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Required Reading

3:31 PM, Jul 18, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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1) From RealClearPolitics.com, "The Audacity of Vanity" by Charles Krauthammer

'hammer time! Dr. Krauthammer's article has justifiably set off quite a firestorm of delight in conservative circles. My email box has overflowed with links to the column and comments like "Krauthammer's best ever!" Since this is much higher praise than, say, "Krugman's best ever," the column is must reading.

Krauthammer's theme is not new. A lot of us, ranging from Obama critics to even Andrew Sullivan, have explored Barack Obama's unattractive self-regard that risks tripping into a full-on case of hubris. But Krauthammer says it better than anyone else has or likely will:

Americans are beginning to notice Obama's elevated opinion of himself.

There's nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?

Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted "present" nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.

It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly. In his victory speech upon winning the nomination, Obama declared it a great turning point in history -- "generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment" -- when, among other wonders, "the rise of the oceans began to slow." As economist Irwin Stelzer noted in his London Daily Telegraph column, "Moses made the waters recede, but he had help." Obama apparently works alone.

I know you're going to read the whole thing, so I don't even have to encourage you to do so. But before clicking along, allow me to expand on the point that Krauthammer makes above. If someone told you in 2003 that a guy who was a part-time law professor, part-time lawyer and part-time state legislator would be president in five years, you probably would have laughed. If you were further informed that the individual in question's greatest accomplishment as an adult was his stellar performance in law school, you would have pled for mercy because the ensuing hysterics would have made your sides ache.

Of course we don't elect résumés for president. That much is understood. But other presidential candidates with modest accomplishments knew enough to at least try to look humble. It's worth pondering why Obama isn't capable of doing the same or self-aware enough to know he ought to.

2) From the Boston Globe, "Obama's Summer of Success" by Scott Lehigh

I kind of wish the title were ironic, but it isn't. Lehigh actually thinks Obama has had a wildly successful summer. Yes, Lehigh is talking about the same smoldering summer in which Obama managed to convince a majority of Americans that he tells them whatever they want to hear and transformed himself from a Lightworker to just another politician.

Barack Obama has used the lazy days of summer to considerable advantage with a series of speeches aimed at rooting himself in mainstream American values.

"One of the most important qualities that people look for in a president is someone who shares their values, and Obama is showing them that he does," says Democratic strategist John Sasso, who has played an important role in almost every presidential campaign of the last quarter-century.

Adds Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin, formerly a senior strategist for Hillary Clinton's campaign: "At the presidential level, there is a greater concern with understanding what makes somebody tick and whether they are motivated and driven by the same kind of values voters themselves have."

Give Lehigh special bonus points for the stirring display of hyperbolic Boston parochialism. In the Lehigh telling of things, John Sasso has played an important role in almost every presidential campaign of the last quarter century. At least we've finally cleared up the mystery why Sasso was advising both Bush and Gore in 2000.

Personally, I hope Obama and his campaign listen to Lehigh rather than Krauthammer.

3) From HotAir.com, "Why Would Romney Want to be McCain's VP?" by the Allahpundit.

Allah piggybacks on an essay by Patrick Ruffini that suggests Romney would be crazy to accept the running mate slot since it (not to mention the vice presidency itself) is the traditional burial ground of presidential ambitions. Quoth Ruffini:

Mitt Romney is already in line to be the nominee in 4 years if McCain loses under the GOP Law of Primogeniture. Why would he want to muck it up with a VP run? If McCain loses, it is all downside for Mitt. People would forget all the positive aspects of his Presidential run and remember his role on a losing ticket. (See Edwards, John.)

And even if McCain wins, Romney would face a tough road getting elected in his own right. Republicans are already facing voter exhaustion after 8 years in power. Could they win a third or fourth consecutive election even if they manage to pull it out in ‘08? The possibility grows progressively unlikelier.

I've steadily avoided vice-president talks, especially those involving Romney. When it comes to discussing Mitt Romney, I don't exactly have Nixon-to-China credentials. For what it's worth, in private conversations over the past several months I've expressed deep ambivalence about Romney joining the ticket because I wasn't sure he would help the ticket. (My wife would usually end those private conversations by saying, "I didn't ask you about Mitt Romney. I asked you to pass the peas.")

But $4 gas, a crushing credit crunch and a general (and accurate) sense of economic crisis change everything. It's been obvious during the past few weeks that neither candidate can address the economy with any authority. That's understandable enough - during their long careers, each candidate barely paused long enough in the private sector to enjoy a triple grande latte.

It will be the smart candidate who tabs as his running mate an expert who knows something about how an economy works and can communicate effectively with the public on such matters. Romney had his faults as a candidate in the primaries, but he was very strong when he discussed the economy. Additionally, it's not like either party has a strong roster of economic experts waiting to join the ticket. I can't think of a single Democrat who would fit such a bill, and on the Republican side the Phil Gramms, Jack Kemps and Warren Rudmans are mercifully non-starters.

As to what joining the ticket would do to Romney's long term ambitions, who cares? We've got four consequential years to get through. As Allah points out, if Romney were asked to serve, he would be unlikely say no so he could begin munching rubber chicken preparing for 2012 when duty calls.

4) From the Wall Street Journal, "The Blame Game" by Kimberley A. Strassel

Last week I mentioned a letter the airlines sent out to their customers blaming their woes on oil speculators. Today, Strassel responds with a letter of her own:

Dear CEOs of U.S. airlines:

I want to say thanks for the July 10 email you sent to all your customers seeking to explain why today's air travel experience is so painful. The letter, signed by 12 of you, explained that "oil speculators" -- presumably by betting on future oil prices -- are killing your industry and thus requested that I, as a consumer, pressure Congress to rein in this "unchecked" market "manipulation."

I admit that just lately I'd begun to feel that flying was something akin to having my intestines fished out with a long hook. Actually, I'd been wondering whom to blame for the fact that it would probably be cheaper, easier and maybe even faster to drive to wherever I want to go than to board one of your planes. Suddenly, all is clear.

I now understand that it is oil speculators who set your hiring policies and who must have outlined the three types of people you may employ: those who grunt at me, those who sigh deeply as if my presence has ruined their day and those who are actively hostile to my smallest request.

When the airlines come looking for their next federal bailout, one wonders whether they'll be shocked at the public's indifference to their woes.

5) From YouTube.com, Andrea Mitchell chatting with David Petraeus

You'll want to watch the whole thing, but here's a brief nugget from the conversation:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Is 16 months a reasonable time to get U.S. troops out and turn it over to Iraqis? Here's what he said.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: It depends on the conditions, depends on the missions set, depends on the enemy. The enemy does get a vote and is sometimes an independent variable. Lots of different factors I think that would be tied up in that. The dialogue on that and the amount of risk, because it eventually comes down to how much risk various options entail. That's the kind of discussion I think that is very important as we look to the future.

So what's the Democrats' next move? Is it "Betray Us" time again? Or does Barack Obama posit that he knows more about the independent variables in question than David Petraeus does?

The most likely scenario is that Obama continues his clumsy and inelegant straddle in which he tries to please the left's anti-war base while keeping at least a big toe dipped in reality. I would wager that Obama's position on Iraq will keep evolving throughout the campaign. I'd also wager that every time he discusses the subject, he won't be able to resist wedging in a little homage to his own magnificent judgment.