On Even Knowing What You Are Talking About

Friday, May 16, was not a good day for Hillary Clinton. Obama had picked up more endorsements, after the Edwards’ announcement, including California congressmen Henry Waxman and Howard Berman. Waxman, who represents those of us here in Hollywood, may not be a big gun, but he is chair of the House oversight committee, and thus he really is one of the most powerful congressmen you can find – and, in fact, you can now buy your very own Henry Waxman Moustache of Justice t-shirt or coffee mug, because you are one of those disgustingly well-informed people who do understand how key he is. Then California Representative Pete Stark jumped on board, endorsing Obama 


Hillary Clinton had been out here – private fundraisers in Newport Beach and Century City, closed to the press. One assumes she really didn’t want anyone to report on whatever arguments she used to pry more cash from the fat cats, to continue on. It’s hard to imagine what she said, or far too easy to imagine. Then, late Friday afternoon, the Associated Press ran this – Florida, Michigan cannot save Clinton. Let her change the rules that she and everyone else had agreed to, and let her have all the delegates she won running as the only name on the ballot and in Michigan, and in Florida where Obama did not campaign, as agreed. It doesn’t matter now. She will win Kentucky, big, and that won’t matter either. Unless Obama implodes, or is assassinated, he will be the nominee.


But that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem is that she was suddenly out of the national conversation. On the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Israel, the president had dropped by to address the Knesset, and in his speech on terrorism and all that, he decided to let it rip on Barack Obama 


“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” the President said to the country’s legislative body, “We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”


That was discussed previously here – Obama called it sad, and the Democrats were angry, and even Hillary Clinton had to defend Obama, even if she had, in the earlier debates, mocked Obama for being so naïve as to think you should even talk to bad guys. They had to turn into what they should be – nice people – before you’d even consider such a thing. She had also tried to out-cowboy Bush, saying that she would not have the slightest problem with obliterating Iran if they attacked Israel in any way – she’d happily kill all seventy million of them, every man, woman and child, and leave thousands of square miles of radioactive rubble. She was no wimp – and the Jewish vote matters to her election strategy, and they’d love that, or so she seems to have calculated. And now she was trapped on the sidelines, one more benchwarmer shouting “No Fair!” from the sidelines.


Obama took center stage – firing back at Bush, and his Mini-Me, McCain. She was beyond irrelevant. This wasn’t who is more popular with the resentful, white Appalachian crowd. This was serious business:


Barack Obama laid into John McCain on Friday for advancing a tough-guy foreign policy that he called “naive and irresponsible,” serving notice that he’s ready to launch a full-throttle challenge to the Republican presidential contender on international relations in the general election campaign.


Lumping McCain together with President Bush, Obama declared: “If they want a debate about protecting the United States of America, that’s a debate I’m ready to win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.” He blamed Bush for policies that enhance the strength of terrorist groups such as Hamas and “the fact that al-Qaida’s leadership is stronger than ever because we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan,” among other failings.


His idea was that you talk to the bad guys – tell them where you stand and listen to where they stand. The process is figuring out the real nature of the problem at hand, in some detail. The idea is that might actually be useful.


McCain shot back, saying Obama had said something else, and everyone knew what is was:


“It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies. But that’s not the world we live in. And until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe,” McCain said in a speech to the National Rifle Association in Louisville, Ky.


McCain rejected the naive comment, saying Obama should have known better, and added: “Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel ‘a stinking corpse,’ and arms terrorists who kill Americans, will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.”


His campaign issued a statement accusing Obama of making a “hysterical diatribe.”


This was extraordinarily stupid, of course. Obama said nothing of the sort. Of course we have enemies – and he was talking about figuring them out, but getting things out on the table, not about negotiations and appeasement. And he seemed more angry than hysterical – “I’m a strong believer in civility and I’m a strong believer in a bipartisan foreign policy, but that cause is not served with dishonest, divisive attacks of the sort that we’ve seen out of George Bush and John McCain over the last couple days.”


