The riveting, brutal brawl between Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will probably result in the nomination of the loser of the general election. Both Obama and Hillary are so seriously flawed that only a catastrophic event can propel them to victory against John McCain.
Mrs. Clinton’s conduct during this campaign has been incredibly mean-spirited. While Mr. Obama has sought to keep race out of this contest, Mrs. Clinton has employed surrogates to stoke racial animus. We have heard New York State attorney general Andrew Cuomo refer to Obama’s “shuck and jive;” Bill Shaheen, husband of former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, imply that Mr. Obama is a drug dealer; former congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro say that the only reason Mr. Obama has been a successful presidential candidate is because he’s black; and Bill Clinton audaciously remark that Obama was “playing the race card” against him. Mrs. Clinton has followed each of these attacks and others with either an apology and/or firing of the speaker.
It’s a nasty but clever strategy similar to an old trial lawyer trick. The attorney makes a prejudicial statement about a witness in court and then “withdraws” it. The remark can be striken from the record, but not from the jurors’ minds.
I’m a political independent who has been rooting for Obama in the primaries because, as former Clinton White House adviser Dick Morris has repeatedly warned, “Hillary Clinton is a uniquely pernicious person.” I was captivated by Obama’s Kennedyesque speaking ability and his sunny, inspirational style promising a post-racial, post-partisan politics. But the revelations of the past few months have left me deeply disappointed.
Mr. Obama has made many tactical mistakes, major and minor. For example, he remarked at a closed-door San Francisco event that economically displaced, white, blue collar workers in the heartland are “bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or anti-immigrant sentiment.” Obama was slow to recognize the offensiveness of his inartful phrasing and even slower to apologize for it. This error may have turned his slippage in Pennsylvania into a rout.
Another huge mistake Obama made was to go bowling. In this contest you have to play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. How such a common sense fact can escape a United States senator who has taught law school is beyond my comprehension. The press made hay out of Obama’s bowling a 37 during a bad night on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, Hillary, Queen of Testicular Fortitude, was forging her working class bona fides by publicly downing shots of whiskey. Obama’s campaign later released a statement saying that he only bowled seven out of ten frames and that three of them were bowled by toddlers. Assuming that the kids didn’t hit any pins, Obama scored an average of nine pins per frame, which, if maintained throughout an entire game, would have translated into a total of 90. That’s nothing to brag about either.
Mr. Obama is an excellent basketball player and has wisely reverted to showcasing his skills in that sport. He performed well against some younger hoops experts in Indianapolis. Still, the bowling incident reinforced the view of Obama as an elitist, an image that has been hard for him to shake.
Then there’s the intractable Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama’s former pastor, Wright has been preaching at Trinity United Church of Christ since 1972. According to the Church’s website, Wright served six years in the U.S. military, first as a marine, then in the navy medical corps. He is now well-known for the incendiary statements in which he referred to the United States as “the U.S. K.K.K. of A,” charged that the United States government manufactured the AIDs virus to kill blacks, and equated America with Al-Qaeda.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, Wright argued in a sermon that the United States deserved to be attacked. Videos containing these and other wild assertions have been sold at Trinity for years.
About a week before the critical Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Rev. Wright went on a rehabilitation tour, addressing the NAACP and the National Press Club at considerable length, often repeating and amplifying his previous looney comments.
In remarks before the NAACP, broadcast on CNN, Wright, ever the showman, sang opera and spoke in a variety of accents. He emphasized the “differences” in people. The word “Jewish” seemed to stick in his craw.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Wright praised virulent anti-white and anti-semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as “one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century.” According to a January 15, 2008 Washington Post column by Richard Cohen, Farrakhan was given the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Award by Trumpeter Magazine, a Trinity publication run by Wright’s daughters. The Washington Post column can be accessed here.
