Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 3, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA'S WORDS....Two press conferences, three headlines:

The story is the same in all three cases: Obama held a press conference in the morning saying, as usual, that he planned to bring our troops home from Iraq in 16 months, but leaving himself a bit of wiggle room based on issues of troop safety and political stability. This "fueled speculation" that he was changing his position, so he held a second press conference in which he said:

Let me be as clear as I can be. I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war — responsibly, deliberately, but decisively. And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one to two brigades a month, and again, that pace translates into having our combat troops out in 16 months' time.

So who got the headline right?

On another note, it turns out that the "speculation" about Obama's position was "fueled" by none other than the John McCain campaign. All's fair in love and politics, so whatever. But check out exactly what the McCain campaign said:

"Today, Barack Obama reversed [his] position, proving once again that his words do not matter," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said in a statement.

"Once again his words do not matter." Have the McCain people used this exact formulation before? I ask because it seems very shrewd. After all, Obama's most famous trait is the power and quality of his rhetoric. His words. To criticize him in exactly this way — "his words do not matter" — is to launch an attack directly at his strongest point.

That's very Rovian, isn't it? And Rove disciple Steve Schmidt took over the McCain campaign just yesterday. Apparently he works fast.

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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Comments

If a Rovian says his words do not matter then they do matter else they wouldnt need to say it.

Posted by: Jet on July 3, 2008 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, would McCain's military service be considered his strongest point?

Posted by: Psyberian on July 3, 2008 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's more like the McCain team is trying to deflect attention from McCain's numerous flip flops, reversals, and backtracking. As between the two candidates, it is McCain's words that do not matter.

Posted by: McCord on July 3, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

McCain who? Now that three Americans who were held for years as POW's in Columbia have just been released, their qualifications for the Presidency clearly outweigh those of McCain.

Posted by: FS on July 3, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

rovian/orwellian, same-same.

Posted by: billy on July 3, 2008 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

Well, when you are a mass murderer who cheats on his first AND his second wife, like McCain, you need to find something, anything, to distract the public's attention....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 3, 2008 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

Attacking him as a smooth-talker: is there a potential racial subtext in there - are American blacks known for smooth, but dishonest, rhetoric? An Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, Johnnie Cochran-type?

OTOH, Bill Clinton was known for being a smooth-talker - the used car salesman label - so maybe there's no racial component. And Kerry was attacked the same way - as a flip-flopper.

Is a good strategy by Republicans.

Posted by: flubber on July 3, 2008 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Karl Rove is a traitor to my country. He conspired, with others, to expose the identity of a covert CIA agent.

Why is John McCain associating with him? Does John McCain approve of treason against the United States or is John McCain, himself, a traitor?

Birds of a feather...

Posted by: gyxno on July 3, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

nice Kevin - you write a blog about whether or not Obama is bactracking on his stated Iraq policy while ignoring the fact that he's been backtracking on it for about six months now - coincidentaly, ever since he realised he might actualy win the nomination. The way you people are falling over yourselves to defend this guy is embarrassing. And then you bring up the Rove stuff - even though every left wing blog for the last few weeks re his reversals on campaign financing and NAFTA and FISA and faith based initiatives etc has been saying how this showsd how cunning and ruthless and cold blooded Obama is - in short, how Rovian he is - and then you bring up Rove re McCain as if to insult McCain! You people are pathetic.

Posted by: overman on July 3, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

So treason is ok with you, 'overman'?

Posted by: gyxno on July 3, 2008 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

It's not new Kevin. It's a play on the "just words" speech as well as all of the documented flip flops from FISA to Free Trade.

It's playing on the backlash to the Obama Messiah meme that you helped spread (iirc, you just recently admitted you had no idea what his positions are?)

Posted by: jerry on July 3, 2008 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

What I want to know is, where are Inkblot and Domino?

It's the first I've checked in today -- did I miss something?

Posted by: pol on July 3, 2008 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

As Rove would say, Overman, nice try.

