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October 9th, 2008
04:10 PM ET

Obama's race is receding

Joe Klein
Time.com

We are witnessing something remarkable here: Obama's race is receding as he becomes more familiar. His steadiness has trumped his skin color; he is being judged on the content of his character. But there is a real challenge — and opportunity — inherent in his success. Obama has taken some inspired risks in this campaign. His willingness to propose more governmental control of the health-care market is a prime example. But he has also been very cautious, a typical politician in many ways. The most obvious is in his resolute unwillingness to deliver bad news or make any significant demands on the public. Neither he nor McCain had anything but platitudes to offer when asked what sacrifices they would ask of the American people. Worse, when Brokaw asked if he thought the economy was going to get worse before it gets better, Obama flatly said, "No. I'm confident about the economy."

That was, no doubt, the politic answer. But not the correct one. Obama was underestimating the public's capacity to hear the truth — which is odd, since the national desire for substance, the unwillingness to be diverted by "lipstick on a pig" trivialities, has been so striking in this campaign. Everyone knows this recession is going to hurt, that there will be a price for our profligacy and that some hard shoveling will be necessary to get out of this hole. Indeed, that knowledge is what has made Obama's success possible. But if he wants to do more than merely succeed, if he wants to govern successfully, he is going to have to trust the people as much as they are beginning to trust him. After years of happy talk from politicians, that is the change we really need.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Joe Klein • Raw Politics
October 2nd, 2008
11:32 AM ET

Anger vs. Steadiness in the Crisis

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME Columnist

A few hours before the house of Representatives smacked down the financial-bailout package, I watched John McCain — eyes flashing, jaw clenched, oozing sarcasm and disdain — on the attack in Ohio: "Senator Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced. At first he didn't want to get involved. Then he was 'monitoring the situation.' That's not leadership; that's watching from the sidelines." And I thought of Karl Rove. Back in 2003, at the height of Howard Dean mania, Rove was skeptical about Dean's staying power as a candidate: "When was the last time Americans elected an angry President?"

Much has been written about McCain's mercurial temperament during the past few weeks. An election campaign that was supposed to be all about Barack Obama has turned out to be all about John McCain. In the process, the other side of the equation — Obama's steadiness throughout — has been pretty much overlooked. Just after the House shot down the bailout, Obama took to the stage in Colorado, and the contrast with McCain couldn't have been greater: "Now is not the time for fear, now is not the time for panic," he said. "We may not be able to do everything overnight...But I want you to understand, I know we can do it...Things are never smooth in Congress. It will get done."

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Filed under: Joe Klein • Raw Politics
September 19th, 2008
08:30 AM ET

John McCain and the lying game

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME Columnist

Politics has always been lousy with blather and chicanery. But there are rules and traditions too. In the early weeks of the general-election campaign, a consensus has grown in the political community — a consensus that ranges from practitioners like Karl Rove to commentators like, well, me — that John McCain has allowed his campaign to slip the normal bounds of political propriety.

The situation has gotten so intense that we in the media have slipped our normal rules as well. Usually when a candidate tells something less than the truth, we mince words. We use euphemisms like mendacity and inaccuracy ... or, as the Associated Press put it, "McCain's claims skirt facts."

But increasing numbers of otherwise sober observers, even such august institutions as the New York Times editorial board, are calling John McCain a liar. You might well ask, What has McCain done to deserve this? What unwritten rules did he break? Are his transgressions of degree or of kind?

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Filed under: Joe Klein • John McCain • Raw Politics
September 11th, 2008
10:13 AM ET

Sarah Palin's Myth of America

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME columnist

Sarah Palin has arrived in our midst with the force of a rocket-propelled grenade. She has boosted John McCain's candidacy and overwhelmed the presidential process in a way that no vice-presidential pick has since Thomas Eagleton did the precise opposite — sinking his sponsor, George McGovern, in 1972.

Obviously, something beyond politics is happening here. We don't really know Palin as a politician yet, whether she is wise or foolhardy, substantive or empty. Our fascination with her — and it is a nonpartisan phenomenon — is driven by something more primal. The Palin surge illuminates the mythic power of the Republican Party's message since the advent of Ronald Reagan.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Joe Klein • Raw Politics • Sarah Palin • T1
September 4th, 2008
10:12 AM ET

The Republicans' Last Night

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME columnist

As I predicted earlier yesterday, Sarah Palin did just fine.

In fact, she delivered a brilliant speech. It was a classic Republican speech–written by Matthew Scully of the Bush speechwriting shop–chock full of conservative populism, a cultural "torpedo" as Chris Mathews is saying as I write this, aimed directly at Barack and Michelle Obama. She was far more effective, using fewer words than the over-the-top Rudy Giuliani, in tearing down the Obama candidacy. There was not much substance–issues don't matter, remember?–and her description of Obama's policies, particularly his tax policies, was quite inaccurate.

