Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Untold Story of How the GOP Rigged Florida and Michigan

by: Wayne Barrett, The Huffington Post

Monday 31 March 2008

"Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean came out of hiding last week to announce that there is no reason to rush to resolve the fate of Florida and Michigan. He said he was confident that these delegations, disqualified in 2007 by Dean's own Rules Committee, would be seated at the August convention - but, apparently, only after a nominee is chosen, which he predicted would occur by July 1. This modern-day Metternich, whose two-fisted handling of this two-state controversy has already had more impact on the 2008 race than his candidacy did on the race in 2004, is promising to mediate the dispute once it's already settled.

The Dean plan is that these two swing states - big enough to decide the nomination or general election - will eventually be granted "virtual" seats at the convention because, as Dean imaginatively put it in an AP interview, "the campaigns believe that kind of deal is premature right now." Since one campaign (Hillary Clinton's) was amenable to redoes, even financing Michigan's, and the other campaign (Barack Obama's) opposed every feasible proposition, it is, in a strange way, true that the two sides weren't collectively ready for a deal.

In all the buzz about the media's pro-Obama tilt, its indifference to his resistance to including these states in the "actual" nominating process is its most disturbing favor, especially since this brand of "conventional politics," as Obama would put it, flies in the face of his contention that "the people" should pick the nominee. Obama's only proposal so far has been to split the delegates evenly, just like he and Michelle parcel out Christmas presents to their two daughters.

Of course, the column inches and moments of air time spent on how and why these two states and their 366 delegates have been banished adds up to less than the attention devoted to, say, the Wyoming caucus, where a 2,066-vote Obama margin gave him a big enough delegate boost to virtually cancel out Hillary Clinton's 329,000-vote margin in the five March races.

The body count that the mainstream media has regurgitated out of Florida and Michigan is that 2.3 million Democrats voted in primaries that broke the rules, leaving the DNC with no choice but to level both villages, even if the collateral damage might include the party's prospects of carrying those disenfranchised states in November. The DNC and the MSM appear to have simultaneously concluded that even Clinton's 300,000-vote win in Florida, where both candidates competed on a level playing field, shouldn't be counted in the popular vote tally, a calculation that appears nowhere in DNC rules and turns 1.7 million Democratic voters into ghosts.

The irony is that the drumbeat for Clinton's withdrawal - coming on the heels of her recent wins and right before what may be her biggest in Pennsylvania - is rooted in the collapse of the effort to redo Michigan and Florida. The theory is that she should quit because there is no way she can win, and that there is no way she can win because two states she could win, at least one of which she actually did win, will not be counted until she gets out. Barack Obama would thus become the nominee - not because of an honestly earned if precariously narrow lead in the final national vote, but because of two elections he would not let happen.

If that sounds like a curious way to end a nominating contest that 30 million to 33 million voters will participate in before it's done, even stranger is that the DNC is following only some of its rules - and that the real culprits who caused this debacle are Republicans, who are now relishing the catfight they provoked.

Dems Take the Hit for the GOP

The Republican role is not some irrelevant anecdote. The DNC is charged, under its rules, to determine whether the Democrats in a noncompliant state made a "good faith" effort to abide by the party's electoral calendar, and to impose the full weight of its available penalties, namely a 100 percent takedown of a state's delegation, only if Democratic leaders in that state misbehaved. So the fact that it was Republicans who fomented the move-up of primaries in both these states to dates out-of-line with the DNC calendar is at the heart of the matter.

The rules also demand that the DNC's 30-member Rules and Bylaws Committee conduct "an investigation, including hearings if necessary" into these matters. The purpose of such a probe is to figure out if Democratic leaders in a state that did move up "took all provable, positive steps and acted in good faith" to either "achieve legislative changes" to bring a state into compliance or to "prevent legislative changes" that took a state out of compliance. A DNC spokesman could not point to any real "investigation" the party conducted of the actions of "relevant Democratic party leaders or elected officials," as the rules put it. All that happened with Florida, for example, was that two representatives of the state party made a pitch for leniency immediately before the Rules Committee voted for sanctions.

What a probe might have discovered was a rationale for doing, at worst, what the RNC did to its own overeager primary schedulers in the same two states - cutting the delegations by half. That's precisely the penalty specified in DNC rules, but the committee, exercising powers it certainly had the legal discretion to exercise, upped the ante as far as it could. In a bizarre reversal of public policy, the RNC, surely aware that the principal miscreants in both states were Republicans, applied a sane yet severe sanction. The Democrats opted for decapitation.

The presumption of much of the national coverage about Michigan, to start with, has been that the Dems did this one to themselves - a presumption based, in large part, on Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm's endorsement of a January 15 vote, a date far ahead of the anticipated February 9 primary. All Clinton-backer Granholm did, however, was a sign a bill. The bill originated in a Republican-controlled Senate and passed by a 21-to-17 straight party-line vote - with every Democrat casting a no vote.

Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, is, like Granholm, seen as a prime player behind the state's acceleration of the primary calendar. But Crist isn't half the Florida story; Marco Rubio, a Jeb Bush protégé who runs the nearly 2-to-1 Republican Florida House, drove that bill through the legislature like it was a tax cut limited by law to top GOP donors.

Indeed, the tracks under this train wreck trace back, in each case, to Republican maneuvers in state legislatures, political no- man's-lands for all who've blithely dismissed the disenfranchisement of the millions of registered Florida and Michigan Democrats.

Michigan: Republicans on the Bench and in the Statehouse

Let's start with Michigan, whose Democratic chair Mark Brewer is a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the national party and in that capacity voted to sanction Florida - a pretty good indication that he wasn't a great champion of challenging the DNC calendar in his own state. Brewer in fact declared the Republican-sponsored move-up bill unacceptable from the start.

When it weaved its way through the divided Michigan legislature last August, only 29 of the state's 75 Democratic legislators (in the House and Senate) supported it. A week after the bill cleared the Senate over unified Democratic objections, these 29 Democrats in the House voted for it, precisely the same number that voted against it or abstained (22 and seven). It was 38 Republican yes votes in the House that made it law. While Democrats like the governor, U.S. Senator Carl Levin, and DNC committeewoman Debbie Dingell favored moving the primary date up, it was a Republican state senator, Cameron Brown, who proposed the January 15 date. Levin and Dingell only supported that date when they concluded that the DNC was allowing other states, like New Hampshire, to defy the party's prescribed schedule while threatening Michigan with sanctions if it shifted its date.

And Levin and Dingell certainly weren't calling the shots for the Democrats in the legislature. Andy Dillon, the Democratic House speaker who'd voted for the move-up initially, walked away from the early primary in November, almost a month before the DNC voted to strip the state of its delegation. When two court rulings found the move-up bill unconstitutional for technical reasons, giving Democratic state legislators who initially voted for it a chance to reconsider, they took it. Dillon and his House Democrats refused to support a bill that would've protected the January 15 date from threatened judicial cancellation by correcting the technical deficiency. The Senate, again voting along party lines, quickly adjusted the bill to the court decisions, but Dillon refused to allow a vote in the House. All of this suggests a "good faith" effort to block an early primary - as required by DNC rules.

Had not the state's highest court overturned the earlier decisions by a 4-to-3 vote just days before absentee ballots had to be mailed out, the early primary would not have been held. Significantly, all four of the judges who voted to allow the election were Republicans, and two of the judges who voted against it were Democrats.

In fact, it was a Democratic political consultant who brought the lawsuit that almost killed the primary. While the Republican state party filed an amicus brief in support of the bill, the Democrats took a barrage of editorial potshots in the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the Flint Journal, and other papers for refusing to stand up for the state's interest. Salivating over all the attention and revenue that would come with an early primary, the papers accused Democrats of "withering," "carrying water for presidential candidates," and "blocking a bill to rescue the election." State GOP chair Saul Anuzis declared: "The Michigan Democrats and the House Democrats in particular appear willing to blow up the primary for petty, political, selfish, self-preservationist motives, to protect their hides."

Even before the court rulings, 19 Democrats in the House co-sponsored an October bill to repeal the one that authorized the election, including eight members who'd initially voted for the January 15 date. That bill was doomed from the outset since the Senate would never agree, but it was a measure of how fiercely Democrats had come to oppose the early primary. The ultimate result in Michigan, with a triumphant Clinton the only major candidate on the ballot, is, without a doubt, a Republican result.

In Florida, Crushed by a Republican Supermajority

The Republicans don't just control both houses of the Florida legislature. Their combined 103-to-57 majority allowed them to dictate the terms of the bill that moved the primary to January 29. It is true that all but one of the state's Democratic legislators supported the bill. But a closer look reveals that vote to be more an indication of a realistic and productive compromise with the ruling Republicans than any intent to breach Democratic rules.

Florida's leading news outlets, just like Michigan's, converted an early primary into a matter of state patriotism, and that point of view, coupled with the mathematical inability to even slow the Republican push, forced Democrats to roll over.

Another factor attracting Democratic votes in the legislature for the bill was one the DNC should certainly appreciate. Governor Crist threw a reform long sought by Florida Democrats into the bill: a mandatory paper trail for all votes cast in future elections. "The Democrats have been fighting for a paper trail bill since 2000," said State Senator Nan Rich, "and Governor Bush never would support it. So finally we got a governor who was willing to support it and it ended up connected to the early primary bill. That was unfortunate. If the paper trail hadn't been there, I believe we Democrats would've all voted no. Still, if all the Republicans had voted one way and all the Democrats had voted another way, the bill would've passed." (This Christmas tree bill - whose title alone was 154 lines long - had something special for everyone. It would even enable Crist to run as John McCain's vice presidential candidate, revoking a ban against state officials running for federal office.)

