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Barack Obama (’04-’08)

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The Listener. | The Caregiver.

With optimism, you look upon the sunny side of things. People say, ‘Studs, you’re an optimist.’ I never said I was an optimist. I have hope because what’s the alternative to hope? Despair? If you have despair, you might as well put your head in the oven.

Popular historian, talk show host, and chronicler of the American story Studs Terkel, 1912-2008. “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.

Update: “She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances. She was proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and left this world with the knowledge that her impact on all of us was meaningful and enduring. Our debt to her is beyond measure.” This evening brings sad news of the passing of a lady with whom Terkel could’ve spent many joyous hours, I’m sure: Madelyn Dunham, grandmother to Barack Obama, 1922-2008.

Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble.

“And in the end, after all that’s happened these past 19 months, the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago. He’s the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail’s pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he’d struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father’s love.”

Next up, of course, was Michelle Obama, who delivered a personal testimonial for her husband and his belief in “the world as it should be.” [Transcript.] To be honest, I thought some of the beats in her speech — the necessary nod to Clinton, the “this is why I love my country” bit — were a tad too deliberate. That being said, Mrs. Obama was pretty much given a thankless chore in having to smooth her edges and homogenize herself for the easy-to-swallow consumption of “the undecideds” — It’s a weird rigamarole we put our political spouses through. So, with that in mind, I thought she did a great job.

Our Five-Year Mission…

“Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Do you remember the Iraq War of 2003? Remember those heady days of euphoria when it ended two months later, with only 139 American lives lost? Journey back with me — TIME-LIFE style, if you will — to the scene of our triumph: “Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a ‘hero’ and boomed, ‘He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.’ PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was ‘part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.’ On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, ‘The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a — on a carrier landing. This must be very meaningful to the United States military.’

Well, today marks the five-year anniversary of our glorious victory, the day that “splendid little war” came to a close. Among those honoring the day, and the remarkable achievement of our Commander-in-Chief:

  • Sen. Barack Obama: “Five years after George Bush declared ‘mission accomplished’ and John McCain told the American people that ‘the end is very much in sight’ in Iraq, we have lost thousands of lives, spent half a trillion dollars, and we’re no safer. It’s time to turn the page on Washington’s false promises and failed judgments on foreign policy, so that we can finally ease the enormous burdens on our troops and their families, and end a war that should’ve never been authorized.

  • Sen. Hillary Clinton: “The fifth anniversary of President Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech comes the same week as a chief architect of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq conceded ‘We were clueless on counterinsurgency.‘ That statement confirms what we have all known: the planning and strategy was flawed. Our troops deserved and deserve better.

  • DNC head Howard Dean: “The real mission George Bush is trying to accomplish is passing the torch of his failed Iraq policy to John McCain, who has made it clear he’s willing to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years against the wishes of the American people. This November the choice will be very clear: if you want to get out of Iraq responsibly, save lives and invest in America, vote for a Democrat.

  • Sen. John McCain: “To state the obvious, I thought it was wrong at the time [SIC]…all of those comments contributed over time to the frustration and sorrow of Americans because those statements and comments did not comport with the facts on the ground. In hearing after hearing in the Armed Services Committee and forums around America I complained loud and long that the strategy was failing and we couldn’t succeed … Obviously the presidents bare the responsibility. We all do. But do I blame him for that specific banner? I have no knowledge of that. I can’t blame him for that.

  • The White House: “‘President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said `mission accomplished’ for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’ White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday. ‘And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.’

  • The American people: “A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 71 percent of the American public disapprove of how Bush his handling his job as president. ‘No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president’s disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark,’ said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

  • 3925 American lives: …

  • Money Money Money.

