Friday, April 18, 2008

Attention all readers!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this special announcement:

This blog is being moved to a new platform, with a new address. Or, to put it more colloquially, this blog will soon have a new look. The changeover process officially begins on Monday.

My overseers at Philly.com are supervising the redesign. The work in progress – right now, a construction site – can be accessed today via the new address, http://go.philly.com/polman. I’m quite fond of the Americana iconography; now I won’t need to wear a flag pin.

Another big change is immediately obvious: the presence of advertisements. I have no problem with doing my bit for commerce. We all have to eat and pay the bills; if the new media are indeed the journalism vehicles of the future, they will naturally require sufficient revenue. Please be patient until your eyes adapt to the new aesthetic.

My online archives – the last 26 months of work – will remain stored on the old blog, forever accessible at this old address, www.dickpolman.blogspot.com, unless Google goes out of business. All new archives, starting with April 21, 2008, will be stored on the new blog.

Another big change: Readers wishing to post comments will be required to register on the new site. It’s free, naturally, and only needs to be done once. If you click on “post a comment,” the policy is further explained. The purpose is obvious: to raise the quality of the conversation, by making everyone more accountable for what they write. I assume that this policy will reduce the comment traffic for awhile; inevitably, some of you will bridle at the requirements. But I’m confident that, long term, many regular habitu├ęs of the old clamorous neighborhood will pick up and move to the new clamorous neighborhood.

I intend to ease into the changeover. Beginning Monday, and for the next several weeks, I plan to post simultaneously in both locales. The changeover will be completed – with this old site used strictly as an archive repository – on Friday, May 2, assuming that I suffer no cognitive glitches. Most importantly, I sincerely appreciate your continued patronage.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama shaken, rattled, and rolled

Just how bad was Barack Obama's debate performance last night? Not as bad as Britney Spears' song-and-dance routine at the MTV Awards. Not as bad as Bill Buckner's legendary error during the '86 World Series. Not as bad as Bob Dylan's music during his God phase. Not as bad as John Travolta's Scientology cinema experiment in Battlefield Earth. Not as bad as Mike Dukakis' fateful ride in a military tank.

In other words, Obama could have done worse. Neverthless, if he still harbors any hopes of driving Hillary Clinton from the Democratic race by scoring an upset victory in Pennsylvania, he might be wise to get real. It's hard to imagine that he won over the working-class, culturally-conservative Democrats who constitute the swing vote; if anything, his performance during the first 45 minutes of the debate may well have cemented their suspicions.

Obama's devotees will no doubt complain today that the ABC News inquisitors were grossly unfair, that they focused their fire on Obama while leaving Hillary Clinton relatively unscathed, and that they asked too many dirtball questions at Obama's expense. (George Stephanopoulos to Obama: "Do you think Rev. Wright loves America as much as you do?") Whatever. Whining about the media is the last resort of losers. The bottom line is that Obama didn't successfully adapt to the environment. For instance:

1. He muffed his latest explanation of his recent remarks on small-town America. He said last night: "The point I was making (last week at a private San Francisco fundraiser) was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change, and it doesn't, then politically they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion. They end up feeling 'This is a place where I can find some refuge. This is something that I can count on.'" (italics mine)

I doubt that churchgoing small-towners will be satisified with that. They worship for affirmative spiritual reasons - "in good times and in bad times," as Clinton quickly pointed out last night. They don't think "politically" about the importance of worship. And, most importantly, they don't merely "end up" worshipping.

Obama defenders might dismiss all this as quibbles over wording. But, as Obama himself frequently points out, "words matter." And his latest words on the matter aren't likely to charm the voters whom he needs to break through in Pennsylvania.

Nor did he ever try to turn the tables, and offer a policy critique of the '90s, when the Bill Clinton administration fought for free-trade deals that hastened exoduc of jobs in those same communities. At one point in the debate, Hillary gave him an enormous opening when she lauded her husband's record ("an economy that lifted everybody up at the same time"). He failed to take it. Hillary gave him another opening when she lauded the importance of "good union jobs where people get a good wage." It's a matter of record that unions lost clout during the Clinton era, in part because her husband, even when he had a Democratic Congress, didn't push hard for legislation that would have curbed union-busting. But Obama didn't point this out, either.