But "the driving force behind the move," as the Tampa Tribune put it, was 36-year-old House speaker Marco Rubio, who announced that pushing the primary up was a top goal before he took over the House at the start of 2006. Branded a "Jeb acolyte" by the Florida press, Rubio, a Cuban from West Miami married to a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, was given a gold samurai sword by Bush in a passing-of-the-conservative-mantle gesture in 2005. Rubio is a member of a wired Florida law firm whose chairman is so close to Bush that he rushed down to the county jail when the governor's daughter Noelle was arrested on a drug-related charge. When Rubio's term as speaker ends later this year, he is slated to go to work for a think tank headed by a Jeb Bush business associate. The primary bill originated with Rubio and ultimately passed the House unanimously - but only after Democrats made what they knew would be a losing effort to alter it.

Martin Kiar and Mary Brandenburg, House Democrats who were cosponsors of the bill, tried to amend it. "We offered an amendment on the floor shifting the date to one within the Democratic party rules," said Brandenburg. "The Democrats all voted for it, and Republicans all voted against it." Actually, the Kiar/Brandenburg proposal did not completely comply with DNC directives, but it was a signal of the concerns Florida Dems had about the move-up legislation. Said Kiar: "No matter what, whether we supported it or cosponsored it, the Republican majority was going to push it through."

When the DNC sanctioned Florida, it critiqued the efforts of the Democratic leaders in both houses, suggesting that they'd merely gone through the motions of feigned opposition. But the House cosponsor of the bill, David Rivera, literally laughed on the floor at the Democratic amendment, according to the House Democrats. Going through the motions was all the outgunned Democrats could do. A DNC critic of Florida Democrats was reduced in a recent New York Times op-ed to citing remarks supporting the early primary made by state leaders after it was a fait accompli, likely because she couldn't make a case about their conduct before the Republican legislature set the date.

Some Democrats Are More Equal Than Others

The Democratic national committeeman who introduced the motion on the party's Rules Committee to deprive Florida of all its delegates - a precursor to the Michigan decision a few months later - was Ralph Dawson, a New York lawyer who was Howard Dean's Yale roommate and an advisor to Dean's 2004 campaign. Dawson's role was seen as a signal of Dean's appetite for a kick-ass rebuke.

As much as the DNC tries to pretend otherwise, it had choices. In fact, it later showed understandable leniency to three other states who changed their primary dates-New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina - seating all their delegates. The tough love treatment was reserved for Michigan and Florida.

The national party had tried - before New Hampshire's case wound up on its docket - to leave the impression that zero tolerance was automatic once violations of the schedule occur. Back in June, a DNC spokeswoman, for example, told the Associated Press that neither Dean nor the Rules Committee "has the power to waive the rules for any state," explaining that "these rules can be changed only by the full DNC." Yet a few months later, on the same day that the Rules Committee stripped Michigan of its delegates, it waived the rules for New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, each of which had also moved up their primaries.

Though Dawson and others on Rules now say, as they did in recent interviews, that states whose contests were always scheduled before February 5 were free to shift dates without sanction, that's not what the delegate selection rules adopted in 2006 say. Those rules provided an automatic 50 percent loss of delegates for any state party that moved its contest to any day "prior to or after the dates" spelled out by the DNC.

That's why Rules powerhouse Donna Brazile said she would "grudgingly support the waiver," warning New Hampshire shortly before the December committee vote that "the days of 'privilege' may end soon."

Not only did "first-primary-or-die" New Hampshire switch from January 22 to January 8, it moved ahead of Nevada, whose January 19 caucus had been deliberately scheduled by the DNC to precede New Hampshire's. But New Hampshire's Democrats got a DNC waiver because their back was up against the wall, due to a decision by the South Carolina Republican Party to move its primary up to January 19. That unilateral decision - which the Carolina Democrats declined to join in - forced New Hampshire's hand. The waiver was, in other words, a reasonable response to a Republican provocation. What's unclear is why one Republican provocation is more equal than another. (Once New Hampshire moved, Iowa had to adjust as well. South Carolina Democrats ultimately made a minor switch for other reasons.)

While the DNC implicitly challenged the "good faith" of the Democratic opposition to the Republican moves in Florida and Michigan, it seemed far less interested in gauging what New Hampshire Democrats were doing. The head of the South Carolina GOP actually traveled to Concord, New Hampshire, to announce the decision to move his state's primary up. He stood in the Executive Council chambers of the statehouse with Secretary of State William Gardner and Representative James Splaine, a Democrat who led the legislative efforts to protect the state's first-primary tradition.

Democratic governor John Lynch was at a funeral when the press conference occurred, but his spokesman said Lynch "has faith in Bill Gardner" and "supports whatever Bill decides." And Lynch, who had already derided the DNC decision to put Nevada ahead of New Hampshire, was clearly pleased that the acceleration of the South Carolina Republican primary date was giving Gardner all the justification he needed to squeeze back ahead of Nevada. New Hampshire officials even called the maneuver an "alliance" with South Carolina Republicans. Gardner promptly chose a new date 11 days before Nevada, defying the schedule that the DNC had issued.

The RNC, a veritable model of consistency in these matters, stripped New Hampshire of half its delegates over the date change, even though it was unmistakably prompted by the Republican maneuver in South Carolina. But Howard Dean and company held their fire this time, examining extenuating circumstances with an understanding they refused to extend to Michigan and Florida. In the end, they changed the rules in the middle of the game, throwing the book at some states and discarding it altogether for others.

The inconsistency on New Hampshire aside, DNC officials have come up with one other argument for why they were so tough on Michigan and Florida. Dean's spokesman Damien LaVera said in an email to Huffington Post that, despite the unmistakable references in the rules to testing the "good faith" of a state's "elected officials" and examining a state's "legislative" efforts, the DNC's rules "apply to a state party plan, not state legislatures or elected officials." LaVera insisted that the only standard their Rules Committee judges compliance by is what state parties do, and that the parties in Michigan and Florida had options other than the state-designated primaries. A DNC official claimed that the Michigan party had sponsored so-called "firehouse caucuses" in the past and could have set their own date and done them again, ignoring the state-run January 15 primary. The Florida party, the DNC source added, was "offered $880,000" by the DNC to host their own caucus on a date in compliance with the DNC schedule and chose to participate, instead, in the state-financed primary, a "bad faith" decision.

But Florida party officials said the $880,000 would've only covered the cost of 150 caucus sites, with the capacity to draw a maximum of 150,000 voters out of the state's 4 million Democrats. "It wasn't a real offer," a spokesman said. Michigan's party would have had to self-finance caucuses, which, even with added Internet and mail voting, drew only 165,000 voters in 2004, a fraction of the 600,000 who voted in 2008. Stripping both states of their full delegations because the state parties in each refused to run these limited-participation caucuses-which would have occurred a couple of weeks after an official, state-financed primary - is a bit like punishing Democrats because they like democracy.

Obama's Backers - and the Road to the Nomination

The DNC critique of Florida's noncompliance included a reference to the fact that a Democratic state senator was the initial sponsor of the move-up bill in that house, which was seen as a sign of eagerness on the part of some Democratic leaders to break the rules. That senator was Jeremy Ring, an Obama supporter. Obama even named Ring's 2006 campaign manager to run his statewide Florida effort. Ring was such a champion of the early primary that when Obama, like all the other candidates, supported the sanctions and agreed not to campaign in the state, Ring withdrew his endorsement.

When Governor Crist signed the bill at a ceremony in West Palm Beach, the man at his side was Bob Wexler, the chair of Obama's Florida campaign. Wexler wasn't there because he wanted to defy Howard Dean. He was there for the same reason that almost all the Democrats in the legislature voted for the bill. He is the state's leading foe of paperless voting systems and filed two suits against them. He saw the bill as the governor's fulfillment of a campaign pledge "to make Florida a model state for the nation in terms of our election system."

Similarly, all three of the House Democrats who endorsed Obama - Coleman Young II, Bert Johnson, and Aldo Vagnozzi - voted in favor of the bill to push the Michigan date forward. When Obama later took his name off the Michigan ballot, Young and Johnson became sponsors of the bill to cancel the election they had just voted to authorize.

The support of Obama's principal backers in both states for the move-up bills was hardly consequential, but it does raise questions about his current opposition to any counting or recounting of these states. If bad faith is the DNC's standard, Obama doesn't have to look too far to find alleged examples of it, and to recognize that the national party might be unfairly characterizing what the leaders in these states did.

Imagining a convention without delegations from these large and politically volatile states has become the nightmare of every thinking Democrat. Polls indicate that a nominee who refuses to count the 1.7 million Floridians who voted in a level-playing field primary, or to find a way for them to vote again, will wind up wasting whatever time and money he or she spends there in the general election campaign. As close as the general election vote in Michigan has been in recent years, even a small margin of voters disgruntled by the state's Democratic lockout could push it into the GOP column. Obama's stonewalling about both states may offer short-term advantages, but two delegations denied seating because of his maneuvers may well be seen as contrary to his populist rationale now - and crippling to his candidacy in November.

