McCain's Houses: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The McCains spend more each year on house staff ($273,000), than the average American's home is worth ($266,000).

Update: McCain isn't commenting on this story. But that doesn't mean he's not out and about!

McCain, who huddled with advisors at his desert compound in Sedona, Ariz., said nothing in public. A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

Late update: The McCain's spent more on household help than they gave to charity.

Brooks Dreams of Biden

David Brook's column today is a pretty good indication of what the Very Serious people of Washington will think of a Joe Biden pick.

Brooks likes Biden because of Biden's working class roots, his straight-shooting nature, and his experience in Washington and abroad. One suspects it is this last that really matters. "When Obama talks about postpartisanship, he talks about a grass-roots movement that will arise and sweep away the old ways of Washington," writes Brooks. "When John McCain talks about it, he describes a meeting of wise old heads who get together to craft compromises. Obama's vision is more romantic, but McCain's is more realistic."

So Biden is a liberal, not-evil Cheney. I'll agree that's a good thing. I'll further agree that having people like David Brooks on-board with the Obama VP pick is a good thing for Obama. But I won't agree that experience is the primary consideration when choosing a VP. Is Brooks not aware how that undercuts Obama's entire case for the presidency? If we value experience, why settle for a ticket with a VP who has 25+ years of experience in Washington? Why not pick the ticket with the nominee who has 25+ years of experience in Washington?

Endless Smears

ENDLESS SMEARS....When Daniel Kurtzer, an occasional advisor to the Obama campaign, said recently that he hoped Israel could make some progress in negotiations with Syria, the McCain campaign pounced. "If one of Senator Obama's advisers has been to Damascus," said Michael Goldfarb, in a show of classiness that's become his trademark, "we just wonder how many have been to Tehran."

Yuck yuck. Heather Hurlburt comments:

When the McCain campaign goes after an Orthodox Jew, former dean of Yeshiva U., career diplomat who was the Bush Administration's ambassador to Israel on 9-11, was caricatured in anti-Semitic cartoons in the Cairo press during his tenure as Ambassador to Egypt, where he bravely was a public face of Orthodoxy, and is the Commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League (you can't make this stuff up), for doing something the Israeli government is already doing (talking to Syrians), will someone please tell me exactly how this country is supposed to have a diplomatic establishment?

Goldfarb decided to smear the commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League? Nice work there. But I guess if it plays with the rubes, McCain's team figures it's all's fair.

Sure, everyone knows that America's military is hunkered down in the Middle East, but what's it doing in the rest of the world? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The Pentagon is several years into its biggest overseas base reshuffling since the Cold War, a realignment that is expected to cost US taxpayers $20 billion.

Given these rapid changes, our intrepid editorial and technical teams embarked on a yearlong project entitled "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide" to find out what our soldiers are up to, country by country. At its heart is this interactive world map that lets viewers zoom in to almost any place on the planet to learn about US involvement there. I'm already hearing it described as "addictive," and I highly doubt so much up-to-date information about America's overseas military presence has ever been available in one place in a fashion so accessible to casual readers. So what if my wife and children no longer recognize me. It's finished! (See more highlights below.)

The End of the Iraq War Is in Sight

american_flag_iraq165.gif So at this point there is no doubt: the Bush Administration supports a timetable for withdrawal.

Specifically, it supports withdrawing American troops out of Iraqi cities by summer 2009 and out of the rest of the country by the end of 2011. Those are the terms of a draft accord the Bush Administration is putting in front of Iraq's leaders for ratification. The quickness with which American combat operations are supposed to cease is reportedly the price the Administration had to pay for the Iraqi government's legalization of the American military presence in Iraq after this year, when the United Nations mandate currently authorizing the American presence expires. It is unclear whether the accord addresses the issue of permanent bases in Iraq, which are supported by John McCain and opposed by Barack Obama and wide swaths of the Iraqi public.

Of course, the Administration said that these dates are "aspirational goals" and that the actual pace of withdrawal will depend on the security situation in Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush Administration has put a plan for withdrawal on the table.

The Modern GOP

THE MODERN GOP....You know, in its own way this may be greatest political lead ever written. It comes from Jonathan Weisman and Robert Barnes in the Washington Post:

Sen. John McCain's inability to recall the number of homes he owns during an interview yesterday jeopardized his campaign's carefully constructed strategy to frame Democratic rival Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist....

There's something about the bland, nonjudgmental way that it describes both the standard modern GOP smear campaign strategy against all Democratic contenders and the perverse but deliciously fitting way in which it's finally been turned against them this year that just might sum up all of current American politics in a mere single sentence. Congratulations, guys!

As for McCain himself, he huddled yesterday with his campaign advisors to work on some strategery to restore his regular guy image. But first he had to fuel up:

A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

Jeez, couldn't he just send his valet out instead?

Welcome

WELCOME....If you're looking for Kevin Drum's new home, you've found it. Welcome! Has Obama chosen a vice president yet?

2011

2011....The Washington Post has confirmed yesterday's WSJ report that the Bush administration has agreed to a 2011 pullout of U.S. combat troops from Iraq:

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are "very close" to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here.

...."We have a text," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

....U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have [] agreed to a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, a date further in the future than the Iraqis initially wanted. The deal would leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles, such as military trainers, for an unspecified time. According to the U.S. military, there are 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of whom are playing a combat role.

This sounds like exactly what I've been expecting: Maliki gets a pullout date; Bush gets a little more time than he'd get if Obama wins the election and sets his own withdrawal schedule; and several thousand combat troops will stay around for an unspecified period after the main pullout. (A bad idea, I think, but one that practically everyone in Washington seems to support.)

So will this be good news for the Obama campaign, as I argued last night? Megan McArdle is skeptical:

My first instinct was the opposite. McCain gets to claim that the Surge worked, the war issue is off the table, and McCain gets the credit for steely resolve without people fearing their sons will end up in Iraq. I'm puzzled by war opponents who think that voters will suddenly love Obama for having been "right all along". Assuming arguendo that this is true, the psychological logic is off. Most Americans supported the war. Do you become more endeared of your spouse when it turns out that you really should have taken that left fork thirty miles ago? Most people prefer folie à deux.

Actually, I think this is right to the extent that it means Obama has to be careful about dancing a victory jig and taking credit for his uncanny prescience. But then, he's not going to do that, is he? Rather, he'll be thoughtful and low key, as usual, allowing surrogates and the press to do the heavy lifting for him. It's true that you never know how these things will go, but Obama's judgment has been so spectacularly vindicated by this that it's hard not to see it helping him in the long run.

This is awesome or awful PR work. I'm not sure which. A collection of things McCain spokesman Brian Rogers told the Washington Post about the "How Many Houses?" scandal that is brewing:

On Obama's house:

"It's a frickin' mansion."

On the McCains' definitely-not-elitist housing habits:

"The reality is they have some investment properties and stuff. It's not as if he lives in ten houses. That's just not the case. The reality is they have four that actually could be considered houses they could use."

On how the McCain campaign apparently sees Obama:

"In terms of who's an elitist, I think people have made a judgment that John McCain is not an arugula-eating, pointy headed professor-type."

On something completely irrelevant:

"This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years — in prison."

A couple observations: (1) Isn't it weird how the McCain campaign simultaneously paints Obama as an effete nerd and a super-cool celebrity? (2) Noun-verb-POW!

Howard Wolfson Contains Multitudes

Hillary Clinton's former top flack starts a music blog, of all things.