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Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Editor and Director of democraciaAbierta.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Double standards

The email below has been doing the rounds in American cyberspace, and recently arrived in openUSA's inbox. It makes a stark point about the double standards in media coverage of the election. 

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."

* Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

* Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

Sarah Palin: Lost in a blizzard of words

Sarah Palin may be the new darling of the media, but that attention comes with a price. At some point glowing hagiography dims into scrutiny. Yesterday, the Republican vice-presidential candidate showed why the initial "Palin bump" in support for McCain is not as substantial as it seems. In her first public interview since her nomination, Palin was found out by a surprisingly serious and probing Charles Gibson (this was the same interviewer who brought shame on the fourth estate by making Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talk about flag lapel pins). She was floundering in her answers, her nervousness thinly veiled by a tightly set jaw and the excessive repetition of the interviewer's name. Amongst a number of cringe-worthy moments, her ignorance of the content of the Bush doctrine (video below) and subsequent evasiveness stand out. Like a frustrated schoolteacher, Gibson cut her short, saying that he was "lost in a blizzard" of Palin's words.

Of pigs and pitbulls

Obama's pig-and-lipstick remarks earlier this week sparked a firestorm of righteous indignation from the McCain camp. Yet even elements of the frenetic conservative blogosphere admit the ridiculousness of the criticism. The Democrat has coolly dismissed the attacks (video below), but will it be enough to stave off the headline hunters who have locked on to Obama's "macaca moment"?

Obama campaign toughens up

Barack Obama's more traditionally "liberal" acceptance speech in Denver confirmed to many commentators, like David Brooks, that the Democrat's campaign is now becoming increasingly conventional, replacing high-mindedness with political shrewdness. This recent ad seems to support the notion of a "normalising" Obama campaign, as it takes the offensive against John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Pandering to the middle?

The Nation's Victor Navasky pens an excellent piece on the missteps of Obama's campaign since his defeating Hillary Clinton. Obama risks aping the failures of John Kerry if he frets too much about the "illusory middle".

His mistake is the same one that the last two Democratic candidates for President--Gore and Kerry--made. The assumption (shared by too many campaign consultants) that the way to woo those in the center is to move towards the center. Arianna Huffington, I believe, has a point when she advises, "Instead of targeting the swing voters he should target the unlikely voters." But I would argue there's nothing wrong with targeting the swing voters. What's wrong is to pander to them on the assumption that the way to win them over is to move towards the center.

The reason they are undecided is precisely because they are not Democrats or Republicans, and they don't care about left vs. right. They care about finding someone they can connect with, a candidate they can trust. And as soon as they see a candidate who appears to be listening to his consultants and pollsters rather than being true to himself, they see a candidate who has betrayed what they care about most: authenticity.

During the pageantry of the Convention, will Obama continue to make that pitch to the "centre"? Or from the bosom of the Democratic Party, will Obama speak from a position of strength and on his own terms?

Bad news from Iraq for McCain

Ahead of the Democratic convention, the Obama camp has plenty of material with which to strengthen its own position on Iraq and with which to set about attacking McCain. First, the Bush administration is close to agreeing a deal with the al-Maliki government that will set in place a phased withdrawal of most US troops from Iraq by 2011. The Republican candidate will not be able to lampoon the Democrat on Iraq when Obama's plan for the country more closely resembles that of the White House. Furthermore, McCain's vociferous support for the "surge" - about which he has routinely bludgeoned Obama - may be tempered by a dark turn of events in Iraq. Al-Maliki has launched a campaign against the leaders of the Sunni "Awakening Councils" - the militant groups co-opted by the US last year to fight against fundamentalist radicals - threatening to broaden internecine rifts in Iraq. As some analysts warned in 2007, the empowering of Sunni tribal factions would invariably threaten the central government. Obama's advisers will be parsing the Iraq news ticker and finding ample cause to whittle away at the robust facade of McCain's foreign policy.


Republicans for Obama?

This week has seen the launch of Republicans for Obama, an initiative undertaken by former Republican politicians and senior advisers. Reaffirming the Obama campaign's appeal to bipartisanship and "unity", the group's website insists that

We need a leader who can lay the foundations of another American Century—someone who can get past our partisan and ideological divisions, as we strengthen our standing in the world and tackle the challenges we face at home. We need a leader who understands our differences, but who also knows the importance of finding common ground. While we continue to debate and address many issues on which we all have strong opinions—abortion, gay rights, the relationship between church and state, to name a few—we need a leader who can command the support needed to break our government’s paralysis and meet the growing challenges we face as a nation.

