Obama as the Anti-Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 29, 2008; 11:49 AM

Editor's note: Dan Froomkin is taking Labor Day off. He'll return on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama last night firmly thrust President Bush and his legacy into the center of the 2008 presidential race.

Obama described the great challenges of the next presidency as restoring the values Bush has abandoned, fixing the things Bush has broken, and fundamentally changing the errant course Bush has set for our nation.

With an overwhelming eight out of ten Americans wanting the next president to set the nation in a new direction, what Obama was saying was not exactly radical.

He even noted that Republican candidate John McCain is calling attention to "those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need."

But, Obama said, "the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change. . . .

"Tonight -- tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land: enough! This moment -- this moment, this election, is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive."

The heart of Obama's speech to 85,000 cheering supporters at Denver's football stadium was a look back at what Bush has wrought.

"We meet at one of those defining moments -- a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

"Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes, and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit cards -- bills you can't afford to pay and tuition that's beyond your reach.

"Now, these challenges are not all of government's making, but the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

"America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this. . . .

"We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty -- that sits -- that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes."

And Obama was withering in his analysis of the two fundamental pillars of Bush's presidency.

He called Bush's approach to the economy "that old, discredited Republican philosophy: Give more and more to those with the most, and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the ownership society, but what it really means is that you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck; you're on your own. No health care? The market will fix it; you're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don't have boots. You are on your own.

"Well, it's time for them to own their failure."

As for Bush's approach to national security: "You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances."

The Coverage

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "Speaking to a nation fighting two wars, struggling with a weakened economy and growing doubtful about the future, Obama said he would make the fall campaign a choice between a continuation of eight years of Republican policies and a new direction aimed at ending the conflict in Iraq and easing the economic insecurities of working families. . . .

"The portrait he painted of McCain was that of a man who had served his country nobly but who is out of touch with struggling families and is joined at the hip with President Bush on foreign and domestic policy."

Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in the New York Times: "Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party presidential nomination on Thursday, declaring that the 'American promise has been threatened' by eight years under President Bush and that John McCain represented a continuation of policies that undermined the nation's economy and imperiled its standing around the world. . . .

"Mr. Obama used much of his speech to link Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush -- a line of attack that his aides view as their strongest going into the fall -- and signaled that he saw next week's Republican convention, when Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush are to appear together, albeit briefly, as a way to press that line of attack."

Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post that Obama "portrayed McCain again and again as the personification of a third term of President Bush."

And Gore, Too

Earlier in the evening, former vice president Al Gore -- who lost the presidential race to Bush in 2000 -- had this to say: "Take it from me. If it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq; we would have pursued bin Laden until we captured him. We wouldn't be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis; we'd be fighting for middle-income families. We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution; we'd be protecting the rights of every American regardless of race, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. And we would not be denying the climate crisis; we'd be solving the climate crisis. . . .

"With John McCain's support, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have led our nation into one calamity after another because of their indifference to facts, their readiness to sacrifice the long term to the short term, subordinate the general good to the benefit of the few, and short-circuit the rule of la. . . .

"After they wrecked our economy, it's time for a change. After they abandoned the search for the terrorists who attacked us and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us, it's time for a change.

"After they abandoned the principle first laid down by General George Washington, when he prohibited the torture of captives because it would bring, in his words, 'shame, disgrace and ruin' to our nation, it's time for a change."

Katrina and the Convention

Dan Eggen and Michael D. Shear write in The Washington Post: "Republican officials said yesterday that they are considering delaying the start of the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul because of Tropical Storm Gustav, which is on track to hit the Gulf Coast, and possibly New Orleans, as a full-force hurricane early next week.

"The threat is serious enough that White House officials are also debating whether President Bush should cancel his scheduled convention appearance on Monday, the first day of the convention, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussion.

"For Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Hurricane Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain's formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee. . . .

"Staging a convention during a major natural disaster would be a public relations challenge for either political party. But GOP officials say the burden could be especially heavy for their party, whose reputation was tarred by the Bush administration's bungling of Katrina and its aftermath in 2005."

James Gerstenzang blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "Not only is President Bush keeping atop the reports of Tropical Storm Gustav, but the White House press office is keeping atop efforts to report that he is keeping atop the reports.

"In other words, the president's staff wants us to know he's paying attention."

Albatross Watch

Greg Mitchell writes for Editor and Publisher: "The cover story in this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine considers George Bush and what it terms 'His Final Days,' with his view of his legacy - and John McCain - in the forefront. . . .

"It opens with a scene from this past May when an uneasy Bush and McCain met for '14 seconds of ritual' on a tarmac for a press photo op. 'That was May,' [author Peter] Baker writes. 'As of late this month, the president and the would-be successor from his own party have not spoken since.'

"Later Baker reveals: 'McCain has not called the president for advice.'

"Baker describes this as a 'relationship fraught with bitter resentment, grudging respect and mutual dependence.' After his appearance next Monday at the GOP convention, Bush 'will be ushered out of the spotlight as quickly as possible - if not in 14 seconds, then not all that much longer.'"

Jonathan Martin writes for Politico that Bush is "slated to appear at fundraisers in Oklahoma and Texas next month. On the internal planning schedule, though, McCain aides are careful to point out McCain won't be in attendance at either."

