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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

McCain: Whatever. It. Takes.

In a number of previous posts, particularly back in July, I suggested that McCain’s campaign had been taken over by Steve Schmidt and a bunch of other Rovians, that he was now letting the very people who smeared him back in 2000 run his campaign.  I wondered how he could be in bed with such people.

Then something I read during the latest kerfuffle around his campaign’s lies got me thinking about a passage in Christopher Buckley’s most recent novel, Boomsday.  One of the main characters is Randolph K. Jepperson, who is loosely modeled on John Kerry.  There is one scene early in the book, which takes place after Jepperson has lost his first run for the Senate, that reminds me of the McCain we’re seeing now:

[After the defeat, p]eople around Randoph K. Jepperson remarked on the change that came over him.  He went into what is usually called “seclusion,” with no movie-star girlfriend or ex-rocker’s wife.  When he emerged, he had a look in his eyes that one staffer called “kinda spooky.”

On his first day back in Congress, he fired everyone in his office. . . . He replaced his loyal staff with the equivalent of Capitol Hill mercenaries.  He lured away seasoned pros from other congressional offices, paying above-standard salaries.  He hired expensive lobbyists and operatives from K Street; trade association sharks and hired guns; legislative dogs of war.  By the time his restaffing was complete, his office colleagues were referring to his office as “the Death Star.”

When Randy called Terry several weeks after his defeat, Terry assumed it was to fire him, too.  But instead, in a voice that Terry also thought kinda spooky, “Next time we win.  Whatever. It. Takes.”

Sound familiar?  John McCain concluded after the 2000 race that all politicians are mean and nasty, and that if he wanted to win, he had to be meaner, nastier, and faster.  Think of it as a perversion of the OODA loop:

The OODA loop (for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) is a concept applied. . . .at [the] strategic level in both the military and commercial operations. . . . [D]ecision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (either an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle and gain a military or business advantage.

That pretty much describes McCain’s strategy right now.

So the problem isn’t that John McCain is surrounded by Rovians.  The problem is that he has become the Rovian-in-Chief.

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:51 am

Douthat on Palin

I do read a few of the more thoughtful conservatives out there.  One is Ross Douthat.  Although I don’t agree with everything here, I think he’s got it about right.

At this point, I’m no longer that all that worried about Sarah Palin crashing and burning, Quayle-style, because John McCain plucked her from obscurity before her time. Now I’m worried about one of the GOP’s most interesting talents being absorbed, and formed as a national politician, by a McCain campaign that’s been deeply unimaginative on every front except the wars to win the weekly news cycle - and that seems happy, after the brief burst of risk-taking and creativity that produced the Palin pick and McCain’s strikingly post-partisan acceptance speech (and gave them a big bounce in the polls, not coincidentally), to slip back into a cynical and deeply unimaginative style.

I know that the people who’ve decided she’s Monica Goodling with a shotgun aren’t going to be persuaded by me on this point, but I think Palin really does have the potential to embody the kind of change the GOP desperately needs: In a party that’s dominated by entrenched interests, she demonstrated that it’s possible to take on the establishment and win; in a party increasingly riven by ideological feuds, she’s demonstrated that it’s possible to be a populist and a pragmatist, a social conservative on some fronts and a libertarian on others.

But a vice-presidential run isn’t the ideal place to develop that potential in the best of times, and a vice-presidential run under the tutelage of the McCain campaign is likely to produce a lot more of what we saw from Palin in her interview last night: Rigorously memorized, carefully regurgitated talking points, a determination to avoid making enormous gaffes, and not much else.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened four years ago had John Kerry said, “What the hell,” and picked Obama to be his VP candidate.  Almost the same arc we’re now seeing with Palin would have happened then:  conservatives howling about his inexperience; rapid digging leading to embarassing revelations; rapturous reception by the progressive community; a sterling acceptance speech; a rapid whistle-stop tour where Obama gave Kerry huge crowds; and, sooner or later, a television interview where Obama stumbled.

It is easy to say that Obama isn’t like Palin, that he wouldn’t have done that four years ago.  But that’s assuming a lot.  It means believing that the time he has spent over the past four years studying the issues, learning from folks like Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, had no impact on his thinking.  It means thinking he is such a complete natural, that he would have handled the pressure and the spotlight effortlessly.  I am a huge Obama fan, but even I don’t think that is what would have happened.