Ed Pozzuoli, the Republican chair of Broward County, recalls the Florida showdown of 2000, when he says Democrats taunted Republicans, insisting that they should "let every vote count." He gloats now: "I guess that's changed in eight years." He's hardly the only one chortling over the likely consequence of what he calls the "draconian" Democratic spiking of his state's delegation.

What started out years ago as Howard Dean's 50-state organizing strategy for the national party now looks like a 48-state electoral one. Michigan and Florida could become the Ralph Nader of 2000, the great regret that delivers the country once again to four years of darkness.


Research assistance by: Kimberly Chin, Shaunna Murphy, Shea O'Rourke, Marguerite A. Suozzi, Adam Weinstein and John Wilwol.

Research support for this article was provided by the Nation "

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Florida and Michigan and Obama's Corrupt Campaign

From on may 28, 2008 by Marc Rubin: "Nothing is more detrimental to the country as a whole than political corruption in any guise. So the statement issued by Barack Obama the other day regarding Florida and Michigan should be seen for what it is: a politician willing to engage in whatever undermining of the democratic process it takes to achieve his political ambition.

In his statement, Obama said that he would support a solution regarding the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegates "as long as it was fair to both sides". This is Obama intentionally ignoring the fact that the elections and the results they produced were already fair to both sides.

The fairness of those elections and their results are not and never have been in dispute.The validity of those elections have never been in doubt. And both have been certified by their respective secretaries of state.

The only issue surrounding those elections, is whether the delegates won by each candidate as a result of those primaries will be seated and allowed to participate in the nomination process. The entire controversy is an internal DNC dispute involving a scheduling conflict that had nothing to do with Barack Obama. No one was put at any disadvantage because of either state's decision to move their primaries up.

The decision as to whether to allow them to be seated relates only to the threatened punishment by the DNC against the state parties for moving the primaries to an earlier date. It had nothing to do with validity of those elections and Obama has no argument regarding the validity of the results. He was at no disadvantage, the results are valid and accurate and everyone including Obama knows it.

The DNC threat to ban the delegates was simply stupid from day one. And for journalists who have been in the tank for Obama and the Obama campaign itself, to say Florida and Michigan broke the rules so they should not count, is simply all of them sticking their noses into DNC business. None of them work for the DNC. it's an interna party matter about scheduling and whether any of them think the DNC rules are good or bad is irrelevant to what the DNC decides to do. Yet Obama and these journalists continue to say that these states broke the rules. As if they have anything to say about the DNC rules with regards to anything.

If the DNC rules were that candidates had to hop on one leg 10 times in that state without losing their balance or they lose their delegates and Clinton didn't do it what would Obama and these journalists say? She should lose her delegates because she broke the rules?

What the DNC threatened is just as stupid and the Obama camp and journalists who insist on talking about "the rules" are just as stupid when they try and justify not seating Florida and Michigan because they broke "the rules".

If the DNC decides on a punishment that is more in keeping with a petty scheduling conflict instead of one that completely subverts the nominating process for President of the United States, there is no reason for both elections not to stand exactly as they are. Its all or nothing. There is no compromise that makes any sense.As soon as you start to compromise the very democratic process itself everyone loses.

So when Obama says he wants a "fair" resolution what he really means in his patented passive aggressive style is that he wants an unfair resolution. Unfair to Clinton, since the only fair resolution is to seat all the delegates as per the results of the elections. The elections were fair. The only additional fairness needed is to count them.

Every decision and statement coming out of a presidential campaign is the product of people sitting in a room discussing and dissecting every possible angle, going through every possible scenario, and parsing every word used in a statement. So, when Obama issues a statement about wanting a resolution to Florida and Michigan "as long as its fair" , we know this is not the wail in the wilderness of a lost and wronged soul staggering through the forest of an unfair world, pleading for fairness as rain pelts his face and tears stream down his cheeks. It's a well thought out deviously political calculation designed, not to be fair but to be unfair to Clinton under the guise of fairness, since the only really fair resolution is as is obvious, to seat all the delegates exactly as dictated by the results of the election.

If the DNC wants to punish anyone let them punish the party leaders and ban them from the convention not delegates representing the 2.7 million who voted.

When it comes to Michigan, Obama still tries to brazenly argue that his name wasn't on the ballot. He tries to get away with this dishonesty only because he knows the news media he has in pocket will let him get away with it.

Here is what happened in Michigan as reported in the Des Moines Register in October of 2007.

Obama's internal polling showed he was going to get get landslided by Clinton in Michigan. His own polling had him behind by 20 points. So as a political calculation and to pander to Iowa voters in the upcoming caucus he made a gratuitous public gesture of taking his name off the ballot in Michigan, both because he knew he was going to lose big and to curry favor with Iowans and their first in the nation status. But at the same time he was making a deal with the Michigan Democratic Party for his name to be represented in the primary by the line "Uncommitted" and to have that publicized.

John Edwards joined the uncommitted line and every single voter in Michigan knew long before election day that to vote for Obama or Edwards you voted the "uncommitted line. It was well publicized and everyone knew it. And the proof that they knew it is that "uncommitted" received 40.7% of the vote, the second highest total, while Clinton received 56%. The rest went to the other candidates on the ballot (uninformed journalists and Obama supporters have often said Clinton was the only name on the ballot. Not so).

But Obama topped that display about six weeks ago when he floated the idea that he and Clinton split the delegate count in Florida and Michigan 50-50 as a way of resolving the problem. In other words he wanted delegates that didn't belong to him. This was an attempt at a political mugging. He wanted delegates that weren't his, delegates the voters clearly said were meant for Clinton and delegates they clearly didn't want him to have. It was about as brazen an attempt to to corrupt the political process by a candidate for high office as has been seen in recent memory.

If Clinton had made such a proposal the likes of Andrew Sullivan, Betsy Reed, Roger Simon, the ethically and racially challenged Richard Kim, Olbermann, Arianna Huffington and every other journalist who has corrupted every journalistic principle in existence in supporting Obama, perhaps as a way of somehow absolving themselves of their own racial issues, would have accused Clinton of the lowest form of political bottom scraping.

Yet Obama was ready willing and able to do just that, to take delegates he didn't deserve which is nothing short of stealing the voices of the people he pretends to champion except when those voices interfere with his personal ambition. And this coming from the side that has accused Clinton of doing anything to win.

Given everything that has gone on, the cheap shots of the Obama campaign from his hit and run tactics with his foreign policy advisor calling Clinton " a monster" and then quickly resigning ( as if that was a spontaneous outburst), Richardson and Leahy's pathetically transparent and orchestrated good cop/bad cop routine where they call for Clinton to get out of the race and then have Obama come along, knight in shining armor that he is, and proclaim that she "should stay in the race as long as she wants", ( as if he had to anything to say about it), and then playing the race card in South Carolina, there is a case to be made that Barack Obama is the most politically dishonest, corrupt and underhanded politician since Richard Nixon. He even has his own Helen Gahagan Douglas in the person of Alice Palmer.

The joke pinned on Richard Nixon in the Fifties and Sixties for his political underhandedness and dishonesty was "Would you buy a used car from this man"? Well, would you buy a used car from Barack Obama? Not if you lived in Florida or Michigan. Maybe not if you live anywhere.

More Obama Gaffes

Obama's Lobbyist Connections

Michael Isikoff
Updated: 11:06 AM ET May 24, 2008
"When Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison wanted state lawmakers to back a hefty rate hike two years ago, it took a creative lobbying approach, concocting a new outfit that seemed devoted to the public interest: Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity, or CORE. CORE ran TV ads warning of a "California-style energy crisis" if the rate increase wasn't approved—but without disclosing the commercials were funded by Commonwealth Edison. The ad campaign provoked a brief uproar when its ties to the utility, which is owned by Exelon Corp., became known. "It's corporate money trying to hoodwink the public," the state's Democratic Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. What got scant notice then—but may soon get more scrutiny—is that CORE was the brainchild of ASK Public Strategies, a consulting firm whose senior partner is David Axelrod, now chief strategist for Barack Obama.

Last week, Obama hit John McCain for hiring "some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington" to run his campaign; Obama's aides say their candidate, as a foe of "special interests," has refused to take money from lobbyists or employ them. Neither Axelrod nor his partners at ASK ever registered as lobbyists for Commonwealth Edison—and under Illinois's loose disclosure laws, they were not required to. "I've never lobbied anybody in my life," Axelrod tells NEWSWEEK. "I've never talked to any public official on behalf of a corporate client." (He also says "no one ever denied" that Edison was the "principal funder" of his firm's ad campaign.)

But the activities of ASK (located in the same office as Axelrod's political firm) illustrate the difficulties in defining exactly who a lobbyist is. In 2004, Cablevision hired ASK to set up a group similar to CORE to block a new stadium for the New York Jets in Manhattan. Unlike Illinois, New York disclosure laws do cover such work, and ASK's $1.1 million fee was listed as the "largest lobbying contract" of the year in the annual report of the state's lobbying commission. ASK last year proposed a similar "political campaign style approach" to help Illinois hospitals block a state proposal that would have forced them to provide more medical care to the indigent. One part of its plan: create a "grassroots" group of medical experts "capable of contacting policymakers to advocate for our position," according to a copy of the proposal. (ASK didn't get the contract.) Public-interest watchdogs say these grassroots campaigns are state of the art in the lobbying world. "There's no way with a straight face to say that's not lobbying," says Ellen Miller, director of the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government transparency.

