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Required Reading

4:10 PM, Jul 28, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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1) From the Horse Race Blog, "On Obama's Message" by Jay Cost

The always cogent Cost does a magnificent job laying out Barack Obama's meta-narrative:

Obama's organization is built around a faulty, occasionally absurd meta-narrative.

A meta-narrative is just a campaign's central message, the core claim that connects all of the campaign's assertions. It communicates the candidate's diagnosis of the country and his prescription for the future. Bill Clinton had a great one in 1992: generational change can invigorate a tired government and grow a sagging economy. Clinton's outfit consistently reinforced this narrative. From the campaign theme, to the selection of Al Gore as running mate, to "It's the economy, stupid" - it made sure people knew his core claim.

Obama's narrative should be similar to Clinton's. It's tailor-made for a year like this and a man like Obama. But that is not the Obama campaign's message. Its message seems to be: this great man will unify a divided America around himself…

Early in his candidacy, Obama's narrative was very different. He was a candidate mobilizing the public in a social movement for the sake of the common good. This was a good message - but because of his campaign's grandiose rhetoric and imagery, it has been displaced. Obama no longer seems like the humble mobilizer, working to unite people around the common good. Instead, he often seems like the goal of the mobilization itself.

You'll have to read the whole thing, but I especially want to salute Cost for making the perspicacious comparison between Clinton and Obama. Like Obama, Clinton in '92 hit the change thing hard. But Barbara Jordan was able to ask repeatedly at the Democratic National Convention that year in regards to all the change talk, "From what to what?" because Clinton, bless his heart, never skimped on the specifics. In 1992, Clinton had so many multi-point plans that many of us played a parlor game at home called "Guess the Acronym" that tried to figure out what acronym he used to remember all of his boring talking points. Later, as president, Clinton became the master of the two hour State of the Union address. The SOTUs had to be so long because Clinton larded them with minutiae ranging from how long he would require a woman to stay in the hospital after giving birth to the particulars of his midnight basketball program.

The Obama campaign rolls differently, obviously figuring specifics are boring and so last millennium. On the rare occasions when Obama tries to put some flesh on his Hope/Change skeleton, the specifics are so vague as to be essentially meaningless. For instance, Obama assures us that in an Obama administration, all seniors will henceforth retire with dignity. I guess from a policy perspective this has something to do with social security, but specifically what it has to do with social security is unknowable. All of Obama's big promises - from "provid(ing)care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless" to "slowing the rise of the oceans and healing the planet" - are maddeningly devoid of specific policy implications. Indeed, Obama's entire agenda is more a wish list than a plan for action.

I know I may be coming across as a frustrated conservative in talking this way, angry that Obama has so far managed to pull one over on the electorate. But those aren't my feelings at all. Barack Obama is the most ideologically agnostic candidate for president we've had since George H. W. Bush. Bush 41 thought he should be at the center of things because of his personal skill set. Obama feels the same way. Many people consider Obama a far left liberal. While he may tend to the liberal side of things just as Bush 41 tended to the conservative side of things, he subscribes to no consistent political orthodoxy.

So what kind of policies will we get in an Obama administrations? As we've seen with his serial vacillations on Iraq, even he doesn't know. And he won't be hemmed in by a series of onerous campaign promises. Campaign promises like pledging to "heal the sick" leave a lot of wiggle room.

2) From the New York Times, "Be Afraid, Please" by William Kristol

The Boss has discovered a issue for McCain to exploit, namely the hideous disaster that unchecked Democratic power would be:

It occurred to me that one man's "deadlock-proof" Democratic majority is another's unchecked Democratic majority. Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans' tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters' repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 - isn't the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?

So I cheered up once again. For it will become increasingly obvious, as we approach November, that the Democrats will continue to control Congress for the next couple of years. But if the voters elect Obama as president, they'll be putting Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in untrammeled control of our future.

Just because Obama is successfully running a campaign with minimal not to mention ever-evolving specifics, that doesn't mean his fellow Democrats are doing the same. When I was guest-hosting the Hugh Hewitt radio show last week, we had Republican Senators Richard Burr and Mitch McConnell drop by to talk about drilling and other means we can use to expand our energy production. The congressional Republicans spy an issue here, especially since the Democratic plan is to wait until Al Gore's moon shot energy "plan" delivers on its promise some time in 2068.

Obama is part of the Democratic party, and has shown no eagerness to differentiate himself from his party's mainstream on any issue. In other words, no maverick he. Therein lies a significant Republican opportunity.

3) From the Huffington Post, "Say It Ain't So, John. Why Progressives Need To Get Out In Front Of The John Edwards Affair Rumors" by Lee Stranahan

Much to Mickey Kaus's delight, the dam is beginning to break on the John Edwards love-child rumors. While the mainstream media has considered the story not newsworthy, the far more reputable Huffington Post has weighed in:

The truth is that I believe anyone who looks into the John Edwards / Rielle Hunter affair story will see that Edwards has, at best, acted in a very suspicious manner for over a year now. When the Larry Craig story was breaking, I didn't buy his particular line of bullshit and I don't buy Edwards's either after I've spent the last couple of days Googling with my wife. (That's not as dirty as it sounds.) At first, I was skeptical of the National Enquirer story catching Edwards leaving the Beverly Hills Hotel at 2:45am because there were no pictures and the tabloids aren't reliable. Now it turns out that Edwards was at the hotel, so was Ms. Hunter, and that he when he saw reporters he hid in the bathroom until security guards came and got him.

