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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 1-12-12

A crisis is looming for political reporters desperate for a drawn out, dramatic presidential campaign.  Republican voters may be less crazy and more predictable than the conventional wisdom suggests.  If Mitt Romney continues his winning streak because Republicans realize he is the most electable candidate, we might have a much abbreviated presidential nominating season thanks to voters making a rational, non-doctrinaire decision.

Anxious to keep things going, programmed for conflict, reporters have tried to place a big asterisk on Romney’s New Hampshire victory, warning that the emergence of Republicans criticizing his time at Bain Capital proves that in the week he won Romney also witnessed that which will guarantee his loss to President Barack Obama in November.  History suggests otherwise.  Hashing the issue out now just might inoculate Romney against succumbing to the attack in the general election.

The historical analogy most worrying to the Romney camp comes from the 1988 campaign, when George H.W. Bush decided to “go negative” after discovering he trailed behind Michael Dukakis by 17 points in the polls and was saddled with a “negative rating” of 40 percent, twice that of his opponent. In a move that would become legendary in the annals of political consultants, Bush’s campaign director Lee Atwater gave his director of research James Pinkerton a three-by-five card and said:  “You get the stuff to beat this little bastard and put it on this three-by-five card.”  One of the negatives Pinkerton discovered was an issue Al Gore had raised during the Democratic primary campaign—the prison furlough program that enabled a convicted murderer to rape a woman and terrorize her fiancée—and the devastating Willie Horton attack ad followed.

But there’s a flip side to this tale.  In both 1992 and 2008, primary attacks against Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as unpleasant as they were during the time, ended up being defused by the general election.  In 1992 the Gennifer Flowers adultery allegations and the Vietnam draft dodging charge had largely lost their sting by the Democratic Convention.  In 2008 Barack Obama brilliantly dispatched the Jeremiah Wright problem in March, so that it was not much of a factor in the fall.

In fact, John Kerry might have become president in 2004 had his primary opponents done a better job of attacking him more viciously.  When Kerry ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004, he ran as a war hero and was treated as such.  The Republicans “Swift Boated” him effectively during the general campaign, turning his war record into a liability.  Had Democrats tried that tack during the primary, Kerry might have been able to pull the patriot card on them and deflected the attack—just as Romney has to continue pulling the capitalist card on Republican critics, to squelch the criticism and try to unite his party behind free market values.

The Swift Boat campaign could inspire a great attack and a great defense on the Bain Consulting issue.  The Swift Boat campaign was so effective because the attackers mobilized dozen of fellow veterans, who stood there condemning Kerry.  If I were running against Romney, I would look to get as many individual, heartbreaking stories of job loss on tape, and then try to get as many of his victims as I could together in a room for a day of melodramatic, tear-jerking filming.  If I were running Romney’s, I would look to get as many individual, heartwarming stories of job creation on tape, and then try to get as many of his beneficiaries as I could together in a room for a day of melodramatic tear-jerking, filming.

Romney has to look at these attacks as opportunities—to preempt attacks that might appear again from Democrats and to strut his stuff, as they say. Attack ads are sometimes just what a candidate needs to come to life.  Romney has to demonstrate that he is winning these primaries because of his skills and vision, and not simply backing into the nomination, if indeed, he is “the one.”

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, National Post, 5-24-11

Reuters

Tim Pawlenty: Could be last man standing

Believe it or not, just as we finished with Canada’s mercifully brief -but far too frequent -national election campaign, the first American presidential debate for 2012 took place. Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party hosted a candidates’ forum on May 5 in Greeneville, S.C., a mere 18 months before Election Day.

Former governor Tim Pawlenty was the only A-lister present; other participants included Rep. Ron Paul, tycoon Herman Cain, former senator Rick Santorum and former governor Gary Johnson. The Ronald Reagan Library postponed its debate, originally scheduled for May 2, until September, when presumably more candidates will have announced.

Of course, a Reagan debate on May 2 would have been better poetically, both because of its overlap with the Canadian contest, and because, more than 30 years after his inauguration, Ronald Reagan -or at least his iconic reputation -remains the standard by which Republicans judge their candidates.

On the Democratic side, it is safe to assume that some future historians will begin their account of the 2012 campaign with the death of Osama bin Laden. Whether it proves a boost to Obama’s campaign or not, it is a significant historic move that arrived just as the Republican party is beginning to prepare for the coming election.

