January 20, 2005

Notes From The Condi Hearings

Listening to (or, rather, reading the transcripts of the Condi hearings) John Kerry and Joe 'the Blowhard' Biden question Condi Rice was kinda like hearing Fat Joe and Ashanti chanting "Who the Mack Now" (from "What's Luv")--over and over and over.

Paraphrasing (when language isn't in quotes): Kerry: See, Mubarak told me that.. ("Every Arab leader I asked, do you want Iraq to fail, says no")....Biden: "That's not what Qadhafi told me" about why he gave up his WMD...Kerry: Just back from Fallujah ("haven't been as many times as Joe"), and lemme tell you...Biden: Wait, in Erbil the Kurds told me (after a seven hour ride into the hills!) "the mountains are [their] only friends"...Kerry: Kirkuk! Mosul! (merely letting these cities names roll off one's lips, it appears, make all the senatorial oratory somehow, um, studlier). Or, Kerry: "The Germans say they could do more." Biden: What about the "5,000 European paramilitary police types"? And then, Biden: Hell, did I mention I'm almost not going to vote for you? Kerry: Well, I'm not voting for you. I'm the Mack. No, you're the Mack. [ed. note: What a team these guys would have made!]

Well, as it turns out, someone else was the Mack (apart from Condi, who performed more than adequately). So, who asked the best questions of Condi, rather than tiresomely showboat (Biden) or display encroaching symptoms of Gore-itis (Kerry)? Barack Obama, that's who. [ed. note: What's Gore-itis? Er, not dealing too elegantly with loss (though, and I say this sincerely, I can emphatize with what a crushing blow 2000 must have been for someone who wanted the job ever since St. Albans days].

Some snippets:

OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, members of the committee, Dr. Rice. First of all, let me say how grateful I am to have the opportunity to serve on this committee. I know that it has a wonderful reputation for bipartisanship. And that, I think, is partly due to the excellence of the chairman and the ranking member and the degree to which you both work together extremely closely. So I'm looking forward to my service here. Dr. Rice, it's wonderful to see you here. And I've been very impressed, obviously, with your mastery of the issues. Since it's the day after King's birthday, obviously, 20 or 30 years ago, it's unlikely that I'd be sitting here asking you questions. And so I think that's a testimony to how far we've come, despite how far we still have to go. And I think everybody rightly is extraordinary impressed with your credentials and your experience in this field. I've got three areas I'd like to explore that have already been touched on to some degree. I want to try to see if I can knock out all three of them with the time that I have remaining. The first has to do with the issue of nuclear proliferation, which has already been discussed. But I think it's important to note that in the midst of what was sometimes a very divisive campaign, there was strong agreement between President Bush and Senator Kerry that our number one priority, that our single greatest challenge is keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. And there has been enormous leadership on the part of this committee, and Senator Lugar in particular, working with former Senator Nunn, to move the process forward of securing nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I am still concerned that less nuclear material, as I understand it, has been secured from the former Soviet Union in the two years after September 11th than the two years prior to September 11th. Now, it may just be that there was low-hanging fruit initially and it starts getting harder as time goes by. But I'm also concerned of the fact that we've never fully funded, it appears to me, the Nunn-Lugar program. I know that Senator Lugar is going to be presenting an amendment that gives your office more flexibility in this area. I'm hopeful that I'm going to have the opportunity to work with him and my colleagues on this piece of legislation. I guess my question is: How are you going to use this flexibility? Number one, are you going to be seeking full funding? Number two, beyond the existing mechanisms to lock down existing nuclear material, what else are we doing, for example, to make sure that Pakistan has a mechanism in place to ensure that those nuclear weapons or that technology is no longer drifting off into the hands of hostile forces?

First, kudos for talking about the nuclear proliferation issue. There is no more critical foreign policy challenge impacting our national security. But, of course, everyone knows that. It's the part about the "low hanging fruit" that got me. Obama's obviously thought through these issues--he's not just going through the motions and scoring cheap points. We can quibble about the stats and methodology behind deeming nuclear material secured and such. But Obama was gracious, and showed he knew what he was talking about, by making the important point that it gets harder and harder going forward to secure nuclear materials after the "low hanging fruit" have already been accounted for (don't miss Obama's good follow up question on this issue either).

