Obama makes a big move

January 31, 2007

I was going to write about Hillary Clinton’s interesting and somewhat impressive performance in Iowa this past weekend. Though I was not really satisfied with her Kerryesque repudiation of her vote for the Iraq war, I will give the Senator credit for channeling Oprah’s warmth and charm during her town-hall like session with regular Iowa folk.

Anyhow, I WAS going to write about that, but Barack Obama has just dropped a bombshell too big to ignore. If you haven’t read about his proposed legislation by now, let me fill you in. In a nutshell, Obama has drafted binding legislation that would remove all American forces from Iraq by March of 2008. Now before I get into what I see as the political brilliance of this move, I would first like to comment on a more emotional and objective level.

This is the right course of action to take. In fact, it’s the only logical course of action left for us to take. The American military presence in Iraq must end, whether the Iraqi government has met its so-called benchmarks or not. The White House argues that our soldiers are the only things keeping the country from tearing apart, but this argument simply does not hold up. The country is already tearing itself apart. It is in the midst of a civil war, and our military is no more effective at preventing regional bloodshed than other foreign forces that have inserted themselves in similar situations. It is also worth considering the possibility that the American military presence in Iraq serves as a catalyst for the violence between the factions. Though it seems unlikely at this point, perhaps less young Iraqi males will be motivated to continue in the violence when American troops are no longer available as targets.

From a political standpoint, Obama’s move is gutsy and deals a devastating blow to his opponents. He has just positioned himself as the first politician to really listen to what the majority of the American people want done! Forget Hillary Clinton’s wistful tone of regret, Obama is painting himself as the only man in Washington with the fortitude to actually try do something meaningful to stop the madness.

The rest of the Democratic field is going to be playing catch up for weeks on this move. It clearly hurts Clinton the most; just as she positions herself as a solid opponent of the war, Obama raises the bar into the stratosphere. Now Hillary and the other Democrats need to demonstrate that they-too are stopping at nothing to bring the war to an end! Unfortunately for them, no matter how hard they run, they will never come close to overtaking the frontrunner on this new playing field.

This move will also put Republican candidates in a bind. Though there is almost universal support for ending this war on the left, on the right opinion is split. Obama has now drawn a clear line in the sand, and the time for playing all sides of the issue may be coming to an end. On the one side stands common sense and the majority of the American people, and on the other George Bush, Dick Cheney, and a strategy that is absurd. It’s a no-win situation. Candidates who side with the White House (as McCain will have no choice but to do), will find themselves in the unenviable position of being a neo-con ally. Those who go to the other side will undoubtedly alienate those who remain faithful to the President.

Most importantly, Obama has positioned himself as a decisive leader at a time when over half of American’s wish the current one would just go away. He’s offering the American people relief from the blunders of our current administration two years before the hand-over of power.

My enthusiasm over this development is tempered by the reality that this bill will never pass. And even if it does, the President will surely veto it. But that may not matter. A real date for withdrawal has been introduced into the debate by a man who is dead-serious about leading this country. And for a while to come, March 2008 is going to be on the back of everyone’s mind.

Madrassa Missteps

January 30, 2007

The past few weeks have brought about the beginning of the 2008 presidential races. Not only did we see the official entry of some major heavyweights, but more deliciously we saw the first smear attack.

The madrassa attack…we all knew it or something like it was coming. I mean, come on, the man’s name is Barrack Hussein Obama; he’s one consonant away from being the mastermind of 9/11! If the swift boaters had the daring to turn John Kerry’s combat medals from an asset to a burden, there was no way they were gonna leave the juiciest, lowest-hanging piece of fruit in the history of political attacks untouched.

And for a while, it seemed to be working well. The suggestion that Senator Obama, during his elementary school years, attended an Islamic fundamentalist school in Indonesia was immeasurable in its potential damage.

Sure, if we think about it logically, Obama’s attendance at such a school at the age of six or seven is meaningless. But a good political attack isn’t an academic debate, it isn’t designed to hold it’s own under the light of scrutiny. The truly masterful attacks avoid the light like a demented cockroach, scurrying for cover at the slightest hint of challenge.

A good attack makes us uneasy about the target and challenges the rigid support of even the most committed. The madrassa accusation succeeded on that level far beyond even the worst blows of the swift boaters. I will freely admit that the rumors effected me. The idea that Obama was partially influenced by strict Islamic doctrine made me seriously question my willingness to see him lead. This despite the fact that I knew neither his background nor his personality remotely suggested such undesirable influences.

Obama can thank his lucky stars that CNN and ABC jumped on the story with such ferocity. John Kerry could only pray for such a robust response when he was attacked. I’m sure John McCain would have also appreciated a little help during the 2000 primaries. Anyone who has seen the report will agree with me when I say that it demolished the innuendo floated by the right-wing bloggosphere and Fox news by demonstrating that his primary school was clearly a very normal and non-threatening elementary school. If anything, the report solidified Obama’s status as a worldly and unique candidate.

The rumors that Obama is really the Maddrassan Candidate will continue to pop up on the fringes of right wing media, but it will remain there where it will influence only those who would never vote for him in the first place. Fox News got burned with this story. Unlike radio talk or blogs, it cannot afford to openly flaunt the barest of journalistic standards. They were so wrong about the madrassa accusation and so publicly called out on it by other networks, I would be surprised if they or other reputable media outlets dare enter those waters again. Obama can breathe a sigh of relief. Not only has he survived one of the worst possible attacks against him, but he got it out of the way so early in the game, it is unlikely to have a substantial impact.

I guess the final question that remains unanswered is why CNN and ABC came to Obama’s aid so swiftly and so decisively. Granted, all they did was report the truth about his elementary school, but CNN could just have easily ignored the story and let it fester in other outlets. I have no idea, but I do have three theories.

1) The story was getting too big to ignore, and CNN and ABC were unwilling to make such serious allegations without first doing a little investigation.

or, I prefer:

2) The primaries are a looonng ways away, and Obama (right now) is the only thing keeping it from being totally dominated by Senator Clinton. They need interesting topics for their pundits to banter over; maybe CNN wasn’t ready for Obama to go away so early in the game.

Either way, it’s clear that Obama remains a media darling, and as long as he remains in their good graces, these types of attacks have little hope of sticking.

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