We can, of course, expect that this campaign, like all the others, will feature high-minded calls to focus on substance -even as candidates, journalists and, let’s face it, voters, succumb to base appeals and debates. Such spectacles are a necessary part of democratic politics. But we should hope that the inevitable rhetorical fireworks don’t eclipse the important debates that should dominate the coming campaign.

Americans should be debating at least three fundamental questions: What kind of government do they want, what kind of military do they need and what kind of leadership have they been getting?

Although Obama and the leaders of the Tea Party do not agree on much, they have been addressing this first basic question for months. In a recent speech on deficit reduction at George Washington University, Obama spoke of two threads “running throughout our history” -one of rugged individualism, with a belief in free markets, and “a belief that we are all connected … that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.”

It is too facile to caricature the Republicans as the individualists and the Democrats as the communitarians, but Republicans are individualists -who believe in a strong national defence. Democrats like Obama are communitarians -who understand that a strong economy must be free. How precisely to weave the two threads together is one of the central challenges of modern governance, and of the upcoming election.

Regarding the military, there are practical, tactical questions along with abstract ideological dilemmas. Especially in an age of cutbacks, the military must justify the huge chunk of the budget it devours. And America’s partial involvement in the attempt to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi is a suitable launching pad for wider-ranging discussions about when the United States should resort to military force, what kind of force the U.S. should engage in, and whether American foreign policy should be realist or idealistic. All these questions again feed into the broader issue of just what kind of country America will be.

Finally, this election will be a referendum on Obama. It is hard making a re-election campaign about anything else but the incumbent. And especially considering the tremendously high hopes Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign stirred in 2008, the overwhelming challenges Obama has faced since winning and the continuing questions about just what are his core ideals, the election is likely to pivot around him and his job performance.

Amid all the predictions and speculation about the final result, candidates, commentators and voters have an opportunity to debate the serious issues facing the United States today. Whether any and all tackle these three key questions will be the true measure of the upcoming campaign’s success.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University. His latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 11-4-10

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University. He is the author of “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents” (Basic Books, 2008). His latest book, co-edited with Vincent J. Cannato, is “Living in the Eighties” (Oxford University Press, 2009).

The American voters gave President Barack Obama a good, old-fashioned political whupping on Tuesday.  It was a stunning political reversal as Mr. Yes We Can became Mr. Why Can’t They Understand and Appreciate Me? President Barack Obama must learn his lesson from this political drubbing.  To redeem his presidency, he must do what he originally promised to do, lead from the center—humbly and substantively.

The rise of the Tea Party, the loss of many moderate Democrats in swing districts, and the reelections of many leading liberals, led some politicos to conclude that Americans do not want centrist leadership.  This conclusion reinforces the Fox News-MSNBC view of the world as divided between good people – those who agree with me— and bad partisans—everybody else.  Instead, the results reflect American structural anomalies, where moderates come from divided districts and extremists come from strongly partisan districts.  During electoral tidal waves, the crucial swing voters veer left or right, wiping out moderates as extremists survive.

Yet with the end of the 2010 midterms marking the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, Barack Obama should worry that independent voters abandoned him en masse.  It is now clear that Obama erred by fighting for health care reform before lowering the unemployment rate.  And it is now clear that having the health care reform pass by such a partisan, polarizing vote, undermined Obama’s entire presidential leadership project.  The twentieth century’s two greatest pieces of social legislation—the 1935 Social Security Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act—passed, after hard fights, with bipartisan support.  That the twenty-first-century’s first great piece of social legislation passed without Republican support reflects Obama’s broader leadership failure.

Obama 2.0. must resurrect one of the most powerful messages—and successful tactics—which propelled his meteoric rise to the presidency, his lyrical centrism.  Barack Obama did not just promise “hope and change,” he promised a new kind of politics.  In Audacity of Hope, Obama positioned himself as a post-partisan centrist who would resist Washington’s ways.  Central to his appeal was his lyrical, multicultural nationalism, exemplified by his eloquent denunciation of the red-state-blue-state paradigm in his extraordinary keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention.  Americans did not just hire Obama to be president, they hired him to be that kind of a president, one who would reach out across the aisle, who would sing a song of national unity and purpose that was substantive, pragmatic, results-oriented, not just lofty and lovely.