Next, Obama turns to the "train and equip" effort in Iraq--another immensely important issue. He concludes:

OBAMA: Mr. Chairman, I know my time up. I would just make this note, that if our measure is bring our troops home and success is measured by whether Iraqis can secure their own circumstances, and if our best troops in the world are having trouble controlling the situation with 150,000 or so, it sounds like we've got a long way to go. And I think part of what the American people are going to need is some certainty, not an absolute timetable, but a little more certainty than is being provided, because right now, it appears to be an entirely open-ended commitment.

Well, he's right. And he strikes the right notes. The American people can't tolerate an open-ended committment, of course, without feeling the government is playing it straight and has a real plan to train and equip Iraqi forces. But, unlike many in his party (Kerry all but did this in the campaign), he wisely states we can't expect an "absolute timetable"--ostensibly for either withdrawal of U.S. troops or an Administration declaration regarding when the "train and equip" effort would be finalized (we just can't know yet).

Next issue Obama broaches? AIDS--but with a twist.

Dr. Rice, I appreciate your stamina. I've got one very specific question that I'd like maybe a brief answer to so that -- even though it's a large question, and then maybe I want to engage with you a little bit on this public diplomacy issue.

You know, I think that you've done a commendable job in helping the United States rethink its international aid and development programs. So I know the Millennium Challenge Account, you were very active in.

I understand the president pledged $10 billion by fiscal year '06. To date, 2.5 (billion dollars) has been appropriated; my understanding is very little has been spent. The president also pledged, in 2003, $15 billion for HIV/AIDS, something that all of us care deeply about. But to date, only around $2 billion has been appropriated for HIV/AIDS, leaving $13 billion to be appropriated and spent over the next three years.

So my very specific question is, are you planning, and would you pledge here to make full funding of these commitments a central priority of the administration in its budget request for Congress?

MS. RICE: The MCA is a very important initiative for us, and we have been trying to get it right, and so it takes some time to negotiate compacts with these countries and to make sure that they are prepared to take on the obligations of receiving MCA funding. And so -- and we were also about a year late in -- not a year late, but a year in getting the Millennium Challenge Corporation up and running.

And so what we will do is we will make sure that the funding is there for the program that is before us. And we will, over time, certainly fulfill the president's obligation to, by 50 percent, increase American spending on development assistance.

SEN. OBAMA: Okay. The reason I make this point I think is not that I want us to spend money willy-nilly, and in the same way that -- on social programs if programs aren't well thought through and you throw money at them, it may be a waste of money, and we don't have money to waste, the same is certainly true on the international stage.

On the other hand, when we publicly announce that we're making these commitments, and if it appears that we're not following through, then that undermines our credibility and makes your job more difficult. And so I would urge that there is a clear signal by the administration in its budgeting process this time out that we're moving forward on this. And if in fact it turns out that the spending on this money was overly ambitious because we don't quite know how to spend all of it wisely, then that should be stated publicly and clearly and the time line should be extended. But there should be a clear signal sent by the administration on that. So that's the relatively narrow point. [emphasis added]

Again, no cheap soundbites about "where's the other 13 Bil"? Instead, a sophisticated understanding about how aid monies much be disbursed with care, not "willy-nilly," and the cogent apercu (if somewhat obvious but under-appreciated as an issue) that no follow through means no street cred on these issues.

Finally, Obama turns to public diplomacy:

The broader point I think draws on a number of themes that have been discussed earlier. The issue of public diplomacy, some of it is technique, it's technical. Do we have the equivalent of a Radio Free Europe in the Middle East that's effective?

You know, what are we doing with respect to exchange students and visas? I mean, I think there are a whole host of technical questions that we can deal with.