One of the feathers in Obama's cap is the sense of his novelty and strength as a politician whose appeal transcends traditional political boundaries. The publicity surrounding Republicans for Obama reinforces this impression. A sceptic's take is in the FT by Christopher Caldwell (senior editor at the neoconservative Weekly Standard).

Obama's lean and hungry look

In a whimsical column comparing Obama to Mr Darcy, Maureen Dowd records one Texan voter's nervous appraisal of Obama's physique.

“He needs to put some meat on his bones,” said Diana Koenig, a 42-year-old Texas housewife. Another Clinton voter sniffed on a Yahoo message board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

openUSA remembers its Shakespeare and Julius Caesar's wariness of his scrawny would-be assassin Cassius.

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.


Obama, wrong about Belfast

Over on OurKingdom, Ian Parsley corrects Barack Obama's version of Northern Irish history. Standing near the ghost of the Berlin Wall last week, the US presidential candidate claimed that walls had “come down in Belfast, where Protestants and Catholics found a way to live together.” "Secret sectarianism," according to Parsley, remains a potent force in Irish life and a dark fact that shouldn't be overlooked, even when Northern Ireland is reduced to the quaintness of an example.

Is Obama changing the south?

Some Republicans seem to think so. He may not have the muscle to turn Republican bastions against John McCain in the presidential election, but some GOP representatives fear that Obama's mobilisation of black voters may have lasting consequences for congressional races throughout the region.

McCain jokes about killing Iranians

An unwise remark, especially just as the candidates prepare for their big July international trips. Video from TPM.

The changing face of the political crowd

New York Times columnist Gail Collins pens a colourful - albeit whimsical - piece on the history of public interest in politics in the United States. She contrasts the rowdy, crowded and often bloody character of US politics a century ago to its comparatively tranquil and staid modern incarnation. While unconvincingly suggesting that video games and women are responsible for this transformation, she briefly points in a more compelling direction:

People are also less enthusiastic about politics because they no longer think of their political affiliation as being central to their identity. Once reformers arrived with the 20th century, Americans were taught to prove they were good citizens by studying the party platforms, not by getting in a fistfight at a bar. Since nobody actually did study the party platforms, folks simply slunk home and waited for the invention of radio and professional sports teams.

If we accept Collins' description as largely true for the US, how does the American example stack up against the world? Take, for example, the nature of student politics, so often the cauldron in which political identities are forged (or not forged). Twinned with violence, bristling senses of political affiliation remain common around the world. One need only look so far as an Indian college campus, for instance, to feel the uncomfortable heat of party political identity. Elsewhere, fierce party identities may induce less violence but are no less prevalent. In British student unions, aspiring student politicians are affiliated with political parties. In their American equivalents, on the other hand, such naked and presumptuous politicking would be totally out of place. Why does party identity persist in many parts of the world and not in the US?

Collins doesn't ask what it means in a democracy for party identity to be out of vogue. But even without the bluster of party tribalism, American politics cannot substitute "modern" indifference for cool, reasoned engagement.

In France, Obamamania prompts racial assertion

While Obama claims to seek the "transcending of race" in the United States, his campaign for the White House is having quite opposite effects elsewhere in the world. According to the New York Times, Obama's success is spurring African youth in France - where institutionalised laïcité suppresses the recognition of religious and racial identities - to return to Négritude, the black intellectual movement of the 1920s and 30s that was pioneered by the late Franco-Caribbean writer and politician Aimé Césaire.

Undoing American federalism

The US Constitution has come under the cross-hairs of a group that wants to fundamentally change the way America elects its presidents. The National Popular Vote campaign seeks to do away with the elaborate electoral college system by the 2012 presidential election, replacing the "vote of states" with a species of more direct popular election. Calls for the sweeping change - which would have indelible effects on the way campaigns are strategised and run - have gained momentum since 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost out in the electoral college. Lawmakers would be forced to amend the Constitution in order to put such a system in effect, a process that requires the consent of three-quarters of states and a two-thirds majority in Congress.

Proponents of the popular vote argue that presidential candidates ignore so-called "safe states" - like California and New York - in favour of the more contested "swing states" - Ohio, Florida, etc. Its critics fear that a turn to the popular vote would push the already isolated rural communities of the country further off the political map. At the base of the debate is an underlying tension between the city and the hinterland, the coast and the heartland. Would a popular vote - democratic election in its simplest, purest form - strand small-town America in the wilderness?

