Saturday, March 29, 2008

George W Bush made Moqtada al-Sadr

Among the unplanned, unintended consequences of the incompetent prosecution of the war in Iraq by this administration, and they are legion, is the elevation of Moqtada al-Sadr from a low-level Baghdad cleric and neighborhood thug, to a major player in Iraqi politics, an actor on the world stage and potential future leader of Iraq. No one has had more to do with the meteoric rise in popularity and power of Moqtada al-Sadr than George W. Bush and his administration.

As this post is being written, we are escalating our military intervention in an internal Iraqi political struggle between Nouri Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr. Moreover, we chose to intervene on the side of the unpopular Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki against the very popular Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr, who helped put Maliki in power. And Maliki is failing.

While we watch this disaster unfold, it is worth looking back at how the Bush administration helped provide al-Sadr with such an extraordinary career advancement opportunity. Let us count the ways:

1) Bush administration frees Moqtada al-Sadr from the oppression of Saddam Hussein.
Let us be clear. We in the US don’t like the Mahdi Army, we don't like what they stand for, we don't like their extreme beliefs, and we particularly don’t like their thuggish leader Moqtada Al-Sadr. However, it is important to keep these facts in mind: They are not Al Queda and they are not Baathists and they are not Sadaamites. They are not the people we went into Iraq to fight. In fact, they are the very Iraqi’s, the exact oppressed religious sect that we went into Iraq to offer the gift of democracy at the point of a gun. After we did not find WMD's, imposing a democracy inspiring "regime change" became the rationale for the Iraq misadventure. So we succeeded. When the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down in 2003, it was in the in the middle of what is now know to be "Sadr City." It was the supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr that we cheered dragging Hussein's head through the streets. When Saddam's portraits and statuary were ripped down during the fall of Baghdad, it was posters of al-Sadr that immediately went up in their place.
2) Bush administration indecision prevented al-Sadr's arrest and capture in 2003

Paul Bremer was appointed by the Bush administration to lead the "Coalition Provisional Authority" from the time of the occupation of Iraq until the Iraqi interim government took over in June 2004. This from a Bremer interview with NPR Frontline:
Q: You didn't mention Moqtada al-Sadr.
BREMER: "Moqtada al-Sadr became a very clear problem. ... Before I was even selected to go over there, he had been involved in the murder of a highly respected ayatollah, Ayatollah [Abdul Majid al-]Khoei, who had just returned to the country [after] liberation. An Iraqi judge had investigated the murder and issued an arrest warrant for Moqtada al-Sadr. We learned about this when the arrest warrant was issued, which I think was in late July of 2003. I urged my government and the coalition to allow the Iraqi police to exercise this warrant, to arrest him for murder, and I was unable to persuade the coalition to do that. I think it was a mistake, because at that point Moqtada basically had fewer than 200 followers. It was not an important militia at that time at all."

Q: And who resisted?
BREMER: "Well, we had resistance from the American military and some pushback as well from the Department of Defense [ed.- Rumsfeld]. We were unable to move in August. In October, Moqtada's forces killed some American soldiers in Najaf and in Karbala, the other holy city. I again encouraged us to allow the Iraqis to exercise the arrest warrant; I was unable to. This happened again in March. It happened again in April. It was a constant battle. And of course every time we did not move against Moqtada, he was able to use the time to collect money, because he was controlling some of the collections at the mosques and using the money to hire more and more people into his Mahdi Army, as he called it, so that he grew from a force of probably fewer than 200 in the summer of 2003 to several thousand by the spring of 2004."

Q: And you had specific conversations with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld about al-Sadr?
BREMER:
"I had conversations with Secretary Rumsfeld and with the commanders on the ground and with the commanders at CENTCOM and so forth. And my colleagues had conversations. It wasn't just me."

Q: And they told you, "We just don't have the resources to go after him, to take this on at this point."
BREMER: "There were three or four different occasions where this came up, and there were different reasons for each ..."

Q: What difference would it have made, in your view, had you taken him and put him behind bars?
BREMER:
"I think it would have made a very substantial difference if we had moved against Moqtada almost any time in 2003, ... because the Mahdi Army, his militia, is really the fundamental problem today in Iraq. The reason he's able to get people to join his militia is that he had a lot of money. He was able to intimidate people, he was able to hire people, and he was able to make the argument that the coalition forces and the Iraqi forces have not protected the Shi'a from the Al Qaeda terrorist car bombings and attacks. If he had been taken out of the picture, the whole militia situation would be, in my view, considerably less complicated."
3) Bush administration prioritize GWB reelection ahead of on-the-ground military recommendations in Iraq, permitting al-Sadr to escape US attempts to kill him and his supporters in Fallujah.

As well as sacrificing more American soldiers to retake Fallujah after insurgents have months to organize and build defenses.

Wikipedia - First Battle of Fallujah - April, 2004
"The resulting engagements set off wide-spread fighting throughout Central Iraq and along the Lower Euphrates, with various elements of the Iraqi insurgency taking advantage of the situation and commencing simultaneous operations against the Coalition forces. This period marked the emergence of the Mahdi Army, the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada as-Sadr, as a major armed faction which, at that time, actively participated in anti-Coalition operations...

On May 1, 2004, the United States withdrew from Fallujah, as Lieutenant General James Conway announced that he had unilaterally decided to turn over any remaining operations to the newly-formed Fallujah Brigade, which would be armed with US weapons and equipment under the command of former Ba'athist Army General Jasim Mohammed Saleh. Several days later, when it became clear that Saleh had been involved in military actions against Shi'ites under Saddam Hussein, US forces announced that Muhammed Latif would instead lead the brigade. Nevertheless, the group dissolved and had turned over all the US weapons to the insurgency by September,[47] prompting the necessity of the Second Battle of Fallujah in November, which successfully occupied the city."

