Why Obama Makes Them Uncomfortable


John McCain, trying to fake a smile.


Obama met with John McCain earlier this week: a magnanimous gesture that turned into an awkward event. If you look at any of the photos or videos from the event you’ll know what I mean: McCain was squirming throughout, like he was about to be recaptured by the Vietnamese.


When I saw the pictures of the meeting, I thought, there’s something going on here. It’s not just partisanship or McCain being a sore loser. Other politicians are similarly made awkward around Obama. I’ve seen that McCain squirm on Joe Lieberman’s face as well.  As Stephen Colbert has noted, whenever Bill Clinton forces himself to say the name “Barack Obama” he looks like he’s passing a kidney stone.

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Nixon’s Ghost


Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States.

In today’s National Post, I look at how Richard Nixon’s politics of cultural resentment continue to influence the Republican party. The essay also doubles as a review of Rick Perlstein’s excellent book Nixonland.

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More friends

Prof. Rashid Khalidi in 2003 (photo credit: AP)

For further must-read responses to the slandering of Rashid Khalidi, read Barnett Rubin here and here, and Scott Horton here. Writes Horton:

Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi’s formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush’s: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so.

Barnett Rubin, who knows Khalidi, is also one of the most intelligent expert commentators on Iran, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, and his site Informed Comment is well worth adding to your daily rounds. Horton’s pretty damn smart too, but reading his blog always makes me feel under-educated, so go there only if you have a less sensitive ego than mine.

McCain’s New Low

You can say this about the McCain campaign, whenever you think they’ve hit rock bottom they still manage to surprise you by going even lower. Last week there was the email warning that a President Obama could lead to a second Holocaust. Now there is the curious attack on Obama’s friendship with the respected Arab-American historian Rashid Khalidi, likened by John McCain to a “neo-Nazi.”

We should be clear about this: since the death of Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi has been the pre-eminent Arab-American intellectual. He is a small-d democrat. If the United States is serious in its goal of spreading democracy and peace in the Middle East (a big if), then it needs to work with respected figures like Khalidi. And indeed in an earlier life, John McCain was well aware of this fact, since he steered money to a research institute founded by Khalidi.

By smearing Khalidi as a “neo-Nazi” McCain is basically saying, “if you are an Arab, no matter how accomplished or decent you may be, you can never be a good American.”


Spencer Ackerman makes exactly the right point on this issue: to libel a scholar like Khalidi as a big scary terrorist Arab monster is nothing less than racism.

McCain’s Historical Revisionism

Brezhnev: Too scary to meet?


In the US presidential debate the issue came up: Should the president of the United States be willing to talk to foreign dictators like Iran’s Ahmadinejad?

Arguing against such direct diplomacy, John McCain said:

The point is that throughout history, whether it be Ronald Reagan,
who wouldn’t sit down with Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko until
Gorbachev was ready with glasnost and perestroika.

Or whether it be Nixon’s trip to China, which was preceded by Henry
Kissinger, many times before he went. Look, I’ll sit down with
anybody, but there’s got to be pre-conditions.

What McCain said about Reagan and the Russians is not true at all. As a matter of fact Reagan was not just willing to meet with Brezhnev and company, he actually tried to arrange these meetings, but the Soviets kept putting off these requests (largely because their elderly ruling circle kept dying). And furthermore, Reagan met with Gorbachev before the policy of glasnost and perestroika were introduced.

McCain Wins Debate!

Whatever else you can say about John McCain and Sarah Palin, you have to admire their chutzpah. Indeed there entire campaign has been an extended display of sheer nerve, a willingness to say and do things that would shame normal people.


Via Washington Post, McCain’s campaign is already running ads (on the website of the Wall Street Journal) saying MCCAIN WINS DEBATE! Another ad quotes McCain’s campaign manager as saying: “McCain won the debate– hands down.” Pretty prescient since the debate, which McCain tried to postpone, hasn’t taken place yet. (See here and  here; and thanks to Laura Rozen for pointing this story out).


Speaking of chutzpah, Palin has argued that those who want to talk to Iran (i.e., former Secretary of States like Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Warren Christopher, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger ) are “naive.” Ah, yes, that naive Kissinger. If only he had the wiliness Palin, the Bismark of Alaska.

John McCain and True Patriotism



The Sans Everything bullpen follows no party line, often arguing amongst ourselves on the issues of the day. One topic that has been the source of much debate is the merit of the New Republic. My esteemed colleague A.M. Lamey greatly admires the New Republic as a bastion of tough-minded liberalism, always willing to challenge the pieties of the left in the name of intellectual rigour.


I, on the other hand, think that the magazine is beholden to its own peculiar set of pieties, much more noxious than anything found in conventional left-liberal thought. Since at least 1974, the dominant tone of the New Republic has been that of Ivy League debating club glibness, where arguments are valued for their surface cleverness rather than intrinsic merit. This atmosphere of boy’s club conceitedness has often been augmented by a host of unappealing attitudes: a jingoistic willingness to celebrate all of America’s war (combined with a tendency to attack as unpatriotic all those who are less willing to kill foreigners), an unqualified defense of Israel’s foreign policy often shading into anti-Arab racism, a prissy disdain for the cultural and political interests of working class Americans, a general scorn for Black and Latino culture, topped off with a complacent belief that a magazine can be pro-feminist simply by publishing a few pro-choice editorials without making any greater effort to bring in female voices. The typical New Republic writer  is a meritocratic know-it-all who thinks everyone different from him in class, cultural or gender is just an affirmative action scapegrace. (For a comprehensive critique of the magazine see Eric Alterman’s fine piece.)


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McCain: Reading is Hard


The United States, as you might have heard, is facing a very serious economic crisis. So serious that John McCain has said he’s suspending his campaign. So serious that McCain is trying to postpone a scheduled debate with Senator Obama.


A crucial part of the bitter debate over the solution to the economic crisis is a proposal that U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has put forward. The proposal is not too long: about 3 pages. It’s been published in the New York Times and elsewhere. With a little bit of google searching you can easily find a copy.


Here’s the kicker: recently John McCain admitted that he hasn’t had a chance yet to read the 3 page proposal. But perhaps McCain was referring to some of the other proposals out there, like the one made by Senator Dodd. But those are also very brief and easy to find. It often seems as if McCain is not so much running for president as performing an extended national comedy routine.

John McCain: the video

The Yes We Can music video, beautifully turning Barak Obama’s words into a tune, was widely loved. Equally good in its own way is this sequel, featuring John McCain musicalized.

Trust me: it’s very much worth a look.