But the core was this:


Obama said McCain had a “naive and irresponsible belief that tough talk from Washington will somehow cause Iran to give up its nuclear program and support for terrorism.”


Speaking of McCain and Bush together, he added: “They aren’t telling you the truth. They are trying to fool you and scare you because they can’t win a foreign policy debate on the merits. But it’s not going to work. Not this time, not this year.”


Obama vowed to turn the foreign policy debate back against Bush and McCain, rejecting the notion that Democrats critical of the war in Iraq are vulnerable to charges of being soft on terrorism. Meeting with reporters, he argued that tough-minded diplomacy and engagement with rivals have long coexisted, citing the foreign policies of former Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan.


He found it puzzling that this was “in any way controversial.” It was only in the last seven years that we had developed this new way of dealing with our foes – no talk, ever. It hasn’t worked out well. Public threats and nothing else has sort of failed. Even the Secretary of Defense, Gates, and the Secretary of State, Rice, have said we need to “engage” Iran. So it’s just bullshit.


And it was time to call it that:


Laying down a marker for the fall campaign, Obama offered a challenge to the GOP nominee: “If John McCain wants to meet me anywhere, any time to have a debate about our respective policies … that is a conversation I am happy to have.”


Bush and his Mini-Me, McCain, may regret this. And Hillary Clinton, reduced to irrelevancy, must have been depressed.


Then there was the matter of McCain previously saying he would be willing to negotiate with the militant Palestinian group Hamas. James Rubin in the Washington Post noted McCain hasn’t been Bush:


Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News’s “World News Tonight” program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:


I asked: “Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?”


McCain answered: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so … but it’s a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.”


Then the video of all that popped up on every newscast. See Kevin Drum here:


I imagine that McCain will wriggle out of this somehow. Maybe by claiming that “sooner or later” means, um, later. Or that “deal with them” doesn’t include actually talking to them. Or something. But it sure sounds as if he was in favor of talking to Hamas before he was opposed to it.


The AP item reports his lame response:


McCain told reporters in West Virginia: “I made it very clear, at that time, before and after, that we will not negotiate with terrorist organizations, that Hamas would have to abandon their terrorism, their advocacy to the extermination of the state of Israel, and be willing to negotiate in a way that recognizes the right of the state of Israel and abandons their terrorist position and advocacy.”


McCain said there was a “huge difference” between his own statements and Obama’s willingness to negotiate with “sponsors of terrorist organizations.”


“I’ll let the American people decide whether that’s a significant difference or not,” he said. “I believe it is.”


Obama of course said that he has stated “over and over again that I will not negotiate with terrorists like Hamas.” The key word seems to be negotiate, and Rick, our News Guy in Atlanta, had already covered that:


President Bush: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along … We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”


Okay, he didn’t mention Obama by name, but his aides allegedly told reporters he absolutely had Obama in mind.


Not that “negotiation” is necessarily a bad thing, if it ever comes to that, but only an idiot would conflate “sit down and talk with,” which is what Barack Obama has suggested, with “negotiate with.”


When you talk with someone, you can at least tell them they’re wrong, face to face. The only thing you’d be giving away is your opinion. The conservatives apparently don’t have faith in their own strength of character. They seem to think if they allow themselves to sit down with these sharks they’ll later find themselves leaving the table having surrendered the deed to the family farm.


Just so. You refuse to talk when you’re afraid, when you’re unsure of yourself – and guys, you know from personal experience that all women know this.


But in case you missed it, Rick has much more. The Obama approach has not “been discredited by history” at all:


The real “Bush Doctrine,” with which he began his first term, seemed to be “let’s try to undo everything Bill Clinton put into place” – a plan that finally unraveled with his coming full circle in Korea, naming a general who actually believed in nation building in Iraq, and making a way-too-late and half-assed attempt at peace in the Middle East.


If you’re looking around, trying to find the one guy we do not need a history lesson from, much less foreign policy advice from, Bush is your man.