Obama goes evangelical

Not content with setting up staff in every single state, the Obama campaign is branching out on the spiritual map. The Christian Broadcast Network previews the Joshua Generation, an initiative set to be rolled out by the campaign in the next few weeks. It will appeal to young "faith voters", amongst whom Obama is deemed to be increasingly popular. Can the great liberal hope win the hearts and minds of evangelicals normally left to Republicans?

Is Obama's campaign a social movement?

Obama's general election strategy seeks to aggressively court voters in traditionally Republican states. On the one hand, as the New York Times suggests, Obama may not be as committed to a "new politics" as he claims to be, and is readying himself to "play dirty". On the other, Obama is relying on broad-based grassroots and internet organisation to build support. As one seasoned campaigner told openUSA, Obama's many grassroots initiatives, including the Obama Organising Fellows, are unprecedented in presidential campaigns.

Obama deliberately refused to resort to many traditional tactics in his contest with Hillary Clinton, never attacking her personally. In this way, he appeared to rise above the "petty politics" of the past and embody a newer, ennobled mode of political action. Does the groundswell of popular support for Obama echo the newness of his personal politics? Is it possible to turn a bid for the Oval Office into a social movement? And if it is a social movement, what is it about beyond Obama?

"The end of Boomerism"

The influential pollster John Zogby couches his analysis of Hillary Clinton's defeat in terms of generation. "Boomerism" has been swept off the political landscape by an electorate tired of its leaders' "self-centredness and permanent adolescence" - the supposed "hallmarks" of the Baby Boomers. According to Zogby, both the Clintons and George W Bush exhibit the traits of their generation:

They (we, because I was born in 1948) are consumed with being the centre of attention, the bride and groom at every wedding, so much so, that the ends don't simply justify the means, they are one and the same. Getting elected is the game, the final goal, the definition of self-worth. In his recent book, former White House spokesman Scott McClellan decried the mentality of “the permanent campaign” that he said permeated the White House of George W Bush (the other Boomer president), which in some respects mirrors the Clinton behavior.

Politics, or their illusion, are an end in and of themselves for Bush and the Clintons. Both Obama and McCain represent, in separate ways, a less self-centred politics.

In the final analysis, Hillary Clinton is smart, charming – and the wrong person for the times. Voters have moved beyond Boomerism. Now, Americans will choose between an older version of duty, honor, glory, and a return to the American Century vs. a new vision of global pluralism, diversity, change, and youthful vigor.

Obama declares victory

Despite losing emphatically in South Dakota last night, Barack Obama secured enough delegates to declare himself the Democratic nominee. He claimed victory before an audience of 20,000 in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a further 15,000 gathered outside the arena. The US media was quick to note the seismic implications of the moment. The New York Times gushed, "Senator Barack Obama claimed the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday evening, prevailing through an epic battle with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in a primary campaign that inspired millions of voters from every corner of America to demand change in Washington," while Politico was equally sanguine: "Sen. Barack Obama Tuesday night swept aside two centuries of American history and dethroned the dynasty that has dominated national politics for a generation."

Hillary Clinton has yet to concede, though it is likely that she will make her plans clear later today.

Update: Matthew Yglesias is glowing:

It's a fundamentally bold, hopeful brand of politics. And I think it's no coincidence that that theme's been at the center of his campaign. Relative to Clinton, you see two people with similar policy agendas. But Clinton comes from a school of politics that says liberalism can't really win on the questions of war and peace, identity and authenticity, crime and punishment. It says that we live in a fundamentally conservative nation, and that the savvy progressive politician kind of burrows in and tries to make the best of a bad situation. It's an attitude very much borne of the brutally difficult experience of organizing for McGovern in Texas and running for governor in Arkansas at the height of Reaganism. Relative to McCain, Obama thinks it's possible to accomplish things in the world. He thinks the United States faces a lot of serious international challenges, but doesn't see them as primarily driven by menacing and implacable foes. Obama thinks that a combination of visionary leadership and shrewd bargaining can greatly improve our ability to tackle key priorities without any great expenditure of our resources.

From an outsider's perspective, of course, this is one of the most refreshing aspects of Obama's persona, his recognition - or at least the perceived recognition - that the 21st century global political order places tremendous limits on US action and even greater imperatives on US diplomacy.

But how, on the one hand, can Obama retreat to self-defeating populism when he campaigns in the rust belts and then, on the other hand, underline the complexities facing American foreign policy without seeming disingenuous?


