Friday, February 23, 2007

Tony Blair and the Coalition of the Dwindling

When British prime minister Tony Blair announced the other day that he was pulling more troops out of Iraq – yet another blow to President Bush’s Coalition of the Dwindling, and another example of Bush’s growing estrangement from his allies – I immediately thought of my journey two years ago to the city of Nottingham.

Nottingham, located in central Britain, is known in legend as the home of Robin Hood. But in terms of contemporary politics, it is a traditional stronghold for the British Labor party, dominated by voters who in American terms would be considered quite left of center. These were the voters who propelled Blair to power 10 years ago. And these were the voters who nearly kicked his party (and him) out of power in the spring of 2005, during the last national election. The reason: His unrepentant decision to endorse and buttress Bush’s elective war.

On the eve of that election, I spent time knocking on doors in Nottingham with Alan Simpson, a Labor member in Parliament. He was alarmed by the reception he received; later, over lunch, he explained it to me this way: “This war could wind up damaging the Labor party for a long time. We’re not supposed to be ‘the war party,’ especially when the premises for war are built on lies. Back in the ‘60s, the Labor party prime minister (Harold Wilson) refused Lyndon Johnson, when the president wanted the British to send troops to Vietnam. That’s how Labor voters view their party. Yet today, a lot of our people are telling me, ‘I can’t vote again for the party that took us into an illegal war.’ It’s a trust problem we have. It’s difficult for people to essentially support a man (Blair) who ‘in good faith’ essentially lied through his teeth.”

Two years later, this incessant political hostility at home is the big reason why Blair phasing out British involvement in Iraq; at one time, there were 46,000 troops, but, after the next round of reductions around Basra, only 5500 will remain. Naturally, he has spun the pullout as a British version of Mission Accomplished, and, naturally, Vice President Cheney has played Pollyana yet again and insisted this week that the British withdrawal is “an affirmation of the fact that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” even though neither claim (as we shall see below) squares with factual reality.

Blair is essentially doing what Ronald Reagan did after 250 U.S. soldiers were blown up in their barracks in Beirut: he’s simply declaring victory and getting out. (Although not even Blair’s spin this week sounds much like victory: “What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be. But it does mean that the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by Iraqis.”)

Politically speaking, Blair had no choice but to put lipstick on the pig. His popularity depleted thanks to his alliance with Bush (the latest British polls put Blair’s approval rating at 26 percent), he has become a serious drag on his own party. There are regional elections scheduled this spring, and Labor is trailing in the polls, again because of Blair’s Iraq baggage. And Blair himself is slated to step down later this year; his apparent successor, Gordon Brown, is already on record as a supporter of British troop withdrawal.

As Juan Cole, the Iraq expert who runs the Global Americana Institute at the University of Michigan, notes on his own blog, Blair is pulling troops out of southern Iraq not because the mission is accomplished, but because “if he tries any further, it will completely sink the Labor party, perhaps for decades to come.”

Certainly, we would not expect Dick Cheney to acknowledge that Blair’s withdrawal from southern Iraq is directly attributable to the damage he has suffered back home for being known as “Bush’s poodle.” But for Cheney to contend that Blair’s withdrawal is actually a sign that “things are going pretty well”…that’s downright Orwellian.

A number of experts on southern Iraq have pointed out this week that the region is dominated by Shiite militias who fight each other, who plunder the local oil wealth, and who have little interest in helping the so-called “unity government” in Baghdad; and that British troops have come under so much fire that they have been compelled to ditch their downtown Basra headquarters and find safer turf near the airport.

Cheney’s rose-colored spin has also been contradicted by one of the U.S. military commanders, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who told reporters in a conference call that if these rival Shiite militias grow more violent, the vacuum created by the British pullout may well compel the Americans to send more troops into the breach.

But let us assume, just for the sake of argument, that Blair and Cheney are correct about things going pretty well around Basra, and that everybody else is wrong. If that were the case, then why wouldn’t the British agree to simply shift their remaining forces to the more violent Baghdad, where they could reinforce Bush’s Surge? Blair, in his remarks to Parliament the other day, never even mentioned that option…because it is politically untenable back home.