But Kerry didn’t pick him, and Obama is a far better candidate now than he would have been had he been on the ticket last time.

Sarah Palin doesn’t have that luxury.  She has to learn about hundreds upon hundreds of issues and learn about them now. And no matter how able a politician she is (and she is formidable), no matter how quick a study she may be (those who think she’s dumb are wrong — she’s just not an intellectual), the pace is too much.  She’s going to stumble, and stumble badly, and it’s going to hurt the campaign.  It may not prevent McCain from winning.  But if it does, her career may be over before it started.  And even if it doesn’t she may be the new Dan Quayle, not the new face of her party.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics, pop culture | 1 Comment

10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:15 pm

The Death of John McCain’s Honor

This is better.

Still a little too much repetition of the opponent’s talking points, but overall this is a stronger focus on Obama’s own message in clear terms that will connect emotionally to his audience.  He should do a version of this as an ad.  I think it would be really effective.

A lot of people are panicking right now.  They think McCain is clever, and that Obama is weak.  I have a different response:  this is a sign of desperation.  Is this all McCain has?  Because he’s making stuff up now — and there are two months to go.  He can fool some of the people some of the time, but he can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

In the past, Republican attacks worked because they started with a kernel of truth, no matter how flimsy:  Michael Dukakis did furlough Willie Horton, John Kerry did serve on swift boats, and John McCain does have an adopted daughter who was born in Bangladesh. The slur worked because there was just enough there to make it sound plausible.

The current garbage coming out of the McCain campaign  — whether it be pigs or sex or wolves (go find it yourself — I’m not going to dignify it by linking to it) — is based entirely on things that are patently untrue.  There isn’t even a whisper, a shred, a breath of truth.  The McCain campaign is resorting to flat-out lies.  And it’s not even trying to hide that fact.

Right now, the media is eating it up.  McCain and his cronies are taking advantage of the MSM’s fetish for “balance,” which means they will report both sides.  But even the MSM aren’t completely stupid.  They’re starting to figure it out, and when they do, McCain is going to find out what happens when you throw straight talk under the straight talk express.

In the meantime, keep in mind that the McCain campaign isn’t just contemptuous of Obama.  They’re contemptuous of the truth.  They don’t care what they say as long as it advances their team another inch down the field. But trick plays, head fakes, and illegal moves only work for so long.

John McCain is unworthy of the job he seeks.  Someone willing to say anything to get elected also will say anything to stay in office.  He and his campaign advisors have lost all moral standing.  They have abandoned decency.

To put it another way, John McCain is willing to lose his honor in order to win an election.

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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:30 pm

Obama, McCain, Palin, and Analogies

Assume for a moment that John McCain is a transitional figure, and that he will serve only one term if he actually does manage to get elected.  If that is true, where does the Republican Party go after he leaves office?

Sarah Palin represents a dead end for the Republicans.  A Palin candidacy in 2012 will be to the Republicans what George McGovern was to the Democrats:  a transitional, highly partisan individual who appeals to the base without significantly expanding it the way Reagan did.

To make an even more forced analogy, Palin is the Republicans’ Neil Kinnock, the Labor Party leader who preceded Tony Blair.  Kinnock was an old-school traditional Labor ideologue who helped solidify the base but could never translate that into electoral success.  It may be that Republicans have to go through a similar period where they enjoy the false comfort of an ideologue in charge, one who gets trounced regularly, before moving back to a centrist, more inclusive place in American politics.

To further strain the analogy to the breaking point, the fundamental question is who will be the Republicans’ Bill Clinton/Tony Blair/Bruce Cameron — the thoughtful, charismatic, and young centrist who pulls his/her party back into the mainstream of the political discourse.

Another way to look at it is that John McCain is to Ronald Reagan as John Major was to Margaret Thatcher:  the last exhausted gasp of a once-vibrant worldview.

There really are three types of political leaders in the United States:  base mobilizers (McGovern, Mondale, Bush II, Palin), centrists (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain), and game-changers (FDR, Goldwater, Reagan, and perhaps Obama).

