- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Caught off guard

The presidential campaigns of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama are negotiating over the Arizona Republican’s proposal for 10 town hall meetings with voters in the coming months, the Associated Press reports.

Mr. McCain made the request Wednesday, telling reporters in Baton Rouge, La., that “we need to now sit down and work out a way that we can have these town hall meetings and have a great debate.”

Campaign managers for the two sides later spoke by phone and agreed in spirit to participate in joint town hall appearances, McCain’s campaign said.

But Team Obama is displaying some early reticence. Campaign manager David Plouffe said Wednesday that while the idea is appealing, the campaign would recommend a less-structured, lengthier exchange more in line with the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Conservative pundit Fred Barnes thinks he knows why.

“Barack Obama was thrown off guard by John McCain’s proposal for them to appear together at 10 town hall meetings this summer before the party conventions. Or maybe his initial response was merely disingenuous,” he writes in a blog at www.weeklystandard.com.

“So why wouldn’t Senator Bring-Us-Together jump enthusiastically at the opportunity? Several reasons, all political. Obama figures he’s going to win because of the strong Democratic tide and doesn’t want to offer opportunities for Republicans to lay a glove on him. Also, he’s not particularly good at town hall gatherings — spontaneity is not his thing - but McCain is at his best at such sessions. And Obama would rather give set speeches, at which he’s terrific, than take questions that might force him to deal with things (Rev. [Jeremiah A.] Wright, Tony Rezko, etc.) he’d rather not talk about.”

Not a free vote

“[Wednesday] afternoon I attended a meeting of interested parties who gathered to discuss the Senate debate on Lieberman-Warner, which Sen. James Inhofe is now calling the ‘Boxer Climate Tax Bill,’ Chris Horner writes in a blog at National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).

“Democrats continue to squabble over the mess they made for themselves by pushing this wretchedness. …

“More disappointing, reports are that New Hampshire senator John Sununu, facing a re-election fight, apparently is leaning toward a ‘yes’ vote after hearing from a number of groups demanding he support the bill — groups whose members will never support him and, in most cases, actively support his opponent,” Mr. Horner said.

“Perhaps I am being presumptuous, but it could be that Sen. Sununu might view this as a free vote, as do a few other solons who would never consider supporting such a monstrosity, if facts and logic were guiding their decision. The word on the street is that some senators are feeling heat from warming advocates - and believe they can support the bill now, when no one sees it having any chance of passing, and then oppose it next time around when it almost certainly will be even more monstrous. (So the thinking goes, though the concept of this 491-page, fourth-version-in-two-weeks bill getting even worse is itself difficult to grasp).

“This is a mistake. The argument ‘I was for it before I was against it’ — which is precisely how any future efforts to explain away contradictory votes will be interpreted — does not have the best track record.”

Identity politics

“The irony too bitter to swallow is that Barack Obama’s identity politics trumped Hillary Clinton’s identity politics. Put differently, what goes around comes around,” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger writes.

” ‘Identity politics,’ something new, emerged from the dank vapors of the late 1960s and 1970s. The theory came hard-boiled and soft-boiled,” Mr. Henninger said.

“The hard version introduced people, mostly college students, to an America partitioned into categories of race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality. The softer version has flown for 30 years under all sorts of euphemized banners — diversity, multiculturalism, celebrating our differences. Only one campaign is celebrating our differences this week. …

“For 30 years, black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton had whipped up an extreme form of race consciousness. Democrats were happy to accommodate it so long as it delivered votes from the inner cities. In return, these inner-city districts were heavily weighted with delegates in the Democrats’ proportional primary system. Obama swept them, and Hillary and Bill were helpless against it. …

“I think Barack Obama is more inclined to interpret American life in the formal categories of identity politics than is generally thought, or even than would older ‘conventional liberals’ like Al Gore or John Kerry. Legal theorists have been a main source of its ideas; it’s hard to imagine that Barack and Michelle Obama didn’t hear a lot about ‘marginalized constituencies’ at Harvard Law School. Sen. Obama may not be so conventional after all.”

‘Good’ earmarks

President Bush expressed concern Thursday about the United States turning “isolationist and nervous,” saying America should never hesitate to confront world problems.

Mr. Bush said the U.S. has a big stake in being engaged around the world in trouble spots like Africa, Colombia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s in America’s vital interest to help all these nations combat ideologies of hate,” the president said. “It’s in our security interest to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and extremists. It’s in our national interest to develop institutions that allow them to govern their territories effectively and improve their lives.”

The president spoke at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new headquarters of the U.S. Institute of Peace, financed in part by $100 million that was quietly slipped into a spending bill almost four years ago by former Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

While Mr. Bush has led a crusade against lawmakers’ pet projects known in congressional parlance as “earmarks,” he paid tribute to Mr. Stevens “for helping to secure the funding for this important site.”

White House press secretary Dana Perino said her boss “doesn’t think that every project that’s funded through an earmark isn’t worth merit; he just objects to the process.”

— Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce(at)washingtontimes.com.

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