Mr. Obama was a member of Trinity for 20 years. According to news reports, Rev. Wright married Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized their two children. Wright also reportedly prayed with the family shortly before Obama announced his decision to seek the presidency. But Obama disinivited the reverend from giving the invocation at the announcement of his candidacy. Yet Mr. Obama still titled his best-selling book The Audacity of Hope after the name of one of Rev. Wright’s sermons. In the book, Obama reproduces portions of a sermon in which Wright talks about “white greed in a world of need.”
Obama’s association with Wright has significantly damaged the senator’s presidential campaign. Making matters worse, Obama was slow and coy in distancing himself from his pastor.
In a major speech given on March 18, 2008 at Philadelphia’s Constitution Center, Obama called Wright’s comments “wrong” and “divisive” but suggested that they were taken out of context and unrepresentative of Wright’s 35-year ministry. “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” Obama intoned.
Obama’s speech is a generally masterful presentation on the problematic issue of race in America, and I suspect that it will eventually end up in an anthology of great American oratory. However, the failure of Obama to quickly and forcefully condemn Wright raised reasonable doubts in the minds of many Americans about Obama’s fitness to be president.
The full text of the speech is available here.
After Wright’s National Press Club remarks, Obama’s first instinct was to say that Wright “does not speak for me.” It was only several days later that Obama denounced his erstwhile pastor. At a news conference at Winston-Salem, North Carolina on April 29, 2008, Obama said that he was “outraged” by Wright’s comments, adding that they “end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate.” But the damage was done. Obama’s pristine image was irreparably shattered.
Mr. Obama’s statements and demeanor seem sincere, but there is lingering doubt as to what Obama really believes. Why did he sit in Trinity’s pews for 20 years if Wright’s statements are so offensive to him? What did Obama hear at church, and when did he hear it? Why did Obama hesitate to condemn the man who made these anti-American statements? Was it because he was loath to hurt his pastor, or did he sympathize with Wright’s views? Does Obama really abhor Wright’s tirades, or did he condemn the pastor for political expediency?
Trinity’s website describes the church’s guiding philosophy, Black Liberation Theology. Among its precepts is a belief that “African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior.” This is troubling to mainstream Americans on several levels. It sets up a separatist mentality, Africans versus Europeans, a divisive tone that is antithetical to Obama’s call for unity. Secondly, by emphasizing Africa, it deemphasizes America. Finally, it suggests that white Europeans, and, by extension, most Americans, are racists. That was true at one time, not today.
To his credit, Mr. Obama has cogently suggested that Wright is stuck in a time warp. In his Philadelphia speech, Obama opined that, “for the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away.” Rev. Wright is 66 years old.
Although it may fade over time, the Wright controversy will never disappear. Hillary Clinton has extensively exploited it, frequently saying that if Wright had been her pastor, she would have left his church long ago. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, you can bet that John McCain and his supporters will milk this topic for all it’s worth. That’s fair game, and I applaud Mr. Obama for saying so.
Fresh from a blowout victory in North Carolina and an unexpectedly close contest in Indiana, Obama will likely maintain his lead over Mrs. Clinton, but with diminished credibility. The credibility issue is key for Obama because he has made judgment a centerpiece of his campaign. Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq war; Obama was against it from the start. He therefore has better judgment than she, or so the argument goes.
According to conventional wisdom, Obama has a virtual hammerlock on the Democratic nomination, courtesy of proportional representation. Various commentators have estimated that Hillary would have to win at least 73 percent of the pledged delegates up for grabs in the remaining primaries to surpass Obama’s current lead over her in that category. So far, she has only attained that percentage in Arkansas. Data is available at RealClearPolitics.com. Unless Obama’s candidacy collapses, such a scenario is extremely unlikely.
According to RCP at the time of this writing, Obama leads Mrs. Clinton by 1588 to 1422 in pledged delegates, a margin of 166. When committed superdelegates are factored in, the respective total delegates are 1848 to 1693, a margin of 155 favoring Obama.
