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Sunny Hundal is openDemocracy’s social media editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Civil war, French-style, in the US

The bitter contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has finally come to an end. Will the Democratic Party avoid following the example of France's Parti Socialiste and grow beyond its wounds? wonders Patrice de Beer

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?


McCain opens front on Iran

John McCain unleashed a salvo against Barack Obama during his speech yesterday at the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. He wasn't the first prominent Republican to use US-Israel relations as a stick to beat Obama with. Speaking from the Knesset, George W Bush attacked Obama's willingness to meet controversial leaders like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as tantamount to "appeasement".

Yesterday at AIPAC, McCain laid into Obama, generally for urging diplomacy and specifically for voting against the decision to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation. "[Obama] is mistaken," McCain said. "Holding Iran's influence in check, and holding a terrorist organization accountable, sends exactly the right message -- to Iran, to the region and to the world." McCain's full address is here.

The Obama campaign struck back quickly: "Confronted with that reality, John McCain promises four more years of the same policies that have strengthened Iran, making the United States and Israel less safe. He promises to continue a war in Iraq that has emboldened Iran and strengthened its hand. He stubbornly reefuses to engage in aggressive diplomacy, ruling it out unconditionally as a tool of American power."

Tit for tat, then. Obama was right to oppose the branding of the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation. It was an unprecedented move (the Guards, after all, are a state, not sub-state, organisation) that has done little to weaken Iran or turn its people against the governing regime, and much to strengthen the resolve of Iran's leaders. Moreover, according to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans favour Obama's diplomatic approach to McCain's blunt confrontation.

Again, however, Obama's campaign felt obliged to phrase their response to McCain through the prism of Israel's interests. This works rhetorically, but in the long run, does it translate into strategic policy? It speaks to the limited range of options US leaders let themselves choose from when dealing with west Asia. The debate unleashed by Walt and Mearsheimer may rage more in New York journals than in the halls of the Beltway. But can American foreign policy in the middle east really recover without a re-evaluation of the relationship with Israel?

The McConnell microcosm: why it’s hard to change the Beltway

Kentucky's Republican senator Mitch McConnell has come out strongly against proposed climate change legislation at a time when real progress on the issue in Congress seems probable. In a piece written for The Hill he argues that:

Now is the time to be considering, and approving, legislation that would allow Americans to increase energy production within our own borders, and to accelerate the process of moving to clean nuclear energy. Now is the time to do something about $4.00 a gallon gasoline, not something that would cost us $6.00 a gallon gas down the road.

McConnell’s objections are interesting not only because they appeal to populist resentment about gas prices and job-losses, but because as an Appalachian Republican senator up for re-election, McConnell must grapple with the many new challenges facing American lawmakers as they seek to act on this issue.

Obama's "Latino problem"?

Hillary Clinton's substantial victory over Obama in Puerto Rico yesterday has encouraged her campaign to keep clutching at straws. Terry McAuliffe, the campaign chair, argued that the result revealed a demographic failure on Obama's part: “It was a 100 percent Hispanic primary and it shows that he has a problem with the Latino community. He cannot close in this key core constituency.”

This is most certainly the wrong conclusion to draw. Turn out in Puerto Rico was staggeringly low, at a puny 16%. More importantly, the politics of the island territory are far removed from that of the United States proper. As one Puerto Rican put it,

"We are a colony. We do not participate in any of the US political processes, really. There isn't a general understanding of US national politics, nor of the "Republican" v. "Democrat" mentality. We are consumed by our local politics and whether we should become a state, an independent country or remain as we are."

It is also misguided to look for a barometer of general "Latino opinion" in the Puerto Rican vote. Issues like immigration policy - often important among Hispanic voters - have no resonance in Puerto Rico. The shared language of Spanish doesn't politically unite the island's inhabitants to Mexicans in San Diego or Dominicans in the Bronx. To assume as much is patronising, and perhaps even inflammatory.

It is hardly innocent to claim that Latinos won't vote for a black candidate. MacAuliffe's suggestion that Obama fails amongst Hispanic voters indelicately probes the supposed "black-brown divide", one of those mythical beasts of American politics. Though debunked by scholars, the stereotype of Latino-African American antipathy retains a crude power that should not be underestimated. Nor should it be appealed to by mainstream politicians.

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.

Sidney Blumenthal: the death of Republican America

Earlier this week, openUSA attended a lecture by Sidney Blumenthal at the RSA, where he plugged his new book, The Strange Death of Republican America. Blumenthal, a regular openDemocracy contributor until he took up an advisory position on the Hillary Clinton campaign, is an erudite and measured commentator on American politics in addition to being a committed Clintonite. Speaking fluidly without notes, Blumenthal charted the rise and demise of political conservatism, which grew from the ashes of the Nixon years in 1968 only to wither under the second Bush administration in 2008 (George Packer's New Yorker essay - blogged on openUSA - examined the same ascension and decline of the right).