    Yes, folks, this is how we choose a president in this country: Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash. The first primary is effectively over, and Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney lead the begging and scraping for loot at $26 and $21 million respectively. On the GOP side, Rudy came in second at $15 million, with McCain trailing at third with $12.5 million. Meanwhile, for the Dems: John Edwards has $14 million, Bill Richardson $6 million, Chris Dodd $4 million, and Joe Biden a clean, articulate $3 million. Still obviously missing, Barack Obama, who is rumored to be up around the 20 mark. While I hate to indulge this stupid financing system, I hope it’s something like that, as I’m still rooting for he or Edwards over Sen. Clinton in the primary, and the Clinton money machine is, without a doubt, a sleek, well-oiled contraption. Update: Make that $25 million for Obama.

    Biden’s Macaca Moment.

    “He’s ‘the first mainstream African American [presidential candidate] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.‘” As you no doubt heard, Joe Biden torpedoed his own official candidacy announcement this week by using dubious language to describe his rival, Barack Obama. (Well, at least the words were his own.) The sticking point in the news seems to be Biden’s talk of Obama as “clean” — Al Sharpton had a nice riposte: “I take a bath every day.” But really, “articulate” is pretty bad too: It’s one of those classic buzzwords of unwitting racist condescension. (He’s so well-spoken!) Say it ain’t so, Joe.

    …or President Obama?

    I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in this position a year ago. But as I’ve spoken to many of you in my travels across the states these past months; as I’ve read your emails and read your letters; I’ve been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics…Today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions.” Also officially entering the 2008 Democratic fray, Senator Barack Obama. Admittedly, his resume is on the thin side, and one can argue that he’s never been truly tested by the GOP’s ruthless legions of Swift Boaters. But, I gotta say, it’s hard not to get excited about this piece of news: Senator Obama has the potential to get people excited about politics again, and to spearhead a progressive movement the likes of which only comes around once a generation. It’s still a toss-up right now as to whether I’ll support him or John Edwards in the 2008 primaries. But, if Obama plays his hand right, he could be really something…

    Iraq is a Hard Place.

    Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” I’m still furiously playing catch-up, so I’m obviously a day or two behind on blogging this…Then again, Dubya’s just as obviously three or four years behind in announcing it, so I’ll call it a wash. Nonetheless, after finally admitting that his administration has seriously screwed up in Iraq, Bush — sidestepping the suggestions of the Baker-Hamilton commissioncalls for sending 21,500 more troops to the region, in what’s being billed as a “surge.” (Re: “escalation.”) When you get right down to it, Dubya’s basic argument in his televised address on Wednesday was this: “Through wishful thinking and outright incompetence, I’ve dug two nations into a huge hole. Please, please, please let me keep digging…

    Here’s the thing — A massive troop increase would’ve made a good deal of sense in 2003, during those crucial days just after the fall of the Hussein regime. A show of power then — and a quicker restoration of order and basic services — would have paid huge dividends down the road. But, now, all these years later, after so much infrastructure has been destroyed and so many sectarian schisms have been allowed to fester? 21,500 troops — many of them not fresh recruits but wearied soldiers returning to the region or having their tours extended — isn’t going to make a dent in the Whack-a-Mole game we’ve been playing against insurgents since 2003. At best, this escalation is a show of good faith to the al-Maliki government, which seems to be not much more than a brittle political arm of Shiite extremists (Exhibit A: the manner of Saddam’s hanging; Exhibit B: the refusal to do anything — until now — to rein in Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.) Yes, folks, throwing more troops at a losing situation, backing a shaky government that can’t handle its own security issues, rattling the saber at Cambodia/Iran…who says Dubya isn’t a student of history?

    Fortunately, for the first time since the beginning of the war, Congress isn’t having it, with even some Republicans joining Dems in rallying against the proposed troop increase and today venting their wrath at Condi Rice before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (No doubt the poll numbers against Dubya’s plan is helping to stiffen some GOP spines.) Still, Dubya has some allies in this fight — While the Dems are universally opposed to the escalation gamble [Dem Response by Durbin | Biden | Clinton | Dodd | Edwards | Feingold | Obama | Pelosi] and a not-insubstantial number of Republicans are balking, some key GOP pols are still supporting Dubya’s move (most notably John McCain, who’s been calling for a troop increase since day one, and Rudy Giuliani, likely trying to right the 2008 ship after his recent devastating document dump.)

