ISSUES & INSIGHTS
INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008
ON THE LEFT
ON THE RIGHT
Derail Hillary Before Hillary Divides Party
Hillary Seemed Out Of Step From The Start
rom the beginning, Hillary Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right. That’s why she is falling short — and that’s why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines. If that sounds harsh, look at the argument she made Wednesday, in an interview with USA Today, as to why she should be the nominee instead of Barack Obama. She cited an Associated Press article “that found how Senator Obama’s support . . . among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” As a statement of fact, that’s debatable at best. As a rationale for why Democratic Party superdelegates should pick her over Obama, it’s a slap in the face to the party’s most loyal constituency — African-Americans — and a repudiation of principles the party claims to stand for. Here’s what she’s really saying to party leaders: There’s no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you’ll be sorry. How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America. In private conversations last year, several of Clinton’s high-profile African-American supporters made that same argument to me — that America wasn’t “ready” for a black president, that this simple fact doomed Obama to failure, that a Clinton Restoration was the best result that African-Americans could realistically hope for.
At some level, Clinton seems to believe the nomination is hers. Somebody had better tell her the truth. Polls at the time showed Clinton leading Obama among black voters, a finding that reflected not only Clinton’s greater name recognition but also considerable skepticism about a black candidate’s ability to draw white support. Obama did prove he could win support from whites, of course, beginning in Iowa. He and Clinton effectively divided the party into demographic constituencies. Among the groups that have tended to vote for Clinton are white voters making less than $50,000 a year; among those who have turned out to vote for Obama are African-Americans, whose doubts about his prospects clearly have been allayed. Assuming that Obama is the eventual nominee, he will have some work to do in reuniting the party. But there’s no reason to think he won’t succeed unless Clinton drives a wedge between important elements of the party’s historical coalition. Lower-income white Democrats may well defect to John McCain in the fall if Obama is the nominee, Clinton is arguing, whereas African-Americans who have been choosing Obama by 9-to-1 — are going to vote for the Democratic nominee no matter what. Thus, she claims, she can better knit the party back together. Let’s examine those premises. These are white Democrats we’re talking about, voters who generally share the party’s philosophy. So why would these Democrats refuse to vote for a nominee running on Democratic principles against a selfdescribed conservative Republican? The answer, which Clinton implies but doesn’t quite come out and say, is that Obama is black — and that white people who are not wealthy are irredeemably racist. The other notion — that Clinton could position herself as some kind of Great White Hopeand still expect African-American voters to give her their enthusiastic support in the fall — is just nuts. Obama has already won more Democratic primary contests; within a couple of weeks, he almost certainly will have won more pledged convention delegates and more of the popular vote. Only in Camp Clinton does anyone believe that his supporters will be happy if party leaders tell him, in effect, “Nice job, kid, but we can’t give you the nomination because, well, you’re black. White people might not like that.” Clinton’s sin isn’t racism, it’s arrogance. From the beginning, the Clinton campaign has refused to consider the possibility that Obama’s success was more than a fad. This was supposed to be Clinton’s year, and if Obama was winning primaries, there had to be some reason that had nothing to do with merit. It was because he was black, or because he had better slogans, or because he was a better public speaker, or because he was the media’s darling. This new business about white voters is just the latest story the Clinton campaign is telling itself about the usurper named Obama. “It’s still early,” Clinton said last Wednesday, vowing to fight on. At some level, she seems to believe the nomination is hers. Somebody had better tell her the truth before she burns the house down.
Extended White House Campaign Could Take Heaviest Toll On Bush VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
e are in one of the longest presidential campaigns in modern memory — and haven’t even started focusing on the general election. It’s been enough to drive most of us mad, but if there’s one person in particular suffering the most, it may be President Bush. It’s been noted here before that we have not had an election since 1952 inwhich an incumbent president or vice president was not running in at least partial defense of an existing administration’s record. That means Bush is not just a lame duck but an easy target for all three current candidates — none of whom have any investment in the president’s legacy. Consider that the last president in a similar position was Harry Truman. He left office with an approval rating in the 20s, and it took years before historians revised the standard negative and mostly unfair view of him. When there is no incumbent in a long race, almost everything of the last four years becomes fair and uncontested game. In 2004, Bush defended his record for months on the stump; now it has become almost second nature for all three candidates to denounce it daily.
Overstatement Sen. John McCain has distanced himself from the president as much as he can, even as his Democratic opponents dub him John McBush — when they are not outdoing each other in their denunciation of the president. Last week, I asked a fierce Bush critic what he thought were the current unemployment rate, the mortgage default rate, the latest economic growth figures, interest rates and the status of the stock market.
