here's mine: it reminded me of the annual Easter Pageant at the Crystal Cathedral. That's an odd thing to say since I've never actually seen the Easter Pageant even though I've lived within ten miles of the CC (and its predecessor) my entire life, but there you have it. I think the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics are what Rev. Schuller would stage if he had $300 million and 20,000 people to do it with.

Self-Parody Watch

| Sun Aug. 24, 2008 5:34 PM EDT
SELF-PARODY WATCH....This is just bizarre. Has any presidential candidate ever before run an ad mocking his opponent for not choosing a particular running mate? I think the folks running McCain's war room are getting cabin fever or something.

But who knows? Maybe an attack ad this transparent will be just the thing to finally get all those ex-Hillary supporters fully on board with Obama. Sort of the way trash talk from the Yankees ends up on the front page of the Boston Globe and fires up even fair weather Red Sox fans. That's pretty much how it would affect me, anyway.

In any case, since this is an ad that's obviously aimed at insiders and the media, not actual voters, Jon Cohn has some pointed advice:

Having said all that, the media has some responsibilty here, as well. Controversy makes for good coverage, I know. But for all the talk of disunity, the really remarkable story about the Democrats right now is the absence of meaningful dissent on the party's agenda. When it comes to substance, the Democrats are arguably more united than they have been since the early 1960s. Yes, you can find divisions on both domestic and foreign policy, on everything from the relative priority of deficit reduction to America's response to Darfur. But these debates don't match the kind we've seen in the past.

That's really true, isn't it? On trade and economic issues, the left and right of the party have both moved in each other's direction since the early 90s and the remaining disageements are pretty moderate. Nearly everyone is united on some form of liberal internationalism as our favored foreign policy stance, and nearly everyone wants to withdraw from Iraq. Social issues have largely sorted themselves out. There's surprisingly broad agreement about what our energy policy ought to look like. And there's virtual unanimity on the broad contours of how we should tackle healthcare.

It's not all sweetness and light, but aside from optics and personality issues, liberals really are remarkably united this year. It's kinda scary in a way. I blame the blogosphere.

FORMATTING NOTE: It took me a while to figure out how to embed YouTube clips over at the old site so that they looked decent, but I haven't quite figured it out here yet. This clip looks fine in Firefox, but it's sort of squashed in Internet Explorer and a complete disaster in Safari. Sorry. I'll fiddle around some more later and try to figure out the magic bullet.

On the other hand, I just noticed that link highlighting works a whole lot better in IE and Safari than Firefox. Win some, lose some, I guess.

Barn Doors

| Sun Aug. 24, 2008 2:15 PM EDT

BARN DOORS....Via TPM, Mark Halperin said this morning that Barack Obama was foolish to bring up the issue of John McCain's seven house because it "opens the door" for McCain to air inflammatory ads about Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, and other dark chapters from Obama's past. It opens, to coin a phrase, the gates of hell.

But wait, you're thinking: wasn't all this stuff going to come up anyway? Turns out George Stephanopoulos asked precisely that:

Stephanopoulos: Don't you think that was going to come up anyway?

Halperin: I think it would have been hard for John McCain, given the way he says he's going to run his campaign, to do all this stuff without the door being opened.

It really does make you wonder what planet Halperin is living on. Last month McCain hired Karl Rove protege Steve Schmidt, and since then he's run ads mocking Obama's celebrity, charged (repeatedly) that Obama puts his career ahead of his country, pretended that Obama had refused to visit wounded soldiers unless the press was along, run an ad saying that Obama was responsible for high gas prices, and conspicuously declined to comment on Jerome Corsi's bestselling claim that Obama is really a secret Muslim. At this point, who cares how McCain "says he's going to run his campaign"? Halperin can look at McCain's actual campaign and see what kind of campaign he's running. It's been sunk in the gutter for weeks now.

Anyway, as Halperin is certainly well aware, McCain and his cheering section are beavering away on all this stuff anyway. Over at National Review, for example Stanley Kurtz has been hard at work badgering the University of Illinois to give him access to the archives of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Why? Because his heart is turning somersaults over the possibility that something in the archives will show that Obama had a conversation or three with radical leftist Bill Ayers during the period when both served on the board of CAC in the mid-90s. Do you think Kurtz was waiting for a "door to be opened"? Or Jerome Corsi? Or Steve Schmidt? Please.

The Great Road of Georgia

| Sun Aug. 24, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

THE GREAT ROAD OF GEORGIA....The Observer reports that despite Russian claims that they're withdrawing from Georgia, they appear to be doing no such thing:

The country's forces were in control of several key areas outside the original conflict zone — including the Black Sea port of Poti and the western town of Senaki. Additionally, troops had established new 'buffer zones' around the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

There was compelling evidence yesterday [] that Russia is planning a long-term occupation of Georgia. The Observer witnessed Russian soldiers digging trenches seven kilometres outside the port of Poti next to the Rioni river and the main highway to Tbilisi.

....The Kremlin's plan now appears clear: to maintain a significant military presence in Georgia, capable of choking the country's economy and shutting down its major trade routes. It also allows Russia the option of a future invasion, should it want one.

OK, fine. If the West is looking for a way of supporting Georgia that doesn't involve dumb ideas like boycotting the 2014 Olympics or kicking Russia out of the G8, how about building the Georgians a new cross-country road and rail link? One further south that wouldn't be under Russian control?

Now, I know what you're thinking: every place south of the current cross-country road is full of mountains. And so it is. But that didn't stop the Ming emperors from building the Great Wall of China, did it? If they can build a thousand miles of wall, we ought to be able to build a couple hundred miles of road and rail. So let's get cracking.