Obama's First Test

The last dictator of Brazil, João Baptista Figueiredo, holed up in the palace at the end of his reign refusing to accept that Democracy had returned. He left the presidential Palácio do Planalto literally through the back door, refusing to pass the presidential sash to his successor José Sarney.

The Clintonistas had spent the last two years holed up in the palace they thought was the Democratic Party headquarters, waiting for the restoration of their regime. Earlier in these pages I recalled the story of Propaganda Minister Sid Blumenthal 16 months ago, telling a room full of Los Angeles liberals they better get on the Hillary train, because it was leaving the station and they had long memories. But now they are like Figueiredo, holed up in the Palace refusing to understand their moment has passed.

Lanny Davis, an aide in the Clinton White House, said he was circulating a petition asking Mr. Obama to pick Mrs. Clinton as his running mate. Mr. Davis said he was acting on his own.

The next 10 days are the first great test of Barack Obama as the leader of the new Democratic Party. If he cannot stand up to this ruthless manipulation by the Clinton machine, he will have failed the millions who have joined his campaign to truly change the politics of this country. I am fully confident that he has the strength to resist this horrid idea that Hillary as VP could help his candidacy. It would do the opposite–destroy the foundation of change and progress he stands on.

The cable networks of course have every interest in keeping this story of the powerful “Hillary Movement” alive, to keep us tuned in to what has been an advertising and ratings bonanza far beyond what their business plans predicted 12 months ago. Dana Milbank acknowledged this in his piece about the surreal Clinton gathering last night:

A crew from “The Daily Show joined the party, and, hoping to keep Clinton in the race, struck up a cheer of “Four more months!”. Such an outlandish thing seemed almost plausible among the Clinton backers in the hermetically sealed Baruch gym. Below ground level, there was no cellphone or BlackBerry reception, and there was no television playing in the room. That meant that they could not see the network projections showing that, while Clinton had won South Dakota, Obama had won enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Instead, they listened to Tom Petty‘s “Won’t Back Down.”   

But no one should be fooled by Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer or Bill O’Reilly trying to make us fear that the dictator holed up in the back rooms of the palace still has command of the army. The Clintons can either graciously pass the sash to Obama and come out the front door to the cheers of the crowd–or they can sneak out the back door.

It’s their choice.

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0 Responses to Obama's First Test

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    The first step of his campaign is in the right direction:

    “As president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing — if, and only if — it can advance the interests of the United States.”


    Read this as: I will not meet and discuss anything with Iran. Yoo-hoo!

  2. Morgan Warstler says:

    And the second bit of “either guy is the same” news today:

    “Bernanke is signaling a major policy shift on the dollar. In his speech, via satellite to a conference in Barcelona, Spain, he said Fed policy and the underlying strength of the U.S. economy “will be key factors ensuring that the dollar remains a strong and stable currency.”


    Read this as: No more deficits from the next president. Yoo-hoo-2!

  3. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan- I disagree with your interpretation of both of these news items. First, he certainly could meet with the Iranian leadership. They will want this because they are having internal financial problems and need to be part of the world trading community.

    Second-Bernanke is essentially “Jawboning” the dollar. He is warning traders the Fed will intervene to support the currency. It has nothing to do with how many T-Bills the treasury decides to sell each month.

  4. Morgan Warstler says:

    So, let me get this straight. You think Iran is going to change their minds about:

    1. Nuclear Inspection
    2. Israel

    Or do you think these are not requirements of “U.S. interests.” Look Jon, you will DOOM your man if you don’t give him some breathing room to back up from his previous position. He has to run right. And the day he starts doing it, and you are out unspinning his spin.

    “at a time and place of my choosing — if, and only if — it can advance the interests of the United States.”

    You don’t hear the shift in his tone? Also, he made a mistake, he nees to stop saying “my” – it sounds bad, like I am the decider.

    We’ll see who’s right on the FED, expect to see short term rates go up “to support the currency,” and that means less small business lending – exactly the position Clinton found himself in circa Jan 1993.

  5. Kevin says:

    If the Daily Show does something, it’s usually because they’re ridiculing not because they actually want it to happen.

    The Daily Show hardly needs HRC to stay in the race to have something to make fun of.

    And I believe Jon Stewart was pretty negative on Hilary in last night’s episode.