Unfortunately, as president, Obama has stilled his own voice, and failed to reconcile with Republicans.  True, Republicans share responsibility for being truculent and obstructionist.  But true centrism requires finding that golden path, that middle ground.  Instead of delegating the highly partisan congress to craft the health care reform, instead of negotiating so desperately to forge his Democratic coalition, Obama needed to deliver bipartisan support for such a monumental shift in America’s status quo.  The Social Security and Civil Rights bills quickly became part of the national consensus, thanks to the consensus-building presidential leadership which ensured bipartisan passage.  By contrast, abortion has festered as an issue for decades because the Supreme Court legalized women’s right to choose, circumventing any kind of populist, consensus-building, democratic process.

Having demonstrated great potential as a cultural leader in 2008, Obama should spearhead a fight against the gong-show-governance emanating from cable TV coverage of American politics.  Watching MSNBC on Election Night, watching Keith Olbermann and company shout away at Congressman Eric Cantor—who enjoyed giving back as good as he got—I was struck by the cable echo chamber’s violent distortions.  Politicians who spend their time appearing on these shows forget that only a small percentage of Americans are watching.  The pols begin to think that everyone wants to play politics as a blood sport.  Politicians should simply stop appearing on these shows until they foster civility.

What a shame that we needed the comedian Jon Stewart to confront the Crossfire crowd in 2004.  No politician had the guts to reject the format that fostered fighting, that rewarded unreason.  Franklin Roosevelt called the presidency pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.  Obama should take the lead with substantive moves to cut down the culture of confrontation.

Obama also has to avoid presidential preening.  Blaming his losses on miscommunication not substantive policy differences will lead him and his staff to focus on how things appear rather than what they should be.  The elder statesman Dean Acheson once dismissed Richard Nixon by comparing him to a shortstop so concerned about how he looks when fielding, he misses the ball.  Obama has always struggled with a grandiose and highly self-conscious side.  Fighting for his political future, he needs to focus on substance, cultivating the big-tent governance he promised the American people.

In the 1950s, Joseph Stalin dismissed Mao Zedong as a margarine communist.  It was a delicious phrase, capturing the gruff former farm boy’s disgust for a product that looked like butter, but wasn’t.  So far, Obama has been a margarine moderate, making superficial gestures toward dialogue and compromise, then sticking to one side of the aisle.

Obama still has the time and the national good will to recover.  Most Republican campaign commercials targeted Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid, or big government, not the president.  This nuance reflected Obama’s personal popularity, despite his 55 percent negative job approval rating.  Moreover, the economy could still revive, unemployment could fall, the Republicans could self-destruct by misreading this election as an invitation to showcase their extremists.

Political greatness, in fact personal greatness, does not come from winning all the time, but from knowing how to turn devastating defeats into incredible opportunities.  The true test of Barack Obama the man and the president has begun.

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An historic election

Echoes of the ’60s and ’70s in yesterday’s choice of Obama

The campaign might seem like a cakewalk compared with governing. CREDIT: CHRIS HONDROS, GETTY IMAGES

A voter fills out ballot at poll in Columbus, Ohio yesterday: The campaign might seem like a cakewalk compared with governing.

Campaigns are social stress tests. U.S. presidential campaigns are regularly scheduled exercises highlighting the country’s social, cultural and political strengths and weaknesses. This year’s campaign – to the world’s sorrow – also demonstrated devastating economic weaknesses. Still, campaigns also breed optimism, as candidates invite their fellow citizens to remember the past and assess the present, then invest one mortal with the future dreams of 300 million people.

For all the foolishness and frustrations of the two-year, $4.3-billion presidential quest, Americans should enter the 21/2-month transition to Inauguration Day proud of the peaceful, thorough, and open process that selected their next president.

In this campaign, tens of millions participated and shaped the historic outcome. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain coasted to their respective party’s nomination and the lead during the general campaign switched at least three times.

From the “invisible primary” seeing who could raise the most money that began after the 2006 mid-term congressional campaigns through the first votes cast in the Iowa caucus in January, 2008, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed liked the Democrats’ inevitable choice.

Simultaneously, John McCain’s quest for the Republican nomination faltered. Only once the voting started did Barack Obama soar. Only after he won the caucuses of the overwhelmingly white state of Iowa did most people start believing that this young, first-term senator, who often described himself as the skinny guy with the funny name, just might win it all.