I didnt mention Obama I only mentioned [tongue in cheek] the Rovian tactic of attacking others with their weakness [McCains numerous reversals] and this is what McCain [and his advisers] is doing. Ergo McCain is saying this guys [Obama] words dont matter trying to cover his buku reversals, that DO matter.

As for your pathetic opine, its pathetically lame.

Posted by: Jet on July 3, 2008 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

It's the first I've checked in today -- did I miss something?
Posted by: pol

Its not Friday yet?! =)

Posted by: Jet on July 3, 2008 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

The only good thing here is that HRC also ran a pretty aggressive Rove-style campaign - in the sense that every day was a hail of b.s. charges and transparent sophistries which served no purpose other than to win the news cycle, keep the press asking questions of Obama and blur his perceived strengths.

The press is more sympathetic to McCain than it ever was to Hillary, however, so that will make things harder.

Obama will have to do a lot of repeating of his "this is just silly season" answer.


Posted by: lampwick on July 3, 2008 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, I think this is very insightful analysis. Good call, Kevin.

Posted by: DanM on July 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

Have the McCain people used this exact formulation before? I ask because it seems very shrewd. After all, Obama's most famous trait is the power and quality of his rhetoric. His words. To criticize him in exactly this way — "his words do not matter" — is to launch an attack directly at his strongest point.

That's very Rovian, isn't it? And Rove disciple Steve Schmidt took over the McCain campaign just yesterday. Apparently he works fast.

Given a choice between the idea that the McCain camp became genius overnight, or that the press remains just as stupidly manipulable as it ever was, I'm going with the latter.

Posted by: junebug on July 4, 2008 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin - great point; to be attacked where you think you're strongest....very Rovian (seriously!)

Posted by: aidan on July 4, 2008 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

"So who got the headline right?"

LA Times. Is there something I'm missing?

And boy is the MSM letting the McSame campaign off free on "exaggeration" (read lying) about what Obama and his "surrogates" (Wesley Clark) say.

Time for BO to break out "There they go again" rinse and repeat.

Posted by: Cal Gal on July 4, 2008 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "This "fueled speculation" that he was changing his position, so he held a second press conference in which he said:"

Kevin later: "On another note, it turns out that the "speculation" about Obama's position was "fueled" by none other than the John McCain campaign."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the quoted statement from the McCain campaign came after the second Obama press conference, which came about because the first news conference "fueled speculation" that he was changing his position.

Posted by: majarosh on July 4, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK


The McChurian Candidate.

Posted by: Raymond Shaw on July 4, 2008 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

The use of graphical analysis and cats in blog posts is a crutch indicative of bizarre obsessive compulsive tendencies and a complete lack of perspective and personal initiative.

Posted by: Rove on July 4, 2008 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

Well you know, it all goes back to the FISA Bill flip-flop and we all know for sure that Obama flipped on that issue, not that I think Drum really cares about telecom immunity too much.

If Repugs can lure Dem candidates to this so-called "middle" no-mans land, as if the FISA Bill was middle - but it wasn't - none of Bushies criminal crap was "middle". And you know that Obama is, as Hillary did warn him - inexperienced - Those Repugs, the eat you alive when young Dems screw-up.

The Repug Sharks always hang out in center with smiling jaws for Dems that wade out into the dead end called CENTER, this is where Dems always get eaten. Obama was young AND he is stupid and he wasn't about to listen to anyone, mostly not his own damn supporters, oh well - there is always 2012 - I wonder if the Dems will go "center", but God I sure hope not.

Bye Obama - we hardly knew ya pal.

Posted by: Me-again on July 4, 2008 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

Obama never changed his policy on Iraq. Some of his staunchest supporters just never bothered to listen to him when he said he'd listen to commanders on the ground. Those of us attracted to Obama's pragmatism, on the other hand, always supported this flexibility. It would be Bush-like to ignore reality.

McCain is just flailing around for a message. Attacking Obama as a smooth talker is right out of Clinton's playbook and it failed her too.