Mr. Morris and others have opined that superdelegates, who are primarily members of Congress, the Senate, and other elected officials, will generally not buck the will of their constitutents for fear of being thrown out of office. Thus Obama is the likely Democratic nominee.
However, Obama could still implode between now and June, when the primary season comes to an end. Another tactical mistake or scadalous revelation could easily sink him. Democratic Party leaders have vowed to force the superdelegates to choose between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton shortly after the last primary on June 3. In addition to the Rev. Wright controversy, Obama has been dogged by his associations with former Weather Underground member William Ayers and political fixer Tony Rezko, who is currently on trial for federal corruption charges.
If Obama does survive until the November election, he’ll have his work cut out for him. According to RCP at the time of this writing, Obama is polling ahead of John McCain in a general election matchup by a slim 2.4 percentage points, a small improvement over the situation prior to the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. But Hillary Clinton bests McCain in head-to-head national polling by 3.5 points. Hillary also polls better than Obama against McCain in Pennsylvannia, Ohio, and Florida, according to RCP.
As the 2008 primary season mercifully nears its end, the Democrats’ proportional representation system has created the unintended consequence of producing a front-runner, Obama, who is a weaker general election candidate than challenger Hillary Clinton. However, until he was badly scuffed up by the Jermiah Wright controversy, Obama had run the better campaign, handily besting Clinton in most caucus states and keeping it close enough in primaries that he lost to take advantage of proportional representation, which makes it very difficult for a candidate to overcome a significant delegate deficit.
Obama is very lucky that the Wright scandal broke relatively late in the primary process. In a recent broadcast of “Hannity & Colmes,” Mr. Morris opined that had Wright’s incendiary comments been widely known several months ago, Obama would have been knocked out of the race on Super Tuesday, and Hillary would already be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Thank God for Obama’s good fortune.
As I have stated many times, Hillary Clinton is one of the most corrupt and amoral politicians of our era, and Bill rivals her in that department. According to national polls, six out of ten Americans believe that Mrs. Clinton is untrustworhty. Nearly half the country associates her with a certain Wizard of Oz character, and it isn’t Dorothy. Letting Bill and Hillary Clinton back in the White House is equivalent to giving Boss Tweed and 1920s New York City mayor Jimmy Walker the run of the Oval Office. I’ll spare you a rehash of Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, Donorgate, New Squaregate, and Snipergate. Those issues have been discussed in my previous posts, “The Peculiar Evil of Hillary Clinton” and “Five Questions for Hillary Clinton.”
However, one matter which the press has ignored is an ongoing civil suit that Hollywood mogul and former Clinton supporter Peter Paul filed against Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign. In addition to civil damages, Mr. Paul alleges that Hillary broke numerous campaign finance laws. Details can be accessed at the website of Los Angeles County Superior Court. Type in Case Number BC304174 when prompted. Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton are listed as individual defendants in the online records. A detailed video on this case is available on YouTube.
Another insight into Hillary’s character that has been buzzing around the blogosphere but shunned by most media is her having been fired for unethical behavior as a 27-year-old lawyer on the House Judiciary Committee staff during the congressional investigation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. An April 7, 2008 article in the conservative publication World Net Daily cites investigative reporting by Dan Calabrese that originally appeared on the website of North Star Writer’s Group. According to the article, Hillary Clinton was asked by her then-boss, Jeffrey Zeifman, the Committee’s general counsel and chief of staff, to prepare a legal memorandum on whether an American president had a right to counsel during an impeachment proceeding. According to Calabrese, Zeifman specifically told her about a precedent involving U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who was granted counsel during his 1970 impeachment.
According to Calabrese, Zeifman said that Hillary wrote a memo stating that Nixon should not be granted counsel because of a lack of precedent. Every second year law student knows that it is unethical to deliberately ignore a relevant precedent in a legal brief or memorandum, whether it supports your argument or not.