In this rollicking, gruelling, unpredictable 2008 campaign marathon, America’s voters – and politicians – found themselves particularly shaped by the 1960s’ revolution as they judged, but also partially tried to replicate, the 1980s revolution.

Both nominees embody America’s tremendous progress since the 1960s. John McCain represents the sea-change in attitudes toward Vietnam veterans which he helped trigger. During the war, many returning soldiers felt neglected and rejected by the country they had served. McCain’s iconic role in U.S. culture, symbolizing patriotism, selflessness and sacrifice, helped heal many of that war’s national wounds.

Obama, who spent much of the campaign emphasizing how young he was during the 1960s, is a child of that decade, born in 1961. The civil-rights movement made his candidacy possible. Standing on the shoulders of the movement’s giants, Obama has gone farther and faster than most dared to hope. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s audacity was in dreaming that his children would be treated as equals by whites; even he did not believe Americans would consider a black president so soon. And despite Hillary Clinton’s loss, her campaign – along with Sarah Palin’s – advanced the women’s revolution of the 1960s to the upper reaches of national politics.

As the 1960s cast its shadow, the 1980s’ Reagan Revolution loomed large, too. When John McCain was not channeling Theodore Roosevelt, he invoked Ronald Reagan. Both Roosevelt and Reagan offered the muscular, nationalist, patriotic leadership that McCain admires.

Obama admires that leadership style, too. Interviewed in Nevada in January, Obama said Reagan had “changed the trajectory of America in a way that … Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” Responding to the inevitable Democratic – and Clintonesque – onslaught, Obama explained he was not embracing Reagan’s policies, just admiring Reagan as a “transformative leader.”

At his most powerful campaigning moments, Obama demonstrated a similar ambition and potential. Obama did not run to be a caretaker. Having matured during the Reagan Revolution, Obama wants to redefine liberalism as more community-oriented and more sensitive to tradition than the liberalism the 1960s produced; balancing rights and responsibilities, government power and individual prerogative.

Of course, the financial meltdown directly challenged the 1980s’ legacy. During the summer, the Soviet invasion of Georgia and the continuing worries about Iran and Iraq made pundits predict 2008 would be a foreign policy-oriented election. That assumption explains Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as a running mate. That hedge – and so many others – diminished in value with the stock market’s collapse.

Alas, despite the leadership opportunity the financial crisis provided for the candidates, neither rose to the occasion. Both remained cautious, simplistic demagogic on economic issues. That is what tends to happen during campaigns.

Today, America’s new president-elect has to start preparing to govern. The 11-week transition to Jan. 20 is a gift, an opportunity for a healing honeymoon but also a test. And come Inauguration Day, the economy must be revived, the Iraq mess must be fixed, the challenges of a potentially nuclear Iran must be faced, the continuing threat of Islamic terror must be countered. Perhaps most important, the U.S. people need reassuring and reuniting after the anger and alienation of the George W. Bush years.

This campaign showed that Americans hunger for change and inspiration. Inspiring while making hard decisions that might entail sacrifice is an Herculean task. In the inevitably rough days ahead, the new president might start yearning for the clarity and simplicity of the campaign trail, where oratory could substitute for policy and soundbites could trump substance, even if the accommodations were less plush than those the White House offers.

Gil Troy teaches history at McGill University.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-26-08

The “experience” argument has had a funny track record this campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to float her way to the White House based on her supposedly considerable experience – and lost. Barack Obama may be one of the least politically experienced politicians since that other Illinois pol, Abraham Lincoln, captured the White House, but most voters don’t seem to mind. In fact, the candidate who has been repeatedly denounced as inexperienced and unqualified to be president is the only national candidate with actual executive experience in the race, the former mayor and current governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

All this goes to show that a resume only tells part of the story. Any fair observer who has watched Palin’s interview with Katie Couric should admit to some reservations about Sarah Palin’s readiness to lead. Couric asked fair questions in a straightforward manner, and Palin often responded like an unprepared undergraduate who tries to reframe a question or sling broad generalizations about America to substitute for specific answers. Similarly, in her debate with Joe Biden, Palin came on strong but by mid-debate was sidestepping too much and repeatedly invoking her McCain-and-me-are-Mavericks mantra.