    The Ethical Senate.

    Meanwhile, over in the newly Democratic Senate: With Wednesday’s House cleaning spurring similar ethics reform in the upper chamber, a progressive dream team of Russ Feingold and Barack Obama unveil the Senate Dems’ ethics reform package, which includes a provision for an independent Office of Public Integrity, a key element of reform which failed 67-30 last year on the GOP’s watch.

    Fight Card.

    “The attack ads practically write themselves: Hillary Clinton voted against ethanol! Barack Obama wants to increase taxes!” Already looking to next year’s big show, the WP parses Clinton and Obama’s respective voting records in the Senate.

    Dennis Redux | Obamatastic?

    “Democrats were swept into power on November 7 because of widespread voter discontent with the war in Iraq. Instead of heeding those concerns and responding with a strong and immediate change in policies and direction, the Democratic congressional leadership seems inclined to continue funding the perpetuation of the war.” Irate over Iraq, Democrat Dennis Kucinich returns for another go at the presidency. And, more intriguingly, Senate wunderkind Barack Obama seems to be testing the waters in New Hampshire: “‘America is ready to turn the page,’ he said. ‘America is ready for a new set of challenges. This is our time. A new generation is prepared to lead.’”

    World AIDS Day 2006.

    “We are all sick because of AIDS – and we are all tested by this crisis.” — Sen. Barack Obama


    Same Old Senate for Sale.

    I don’t know,’ said Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio…’People are not really talking to me directly about lobbying. I think they’re concerned about some of the, quote, scandal, but I don’t have anybody come up to me and say there’s a lobbying problem. It doesn’t get that specific.‘” As such, one day after voting down an independent ethics office 67-30, the Senate passes a watered-down “lobbying reform” bill 90-8 that, for all intent and purposes. seems to be merely cosmetic. “The Senate measure toughens disclosure requirements for lobbyists and requires lawmakers to obtain advance approval for the private trips that were a central feature of the Abramoff scandal. But it does not rein in lawmakers’ use of corporate jets, and it fell far short of the sweeping changes, including a ban on privately financed travel, that some lawmakers advocated in January…’It’s very, very weak,’ said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

    Five Republicans and only three measly Democrats voted against the phantom reform bill: McCain, Feingold, Kerry, Graham, DeMint, Inhofe, and the “unlikely duo” of Obama and Coburn. (The West Virginia Dem delegation — Byrd and Rockefeller — abstained.) Still, “Mr. McCain predicted that there would be more indictments growing out of the investigation into political corruption, and said that such a development would lead Congress to revisit the issue again.

    Would it help to confuse them if we run away more?

    “‘I haven’t read it,’ demurred Barack Obama (Ill.). ‘I just don’t have enough information,’ protested Ben Nelson (Neb.).” As Senator Tom Harkin signs on as a co-sponsor of Russ Feingold’s censure resolution — which, word has it, is also now backed by John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and Robert Menendez — the Post‘s Dana Milbank watches the rest of our party head for the hills. “Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.). ‘Ask her after lunch’ offered Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.

    The McCain Blame Game.

    In a fit of misplaced pique, John McCain goes house on Barack Obama over his relatively innocuous decision to skip McCain’s proposed “bipartisan” task force on lobbying revisions (and, by extension, Obama’s point that the Ballad of Casino Jack is primarily a GOP scandal.) I’ve been generally sympathetic to McCain’s work for campaign finance and lobbying reform throughout his career, but, frankly, the outrage of this letter is way outta line. I just posted on this in the comments at National Journal, so I’ll just repost here:

    I’d be more impressed with McCain’s alleged commitment to bipartisan reform if (a) he could find Dems other than Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson* — not exactly the Democratic mainstream — to back his “task force” play, (b) he didn’t consistently allow himself to be used as the “mythical maverick” smokescreen for GOP lobbying abuses, and (c) he displayed half as much righteous outrage when the Dubya administration eviscerated his anti-torture legislation, violated both the FISA Act and the National Security Act of 1947 with their illegal wiretaps, and generally stood in the way of serious campaign finance reform. Sure, McCain talks tough at Barack Obama, but everytime Dubya comes a-knockin’ at his door, he folds like an accordion, even despite the ugly incident in the South Carolina primary six years ago.