All of which is further proof that the term “coalition forces,” a staple of cable TV news, is a misnomer. By late summer, after the latest British drawdown and a scheduled pullout by Poland, and a scheduled pullout of Danish ground forces, the tally of non-American troops will total roughly 11,800. That’s only enough people to fill half the seats at a Sixers basketball game in Philadelphia. And, at most, that’s only 10 percent of all the troops in Iraq; by late summer, Bush will be supplying, at a minimum, the other 90 percent.

But he will soldier on, in increasing isolation, because, unlike Blair, he is not so sensitized to domestic political factors. As the year wears on, however, a growing number of Republicans may well wish that he was.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hillary's Wars: a Hollywood emperor strikes back

Let’s face it, this tawdry roundelay about how Hollywood mogul David Geffen has dissed the Clintons, prompting the Clintons’ flak to diss Barack Obama (Geffen’s candidate), prompting Obama’s flak to diss the Clintons….this stuff is far more entertaining than anything that Britney Spears might dream up on her way out of rehab. I bet Karl Rove is having his first belly laugh in months.

If you missed yesterday’s three-act outburst of Democratic dysfunction, here’s a quick recap:

Act One: In an interview with Maureen Dowd, which ran yesterday, former Clinton buddy Geffen assailed “the Clinton royal family,” skewered Bill as “a reckless guy” who “gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country,” contended that the Clintons are constantly “unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in,” complained that the Clintons are allergic to the truth (“everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling”), and, to cap it off, articulated what many Democrats most fear about Hillary’s presidential candidacy: “I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is – and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? – can bring the country together.”

Act Two: Team Hillary, which is generally on guard against negative attacks (a posture honed during the Bill Clinton administration), decided to fire back - but not at the powerful Geffen. Instead, they targeted Obama, and demanded that he apologize for the fact that his “campaign finance chair” was “viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband.”

Act Three: The Obama camp retaliated thusly: “It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom.”

Where to begin…Obviously, the Geffen attack is a sensitive issue for Team Hillary, which has been trying vacuum every last dollar out of Hollywood; indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported today that Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe recently told potential Tinseltown donors not to support any rivals, and warned, “You’re either with us, or against us.” But the Clinton camp would not have helped their cause by playing hardball with Geffen. Instead, it saw the Geffen remarks as an opportunity to dent Obama’s halo; after all, Obama has been decrying the politics of incivility and pledging to run a positive campaign. So here was a chance for the Clintons to pull him off his cloud and down into the arena, where they best know how to operate.

But I think they screwed up.

It turns out, for starters, that Geffen is not Obama’s finance chair. And I would question whether it was “vicious” to describe Bill Clinton as a “reckless” guy who gave his enemies the ammunition to go after him. It may have been impolitic for Geffen to point this out – and, as the best Geffen biography made abundantly clear, Geffen is renowned for throwing tantrums and betraying old friends – but Geffen’s mini-summation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal also happens to square with factual reality.

Also, Geffen’s crack about the Clintons’ veracity (or lack thereof) is not exactly a shocker; during Bill’s first term, Democratic senator Bob Kerrey characterized the president as “an unusually good liar,” an assessment that was widely shared by Americans late in the decade, when the president’s personal approval rating collapsed in the wake of the Lewinsky imbroglio. (Although I have to say that it’s a bit rich for a Hollywood mogul, of all people, to call somebody else a liar.)

And, by going after Obama, Team Hillary merely kept the Geffen story alive and brought it greater attention - especially because it prompted Obama’s spokesman to lash back by reminding people of yet another golden oldie: the Clinton fund-raising scandals of 1996, when the Lincoln Bedroom was made available to the highest bidders. That was perhaps the only stain on Bill Clinton that Geffen had failed to mention.

Most potentially damaging to the Clintons, however, is the fact that Geffen was merely articulating in the open what many Democrats say privately. I’ve heard it myself countless times, virtually always in off-the-record conversations: That the Clintons have too much character baggage from the ‘90s, that they should cede center stage and let somebody else have a chance, and that another Clinton presidency would merely perpetuate the polarization that seemingly has become a permanent feature of national politics.