He blurted out the common campaign pessimism: “Recession! Worst since the Depression!” Then he scoffed when I suggested that the answer was really a 5% joblessness rate in April that was lower than the March figure; 95% to 96% of mortgages not entering foreclosure in this year’s first quarter; 0.6% growth during the quarter (weak, but not recession level); historically low interest rates; and sky-high stock market prices.
Not All Bad There are serious problems — high fuel costs, rising food prices, staggering foreign debt,unfunded entitlements and annual deficits. Yet a president or vice president running for office (and covered incessantly by the media) would at least make the argument that there is a lot of good news, and that the bad that offsets it could be shared by a lot of culpable parties, from the Congress to the way we, the public, have been doing business for the last 20 years. Bush, like Truman, will have to leave his final assessment for posterity. But for a variety of historic reasons as well as his own selfinterest, the president should at least take his now-unpopular case to the people, with more press conferences, public addresses, stump speeches and one-on-one interviews. Bush’s own legacy will be affected by who succeeds him. Ronald Reagan received great press after leaving office in part because a Republican followed him for four years — quite the opposite from the senior George Bush, who was thrown out of office in 1992 and blamed for assorted sins over the next eight years. Likewise, compare the image of Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and
BillClinton when a president from the opposite party followed each into office. Second, public perceptions, such as ongoing consumer confidence or support for the war, can dramatically affect policy success or failure. Defending past decisions can sometimes improve their outcomes. Third, it would elevate the arguments of all three presidential candidates if someone could remind them that energy and food problems, foreign policy crises and economic woes usually involve bad and worse choices. The American people are more interested in exactly how they are going to improve things, rather than hearing each hour how our collective problems are simply the fault of one man. Searing “Bush did it” into the public conscious won’t resolve our energy, economic or foreign policy challenges.
Truman’s Lesson The truth is that America is providing unprecedented amounts of money to address the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Tax cuts brought in greater, not less total government revenue. International trade agreements created more, not fewer, jobs. Security measures at home, and losses suffered by terrorists abroad, in part explain the absence of a second 9/11. And drilling in ANWR and off the coasts and building more nuclear power plants, refineries and clean coal plants — if the Congress would only approve — could provide a short-term mitigation of energy prices until we reach a new generation of clean-burning and renewable fuels. George W. Bush could learn from “give ’em hell” Harry. A disliked Truman never went silent into the night, but defended his record until the very end — and was ultimately rewarded for it.
Going Behind The Scenes Of Iraq Policy MICHAEL BARONE
n trying to understand news about the conflicts in Iraq, I work to keep in mind the difference between what we know now about decision making in World War II and what most Americans knew at the time. From the memoirs and documents published after the war, we’ve learned how leaders made critical judgments. But at the time, even well-informed journalists could only guess at what was going on behind the scenes. Today we’re only beginning to learn about what went on behind the scenes in regard to Iraq. One important new source is the recently published “War and Decision” by Douglas Feith, the No. 3 civilian at the Pentagon from 2001 to 2005.
Threat Removed Feith quotes extensively from unpublished documents and contemporary memorandums, just as in the late 1940s Robert Sherwood did in “Roosevelt and Hopkins” and Winston Churchill did in his World War II histories. The picture Feith paints is at considerable variance from the narratives with which we’ve become familiar. One such narrative is, “Bush lied; people died.” The claim is that “neocons,” including Feith, politicized intelligence to show that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. Not so, as the Sen-
ate Intelligence Committee and the Silberman-Robb Commission have concluded already. Every intelligence agency believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and the post-invasion Duelfer report concluded that he maintained the capability to produce them on short notice. There was abundant evidence of contacts between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Given Saddam’s hostility to the U.S. and his stonewalling of the United Nations, American leaders had every reason to believe he posed a grave threat. Removing him removed that threat. Unfortunately — and here Feith is critical of his ultimate boss, George W. Bush — the administration allowed its critics to frame the issue around the fact that stockpiles of weapons weren’t found. Here we see at work the liberal fallacy, apparent in debates on gun control, that weapons are the problem rather than the people with the capability and will to use them to kill others. The fact that millions of lawabiding Americans have guns is not a problem; the problem is that criminals can get them and have the will to kill others. Similarly, the fact that France has WMDs is not a problem; the fact that Saddam Hussein had the capability to produce WMDs and the will to use them against us was. Feith identifies as our central mistake the decision not to create an Iraqi Interim Authority to take over some sovereign func-
tions soon after the overthrow of Saddam. Bush ordered the creation of such an authority March 10, 2003. But it was resisted by State Department and CIA leaders, who argued that Iraqis would not trust “externals” — those in exile — and who were especially determined to keep the Iraqi National Congress’ Ahmed Chalabi from power.