"Nixon's dream of an unfettered presidency" was brought to its limits by Cheney, who inherited the ambitions of the Nixon era and turned them into 21st century reality. Yet, Bush's disastrous tenure has left the Republican vision in tatters. During the Reagan years - the zenith of American Republicanism - the American public was deeply suspicious of government. Attitudes have now changed. The country expects more from government and sees it as part of "the solution" rather than simply as the cause of "the problem".

Blumenthal finds in this shift the "aspect of an epic coming to end." But does the end of the conservative era, when a Republican agenda achieved social and political dominance, herald the dawn of a more liberal one? This is less clear, though Blumenthal certainly suggests that the moment is ripe for a Democrat - he believes Hillary Clinton - to steer the country in a different direction, away from war and economic crisis.

Pundits on both sides of the pond see parallels in the sinking of New Labour (and the associated rise of David Cameron) and the demise of the Republicans. The comparison rings true up to a point. The Bush years precipitated a Republican downfall largely without the aid of the Democrats, who consistently played petty politics and failed to articulate a clear alternative political vision. On the other hand, Cameron deserves some credit for reinventing - or at the very least repackaging - the Tories.

It is always tempting to suggest that politics are cyclical, and that falls coincide neatly with rises, but one doesn't necessarily follow logically from the other. Come November this year, the Democrats will have a commanding majority in the Congress and may well control the executive. Institutional ingredients, check. Moral message and political vision, still missing. Can the Democrats see the forest for the trees of electoral success?

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".

Bush “manipulated” public over Iraq

Ex-White House press secretary Scott McClellan is now publishing a book accusing the president of "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war." There is growing criticism of the Bush administration for its handling of the war, not just from Democrats, but increasingly from former allies in the White House. On Tuesday, former US anti-terror tsar Richard Clarke appeared on CNN saying that he feels that the American presence "in Iraq helps al-Qaida."

David Miliband vs Obama

A significant article in The Times points to a clash between the UK's Foreign Secretary and now a contender for PM and the likely Democratic Party nominee. It says that Miliband has "raised questions" about Obama's Iran policy. Miliband takes what he would call a 'firm' attitude towards Iran and opposes opening negotiations with Tehran (at least while Washington does). I wonder. My impression is that London fears an Israeli attack on Iran over the summer. Is Miliband really positioning himself to support this? According to the Times, "A Foreign Office spokesman later said: “I just want to stress that David Miliband is not confused about Obama’s policy. It would be quite wrong to say that.”

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.

A Punjabi vice president?

On the South Asian group blog, Sepia Mutiny, blogger and Duke University professor, Amardeep Singh, wonders whether Republican presidential candidate John McCain might seriously be considering Indian-American Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal as his running mate.

"I know it's crazy, but maybe it isn't as crazy as it sounds," wrote the blogger when he first suggested the idea in February. The New York Times now seems to think it's a possibility in an article this week, and American radio host Rush Limbaugh has also echoed the idea.

Jindal was born in Lousiana to Punjabi Indian parents. He used to be a Hindu, but converted to Catholicism after high school.

In his post, Singh argues that if Barack Obama wins the nomination of the Democratic Party, John McCain will end up looking "very old and very white".

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.

Glenn Loury: the missing voice of Jeremiah

Are we supposed to be hoping that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s hair-raising 15 minutes of fame are over?

The black polymath Glenn Loury and I are puzzling in conversation here about all that the YouTube and network frenzy left out — the blessed insight and fellowship of black church life in America, but also the radicalism of its perspectives.

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Glenn Loury (37 minutes, 17 mb mp3)

Is Ahmadinejad like Khrushchev?

In the New York Times, an op-ed by Nathan Thrall and Jesse J. Wilkins draws lessons from a particularly odd historical analogy. The authors describe the unsuccessful meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. They see in the episode a cautionary tale, warning Barack Obama to re-think his pledge to negotiate with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were the former to be elected president.

In fairness, this is a historical analogy Obama made himself when he boomed, “If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with John F. Kennedy, because that’s what he did with Khrushchev.” Such capacious rhetoric invited Thrall's and Wilkins' rigorous dissection of the Vienna encounter and its debilitating consequences for US foreign policy.

But Thrall and Wilkins - and Karl Rove in today's Wall Street Journal - miss the point if they think that the examples of the Cold War's bipolar politics should frame 21st century thinking.

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.

League of democracies?