The reason McCain's people are jumping on this is that they wanted to pounce on Obama as a far-left liberal ideologue. But when Obama appeared to lurch to the center, McCain felt the bottom fall out. Strangely enough, even Charles Krauthammer marvels out how successful this will be for Obama.

Posted by: Elrod on July 4, 2008 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

Two points:

First, this whole "speculation" kerfuffle was orchestrated by press releases from the McCain campaign. The press, especially the Washington Post, acted as good little stenographers, reporting the press releases without giving attribution or the least amount of skepticism just like members of the McCain base were expected to act.

Second, Obama reacted by saying that his strategy remained as it has since the beginning, to withdraw from Iraq as wisely as we foolishly rushed in. Of course he will consult the generals on tactics. I don't remember him saying anything else.

Instead of doing any fact checking the stenographers at the Post and elsewhere believed and ran with the McCain press release instead of doing anything that looked like journalism--checking out Obama's past position.

Watch out America this is going to be a bumpy ride. The mainstream journalists have abandoned all semblance of objectivity or professionalism, but have become full fledged functionaries of the McCain campaign.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 4, 2008 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

This entire discussion of McCain's handling of this reminds me to go catfishing this 4th of July. Luckily I can walk out my back door about 200 yards and be there.

The catfish remind me of McCain: I catch them and put them on the cutting board where they flop around aimlessly before they get filleted!

Posted by: tommy harper on July 4, 2008 at 6:28 AM | PERMALINK

This is de rigueur for Hon. Sen. McCain. He uses "hie words don't matter" as a response to Hon. Sen. Obama's "words matter;" he tries to use the words "cling" and "bitter" as much as possible, in any context, to recall to mind Senator Obama's unfortunate quote; there are probably dozens if such examples.

Posted by: jhm on July 4, 2008 at 6:47 AM | PERMALINK

This matters not a whit - John McCain is going to get annihilated in November.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 4, 2008 at 7:06 AM | PERMALINK

Teh Republicans used the "flip-flopper" label to great effect against John Kerry. Like generals, political strategists are always fighting the last war.

There is a tsunami headed for Republicans and they continue to babble like it's 2004. Like 2006, this year will be a good learning experience for the so-called Grand Old Party. I am looking forward to Krauthammer's column the day after the election.

Posted by: Pug on July 4, 2008 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Hilary Clinton (and Bill, too!) said the same thing about Obama. Repeatedly.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on July 4, 2008 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen has compiled a list of four dozen stances on which McCain has completely reversed himself in the past year, simply for craven political purposes.

And yet his lapdogs in the press gullibly accept his claim that it's Obama who's flip-flopping? Sweet Jesus.

Posted by: TR on July 4, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Orwell,

Click here to see what a filthy lying flip-flopper your beloved John McCain is.

TCD

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 4, 2008 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

The "flip" idea may have been "fueled by the McCain Campaign" but it was easily picked up and promoted by our clueless (time for a VACATION) media. It continues to amaze me that folks still think we are "in a WAR"...do they still mean the WAR ON TERROR (neverending/unwinnable)????? The "war" in Iraq was over in weeks and the rest of this time has been about trying to put the egg back into the shell...WE ARE NOT AT WAR...but everyone has adopted the language and keeps the myth going...when Barama says he "will end this war" I'm wondering just what he means...

Posted by: Dancer on July 4, 2008 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Orwell Nothing is sacred.

Including, apparently the nom de plume of one of the great truth-tellers of our time.
You'd better stay under your rock, you dishonest toad. I'm cutting the lawn today.

Posted by: thersites on July 4, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Kitty pic with flags please. I need my kitty pic fix.

Posted by: Me_again on July 4, 2008 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

By November, you won't be able to tell the difference between Obama and McCain's positions on Iraq because Obama will have blurred all of his into indecipherability. This is smart politics on Obama's part, though many of his most hardcore supporters won't like it. The statements today are the first salvo in this process.

My respect for Obama's political savvy rises by the day. He is hitting every pitch right now.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 4, 2008 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, on july 2,2008 Talking Points Memo has a you tube with Axelrod on CNN correcting John Hart about this subject. check it out.