The problem for Republicans is that they will see Palin as a game-changer when in fact she is only a base-mobilizer. And with the (disastrous) exception of Dubya, most base-mobilizers don’t win elections.


| posted in globalization, politics, world at home | 0 Comments

28 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

Yesterday’s Best Speech

If you missed it — and if you were watching the twitworks or the cabletubes, you probably did — John Kerry gave the best speech last night.  Better than Bill Clinton and even better than Joe Biden.  And of course, because it was John Kerry, nonoe of the networks covered it — instead they switched to their usual gang of idiots so that we could learn just how wonderful Bill’s speech was.

Kudos to TPM for grabbing it off C-Span and putting it on YouTube.  As Josh Marshall says, “do yourself a favor and set aside 13:13 to watch it.”

It’s too bad that Kerry never gave this speech four years ago — it may have been a game-changer.

Well, maybe not.  But it’s pretty amazing nonetheless.

Hat tip:  Josh Marshall

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:39 pm

Kerry Does It

So a speaker finally and passionately raised the issue of torture, the question of Guantanamo, the need for us to honor our values.  That’s great.  I’m glad.

But why oh why oh why did it have to be John Kerry?

Using the flip flop line was brilliant though.

Too bad Kerry was never this good four years ago.

| posted in foreign policy | 0 Comments

26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:27 pm

Schadenfreude of the Day: McCain POWned

This is interesting.  The hard right vets who spent so much time hating on John Kerry four years ago have started hating on John McCain:

The organizer of Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain claims the Purple Heart-winning former POW has “never admitted the full extent to which he cooperated with his captors.” Sampley also charges that, in the 1990s, the “unstable” McCain, whom he calls “the Manchurian Candidate,” ignored “credible evidence” that American POWs were still alive in Southeast Asia.

“He wanted to normalize relations with Vietnam,” Sampley tells us. “He took away the only leverage we had for getting those soldiers back. Why? He was paying back the Vietnamese for keeping quiet about him.”

McCain has called Sampley a profiteering “enemy of the truth” and “one of the most despicable people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.” (Sampley was jailed after beating up McCain aide Mark Salter outside McCain’s Senate office in 1992.)

Though he’s no fan of Barack Obama, Sampley says Fox News producers haven’t invited him on to bash McCain the way he bashed Kerry. But Sampley is finding other comrades. Former POW Phillip Butler asserts that McCain “allows the media to make him out to be the hero POW, which he knows is absolutely not true.”

Former GOP Congressmen Bill Hendon and John LeBoutillier, who both served on the House Task Force on POW/MIA Affairs, write on Sampley’s U.S. Veteran Dispatch that McCain “abandoned American POWs.”

“He’s totally dishonest,” says LeBoutillier, who contends that, to win over the religious right, McCain “cribbed” his recent memory of a kindly guard leaving “a cross in the dirt” from Jeremiah Denton, another POW-turned-senator who told a similar story.

Other POWs have backed up McCain’s story. And the senator, who refused Vietnamese offers of early prison release, has called the “evidence” of living POWs a “cruel hoax on their families.”

Wow.  Can’t say I’m happy these wingnuts are out there, but I am enjoying a nice little shiver of shadenfreude.  I mean, McCain can’t exactly say, “yes, but I was a POW” to this one.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, pop culture | 1 Comment

5 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Obama Hits Back

So Obama has produced an attack ad of his own.  Can’t say I’m happy about it.

I’ve already stated my preference for a jujitsu response.  Now, with this ad, we see the end of our hopes that this campaign would be different, that this would be a debate on the issues.  Just like every other damn campaign for the past forty-plus years, this one is going to be bitter and ugly.

Can’t say I blame Obama.  He knows what happens if he doesn’t fight back — Kerry demonstrated that four years ago.  But I still believe there was another way open to him, one that would have allowed him to retain the high ground and put Kerry on the defensive.  It looks like that path is now out of reach.

I can’t help thinking that this plays into McCain’s hands.  He now can claim that future attack ads are “responses.”  And he can continue to put Obama on the defensive.

| posted in media, politics | 0 Comments

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:18 pm

The Bush Administration’s Harry Mudd Moment

The Star Trek character, not the California college.

George Bush has long been on the record as hating opposing the International Criminal Court and its evil plan to feed American babies to wolves. Shortly after taking office, Bush announced that he was “unsigning” the treaty, an event that troglyoconservative John Bolton called “the happiest moment of my government service.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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18 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:22 pm

The 300 is… Me.