    The Republican Party controls the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and — arguably — the Supreme Court at this moment. Is it really McCain’s contention that Barack Obama, a freshman Senator in the minority party, is the one stopping real lobbying and campaign finance reform from happening? Please. If McCain wants real reform, he should be directing his wrath at the people in charge. Otherwise, he’s even more guilty of putting the partisan game above the public interest than is Obama.Update: Obama answers.

    Obama: Watch the Friendly Fire.

    “There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don’t believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position. I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country.” In an impressive blog post that’s worth reading in its entirety, Sen. Barack Obama spells out his concerns with the often-shrill, backbiting tone of the liberal blogosphere (particularly at sites like dKos) and progressive advocacy groups in general. Put plainly, his point is this: keep an eye to undecided voters, and concentrate your firepower outward. (Via Medley.)

    The Better Angels of our Nature.

    My favorite portrait of Lincoln comes from the end of his life. In it, Lincoln’s face is as finely lined as a pressed flower. He appears frail, almost broken…It would be a sorrowful picture except for the fact that Lincoln’s mouth is turned ever so slightly into a smile. The smile doesn’t negate the sorrow. But it alters tragedy into grace. It’s as if this rough-faced, aging man has cast his gaze toward eternity and yet still cherishes his memories–of an imperfect world and its fleeting, sometimes terrible beauty.” Senator Barack Obama waxes eloquent on Abe. Worth reading in its entirety. (Via Cliopatria.)

    Chimp Nation.

    Hope is on the…wait, what’s this? Oops, sorry about that. Turns out Hope took a wrong turn and got lost somewhere back there in Idiotville. Welcome to Despairtown, baby.

    So, that’s that, then…the Idiot Wind blows anew. The American electorate has spoken and — despite all the shadiness and incompetence of the past four years — has given Dubya and his cronies the imprimatur to go hog-wild. 51-48%…this is pretty much a mandate, folks. (Big of those Red Staters to ensure that we will be woefully unprepared for the next terrorist attack on a Blue State.) Y’know, H.L. Mencken‘s whole Tyranny of the Booboisie schtick has always grated on my lefty sensibilities, but at this point I have to admit he may have been on to something.

    Ugh. I’m too young to remember 1984 very well, but I’m curious as to how last night and this morning compared for America’s Left. (I’ve since been reminded by several people I trust that 1968 and 1972 were much more grievous blows.) Thing is, 2004 started out with such promise over here. But, right around the time I ended up on crutches in May, events personal and political took a nasty turn, and the past few months have been some of the most dismal I can remember. Now, it seems, I may just look back on this time as relatively calm and worry-free.

    But, ok, enough wallowing…let’s start taking it frame-by-frame. Given the war, the economy, and Dubya’s obvious incompetence, how on Earth did we lose this election? Well, give credit where credit is due…all this exit-talk of “moral values” proves that Karl Rove pulled off his gambit: He got the extra 4 million evangelical votes he was targeting, partly, it seems, by judiciously invoking rampant anti-gay hysteria. Yet, for some reason or another — a lousy ground game, perhaps? — the Dems inexplicably didn’t counter with extra votes of our own.

    Where do we go from here? The Dems are facing an ugly Rule of Four…We lost four seats in the Senate, at least four seats in the House, and likely four seats in the Supreme Court. Whatsmore, we now appear officially dead in the water in the South and Midwest. And, with Kerry and Daschle gone, our standard-bearers now appear to be Hillary Clinton (about whom the country has already made up its mind), John Edwards (whom I still admire, but he couldn’t carry his home state), and Barack Obama (who’s probably too inexperienced to make much headway in 2008.)