But you know, effective public diplomacy, at least from my perspective, isn't just spin; it's substantive. Part of the problem we have overseas is not just a matter of presentation; it's profound disagreements with our approach to certain policies. And I think that one area that this comes up, and I think Iraq highlighted, and I see in your statement I think it may highlight it as well -- when I read in the third paragraph of your testimony or opening statement today, it says, "Under the vision and leadership of President Bush, our nation has risen to meet the challenges of our times, fighting tyranny and terror, and securing the blessings of freedom and prosperity for a new generation." Part of, I think, the concern that I have here, and this has been a concern for critics of the administration for some time, is the conflation of tyranny and terror. And that may be where the mixed signals or the lack of consistency that Senator Chafee and Senator Boxer and others were alluding to arises.

We are unanimous in wanting to root out terror. It appears that even within the administration there's ambiguity with respect to our views on tyranny. Tyranny is problematic, but if engaged in by an ally of ours or a country that's sufficiently powerful that we don't think we can do anything about it doesn't prompt military action. In other cases it does. Part of the, I think, debate and divisiveness of Iraq had to do with the fact that it appeared that the administration sold military action in Iraq on the basis of concern about terror and then the rationale shifted or at least got muddied into an acknowledged desire to get rid of a tyrant....

...I think that's fair. And if that's the case in the -- again, I don't want to belabor this, but -- I'm just trying to give you a sense of where I think our public diplomacy fails. There is certainly a link between tyranny in Saudi Arabia and terrorism. And yet we make a whole series of strategic decisions about accommodating the Saudi regime. And I'm not saying that's a bad decision. But what I am saying is, is that the degree to which you as the spokesperson for U.S. foreign policy is (sic) able to articulate greater consistency in our foreign policy, and where those links exist between tyranny and terror you are able to apply those not just in one or two areas but more broadly, then I think your public diplomacy is going to be more successful.[emphasis added]

Yes, the public diplomacy initiative cannot be unmoored from more substantive changes in our policies. Matt Yglesias makes this point well here--and you should definitely go check it out (unlike Matt, I guess, I think Condi's smart enough to get this and, further, will be empowered, as and when appropriate conditions allow, to make substantive policy adjustments too--particularly on Israel-Palestine and treatment of Gulf Arab autocracies).

I haven't followed Obama much, and I will have to keep more of an eye on him to form a fuller view, but I think it's fair to say that he's a real star. Who knows? Will America be ready for such a post-racial, cerebral HLS grad for the big job circa. 2012 or 2016? We'll see. One thing is for sure. There's a bigger chance B.D. would vote for a more seasoned Obama than the sometimes insufferably self-aggrandizing Kerrys and Bidens.

P.S. Is it just me, or is it a testament to a certain meritocratic grandeur we have in this country, that the two people at the top of their game during these hearings (a star freshman senator and the first minority female Secretary of State) were both African-Americans?

Incidentally, methinks Boxer and Kerry looked pretty low with their no votes, no? Especially the latter, as it smelled of sour grapes, and his background of privilege is in sharp contrast to Condi's. Underwhelming display, I'd say, all told. But they'll tell you it was all about "principle" or such. I don't buy it. With Boxer, it was faux indignation (with a good dose of foreign policy cluelessness thrown in--her attempted analogizing of the Milosevic and Saddam situations particularly sad). For Kerry, a hodgepodge of conflicting impulses (wasn't it always?), but in the main: looking more Dean-y (the better to get the Kos-troops and such underwhelming gaggles all giddy in case a "New" Kerry is to be trotted out in '08), the aforementioned Gore-itis harming best judgment and mitigating the usual, if very practiced, noblesse oblige, and all this with some good ol' fashioned showboaty theater thrown in after the Big-Euro-Middle East-Tour (but Gerhard and Hosni say...!).


Posted by Gregory at January 20, 2005 02:55 AM

He will not get any serious consideration from me as long as he remains as anti-2nd Amendment as he currently is.

To me that indicates a serious misunderstanding of freedom.

However, I can respect his stance here.