Axelrod says there are still huge differences between him and top McCain advisers, including the fact that he doesn't work in D.C. But his corporate clients do have business in the capital. One of them, Exelon, lobbied Obama two years ago on a nuclear bill; the firm's executives and employees have also been a top source of cash for Obama's campaign, contributing $236,211. Axelrod says he's never talked to Obama about Exelon matters. "I'm not going to public officials with bundles of money on behalf of a corporate client," Axelrod says."

Obama Campaign's New Low in Clinton Bashing

From Joan Walsh in on May 27, 2008: "The world is divided between people who consider Bill and Hillary Clinton monsters, and people who don't. It used to be that the monster faction was limited to Republicans and certain mainstream media fixtures like Maureen Dowd and much of the MSNBC lineup. Now, increasingly, it involves too many Obama-supporting Democrats -- and the Clinton-hate is in danger of damaging the Democratic Party.

I took the weekend off, really and truly off, because my daughter graduated from high school Saturday (yay!) and events got under way Thursday night. I did check e-mail briefly on Friday, and I learned then about Clinton's unfortunate reference to Robert F. Kennedy's assassination -- from an Obama campaign e-mail from spokesman Bill Burton. I took some time to look around at the coverage, and I followed a link to Clinton's actual interview with the Argus-Leader, and I had to say: Wow. I couldn't believe this became the weekend's hottest political issue. I couldn't believe Keith Olbermann did a special comment on it (which I really couldn't believe was also widely circulated via e-mail by the Obama campaign). I couldn't believe that only George Stephanopoulos took the time to scrutinize and question the judgment behind the Obama campaign's political use of what was at worst bad phrasing on Clinton's part.

Thanks to my long weekend, I could probably get away without addressing the controversy over Clinton's RFK remarks, which is finally dying down. But I think this is an important and disturbing issue for Democrats. Criticize Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq war, her pandering on the gas tax holiday, her lame remarks about "hardworking Americans, white Americans," her response to Obama's "bitter" remarks, her lackluster campaign strategy coming into 2008. I've criticized all of that, and more. But to argue that she was suggesting she's staying in the race because Obama might be assassinated -- even after both Clinton, and the journalists who interviewed her, said her reference was to RFK's June campaign, not to his heartbreaking murder -- requires either a special kind of paranoia or venal political opportunism.

I understand the fears many people have about Obama's safety; given our country's tragic history, they are real and understandable. Suggesting Clinton was trying to play on such fears is different. Throughout this long campaign the Clintons have been turned into a vile caricature: amoral, power-mad narcissists who are not beyond using racism and even worries about Obama's safety to press their political cause. I've criticized both Clintons repeatedly in the pages of Salon for over 10 years, but it's really time to say: Enough.

For several months I've found myself bothered by a double standard in both the behavior and the media coverage of the Obama campaign, as supposedly representing a new kind of clean, post-partisan politics, by contrast with the dirty old win-at-any-cost Clintons. Hardball Obama campaign tactics -- David Axelrod partly blaming Clinton for Benazir Bhutto's death; the intimidation of Clinton voters by a pro-Obama union in Nevada (to be fair, some Obama supporters claimed intimidation by Clinton forces, too); the campaign's infamous South Carolina race memo (prepared before Bill Clinton made his dumb Jesse Jackson remark); the multiple "Harry and Louise" mailers distorting Clinton's healthcare proposal; not to mention ties between Obama, Axelrod and the Exelon Corp., even as Obama is touting his lobbyist-free campaign. Nothing seems to stick to Obama; he's Teflon.

This episode was worse than many but not entirely atypical: After his staff helped whip up a frenzy about Clinton's remarks, Obama himself said he accepted Clinton's statement that she had been misunderstood, and Axelrod tried to act gracious and insist that it's time to move on. But the damage had been done. Obama has run a better campaign than Clinton, there's no doubt about it, but he's had a lot of help from a fawning media. (Here's a great piece making a point I made months ago about how such coverage may ultimately hurt Obama.)

I'll be on MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews" today, debating this issue with talk show host and Obama supporter Joe Madison. "

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Obama Gaffe: Where in the world is Auschwitz?

From the Fact Checker blog: "I had an uncle who was one of the, um, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps. And the story in our family is that when he came home he just went up in the attic and he didn't leave the house for six months."
--Barack Obama, Memorial Day speech, Las Cruces, NM.

In an attempt to burnish his credentials with America's veterans, Barack Obama has frequently talked about his grandfather "who served in Patton's army." He has now added a new episode to his World War II repertoire: the uncle who liberated Auschwitz. Unfortunately, the story shows that the presumptive Democratic nominee has a poor grasp of European history and geography.

The Facts

Auschwitz is located in southern Poland, near the city of Krakow. It was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. At the time, U.S. armies were still on the western borders of Germany, a thousand miles away, regrouping after the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans had not even crossed the Rhine at this point.

The Obama campaign now says that Obama was referring to his great-uncle on his mother's side, and the camp in question was not Auschwitz, but Ohrdruf, which was part of the Buchenwald camp system in Lower Saxony. Ohrdruf was the first camp to be liberated by the Americans on April 4, 1945, and it was visited a week later by Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley. Eisenhower later wrote to his wife that he "never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality and savagery could really exist in this world."

The campaign declined to release the name of Obama's great-uncle, apparently because he is an elderly man who does not want to be disturbed by reporters. Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said that he served in the 89th Infantry Division which crossed the Rhine river in March 1945.


The attempt to shield the name of the Obama relative who took part in the liberation of Ohrdruf lasted about an hour. According to the Associated Press, it is Charlie Payne, the brother of Obama's maternal grandmother, Madelyn Lee Payne.

Obama's Auschwitz claim, made during a Memorial Day appearance in New Mexico, was first reported in blog postings by Washington Post reporter Karl Vick and by CBS News. Neither report provided a direct quote, raising the possibility that Obama might have been misquoted. I asked Vick to go back and check his recording of the event.

The above quote is taken from a verbatim transcript. Prior to talking about Auschwitz, Obama mentioned his grandfather (the one in Patton's army), recalling that he did not like talking about the war. This led into a riff on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a term that Obama said was unknown during World War II and the Vietnam War. "People basically had to handle it on their own." He gave the example of his uncle who hid away in the attic after liberating Auschwitz.

Granted, it is getting late in the campaign. The candidates are tired, and prone to making silly mistakes. Many Americans might have problems distinguishing Buchenwald and Ohrdruf from Auschwitz. But should we not expect more from a Harvard-educated presidential candidate? Is it too much to ask that an aspiring commander-in-chief knows (1) that Auschwitz (like many of the other Nazi death camps) is in Poland, and (2) that the eastern advance of the U.S. Army in World War II stopped on the river Elbe? Let me know what you think.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Michell Obama is Fair Game

From the Boston Globe on May 25, 2008 by Jefff Jacoby: "ON THE website of the Tennessee Republican Party is a short video in which residents of Nashville talk about the pride they feel for their country. One man, for example, mentions his esteem for the First and Second Amendments. A Vanderbilt graduate student says he was proud when Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall - "and I was prouder when it came down." A young professional woman extols the "academic and job opportunities that women have in this country." A police officer named Juan says he is proud of having immigrated to the United States, learned English, and become a citizen of this "land of opportunity and the best country in the world."

The video makes its point by alternating these upbeat comments with clips of Michelle Obama telling two different audiences in February: "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country." In an understated press release announcing the video, the state GOP welcomed Mrs. Obama to Nashville and remarked: "The Tennessee Republican Party has always been proud of America."

One would have to have skin of microscopic thinness to take offense at so gentle and indirect a critique. No surprise, then, that Barack Obama took offense, reacting as if his bride had been slimed by slurs akin to those that enraged Andrew Jackson when he ran for president. (During the campaign of 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams maligned Jackson's mother as a "common prostitute" and mocked his adored wife, Rachel, as a "convicted adulteress" and a "strumpet.") In an interview on ABC, Obama growled that Republicans "should lay off my wife," and described the inoffensive Tennessee video as "detestable," "low class," and reflecting "a lack of decency."

If Republicans "think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign," he added ominously, "they should be careful."

Ooh, very fierce. But unless Obama is prepared to emulate Jackson - Old Hickory defended his wife's honor by fighting duels, in one of which he killed a man - he stands no chance of putting his wife's remarks off-limits to criticism. As long as he keeps sending her around the country to campaign on his behalf, everything she says is - and should be - fair game.

And unfortunately for Obama and his allegedly sunny politics of hope, what Mrs. Obama seems to say with grim regularity is that America is a scary, bleak, and hopeless place.

Here she is, for instance, in Wisconsin:

"Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime, through Republican and Democratic administrations. It hasn't gotten much better."

And in South Carolina:

America is "just downright mean" and "guided by fear . . . We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day."

And in North Carolina:

"Folks are struggling like never before . . . When you're that busy struggling all the time, which most people that you know and I know are, you don't have time to get to know your neighbor . . . In fact, you feel very alone in your struggle, because you feel that somehow it must be your fault that you're struggling so hard . . . People are afraid, because when your world's not right, no matter how hard you work, then you become afraid of everyone and everything, because you don't know whose fault it is, why you can't get a handle on life, why you can't secure a better future for your kids . . . Fear is the worst enemy. It . . . creates this veil of impossibility, and it is hanging over all of our heads."

There is also her creepily authoritarian vision of life under an Obama administration. From a speech in California:

"Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zone . . . Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual - uninvolved, uninformed."