Press, political pressure helped 'lose' Fallujah, report says
"A secret intelligence assessment of the first battle of Fallujah shows that the U.S. military thinks that it lost control over information about what was happening in the town, leading to "political pressure" that ended its April 2004 offensive with control being handed to Sunni insurgents...
During the negotiations that followed, top Bush administration officials demanded a solution that would not require the Marines to retake the town, according to the assessment."
On November 7, three days after Bush was re-elected, Marines were permitted to again re-take the refortified, better armed, booby-trapped and more stongly defended town.
Wikipedia - Second battle of Fallujah November 7, 2004
November 6, 2004: U.S. Marines stage just north of Fallujah. The city, having now been under complete insurgent control with no American presence since April, there are a large numbers of booby traps and IEDs constructed and set in place. Additionally, elevated sniper positions were created along with heavily fortified defensive positions throughout the city, in preparation for a major offensive. November 7, 2004: Operation Phantom Fury begins... The U.S. military called it "the heaviest urban combat since the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam."
95 US soldiers were killed and 560 were wounded re-taking Fallujah after the election.

4) Bush Administration mandates Iraqi elections thereby providing Moqtada al-Sadr political legitimacy.

Now elections are a good thing. Democracy is a good thing. But the thing about elections, is that majorities win. So when we insist on imposing Democracy on a population that is comprised primarily of Shiiite Islamic fundamentalists, we reap what we sow. The Mahdi Army and Moqtada Al Sadr enjoy majority support in the largest religious sect in Iraq - The Shia. They voted in the elections we insisted they have and under the constitution we made them write. Maliki only formed his government with al-Sadr's support. From the Coucil on Foreign Relations:
"Muqtada al-Sadr's Power Grab"
"Once a renegade cleric with a ragtag militia fighting US forces, Sadr has transformed himself into a statesman. He controls a key bloc in the Iraqi Parliament and he was a kingmaker in the selection of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as prime minister... By the time elections were held in December 2005, Sadr managed to turn his strength on the Iraqi streets into political influence, with his supporters winning thirty seats in the 275-member Parliament—the largest share of any single faction. Over the past year, US forces have again targeted Sadr’s militia, and in protest he withdrew his ministers from Maliki’s government. But Maliki still relies on the cleric’s support in Parliament. In the end, Sadr proved himself to be a better politician than a militia leader."
5) Bush Administration agrees to military truce with Moqtada al-Sadr, while launching a campaign to kill Moqtada al-Sadr's enemies.

Ceasefire has strengthened Iraq's Sadr: analysts
"Moqtada al-Sadr's six-month freeze on attacks by his Mahdi Army has strengthened his hand and allowed him to purge dissidents from the ranks of the militia, analysts and aides of the Shiite cleric said.Sadr, long a thorn in the side of US-led forces in Iraq, is expected to announce on Friday whether he will renew his unilateral ceasefire, set to expire on Saturday... Sadr ordered the six-month freeze in his militia's activities last August 29 after allegations that his fighters were involved in bloody clashes in the shrine city of Karbala, near Najaf. Under the Muslim calendar, the ceasefire expires on Saturday. The pause has given Sadr a chance to strengthen his power base and purge his ranks of rogue fighters."
Net net, this is a case where it is literally true that “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” The Bush administration bungled or interfered in opportunities to kill al-Sadr in ’03,’04, and ’05. The Bush administration facilitated the means by which he could acquire political power. As a result, the Bush administration are the agents of and reason for his emergence as the most popular political figure in Iraq, and quite possibly, soon to be the most powerful.

Where do we go from here?
When all is said and done, Nouri Maliki can only remain Prime Minister and stay in power with the political support of Moqtada al-Sadr -or- by using active US military support to quash and intimidate al-Sadr's political base. By attacking al-Sadr, Maliki has abandoned the political path, and is attempting to preempt an unfavorable electoral result with military force. He made this decision immediately after a visit by Dick Cheney where he was presumably given the green light and the assurance that we will back him in this effort. So now the Bush administration has the United States taking sides in a internal Iraq political struggle, and putting us on the side of unpopular leader attempting to subvert the popular will with military force.

Americans in general and the Bush administration specifically continue to underestimate Moqtada al-Sadr and the depth of his popular support in Iraq. No one should be surprised that Maliki (who did not even live in Iraq for 23 years before the fall of Saddam), has far less popular support than a nationalist majorityfirebrand who both fought Hussein and now rails against the "foreign occupiers" of his country (that would be us). No one should be surprised that Maliki's Iraq Army forces will switch sides when ordered to confront the Mahdi Army. We learned from Michael Totten last August that the Mahdi Army had infiltrated the Iraqi Army.

End State
As I said in my post "The face of victory in Iraq", "victory" or "defeat" are meaningless concepts in the context of our military posture in Iraq. The only meaningful concept now is to define an "End State" that will permit us to leave. This statement of the "End State" hung on the wall of Rear Admiral "Fox" Fallon in Iraq one year ago:
"Iraq at peace with its neighbors, with representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, and security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. "
Note that there in nothing in this "End State" description that precludes a Moqtada al-Sadr led Iraq, as long as al-Sadr chooses to play along with us. He did play along with participation by proxy in the parliamentary elections, and was a key pillar of support for Maliki to form a government and be selected as Prime Minister. We can expect him to play along again, as long as he sees a path to his end goal - power.

Ominously Admiral Fallon resigned a few weeks ago.

The reason why this war never ends, is that the Bush/Cheney administration specifically and the American people generally do not want to admit that the face of "majority rule", and "regime change" and "victory" in Iraq is the face of Moqtada al-Sadr. We will leave Iraq when Moqtada al-Sadr takes over, and not before.

A realistic "End State" scenario is an “accommodated” (or if you prefer “co-opted” or “bought-out”) Moqtada al-Sadr, or someone just like him. A popular theocrat, elected into leadership in Iraq, still railing at the “Great Satan” from his bully pulpit to maintain his popular support, but behind the scenes working with the US at the precise intersection of US interest in a stable Iraq, and his lofty personal ambition for power on a world stage. This scenario would work for Iraq and would work for us.

This scenario does not work well for the legacy of George W. Bush. So it cannot happen until we have a new president.

NOTE: This is a working draft and will be edited, cleaned up and updated as events unfold over the next 24 hours.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It's still the war, stupid.