2. He was only semi-coherent while discussing his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. When asked to explain why in 2007 he had disinvited Wright to his announcement of candidacy, he said: "This was (because of) a set of remarks that had been quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine and we looked at them and I thought that they would be a distraction since he had just put them forward...They were not of the sort that we saw that offended so many Americans. And that's why I specifically said that these comments were objectionable; they're not comments that I believe in."

Huh? I thought this guy was supposed to have a golden tounge. He sounded rattled, fatigued, or both.

Clinton then took the opportunity to remind those culturally-conservative Pennsylvanians that Wright had delivered a sermon, right after 9/11, essentially blaming America for the terrorist attacks. Whereupon Obama felt compelled to say: "Absolutely, many of these remarks were objectionable. I've already said that I didn't hear them, because I wasn't in church that day. I didn't learn about those statements until much later." And regarding why he disinvited Wright to his announcement of candidacy, "that was on, that was on something entirely different...That, that was on a different statement."

Oh.

Imagine you were a Pennsylvania swing voter, wary of Obama or simply undecided, and you were watching this debate, and you were trying to unpack these responses. You may well have asked yourself: "He only thinks that Wright's 9/11 sermon was 'objectionable'? He kept Wright away from his candidate announcement not because of his 9/11 statements, but because of some other statements? Are we supposed to assume those other statements were worse? But wait, I did hear him say that he didn't learn about Wright's 9/11 statements 'until much later'...but when was that? And, hey, ya think it's plausible that a sharp guy like Obama wouldn't have known about Wright's 9/11 sermon pretty quickly? Without, like, six or seven years going by?"

3. He even failed to slam-dunk the easiest hot-button question of the evening. It came, via videotape, from a lady in Latrobe: "I want to know if you believe in the American flag. I am not questioning your patriotism, but all our servicemen, policemen and EMS wear the flag. I want to know why you don't." (ABC co-host Charlie Gibson added, "It's all over the Internet," as if that somehow validated the question.)

His response: "I have never said that I don't wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins. This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I'm commander in chief..."

Instead of answering straightforwardly, Obama lied.

Contrast his statement last night with what he said on Oct. 3, 2007, when a TV reporter in Iowa asked why he wasn't wearing a flag pin: "You know, the truth is that, right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that (pin) became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism, which is (about) speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and, hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

Apparently, he decided last night that a truthful response would not be a sufficient pander; either that or he was too rattled to remember what he had once said. The bottom line, however, is that he had a golden opportunity to demonstrate the idiocy of this phony issue. He could have simply said this:

John McCain doesn't even wear a flag pin. In fact, when eight Republican candidates debated last autumn, seven of them did not wear flag pins.

4. He fumbled his responses to the newest scandale du jour, his Chicago associations with William Ayres, an English professor and neighbor who had been a bomber for the Weather Underground during the late '60s, and who remains unrepentant, telling The New York Times - on 9/11, no less - that "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."

Stephanopoulous broached this topic, which guarantees that the Ayres saga will be moving through the mainstream media bloodstream at least for the next few days. It had largely been simmering at the margins of the race. But now, on the eve of the Pennsylvania vote, it's potentially toxic for Obama, because many small-towners of a certain age don't have particularly fond memories of the days of rage.

Obama's initial impulse was to try to finesse the subject, then change it: "(Ayers) is not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis....The fact is, is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions. Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those either."

Yeah...but was Obama well served by equating a U.S. senator with a guy who may have been connected to as many as 25 domestic bombings (the number claimed by the Weather Underground)? Obama's vague answer - that Ayres "is not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis" - gave Clinton an opening, and she drove a Hummer through it.

She said: "Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position. And if I'm not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York, and I would hope to every American, because they were published on 9/11 and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more."

Again, imagine you were an undecided, culturally-conservative swing voter, and you were hungry for information about this new guy Obama, and now you were hearing about Ayers for the first time. And Obama gave a vague answer, whereupon he was immediately trumped by Clinton's revelation that Obama and Ayers served on a board together. The result? It looked as if Obama had been trying to minimize the association by hiding something...thereby making a relatively minor story look worse than it is.

