Earlier this week, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews sparked controversy when he claimed that “the reason” Hillary Clinton is “a U.S. Senator, the reason she’s a candidate for President, the reason she may be a front-runner, is her husband messed around.” Defending the comment to the Associated Press yesterday, Matthews said he “thought it was an unexceptional statement” because he says he was only referring the circumstances when she was “asked to run for the Senate from New York.” Matthews original statement, however, didn’t refer to how she was drafted to run. Instead, he claimed “she didn’t win it on the merits.”
The New York Times Book Review asked me to review Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility some time ago, and now the review is finally out in today’s times.
It was not easy to be against that war back when we cast that vote in October of 2002. I was one of 23 who voted against the war. Barack was supportive – one of the few candidates speaking out strongly against it in Illinois. If President Clinton had opposed that war as strongly as Barack Obama at the time, it would have helped a lot of us who had voted against authorizing an invasion.
Every time I criticize a war supporter’s past support for the war, someone comes along and chimes in with “well didn’t you support the war?” And, of course, I did — it was a big mistake. Be that as it may, there’s an objective difference between the status of an important political leader and that of a college senior. In other words, I supported the war in part because Bill Clinton and people like him were supporting the war. As Durbin is indicating here, had anti-war Senators like himself, Carl Levin, Nancy Pelosi and Russ Feingold had more backing from high-profile national leaders they might have had more success.
But Bill and Hillary Clinton were for the war. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt were for the war. Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke were for the war. I remember sitting around the dorm feeling smarter and better-informed than my anti-war friends and smugly noting all this: Sure, you may not trust Bush but look at all these good Democrats, I would say. Needless to say, in retrospect that looks like a very foolish argument to have been making. It was naive to trust those people. But a lot of people did trust them. Every blog commenter and emailer on the internet now claims to have been 100 percent prescient about the war, but if you look back at the polling you’ll see that lots of Democrats, like me, followed the party’s leadership in giving Bush the benefit of the doubt and wound up burned by it.
I think it’s valid to say that other considerations might outweigh this one, but I have to say that it really rankles that the Clintons seem unwilling to even acknowledge what happened — that there was a debate and they took one side of it, and other politicians took the other side — and take responsibility for it.
It seems that for a long time, the Nevada teachers union didn’t have a problem with a plan to set up caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip. But then the union that represents casino workers endorsed Barack Obama. The teachers are for Hillary Clinton. So now the teachers are suing to make it harder for casino workers to vote.
After the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was released, Israel publicly challenged the U.S. intelligence consensus that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program. “In our opinion,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, Iran “has apparently continued that program.”
Just days after the NIE was released, Bush quickly announced he would make the first visit to Israel of his presidency to mend differences over Iran.
In private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week, Newsweek reports that President Bush disowned the U.S. intelligence community’s judgments:
But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. “He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE's] conclusions don’t reflect his own views” about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity.
Bush had reportedly briefed Olmert about the Iran NIE days before it was publicly released in late November. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh said, “The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.”
But after his private meetings with Bush this week, Olmert — asked whether he felt reassured — replied, “I am very happy.”
UPDATE: Speaking in the United Arab Emirates, Bush said the United States and Arab allies must join together to confront the danger of Iran “before it’s too late.”
Ed Kilgore makes a good point about the decline of Unity ’08 into a draft Bloomberg “movement”:
These developments are depressingly predictable and familiar. History is replete with examples of extra-partisan, extra-ideological “populist” movements that take a turn towards the authoritarian desire for a Big Man who can squash the petty, squabbling parliamentarians and govern in the “true” national interest. Mr. Smith often yields to Mr. Bonaparte.
Right. It’s worth saying that I think there’s some real merit to this kind of thinking when it comes to local government issues. There’s a reason why the prospect of a Rudy Giuliani administration is terrifying, but he was a fine mayor. Similarly, the brand of quasi-apolitical technocracy that Michael Bloomberg brought to the mayor’s office made him an excellent mayor with most of Giuliani’s virtues and few of his demerits, but it’s silly as a program for national office. The issues change when you go national, elements of authoritarianism get more scary, the “petty, quabbling” parliamentarians become people of a lot more substance and in general the unit of governance becomes so large that the idea of a transcendent “national interest” becomes more than a little meaningless.
On top of that, something about the global warming issue seems to for whatever reason spawn a disproportionate quantity of weird, vaguely authoritarian anti-political talk — suggestions that not only is this a serious problem which we must tackle, but that’s it’s somehow beyond bargaining or the ordinary cut-and-thrust of elections and interest groups.
Here is the plug-in hybrid I test drove a few weeks ago, the Extreme Hybrid by AFS Trinity:
I will be running a long article Wednesday on the climate implications of plug-ins in general and this car in particular. But you can read all about the car at this exclusive New York Times piece published today and the AFS Trinity website, which has a YouTube video of me driving the car and discussing why it matters:
[Note -- this video was having some problems a while ago. If it doesn't work, you can find all the Extreme Hybrid videos, including the CBS and CNN stories, here]
Senator Claire McCaskill endorses Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton still obviously has the overall endorsements leader, as the establishment candidate is bound to, but the recent high-profile endorsements have all tilted Obama’s way. I have to say that I don’t totally understand why that is. You would have thought this would have come after Iowa as people try to jump on the apparently victorious bandwagon. It’s true that Obama’s odds look better than they did in, say, November but I think you’d have to say that Clinton is the favorite to win so Obama’s endorses are taking risks and politicians aren’t normally big risk takers.
UPDATE: See also Josh Marshall.
I try to admit I’m wrong when I’m wrong, but I don’t like to eat crow any more than the next guy. So when I saw a New York Times headline “Iraq Eases Curb on Ex-Officials of Baath Party” I thought, “uh oh, one of those ‘good for the world, bad for Yglesias’ turns of events.” Unless, of course, like most good news out of Iraq it evaporates upon examination:
While the measure would reinstate many former Baathists, some political leaders said it would also force thousands of other former party members out of current government jobs and into retirement — especially in the security forces, where American military officials have worked hard to increase the role of Sunnis. One member of Iraq’s current de-Baathification committee said the law could even push 7,000 active Interior Ministry employees into retirement. [...]
One Shiite politician, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, said the new law could forcibly retire up to 27,000 former Baathists, who would receive pensions.
Other officials said the legislation could allow from 13,000 to 31,000 former Baathists back into the government.
Basically, it’s totally unclear how this is going to work in practice and different Iraqi political leaders are making wildly different claims according to their own priorities. Under the circumstances, things could work out for the best, but little has really been achieved here. More to the point, the conflict over what the law says indicates that there isn’t any underlying consensus about what ought to be happening, which tends to cast the prospects for reconciliation into doubt.
Meanwhile, though I know the right-wing tends to take every effort to make a realistic assessment of conditions in Iraq as nothing more than ideological axe-grinding, nothing could make me happier than real progress toward political reconciliation in Iraq. Unlike the ephemeral “success” of the surge, reconciliation really would create the conditions under which US forces could withdraw on an uncontroversial note of success and things would be hunky-dory from most all points of view.
In an interview with the New Yorker, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said that waterboarding “would be torture” if used against him, but still declined to say whether the technique should be legally classified as torture:
“If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture,” McConnell told the magazine. [...]
McConnell said the legal test for torture should be “pretty simple”: “Is it excruciatingly painful to the point of forcing someone to say something because of the pain?”
McConnell warned that if waterboarding is “ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it.”