Two grim milestones over the last week - a five year anniversary and 4,000 American lives. I have been reading through a variety of posts, articles and essays marking the anniversary and analyzing how we got here. Since 70% of Americans supported the war, many of us have reason to reflect on our personal acquiescence in the decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

John Cole simply presents an unvarnished litany of what he got wrong saying "...you get the point. I was wrong about EVERY. GOD. DAMNED. THING. It is amazing I could tie my shoes in 2001-2004." Most notable in this theme is the Slate compilation of "liberal hawks" recalling their support and asking the question "Why did we get it wrong?" Andrew Sullivan participated and explained his high visibility support of the war. Blogenfreude calls the series a "wankfest" and at his Cynics Party cross-post a commenter called the series an exercise in "armpit sniffing". Hard to argue with either assessment. Glenn Greenwald notes "...not a single one of them appears to have learned the real lesson worth learning from the whole disaster", while also noting that not everyone got it wrong in 2003.

Alas, Five years ago I was among the 70% leading the cheers. This post is late and long, and I don't expect many to read it. In fact, I'd encourage you to skip it, as it is self-indulgent, intended primarily as a vehicle for me to understand how I got here from there, and serve as a reminder of how wrong I can be. Since I feel compelled to join the wankfest, I am going to make sure I get the most out of every stroke, and indulge in a detailed look at how my views on the war have evolved over the last five years.

There is no need for me to wonder or speculate about how I felt about the war five, four, three or two years ago. I left a digital trail. I was not blogging in 2002-3 (this blog will be two years old next month), but was an active participant on a political discussion board. One of the blessings (or curses) of being a blogger or a participant on such a board, is that you cannot deceive yourself about your views in the past. All you have to do is dig into the archives and read them. It is not always fun. For this retrospective, I will let my past selves speak for themselves, and follow my trail of digital breadcrumbs marking the path from then to now.

Before the War
This excerpt from a post on February 13, 2003 is a fair summary of my rationale:
"We were attacked. There are more people out there who will attack us again if they are given the chance. It is not acceptable to wait around for it to happen again and sacrifice more American lives just to prove what good guys we are. I have not reconciled whether my libertarian principles are eroding, or if I am simply insisting that our government get better at its primary job of defending our country, our people, and our way of life. In any case, I've made some new choices. I now choose to trust my government. If they say there is a real threat, then I believe them. Our leaders are not our enemies, and get the benefit of the doubt. In this matter, I will consider our elected leaders of both parties as honorable and intent on finding the right path for our country in this difficult time. George W Bush is my president, though I did not vote for him. I trust that our government will do the right thing."
One year later, I was still a Bush apologist, but my views were beginning to change. I was looking for other leadership to take us to the next step. From...

February 11, 2004:
"Now it is 2004. When GWB landed on the carrier and declared "mission accomplished" I took that statement at face value and accept it. It does not mean that the work is done, and it does not mean that soldiers will not continue to die. It does mean there is no longer a foreseeable need for large scale operations like Afghanistan or Iraq. As we move into this next phase, I now think we can be more effective with a president with different set of skills. One with a lighter and more sophisticated international approach, for example. Which is the first reason for my tilt to D. Again, I will not be unhappy if GWB wins, but I now have other preferences - depending on the opposition. I would vote for... Kerry over Bush."
The 2004 Election
By election eve I decided I would be very unhappy if Bush won. From...

November 1, 2004:
"President Bush did successfully command consensus at home in the war in Afghanistan. President Bush did successfully command consensus at home in the beginning of the prosecution of the occupation of Iraq. However, because the stated reasons that President gave for the Iraqi invasion proved to be inaccurate, because the projected outcome of regime change in Iraq has not matched what is actually happening in Iraq today, he has lost the ability to rally the kind of overwhelming support from the American people needed to effectively wage war. Bush has, as a result of the administration's prosecution of the Iraqi occupation, lost the trust and support of close to 50% of the American populace. NOTE: I am not arguing whether Bush "lied" or not, whether he was misled by bad intelligence or shaped it, whether we are winning or losing in Iraq. None of that can be absolutely determined as fact, but none of that is relevant to the core argument I am making or to this unassailable fact: Bush could not today command the same support of the American people as he did at the beginning of the Iraq war.

Try this thought experiment. It is one year from now. The CIA has unearthed actionable but somewhat ambiguous intelligence about Iran or North Korea that requires a military action like that which was mounted against Iraq. Bush comes to the American people to say we must move now. It is clear to me that the distrust is so deep after Iraq, the level of evidence required so high, that Bush would not be able to take the needed action. On the other hand, if Kerry were to come to the American people with the same claim as President one year from now, it is likely that sufficient Republicans will rally round, and sufficient Democrats will be willing to invest their trust in Kerry that we could, as a nation, take the necessary action. I am not saying that Bush is good or bad, better or worse than Kerry. I am simply saying that as a direct result of how the Iraq war was justified and prosecuted, Bush has been emasculated as a wartime leader. We are at greater risk with him in the White House, because 50% of our fellow citizens will not follow him to war. If you truly care about the security of our country, this is reason enough to vote for Kerry."
My concerns over GWB's impotence with Iran in that post proved to be prophetic, and I followed up with another pessimistic look into the future after the election results on...

11/8/2004:
"I went along with this unification sentiment in 2000 when Bush said almost the identical thing about unifying America. I lined up behind our president after the attack on our country. I supported the military action going into Afghanistan and Iraq. As a reward I find our country run by an administration that cannot acknowledge their mistakes, recognize their complete incompetence in executing the Iraq occupation, that consistently chooses superstition over science in policy, and is wildly, incomprehensibly, flagrantly fiscally irresponsible.

A few predictions for what "coming together", "working together" and "unification" behind this president will bring us (and I pray that I am wrong): By 2008, we'll still have well over 100,000 troops in Iraq. The American death count in Iraq will approach 10,000. The deficit will be significantly larger than it is today. Inflation will be running well north of 7.5%. Fixed-rate mortgages will be at 10% and rising. The dollar will be worth even less against the yen and euro. Instead of the 53% today who feel the US is "going in the wrong direction" (some of whom nevertheless voted for Bush), it will be closer to 70% that think Bush is doing a bad job."
Unfortunately I got more than a few of those predictions right. While I did not spend much time on the board in 2005, as I was frustrated by politics and the war, my views on had crystallized. Before taking a hiatus from the board, I made those views clear on...