The story about Edwards could of course be bunk. The National Enquirer who broke the story gets some things right, but it is hardly an authoritative outfit. But the fact the mainstream media has declared the well-sourced rumors and the even better-sourced actual events in the Beverly Hills Hilton off-limits is quite literally laughable. If a differently oriented former candidate, say Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or Fred Thomspon, was caught visiting the woman rumored to be the mother of his love-child at a hotel at 3 in the morning and hid out in a restroom until hotel security could spirit him to safety, I doubt the New York Times would have shown such restraint. And I'm sure the lefty blogosphere wouldn't have shown such restraint. Somehow I doubt the Republican's "former-candidate" status would have insulted him from the media's curiosity.

As far as what implications this story may have, there are two tracks. One concerns John Edwards and his political future. Quite frankly, the only thing that interests me less than John Edwards' present is his future. I respectfully decline to speculate on what moves Edwards will have to make in order to silence these rumors and finagle his way into the Obama cabinet. Obviously any chances he had of being Obama's running mate are as dead as disco.

The more relevant side of the story concerns the media. The kids at the Daily Kos don't deny that their purpose in life is to get Democrats elected to office. Thus, propaganda will be more in their bailiwick than journalism (although they seldom embrace the label "propagandists"). The people at our leading dailies like to think of themselves differently. They can think of themselves however they like. The rest of us will form our own conclusions.

4) From the Washington Post, "Unfinished Business at Freddie and Fannie" by Lawrence Summers

The former treasury secretary and erstwhile president of the World's Greatest University takes dead aim at the rescue plan that has "saved" Fannie and Freddie, at least for the moment:

No one should suppose, however, that the issue is satisfactorily resolved, even for the short term. Emergency legislation was necessary because market participants were unwilling to buy Fannie and Freddie's debt; investors doubted that the government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, were healthy enough to repay it and did not draw sufficient reassurance from the implicit guarantee of federal support. If their debt proves easier to place now, it is only because this guarantee has been strengthened, not because anything has changed at the GSEs.

This, to put it mildly, is a highly problematic posture for policy. While I strongly supported the Federal Reserve's policy response to the crisis at Bear Stearns, because it was necessary to avoid systemic risk, it is easy to sympathize with those who fear that bailouts inhibit market discipline. Consider how much more problematic the Bear Stearns response would have been had policymakers signaled their commitment to back the company's liabilities without limit; left management in place with no change in the business model; and allowed dividends to be paid and shareholders to keep going with hope for a better tomorrow. Yet all these elements are present in the cases of Fannie and Freddie.

Some people think Fannie and Freddie are an election issue. Those people couldn't be more wrong. Fannie and Freddie are a bipartisan disgrace, and even for the handful of Republicans like Richard Shelby and Jim DeMint who find themselves on the side of the angels here, the issue is too complex to make any real political hay. All in all, the Fannie and Freddie debacle is a dispiriting case study in how our present leadership class isn't up its responsibilities.

5) From the Boston Globe, "Slugger's Act Has Grown Very Tiresome" by Dan Shaughnessy

For eight years, weary Red Sox fans have put up with Manny Ramirez's shtick. The guy can hit, but he's arguably the most frustrating player in the history of the Red Sox franchise. Now that Manny is getting older and his production is slipping, his antics are becoming increasingly untenable. At the end of last week, Ramirez sidelined himself with a fantasy knee injury. The injury just happened to coincide with Manny publicly expressing his frustration over his contract status. Writes Shaughnessy:

The Sox spanked him publicly Friday. For the first time. Outraged he would quit on them at the start of the Yankee series, they let him dangle in the breeze for all the world to see. Convinced he was lying about his right knee, they sent him for an MRI on both knees (in case Manny suddenly tried to claim it was the left knee). Then they made sure we all knew the MRIs were clean - getting word out before the end of the game. Late Friday, the club told him he'd be suspended if he refused to play Saturday - a sanction the Players Association would have grieved and won…

It looks like these are the final days of Manny Ramírez in a Red Sox uniform. He said it himself. Enough is enough. He's tired of us and we're tired of him.

Manny is an enormous irritant - no question. But one of the reasons the Red Sox have been so successful in recent years is they've looked to maximize a player's strengths while overlooking or at least managing his weaknesses. Manny's style is an affront to every Red Sox fan who thinks a guy who gets paid $20 million a year should care about his job. Not everyone can hustle like Pete Rose did, but for that kind of money the Red Sox should at least get a modicum of professionalism in return.

But don't look for the Sox to cut off their nose to spite their face. They need Manny's production if they're going to win their third title in five years. This will be Manny's final year in Boston. The Sox won't spend $20 million next year on an aging slugger/clubhouse headache. But someday from a distance, the Manny Ramirez era will look like a beautiful thing. He may be the biggest pain the neck ever, but he's also one of the best hitters ever. Sadly, there's no substitute for talent. Happily, the preceding won't come as news to the Red sox savvy management team.

Elevating oratory!