By contrast, Clinton was crisp in her responses. Her full mea culpa on the Bosnia sniper lie - "I'm very sorry that I said it. And I have said that, you know, it just didn't jibe with what I had written about and knew to be the truth" - left little opportunity for follow up. And she was crisp and detailed when the debate finally moved to the policy front, particularly when the ABC inquisitors asked whether she would dare defy (may we all bow our heads in reverence at the mere mention of his name) General David Petraeus. Yes, she said, even if the surge is going well next January, she'd still require an incremental pullout plan: "You know, thankfully we have a system in our country of civilian control of the military."

Obama also had some good moments late in the debate, on substance. During an exchange about the future solvency of Social Security, for instance, he suggested the possibility of raising the payroll tax, Clinton knocked him for that and suggested instead that somebody should appoint a bipartisan commission to study the matter...and Obama quickly pointed out that, when a bipartisan commission last met, back in 1983, it wound up raising the payroll tax, and that the sky didn't fall.

But the viewing audience is biggest during the first 45 minutes, and it's questionable whether a sufficient number of Obama skeptics stuck around to hear him recoup on policy. So I score the night for Clinton...with John McCain smiling in the wings.


This piece has been cross-posted here, for easy emailing to friend or foe.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Actions speak louder than words

Focusing on his real audience - the unpledged Democratic superdelegates, and the independent voters who will ultimately swing the November election - here's what Barack Obama needs to say tonight during the debate in Philadelphia (assuming he hasn't sufficiently damaged himself already):

"...I'm glad that Senator Clinton has again brought up my remarks about small-town America, because I do have a few things to say about that. Obviously, as I have repeatedly admitted, I regret my choice of words and intended no disrespect. Yet while we continue to fight over words, we risk ignoring the real problem: that actions speak louder than words. And it is the actions of several recent administrations - or perhaps I should say inactions - that have put small-town hard-working Americans so deep in the hole.

"I'm speaking not just of President Bush, of whom we naturally expected so little, but also of my opponent's husband, of whom we expected so much.

"Senator Clinton has called my words 'elitist.' But where was she during the '90s, when she was supposedly gaining White House experience, when Bill Clinton took a series of actions that benefited the elite at the expense of the small-town worker? It is a matter of record that NAFTA, which President Clinton fought for and signed in 1993, without sufficient protections for domestic workers, has severely hastened the exodus of jobs from so many of these towns, and worsened the living conditions of the very people that Senator Clinton professes to speak for today.

"In 2000, her husband also successfully pushed for giving permanent trade privileges to China, again without adequate safeguards for adversely affected American workers. Her husband also said, 'the evidence is clear that not just in the long run but in the near run, we'll have more job gains than job losses' out of these trade deals. Well, tell that to the small-town workers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in America. In fact, one of the Democratic congressmen here in Pennsylvania, Tim Holden, said a few years back that 'Pennsylvania has been the most adversely affected state in the union as a result of these trade agreements that we entered into.' Those were elitist actions, and actions speak louder than words.

"You know, it was Henry Ford who once said, 'I gotta pay my workers enough so there is somebody to buy the cars they are making.' But now we have a situation where companies are firing their own customers. They're shipping the jobs overseas, then goods get made overseas, then the goods are shipped back here to be sold - but the problem is, laid-off Pennsylvanians can't afford to buy them. That's all the result of elitist actions, and actions speak louder than words.

"By the way, organized labor leaders noticed all this happening back when Senator Clinton was partnering with her husband. Way back in 1995, one top Democratic labor strategist said in the newspapers that 'there's a lingering feeling among many in the rank and file that you can't quite put all your trust in this guy.' Another said, 'They screwed us on NAFTA, what have they done for us?' I'd invite Senator Clinton, who today champions the economic underdog, to tell us why she never uttered a word of protest during her in-house training for the presidency.