Nobody comes off well in this unseemly spat: Obama is down off his pedestal, engaging (via his flak) in two-fisted politicking; Geffen has reminded us that Hollywood is to the Democrats what the religious right is to the Republicans (that is, a base that can cause embarrassment); and, most importantly, Hillary Clinton has demonstrated that she can wield brass knuckles when her baggage is invoked. And we still have 11 months to go until Iowa.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why the GOP can't hide behind the soldiers

Next week, our congressional lawmakers will return to action – if you want to call it that – and resume their intricate chessboard maneuvers over Iraq.

For instance, the House Republicans are working up a strategy that is designed to shift the focus away from President Bush and his war team (a smart idea, since Bush and his war team are the architects of this foreign policy disaster), and instead try to spotlight the Democrats by painting them as white-flag wimps who don’t care a whit about the safety or morale of U.S. troops.

The House Republicans, relying not merely on their rhetoric, are also floating a bill that would bar lawmakers from cutting off the war money, or restricting the money in any way. They obviously have calculated that a lot of Democrats would feel compelled to go along, just to ensure that the GOP would not be able to label them as “against the troops” during their ’08 re-election campaigns. (Indeed, that’s one reason why the majority Democrats will ensure that this bill never comes up for a vote.)

But the basic weakness of the Republican argument – better yet, its rank hypocrisy – is that its architects apparently don’t know, or choose not to remember, their own history. Because 11 years ago, when President Clinton was in the process of sending troops to Bosnia, and putting them in harm’s way, the House Republicans huddled in a party caucus and voted by nearly a 2-1 margin….to cut off funds for the troops. An action, by the way, that prompted some worried Republicans to warn that they might be undermining troop morale.

And here’s the most priceless factoid: A Texas Republican congressman, Sam Johnson, is leading the current push for the aforementioned bill that would bar any restrictions on the Iraq war money…yet this same congressman uttered these remarks on the House floor, on Dec. 13, 1995: “I wholeheartedly support withholding funds… Although it is a drastic step and ties the president’s hands, I do not feel like we have any other choice. The president has tied our hands, gone against the wishes of the American people, and this is the last best way I know how to show my respect for our American servicemen and women. They are helpless, following orders.”

Bush defenders might argue that the GOP’s Bosnia stance was different, because, unlike in Iraq, we didn’t have tens of thousands of troops already in harm’s way. But that is irrelevant. Johnson’s point, in 1995, was that Congress did have the power to withhold money and “tie the president’s hands.” Yet today, with most Republicans still pledging fealty to their Decider, any such step is dismissed as “micromanagement,” and as a potentially unconstitutional “slow bleed.”

And here’s a question: Wouldn’t an administration that prides itself on “supporting the troops” want to ensure that the most vulnerable soldiers of all – those with debilitating physical and mental injuries – are receiving the best care and treatment back home? It would seem so, yet it’s clear – according to this new Washington Post series – that support for the troops doesn’t always extend beyond the rhetorical.

Two reporters spent months inside the famed Walter Reed hospital and discovered “a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas,” with the wounded tending to other wounded, with psychologically damaged vets put in charge of suicidal comrades (because the staff is overworked), with squalid living conditions, with bureaucrats who try to weasel out of paying disability payments to the disabled.

One amputee and Walter Reed resident, Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, told the Post: “We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it. We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."

And the administration that “supports the troops” isn’t necessarily keen on showing them off, not when it result in bad PR. One telling anecdote, deep within Part Two of the series, says it all: David Thomas, a former gunnery sergeant from Tennessee who suffered a brain injury and lost a leg, wanted to attend a ceremony honoring a Mexican-born buddy who was slated to be awarded his U.S. citizenship by President Bush. But Thomas was told that, because he would be seated in the front row, and because there were going to be cameras, he would not be permitted to display the fact that he was an amputee. He was told that, if he wanted to attend the presidential ceremony, he would have to wear long pants. He refused, reportedly saying, “I’m not ashamed of what I did, and y’all shouldn’t be, neither.” So he was left off the invitation list.