In an earlier post on openUSA, I took a cold look at Robert Kagan's new treatise, "The End of the End of History". Kagan - one of John McCain's principal foreign policy advisers - sought to draw a firm line between the world's democracies and their existential nemeses, a bloc of "autocracies", including Russia and China. Liberal democracies, he argued, must pool their moral and political resources in facing the autocratic tide.

The careful policy-wonk would wonder why this line should - or even whether this line could - be drawn in the first place.

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.

Predictive market: Democratic vice presidential nominee

While the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Presidential nominee keeps on going, there is still the position of Vice Presidential nominee to consider. Will Obama or Clinton end up settling for second billing or will it go to another? We've launched a new openDemocracy inkling market asking: "Who will be the Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee?" Sign up and start trading now!

McCain climate plan reads poorly in Chinese

John McCain, it seems, can’t stay out of trouble. After enraging most of the Republican blogosphere with his radical (for a Republican) proposals to fight climate change, he has now succeeded in also angering China. last week translated and published McCain’s remarks and have since had to deal with an upset response. Readers have suggested that these policies are indicative of "anti-Chinese sentiment coming from the West" and that China and other developing countries are far from the "chief culprits" when it comes to climate change.

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."

America's pious song and dance

The US presidential campaign reveals how central - and intractable - public piety is in American political life. Until other moral spaces are found, politicians and candidates will need to keep their ministers nearby, says KA Dilday.

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".

Ghostly Clinton and fiendish Ahmadinejad

Yesterday evening, in the dark and faintly musty basement of the Kensington Library in west London, openUSA attended a fascinating lecture on "anomalistic psychology" - the psychology of belief in the unreal - hosted by the Society for Psychical Research.

We learned, amongst other fun facts, that one out of four Americans believes in ghosts. This quarter of the population presumably doesn't include the pro-Clinton group American Leadership Project, whose new TV spot in Oregon makes no mention of Obama, suggesting that the ALP doesn't want to cause any further Democratic disunity. Even many of Clinton's supporters don't think her campaign can return from the grave.

We also learned that one out of ten Americans believes they have spoken with the devil. Obama may aspire to join this sizable ten percent as he continues to insist on negotiating with Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But god-fearing George W Bush and his anointed Republican successor John McCain won't have anything to do with fiendish interlocutors. Speaking in the Knesset yesterday, Bush equated Obama to Neville Chamberlain, Iran to Nazi Germany, and diplomacy and statecraft to that object of neo-con disdain: "appeasement". McCain piggy-backed on the president's craven fear-mongering, prompting sharp retorts from both the Obama camp and Hillary Clinton.

Bush comes out of this looking particularly foolish. Never mind that Iran's nuclear threat is grossly exaggerated (a fact supported by the latest national intelligence estimate). Never mind that evidence of Iran's aggression in Iraq and the Persian Gulf is highly dodgy (indeed, the UK Foreign Office has even conceded it was in the wrong over the detention of British sailors last year). Never mind that the White House's clueless policy of trying to isolate Iran has only made Tehran stronger and more important in the region. It turns out that only the day before, Bush's own Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talked up talking with Iran.

Republican Iran policy is bound to fail when inconsistencies and reality-checks keep eroding its stubborn facade. The devil, after all, is in the details.

Late update: For those readers with a sadistic streak, watch Chris Matthews tear apart the witless right-wing radio pundit Kevin James (particularly after 4.10). When one forsakes argument for analogy, at least try to get your history right.

Shame on you, West Virginia

The Washington Post catalogues numerous incidents of horrific racism during the West Virginia primary, including a voter who asked for Obama to be lynched. On the Daily Kos, John K Wilson glumly breaks down the figures to expose a hard reality.

As the West Virginia primary shows us, in many parts of the country racism is alive and well and controlling our political process. Many commentators assume that Obama's success with the young and well-educated is due to some "elitist" support he has among the latte-sipping crowd. The real reason is racism. Younger people are less likely to embrace racist views. Well-educated people are less likely to embrace racist views. And that makes all the difference in America, where the continuing significance of race can be measured with alarming detail in West Virginia's primary.

We agree, and we find it all the more troubling that so many commentators, particularly those leaning towards Hillary Clinton, insist that these are the kind of bread-and-butter voters that Obama doesn't have the wherewithal to win. In fairness, it is very easy to brow-beat one of the country's most impoverished, least diverse regions. But it would be tragic indeed if American democracy hinges on intractable bigotry.

McCain's 5-year plan for Iraq

Speaking in Ohio - a crucial battleground in November - McCain dreams up the state of affairs in Iraq five years down the road:

By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced. Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent; al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated; and the Government of Iraq is capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq and defending the integrity of its borders. The United States maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.

Sounds like staying the course to us. Is this how McCain plans to distance himself from Bush?

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