March 20, 2005:
"As we approach the two year anniversary of our occupation of Iraq... Why anyone believes that Americans will be any more willing to tolerate a long drawn out guerrilla war in Iraq than we were in Vietnam is beyond me. Perhaps you just had to be alive then to see the similarity to what we are embroiled in now. GWB will be to Iraq what LBJ was to Vietnam. No matter what else he does, he'll be remembered for his failed war policy and thousands of squandered American lives. Just a few more information signposts as GWB drives the USA bus careening down the Highway to Hell. "
The Blog and 2006 Election
In April 2006 I started this blog. While not the raison d’être for this blog, the war in Iraq has, of course, become a major blogging topic. One notable early post was this wishful thinking on July 5. 2006 -"Iraq Independence... Two Years and Out:
"So we are no longer arguing about the black and white issue of War or Peace. The debate is now about these shades of gray:

  • Are we out in 18 months Or 24?
  • Do we have a residual force of 1 Division or 4?
  • Will we have permanent bases in Iraq?
  • How many rapid-reaction troops will be deployed "over the horizon" in Kuwait and elsewhere?
This is the Iraq debate now. We are debating "when" and "how", but no longer "if". We will be out of Iraq in two years."
Apparently new political perspectives and a having a blogging platform for my pontifications did not mollify my ability to be completely flat out wrong about Iraq. I did get a few things right. In other posts I pegged Rumsfeld's future, tried to understand the comparison invoked by Bush between Iraq and Vietnam, explored Colin Powell's complicity, and predicted the Iraq end-game will include Moqtada al-Sadr. Recent events have made that post relevant again.

2008 Election
In January 20o7 I determined to sort through the massing Presidential candidates by scrutinizing their stated positions on the war, before the war. That survey was presented in the post and video "It's the war stupid." :
"President Bush set the stage with the pending "strategic surge" of 20,000 - 30,000 troops into Iraq. The surge in troops means a surge in American and Iraqi casualties. The surge in troops means that we will be refereeing an Iraqi civil war well into 2008. Stay the course in a quagmire, and you stay in the quagmire. The Iraq war will determine the selection of our next President. For the 2008 election, we'll be looking for candidates who inspire confidence in their war making decisions. Which begs the question: Why wouldn't we elect a President in 2008, who was right about Iraq in 2003?"
Even if posting on a blog as widely unread as this one, one creates a record that is not unlike the record of published pundits or more relevant, those who would be President. But unlike pundits or bloggers, the question of exactly what those who aspire to be President were saying in 2002/3 is directly relevant in assessing how they will make decisions going forward.

To that end, I tried to document exactly what all major and potential candidates were saying about the war before the war. My rationale was similar to Glen Greenwald's recent post about the importance of remembering how we got here.

This look back was not about the vote for the "Joint Resolution" in October, 2002. There were many good reasons to vote for that resolution, including a reasonable hope for a negotiated settlement and/or additional action out of the UN. What is important, is what the candidates said or did not say to the American people in the six months before the war started. It was an enlightening exercise, and led me to support Chuck Hagel, then later Ron Paul. Those options are no longer available as we are now down to three choices. So let us close the loop and finish this post where we began, five years ago, and reprise again what our current three candidates were saying about the Iraq war then - when it really mattered.

Hillary Clinton was wrong:
Senate Floor - October 2002
"The only way to change this is for Saddam Hussein to disarm, and I don't think he will. We are in a very difficult position right now... It’s with conviction I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. It’s a vote that says clearly to Saddam, ‘This is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed."
John McCain was really really wrong:
"The Right War for the Right Reasons" 12-March-03
"Many critics suggest that disarming Iraq through regime change would not result in an improved peace. There are risks in this endeavor, to be sure. But no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values... Isn't it more likely that antipathy toward the United States in the Islamic world might diminish amid the demonstrations of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the end of a regime that has few equals in its ruthlessness? Wouldn't people subjected to brutal governments be encouraged to see the human rights of Muslims valiantly secured by Americans -- rights that are assigned rather cheap value by the critics' definition of justice?"
Barack Obama was right.
Remarks 26-October-2002
"I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne... That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear: I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power…. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors…and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."

Standing on the shoulders of what happened in the past, we can now look forward and assess our real choices in the general election and in Iraq. Both Obama and Clinton have given major policy speeches on Iraq in the last week. We'll dig into those in a future post.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is a lot less than meets the eye as far as any practical differences in the Iraq policy of the three major candidates remaining. We know we have to significantly reduce our military presence in Iraq. We just can't afford it. The military is stretched to the breaking point. A large majority of Americans think it was a mistake to go in and want us out. Regardless of who wins the election, within two years of a new president taking office our military presence in Iraq is going to be down 65% from where it is now - plus or minus 15%. And that plus or minus - that is the sum total of the practical difference between the three caniddates. But... and it is a big "but" ... McCain is "leaning in", and both Obama and Clinton are "leaning out."

All I wanted out of this election was an anti-war fiscal conservative in the finals, preferably a Republican or Independent in order to maintain divided government into 2009. I was pushing Chuck Hagel until he flaked out, which left me with Ron Paul by default, but I really hoped Bloomberg would drag Hagel back in. When Bloomberg went back to counting his money (I understand he is also involved in a local government on the East coast somewhere) that hope died.

So I find myself impaled on the horns of a dilemma.

The choice now:
  • RED PILL - Divided Government (good) but Permanent War (bad)
- or -
  • BLUE PILL - Single Party Democratic government (bad) with expanded majorities, possibly a filibuster proof Senate (really bad) and either Clinton or Obama at the controls of a Cheney designed unitary presidency (really really bad).
Pick your poison.

Yeah yeah - I know the liberal Democratic intentions are good, but as always, the unintended consequences are going to be brutal.

I need a drink.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.


Friday, March 21, 2008

"The maxim of civil government being reversed in that of religion, where its true form is..."

Jefferson Divided We Stand letter"... divided we stand, united we fall." The words of Thomas Jefferson in an 1820 letter to Dr. Jacob De La Motta. An image of the letter is above and the full text directly below.