Cold War Watch

Richard Boudreaux writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The United States and Russia on Thursday traded some of their sharpest words over the conflict in Georgia, including a suggestion by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Washington provoked the fighting to sway the outcome of the U.S. presidential race.

"The Cold War-style barbs, hurled at long range from the two capitals and face to face at the United Nations, underscored the breakdown of diplomatic efforts to end Russia's 3-week-old military intervention in the former Soviet republic."

Clifford J. Levy writes in the New York Times that "Vladimir V. Putin, the country's paramount leader, lashed out at the United States on Thursday, contending that the White House may have orchestrated the conflict to benefit one of the candidates in the American presidential election. . . .

"In tones that seemed alternately angry and mischievous, he suggested that the Bush administration may have tried to create a crisis that would influence American voters in the choice of a successor to President Bush.

"'The suspicion would arise that someone in the United States created this conflict on purpose to stir up the situation and to create an advantage for one of the candidates in the competitive race for the presidency in the United States,' Mr. Putin said in an interview with CNN.

"He added, 'They needed a small victorious war.' . . .

"Mr. Putin offered scant evidence to support his assertion, and the White House called his comments absurd."

And talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. Jay Solomon and Gregory L. White write in the Wall Street Journal: "The Bush administration, escalating its response to Russia's actions in Georgia, has placed under review talks with Moscow focused on missile defense and nuclear-weapons disarmament, according to U.S. officials.

"A delay would cast uncertainty over the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, a successor to Cold War era arms-reduction agreements that expires at the end of 2009. The treaty restricts the number of long-range nuclear weapons each side is allowed to have. . . .

"Washington and Moscow had been planning a round of talks, tentatively expected for mid-September, to discuss Start and address Russian concerns about a U.S.-backed missile-defense system being deployed in Europe.

"'All of these meetings could now be frozen' during the rest of George W. Bush's presidency, said one U.S. official."

Cheney's Trip

Why send notorious saber-rattler Dick Cheney into a simmering geopolitical conflict?

Maybe it's the oil.

AFP reports: "Washington will seek to boost alliances and offset Russian energy dominance when Vice President Dick Cheney visits Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine next week, a White House official said.

"In light of rising tensions with Russia over its conflict with Georgia, Cheney's trip is part diplomatic mission, part effort to boost alternate pipeline routes that would reduce Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas. . . .

"Bush's decision to dispatch Cheney for talks to include discussions on advancing NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, is the clearest sign yet of US concern that its strategic interests in the region -- especially in oil -- could be at serious risk.

"The strategic Black Sea region is the common thread in these former Soviet republics, and where major powers have played out power struggles ever since oil was found around the Caspian Sea in the early 20th century.

"An administration official said Russia's military action in Georgia has given fresh urgency to the planned Nabucco pipeline, which would bring natural gas from Turkey to Austria."

Tabassum Zakaria writes for Reuters: "'The overriding priority, especially in Baku, Tbilisi and Kiev, will be the same: a clear and simple message that the United States has a deep and abiding interest in the well-being and security in this part of the world,' John Hannah, national security adviser to Cheney, on Thursday told reporters. . . .

"While parts of the trip were under consideration before the Georgia crisis erupted this month, it 'has clearly taken on increased importance in light of Russia's recent military operations and its decision to recognize unilaterally the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,' Hannah said. . . .

"Cheney, considered one of the administration's harshest critics of Russia, will 'reaffirm America's unwavering commitment to continue strengthening our relations with these countries, not just today but for the long haul,' Hannah said."

Afghanistan Watch

Gordon Lubold writes in the Christian Science Monitor that "even as political pressure mounts to do more to stop the violence" in Afghanistan, "there is increasing fear in the Pentagon that sending in more forces is just a stopgap measure that masks the absence of a broader, viable strategy.

"'To a certain extent, we have boxed ourselves into the idea that additional troops is a panacea for revising strategy,' says a senior Pentagon official. 'That in and of itself becomes the strategy.'

"More troops does mean more security, says the military official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the matter. But he and others don't think the conversation inside the Defense Department or at the national level has 'matured' past that. . . .

"Experts outside the Pentagon say that though oil-rich Iraq is considered strategically more important, given its proximity to Iran, the US cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan, which is in a region critical to US geo-political interests."

Last Minute Watch

Kris Maher writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The Bush administration is weighing an executive order that would eliminate a union-preferred method of labor organizing at large government contractors, according to people familiar with the situation.

"Labor leaders prefer a card-check system in which workers can form a union if a majority of them sign a union-authorization card. Companies generally prefer a secret-ballot election. . . .

"The executive order would require large government contractors to use secret-ballot elections for union organizing or risk losing government contracts, say people familiar with the order. . . .

"Labor officials who have heard of the plans criticized the idea. 'This is politics at its worst,' said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's director of government affairs. He called the order a gift to the business community 'from the most antiunion administration that we've seen.'

"Both sides said Sen. Obama would likely revoke the order if elected. A Democratic-controlled Congress could also override it, and the order could face a court challenge."

Cartoon Watch

Ann Telnaes on the White House "watch party" and Walt Handelsman on preparing for the storm.

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