Putting the Clintons out to pasture

In Britain's Sunday papers, two of Washington's leading journalists pen very different obituaries for the Clintons. Michael Crowley, an editor at The New Republic and frequent blogger, fills the Observer with a long, intimate portrait of Bill and Hillary's rise and fall. The emphasis is on their resilience, and though Crowley says that the nomination may have slipped out of Hillary's hands, he concedes that the "impossible" will never be far beyond the reach of the Clintons.

In stark contrast, Andrew Sullivan sweeps the Clintons aside in his Sunday Times column. The Atlantic editor and blogger can't wait to move on to the upcoming clash between Barack Obama and John McCain:

As the Clintons fade ungraciously away, the emergence of these two from the dust of an astonishingly vivid and endless primary campaign comes to me, at least, as a massive relief. These two men are easily the best each party has to offer, the two most capable of talking to the other side: serious, decent, principled figures with, of course, their fair share of political shading.

Which is to say, "out with the old and in with the new." Hillary Clinton's downfall lies not her first name - her gender - but her last, laden with history - alternately triumphant and thorny perhaps, but history nonetheless. Her critics suggest she is not as equipped to remake the US in the 21st century as Obama is. The skulking tactics of much of her campaign reaffirm the impression that she is a politician as familiar with the mud as with the sun. Efforts to tar Obama by association (to Wright, Ayers, etc) will probably prove futile. Most Democrats want to look forward to a less blemished America of Obama rather than remember the America, and the politics, of the Clintons.

Torture... revealed?

The ACLU blog has reproduced several extensively redacted documents it received from the CIA as part of its ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. A particularly illuminating one is pasted below:


Fidel writes to Obama

The Guardian has republished a piece written by Fidel Castro, barracking Obama for the candidate's speech last week on Latin America. In Miami, Obama played to the gallery, trotting out the customary condemnations of Cuban autocracy. But he did seek to distance himself incrementally from the Bush and the likely McCain approach to Latin America. Obama expressed willingness to meet with controversial, hostile leaders in the region, including Fidel's brother Raul Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. He also urged caution in pushing an aggressive free-trade agenda in the hemisphere.

"It's time to understand that the goal of our trade policy must be trade that works for all people in all countries," he said. "Like Central America's bishops, I opposed CAFTA because the needs of workers were not adequately addressed. I supported the Peru Free Trade Agreement because there were binding labor and environmental provisions. That's the kind of trade we need – trade that lifts up workers, not just a corporate bottom line."

Clearly unconvinced, Castro upbraids Obama for Washington's abiding "genocidal" approach to Cuba. Obama's opponents continue to link the candidate to Hamas leaders and other alleged "enemies of America" who have expressed their approval of him. Luckily for Obama, Fidel won't be causing him the same problems.

Race and violence

An old professor of openUSA's, David Bromwich, reads dark omens in the tea leaves. Sifting through the recent insinuations of Obama's possible assassination, Bromwich finds a writhing worm in the belly of American society.

Race comes easily and inevitably into discussions of Barack Obama, and never far from race is the thought of violence. It is there when you hear mentally feeble persons say, "I am afraid of this one; so afraid! something makes me afraid!" And race comes into the discussion when you hear clever people say, "He can never win the white vote; the white working class just aren't ready for him."

An unmeasurable but well-recorded condition for the assassination of John F. Kennedy was the campaign of delegitimation that preceded that terrible event. Anti-Castro Cubans hated Kennedy because he had disappointed them at the Bay of Pigs, and seemed to be a warm friend cooling. Many Southern white people hated him for his indications of solidarity with the cause of civil rights. There are other actors and reactions that might be added; but all shared the belief that Kennedy was not a legitimate leader, that he didn't deserve to be given the chance to go on governing. The hatred was especially virulent in the South. Death threats were in the air and Kennedy had been warned against taking the trip to Texas.

When a democratic society fails to honor the contract by which we elect our leaders in peace, and let them govern in peace, and show our approval or disapproval by keeping them or turning them out of office--when the incantation "He is not one of us" dips so far below sanity that we pretend the rules and decencies aren't in force any more--it is more than one person who is harmed. This loose way of talking and thinking of violence hardens us against real responsibility if the violent thing should happen. We are administering shocks to ourselves in advance so as not to be surprised by the actuality. But such preparations are in their very nature corrupt, and corrupting. And they are not less so when used against any person of dignity and estimation, on the public stage, than when they are leveled against an elected official.

The entire piece makes very compelling reading.

Late update: Keith Oberman's unforgiving response to Hillary Clinton's "incomprehension".