Posted by: pittspilot at January 20, 2005 04:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Kossacks were very happy with the "no" vote. I think it was consistent with Kerry's position throughout the campaign that Bush was running an incompetent foreign policy. Today I read in "The Missing Peace" Dennis Ross's description of how Clinton met with King Hussein and had 10 proposals that he discussed without notes, bringing the King to euphoria and willingness to meet with Rabin. Kerry might have been able to do such a feat.
Thank you for the kind words for Obama. Those were good questions. He is something, isn't he?
DKos does not always exhibit critical thinking, but there are enough smart people there to lift it above the average blog.

Posted by: 4jkb4ia at January 20, 2005 04:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The difference, I think, is that Obama is about as smart as Kerry and Biden think they are. He's probably about as smart as the two put together. I've watched him in Illinois when he was in the legislature. I was looking forward to the race between him and Jack Ryan. Both good, smart guys. Too bad about Ryan. I think Obama would still have won, but Ryan could have run for something else, or maybe Senate again vs Dick(less) Durbin. Oh, well.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at January 20, 2005 04:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for highlighting Barack Obama's insightful questions. In the San Francisco media, all we got was soundbites of Boxer Agonistes

It would be very nice if Obama turns out to be the real deal. The Dems seem to be stampeding toward the cliff (Howard Dean as DNC Chair?), and I am wary of the outcome if the Republican Party gains an effective hegemony, which some pretty smart commentators think may be in the cards. should the Dean scenario play out. Having a viable Democrat in the wings for 2008, 2012 or beyond could bring the two-party system back to relevance.

The main point significant by its absence in the MSM reporting that I have seen ( and I thank you for noting it) is commentary on the fact that both he and Dr. Rice are African-Americans. We may not be "there" yet but I suspect that MLK would be smiling if he could watch the confirmation nearings on C-San.

Posted by: Paul Dorroh at January 20, 2005 05:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Re: Paul Dorroh

If Obama is the real deal (and the transcript of his performance in this hearing is rather impressive), he'll probably want to have the governorship under his belt before trying for the big prize (who was the last elected President with no governor/Vice President experience? JFK). The problem is that would the rest of the Democratic party follow someone who's not insane?

Posted by: BigFire at January 20, 2005 06:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No one really impressed me. Kerry and Biden you nailed, no more need be said.

Rice seemed defensive and scattered, did not present well or argue well. Better than Biden/Kerry but that's a low standard.

Obama focused IMHO on irrelevant issues. The central question of the hearing was how Bush's foreign policy and the implementation of same through diplomacy would deter further 9/11 attacks. Would there be real consequences for say Saudi if they did not take action fully against Al Qaeda? Pakistan for not taking control fully of the country? Iran and the nukes?

The Dems have no conception of the stick, it's all carrots. It's the weakness of the Party, and until it's fixed the Reps can be as truly awful as they want domestically,

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 20, 2005 06:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The search for a new head of the R Bureau--responsible for Public Diplomacy, Public Affairs, and Research--is going nowhere, fast, apparently.

Scuttlebutt has it that Amb. Boucher--currently DAS for PA--wanted the position but isn't going to get it. Very vague rumors about Karen Hughes (worth considering), but likely to have the current Acting AS, Marjorie Harrison, booted upstairs.

That'd be a real pity, as Dr. Harrison is superb at what she does--currently DAS for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). But I don't think she's got the political clout or personal relationships to kick loose the kind of money that PD really needs. She understands the mission; she just doesn't have big enough boots to make it happen.

Posted by: John Burgess at January 20, 2005 07:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regarding Kerry's appeal to the Kossacks, he is unwavering in his position that he suports the war, just not the way it was fought. From the first day transcropt:

This [Iraq] was never going to be easy. It was always going to have ups and downs. I'm sure that we have made many decisions, some of which were good, some of which might not have been good, but the strategic decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the right one.

And we're all going to be very glad that we no longer have to deal with a bloody dictator in the middle of the world's most dangerous region who was an avowed enemy of the United States. I would rather trade the considerable difficulty of helping the Iraqi people get to a democratic future and a future in which they will be allies in the war on terror for what was yet again a chance or a policy that thought that we could buy stability even if there was a regime of the tremendous brutality of Saddam Hussein's in place in the Middle East. So I think we made the right decision to overthrow him.