"Yes, actions speak louder than words - and so do statistics. The Census Bureau reported in 2000 that the income gap between rich and poor actually widened during the Clinton years, and that every household income category below $80,000 lost ground during the Clinton years. The median wage, adjusted for inflation, was actually lower than what it had been in 1989, when the first George Bush took office. And, in fact, during the final year of the Clinton era, the average CEO compensation at Fortune 500 companies was $37.5 million, while the average worker salary of all companies was $38,000.

"So let's take a break from all this back-and-forth about bad wordplay, and give this issue the context it deserves. I would expect John McCain to make the 'elitist' charge, because it's a great way to divert attention from his new economic plan - which offers fiscally irresponsible tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, including CEOs, at the expense of the small-town Americans whom he professes to revere, and which offers huge new tax cuts to the same corporate sector that is outsourcing these jobs I'm talking about. But I expected better from Senator Clinton. The least she can do, right now, is to explain the elitist economic actions of the Clinton era - explain and defend, or reject and denounce. Unless she truly believes that actions are less important than words.

"Senator? Go right ahead."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The brave (and brutish) new world

There once was a time when presidential candidates could utter an awkward unscripted remark, or a crude joke, or a loaded phrase, and conceivably get away with it - particularly when the press was barred at the door.

But today, thanks to the democratization of technology, there is no place to hide. There are no private moments, even at an ostensibly private event such as a fundraiser in suburban San Francisco. There is no such thing as "off the record" anymore, because anything and everything shall be recorded and ruled admissable for use in the tumultuous public square.

Which brings us to the manner in which Barack Obama was outed for riffing so inartfully about the plight of small-town America. It's a classic example of how the political/media culture has been so profoundly altered during the first decade of the new century.

Amidst the political fallout, this issue has been largely overlooked. If you watched Meet the Press on Sunday, you might easily have assumed that Obama's words were transcribed the old-fashioned way, by reporters scribbling in notebooks or hoisting their digital recorders. As Tim Russert phrased it, "Obama went to a fundraiser in San Francisco, made some comments. They became public on Friday afternoon..."

But no. Obama was outed by a new breed of watchdog, the "citizen journalist," somebody without the traditional press credentials, in this case an Obama supporter named Mayhill Fowler. Unlike the working journalists, she had a ticket to the private fundraiser in Marin County. She also had an audio recorder. She also had a relationship with Off the Bus, a subsidiary of The Huffington Post, one of those blogosphere outlets where citizens can break news of their own without filtering it through the traditional media.

Fowler doesn't fit any of the old press categories. As journalism professor Jay Rosen, an Off the Bus founder, wrote the other day, Fowler "is a particular kind of Obama loyalist...the kind with a notebook, a tape recorder, friends in the campaign, a public platform of decent size, plus the faculty of critical intelligence." And her editor, Marc Cooper, wrote that Fowler "employs a highly personalized, reflective narrative style (that) almost violates all of the conventions of traditional reporting."

The faculty of critical intelligence, indeed. At the fundraiser, she heard Obama make some remarks that struck her as problematical or worse, so she posted a piece (screened by an editor) on Friday afternoon. It was a long, discursive exercise, with much of the news buried within. Yet in less than 48 hours, the political-fallout story was on page one of The New York Times. As Cooper puts it, "citizen journalism can do many, many things still inaccessible to the MSM (mainstream media). It's also quite a bit of fun to see how a report like hers can actually set the agenda for the entire national press."

So it's a brave new world - and arguably more brutish. Anybody who crosses a candidate's path is now a potential auteur with the power to rewrite the narrative of a campaign. We will long be debating whether this technological development is a boon to our civic dialogue - perhaps reinvogorating democracy by giving average citizens an enhanced opportunity to hold politicians accountable - or whether this is just the latest treacherous form of political blood sport, as well as one more reason why many sane and qualified public servants would prefer not to seek the presidency.

It's probably all of the above. Risks aside, it's indisputable, in this particular case, that Fowler latched onto a good story. Obama's poor phrasing suggested any number of things, none of them particularly complimentary to him - a tin ear, a desire to curry favor with an affluent California audience, cluelessness about the nuances of small-town life, or simply inexperience. And it's also worth noting that his initial response, early last weekend, was defiant, as if he couldn't grasp why his remarks were troublesome. All these factors are worthy of discussion, because many Americans are still scavenging for meaningful clues to the man's character - in part because he's still so new to the national scene.

