Bush, the general election and Nazi appeasers

Speaking in front of the Knesset yesterday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Israel's creation, President Bush did something few politicians do: He interjected talk of domestic politics in a speech given abroad. In what was a veiled but unmistakable attack on Barack Obama's proposal to meet with foreign leaders from 'rogue states,' Bush compared the desire of some American politicians to meet with "terrorists and radicals" to Nazi appeasers:

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along... We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

The remarks predictably created a firestorm in the United States and the net result is very good for Obama. First, it cast him in the role of the main Democratic figure, projecting him ahead to the general election at a time his campaign is trying to portray the general election as over. All Democrats rallied at Obama's defense yesterday, denouncing Bush's partisan speech in a foreign country as well as the ugly nature of the attack. Joe Biden got noticed (think veepstakes or cabinet post...) for offering the most forceful response, calling Bush's speech "bullshit." Even Hillary Clinton ended up defending Obama, probably not what she was expecting to be doing with her day yesterday:

President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is offensive and outrageous, especially in the light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address.

Second, Obama would love nothing more than to be running against George Bush in the fall. The Republican president, whose approval rating is hovering around 30%, is the main reason the GOP is in so much trouble right now, surviving only because of John McCain's uncommon appeal to independents and moderate voters is keeping his numbers afloat. The main Democratic strategy in the coming months will be to tie McCain to the incumbent president -- McSame, a third term for Bush, etc... -- and Bush did the Arizona Senator no favor by contaminating an attack that the GOP was sure to use against Obama, an attack that will now be associated with Bush. This also gives an opportunity to Obama to (1) rehearse his defense of his proposal to talk to foreign leaders in favorable conditions and (2) hit back forcefully against Bush, painting himself to be running in opposition to the current Administration as much as against McCain and articulating a coherent alternative foreign policy at a time people are starting to pay attention to the general election.

To make matters worse for the GOP, Bush's speech came on a day McCain was trying to distance himself from the president, giving a speech ("2013") which was supposed to be his latest attempt to show the ways in which he would be a different kind of Republican and the ways in which he propose a bi-partisan (post-partisan?) approach (expect the debate over who is the true post-partisan to pick-up in the coming months...). Instead, not only was McCain's speech completely overshadowed but McCain was left defending Bush's statement -- one he would have made sooner or later but that he would have rather made first by himself:

I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map, who denies the Holocaust.

The McCain campaign has to be worried about this kind of thing happening over and over again in the coming months. They are hoping for President Bush to make as little news as possible and not try to interfere in the general election campaign, but yesterday's show proved that Bush can do pretty much anything he wants and get instant attention (Marc Ambinder isn't even sure that the Administration warned or coordinated this with the McCain campaign).

And it did not help McCain's cause that an interview he gave to the Washington Post in 2006 was unearthed today in which McCain said the time had come for the United States to accept the "new reality in the Middle East" and start talking to Hamas. That's not exactly what he was saying yesterday and puts him dangerously close to the type of politician Bush described as Nazi appeasers... (As TPM notes, McCain's desire to "deal with" Hamas isn't exactly the same as what the GOP is criticizing Obama for, namely wanting to meet foreign leaders with "no preconditions," but since Obama has never proposed to do that with Hamas, the point is moot.)

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  • Taniel - I agree it was good for Obama. It focussed on him being the Democratic nominee against McCain. The whole Democratic party rallied around including Clinton so it just strengthens him and reminds Democrats that they have the GOP to take on rather than indulge in their primary battle for what seems years.

    By Anonymous Mike, At 16 May, 2008 12:56  

  • George Bush has been getting so little media attention that this is the only way he find any - to inject himself through his comments into the 2008 campaign. I am not normally an admirer of Chris Matthews but I thought the video of his exchange with the hard-right talk show host was hugely entertaining. Matthews' point was apt: being an appeaser (as Chamberlain was) does not mean sitting down and talking with the enemy, but it means giving land and other concessions away to the enemy. The accusation that Obama and other democrats are for "appeasement" was totally malicious and false.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 16 May, 2008 13:28  

  • As always democrats "miss-understimate" Bush at their own peril. I have been listening to the wacko, crazy, lunatic talk radio since the infamous "appeasement" speech, and it is all they are talking about. And I have been listening to the water cooler conversation at work, and is has been an agitated rehashing of the remarks and the its significance. Granted, I am from Virginia, and work in the defense industry, but my coworkers are not a bunch of right wing nut jobs! There is something in there. Even when I personally believe the charge of appeasement, especially under the present circumstance, to be spurious, there are folks out there that see this as further evidence of Obama’s lack of qualification for the highest office in the land. Bush, or perhaps Rove, is showing McCain how to beat Obama. This is going to be a continuous attack, water torture drip drip kind of attack. Some new charge every week until Election Day. Obama is vulnerable to this sort of attack because, well, he is an unqualified neophyte and there is no way to hide it. Oh yes, I know you folks are going to provide wonderfully articulated and phrased arguments, full of valid data and analysis of how is not so. How this kind of approach will not work. Nonsense. We are all talking here to an echo chamber. You folks all think alike and cannot, under any circumstance see how anybody could fail to see the brilliance of your argument and the clarity of the analysis. And you are in a way right, considering the audience. But is all about perceptions in American politics. And I am telling you guys, to quote the immortal Han Solo; “I have a bad feeling about this!”

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 16 May, 2008 23:41  

  • “I have a bad feeling about this!”

    You are not alone. I sense that we have been here before. I'm thinking 1988. Dukakis was portrayed by Bush the elder as weak on defense; he would not stand up to communism. Back in those days terrorism was not even on the map; but the image of Dukakis in the army tank still remains. There is little doubt that this election will be about the War on Terror, and who is better equipped to lead the fight. This is McCain's strongest hand, and he will play it well. Also, all this talk of a genteel campaign is a bunch of BS. It's likely to be mean and dirty.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 17 May, 2008 08:37  

  • "Also, all this talk of a genteel campaign is a bunch of BS. It's likely to be mean and dirty."

    I agree with you Daniel. The GOP has nothing else. I mean nothing!! The only way they can win is by totally destroying the image of Barack Obama. What is so depressing is that I wonder if the Obama camp realizes what is coming their way. I hear so many of his supporters and the Air America crowd pontificate about how is going to be different this time, that Americans are tired of the politics of personal destruction. I just don’t see any evidence of that. As much as Obama supporters have complain of Hillary’s campaigning style, by historical standards, her campaign has been quite mild. And that is a problem. Obama made criticism oh him synonymous to racism. Know what? The Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass whether something looks racially polarizing or not. They will go for it a 150%, turbo charged; scorch earth because that is all they have. Is going to be hell in Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. There is where the election will be decided.

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 17 May, 2008 14:38  

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