Altercation, by Eric AltermanMy response to the review of Barbara Ehrenreich's new collection, This Land is Their Land, in this Sunday's New York Times by Eve Fairbanks, which was so egregious in ways both trivial and significant that I felt compelled to write a column about it, is my new Think Again column. It's called "Money for Nothing," and it is here. I also have a new Nation column here, called "Obama and the Politics of 'Presumptuousness.' "
It's become political wisdom of late to argue that since John McCain has advocated a different policy position than President Bush on the conflict in Georgia, it's a good thing for him. Doubly so because Barack Obama is much closer to Bush's position. Candy Crowley made this point last night on CNN , noting that "what's interesting is that top foreign policy advisers to Obama are arguing that Obama is much closer to George Bush than John McCain is," and then sagely observing "and, as you know, this is a campaign that is trying to tie John McCain and George Bush." Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, derided Obama on Hardball last night, saying "Senator Obama's program, at the moment, sounds a lot more like another four years of George Bush's present policies." And Mark Halperin wrote on his weekly scorecard that "The Vladmir Putin-backed conflict with Georgia was a three-fer for John McCain: it reminded voters how dangerous the world is, allowed the Republican nominee to distance himself from the more accomodationist Bush administration and let him reinforce his maverick image."
It goes without saying -- or should -- that the reason the Bush administration has been a spectacular failure in foreign policy, and is reviled by voters at home and by people around the world, has absolutely nothing to do with it being accomodationist; it's actually the exact opposite. This is evidence of the mindless political dialogue going on right now: these pundits and reporters have grasped that McCain needs to distance himself from Bush, but without any actual comprehension, it seems, of why he needs to do that -- what policies McCain should be seeking distance from. By being even more dangerously aggressive than even Bush is not a good thing. It's like if a judge told someone to stop acting like a car thief and so he became a bank robber.
McCain appears to be reverting to the Bush line on virtually every important matter -- taxes, immigration, social issues, so on -- without the mainstream press really saying boo. But when he gets even crazier than Bush, he's "reinforcing his maverick image." McCain proposed more dramatic and damaging tax cuts than Bush did, too, making Grover Norquist even happier than he was before, alas.
It's very satisfying to watch Waldman decimate Corsi's arguments, as it's been satisfying to read numerous press accounts of the book today basically do the same. But I have to think it's all beside the point to Corsi and the Republican machine (the book is being published by a Simon & Schuster imprint headed former Cheney aide and Republican operative Mary Matalin).
Corsi hilariously told The New York Times that it's "nitpicking" to challenge his citation of a Newsmax.com article for the claim that Obama attended a controversial sermon by Jeremiah Wright on July 22, 2007. In fact, conservative Times columnist Bill Kristol, who cited the Newsmax article in repeating the claim about Obama's purported attendance, issued a correction after citing this report, writing, "The Obama campaign has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error." But I think it really is nitpicking to them -- it doesn't matter whether the factual argument over Obama's "continuing drug use" or secret Muslim ties is won, and I don't even see how they could expect to win -- but the fact that there is any debate, any argument, is the goal here. It's fun watching Waldman and even Larry King beat up on Corsi, but at the end of it, after realizing this took up 17 minutes of prime time television, after watching countless sound bites of Obama insisting "I am not a Muslim," that Corsi has in some sense won.
That's not to say the book shouldn't be battled at every turn. That's the best strategy, and some Americans will surely see it for the desperate, dumb political ploy that it is. But the whole ugly affair is, in the end, a lose-lose for both Obama and reasonable discourse.
George Zornick adds: See also Corsi's collected musings