He's big in Germany

Spiegel Online looks at Obama's growing popularity in Germany. While Berlin sees McCain as a "Cold War relic", much of the German policy-making establishment is "projecting its hopes and dreams on Obama". A brief phone call between German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Obama had illuminating consequences:

The few minutes spent on the telephone gave Steinmeier the impression that Obama is prepared to fundamentally reconsider the course of US foreign policy. Steinmeier was impressed, and only a day later he publicly outed himself as the senator's latest fan. "Yes we can," the minister, not known for his emotional outbursts, chanted, evoking Obama's campaign slogan during a speech at Harvard University. Steinmeier used the term to express his desire for a renewal of trans-Atlantic relations.

McCain ≠ Bush's new ad (video below) will be broadcast in Arizona and across national cable. It equates McCain to Bush, saying, "They laugh alike and walk alike and sometimes even talk alike. Think you can tell 'em apart?".

The Democrats - and Obama's "new" politics - will be in danger if this line of attack is pressed too far. For all their similarities and shared policies, Bush and McCain do not spring from the same kettle of fish. If Obama and his party want to get away from the empty distractions of political sniping (so long the Republican strategy), then they should sincerely attempt to wage the contest at the level of the "issues". Cheap associations and insidious reasoning should be left in the Karl Rove playbook. It's time to well and truly move on.

Democrats close ranks on Iran

In the Washington Post, John Kerry defends Obama's willingness to engage with Iran. Though slated by both President Bush and his presumptive Republican successor John McCain, Obama has stuck to his guns and remained committed to exploring the diplomatic route. Kerry - an establishment Democrat - concurs.

Direct negotiations may be the only means short of war that can persuade Iran to forgo its nuclear capability. Given that a nuclear Iran would menace Israel, drive oil prices up past today's record highs and possibly spark a regional arms race, shouldn't we be doing all we can to avoid that conflagration? Opponents of dialogue often quip that talking isn't a strategy. Walking away isn't a strategy, either...

Some have asserted that meeting with Iran's leaders would legitimize Ahmadinejad, who is neither Iran's supreme leader nor someone whom Obama specifically promised to meet. Curiously, many critics then hype Ahmadinejad as a threat of historic proportions, thereby granting the stature they seek to deny. Iranian elections in mid-2009 could yield a less objectionable president; engaging Iran makes that more likely...

By engaging Iran, we reclaim the moral high ground -- no small feat. If Iran refuses to budge, we have new leverage to expose it as a threat whose bad intentions cannot be explained away. Those who say they take no option off the table should not put America in a straitjacket by denouncing diplomacy.

The fall of conservatism?

In a mammoth essay in the New Yorker, George Packer charts the demise of the current conservative era of US politics. The "Sunbelt conservatism", shepherded by Nixon, that arose in the polarised 1960s has now fallen apart:

The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces.

As Packer points out, McCain "missed the sixties" and comes across to many Americans as a "pre-sixties" leader. His appeal to the centre may allow him to survive an epochal shift already under way.

Appalachia in vivid colour

Following our posts in recent days on race in the Appalachian primary contests, this al-Jazeera video offers a glimpse of the kind of obstacles that lie before a politics that seeks to transcend race.

Is this selective demonisation? How easy is it to exaggerate the pitch of racist passions in the impoverished corners of Appalachia?

Clinton sees Zimbabwe in Florida

The Jack and Jill Politics blog takes issue with Hillary Clinton's tactics in Florida, whose delegates she's trying to sneak into the convention. She equates her efforts in the state to those of "abolitionists, suffragists and civil rights activists" and she likens the electoral situation there to that in Zimbabwe.

Race and Kentucky

Hillary Clinton once more trounced Barack Obama in an Appalachian primary, winning Kentucky by a commanding 36 percentage points. As in West Virginia, at least 20% of voters claimed that their decision was influenced by race. Team Clinton is likely to cite the landslide victory in Kentucky as further evidence of Obama's "unelectability" - never mind that he won convincingly elsewhere in the Deep South.

Clinton's rhetorical attacks on Obama are unlikely to significantly defer his inevitable triumph in securing the nomination. But they do highlight vulnerabilities that he will have to address in the run-up to the general election. The only two Kentucky counties that went to Obama were Jefferson County and Fayette County, home to the state's two major urban centres. In the hollows and thinly-populated wilds of the rest of the state, Clinton reigned supreme. Is Obama's urbane charm lost on the thickets and brambles of much of the American interior? And will his campaign's efforts in the coming months to register black voters be enough to compensate for his lack of white rural support?