By the way, Bush spokesman Tony Snow was asked the other day, in the wake of the Post series, whether his boss had been aware that the conditions for the troops were so dire at Walter Reed. At first he dodged (“I am not certain when this — when we first became aware of it”), but then he decided to make it clear that, of course, the Decider knows all: “Now, the president certainly has been aware of the conditions in the wards where he has visited, and visited regularly.”

So hang on: Since the Republicans insist that they have a monopoly on supporting the troops, why didn’t Bush, who “certainly has been aware,” blow the whistle at Walter Reed a long time ago?


On another matter: Regarding my Sunday print column and Monday blog remarks about the panderings of John McCain, I see that he sought to clarify the matter yesterday, while meeting with religious broadcasters in Florida. He said, in his defense, “Nobody accused me of courting and pandering to the liberals when I went to the New School,” a reference to the Manhattan education facility.

Well, let’s quickly unpack that remark. McCain is right. Nobody accused him of pandering when he addressed the New School liberals. I think that was because the New School liberals have absolutely no role in deciding who wins the ’08 Republican nomination.

By contrast, the religious right is fully aware of its own role in that vetting process – as one of the Florida panderees, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, pointed out yesterday. He told the press, “(McCain) recognized he cannot be president of the United States without reaching out to the evangelicals…he is breaking down those walls. He helped himself in that room tremendously today."


But I certainly wouldn’t want to imply that McCain is the only candidate these days who is engaging in strenuous rhetorical gymnastics. I should also nominate one of his rivals, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Much has been written elsewhere lately about his ongoing rightward journey, but one of his quotes about abortion – uttered two years ago, but newly released - is downright irresistible. The Post asked him to explain his position on abortion.

He replied: “I can tell you what my position is and it's in a very narrowly defined sphere, as candidate for governor and as governor of Massachusetts, what I said to people was that I personally did not favor abortion, that I am personally pro-life. However, as governor I would not change the laws of the Commonwealth relating to abortion. Now I don't try and put a bow around that and say what does that mean you are - does that mean you're pro-life or pro-choice, because that whole package - meaning I'm personally pro-life but I won't change the laws, you could describe that as – well, I don't think you can describe it in one hyphenated word.”

Got that?


Romney isn’t the only person who can get tangled up in his wording, however. Today I cop to the same problem.

Yesterday, while writing about Newt Gingrich, I mistakenly left the impression that the Nancy Pelosi plane story actually had some basis in fact. It does not. The latest evidence surfaced yesterday, in a Tampa Tribune profile of GOP congressman Adam Putnam, who had accused Pelosi of “an arrogance of extravagance” for allegedly ordering a swanky plane to bring her home to California. A key story excerpt:

“It turns out there's no evidence Pelosi requested any such thing….The nonpartisan House sergeant-at-arms released a written statement explaining that for security reasons he asked for a plane that could carry Pelosi nonstop to her home in San Francisco, a much longer distance than former Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Illinois, had to cover. Putnam now acknowledges he had no personal knowledge of any Pelosi request. He said he was commenting on an anonymously-sourced story in The Washington Times and additional coverage from CNN. ‘This was a classic case where the media got out in front of us,’ Putnam said. ‘Did we jump on it? Yes.”’

In other words, Putnam decided to drive this “message,” even though he didn’t have a clue whether it was true or not, and didn’t bother to find out the facts. Perhaps it will be worth remembering this incident when the House Republicans seek to drive the message that their friends across the aisle are “against the troops.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Newt Gingrich and the benefits of American amnesia

So I surfed over to Fox News on Sunday morning, and there he was again – the biggest flirt in the Republican party. And he said this about himself:

“People may decide that, in fact, they want to take a second look….Nothing in America is irreparable. This is a country where second, third, and fourth chances seem a permanent part of our culture.”

And last November, on Fox again, he said that, among the conservatives who “produced Ronald Reagan and produced Barry Goldwater, there’s a yearning for a clearer voice of conservatism….And in September (2007), I’ll be glad to come back and talk with you about running for president.”