But that hardly matters. Palin established herself as a major-league performer, a very effective messenger for the perennial Republican themes of low taxes and strong defense. And a new theme–government reform–that changes the terrain of the election and will have to be forcefully countered by the Democrats. Obama will have to be every bit as sharp–and down to earth–as he was in his speech last week as this goes forward.

Last week, when Bill Clinton began to speak, I thought: this turns this lugubrious convention around. I thought the same as Palin spoke tonight. John McCain, not nearly the speaker that Palin seems to be, has a tough act to follow tomorrow night.

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August 28th, 2008
10:05 AM ET

What Bush Taught McCain

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME columnist

The woman, a venture capitalist from the Denver area, looked a bit like Cindy McCain, and so it was disconcerting when she announced, in a focus group of undecided voters conducted by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, that she had decided she just couldn't vote for John McCain this year. "I supported him enthusiastically in 2000, but he's hired the same people who ran him into the ground last time to run his campaign," she said. McCain's tone was more negative now. "It breaks my heart."

Most people don't care about the consultants a candidate hires — very few handlers achieve the celebrity status of a Karl Rove or a James Carville. Most voters who supported McCain in 2000 but not this year have more obvious gripes: they don't like the way he's shaved his policy positions to approach Republican dogma. They may remember that he opposed the Bush tax cuts before he favored them...

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August 21st, 2008
01:21 PM ET

Where's Obama's Passion?

Editor’s note: See Joe Klein discuss the latest developments on the campaign trail, tonight on AC360° 10p ET.

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME columnist

A few days before Barack Obama was to announce his choice for Vice President, he was asked at a North Carolina town meeting what qualities he wanted in a running mate. He wandered through a derisive, if desultory, critique of Dick Cheney, then switched gears. "I want somebody ... who shares with me a passion to make the lives of the American people better than they are right now," he said. "I want somebody who is mad right now that people are losing their jobs." And I immediately thought, Uh-oh.

Memories of John Kerry in 2004 came flooding back, of how he tended to describe his feelings rather than experience them, of how he suddenly—and unconvincingly—started to say he was "angry" about this or that when his consultants told him that Howard Dean's anger about the war in Iraq was hitting home with voters. And then, in the general election, Kerry kept repeating the word strength rather than demonstrating it. Clearly, Obama's consultants have given him similar advice, that he was on the short end of a passion gap—that it was time for emo. A day earlier, he had said wage disparities between genders made his "blood boil."

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Joe Klein • Raw Politics
July 24th, 2008
09:56 AM ET

McCain's Foreign Policy Frustration

Joe Klein
AC360° Contributor
TIME columnist

"I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war," John McCain said during a Rochester, N.H., town meeting on July 22. "It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign."

It was a remarkable statement, as intemperate a personal attack as I've ever heard a major-party candidate make in a presidential campaign, the sort of thing that no potential President of the United States should ever be caught saying. (A prudent candidate has aides sling that sort of mud.) It was also inevitable.

You could see McCain's frustration building as Barack Obama traipsed elegantly through the Middle East while the pillars of McCain's bellicose regional policy crumbled in his wake. It wasn't only that the Iraqi government seemed to take Obama's side in the debate over when U.S. forces should leave (sooner rather than later).

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Joe Klein • John McCain • Raw Politics • T1
July 23rd, 2008
03:01 PM ET

McCain meltdown

Joe Klein
TIME Magazine columnist

John McCain said this today in Rochester, New Hampshire:

"This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign."

This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered. I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation. It renews questions about whether McCain has the right temperament for the presidency. How sad.  Read more


Filed under: Barack Obama • Joe Klein • John McCain • Raw Politics • T1
July 22nd, 2008
11:44 AM ET

The McCain Op-Ed

Joe Klein
TIME Magazine columnist

I can't understand why the New York Times won't publish this from John McCain. The op-ed page clearly owes him equal time, after publishing Barack Obama last week.

If the standard, as Times Op-Editor wrote in his memo, is "new information," McCain's op-ed clearly meets it: the new information is McCain's inability to adjust his position now that the Iraqi government has announced what must be considered a major change of policy.

For example, we have this:

[Obama] makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

But, of course, that's wrong. Maliki endorsed a 16-month timetable. And now the Iraqi government is saying that American troops should be out by 2010. (Actually, I see Shipley's point here: new information would be McCain's reaction to the Iraqis setting an 2010 end date.)

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Editor's note: See Joe Klein tonight on AC360°


Filed under: Joe Klein • John McCain • Raw Politics
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