Michelle Obama is undeniably smart, driven, outspoken, and charismatic. She is also relentlessly negative about life in these United States. True, she is not the one running for president. But she is Barack Obama's closest confidante and adviser; if he is elected, her influence will be considerable. That is why her words matter. And why, whether her husband likes it or not, Michelle Obama is a legitimate issue in this campaign."

Divided They Stand

From NYT Op-Ed on May 26, 2008 By PAUL KRUGMAN
"It is, in a way, almost appropriate that the final days of the struggle for the Democratic nomination have been marked by yet another fake Clinton scandal — the latest in a long line that goes all the way back to Whitewater.

This one, in case you missed it, involved an interview Hillary Clinton gave the editorial board of South Dakota’s Argus Leader, in which she tried to make a case for her continuing campaign by pointing out that nomination fights have often gone on into the summer. As one of her illustrations, she mentioned that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June.

It wasn’t the best example to use, but it’s absurd to suggest, as some Obama supporters immediately did, that Mrs. Clinton was making some kind of dark hint about Barack Obama’s future.

But then, it was equally absurd to portray Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that it took L.B.J.’s political skills to turn Martin Luther King’s vision into legislation as an example of politicizing race. Yet the claim that Mrs. Clinton was playing the race card, which was promoted by some Obama supporters as well as in a memo by a member of Mr. Obama’s staff, achieved wide currency.

Why does all this matter? Not for the nomination: Mr. Obama will be the Democratic nominee. But he has a problem: many grass-roots Clinton supporters feel that she has received unfair, even grotesque treatment. And the lingering bitterness from the primary campaign could cost Mr. Obama the White House.

To the extent that the general election is about the issues, Mr. Obama should have no trouble winning over former Clinton supporters, especially the white working-class voters he lost in the primaries. His health care plan is seriously deficient, but he will nonetheless be running on a far more worker-friendly platform than his opponent.

Indeed, John McCain has shed whatever maverick tendencies he may once have had, and become almost a caricature conservative — an advocate of lower taxes for the rich and corporations, a privatizer and shredder of the safety net.

But elections always involve emotions as well as issues, and there are some ominous signs in the polling data.

In Florida, in particular, the rolling estimate produced by the professionals at shows Mr. McCain running substantially ahead of Mr. Obama, even as he runs significantly behind Mrs. Clinton. Ohio also looks problematic, and Pennsylvania looks closer than it should. It’s true that head-to-head polls five months before the general election have a poor track record. But they certainly give reason to worry.

The point is that Mr. Obama may need those disgruntled Clinton supporters, lest he manage to lose in what ought to be a banner Democratic year.

So what should Mr. Obama and his supporters do?

Most immediately, they should realize that the continuing demonization of Mrs. Clinton serves nobody except Mr. McCain. One more trumped-up scandal won’t persuade the millions of voters who stuck with Mrs. Clinton despite incessant attacks on her character that she really was evil all along. But it might incline a few more of them to stay home in November.

Nor should Obama supporters dismiss Mrs. Clinton’s strength as a purely Appalachian phenomenon, with the implication that Clinton voters are just a bunch of hicks.

So what comes next?

Mrs. Clinton needs to do her part: she needs to be careful not to act as a spoiler during what’s left of the primary, she needs to bow out gracefully if, as seems almost certain, Mr. Obama receives the nod, and she needs to campaign strongly for the nominee once the convention is over. She has said she’ll do that, and there’s no reason to believe that she doesn’t mean it.

But mainly it’s up to Mr. Obama to deliver the unity he has always promised — starting with his own party.

One thing to do would be to make a gesture of respect for Democrats who voted in good faith by recognizing Florida’s primary votes — which at this point wouldn’t change the outcome of the nomination fight.

The only reason I can see for Obama supporters to oppose seating Florida is that it might let Mrs. Clinton claim that she received a majority of the popular vote. But which is more important — denying Mrs. Clinton bragging rights, or possibly forfeiting the general election?

What about offering Mrs. Clinton the vice presidency? If I were Mr. Obama, I’d do it. Adding Mrs. Clinton to the ticket — or at least making the offer — might help heal the wounds of an ugly primary fight.

Here’s the point: the nightmare Mr. Obama and his supporters should fear is that in an election year in which everything favors the Democrats, he will nonetheless manage to lose. He needs to do everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hating Hillary

From the New Statesman on May 22, 2008: "Gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind has been shamelessly peddled by the US media, which - sooner rather than later, I fear - will have to account for their sins

History, I suspect, will look back on the past six months as an example of America going through one of its collectively deranged episodes - rather like Prohibition from 1920-33, or McCarthyism some 30 years later. This time it is gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind. It has been shamelessly peddled by the US media, which - sooner rather than later, I fear - will have to account for their sins. The chief victim has been Senator Hillary Clinton, but the ramifications could be hugely harmful for America and the world.

I am no particular fan of Clinton. Nor, I think, would friends and colleagues accuse me of being racist. But it is quite inconceivable that any leading male presidential candidate would be treated with such hatred and scorn as Clinton has been. What other senator and serious White House contender would be likened by National Public Radio's political editor, Ken Rudin, to the demoniac, knife-wielding stalker played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Or described as "a fucking whore" by Randi Rhodes, one of the foremost personalities of the supposedly liberal Air America? Would Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein fame) ever publicly declare his disgust about a male candidate's "thick ankles"? Could anybody have envisaged that a website set up specifically to oppose any other candidate would be called Citizens United Not Timid? (We do not need an acronym for that.)

I will come to the reasons why I fear such unabashed misogyny in the US media could lead, ironically, to dreadful racial unrest. "All men are created equal," Thomas Jefferson famously proclaimed in 1776. That equality, though, was not extended to women, who did not even get the vote until 1920, two years after (some) British women. The US still has less gender equality in politics than Britain, too. Just 16 of America's 100 US senators are women and the ratio in the House (71 out of 435) is much the same. It is nonetheless pointless to argue whether sexism or racism is the greater evil: America has a peculiarly wicked record of racist subjugation, which has resulted in its racism being driven deep underground. It festers there, ready to explode again in some unpredictable way.

To compensate meantime, I suspect, sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.

Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, American men like to delude themselves that they are the most macho in the world. It is simply unthinkable, therefore, for most of them to face the prospect of having a woman as their leader. The massed ranks of male pundits gleefully pronounced that Clinton had lost the battle with Obama immediately after the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, despite past precedents that strong second-place candidates (like Ronald Reagan in his first, ultimately unsuccessful campaign in 1976; like Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown) continue their campaigns until the end of the primary season and, in most cases, all the way to the party convention.

None of these male candidates had a premature political obituary written in the way that Hillary Clinton's has been, or was subjected to such righteous outrage over refusing to quiesce and withdraw obediently from what, in this case, has always been a knife-edge race. Nor was any of them anything like as close to his rivals as Clinton now is to Obama.

The media, of course, are just reflecting America's would-be macho culture. I cannot think of any television network or major newspaper that is not guilty of blatant sexism - the British media, naturally, reflexively follow their American counterparts - but probably the worst offender is the NBC/MSNBC network, which has what one prominent Clinton activist describes as "its nightly horror shows". Tim Russert, the network's chief political sage, was dancing on Clinton's political grave before the votes in North Carolina and Indiana had even been fully counted - let alone those of the six contests to come, the undeclared super-delegates, or the disputed states of Florida and Michigan.

The unashamed sexism of this giant network alone is stupendous. Its superstar commentator Chris Matthews referred to Clinton as a "she-devil". His colleague Tucker Carlson casually observed that Clinton "feels castrating, overbearing and scary . . . When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs." This and similar abuse, I need hardly point out, says far more about the men involved than their target.

Knives out

But never before have the US media taken it upon themselves to proclaim the victor before the primary contests are over or the choice of all the super-delegates is known, and the result was that the media's tidal wave of sexism became self-fulfilling: Americans like to back winners, and polls immediately showed dramatic surges of support for Obama. A few brave souls had foreseen the merciless media campaign: "The press will savage her no matter what," predicted the Washington Post's national political correspondent, Dana Milbank, last December. "They really have their knives out for her, there's no question about it."

Polling organisations such as Gallup told us months ago that Americans will more readily accept a black male president than a female one, and a more recent CNN/Essence magazine/ Opinion Research poll found last month that 76 per cent think America is ready for a black man as president, but only 63 per cent believe the same of a woman.

"The image of charismatic leadership at the top has been and continues to be a man," says Ruth Mandel of Rutgers University. "We don't have an image, we don't have a historical memory of a woman who has achieved that feat."

Studies here have repeatedly shown that women are seen as ambitious and capable, or likeable - but rarely both. "Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test," says Alice Eagley, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. A distinguished academic undertaking a major study of coverage of the 2008 election, Professor Marion Just of Wellesley College - one of the "seven sisters" colleges founded because women were barred from the Ivy Leagues and which, coincidentally, Hillary Clinton herself attended - tells me that what is most striking to her is that the most repeated description of Senator Clinton is "cool and calculating".

This, she says, would never be said of a male candidate - because any politician making a serious bid for the White House has, by definition, to be cool and calculating. Hillary Clinton, a successful senator for New York who was re-elected for a second term by a wide margin in 2006 - and who has been a political activist since she campaigned against the Vietnam War and served as a lawyer on the congressional staff seeking to impeach President Nixon - has been treated throughout the 2008 campaign as a mere appendage of her husband, never as a heavyweight politician whose career trajectory (as an accomplished lawyer and professional advocate for equality among children, for example) is markedly more impressive than those of the typical middle-aged male senator.