But Newt (no last name needed, a rarity in politics) isn’t the only one who’s working to keep Newt in play. The Washington Times reported last Friday that, in virtually all the polls, Newt ranks a solid third as the ’08 choice among Republican voters; and the newspaper quoted Tom Edmonds, a GOP strategist, as blaming “the liberal press” for refusing to acknowledge Newt's potential as an ’08 candidate. (In truth, the so-called “liberal” press would be thrilled with a Newt candidacy, because he is probably the most loquacious Republican since Teddy Roosevelt.)

Meanwhile, pollster-turned-pundit Dick Morris, whose prime quest right now is to find somebody who can beat Hillary Clinton, boosted Newt in his latest column, lauding the architect of the ’94 conservative revolution as “the only real genius in the race.” In Morris’ view, Newt can fill the current vacuum in the Republican contest. Because conservative voters are highly suspicious of Rudy Giuliani (because of his track record favoring gay rights and abortion rights), John McCain (because of his flip flops), and Mitt Romney (ditto on flip flops), they “seem eager for a ‘real Republican’ to challenge for the nomination.”

There also have been reports that Newt, the ex-House speaker, has been conferring privately with House Republicans, offering tips on how the minority can productively harass its Democratic oppressors; indeed, he is widely credited with goading the GOP into playing up Nancy Pelosi’s request for a government plane to San Francisco.

All told, his whole flirtation strategy – wink at the electorate via Fox, find reasons to tour the early primary states, deliver weighty speeches about the American future – seems designed to inspire restive Republicans to summon him back to duty. He wants to be drafted, in a sense. Reportedly, he wants to be like Abe Lincoln, who rallied Republicans in 1860 through the sheer power of his words, most notably in a now-famous speech at Cooper Union. One might conclude that it’s a tad presumptuous for Newt, who fell from power nine years ago, to compare himself to Lincoln, but, on the other hand, Newt has never been a guy who thinks small.

Yet even though it’s possible to round up some bullish quotes about Newt – The Washington Times quotes an Iowa GOP activist who says that “everybody loves Gingrich. He is a hero” – what seems most striking about all this low-grade buzz is that so many people seem to have purged their memories. The fact is, Newt in power was no conservative savior. He often ran afoul of his colleagues, and he led them to an embarrassing defeat.

People forget, for instance, that the House speaker was nearly overthrown in 1997, by conspirators that included Tom DeLay, in part because he was not deemed to be sufficiently conservative. They felt that Newt had caved to President Clinton on a number of key budget issues (at the time, the conservative Weekly Standard magazine assailed Newt for committing “a profound act of political self-mutilation”). They complained when Newt invited Jesse Jackson to join him on the House podium in January of ’97. They were angry when Newt refused to launch a frontal assault on affirmative action. They didn’t like it when he defended the National Endowment for the Arts and broke bread with liberal activist and actor Alec Baldwin.

People also tend to forget that it was Newt, as a key GOP strategist, who forced his party to overreach during the Clinton impeachment crisis. At a key moment during his reign, he misjudged the national mood. During the autumn of ’98, as a campaign tactic for the midterm elections, he spotlighted the Monica Lewinsky scandal and pushed for impeachment (at a time when he was conducting his own extramarital affair). But, as the voters made clear in November, when the Democrats scored gains in both the House and Senate, impeachment was generally viewed as excessive punishment for dirtbag behavior. Within a week of the election, Newt quit the speakership – as well as his seat.

Newt’s colleagues also complained incessantly, back in the day, about his erratic managerial style (as one Republican told the Washington Post in 1998, “There would be times where you were in one meeting and he would be absolutely resolute on a position. And the next meeting, three hours later, he would completely reverse himself and berate people who were holding the position he had advocated three hours earlier. It would just completely baffle you.”) So one naturally might wonder whether he has profoundly mellowed during his years in the private sector, working with his for-profit health care think tank and making 60 speeches a year at roughly $50,000 a pop.

And there’s more. A lot of conservatives blame their ’06 midterm electoral losses on a House Republican majority that had lost its zeal for conservative reform, and that instead had become the corrupt party of government. In fact, Newt has said this lately. Yet what so many people seem to forget is that Newt himself was a principal architect of the lobbyist-lawmaker nexus which later became known as the K Street Project.