That was his position at one time - if he knew then what he knows now, he would still have voted for the resolutiion - but I wonder if the people who objected then won't still object.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at January 20, 2005 11:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

if the Republican Party gains an effective hegemony

As opposed to, say, merely controlling the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and much of the federal bench?

Posted by: Doug at January 20, 2005 12:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But Obama was supposed to be asking her questions, and that's not a question that's a speech, and a very long speech at that.

Posted by: Libertarian Girl at January 20, 2005 12:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"the Reps can be as truly awful as they want domestically"

What does the above mean?

To a 50 year old the "Reps" seem to have the policies the "Dems" had when I was 20.

What is this awful domestic policy? Everyone I see (including the migrant Mexicans) are well clothed and fed and seem reasonably healthy. They also seem to be exercising their free will.

Posted by: huggy at January 20, 2005 12:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


People excercising their freedom is "awful domestic policy" to many on the left.

Posted by: BRB at January 20, 2005 01:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why do the Dems choose to showcase the pitiful Barbara Boxer when they should be bringing out new talent like Obama ? I watched an hour or two but missed him. I couldn't believe that Boxer went on and on the second day. Where is the hook ? Doesn't Reid realize how bad that made them look ?

Posted by: Mike K at January 20, 2005 01:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A good post, I too was impressed with Obama and grew quickly tired of team douchebag/blowhard ... still, they were mostly right and Rice was mostly wrong, though I suppose it's a moot point today ... I'll also note that Obama could not have asked his intelligent questions about troop levels and training and so forth without the blowhard opening it up there ... I see the guiding hand of Lugar in much of what happened at those hearings. If you notice, he often chimed in at the end of certain points to say, "look here, Condi, you better get with the program on this issue."

Posted by: praktike at January 20, 2005 01:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I realize that the bar is set pretty low at Senate hearings and all, but it sure sounds to me like Obama caught an almost instant case of Senatitis. I've given Powerpoint presentations for continuing legal ed credit that were shorter, and had more questions, than his preenings and posturings.

Yeah, he showed he knows what a few important issues are, but he still hasn't graduated beyond Dem talking points to, you know, facts.

For instance, on AIDS funding, our funding is limited to a percentage of the total given by all countries. We have given up to this percentage. When the other countries live up to their obligations, we will give more. At this point, though, we have given all we agreed to, and other countries have not.

Posted by: R C Dean at January 20, 2005 02:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

He's a socialist and a gun-grabber.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 20, 2005 02:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not to be too anti Kerry here, but when Obama said:
" keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. he WAS only referring to Bush. Kerry seemed to make a point of just nuclear proliferation as the main threat, NOT terrorists.

It's too bad candidates can't be made to go thru hearings, for instance Senators from state legislatures asking all manner of question.

At least for a day for each federal office. And maybe if mayors could have the chance to ask state candidates.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 20, 2005 02:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Obama presented himsef well on TV, but I had a hard time figuring out what his question was, because it took him so long to get around to asking it. After reading the transcripts posted here, I realize he never really asked but one question (Aids funding.)

Boxer was disgraceful. She looked and sounded like a frumpy, bitter old woman who had been off her hormone pills too long. Biden was just being Biden.

And now the stupid Dems have decided to delay Rice's confirmation until next week. 2006/2008 are gonna be FUN if the Dems continue to show their collective A$$es!

Posted by: Pat Adkins at January 20, 2005 03:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This was a good post about Obama, I was on travel and could not see the hearings. Am puzzled about the posts about him being a "gun-grabber," but whatever, NRA members always see any attempt to moderate handgun homicides as 2nd amend infringements. Someday they might notice there are other amendments in the Bill of Rights.