  6. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan-We didn’t bomb North Korea when they got nukes. We didn’t bomb the Soviet Union when they got nukes. We didn’t bomb Pakistan. Get real. Iran is not a Super-Power and there is nothing you can do to make it one. Containment has worked for 60 years.

    As far as I’m concerned, Barack has all the room he needs, but the basic notion he’s advanced of talking to both our friends and our adversaries is sound.

  7. STS says:


    Obama will probably tack right in some of his rhetoric, but which is zig and which is zag? For me the critical commitments Obama has made — those that will underly all the variations in diplomatic/political rhetorical formulation are:

    1. “I’m not against all wars — I’m against a dumb war”
    2. “I don’t just want to end this war, I want to change the thinking that lead to this war.”

    (paraphrasing from memory). Those are two of the most intelligent political remarks I can remember. By that I mean: they pinpoint precise distinctions about important questions in clear, direct language. I also happen to agree 100% with both.

    You appear to assume that “it can advance the interests of the United States” can only mean what George W. Bush or Condoleeza Rice happen to have said it means recently. To me it’s just a simple declaration intended to assure the full electorate that he understands the basis upon which he must justify any decisions he makes. The standard has to be the “interests of the United States”. Your view of those interests might be similar to his or not, I’m not entirely sure.

    At any rate, based on what I’ve heard from you and from Obama, I trust him a lot more to make that judgment.

  8. zak says:

    We used to joke that grad school was just grade school without the “E”, but Clinton supporters bring childish behavior to a whole new level


    It’s no wonder they’re her followers. . . they have the same it’s me or no Democrat delusion.

  9. Morgan Warstler says:

    Jon, it appears you just said Iran having nukes isn’t that big of a deal.

    If so, please say that directly. PLEASE BE SPECIFIC. Because Obama isn’t saying that, infact if you said it – he would denounce you. What Obama just said is if Iran tries to get a nuke, he will BOMB them.


    The problem I have is with #1, we already have this war. And it is no longer a dumb war – that’s dumb. It is now a war that is in many ways looks ot be mostly over – we are drawing down, and are scheduled to continue to draw down. So, all thats left is how fast do we draw down, and why? What is the rationale for the different ways we leave? Remember, even the Dems want cheaper oil. According to them the Iraqis owe us.

    And I agree with your #2, but I think with either new administration and a stronger Congress – the thinking that led to this war doesn’t get repeated.

    And again, to the zig/zag thing – Obama is a pol, his advisers point his path – and his chosen advisers say BOMB Iran if they try to get a nuke, and make make small incremental changes to the tax code – worry about the debt.

  10. STS says:


    It would be more accurate to say that we already had the dumb war — which we won militarily but lost geostrategically (hence the ‘dumb’ part) — and are now prolonging a dumb, mostly counterproductive occupation.

    But you’re probably right that Obama will not remove troops as quickly as some here are hoping. I say that because I suspect any drawdown will be a some what complex logistical process. It would also be hampered by a lot of face-saving maneuvering within the Pentagon. Bush has stacked the flag officer ranks with people reluctant to admit error in Iraq — it will take an Obama Administration a while to locate and promote some people who will cooperate with dismantling the Permanent Occupation strategy.

    But if you prefer to think that Obama just “gets” The Decider’s Big Vision — and therefore feel good about voting Obama this fall — who am I to disagree?

  11. Ken Ballweg says:

    Actually, just the logistics of getting the level of deployment we have in Iraq sorted out and moved dictate a few years to complete.

  12. Morgan Warstler says:

    STS, let me say it clearly:

    1. the decider had a big vision.
    2. the decider royally screwed it up.
    3. even though 2, big vision is still happening – we’re that big and cool (who knew).
    4. since #3, obama can’t reverse it now.

    Looking back, war was “wrong,” but now we’re in – and we really need the protection from weaponized oil. it isn’t about logistics is about now throwing away hard won strategic gains.

    if Iraq’s leadership wants us to leave, we leave, otherwise we should stay.

  13. STS says:


    The “weaponized oil” thing is kind of vague and Bond-villainesque. We “own” Iraq today and still are paying $130 per bbl. plus huge costs of the occupation. I don’t share any “official” Democratic idea that Iraq owes us oil, exactly. I’m pleased with Obama for passing on the dopey McCain/Clinton gas tax charade for example. An honest leader would rally us to acknowledge the market signal of $130 oil and get serious about alt.energy. We’ve been over this. Please be more concrete with the weaponization scenarios, because the ones the Bush crowd tried out are serious baloney — and I’ve considered quite a range of different ones myself. They don’t add up.