    Obviously, it’s now well past time for the serious party overhaul we should’ve began last cycle, when Al Gore had an election stolen from him that he should have won hands down. Daschle & Gephardt are already in the dustbin of history, and Terry McAuliffe should probably follow them there. I for one don’t think Howard Dean was or is the answer, but he’s one of the only people injecting new blood and enthusiasm into the party right now, so he should have a seat at the table. Right now, I think Edwardsian populism is our strongest ideological card, but as I said, it didn’t seem to make much headway last night.

    Silver lining? Yeah, right. Well, as this Washington Monthly forum noted in September, second terms are notoriously scandal-prone (Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica), partly out of press boredom, and Dubya’s ilk seem particularly scandal-worthy…perhaps we’ll finally hear a little more about Halliburton. I’m sure there’ll be no shortage of horrifying policy decisions emanating from this administration that’ll keep lefty blogs like this one in business. And, on a purely selfish note, my likely dissertation topic on the fortunes of progressivism in the twenties is now seeming much more sexy in the wake of last night’s 1928-like cultural divide. Of course, none of these are really any consolation at all.

    At any rate, I generally believe that America tends to get the president it deserves. So, God help us, we’ve brought this upon ourselves. And now, for we 48%, the hard work begins…we have to lick our wounds, get our act together, and figure out how we can best combat the rightward drift that’s afflicting our nation. Alas, I fear Dubya will do much of the heavy lifting for us, by running the nation further into the ground over the next four years. Still, we gotta keep on keeping on, y’all. I do not believe this darkness will endure.


    Well, the Redskins did their part…now it’s up to us. My predictions (re: wishful thinking) for tomorrow (and keep in mind I had Gore winning the electoral vote and Dubya winning the popular vote last time around):

    • Thanks to an almost 60% turnout, Kerry wins bigger than expected, carrying between 300 and 315 electoral votes and 51% of the popular vote to Dubya’s 48%. [He's pulling 298 in the final polls and seems to have the Mo, so this isn't completely out of left field...particularly once you factor in the mobile vote.]
    • The night also ends earlier than expected, with Kerry winning the treasured trifecta of Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. Or, if Dubya’s Diebold minions manage to steal Ohio, Kerry offsets with Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. [I really hope we don't have to wait for the Hawaii vote to come in, although I guess I'd prefer that to another recount fiasco.]
    • In the Senate, I think the GOP will almost assuredly keep control, or at most slip into a 50-50 Edwards-breaking tie. Daschle will eke by in his close race thanks to the high turnout. Alas, Democrat contenders Mongiardo in KY, Tenenbaum in SC, and Carson in OK will all fall after spirited contests. That being said, I’ll say that Erskine Bowles of NC will be a new Democratic face in the Senate, that Pete Coors goes down in Colorado, and that tomorrow night will obviously be Obamatastic.
    • In the House, unfortunately, the GOP will begin its second decade in power, thanks in part (as the Post noted) to DeLay’s gerrymandered Texas. Ah, well, baby steps…we’ll get the Hammer and his cronies out in 2006.

    Well, if nothing else, it should be a lively evening, and I for one am eagerly anticipating Dubya’s Rove-penned concession speech. So, until tomorrow, vote early, vote often, and vote Kerry-Edwards!


    I must say…so far, this is turning out to be one of the more enjoyable Democratic conventions in recent memory. Bill Clinton turned it on on Monday, reminding everyone in America what a truly committed and competent president looks like. And last night was, in the inimitable phrasing of Mo Rocca, Obamatastic! As for the rest of the speeches, the only one that’s rubbed me the wrong way so far is Gore’s, who was his usual pedantic self. Otherwise, everyone seems fired up and on message…now, if only America was watching. (The cable ratings may be up, but I’m willing to bet most of those viewers already know who they’re voting for.)

    At any rate, after Clinton and Obama, John Edwards will have two very hard acts to follow tonight, but I’m willing to bet he’s up to the task.

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