I am puzzled, BD, on your slap at Boxer and Kerry. I think it is more disingenuous for Biden and Sarbanes and the other Dems to join in on the review of Rice's really horrible leadership as the NSA and her mindless repetition of Bush's empty foreign policy approach than Boxer and Kerry's (at the least) honest objection to promoting Rice past her level of incompetence.

I saw Rice talk at NDU on the issue of counterproliferation, where she credited Bush!! with personally engineering the national strategy for combating WMDs. I knew for a fact that much of the document came from the Joint Staff, and was modifed by the NSC and OHS personnel into the fuzzy and ill-worded document it is now. When asked about a real definition of WMD other than "really really bad weapons," she offered no insights or views on the issue. Rice is only good in parroting back what her handlers tell her. I'm glad that Boxer was honest enough to call her on that.

Posted by: J. at January 20, 2005 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks again, BD, for the long, intelligent post. Please keep it up.

I've watched Obama for a while (he's my former state senator and taught at my law school), and I sure do give him points for personability and (as evidenced by his questions to Rice) thoughtfulness. He's simply not another left-wing bloviator. He's a smart guy and, like most folks associated with the University of Chicago, sensitive to the nuances of public policy. (And I don't mean "nuances" in the Hey-I'm-John-Kerry-look-at-me sense.)

The problem is, however, that he is really, really to the left of most Americans. Compared to Rep. Bobby Rush, of course, he's J. Edgar Hoover, but that's not really the standard most serious people apply. (Obama ran to the right of Rush in the Dem primary in 1998 and lost badly.) I personally like Obama a lot, but he's going to have to seriously mitigate his socialistic and pacifistic instincts if I'm going to celebrate his new national profile.

Posted by: D.J. at January 20, 2005 05:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

4jkb4ia said "Clinton met with King Hussein and had 10 proposals that he discussed without notes, bringing the King to euphoria and willingness to meet with Rabin. Kerry might have been able to do such a feat." Right. And the meeting wasn't held, none of the 10 proposals were implemented, the King's euphoria vaporized, and the middle east was in flames when Clinton exited. Only the delusional can find this impressive.

Posted by: digitalbrownshirt at January 20, 2005 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I heard one person suggest that since Rice has been talked about as a future candidate for national office, Sen. Kerry just didn't want it said that he voted for her before he voted against her!

I had somewhat the same criticism of the Rice confirmation that I did about the Judiciary Committee hearings on Gonzales, that being the lack of preparation most Senators seem to have done. It doesn't take much time or effort to rephrase stump speeches used in the last campaign, or for that matter to rephrase questions other Senators have already asked. Obviously at the present time Iraq will inevitably be the subject of more questions than any other subject, but there are other important subjects that could have been dealt with in depth by one Senator determined to focus on them, and weren't.

Let me note just one: how the State Department will operate under Rice and how it will reclaim its place as the primary maker of American foreign policy. The truth is that State has been on the defensive for a long time, saddled with Congressional earmarks and budget cuts, hampered by inefficient management by two successive Secretaries under Clinton, sidelined in both the design and the implementation of policy by the Pentagon under Bush. A report in early 2001 described the department literally as "crippled."

You could design a whole series of questions around what Rice proposes to do to change this -- which she pretty much has to if she expects to get anything done. Here and there during the hearing were individual questions that touched on this topic (Lugar is also known to have submitted a large number of questions for Rice to respond to in writing). But so many Senators wanted their shot at camera time talking about Iraq that this and other areas were seriously under-discussed.

Posted by: Zathras at January 20, 2005 06:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What's an "African-American"? Was this Obama fellow born in Africa? I thought he was born and raised in the USA which makes him an American.

Posted by: Paul at January 20, 2005 06:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting report from senior UK official that suggests new alliance structure to get round problem of useless EU/UN...

Posted by: Anon at January 20, 2005 06:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regardless of the merits of Obama's questions or his views in general, I found him to be effective in just the kind of gracious critique that Kerry could have used in addressing the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Whether the graciousness is genuine (seems to be) or cynical (as Bush is accused of being) doesn't matter. It can be done well and can help him politically while softening the defensiveness that causes administration after administration to make poor choices and dig in their heels when they do so.