Most disturbing of all, Sarah Palin seems singularly unqualified in the field of foreign affairs, even though John McCain’s candidacy rode – and seems to be falling – on the argument of its primacy during these touchy times. I have no problem with Republicans who say “yes, she’s unqualified but I’m still voting for president and McCain is my choice.” I can even accept Republicans who argue that the media has been particularly tough on Palin and soft on Joe Biden, who has made a number of unacceptable factual errors on the campaign trail in addition to his role as gaffe-master general. But I have a hard time accepting those who claim that they have no concerns about Palin’s limited national experience and superficial understanding of foreign affairs.

At the same time, it is extremely disturbing that most polls suggest that Al Franken is about to be elected Senator from Minnesota. Franken is not only unqualified, he has been a destructive force in American politics for years. That Minnesota, a state once known for its calm, constructive, progressive politics, could take this aggressive, mean-spirited, Democratic clown at all seriously shows how far American politics have fallen. We all know that we live in an age of celebrity and that stardom in one field transfers over to another arena far too easily. Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been equally unqualified when they won their respective gubernatorial seats, but at least they had not been harming the system with harsh rhetoric and buffoonery for years. Al Franken is no better than Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, who also should – by now — have talked their way out of being taken seriously by voters.

It is fashionable to lament that partisanship is blind. Actually, partisanship is myopic. Partisans have a distorted view of the world, wherein they are able to see the flaws in a rival party’s candidate while overlooking similar flaws in a candidate from their own camp. So here is my test for 2008. How many people are willing to denounce both Sarah Palin and Al Franken as unqualified for the respective positions they seek? Even at this late date, it is important to test ourselves and each other for consistency, to see if we have any objective standards – or it is all a matter of partisan positioning.

Parties serve an important role in American democracy, as do hard fought campaigns. But politics is about governing not just winning. Occasionally acknowledging your own party’s missteps is an important step in building those bridges of civility and mutuality that are essential for going forward the day after Election Day, a day that is rapidly approaching.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-22-08

The Washington Post contradicted itself dramatically today, in a way that will feed every Republican and conservative claim about the mainstream media’s liberal bias. The Post’s editorial about the “$150 Million Man,” in reference to Barack Obama’s spectacular September fundraising results, treated Barack Obama as the people’s tribune, floating toward his record-breaking $600 million total on a sea of small contributions. “Much of Mr. Obama’s money has arrived in small donations,” the editorial said…. Mr. Obama’s haul reflects the enormous enthusiasm his campaign has generated.” Yet, on the front page of the same edition of the same newspaper, readers discovered that “Big Donors Drive Obama’s Money Edge.” The Post’s analysis of the Obama’s campaign fundraising records showed that “it was far more than just a surge of Internet donors that fueled a coordinated Democratic effort to try to swamp McCain.” Even so, while reporting on the “ultra-rich Democratic donors,” the paper emphasized Obama’s broad base of support and claimed that the money was mostly to advance the cause of grassroots politics, saying it “will support ground operations in 18 states, including all the key battlegrounds.”

By contrast, consider the reporting four years ago about President George W. Bush’s prodigious fundraising efforts. “Pioneers Fill War Chest, then Capitalize,” a typical headline claimed. This money was raised by an “elite cadre” of supporters, readers learned, with far more nefarious motives than their Democratic successors. The Republican efforts were “fueled by the desire of corporate CEOs, Wall Street financial leaders, Washington lobbyists and Republican officials to outdo each other in demonstrating their support for Bush and his administration’s pro-business policies.”

The message here seems clear. Obama’s fundraising is part of a romantic, heroic effort representing the people’s will; Bush’s fundraising was part of a manipulative, underhanded attempt subverting the people’s will. This distinction paralleled Hillary Clinton’s defense in the 1990s, when she was charged with profiteering on the commodities market – she did it for her daughter Chelsea’s college tuition. There, the parallel message was that Democrats speculate for their children’s education, Republicans do it for greed.

These caricatures work because they resonate, reinforcing other story lines. For months reporters have celebrated Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign as a people’s crusade. And for decades now reporters have been lambasting the Republican Party as the party of the plutocrats. Moreover, these story lines are rooted in truth. Even if mega-donors have fueled much of the fundraising, Obama has attracted a record number of smaller donors, on-line and off, many of them first-time givers. And claiming that the Republican Party is extremely pro-business is no more controversial than noting that Hollywood is extremely pro-liberal.