Calabrese reported that Zeifman, a lifelong Democrat, fired Hillary for writing the unethical memorandum, and that in a recent interview, Zeifman called Mrs. Clinton a “liar” and “an unethical, dishonest lawyer.”
Calabrese also reported that Zeifman said that Hillary removed all of the Douglas case files from public access and stored them in her office so she could argue that the Douglas precedent did not exist. According to Calabrese, Franklin Polk, chief Republican counsel on the Judiciary Committee, confirmed that Hillary wrote a memorandum ignoring the Douglas precedent but did not know whether she removed the files.
In the second of two articles on this topic, Calabrese concludes: “Neither my first column on this subject, nor this one, were designed to show that Hillary is dishonest. Rather, they were designed to show that she has been this way for a very long time.”
The April 7 World Net Daily article can be accesssed here. The reprint of Mr. Calabrese’s second article, which has a link to the first, can be accessed here.
Recent events in Israel provide insight into what a Hillary Clinton presidency would be like. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is currently fighting for his political life amidst a massive financial scandal. Morris Talansky, a Long Island businessman, reportedly gave Mr. Olmert hundreds of thousands of dollars that may have been used to fund Kadima Party activities. On May 10, 2008, The New York Post reported that Talansky fears that Olmert would have him killed if he were to testify against him. According to The Post, Olmert has been investigated for financial chicanery five times in the past two years. I don’t think Hillary would kill anyone, but the allegations surrounding her campaign finances rival, and may well exceed, the seriousness of Olmert’s situation.
In the debate just prior to the Pennsylvania primary, Obama missed a chance to pummel Hillary. Mrs. Clinton said that she would extend a military “umbrella” to other Middle Eastern countries in order to deter Iranian aggression. She added that any attack against Israel would be met with “massive retaliation.” An April 16, 2008 Reuters article on this subject can be found here.
Excuse me, but if the American military is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, why in God’s name would we want to extend commitments to dubious allies in the Middle East? Fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. With the exceptions of Egypt and Jordan, which have treaties with Israel, the countries in the Middle East are dictatorships dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Are they really worth the shedding of American blood?
Although military options should always be on the table, saber rattling about the Middle East is never a good idea. Long before the Iranian nuclear threat existed, it was well known that reckless actions in this region could easily spark a catastrophic worldwide conflict. Israel’s existence in a sea of much larger, hostile nations for the last 60 years is ample proof that the Jewish state is quite capable of defending itself. There’s a big difference between rendering assistance to our most reliable Middle Eastern ally and turning a regional conflict into a global one. Whenever one major power takes military action in the Middle East, more are bound to follow. Such a decision should not be made lightly. The last thing America needs is an uber-Bush bullygirl playing with an Arabian tinderbox.
Mrs. Clinton is overly rash, but Obama isn’t forceful enough. During the pre-Pennsylvania debate, instead of excoriating Hillary for her reckless Middle Eastern pronouncements, he gingerly repeated platitutdes about diplomatic engagement and exploring alternatives.
In the runup to the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton had been dueling over a gasoline tax holiday that was the brainchild of John McCain. This was a proposal designed to give motorists relief from high gas prices during the summer months. Clinton staunchly supported the tax holiday; Obama denounced it as a “political gimmick.” Mrs. Clinton would have paid for the resulting loss in Federal revenue by levying a windfall profits tax on oil companies, which have been enjoying record profits.
This was a rare instance where Mr. Obama forcefully took the right position. In an appearance on “Meet the Press” on May 4, 2008, Mr. Obama said that his support of a gasoline tax break during his time in the Illinois Senate was a mistake from which he has learned. Obama said that consumer savings from a gas tax holiday would be minimal at best, and probably zero because oil and gas companies would raise their prices to make up for the lost income, which is what happened in Illinois.