Rarely is she depicted as an intellectually formidable politician in her own right (is that what terrifies oafs like Matthews and Carlson?). Rather, she is the junior member of "Billary", the derisive nickname coined by the media for herself and her husband. Obama's opponent is thus not one of the two US senators for New York, but some amorphous creature called "the Clintons", an aphorism that stands for amorality and sleaze. Open season has been declared on Bill Clinton, who is now reviled by the media every bit as much as Nixon ever was.

Here we come to the crunch. Hillary Clinton (along with her husband) is being universally depicted as a loathsome racist and negative campaigner, not so much because of anything she has said or done, but because the overwhelmingly pro-Obama media - consciously or unconsciously - are following the agenda of Senator Barack Obama and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, to tear to pieces the first serious female US presidential candidate in history.

"What's particularly saddening," says Paul Krugman, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton and a rare dissenting voice from the left as a columnist in the New York Times, "is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the . . . way pundits and some news organisations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent." Despite widespread reporting to the contrary, Krugman believes that most of the "venom" in the campaign "is coming from supporters of Obama".

But Obama himself prepared the ground by making the first gratuitous personal attack of the campaign during the televised Congressional Black Caucus Institute debate in South Carolina on 21 January, although virtually every follower of the media coverage now assumes that it was Clinton who started the negative attacks. Following routine political sniping from her about supposedly admiring comments Obama had made about Ronald Reagan, Obama suddenly turned on Clinton and stared intimidatingly at her. "While I was working in the streets," he scolded her, ". . . you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart." Then, cleverly linking her inextricably in the public consciousness with her husband, he added: "I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."

One of his female staff then distributed a confidential memo to carefully selected journalists which alleged that a vaguely clumsy comment Hillary Clinton had made about Martin Luther King ("Dr King's dream began to be realised when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964") and a reference her husband had made in passing to Nelson Mandela ("I've been blessed in my life to know some of the greatest figures of the last hundred years . . . but if I had to pick one person whom I know would never blink, who would never turn back, who would make great decisions . . . I would pick Hillary") were deliberate racial taunts.

Another female staffer, Candice Tolliver - whose job it is to promote Obama to African Americans - then weighed in publicly, claiming that "a cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements" and saying: "Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?" That was game, set and match: the Clintons were racists, an impression sealed when Bill Clinton later compared Obama's victory in South Carolina to those of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 (even though Jackson himself, an Obama supporter, subsequently declared Clinton's remarks to be entirely inoffensive).

The pincer movement, in fact, could have come straight from a textbook on how to wreck a woman's presi dential election campaign: smear her whole persona first, and then link her with her angry, red-faced husband. The public Obama, characteristically, pronounced himself "unhappy" with the vilification carried out so methodically by his staff, but it worked like magic: Hillary Clinton's approval ratings among African Americans plummeted from above 80 per cent to barely 7 per cent in a matter of days, and have hovered there since.

I suspect that, as a result, she will never be able entirely to shake off the "racist" tag. "African-American super-delegates [who are supporting Clinton] are being targeted, harassed and threatened," says one of them, Representative Emanuel Cleaver. "This is the politics of the 1950s." Obama and Axelrod have achieved their objectives: to belittle Hillary Clinton and to manoeuvre the ever-pliant media into depicting every political criticism she makes against Obama as racist in intent.

The danger is that, in their headlong rush to stop the first major female candidate (aka "Hildebeast" and "Hitlery") from becoming president, the punditocracy may have landed the Democrats with perhaps the least qualified presidential nominee ever. But that creeping realisation has probably come too late, and many of the Democratic super-delegates now fear there would be widespread outrage and increased racial tension if they thwart the first biracial presidential hopeful in US history.

But will Obama live up to the hype? That, I fear, may not happen: he is a deeply flawed candidate. Rampant sexism may have triumphed only to make way for racism to rear its gruesome head in America yet again. By election day on 4 November, I suspect, the US media and their would-be-macho commentators may have a lot of soul-searching to do.

Lesson for Obama: Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed

From NYT Op-Ed on May 22, 2008 by Nathan Thrall abd James Wilkins: "IN his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy expressed in two eloquent sentences, often invoked by Barack Obama, a policy that turned out to be one of his presidency’s — indeed one of the cold war’s — most consequential: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy’s special assistant, called those sentences “the distinctive note” of the inaugural.

They have also been a distinctive note in Senator Obama’s campaign, and were made even more prominent last week when President Bush, in a speech to Israel’s Parliament, disparaged a willingness to negotiate with America’s adversaries as appeasement. Senator Obama defended his position by again enlisting Kennedy’s legacy: “If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with John F. Kennedy, because that’s what he did with Khrushchev.”

But Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings — his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” — he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting “old, moribund, reactionary regimes” and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood “against other peoples following its suit.” Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was “very unwise” for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.

Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.

Kennedy’s assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the “roughest thing in my life.” Kennedy went on: “He just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

If Barack Obama wants to follow in Kennedy’s footsteps, he should heed the lesson that Kennedy learned in his first year in office: sometimes there is good reason to fear to negotiate."

Nathan Thrall is a journalist. Jesse James Wilkins is a doctoral candidate in political science at Columbia

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Democrats Who Reject Obama

From on May 22, 2008 by Gene Lyons: "If Hillary Clinton had no other reason to keep running for the Democratic presidential nomination, it would be to demonstrate that Tim Russert, Keith Olbermann, Maureen Dowd, David Broder and the Beltway media gasbags don’t decide American elections.

Last week, Sen. Barack Obama, the supposedly inevitable Democratic nominee, lost the West Virginia primary by 41 points. Democrats haven’t taken the presidency without winning the Mountain State since 1916. To use a geographically appropriate metaphor, if there has ever been a canary in coal mine primary, that was it. Naturally, the media consensus saw a meaningless result in a race they’d already called for Obama. Evidently, bitter West Virginia rednecks don’t watch cable-TV.

In 2000, the same pundit chorus urged Al Gore to quit in Florida for the sake of the country (and the Republican party). Everybody knows how that worked out. Today, Gore’s a Nobel laureate. George W. Bush, like Obama a uniter, not a divider, became the most unpopular, ineffective president in U.S. history. Ever heard any media princelings explain how they went so comprehensively wrong? Me neither.

If nominated, Obama can’t possibly defeat Sen. John McCain without bringing Clinton voters to him. Recently, however, I’ve been hearing from many passionate Democrats who say they can’t and won’t vote for him in November. So I asked a few to explain why.

Mine is no scientific survey. Ranging from 26 to 86, my correspondents live in seven states, north, south and midwest. They don’t know each other personally. None participates in politics except on a local, volunteer basis. I chose them because they’re unusually articulate.

Most think Obama a sure loser in the McGovern, Dukakis tradition. They believe he’s totally unqualified. “I‘ve voted for every Democrat from President to dog-catcher since 1952. That will end with Obama,” insists H., in Maine. “He won’t get 150 electoral votes, more than he deserves. The Democratic party’s been teetering on the edge of extinction. Obama’s arrogance will kill it…

“Just four years out of the state senate. If he were white or female, his candidacy would be a joke. Imagine if he’d opted to run for vice-president with Hillary. McCain would lose, Democrats would come close to 60 Senate seats and pick up 35 in the House. The Democratic left’s need to swoon after eight years of a moron, coupled with unbridled Clinton-hatred, will produce a disaster for the party and country.”

It’s the Obama campaign’s cynical use of race beginning in South Carolina that’s the deal-breaker for others. “He is making his way to Denver by dividing our party over race, which is maybe the most idiotic campaign tactic ever,” writes C. in Kansas. “This time the witch hunt is coming from our side. It’s heartbreaking. Obama supporters want you to think Bill and Hillary Clinton are lifelong members of the KKK. The audacity of hope campaign has had to audacity to go there…This fall, they’ll try to make nice and talk unity, but the people they alienated in the most hateful way won’t be there. They deserve to lose for being so callous and childish.”

J. in Florida agrees. “Obama and his supporters’ use of the ‘race card’ against the Clintons (with the help of the in-the-tank media) is sickening. Now we have vile, racist, crazed-for-power Hillary. Obama means to avoid the ‘divisiveness’ of the Clinton years by blaming it on them. That’s a despicable lie, and he knows it. The only way of avoiding divisiveness is to cave to the Republican agenda, which I believe he’s more than eager to do.”

“He and his supporters,“ J adds, “have systematically sacrificed the central constituency of the Democratic Party–the poor and working class–on the altar of constituencies who look to politics for reaffirmation of their identity: college students and childish Sixties neolibs. (The African-American constituency makes sense, so no gripes there.)”

By abandoning the principle of universality in health insurance, most think Obama has guaranteed that meaningful reform cannot be achieved. Z in Georgia adds that Obama’s vagueness on economic issues foretells disaster. “He has no perceptible position on the economy other than: ‘We can do better. Yes we can. Say it with me.’ I foresee broken campaign promises followed by belt-tightening austerity measures in a one-term Presidency. In short, Jimmy Carter in a better-tailored sweater.”

“I view the Obama candidacy as a narcissistic endeavor by a mediocre politician dividing Democrats along social vs. economic progressive lines,” J insists. “He’s forcing a choice between winning in 2008 and possibly saving Roe vs. Wade and promoting gay marriage versus abandoning the poor and working class.”