… And I must admit I also wasn’t thrilled with Obama’s reply, partly because he didn’t make that “talking” versus “negotiation” distinction, but mostly because he said he found it “sad” that Bush would say these things. My feeling about “sadness” is that it should be reserved for mourning the death of someone you liked, and shouldn’t be substituted for the absolute scorn you feel for some idiot who says something so totally stupid.)


And as for McCain saying that talking with the bad guys “enhances the prestige of a nation that’s a sponsor of terrorists and is directly responsible for the deaths of brave young Americans” being unacceptable, Rick adds this:


Here again, we have that idiotic conflation of “talk” and “negotiation”. Are all these people really so stupid that they don’t know the difference between these two words?


But McCain also brings up the possibility that talking with Iran somehow “enhances the prestige of a nation that’s a sponsor of terrorists…” Folks either hate Iran or they don’t, and nothing this country does along these lines will ever “enhance” the “prestige” of Iran among other nations and peoples.


But if sitting down and talking with Iran will enhance the prestige of any nation, that nation would be the United States, the prestige of which has been dropping like a rock in recent years, thank you very much, due in large part to the propensity of its idiotic leadership to think that we’re too superior to others to even sit down with them at the same table, much less look them in the eye.


I just wish all these conservatives would hurry up and get the hell out of the way, and stop making my country look to the rest of the world like a giant schmuck.


Good luck with that.


And from our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, this email note:


At lunch today we were discussing this and I think what everyone fails to understand is that there are, more than likely, back channel conversations with all these regimes (Syria, Iran, etc) and to believe otherwise is naive at best. Bush & Co are simply grandstanding.


Regarding grandstanding, see “dday” at Hullabaloo with this:

The worst thing the conservative movement has foisted on the country is a collapse of historical memory. Our civic education here is not so robust, and our civic knowledge of history is worse. This has given wide latitude for conservatives to create their own reality, and jabber away with “facts” that consist of shibboleths and catch phrases, which by now have been ripped of all meaning outside the Manichean “good” and “bad.”


… That’s what we saw by the President yesterday. That’s what we saw from McCain in that interview.


Also see The Poor Man:


It’s all like this. Everything is just like this. Some blank young person who has memorized a 5″x7″ index card of focus group-approved phrases, yelling, yelling, yelling over everyone. And you can say what you want, and be as right as you want, but he’s going to keep yelling, and yelling, and yelling until you get sick of it, and at the end of the day everybody knows that Barack Obama goes to secret Muslim church. Everything is like this. An election won’t fix it. This rules the world.


Rick’s email response:


I like, and agree with, both of these, but the second one especially strikes a chord. That is how things work, and these people may not be very bright but they’re at least clever enough to know how to get away with this shit.


I think it was on CNN last night that I saw some woman from the Washington Times – after seeing all the Democratic responses to Bush, including not only the candidates but also Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden (who apparently said “This is Bull****”) – smiling and saying something like, “Gee, you know somebody must have touched a nerve to force all these Democrats come out and respond like this!”


No, in fact, you know someone said something incredibly stupid to get all these people pissed off, and she’s got to be stupid, too, if all it gets out of her is a couple of giggles. It’s what’s wrong with a lot of these stupid conservatives; rather than spending time and energy trying to do the right thing, they pour it all into trying to piss off liberals, just for fun.


All these worthless little twerps should not only be stripped of their power to run the so-called “most powerful nation on the planet,” they should be hustled off somewhere, as far away as possible and out of sight of the rest of the world, and held there against their will, at least until their brains grow back, if not longer. After release, they should be forced to register with local authorities and be prohibited by federal statute from establishing residence within 100 miles of any governmental facility.


From Wall Street: “I know a nice little place about ninety miles south of Miami.”


From Rick: “Maybe we should put them inside it, then (as McCain himself has proposed) close it down! Maybe let ’em swim home?”