Still Much To Learn As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer took the State-CIA view and, without much supervision from Washington, decided that the U.S. occupation would continue for as long as two years. Only deft negotiation by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld produced a June 30, 2004, deadline for returning authority to Iraqis. The January 2005 elections placed many of the “externals,” including Chalabi, in high office. Feith admits he made mistakes and misjudgments. He criticizes Bush for not defending the main rationale for invasion — protecting Americans from a genuine threat — and instead emphasizing the subsidiary and iffy goal of establishing democracy. He says little about military operations, beyond noting that Bremer and the military leaders had no common approach to combating disorder. There’s still much to be learned about our decisions, good and bad, in Iraq. But Feith’s book is a step forward, as were those of Sherwood and Churchill 60 years ago.
y the time Hillary Clinton figured out how to beat Barack Obama, it was too late. When she began the race in 2007 thinking she was in for a coronation, she claimed the center in order to position herself for the real fight, the general election. She simply assumed the party activists and loony left would fall in behind her. However, as Obama began to rise, powered by the party’s Net-roots activists, she scurried left, particularly with her progressively more explicit renunciation of the Iraq War. It was a fool’s errand. She would never be able to erase the stain of her original war vote, and she remained unwilling to do an abject John Edwards self-flagellating recantation. It took her weeks even to approximate the apology the left was looking for, and by then it was far too late. The party’s activist wing was by then unbreakably betrothed to Obama. Going left proved disastrous for Clinton. It abolished all significant policy differences between her and Obama, National Journal’s 2007 most liberal senator. On health care, her attempts to turn a minor difference in the definition of universality into a major assault on Obama fell flat. With no important policy differences separating them, the contest became one of character and personality. Matched against this elegant, intellectually nimble, hugely talented newcomer, she had no chance of winning that contest. She tried everything. Her charges that he was a man of nothing but words came off as a petulant, envious attack on eloquence. The power to inspire may not be sufficient to qualify for the presidency, but it is hardly a liability.
Hillary Clinton transformed herself into working-class Sally-get-her-gun, off duck hunting with dad. She tried a silly plagiarism charge, then settled for the experience card. In a change election, this was not a brilliant strategy. It forced her todwell on the1990s, playing candidate of the past to Obama’s candidate of the future. Her studied attempts to embellish her experience led her into a thicket of confabulated Bosnian sniper fire. It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that she figured out the seam in Obama’s defense. In fact, Obama handed her the playbook with Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Michelle Obama’s comments about never having been proud of America, and Obama’s own guns-and-God condescension toward small-town whites. The line of attack is clear: not that Obama is himself radical or unpatriotic, just that, as a man of the academic left, he is so out of touch with everyday America that he could move so easily and untroubled in such extreme company and among such alien and elitist sentiments. Clinton finally understood the way to run against Obama: back to the center — not ideologically but culturally, not on policy but on attitude. She changed none of her positions on Iraq or Iran or health care or taxes. Instead, she transformed herself into working-class Sally-get-her-gun, off duck hunting with dad. The gas-tax holiday was never an economic or policy issue. It was meant to position her culturally. It heightened her identification with her white working-class constituency. Obama played his part by citing economists in opposing it. That completed her narrative: He had the pointy-headed professors on his side; she had the single moms seeking relief at the pump. It was an overreach. It not only deflected attention away from the amazing Rev. Wright at the height of his spectacular return. It also never played as the elitistvs.-working-folk issue she had hoped, because it isn’t just economists who know the gas-tax holiday is nothing but a cheap gimmick. Ordinary folks do too. And the gas-tax idea had the unfortunate side effect of reinforcing Hillary’s main character liability vis-a-vis Obama: cynical Washington pol willing to do or say anything to win votes vs. the idealistic straightshooter refusing to pander even if it costs him. The lightness in Hillary’s step just before Indiana and North Carolina reflected the relief of the veteran politician who, after months of treading water, finally finds the right campaign strategy. But it was far too late. And the gas-tax overkill, one final error of modulation, sealed the deal — for Obama. There’s only one remaining chapter in this fascinating spectacle: negotiating the terms of Hillary’s surrender. After which we will have six months of her stumping the country for Obama, denying with utter convictionRepublican charges that he isthe out-oftouch, latte-sipping elitist she warned Democrats against so urgently in the last, late leg of her doomed campaign.