Money talks, Obama walks

Barack Obama is marginally in front of John McCain in the polls, but it may be another statistical measure that causes concern for the Republican. The Democrat is far ahead in the money stakes. Hillary Clinton couldn't match Obama in the Democratic contest. Her campaign sunk into debt and, as her website suggests, the desperate math of money - not only the math of pledged delegates - threatens to scupper her fading hopes.

Just as Clinton failed to keep up with Obama's fundraising machine, so too does McCain risk being outstripped. In April alone, Obama raised $32 million, over $9 million of which is set aside for the general election. McCain, in contrast, raised only $18 million, with no money set aside for the general action.

The battle of Kentucky breaks down the key factors that will shape today's primary in Kentucky. Will John Edwards' endorsement swing working-class white voters towards Barack Obama? Or will racism once again rear its ugly head?

Obama is likely to win in more liberal-minded Oregon, buttressing his unassailable mathematic march to the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton is hoping for a lop-sided victory in Kentucky - a week after her 41 point triumph in West Virginia - that would further strengthen the case against Obama's "electability". But even if Obama were to fall staggeringly short once more in an Appalachian state, it is hardly a guarantee that Clinton - much maligned amongst Republican voters - would fare any better when facing McCain in November.

Obama goes native

Barack Obama became the first American presidential candidate to visit the reservation of the Crow nation. He was adopted there with the Crow name of "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land." Indigenous communities sequestered in reservations across the US are some of the most impoverished in the country. Obama expressed regret about the "tragic history" of native Americans, and promised to not only honour longstanding "treaty obligations", but also suggested that his programs for economy, healthcare and education would directly improve conditions for all indigenous people.

Liberal internationalism "debated"

The American Prospect - The Nation's more wonkish, DC-based little sister - hosts a (un)surprisingly insipid debate on the future of American "liberal internationalism". It is kicked off by ex-Prospect scribe and current Atlantic editor Matthew Yglesias, who has just published a new book on the subject called Heads in the Sand.

His argument isn't particularly ground-moving. As American foreign policy teetered from bad to worse under the Bush administration, Democrats utterly failed to articulate clear policy differences or come up with an alternative to the neocon-stamped White House reverie. What's needed now is a return to the "liberal internationalism" of the past, in which American leaders sought to cement a rules-based global order based on multilateralism and consent.

Inspired? No? Well, nor are the chosen debaters. oD author Anne-Marie Slaughter is puzzled that Yglesias doesn't recognise the extent to which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are already signed up to the liberal international cause, making his rallying call look slightly silly. Derek Chollett is cautious to underline the very real limits of global cooperation. And the neo-con pundit David Frum fulminates rather feebly against the premise of the whole debate.

Only David Rieff strikes the nail on the head:

The debate between Democrats like Yglesias and neoconservatives like those who supported the Bush administration and now are drifting back to Sen. McCain is more in the nature of an internationalist family quarrel than a fundamental difference over matters of principle...

To claim that these second-order differences are matters of fundamental principle seems absurd. It is to have so assimilated the ideology of America's manifest destiny and of American exceptionalism ("the cause of the United States is the cause of humanity"; Benjamin Franklin said that, not some wicked neoconservative) that anyone not similarly convinced of America's positive role in the world -- and certainly people like me, who tend to view the United States as one more empire, probably no worse than its British predecessor but no better, either -- can only admire this illustration, in the foreign-policy sphere, of Freud's "narcissism of small differences."

Obama: the right choice for Israel

In the South Jerusalem blog, Gershom Gorenberg makes the case for why Obama, of all the presidential candidates, would be Israel's best option. It's quite a long and methodical post, definitely worth reading. In a nutshell, Gorenberg insists that

The one candidate who speaks in clear terms of taking a new approach to the Mideast is Obama. This is what scares the small coterie of American Jewish rightists who would eagerly fight to the last Israeli. If you care about Israel, you should hit “delete” when you get their emails.

Obama is the one candidate who had the sense to oppose the war in Iraq. He’s the one candidate whose statement on Israel expresses support for a two-state solution, which is the country’s path to peaceful future and is today the consensus position in Israel. He’s the one proposing a clear break from the disastrous Bush policies, and a turn to trying diplomacy.

Late update: Jeffrey Goldberg agrees in the NYT, arguing that Obama is more pro-Israel than Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. Crucial to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state is a total reversal of its settlement policy in the West Bank, which Goldberg likens to "colonisation".

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