Posted by: rich on July 4, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

McCain's murders do not matter (to W. Bush Americans).

Posted by: Brojo on July 4, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

McCain's murders do not matter (to W. Bush Americans).

Posted by: Brojo on July 4, 2008 at 11:15 AM


Nice.

Posted by: majarosh on July 4, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

McCain has changed his position so many times on so many things that this is an approach that can backfire very easily.

Posted by: Sempringham on July 4, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

The average voter doesn't give a shit about Iraq unfortunately. They assume it's "over" and we'll eventually draw down troops.

McCain cannot lure Obama supporters by attacking his Iraq position, because they know he'll be far worse. He can't lure independents, because they don't care one way or another.

This may be Rovian, but it's a weak attack.

More telling will be whether Obama learns from these attacks. In my opinion, his best response was NO response. No press conference, no nothing. The best stratey against McCain is to simply ignore the attacks for now. None of them have risen to the level of swiftboating yet.

On the other hand, this "attack" will be completely forgotten by November, so maybe Obama's mistake in responding is not that big a deal.

Unless something dramatically changes for the worse in Iraq between now and the election, it will not be THE issue this November. The best thing that could happen to Obama is for the security situation in Iraq to improve even more. Then his withdrawal policy looks even better.

It's hard to sell "things can't get any worse, so we might as well cut our losses."

OTOH, "we don't need to be putting our troops at risk and spending shitloads of money on a country that should be taking care of itself when there may be other fish to fry" will sell very easily.

Posted by: lobbygow on July 4, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

The extent to which the media is in the tank for John McCain is appalling.

Posted by: zeppo on July 4, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

John McCain said he wouldn't run a negative campaign. I suppose now we know, his word sure can't be trusted.

Posted by: Neil B on July 4, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

[Anonymous trolling deleted]

Posted by: on July 4, 2008 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

The proper counter from Obama is to minimize McCain's "experience."

"Senator McCain hasn't learned from his experience" or

"Experience hasn't helped Senator McCain understand much about X."

Posted by: P on July 4, 2008 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one to two brigades a month, and again, that pace translates into having our combat troops out in 16 months' time.

Combat troops only?

And when did Obama first publicly announce that the withdrawal would depend on continued progress? How many voters in the primaries thought that he was committed to bringing ALL troops home no matter what the "information"?

Will he leave troops in Iraq long enough to achieve the "information" he wants, even if it takes 100 years?

actually, Obama never promised to bring the troops home no matter what. His written position has always been indistinguishable from McCain's position: American troops will remain in Iraq as long as the "information" is that they are needed; and American troops will remain in Iraq even after combat is over.

Kevin Drum used to debate himself whether American troops should be withdrawn on schedule or only as goals were achieved. Obama's written position has always been based on achievement of goals, he just spoke as though the timeline was fixed (almost as in the quote.) Voters who thought that Obama had promised a quick withdrawal on a fixed schedule were either mistaken or "duped".

The question is, when Pres. Obama meets with the military leaders, will he non-verbally press for rapid withdrawal, or will he non-verbally press for achievement of remaining goals?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on July 4, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward: By November, you won't be able to tell the difference between Obama and McCain's positions on Iraq because Obama will have blurred all of his into indecipherability. This is smart politics on Obama's part, though many of his most hardcore supporters won't like it. The statements today are the first salvo in this process.
...
My respect for Obama's political savvy rises by the day. He is hitting every pitch right now.

I don't disagree, but there are two other points to remember: (1) you are basically calling him the "same kind of politician", whereas his campaign is dependent on the perception that he is new and fresh; you basically agree with Jeremiah Wright that Obama will say anything to get elected. (2) Although McCain has very similar problems (many flip-flops), McCain has an actual senatorial record of brokering compromises ("gang of 14" etc.), whereas Obama's record of extreme left-wing voting (until recently) hasn't lead to much of a record of productivity.