Posted by: Lance at January 20, 2005 07:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I largely concur with you, Greg, this time around, especially about Obama, though I thought Dodd did good work too.

What I don't get, however, is why Condi's "background" (euphemism alert) should matter one way or the other to her merits as Sec. of State. Kerry's vote against her may or may not have been spiteful, but why, just because he's filthy rich, should he feel compelled to vote for someone he may disagree with (or simply spite) simply because she comes from a different "background."

It's worth noting, moreover, that although Rice is indeed black, her class background is hardly underprivileged. When Republicans talk about her "background," they just don't want to say "race." Personally, I don't give a damn about her or Barack's race; I care about their policy positions.

Since you decided to make it personal with Kerry, why don't you ask yourself, the same question: does BD feel compelled to support Rice (and Obama, for that matter) because he went to Philips Academy? Do I espy a certain latent, unacknowledged white liberal guilt on the part of old BD? Or are you just trying to shoehorn liberals into playing the old "guilt-ridden" role?

Posted by: Nils at January 20, 2005 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree that Obama is an excellent addition to the Washington scene, but as a potential presidential candidate at some point in the future, he needs to broaden his base beyond the black vote (which the Democratic Party already has) and the Illinois vote (which, via Cook County) is already firmly locked up by the Democratic party. However, if he does as well as he has started in that direction, he might just be able to do it. Any, you can take that from a conservative Republican who voted for him in Illinois.

Posted by: David A. Crossman at January 20, 2005 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

but whatever, NRA members--

I do not own a gun, my husband does not own a gun, nor are we NRA members, J.

He's a gun-grabber.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 20, 2005 10:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Nice to see you picking up on Obama. I have been a fan for some time now. I think he is an intriguing option for the Dems in the near future, possibly after a bit of seasoning. The governorship is not a bad idea as mentioned upsthread.

Posted by: Eric Martin at January 20, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

NRA members always see any attempt to moderate handgun homicides as 2nd amend infringements.

Bullshit. The NRA is consistently on the record as having a tough stance on punishment for crimes, including crimes where guns are involved. The NRA generally takes the stance that the way to "moderate" handgun homicides is to punish the person, not the handgun.

Someday they might notice there are other amendments in the Bill of Rights.

And none of these other amendments reduce in any way the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment.

And yeah, Obama never met a gun control bill he didn't like. Standard-issue lefty liberal on that issue.

Posted by: R C Dean at January 20, 2005 11:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike: agree lugar did some steering here and there via his intermittent, though regular, 'chiming'.

libertarian girl: obama's preludes to his questions were short by senatorial standards! (read the transcript and try scrolling through biden's "questions" for a comp).

digitalbrown shirt and zathras: Couldn't agree more with both of you guys.

Nils: Can't we, er, leave PA out of this!?! BTW, Condi's class background, economically speaking too, was and is far below JFK II's.

Posted by: greg at January 21, 2005 01:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I must not be applying enough imagination here, because I don't see anything great in this transcript.

Obama sounds like a stuffed shirt - he may not be stuffed as full as some of the others, but give him time - and intelligence doesn't make up for it. If he's that smart, he should know better than to act like those dimbulbs around him. I agree that graciousness is usually appropriate, and he gets points for that.

I'm afraid that as usual, Rice shows all the dynamic leadership qualities of a talking-points memo. I have trouble seeing her as the dynamic and revolutionary head of a department in such evident disarray as State. It should be an important department, and it needs somebody who will make it one.

And let's not all pat ourselves on the backs about Obama and Rice both being black Americans. If society had progressed all that much, the adjective "black" wouldn't have been considered worth mentioning. I don't want to see two black Americans discussing an appointment to the State Department, I want to see two Americans discussing it. We're not there yet - though four years ago, it was nice to see an administration willing to put Americans who happened to be black into prominent positions, and not play the tokenism game by shunting them off into, say, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Posted by: big dirigible at January 21, 2005 04:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"And let's not all pat ourselves on the backs about Obama and Rice both being black Americans. If society had progressed all that much, the adjective "black" wouldn't have been considered worth mentioning. I don't want to see two black Americans discussing an appointment to the State Department, I want to see two Americans discussing it."