Bob Brinker, an expert with several decades of experience in the financial industry, is host of the WOR-Radio program “Money Talk” in New York City. During a recent broadcast, Mr. Brinker dismissed the gas tax holiday idea as “silly.” According to Mr. Brinker, although a reduction in the gas tax would initially decrease prices, the reduced prices would increase demand, causing prices to quickly return to their previous levels. This scenario would result in revenue originally filling U.S. Treasury coffers to be diverted to oil-producing states.
In a March 1, 2006 New York Times column, Thomas Friedman advocated an increase in the gasoline tax to spur conservation and induce development of alternative energy on a mass scale. Friedman opined that when gas reached $3.50 to $4.00 a gallon, the demand for biofuels would be irresistible. Since prices are now at that level, we should begin to see a sea change in American consumption habits.
A May 5, 2008 New York Times article cites an open letter by 100 economists saying that a gas tax holiday would have little effect on gas prices. The following day, New York Times columnist David Brooks reported on Mrs. Clinton’s television interview the previous weekend with George Stephanopoulos. Brooks noted that Stephanopoulous asked Mrs. Clinton to name one economist who supported a gas tax holiday. Clinton replied, “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.” Hillary hasn’t changed since her Watergate days. She’s still ignoring the evidence.
Meanwhile McCain, or “Cactus John,” as Mr. Brinker refers to him, is sitting pretty. Although McCain is getting little press, his coverage has been mostly positive. There have been little hiccups, such as a questionable relationship with a Paxson Communications lobbyist, but they pale in comparison to Hillary’s bulky baggage and Barack’s pastor disaster. With a deeply unpopular president, an Iraq war seemingly without end , and an economy on the verge of recession, 2008 has been a terrible year for Republicans. Yet McCain, keeping a low profile, still remains competitive with both Hillary and Obama in general election matchups.
Democratic strategists say that the reason that the Obama-Clinton contests have been so contentious is because Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are both strong candidates. On the contrary, they are both very weak candidates. A strong Democratic candidate would have already trounced both of them. There is no other way to explain McCain’s competitiveness in an environment that is extraordinarily hostile to Republicans.
Still, McCain remains vulnerable. He’s to the right of Bush on Iraq, having argued that a larger ground force was initially needed there. McCain has also said that he doesn’t know much about economics and hasn’t thought about economics very much. If Iraq deteriorates or the economy goes south, he’s toast. But if the status quo is maintained through November, Cactus John will be president.
McCain is the best choice in a very imperfect field. With his decades of experience in the Senate, he is the only candidate with real foreign policy and Federal legislative experience. He is the least scarred by scandal, and his willingness to depart from Republican orthodoxy gives him a flexibility that Bush lacks. McCain showed courage and character in denouncing Republican attack ads in North Carolina that savaged Democratic gubernatorial candidates who had endorsed Obama. An Obama-McCain race would be a tough slog but less vicious than the Democratic fight because these two men have shown a strong sense of civility.
At this point, Obama can only lose the nomination as a result of another horrendous association. If such a scenario were to unfold, I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired from public life. I agree with Bill O’Reilly in that I don’t feel sorry for Obama as a politician. Obama cozied up to Chicago radicals either for “street cred,” a naive desire for inclusiveness, or a combination of both. He knew, or should have known, the consequences of his actions. That said, I feel sorry for Obama as a person. I still think he’s a nice guy, and the damage to his reputation and family is enormous.
With his good looks and pleasant personality, Obama might want to go into television or movies. He’d make an excellent vulcan on “Star Trek.” His tall, slim physique; erudite baritone; and large ears would be perfect for such a role. But Obama would have to lose his genial smile. That’s one area where Hillary can help.
David Brooks’s May 6, 2008 New York Times column perfectly summarizes my take on Obama and Hillary. Brooks opines that Hillary “didn’t utter a single candid word” during her Sunday interview with Mr. Stephanopoulos. Brooks closes with this description of Obama: “He still seems like a human being…to return each night to some zone of normalcy where personal reflection lies.”
Live long, Barack. And prosper, at least until November.