“I’ve decided I won’t help Obama and his personality cult transform the Democratic party into an organization that represents only the interests of rich social liberals.”

What do I think? I suspect most will grudgingly return by November, but that non-African-American working class voters won’t."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ABC News on Obama's Flip-Flop: Obama's Evolving Take on Meeting With Iran

May 20, 2008 —
"Barack Obama's original answer seemed crystal clear: last July, asked whether he would meet with the "leaders" of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea "without precondition," during his first year as president, he quickly answered yes.

"I would," Obama, D-Ill., said at the CNN/YouTube debate. "And the reason is this: that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous."

Obama has not renounced his commitment to meet directly with the leaders of rogue nations, including Iran. But in recent weeks, his top aides and advisers have sought to add caveats to his promise, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has made Obama's debate answer a central campaign issue.

Obama Camp Offers Nuanced Approach
The Obama campaign is now offering a more nuanced approach that would not necessarily include a presidential meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and that stresses diplomatic work that would take place before any such meetings take place.

Asked about Obama's original statement Tuesday morning on CNN, former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a top Obama adviser and supporter, said top-level meetings would not be immediate -- and would not happen without preliminary extensive diplomatic work.

"I would not say that we would meet unconditionally," said Daschle. "Of course, there are conditions that we [would] involve in preparation in getting ready for the diplomacy. ... 'Without precondition' simply means we wouldn't put obstacles in the way of discussing the differences between us. That's really what they're saying, what Barack is saying."

Susan Rice, a top Obama foreign policy adviser, said Monday that Obama's meetings with Iranian leaders might not include Ahmadinejad.

"He said he'd meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders. He hasn't named who that leader will be," Rice said on CNN. "It would be the appropriate Iranian leadership at the appropriate time -- not necessarily Ahmadinejad."

Candidate Defends Position
Obama told ABC News' Jake Tapper in an interview Tuesday that he sees no contradiction in the statements, explaining that he has always said that lower-level diplomatic contacts would lay the groundwork for a presidential meeting.

"I have to say I completely disagree that people have been walking back from anything," Obama said. "They may be correcting the characterizations or distortions of John McCain or others of what I said. What I said was I would meet with our adversaries, including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions, but that does not mean without preparation."

On CNN, Tuesday, Obama echoed Rice, saying he may not meet with Ahmadinejad.

"I think this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what's important," he said. "I would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders if we had done sufficient preparations for that meeting.

"Whether Ahmadinejad is the right person to meet with right now, we don't even know how much power he is going to have a year from now," he added. "He is not the most powerful person in Iran. And my expectation, obviously, would be to meet with those people who can actually make decisions in terms of actually having them stand down on nuclear weapons or stopping funding [of] Hamas or Hezbollah or meddling in the affairs of Iraq."

Iran's highest-ranking political leader isn't the president -- it's the supreme leader, who is selected by the country's religious leadership.

Obama began making clear that he would engage in "preparations" before a meeting starting shortly after the July debate, after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted his answer as displaying naiveté about the diplomatic process.

Still, as recently as September, he reiterated his promise to meet with Ahmadinejad himself. Asked about that commitment in the midst of a firestorm over Columbia University's decision to invite the Iranian president to speak, Obama indicated that he stood by it.

"Nothing's changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries," Obama said. "I find many of President Ahmadinejad's statements odious and I've said that repeatedly. And I think that we have to recognize that there are a lot of rogue nations in the world that don't have American interests at heart. But what I also believe is that, as John F. Kennedy said, we should never negotiate out of fear but we should never fear to negotiate."

Last week, in South Dakota, Obama sought to explain what he meant at last July's debate when he agreed to meetings "without preconditions."

"Preconditions, as it applies to a country like Iran, for example, was a term of art because this administration has been very clear that it will not have direct negotiations with Iran until Iran has met preconditions that are, essentially, what Iran views and many other observers would view as the subject of the negotiations," Obama told reporters.

"The point is that I would not refuse to meet until they agree to every position that we want, but that doesn't mean that we would not have preparation," he continued. "The preparation would involve starting with low level, lower-level diplomatic contacts, having our diplomatic core work through with Iranian counterparts -- an agenda. But what I have said is that, at some point, I would be willing to meet."

McCain's Sharp Critique
McCain has focused intensely on Obama's answer at the debate last summer, while ignoring his subsequent attempts to clarify his position.

"Sen. Obama wants to sit down with [Ahmadinejad] unconditionally, face to face," McCain told reporters in Miami, Tuesday. "It enhances Ahmadinejad. What are they going to talk about, the destruction of Israel?"

While Obama has said he has been consistent throughout the past year, even some Democrats detect an evolving position.

"This is a fellow who, I think, shorthanded an answer that, in fact, was the wrong answer, in my view, saying, 'I would, within the first year' -- it implied he'd personally sit down with anybody who wanted to sit down with him," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., a former presidential candidate, who is now neutral in the race, said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

"That's not what he meant," Biden continued. "That's not what he has said, since then, for the last year, or thereabouts. And so, I think, that he's fully capable of understanding what's going on."

ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Bret Hovell contributed to this report."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama's vulnerable on natioanl security

From Chicago Sun-Times on May 20, 2008 by Steve Huntly: "Barack Obama says the United States should not negotiate with Hamas "unless they recognize Israel, renounce violence and are willing to abide by previous accords" that Israel reached with neighboring Arab states and the Palestinians.

Which of those objections does not apply to Iran? The Democratic presidential candidate has said he's willing to meet, "without precondition," with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The difference between Iran and Hamas, Obama says, is that Iran is a country and Hamas is a terrorist organization. It's also true that the State Department describes Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism," a provider of "extensive funding, training and weapons" to Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups, and an opponent of the Middle East peace process with "a high profile role in encouraging anti-Israel terrorist activity -- rhetorically, operationally and financially."

Obama further muddied the waters last week when he told David Brooks of the New York Times that Hamas and Hezbollah need to understand "they're going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims."

What would be the "legitimate claims" of Hamas, an organization founded for the purpose of the destruction of Israel? What are the "legitimate claims" of Hezbollah, also dedicated to the death of Israel, as well as serving as the agent of Iran and Syria in trying to kill democracy in Lebanon?

Obama has asserted unequivocal backing for Israel. But his "legitimate claims" remark gives you pause, making you wonder a bit about his worldview. Would the "legitimate claims" of Hamas be on the table in "no precondition" talks with Iran? National security has been a weakness for Democratic presidential candidates and doubly so for Obama because of his inexperience. Only four years ago he was an Illinois legislator.

That vulnerability explains the touchy reaction from Obama and his supporters to President Bush's speech in Israel likening negotiations with "terrorists and radicals" to the 1930s appeasement of the Nazis. Obama's defenders immediately jumped to argue that the problem with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wasn't that he talked with Hitler, but what he did in those meetings.

The problem is a little more complicated than that. Chamberlain entered those talks without the simple precondition that the integrity of Czechoslovakia was not negotiable. Besides leading to the sellout of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain's flying to Munich to talk to Hitler undermined the fragile German opposition to Hitler. Military leaders, convinced his intention to go to war over the Sudeten issue would lead to defeat, plotted to overthrow Hitler.

William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is scathing in condemning the generals for failing to depose Hitler, but he wrote, "If, as the conspirators claim, their plans were on the point of being carried out, the announcement of Chamberlain's trip to Munich certainly cut the ground from underneath their feet." He added "such a golden opportunity never again presented itself to the German opposition to dispose of Hitler."

Presidential meetings carry consequences, for good and ill. Leaders are subject to misjudgment and miscalculation. Soviet boss Nikita Khrushchev saw John Kennedy as weak after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and left a 1961 summit over Berlin with his belief about the young president confirmed. According to the New York Times, "Kennedy naively thought he could make a breakthrough with face-to-face talks." Two months later, the Berlin Wall went up. The next year, Khrushchev moved to put missiles in Cuba. He was wrong about Kennedy, but it took the Cuban missile crisis to convince him. This is not an argument against summits, only a cautionary tale of how they can go wrong.

The issue here is not whether America should at some diplomatic level engage rogue nations like Iran. The issue is whether a president should hold talks without preconditions with the world's worst despots."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No Democrat Has Won Presidency Without Winning West Virginia Since 1916

From Financial Times on May 13, 2008: "No Democrat has been elected to the White House without carrying West Virginia since 1916, yet Mr Obama appears to have little chance of winning there in November. Recent opinion polls indicate that Mrs Clinton would narrowly beat Mr McCain in the state but Mr Obama would lose by nearly 20 percentage points."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Shouldn't Obama Win West Virginia?

From Jake Tapper's Political Punch on May 14, 2008: "1.8 million Americans live in West Virginia, 665,234 of them are registered Democrats. It's bordered by two states Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois won -- Virginia and Maryland, and two states Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, won -- Pennsylvania and Ohio. (Its fifth border state, Kentucky, holds its primary on May 20.)

The Mountain State ranks 50th in median household income, $31,008; 50th in persons in the state 25 years or older with a bachelor's degree or more, 15.3%; and 48th in per capita income, $23,995.

The state is 96% white and 3.5% African-American.

The idea of Democrats winning in West Virginia is perfectly sane. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans two to one -- approximately 60% to 30%.

The state has two Democratic senators -- Bob Byrd and Jay Rockefeller -- and a Democratic governor, Joe Manchin. Two out of its three members of Congress are Democrats. The state went for Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Sure, with few African-Americans or college-educated Democrats, this does not seem like an "Obama" state the way these primaries have been playing out.