    As for Iraq’s leadership: which? The ones we’ve bought, the ones sheltering in the Green Zone, or the somewhat authentic, but scary-Islamic ones who hate our guts? This line is unpersuasive as well — who gives up “hard won strategic gains” over some polite diplomatic letter that says: “Dear US, Please leave. Love, Iraq”. This is giving me severe cognitive dissonance.

    But we’ll probably have to play out some elaborate charade along those lines in order to save face for the appropriate members of the military-industrial machine. Oceania has always been at peace with Westasia. Whatever.

  14. Morgan Warstler says:


    If you still are saying that Sadr controls the show in Iraq, I don’t know what to tell you. Except go read.

    But if you’ll grant me that he doesn’t… then be clear Maliki is our ally, but he isn’t our puppet. The sovereignty negotiations going on over there right now show pretty clearly, they want us there, but they want us there on terms that give them mastery of their domain: Try our soldiers in civilian courts, we can’t attack Syria and Iran from their lands, we need their ok to grab up bad guys, and it is stuff we’ll give in on.

    Weaponized oil. First let me say it this way. OPEC controls the flows to their interests. Suddenly after Bush’s last visit, they decide to increase production. Even tho, the dollar is still low, and even though the US is selling bio-fuel, because, OPEC is getting heat for food riots. This is about international power, and thereby immediately about minimizing the other guy, and expecting / preparing that they may always choose to try and use their power against you.

    The question is have they done it before? YES. Iran in 1985. Russia in 2005. Indeed the governments are working right now with the speculators to make bets they know will win.

    Now your attitude maybe who cares? It is their oil. And I get that, my point is this is what happens with us looming over them in a forward position, and you’re foolish to think they’d behave “nicer” if we weren’t looming over them.

    And if you are still not convinced, than clearly you, like Jon, aren’t really a believer in Peak Oil. Because we are running out, and if push comes to shove and in 3 years, in 6 years it really is about rationing and cataclysmic crisis, being over there protecting our ability to buy at the lowest possible price is in our interests.

  15. zak says:

    “and if push comes to shove and in 3 years, in 6 years it really is about rationing and cataclysmic crisis, being over there protecting our ability to buy at the lowest possible price is in our interests.”

    It would be in our best interests to immediately invest money in renewable energy –solar/wind, etc. It would be in our best interests to find a wayabandon the petroleum norm entirely because as India and China ramp up consumptions, there isn’t going to be enough oil to go around. And we can’t fight a wars on two fronts.

    The next war is going to be over water, potable fresh water supplies are diminishing at an alarming rate and NOBODY is talking about it. At least with oil, people/industry are aware, even if in denial.

  16. STS says:


    I don’t doubt that various folks would be willing to put the squeeze on us with oil — if they could. Eg. Russia vs. Ukraine with the gas pipelines, etc. But beyond the Bond villain vision you are drawing of “no oil” because Big Bad Sheik Abdullah (name your villain here) sez so, the real scenarios aren’t quite as apocalyptic as you paint them. To the extent there is apocalpyse in our futures it is because of *geology* not politics.

    Should we reserve the option to beat the oil out of somebody somewhere sometime? You bet. But that’s why we have a dozen carrier groups and several airborne and marine assault divisions, to say nothing of all the air power.

    That threat is all the “leaning” we really need to do. But play-acting the inept imperial nation building power is very dumb, very expensive and very counter-productive. We should focus our “big stick” on “don’t mess with the free flow of oil” and not all this pathetically un-libertarian policing and engineering of middle east politics we hardly comprehend. That message would be much easier to understand, respect and accept for the people in the middle east who ultimately need to sell us the oil to survive anyway.

  17. Morgan Warstler says:

    STS, I would carefully suggest that this is exactly the moment before we’d beating the oil out of somebody.

    If we weren’t that close to the crisis and facing that much of an immediate issue (next 10 years are going to be rough), I’d agree with you.

    Look, the profit is the same whether more is produced or not, so they have little reason to max produce, unless we keep them from acting in concert – which we have done successfully for years. That time is over, demand is too great. Now our policy has to be “MAX PRODUCTION” or else.

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