One of the downsides of having been largely offline over the past 36 hours is that I’m just now getting caught up on the news.  So I know I’m late to this story, but I think I’ll make this worth your time.

In case you missed it, the New York Times had a big exclusive today:  it turns out that there are three hundred people advising Barack Obama on foreign policy!!


I don’t know which part of this amazed me more:  that the Times regarded this as news or that the blogosphere swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

You see, I have a little different perspective on all of this.

I am… wait for it… cue the movie music…


Yes, you may touch the hem of my robe.

But wait a second.  Something is wrong here.  Where is my crimson robe?  My spear?  My six pack abs?  If I’m going to throw myself off a cliff, I want my six-pack abs!

Oh wait, wrong 300.

But I’m pretty sure I am one of that other 300 — the Obama 300.  Well, maybe not after this post.

About nine months ago, I contacted some folks who I knew were already involved in the Obama campaign. I let them know that I was willing to help out on policy.  A little while later I got an email thanking me for my interest and assigning me to a team of other people interested in the same issues. Every few weeks, the team leader sent out an email asking us to draft or comment on something.  He also passed on a request from the campaign for us to volunteer for the ground campaign, which I and many others were more than happy to do.

More recently, we’ve started to organize ourselves a bit more, and have been tasked to write some briefs on specific issues.  We’re even dividing into more specialized subgroups.

But I have absolutely no illusions about this.  We are not Barack Obama’s “mini State Department,” as the Times claims.  In fact, one of the main purposes of these teams is… to keep us out of the way of the people actually making the decisions.

You see, every four years, every presidential campaign is inundated with officeseekerwannabes, some idealistic, some not so much.  There are newbies who have never before been involved in a campaign, worker bees who have served in mid-level policy positions in previous administrations, and Prominent People who don’t have much time but want to help where they can.  All of them have some sort of expertise on a given issue.  All of them want the candidate to win.  And almost all of them know that if you want a job in the next administration, you have to put in your time.

So what is a campaign to do?  You can’t have three hundred people advising a candidate, no matter what the Times may think.  If a campaign is smart (and that certainly is true of the Obama campaign) they do what any sensible organization does:  they form committees.  Except they call them “foreign policy advisory teams,” invite all the officeseekerwannabes to join, and then (for the most part)… ignore them.

Am I being cynical here?  A little.  But my disdain is for the Times’s breathless reporting, not the process.

Here’s the thing.  Four years ago, I co-coordinated one of these groups for the Kerry campaign.  I was one of two people who designated roles, set deadlines, assigned responsibility for drafting, and held conference calls.  Lots and lots of conference calls.  It was our job to get stuff done when the campaign needed it.  I wrote two of the five “core” position papers as well as a few smaller ones and the relevant sections of the platform and the debate prep book.

I’m not trying to brag — I just want to give you a feel for what was (and is) involved.  There were plenty of other people who did even more.

Did we have any influence on the Kerry campaign?  I have no idea.  I know that the people managing foreign policy for Kerry — Rand Beers, Dan Feldman, and Susan Rice, among others — did a good job of making us feel like we were being heard — just like I was trying to do with the people on my team.  But I never actually heard a talking point I wrote come out of Kerry’s mouth.

Our team had 50 people on it.  There were 20 teams.  Now think about that for a moment.  Do the math.

So why weren’t there reporters covering the number of people on the Kerry team four years ago?

Oh.  Wait.  There.  Were.  Took me five minutes on the Google to find the stories.  Except back then, we were called a “mini-NSC” instead of a “mini-State:”

“I’ve put together for Kerry a small group of mostly younger foreign policy advisers, a sort of mini-NSC,” says [Dan] Feldman, 36. Feldman says he helped pick the group by the expertise of its members to mirror the various directorates within the National Security Council, including experts on areas like the Middle East or Africa and on topics such as counter-terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.  “We have a weekly conference call, write position papers, and do opposition research on the Bush administration,” says Feldman.

Nice going Times.  You just ran a front-page story that is virtually the same as one reported by you and others four years ago.