Thomas Jefferson writing in the third person:
"Th. Jefferson returns his thanks to Dr. De La Motta for the eloquent discourse on the Consecration of the Synagogue of Savannah, which he has been so kind as to send him. It excites in him the gratifying reflection that his country has been the first to prove to the world two truths, the most salutary to human society, that man can govern himself, and that religious freedom is the most effectual anodyne against religious dissension: the maxim of civil government being reversed in that of religion, where its true form is "divided we stand, united, we fall." He is happy in the restoration of the Jews, particularly, to their social rights, and hopes they will be seen taking their seats on the benches of science as preparatory to their doing the same at the board of government. He salutes Dr. De La Motta with sentiments of great respect."
I came across this exchange of letters when I started this blog two years ago. I was researching previous usage of the phrase that became the title for this blog. It seemed a perfect title for the theme I was promoting - that our federal government functions better, with greater financial responsibility, more oversight, less corruption, produces better legislation and provides greater governance when the legislative and executive branches are not held by a single party.

I found many examples of the phrase being used (some of which are listed in the sidebar), but none more remarkable than this letter. I could not have been more pleased when I learned that the earliest usage was written by the hand of Thomas Jefferson. His short letter speaks to the intent and the core convictions of a key founder and architect of our country and constitution. Consider the pride and importance that Jefferson invests in the principle of religious freedom and diversity in this letter. He finds it "gratifying" that our country was the "first to prove to the world" the "two truths" that are the most beneficial to human society - "that man can govern himself", and absolute "religious freedom" is the only answer to "religious dissension". It bears repeating - Thomas Jefferson considered religious freedom one of "two truths, the most salutary to human society".

On the occasion of the 1820 dedication of a synagogue in Savannah, Georgia, Dr. Motta wrote letters to both Jefferson and James Madison including the text of his dedication address. James Madison also replied:
"Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United States is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect. And it is particularly pleasing to observe in the good citizenship of such as have been most distrusted and oppressed elsewhere, a happy illustration of the safety and success of this experiment of a just and benignant policy. Equal laws protecting equal rights, are found as they ought to be presumed, the best guarantee of loyalty, and love of country; as well as best calculated to cherish that mutual respect and good will among citizens of every religious denomination which are necessary to social harmony and most favorable to the advancement of truth."
The historical context of these letters serves to remind us of the continuous struggle to ensure that this truth is never forgotten, this freedom is never abridged, and the government is never permitted to express an official preference for any religion or sect. Despite the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1787 guaranteeing freedom of religion and prohibiting a religious test for any public office, at the time these letters were written, Jews had been fighting for over 30 years to enjoy those guaranteed freedoms. Some states, like Maryland carried laws that imposed exactly such a religious test. From the American Jewish Historical Society:
Turks, Jews, and Infidels Need Not Apply
"Their 1797 petition initiated a 30-year fight to repeal the religious requirements for participation in Maryland public life. A committee of the Assembly found the Etting-Cohen petition "reasonable," but the Maryland legislature took no subsequent action. Etting and Cohen organized several more petitions between 1798 and 1804, each of which was supported by the Jeffersonians. The Federalists blocked passage of any reform act in Maryland’s upper chamber, which disproportionately represented conservative, anti-immigrant, rural areas. The Federalists argued that lifting the limitations in the constitution would open office holding not only to Jews, but also to "Turks and infidels."...
The "Jew Bill" adopted in 1826 did not directly amend or strike the offending clause from the Maryland constitution, where it still stands today. Rather, the bill circumvented it. The Maryland Assembly saw fit only to allow Jews who affirmed their belief in an afterlife to sit as members. Today, while the Maryland constitution still formally limits public office holding to Christians, the clause is never enforced and religious tests are never applied to lawyers or elected officials."
Like slavery, state sponsored religious tests and intolerance were recognized as evil by the founders of our nation, but like slavery, only partially addressed in their time.

And what of our time? Does the electorate still impose a religious test for public office? It speaks well for our time that Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman was elected in 2006 and serves today. But could a Muslim be elected president? The eagerness with which some have propagated and defended the fraudulent “Obama is a Muslim” e-mail points to how much religious intolerance remains. Could a Jew be elected President? Possibly. How about a Native American who practices the religious rituals and ceremonies of his ancestors? Could a professed atheist or agnostic get elected to major office anywhere regardless of secular qualifications?

These are question that every generation of Americans must answer for themselves. As Americans fought for the principle of religious freedom at the beginning of the American experiment, it falls to Americans of each generation, of every religion, race and creed, to ensure that in their own time their generation remembers and understands that - as regards religion - “divided we stand.


EDITED: 03/23/08 - Fixed typos, added links
x-posted at Donklephant




Monday, March 17, 2008

Carnival of Divided Government Unus et Vîcênsimus - Special Ides of March Edition

Welcome to the March 15 17, 2008 Carnival of Divided Government Unus et Vîcênsimus - Special Ides of March Edition.

Introduction

As explained in earlier editions, we have adopted Latin ordinal numeration in order to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this, the Unus et Vîcênsimus edition, as in all of the CODGOV series, we select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and main stream media on the singular topic of government divided between the major parties (leaving it to the reader to sort out volunteers from draftees). Consistent with this topic, the primary criteria for acceptance in the carnival is to explicitly use the words and/or concept of "divided government" in submitted posts. A criteria that, to our endless befuddlement, is ignored by many of the bloggers submitting posts, which sadly results in DWSUWF reluctantly ignoring their fine submissions.

2008 Ides of March Edition
Act 1. Scene II
CAESAR BEARUS STEARNUS: Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music, Cry 'Caesar!' Speak; Caesar is turn'd to hear.

SOOTHSAYER:
Beware the ides of March.

CAESAR BEARUS STEARNUS:
What man is that?

BRUTUS JP MORGANUS:
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

CAESAR BEARUS STEARNUS:
Set him before me; let me see his face.

CASSIUS PAULSONIUS:
Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.

CAESAR BEARUS STEARNUS:
What say'st thou to me now? speak once again.

SOOTHSAYER:
Beware the ides of March.
Beware indeed. Yon Dwsuwf-ius has a lean and hungry look. Alas - this post is two days late, but I had to wait and see the denouement of the Bear Stearns Shakespearian drama. The show is over, and without further ado, the top 10 divided government posts and articles.