The downside, of course, is the enhanced potential for brutish behavior among those who inevitably seek to exploit the information unearthed by citizen auteurs. Case in point, yesterday, was Connecticut Senator Joe McCarthy....excuse me, I meant to say Joe Lieberman. Asked by his friends on Fox News whether Obama's recent remarks suggest that he might be a Marxist, Lieberman replied: "Well, you know, I must say that’s a good question....I’d hesitate to say he’s a Marxist, but he’s got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America."

With respect to our new YouTube culture, let's recall that one potential presidential candidate, Republican George Allen, was virtually destroyed in 2006 after an audience auteur, working for the opposition and armed with video, caught the Virginia senator uttering "macaca," a common slur word aimed at immigrants. Allen lost his Senate race in part because the state's burgeoning immigrant electorate perceived that his moment of spontaneity - as forever enshrined on YouTube - was a revealing clue to his true character, and they voted thumbs down. Barack Obama must now seek to ensure that New Media misadventure does not become a Macaca Moment.

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Two undisputed Pennsylvania political gurus, Terry Madonna and Michael Young, now believe that Obama has screwed up, big time: "Obama's words are likely to do serious damage to his campaign in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania working class voters constitute about 40 percent of the Democratic vote. Obama's claim to understand and to identify with them has been dealt a serious blow after a largely successful two-week surge in the state. The Clinton campaign is already capitalizing on the controversy. It may be enough to propel her to that big victory that seemed so unlikely only a few days ago."

On the other hand, a new survey from the Quinnipiac pollsters shows Hillary Clinton up by only six points in Pennsylvania. Another, sponsored by Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times, has her up by only five. I suspect that Obama would be relieved to lose by either margin.

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I had other thoughts about the Obama incident this morning on Philadelphia NPR, joined by David Paul Kuhn of Politico.com. The link is here.

I had yet other thoughts about the Obama incident while guesting last night on "The Charlie Rose Show," on PBS. The link is here. As well as here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama and the perils of Cling-gate

Can Bill and Hillary achieve Restoration by exploiting Cling-gate?

Perhaps the small-town burghers and downscale workers of Pennsylvania will answer that question when they vote in the primary eight days hence. But, until then, all we can do is speculate - and marvel at the notion that the outcome of this Democratic death march might actually hinge on a single ill-considered verb.

No doubt you know the verb already, but I'll highlight it anyway. Here was Barack Obama, recorded a week ago at a private fundraiser: "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them...And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

As Obama told an audience of steelworkers last night, "I am not a perfect man and the words I chose, I chose badly." He certainly did. Politically, that latter sentence is a potential train wreck. The Democrats have been trying for several decades to reconnect with the white culturally-conservative working stiffs who exited the party during the Reagan era, and it's questionable whether the reconnection process can be enhanced by implying (however inadvertently) that these voters react to hard times by "clinging" to their God and their guns.

Church-goers don't "cling" to religion out of bitterness; they tend to see religion as an affirmative pursuit, in both good times and bad. And small-town Pennsylvanians don't "cling" to guns out of bitterness; they happen to enjoy hunting, in a state where hunting has long been a tradition (at least outside of the Obama-friendly Philadelphia region). Obviously, Obama did not intend to paint these folks as dummies who worship and shoot only because they have nothing better to do - why would he want to insult people whose votes he has been seeking? - but that's how the sentence reads. And it would appear that his uphill climb in Pennsylvania has become a bit steeper, given the fact that those people are also the swing voters in this primary.

Nevertheless, it's fair to ask - in the interests of proportionality - whether a race such as this, with so much at stake at home and abroad, should hinge on some errant phrasing. The Hillary Clinton counterattack this weekend was truly something to behold; the barrage of Saturday afternoon messages in my email box (11 in six hours) prompted me to suspect that perhaps Obama had promised on Day One to convert to Islam and make it the national religion.