And then there are the professional pundits, who see that same thing, as in this post from Joe Klein at Time Magazine’s Swampland blog:


Why is it that the neocons always assume that when Barack Obama says he wants to talk to the leadership in Iran, he’s talking about the clown Ahmadinejad, who has no power over foreign policy or the nuclear program?


Isn’t it possible that Obama is talking about meeting with Iran’s actual leader – indeed, it’s there in his title: Supreme Leader – Ali Khomeini?


Could it be that the neocons want to associate Obama with the relatively powerless, Israel-hating Ahmadinejad for other reasons? …


Whom do we think Hamas and Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad are really supporting in the 2008 election – the candidate who increases their street cred by demonizing them, or the candidate who increases our street cred by proposing talks?


Finally, are talks capitulation? Didn’t Churchill say something about preferring jaw-jaw to war-war? And did Obama say anything to indicate he wouldn’t use force where necessary – as in Afghanistan? Didn’t McCain criticize Obama for proposing that we go after the Al Qaeda infrastructure in “our ally” Pakistan?


It’s all nonsense. And it all can be summed up in this video clip, quite the rage, and explained at Think Progress:


On MSNBC’s Hardball tonight, right-wing radio host Kevin James attempted to defend President Bush’s comments comparing Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to Nazi appeasers because he favors talking with our enemies. James compared Obama to Neville Chamberlain, about whom James could only cry: “He’s an appeaser!”


Matthews pressed James at least nineteen times over five minutes to simply explain what Chamberlain had done in 1938 and 1939 to make him an “appeaser.” James could only shout his talking point over and over, prompting Matthews to threaten to end the interview:


MATTHEWS: You don’t know what you’re talking about, Kevin. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Tell me what Chamberlain did wrong.


JAMES: Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser, Chris. Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser, all right? […]


MATTHEWS: I’ve been sitting here five minutes asking you to say what the president was referring to in 1938 at Munich.


JAMES: I don’t know.


MATTHEWS: You don’t know, thank you.


Rick was right. These people don’t know what they’re talking about. Those of us who come from families that are half Czech and half Slovak know all about Neville Chamberlain and the Sudetenland and the “peace in our times” comment he made when he gave the Sudetenland to Germany to assure peace. We even remember him holding up the agreement for all to see. But hell, other people know about that. It is in the history books, after all.


But the Republicans will hang with Bush. Bad move. Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says this will sink them:


What happens to the Republicans in 2008 will likely be dictated by what didn’t happen in 2005, and ’06, and ’07. The moment when the party could have broken, on principle, with the administration – over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government – has passed. What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. They’re stuck.


Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party’s fortunes from the president’s. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn’t be left with a ruined “brand,” as they all say, speaking the language of marketing.


And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership.


On the other hand, Hillary Clinton may get her wish:


During a speech before the National Rifle Association convention Friday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee – who has endorsed presumptive GOP nominee John McCain – joked that an unexpected offstage noise was Democrat Barack Obama looking to avoid a gunman.


“That was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair, he’s getting ready to speak,” said the former Arkansas governor, to audience laughter. “Somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”


You can see the video here or check out the ongoing joke, but Huckabee later apologized:


During my speech at the NRA a loud noise backstage, that sounded like a chair falling, distracted the crowd and interrupted my speech. I made an offhand remark that was in no way intended to offend or disparage Sen. Obama. I apologize that my comments were offensive. That was never my intention.


Let’s get this straight – he’s apologizing for suggesting that Obama is some kind of coward, the kind of liberal wimp who’s afraid of guns – like a girl – as he didn’t really mean to call Obama a coward. But he is specifically not apologizing for suggesting it would be kind of cool if one of the NRA guys scared the snot out Obama by shooting at him. That’s curious.


It would be nice if both side in this acted like adults, and actually knew something. Lots of things would be nice – but you deal with what you have.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Appeasement, Attack Politics, Bush, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Huckabee, McCain, Obama, The Uses of History. Bookmark the permalink.

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