But Obama needs to be able to convince voters like these that he cares about them, shares their values, and will change their lives.

John F. Kennedy shocked the political world in 1960 by winning here, proving that a Catholic could win in a Protestant, heavily evangelical state. Why is it so crazy that Obama could win in West Virginia? Or at least not lose it 2-to-1?

If these Democrats vote for Clinton, the presumptive loser, overwhelmingly -- as is predicted -- that indicates a real problem for Obama. I know the delegate math is close to dispositive for Clinton, but tomorrow's butt-stomping seems to me like it should merit some serious hand-wringing among Democrats."

Obama's Inability to Hire Good Help Rears Its Head … Again

From Jake Tapper's Political Punch on May 14, 2008: "We started covering Sen. Barack Obama's inability to hire good staffers in June 2007, when he blamed staffers for some opposition research trying to link Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, to outsourcing in India; for injecting some venom in the David Geffen/Hillary Clinton fight; and for missing an event with firefighters in New Hampshire.

In December, we noted again that Obama was blaming the answers on a 1996 questionnaire on a staffer; and was blaming his touring with "cured" ex-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin (which antagonized gays and lesbians) on bad vetting by his staff.

Those five buck-passing incidents were apparently not enough.

Yesterday, in an interesting New York Times look at Obama's rise in Chicago politics, we learned that in 2004 some Jewish supporters became alarmed to learn that in a questionnaire Obama refrained from denouncing Yasir Arafat, or from expressing strong support for Israel's security fence.

Reports the Times: "In an e-mail message, Mr. Obama blamed a staff member for the oversight, and expressed the hope that 'none of this has raised any questions on your part regarding my fundamental commitment to Israel’s security.'"

In January, during MSNBC's presidential debate in Las Vegas, Obama was asked about a document put together by one of his South Carolina staffers that listed comments made by the Clinton campaign that some perceived to be attempting to stoke racial fires. "In hindsight, do you regret pushing this story?” asked Tim Russert.

"Our supporters, our staff get overzealous," Obama said. "They start saying things that I would not say, and it is my responsibility to make sure that we're setting a clear tone in our campaign.”

In February in a meeting with the Chicago Tribune, Obama was asked about an earmark that went to the University of Chicago while his wife Michelle Obama worked there.

"I don’t think that I was obligated to recuse myself from anything related to the university," Obama said, adding, "when it comes to earmarks because of those concerns, it’s probably something that should have been passed on to [U.S. Sen.] Dick Durbin, and I think probably something that slipped through the cracks. It did not come through us, through me or Michelle, and Michelle has been very careful about staying separate and apart from any government work. But you could make a good argument that this is something that slipped through our cracks, through our screening system.”

In a March 2008 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times to answer questions about Tony Rezko, Obama was asked about the fact that Obama had told the newspaper in November 2006 that he had never been asked to do anything to advance Rezko's business interests. But the Sun-Times had subsequently learned about a October 28, 1998 letter Obama wrote to city and state housing officials on behalf of a housing project for seniors that Rezko was working on.

The letter, Obama said, "was essentially a form letter of the sort that I did all time. And that I wasn’t, by the way, aware of.”

A reporter asked: You weren't aware that he was associated with the project?

Responded Obama: "I wasn't even aware that we wrote the letter. The answer that I gave at the time was accurate as far as I knew...This was one of many form letters, or letters of recommendation we would send out constantly for all sorts of projects. And my understanding is that our letter was just one of many. And I wasn’t a decision maker in any of this process.”

The Sun-Times also pointed out that in November 2006 Obama estimated that Rezko had raised somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 for him during his political career.

But since that answer, Obama has given back almost $160,000 in Rezko-related contributions.

"The original estimate was based on, I asked my staff to find what monies they attributed to Rezko, and this was the figure given to me," Obama said.

So, for those keeping track at home, that's ten instances of Obama publicly blaming his staff for various screw-ups.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!

(You of course could also add Austan Goolsbee, Samantha Power, Gordon Fischer, and retired Gen. Tony McPeak.)

That would be 14. We will continue to keep track.

And for the record, yet again, let me state that I find Sen. Obama's staff unfailingly competent and polite, courteous and efficient, and I once again express my regret that Sen. Obama does apparently not feel the same way."

Obama's Closest Advisor (who you have never heard of)

From on May 14, 2008: "In one of the small, rural towns where Barack Obama was campaigning this year, he asked an aide for a slice of pecan pie to go with his usual dinner of salmon, broccoli and brown rice. But there was none on the menu, and the aide was loath to disappoint him.

Valerie Jarrett had no such qualms. Mr. Obama's even-keeled senior adviser and longtime friend told the aide to forget the pie. Then, she says, she told the senator from Illinois "to be careful what he asks for."
With Mr. Obama close to wrapping up the Democratic nomination, Ms. Jarrett, one of his oldest confidantes and someone widely tipped for a high-profile position in an Obama administration, is an adviser he can count on for unvarnished opinions.

"She is one of our best friends, somebody who is practically a sister" to him and his wife, Michelle, Mr. Obama said in a recent interview. "I don't make any major decisions without asking her about them first."

When she isn't traveling with him, Ms. Jarrett speaks to Mr. Obama two or three times a day, the candidate said. She is also an essential member of the coterie of advisers who have helped the couple navigate countless decisions, from whether he should run for president to how he should handle Hillary Clinton's resurgence after the Pennsylvania primary.

Unlike Burt Lance, who arrived from Georgia with President Carter and became his budget director, or Karen Hughes, who was President Bush's communications manager, Ms. Jarrett isn't a confidante with a particular portfolio. What she does share with these counterparts is a fierce sense of loyalty and a refusal to publicly say anything that may reflect poorly on the candidate -- or steal his thunder.

After Mr. Obama's national star began rising following his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were jockeying for position within the party. John Rogers, head of Chicago-based Ariel Investments LLC and co-chairman of Mr. Obama's Illinois finance operation, says he and Ms. Jarrett acted as intermediaries between the two men. Ms. Jarrett refused to acknowledge that tension ever existed.

When Mr. Obama's campaign went negative in Pennsylvania against Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Jarrett would say only that he was setting the record straight.

Among her more crucial pieces of advice to the campaign, said strategist David Axelrod, was to aggressively reach out to the African-American media after spending months focusing on the nearly all-white voters in Iowa. Ms. Jarrett said that outreach "was Barack's idea."

Ms. Jarrett, 51 years old, was born to an accomplished family in Chicago. Her father is a pathologist and was the first African-American to receive tenure at the University of Chicago's department of biological sciences. Her mother is a child psychologist and a former president of the Erickson Institute, a graduate school and research center. Ms. Jarrett grew up in the wealthy and integrated Hyde Park neighborhood when Chicago was among the most racially polarized cities in the country.

Throughout her career, Ms. Jarrett has straddled the divide between races, classes and the public and private sectors. As a court-appointed overseer to the desegregation of public housing in Chicago, she negotiated between the city, residents of down-and-out housing projects such as Cabrini-Green, and real-estate developers who were replacing the projects with mixed-income communities.

As the chairman of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, she juggled the concerns of hard-driving traders and New York bankers who bought a sizable stake in the sliding exchange.

And most recently, as a board member of the committee to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago, she has forged cooperation between corporate leaders and the African-American community on the South Side, where most of the sporting and residential venues could be built.

Even though she has been deeply involved in Chicago housing for more than two decades, she has never been dragged into the numerous criminal investigations that have swirled in that world, including most recently the trial of one of Mr. Obama's earliest political patrons, Antoin Rezko.

On the campaign trail in North Carolina last week, Ms. Jarrett wore tailored Calvin Klein suits, diamond earrings and a sapphire on her finger the size of a Chicklet. She is typically introduced "as one of the most powerful women in Chicago," but when she speaks to young campaign volunteers she sounds like a concerned mother.

Over four stops before lunch in and around Raleigh, she encouraged volunteers to get out the vote and thanked them for trying. Twice she wiped tears from her eyes as she listened to the stories supporters told her about what Mr. Obama's candidacy means to them.

In 1991, Ms. Jarrett was a Michigan Law School-trained lawyer and head of Chicago's sprawling 250-person planning and development department. She wanted to hire a young Harvard Law School graduate from the South Side who was working in a private Chicago law practice.

But the prospect, Michelle Robinson, said she first wanted her potential boss to meet her fiancé, a savvy young lawyer named Barack Obama. The trio met at a restaurant for dinner. Ms. Jarrett -- older than both by a few years and much more established -- was grilled for two hours about Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration and who would be looking out for Michelle.

At the end of the conversation, she asked Mr. Obama "if she had passed the test." He smiled and said she had.

Mrs. Obama worked for Ms. Jarrett for two years, and the trio became fast friends. When Mr. Obama's book "Dreams From My Father" was published in 1995, Ms. Jarrett hosted a party for him.

That same year, Ms. Jarrett left the public sector and went to work for Habitat Co., one of the largest real-estate developers in Chicago. She is now the president and CEO and sits on a number of civic and corporate boards, including the committee to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016.

Those connections came in handy when Ms. Jarrett served as chairman of his finance committee during Mr. Obama's 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate. They also helped pave the way for Mrs. Obama's job at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Ms. Jarrett was on the board of directors.

And if Mr. Obama wins, will she go to Washington? "I'm not thinking about that now," she said. "We're just taking care of what's in front of us."