Posted on August 15, 2008 in Washington Watch
Both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees for the Presidency, have taken strong stands on the crisis in Georgia – with an interesting difference.
While both candidates condemn Russia’s intervention and support Georgia’s sovereignty, McCain’s position has been compared by one writer as being “in line with the moral clarity and American exceptionalism projected by President George W. Bush’s first term” – i.e., hard-line neo-conservative and confrontational. Obama, on the other hand, has taken a position more in line with that taken by the current occupant of the White House (the “kinder and gentler” George W, Bush) with his newfound appreciation for diplomacy.
The McCain camp has termed the Obama position “naïve” and “appeasement,” the Obama camp responds by calling McCain “inflexible” and “provocative.” One can’t help but wonder if this isn’t what it would have been like had Bush’s first term run against his second term?
In my testimony before the Democratic National Committee, I expressed the belief that the platform ought to be more than a political statement. Now that it’s out, it appears that was wishful thinking. Michael Kinsley, writing in the New York Times (August 10, 2008), observed:
“The purpose of a party platform is pandering, but it is pandering of a particular sort. The Democratic Party’s platform committee has produced its 2008 edition…. Like all platforms, it is not an outreach document. It is aimed at the faithful, under the assumption that only they will read it.
“The platform is the Democrats’ assurance that the party loves them, their reward for supporting a candidate who may not have been their first choice and their consolation for betrayals yet to come. Much of it is written in code, lest it fall into the wrong hands.
“Translating the document is no simple task.”
Kinsley’s cautionary note should be kept in mind when reading the Democrats’ 2008 platform: it is not policy, it is politics. It is only by keeping this thought in mind that one can understand the strangely worded section on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which reads, in part:
“All understand that it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
What this appears to be saying is that there are final status issues that must be negotiated, but here’s how the negotiations will end. Comparing this platform with the 2000 and 2004 efforts, could it be that the repetition of the term “final status negotiations” might be decoded to represent an advance and a tilt in a more balanced direction? Let the decoding begin, but remember, like other parts of the platform: it may not mean much, remembering Kinsley’s “betrayals yet to come.”
A report last week by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) may have an impact on U.S. Iraq policy. The GAO, which monitors U.S. spending among its other duties, noted that Iraq has spent less than 10% of its budget on reconstruction between 2005 and 2007, and even much of the money it has allocated for reconstruction has not been spent because security conditions made such reconstruction impossible. Still, according to the GAO, Iraq is expected to have a budget surplus of $38-$50 billion just in 2008.
This has infuriated some U.S. lawmakers. With the U.S. having allocated (and spent) $42 billion for Iraqi reconstruction, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee said, “It is inexcusable for U.S. taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for projects the Iraqis are fully capable of funding themselves. We should not be paying for Iraqi projects, while Iraqi oil revenues continue to pile up in the bank including outrageous profits from $4 a gallon gas prices in the U.S.”
It is certainly true that the damage from the U.S. air war runs in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and that Iraq must hold tens of billions of dollars in reserve under an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. But with voters crying out for help with gas prices, taking a “strong stand” on Iraqi reconstruction money will, sadly, play well.
In an act of legislative electioneering, the state of Florida went too far. A provision passed by the State legislature made it a serious crime to arrange travel to any country on the U.S. list of “State Sponsors of terrorism.” This was primarily a gift to anti-Castro Cuban community in the state (though it may have affected travel to other countries on the list, as well). In their haste, Florida lawmakers and its governor forgot that the U.S. Constitution makes regulation of foreign travel the responsibility of Washington, not state governments. A federal judge has put a hold on the law, pending the actual hearing, and the law is certain to be struck down. The lawmakers must be hoping the targeted voters believe that it’s the thought that counts.

And speaking of going too far, the Libertarian candidate for Governor in Kentucky was quoted in an interview last month, saying, “If I had my way, I would stop Arabs coming into this country. And I would take all, uh, non-citizens of the United States, finger printing them, and having a complete background check before they set foot in this country.” When the interviewer asked if this also applied to Lebanese Christians and other Arabs who aren’t Muslims, the candidate said, “What did I just say? All people. I said no Arabs into this country. Look, it wasn’t a blonde, blue-eyed, fair skin person who flew those plains into the twin towers on 9/11.”
These comments, among others, (i.e., referring to Arabs as “dung shovelers” and “camel jockeys”) earned him outrage and rebuke. And the Libertarian Party of Kentucky – by unanimous vote – dumped him as their candidate – Amen.
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