Obama is a smart, ambitious, hard-working and really good guy. But he has dealt a serious blow to the people who were fainting over his rhetoric and feeling chills on their legs and spines and what-not. If they had known last spring that he'd be another triangulator, they'd have voted for Hillary or stayed home. This is a good time to reflect on how he lost all those big-state primaries to Sen. Clinton. What you call "hitting every pitch" may appear to the Clinton voters to substantiate their distrust of him. They never fell for his schtick in the first place, so to speak.

Posted by: on July 4, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

oops, the 6:36 post is from me.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on July 4, 2008 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Well, who is the 3:43 PM post from? (It sounds like 5th column stuff - is it?)

Posted by: !!! on July 4, 2008 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Here we have a couple of Republican apologists telling a left-leaning board how Obama is moving towards McCain. This is, of course, stupid. McCain wants to blur the difference between "get out as soon as possible" and "stay for a hundred years" because the public likes the Obama stance and not the McCain stance. The only chance McCain has is to get people to think that there is no difference between him and Obama.

Matthew and Yancey are doing yeoman's work on spreading McCain's lie, but it simply doesn't bear up under scrutiny.

Matthew, Yancey, where are the weapons of mass destruction? What's that? There were none? Oops, I guess it's not important now that we've destroyed Iraq.

Typical Republican idiots.

Posted by: the on July 4, 2008 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Call Pelosi @1-202-225-0100 DEMAND IMPEACHMENT

Posted by: Mike Meyer on July 5, 2008 at 7:04 AM | PERMALINK

Matthew,

Yes, I think it demonstrable that Obama is "like every other politician", including McCain. I am completely unconvinced that enough Clinton supporters will vote for McCain for him to win, even if it becomes clear that Obama really isn't the new shiny model of politician his hardcore supporters seem to fervently believe.

The commenter at 11:32,

Believe what you will, but politicians take positions that net them votes. Being adamantly for quick withdrawl from Iraq will win Obama no votes that he can't win with a more obscure position, and the obscure position gives McCain no chance to distinguish his position from that of Obama. Had the surge been a complete failure, then Obama could have taken the harder position, but the surge has had success. Think of it as Obama taking out an insurance policy for election day in November. He is giving McCain no breathing room when it serves no purpose to do so.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 5, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I'm a cynic about how politics work and the stupidity of the American people, but I'm willing to cut Obama a little slack in nuancing (flip-flopping?) his positions in order to move into the center to win votes. Whatever Obama's faults, he's clearly a better option than McCain/Bush. So whatever he needs to do to win, is fine by me. I don't understand why some democrats feel the need to accept the flip-flopping frame and therefore undercut their own candidate at the risk of losing this thing.

Posted by: kis on July 5, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Obama has not done/ said anything an 'intelligent' political persona would not. His comments reflects what he understands -- the Iraqi situation is unpredictable, consequently, adjustments will be made appropriately. From 16 months to 2 years, given what is happening on the ground. He not saying another 100 years.

Barak just keep pushing, the 'intelligent' among us will not be swayed... at least not by this!
http://manchestersquare.blogspot.com

Posted by: Travis on July 5, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Anybody who continues to put forward the line that his public position with regard to Iraq has not changed is being just as careless with the truth as Obama has been.

He is a not a "new" politician. He is an old one who is able to sidestep his flip-flops quite artfully. It does not bother me so much that almost all of the commenters on this site support him, after all you share his liberal beliefs. Just please jettison your self-righteous belief that Obama is a new kind of politician. As far as I can see, he is just a slick speaker, without any new ideas at all.

Posted by: John Hansen on July 5, 2008 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

[anonymous trolling deleted.]
.

Posted by: on July 6, 2008 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

[anonymous trolling deleted.]

Posted by: on July 6, 2008 at 2:41 AM | PERMALINK

hansen: mmm bop

Posted by: mr. irony on July 6, 2008 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is a slick politician. His opponent is a militant, who appeals to nationalists with murderous policies.

Posted by: Brojo on July 7, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

And he would have voted against the war if he had been in a position to do so. That makes him the anti-war candidate in his mind.

Posted by: leslie on July 8, 2008 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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