If you want to enjoy a belly laugh, here are three reliable suggestions: (1) rent an old Woody Allen movie, especially Bananas, (2) rent Borat, or (3) listen to Hillary Clinton, of all people, attack Barack Obama as "elitist."

This is the same woman who, during the past seven years, as evidenced by her tax returns with Bill, has become a millionaire 109 times over; whose husband has long supported the Colombian free-trade deal (which is deemed hurtful to American workers), and long defended his signing of NAFTA (also hurtful); whose husband earned $800,000 in speech fees from Colombian interests; who, during her Senate career, voted in favor of confiscating guns during a national emergency (one of only 16 senators to do so; Obama voted against confiscation); and who, during the Democratic debates, has refused to shed any light on why the Clintons are safeguarding the identities of the global heavy hitters who are bankrolling the Clinton Presidential Library...and whether any quid pro quos are involved. Not to mention any deals that may have been struck with the felons whom Bill pardoned in his final days as president (the Clintons are blocking release of those records as well).

The Republicans are also trying to paint Obama as "elitist," but that's the standard GOP template (twice used successfully by George W. Bush - a graduate of Phillips Academy Andover, Yale University, and Harvard Business School, son of a former president and grandson of a former U.S. senator). It's particularly amusing to hear that "elitist" label being thrown around by John McCain, given the fact that McCain is married to a multimillionaire heiress; that McCain wants to extend the Bush tax cuts that help the rich at the expense of the working class; and that he has spent weeks tweaking his mortgage assistance proposal, which originally offered homeowners the same quality of aid that Herbert Hoover extended to Great Depression victims nearly 80 years ago. (Another thigh-slapper: William Kristol - descendent of a Manhattan intellectual family, and son of a New York University professor - used his New York Times column today to argue that Cling-gate is proof of Obama's attitudinal ties to...Karl Marx.)

But I digress. Hillary was more fun to watch this weekend, as she went into blue-collar overdrive - waxing nostalgic about how as a youngster she was taught to shoot a gun; walking into a bar and downing a drink in one gulp; telling a faith forum last night how she always feels "the enveloping support and love of God"....by tomorrow, I half expect to see her marching in the Lehigh Valley, clad in a bowling shirt, with a 12-gauge in one hand and the New Testament in the other, with John Mellencamp's "Small Town" blasting on a loudspeaker.

But that's politics. If she can successfully brand as "elitist" a guy who was raised by a single mother far from the comfortable suburban trappings that she enjoyed as a child...well, to the victor goes the spoils. If Cling-gate buoys her Pennsylvania vote tally, and helps her surpass the 10-point margin she won in Ohio, Obama will have to deal with the consequences - including talk, encouraged by the Clinton camp, that he's just another rareified Adlai Stevenson egghead.

Hillary will take it to him during the debate on Wednesday night, probably in the first 10 minutes (unless they reprise the traditional opening spat over who has the better health insurance plan). His challenge is similar to what happened during the Wright controversy. He has to turn this flap to his advantage, reframe the issue in a broader context, make the case for an economic populism that connects with Pennsylvania's working-class voters - and force Hillary to explain why those same voters, long ignored and taken for granted, received so little help from the Bill Clinton administration.

Obama screwed up badly during that fundraiser in San Francisco. But it's the successful politician who bounces back from adversity, aided by outsize powers of persuasion. He tried out a few lines last night, and no doubt there will be more. We'll soon see whether Obama has the gift that saved Bill Clinton from Bimbo-gate in 1992.

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Regarding any further thoughts on Cling-gate, I'm guesting tonight on PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show," sharing a segment with Joe Klein of Time magazine. Bob Casey holds forth during the first 30 minutes.

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In a Sunday print column, I wrote about the "experience" issue, with the inevitable historical references.

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Last night, during the sixth installment of HBO's splendid John Adams miniseries, the president was urged by his fellow Federalist party members to drum up war fever against France. Even though the partisans were well aware that France posed no real threat, they insisted that if the president stoked war sentiment, he and his party would benefit greatly during the imminent election season. But Adams, concerned with dividing his countrymen and sowing domestic factionalism, adamantly refused.

Imagine a president behaving like that.