Carnival

Back40
tees off on Jeff Weintraub for suggesting that Democrats should get a "Mulligan" on the Michigan and Florida primaries. Posted at Muck and Mystery:
"Now, as much as ever, we need divided government. They are all so incompetent and venal that it is in the national interest to impede them as much as possible within the structure of our institutions. I'd say that if you think that the Democrats will hold congress then you should vote for a Republican President; and the reverse."
This was a return visit for Back40 to the Carnival of Divided Government golf course. Frankly I think he sliced that Weintraub shot out of bounds on the right. But he makes up for it with his concluding remarks on divided government - a hole in one.

AJ Strata also opines on Democratic party politics and concludes that the "Clinton-Obama War Sinking Dem Chances In ‘08" posted at the Strata-Sphere:
"This is all great news for McCain who can let the Dems scar each other up while he goes out and raises money and puts his national organization into place. The Dems chances of winning the presidency have always been low in my opinion. America’s fondness for divided government (they don’t really trust either party unfettered) means the Dems clear leads in the House and Senate would push many voters to look for a check and balance in the White House."
Opinions differ on whether the Democratic inter-party squabbling helps or hurts. On the plus side, they are in the press everyday. Even McCain in Iraq cannot compete. On the minus side, are we sure that all publicity is good publicity? In any case, there is no argument about the American voter's affection for divided government.

Mick Stockinger also weighs in on the Democratic primary battles, explaining that the Democratic voters are looking for "Absolution", posted at Uncorrelated.
"This nation was built on the inevitability of conflict, which is why we have divided government designed to balance the forces of human nature--tyranny, greed and arrogance. Its supposed to be brawl folks.Barack Obama's promise of unity is either incredibly naive, or dreadfully omnious."
Mick is also making his second appearance in the Carnival. Who knows, by the time we get to the general election season, there may be a real community of bloggers beating the divided government drum.

Civilized Crank at a Cantankerous Gentleman scores a twofer with back to back posts - First outlining the correct strategy for McCain in "A Winning Strategy" and then throwing in the towel on the Democrats and and exclaiming "What a Clusterf*ck":
"In other words, a vote for Obama is a vote for unified Democratic government. After the last 8 years of Bushism, the first 6 of which saw a unified Republican government run roughshod over checks and balances, divided government is the best answer to ensure that the worst legislative impulses are not pursued. We have already seen the dangers of unified government. While McCain has shown an ability to work across the aisle, he is still a conservative/Republican and as such will be able to check a Democratic Congress."

"A month ago, I could see myself voting for Obama in November. My personal affection for him remains, but I am disclaiming the Dems now. They have shown me that they don't recognize the moment they are in and don't recognize the simple fact that Hillary is a godsend to the Republicans this cycle. This isn't limited to the Clintons, it infects the party down to its roots. So like Herod I am washing my hands of the Dems, even Obama, and backing McCain and divided government."
Likely, this is the same conclusion that I will arrive at, but first need to reconcile myself on the issue of the war. No rush, I'll wait to see how the Democratic selection process plays out.

Michael Goodwin of The NY Daily News is leading a cheer for Mayor Bloomberg, and explains how "Divided, We Stand to Win":
"Bill Clinton bungled one-party rule at the start of his presidency, producing Speaker Newt Gingrich and a GOP congressional tide. One-party rule under George Bush was so inept by 2006 that voters gave Democrats Congress.... The lesson is clear: Divided government works best. One party checks the other, just as the three branches of government are a constitutional system of checks and balances. A monopoly, including a political one, stifles choice and leads to corruption. "
Michael thinks that divided government works as well in New York state government as it does at the federal level. Could be.

David Sparks presents "The modern two-party system in the US Senate" posted at The Arbitrarian, saying:
"I’ve created a timeline of the ebb-and-flow of party politics in the US Senate since the beginning of the modern two-party era. Beginning with the antebellum 35th Congress, and progressing through to the 109th, this timeline tells the story of the evolution of politics in America as played out on the floor of the Senate."
Pretty cool. While not specifically invoking divided government, David's work is an interesting resource to explore for divided government enthusiasts. I plan on spending some time with it.

Josh Patashnik at The New Republic is commenting on Paul Kiel's complaint in "Uncle Sam Shorthanded":
"During periods of divided government, a lot of situations end up coming down to variations on the game of chicken between the president and Congress, and the side at a disadvantage will be the one with more to lose if neither yields. In general, this is going to be the party that expects government to actually do something--hence Patrick Leahy's complaint that "They [the administration] could care less. They dislike government. They dislike the way government works." True, but this is a structural disadvantage for liberals about which there's not really anything to be done."
DWSUWF supports limited government as a goal and divided government as a voting heuristic to achieve it. However, there is a clear difference in pursuing limited government as an objective and deliberately sabotaging and handcuffing government agencies that already exist out of an ideological preference. This distinction apparently eludes the Bush administration. Failing to appoint leadership to Federal agencies does not promote or create limited government. It just creates bad government, inefficient government, and ineffective government. It is just stupid.

Nunik at Isnuansa.com is leading an interesting discussion of "Divided Government":
"Dalam fungsi pengawasan, DPRD memiliki hak menyatakan pendapat, hak interpelasi dan hak angket. Hak-hak tersebutlah yang seringkali menyebabkan munculnya konflik antara Kepala daerah dan DPRD di Divided Government karena partai pendukung kepala daerah tidak mempunyai kursi mayoritas di DPRD."
I just do not see how anyone can argue with that, given the situation in Indonesia.

Alan Bock is blogging at the OC Register Horserace '08 and wringing his hands about the election outcome in his post "Paternalism/Maternalism - The Theme" then reposted my comment to his post:
"I suspect Barack will be president whether I approve or not. Do you suppose the hapless Republicans can pull themselves off the mat Bush put them on long enough to win Congress so we can have divided government, the least objectionable outcome under our present system?"

"I am afraid we are on a hell-bound train of expanded Democratic party majorities in the both Houses of Congress, a potential filibuster-proof Democratic super majority in the Senate, and a Democratic president flexing the pumped up biceps of new unitary executive branch power - courtesy of Dick Cheney’s six years of steroid injections. Have a good day.”
Actually I think the Republicans will manage to hold off a Democratic super majority in the Senate - but just barely. The rest seems like a foregone conclusion.