And we will never be there as long as one of the two major parties makes it SOP to divide Americans along racial lines.

Posted by: Jack at January 21, 2005 07:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The trouble with Boxer & Kerry voting against Rice was that they were the only two doing it.

The Democrats have absolutely nothing to gain by playing along with Bush; he could care less.

And if they have any principles, they can't endorse Bush by approving the Worst National Security Advisor Ever to head up State.

As it is, we've got this compelling position: "Hey, the President's been an utter screwup the past 4 years, but we're going to vote in favor of his promoting his screw-up assistants."

Sigh. Santa didn't bring me a Democratic Party this Xmas either. I'll keep wishing.

Posted by: Anderson at January 21, 2005 05:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great post. Terrible pop-culture reference.

Posted by: Jeff at January 21, 2005 06:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Obama not muscular enough?

On Iran:

"The big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures, including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?"

"[L]aunching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in. On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran. ... And I hope it doesn't get to that point. But realistically, as I watch how this thing has evolved, I'd be surprised if Iran blinked at this point."

On Pakistan:

"... I think there are elements within Pakistan right now--if Musharraf is overthrown and they took over, I think we would have to consider going in and taking those bombs out, because I don't think we can make the same assumptions about how they calculate risks."


Who are the other Democratic leaders that talk/think like this?

Posted by: PD Shaw at January 21, 2005 09:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thank you for your excellent comments. Obama is the hope for the Democrat's future if they wish to retain all that was once good about the party and eliminate the blowhard unrealistic extremism that has taken hold in the last 30 years. If he can maintain his idealism and avoid becoming another ideologue, there is hope for him and his party as well. He and the party have a long way to go before they will get back the boomers they drove away and the educated young they have disillusioned. They stopped being the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy a long time ago.

Just a side note: the first female National Security Adviser, the first black National Security Adviser, the second female Secretary of State, the first and second black Secratary of State - all Republican. Democrats like Boxer and Kerry make promises of equality, but it took a Republican to keep them.

Posted by: Michael McLarney at January 22, 2005 04:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The point everyone is missing is that it is illegal to invade Iraq. There are laws (international and domestic) that were violated. Bush, Rice and the gang are no different from Hitler, Osama, Sharon, Saddam, etc. They are all killers and terrorists. What is the difference between a Freedom Fighter or a Terrorist? It only depends on which side you are on.

Bush is a War Criminal not a war president. Only stupid American Hypocrites refuse to see this. You can carry this to the right wing religious Hypocrites who support Bush the Killer. Seems Bush and his right wing Hypocrites do not know the Ten Commandments.

Posted by: Rush Limbaugh at January 23, 2005 05:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, Mr. Obama is definitely smooth. His approach at this hearing was the same as his approach at a hearing I attended when he was on the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee was debating the latest batch of gun control legislation that one of Mayor Daley's puppets had proposed. As is the case now, some of the more intelligent questions came from Mr. Obama - and unlike several of his Democratic comrades - he managed to stay awake.

Now one particular piece of legislation would have banned the possession and/or maufacturing of ANY semi-autos capable of firing more than 5 rounds, would have banned the possession of magzines holding more than 5 rounds, banned any firearm .50 cal or greater (shotguns, muzzleloaders INCLUDED) and given the fine fine folks of Illinois 90 days to surrender or destroy their offending items.

After Mr. Obama himself brought up the fact that this law was essentially leading to confiscation of private property, was accidentally targeting "kindly duck hunters" and Civil War re-enactors - in short admitting that it was terrible legislation.... HE STILL VOTED FOR IT.

So - either he voted for it because he was doing Daley's bidding - OR he sincerely believes in draconian gun control measures. I don't like either answer.

Yeah, he's a smart, motivated guy and an excellent speaker. I just don't agree with his politics.

Posted by: John C at January 26, 2005 07:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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