Starting in the mid-‘90s, shortly after becoming House Speaker, Newt helped devise the program to place ideological conservatives in key corporate lobbying jobs; in return, the lobbyists helped write corporate-friendly legislation that targeted federal regulatory agencies; and in return for that, a grateful K Street ratcheted up their campaign donations to the GOP coffers. And remember Jack Abramoff, the poster child for GOP corruption in 2006? Lest we forget, here’s a line from a story about Abramoff that appeared in the nonpartisan National Journal magazine, in 1995: “The GOP victories in 1994 transformed (Abramoff) into a valuable asset, as law firms recruited activists with connections to the new Gingrich team."

Tom DeLay is generally credited (or blamed) today for this sweetheart arrangement, but, lest we forget, a respected Capitol Hill tabloid, The Hill, ran this headline when Newt quit in 1998: “Newt’s Departure Deflates Key Lobbyists.” (And, on the ethics front, lest we forget, it was Newt in 1997 who became the first sitting House Speaker to be formally reprimanded for an ethics breach – violating federal tax laws, and providing the chamber with false information.)

But, if Newt does stage a late entry into the GOP race, none of this might matter to conservative voters who are looking for a savior. American campaigns are generally about the future, not the past. He may be right when he says that America is about “second, third, and fourth chances.” Because it’s amnesia that makes it possible.

Monday, February 19, 2007

McCain's duck and pander strategy

Thank you, John McCain, for proving my point.

In a print column yesterday, I boarded the Flip Flop Express for an extended look at how far the ’08 presidential candidate has journeyed away from his image as an “independent” “straight-talking” “maverick.” I itemized a number of examples – only to discover, after publication, that McCain had just provided two more.

For starters, he opted to duck a Senate vote on Iraq, rather than put himself on record. Unlike all the other senators who are running for president, he stayed away from the chamber on Saturday, and thus avoided taking a position on whether the Senate should begin debating President Bush’s troop escalation plan. A “straight talker,” one might argue, would be someone who takes a stand and (in his case) explains the reasons why he deems it unacceptable for senators to debate the most crucial issue of our generation. (In the end, 56 percent of the senators on Saturday did try to open debate - four short of the number of votes required to break a Republican filibuster.)

McCain preferred to stay on the campaign trail, which brings us to example number two: Seeking again to recalibrate his political convictions, and thus appeal to conservative primary voters, he said this yesterday in South Carolina: “I do not support Roe vs. Wade. It should be overturned.” An AP story dutifully reported the quote – without providing any of the context. Such as the fact that, in 1999, as he was mounting his first presidential bid, he said this: "Certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade." Why not? Because without Roe, he said, “thousands of young American women would be performing illegal and dangerous operations." Therefore, he said, Roe was "necessary."

McCain's 1999 remarks angered the anti-abortion forces; as David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, complained at the time, "In contending that legal abortion is 'necessary' and that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned because it would force women to undergo dangerous illegal abortions, McCain parroted arguments of the pro-abortion movement. A candidate who argues that legal abortion is 'necessary' is not a pro-life candidate."

Which explains why McCain is talking differently this time.

Actually, what’s most striking about McCain is the contrast between his political strategy and the path currently being charted by Hillary Clinton. Whereas McCain is working overtime to pander to his Republican base (and especially the religious right), Clinton seems increasingly committed to ticking off her Democratic base (and especially the antiwar left).

This past weekend in New Hampshire, she basically told Democratic primary voters that she would not apologize for her 2002 Senate vote in favor of Bush war authorization, despite their incessant demands that she do so. Indeed, she signaled in effect that, if they didn’t like her stance, then too bad, they should vote for somebody else.

Her exact language: “If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.”

The first part of that sentence was a reference to Barack Obama, who wasn’t a senator in 2002; the second part was a reference to John Edwards, who has pleaded mea culpa for his ’02 vote. Clearly, she is betting that Democratic voters will respect her decision not to pander, that in the end she will gain more respect if she eschews the flip flop and opts instead for resolve.

Apparently this is the kind of bet that John McCain does not feel he can afford to make. Which explains why he is scheduled to huddle in private today with Jerry Falwell.