Jesse
at Liberty Forged quotes from a letter by Jim Babka of DownsizeDC.org as he offers a "A message to American society.":
"Does the fact that Bush was so much worse than Clinton give us reason to hope that things might not be so bad under Obama? We think not. Bush had a Republican Congress. So did Clinton. Divided government kept Clinton from spending so much, while unified government allowed spending under Bush to explode. If Obama becomes president it is probable that we will have unified government again, which portends another large explosion in government spending."
When you say it like that, it just seems so simple, obvious and true. Probably because it is.

Miscellany

Traditionally, we conclude this Carnival by including one "off-topic" submission, as a grudging acknowledgment and proxy for the many off-topic submissions received. Off-topic in this context meaning - no mentions of "divided government" or gridlock. For this edition, we selected Humorist, Haikuist and Hillaryist Madeleine Begun Kane. However, her limerick submission was on the topic of Ralph Nader, and since he is on my list of topics to not blog about anytime between now and when pigs fly, I instead went to her website and chose a recent Haiku which was more to my liking and is also on topic for several of our recent posts.

Madeleine Begun Kane presents "Hillary Clinton Derangement Syndrome" (Haiku) posted at Mad Kane's Political Madness and presented here:
Hillary Clinton Derangement Syndrome

Smearing Hillary,

Ignoring Barack’s foibles.

Must edit blogroll.

And with that we conclude this edition. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all of the submissions (on-topic or not). The next edition will be the Carnival of Divided Government Duo et Vîcênsimus - Special Two Year Blogoversary Edition, which we will celebrate on or about Wednesday, April 23. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form. Past posts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Carnivalingus

Some recent carnivals and compilations of note:
UPDATE: 21-March-08 - Corrected typos and added links

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lets Play Oddball! Televison personality shoots self in head. Reloads. Shoots Obama Campaign. Reloads. Shoots self in head again.

UPDATED: Saturday March 15, 2008
From the MSNBC show Countdown Obama Infomercial with Keith Olbermann on Wednesday 3/12/08 - Highlights of...



Keith's Special Comment:
"To Sen. Clinton’s supporters, to her admirers, to her friends for whom she is first choice, and to her friends for whom she is second choice, she is still letting herself be perceived as standing next to, and standing by, racial divisiveness and blindness.

And worst yet, after what President Clinton said during the South Carolina primary, comparing the Obama and Jesse Jackson campaigns; a disturbing, but only borderline remark. After what some in the black community have perceived as a racial undertone to the “3 A.M.” ad, a disturbing but only borderline interpretation ... And after that moment’s hesitation in her own answer on 60 Minutes about Obama’s religion; a disturbing, but only borderline vagueness ... After those precedents, there are those who see a pattern, false or true. After those precedents, there are those who see an intent, false or true. After those precedents, there are those who see the Clinton campaign’s anything-but-benign neglect of this Ferraro catastrophe, falsely or truly, as a desire to hear the kind of casual prejudice that still haunts this society voiced and to not distance the campaign from it...

Somebody tells her that simply disagreeing with and rejecting the remarks is sufficient. And that she should then call them “regrettable,” a word that should make any Democrat retch And that she should then try to twist them, first into some pox-on-both-your-houses plea to "stick to the issues," and then to let her campaign manager try to bend them beyond all recognition, into Sen. Obama’s fault. And thus these advisers give Congresswoman Ferraro nearly a week in which to send Sen. Clinton’s campaign back into the vocabulary ... of David Duke."
There is quite a bit that struck me as truly odd about this particular "Special Comment." Nothing was stranger than Olbermann's peculiar choice to attack" Clinton's advisers" for Hillary Clinton's statements. Just think about this for a minute. Hillary Clinton makes statements about Obama, or his staff and supporters, or her own staff and supporters, or the campaign in general or whatever. Olbermann becomes incensed by the statements as only Keith Olbermann can get, and then he attacks "Clinton's advisers" for the statements she has made. Why the advisers? Why not Clinton? What is the rationale behind that? I can think of only three reasons why Keith Olbermann would choose to formulate his very carefully and precisely worded "Special Comment" in that peculiar way.
1) Olbermann believes Hillary Clinton is too stupid or incompetent to think for herself, speak for herself, direct her own campaign, or formulate her own opinions.
- or -
2) Olberman thinks women in general are incapable of formulating their own opinons, positions, and/or direct their campaign without the help of a (presumably male) staff.
- or -
3) Olbermann is afraid to confront Hillary Clinton directly and instead chooses to make a dishonest and disingenuous indirect attack on her "advisors" for her statements and her positions.
Honest to God, I cannot think of another reason to structure his presentation like this. If anyone else has a plausible reason, I'm all ears. Leave me a comment, and I'll update the post. In the meantime, I was inspired to create the first ever DWSUWF poll which you should find in the sidebar on the left. Let me know what you think the reason is that he delivered his "Special Attack" on Hillary Clinton by attacking her advisers. Does he think She is stupid? - Is he a chauvinist sexist pig? - or - Is he just afraid of Hillary Clinton? You decide.

But what do I know. I am just a pissant blogger and Keith Olbermann is a cable news giant. He must know a lot more about this than me. So let me take a crack at this:

DWSUWF's Special Comment:
To Keith Olberman's viewers, to his admirers, to his friends for whom he is "must see TV", and to his friends for whom he is a second or third choice after Anderson Cooper 360, Project Runway reruns, or Jerry Springer - he is still letting himself be perceived as a sanctimonious ass, a journalistic hack, an Obama cheerleader, and standing next to sexist divisiveness and blindness.

And worst yet, after what Olbermann said about the Geraldine Ferrarro remarks, comparing a respected progressive female American leader to David Duke; a disturbing, but only borderline remark... After what some in the feminist community have perceived as a sexist undertone to his dismissive and patronizing attacks; a disturbing but only borderline interpretation... And after attacking his own election night co-host for daring to expose an Obama spokesman's ignorance of his candidates accomplishments in the Senate; a disturbing, but only borderline bias... After those precedents, there are those who see a pattern, false or true. After those precedents, there are those who see an intent, false or true. After those precedents, there are those who see the Olbermann broadcast as an anything-but-benign neglect of this Ferraro smear, falsely or truly, as a desire to hear the kind of casual media bias and sexism that still haunts this society voiced and to not distance MSNBC and his show from it.
Hmm. It is really hard to pontificate like Keith Olbermann. It's hard to maintain that kind of... incoherence. I'll just have to finish this my way.