And no matter what the Times may think, Obama doesn’t have The 300 because he is a neophyte on foreign policy.  In fact, from my experience, he is better briefed on national security issues than either Bill Clinton or John Kerry were at this point in their campaigns.  The core group of people — the ones actually advising him — have done their jobs well.  But you know what?  He’s pretty smart too.

That core group also happens to have done this before on previous campaigns.  They know a process like this works.  But they also know that it happens to be a great way of putting together a pool of… potential candidates for jobs that need to be filled quickly, given the fact that we’re fighting two wars and everything.

And do you think Obama is the only candidate in this cycle to put together such a team?  Hillary Clinton had as many people helping her, and no one suggested she was inexperienced.  I have a friend who was going to play a similar role for Mark Warner before he decided not to run.  I know people who were trying to do something similar for Richardson, and I’m sure Edwards did too.  And what about all the stories about Giuliani’s scary brain trust?  Remember them?  Were they there because Giuliani was a neophyte?

In fact, I would be suspicious of a candidate who doesn’t have something like this in place.

Paging John McCain.  Senator McCain, flashing red courtesy phone please.

McCain said today that he doesn’t have — or need — a similarly sized group.

I don’t believe him.  He is either

  1. lying;
  2. oblivious; or
  3. the first candidate in twenty years not to have at least 300 people in the national security community trying to line themselves up for a job.

And given his string of gaffes on things as basic as the existence of Czechoslovakia and the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, he should think about adding a few more.  Say, I don’t know, maybe 300?

I’ll have more on stupidities of the Times story tomorrow.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, world at home | 0 Comments

12 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:50 am

A Reverse Lieberman with a Half Twist

THIS JUST IN:  Steve Clemons is reporting that Hagel will endorse Obama.  This is the same post as before, which if Steve is right, is even more important now.

According to The Wall Street Journal, among others, Chuck Hagel is planning to travel to Iraq with Barack Obama.  Hagel, of course, has featured prominently in the Obama VP sweepstakes, although his name has dropped off the radar a bit over the past month.

I like Hagel, and I think he’s been an important voice on the Iraq war.  I don’t go as far as Steve Clemons does in arguing he should have run for President, or that Obama would be wise to choose him as VP.  Frankly, were Obama to put together a unity ticket, he would be better off with Richard Lugar, one of his mentors on foreign policy in the Senate.  Lugar brings greater gravitas and is from a swing state to boot.  But I think the chances of Lugar on the ticket are about as great as  The Condi winning the Masters next spring.

I also believe, in the spirit of Spencer Ackerman and Matt Yglesias’s argument against keeping Robert Gates on as SecDef, the Democrats need to prove that there are worthy people within their own party for these posts.  It’s often overlooked, but John Kerry’s slide four years ago began not with the Swift Boat ads or his terrible acceptance speech (although both certainly hurt), but rather with his efforts to get  John McCain to become his VP nominee.  When McCain said no, it weakened not only Kerry but also John Edwards, the eventual nominee, who was regarded by many as little more than a consolation prize.

All that said, I do find it interesting that none of the mainstream media’s reports (or at least none of the ones I’ve read) have mentioned the fact that Hagel is in many ways the mirror of Joe Lieberman, who betrayed defected from the Democratic party to support John McCain:

  • Lieberman was on the Democratic ticket in 2000; Hagel was widely presumed to be McCain’s choice to be VP had McCain beat Bush in 2000.
  • Lieberman is socially liberal; Hagel is socially conservative.
  • Lieberman is in favor of staying the course in Iraq; Hagel wants us to get out as quickly as humanly possible.
  • Lieberman has grown increasingly shrill in his criticisms of his former party; Hagel has remained thoughtful and balanced in his criticism of President Bush.

Unlike Lieberman, Hagel has not yet endorsed the opposition party’s nominee.  The rumor mill says he just might yet, and it certainly would be a big boost to Obama were he to pull a reverse Lieberman.

But even if he doesn’t, a joint trip to Iraq — and, I would assume, a statement supporting Obama’s position on Iraq — would certainly be as embarrassing to McCain as Lieberman’s shenanigans have been to the Democrats.  Even better, it could diminish the marquee value of Lieberman’s defection, and might even force the boys on the bus men and women on the Not-So-Straight Talk Express to ask McCain some hard questions on the war.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

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