The resonance of these stereotypes is what I call the O-Ring factor, recalling the first Space Shuttle Explosion. After the Challenger exploded in 1986, the brilliant scientist Richard Feynman proved that an unseasonal Florida frost hit the shuttle’s connecting rubber O-Rings in such a way as to make the entire spaceship vulnerable. Certain candidacies are more susceptible to certain attacks than others. Storylines resonate based on different candidate’s weakness. The story that the New York Times ran this spring about John McCain’s friendship with a woman lobbyist had little traction. Had a similar story run about Bill Clinton in his heyday, it would have resonated more broadly, because of Bill Clinton’s reputation as a ladies man.

The story of Barack Obama’s record-breaking fundraising has been played as one more chapter in the legend of his rise, rather than an indicator of anyone owning him or expecting payback. But as the Washington Post editorial suggested, Obama’s haul – and his renunciation of federal financing – highlight the problems of the current campaign finance system. Politicians spend too much time and make too many promises fundraising. But it is unrealistic to expect that money would not be a major player in our system. Money is power, and the marriage between business people and politicians is too compelling. Limits will not work; full disclosure might. Let us trust the maturity of the people and the effectiveness of the internet. Keeping the process clean entails keeping it open. Beyond that, as so many election lawyers like to say, keeping money out of the campaign is like keeping water out of your basement. Whatever defenses we build, we cannot fight the inevitable. Better to accept it and work with the reality than to resist it and lose.

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HNN, 9-18-08

Senator Hillary Clinton’s refusal to attend the major rally called for Monday September 22 in New York against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN appearance is outrageous — as is the organizers’ subsequent decision to disinvite Sarah Palin. Back in August, Senator Clinton had agreed to attend. She abruptly pulled out this week because the Republican nominee Sarah Palin also agreed to appear. This move suggests that Senator Clinton hates Governor Palin and the Republicans more than she hates Iran’s Ahmadinejad, despite his sexism, homophobia and advocacy of genocide.

The explanation Senator Clinton’s office gave for the shift was petulant and ignorant. Apparently, Clinton felt blindsided by news of Palin’s appearance. Palin’s “attendance was news to us, and this was never billed to us as a partisan political event,” Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines, told the New York Times. “Senator Clinton will therefore not be attending.” Upset by the controversy, a day later the organizers declared that no elected officials would attend, to keep the event “nonpartisan.” But as Senators John McCain and Barack Obama showed in their joint appearance on September 11, sometimes political rivals have to stop opposing each other, even during election season. Imagine how powerful a message the American people would have sent to Iran had their two leading women politicians stood together during the presidential campaign against Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear-hungry mullahocracy.

Of course, Palin’s planned appearance was not simply altruistic and of course it had partisan aims. Politicians never stop prospecting for votes, especially during tough elections. And Palin’s willingness to protest against Ahmadinejad was part of her quest for legitimacy in foreign policy as well as a play for Jewish votes. Hillary Clinton’s initial decision to attend the rally also was partisan as was her decision to boycott this important round in the popular fight against Iran. It is not surprising that Clinton recoiled at the thought of helping Palin’s quest in any way, but it is disappointing that Clinton succumbed to those feelings, given the seriousness of the Iranian threat.

The organizers did not need the rally to be nonpartisan but bipartisan. A nonpartisan rally limits the guest list to apolitical people such as the writer Elie Wiesel, who is planning to lend his powerful moral voice to the effort. But the organizers initially understood that in the United States, power resides with partisan politicians. The rally would have been most effective had it been bipartisan – with influential representatives from both sides of the aisle. It is surprising that Senator Clinton and then the organizers failed to understand that distinction between bipartisan and nonpartisan. It is also unrealistic for Senator Clinton to walk around pretending that Sarah Palin has not become America’s newest political superstar.

The comic sensation of the week is a skit from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler imitating Palin and Clinton, respectively. The skit imagines the two of them uniting to battle sexism. On Monday, life could have outdone art. In fact, in addition to denouncing Ahmadinejad, Senator Hillary Clinton could have helped remind Americans of the many things that unite them, even during this campaign. Instead, Hillary Clinton played the partisan – and diminished her own moral standing in the process.

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