This is what I think - Olbermann has no idea of what he did to invigorate the Clinton campaign. With a single stroke he has done more to galvanize, crystalize, and motivate Clinton supporters than anything I can think of since the presidential campaigns began in earnest more than a year ago.

Conventional wisdom is that if Clinton wins the nomination, dispirited Obama supporters will not support her, but if Obama wins the nomination, he will get all the Clinton supporters to rally behind him. Conventional wisdom is that Obama’s support comes from passionate idealism and Clintons support is mostly cynical political machinations. Conventional wisdom is wrong on both counts.

There is a core of idealistic passionate support for Clinton (perhaps not as big as Obama's support, but still very big). That core support comes from feminists and professional women who have lived and fought the good fight against real hard-core sexism in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a different kind of sexism than we see today. Much more blatant. Impenetrable glass ceilings and widespread legal exclusion from many professions and career opportunities was the norm. Sexual harassment and a hostile workplace for women was an accepted work environment. The women who fought to change these conditions are women who have seen a lot, and done a lot, and made a real difference in our country. Women like Diane Feinstein, Gloria Steiman, and Geraldine Ferraro.

So... Geraldine Ferraro makes a comment about Obama in support of Clinton and is slapped down by Keith Olbermann and others. Gloria Steiman makes a comment about Obama in support of Clinton and is slapped down by Keith Olbermann and others. Diane Feinstein makes a comment about Obama in support of Clinton and... so it goes. These are women who have earned our respect, and are just not getting it from the Obamites and pundits like Olbermann. It is women like these, who - right or wrong - believe that this is their time - their one shot to see a culmination of a lifetime of struggle for women’s rights - and, right or wrong, have a sense of entitlement in this presidential race. Frankly, it is a very similar sense of entitlement that many blacks (justifiably) feel about the Obama campaign. The difference, is that one groups sense is validated by mainstream media - like Olbermann, and one is not. The depth of passion and resentment felt by Clinton supporters emerges in moments like we have seen with Ferraro over the last week, and - it is not always pretty. But when this passionate, idealistic Clinton support is dismissed, or mis-characterized, or unfairly smeared as racist (as happened Wednesday in Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment")... you are going to see some serious blowback. Minimally it motivates the opposition. In this case, that was just the beginning -Keith has seriously pissed off the wrong women.

There was another interesting bit of rhetorical dissembling in the conversation between Olbermann and Eugene Robinson in the same show:
OLBERMANN: "... Does this end this? Or does it just sort of freeze it in a kind of nebulous zone that a lot of events in the Clinton campaign have been mired, the sort of nasty stuff they didn‘t say but somebody said for them?"
ROBINSON: "That does seem to have been the pattern, doesn‘t it? You know, I have a feeling this could go on for a few more days and hopes it faded out, but who knows. I mean, where do you start with this story, Keith?You know, first of all, Geraldine Ferraro says, you know, she‘s been called a racist and Bill Clinton was called a racist. Nobody calls her a racist. Nobody called Bill Clinton a racist.What was said is that what she‘s—you know, the sentiments she expressed, what she said was arguably a racist thing to say. But that‘s about action, that‘s about words. It‘s not about her essence or her being."

You got that? Keith and Eugene are not calling Geraldine Ferarro a racist. Not at all. They are only explaining that Geraldine Ferraro says racist things. That does not make her a racist. It's a beautiful thing. An almost Clintonesque parsing of the language.

Fair enough. We will play by those rules. Permit me to clarify, so there is no confusion about the point of this post. Keith Olbermann is not an Obama cheerleader and a sexist pig. He just talks like one.

UPDATE:
Saturday March 15, 2008

Sorry - you will just have to pardon me for taking a too long post, and making it longer.

On Friday's edition of Countdown Obama Infomercial with Keith Olbermann, Keith apparently had to scramble back into the studio for a "Breaking News" story - An interview with Barack Obama responding to the widespread coverage of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory sermons. The interview video is linked here. (and perhaps embedded below if Blogger can handle two MSNBC embeds in one post).

Barack Obama responded directly to Olbermann's questions with thoughtful, intelligent answers, as we've come to expect from the Senator. More interesting was the context of the interview and the analysis between Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Alter before and after the interview.

My view is that the hyperbolic rhetoric in the coverage of both Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermons and Geraldine Ferraro's comments were way overblown by the media and bloggers. This is not about Wright, or Ferraro, or Obama or Clinton. This is about watching Keith Olbermann hoisted on his own petard.

Two days before, Olbermann was fanning the flames with his "Special Comment" to and about Hillary Clinton, saying "Clinton's tepid response to Ferraro is shameful...You must reject and denounce Geraldine Ferraro." Now, we know that Geraldine Ferraro is a public figure with a personal relationship to Clinton, and a supporter who was peripherally associated with her campaign. We also know that Jeremiah Wright is a public figure with a personal relationship to Obama, and a supporter who was peripherally associated with his campaign. Hence the need for a hastily arranged "Breaking News" interview with Obama on Friday to follow up the anti-Clinton screed on Wednesday.

Now, your assignment. Compare and contrast this Friday interview with Wednesday's "Special Comment" linked at the top of the post.



Note that Olbermann had a very different tone of voice when asking Obama whether he would denounce Reverend Wright, as compared to when he was demanding that Clinton denounce Ferraro. Obama replies, quite reasonably, that he will denounce the words but not the man. Note that the trademark Olbermann high dudgeon is noticeably absent. Absent also is the finger wagging insistence that Obama "must reject and denounce Reverend Wright" as he demanded of Clinton. Why the difference? Well... Keith was addressing a male candidate about a male supporter's offensive comments on Friday, but was addressing a female candidate about a female supporter's offensive comments on Wednesday. Was that the reason? You tell me.

Then Olbermann and Jonathan Alter (who recently wrote two columns advising Clinton to quit the campaign) sheepishly analyze what has just transpired in the interview. Maybe it is my imagination, but when I watch this sequence I see two embarrassed journalists fully cognizant of the discrepancy in their coverage of these two candidates and perhaps, finally recognizing that Obama is (surprise!) a politician just like Clinton - different only in degree and not in kind. If these two are not embarrassed about the difference in the way they have been covering Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton - they should be. Particularly Olbermann.