Saturday, May 05, 2007

The neo-con swing and the price that goes with it

I don't know whether this is good or bad.
DISILLUSIONED supporters of President George W Bush are defecting to Barack Obama, the Democratic senator for Illinois, as the White House candidate with the best chance of uniting a divided nation.

Tom Bernstein went to Yale University with Bush and co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team with him. In 2004 he donated the maximum $2,000 to the president’s reelection campaign and gave $50,000 to the Republican National Committee. This year he is switching his support to Obama. He is one of many former Bush admirers who find the Democrat newcomer appealing.

Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief campaign strategist in 2004, announced last month that he was disillusioned with the war in Iraq and the president’s “my way or the highway” style of leadership – the first member of Bush’s inner circle to denounce the leader’s performance in office.

Although Dowd has yet to endorse a candidate, he said the only one he liked was Obama. “I think we should design campaigns that appeal, not to 51% of the people, but bring the country together as a whole,” Dowd said.

As curious as all this may sound, some of them have personal reasons.

Bernstein is a champion of human rights, who admires Obama’s call for action on Darfur, while Dowd’s opposition to the war has been sharpened by the expected deployment to Iraq of his son, an Arabic-speaking Army intelligence specialist.
OK. So I'm being cynical. There's more.

But last week a surprising new name joined the chorus of praise for the antiwar Obama – that of Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century in the late 1990s, which called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Kagan is an informal foreign policy adviser to the Republican senator John McCain, who remains the favoured neoconservative choice for the White House because of his backing for the troops in Iraq.

But in an article in the Washington Post, Kagan wrote approvingly that a keynote speech by
Obama at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was “pure John Kennedy”, a neocon hero of the cold war.

In his speech, Obama called for an increase in defence spending and an extra 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines to “stay on the offense” against terrorism and ensure America had “the strongest, best-equipped military in the world”. He talked about building democracies, stopping weapons of mass destruction and the right to take unilateral action to protect US “vital interests” if necessary, as well as the importance of building alliances.

“Personally, I liked it,” Kagan wrote.

Disagreements on the war have not stopped John Martin, a Navy reservist and founder of the website Republicans for Obama, from supporting the antiwar senator. He joined the military after the Iraq war and is about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

“I disagree with Obama on the war but I don’t think it is a test of his patriotism,” Martin says. “Obama has a message of hope for the country.”

The swing of the neo-cons, many of whom were Democrats in a former life, is a bit surprizing, but anyone with that kind of appeal has also attracted the wrong kind of attention.

US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been given secret service protection far earlier in the campaign than any previous candidate following worries about racist threats, officials said.

Mr Obama, who regularly draws large crowds as he campaigns to become America's first black president, requested the protection himself, the department of homeland security said last night.

The Homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, authorised this and the secret Service "is now implementing that protection", said Eric Zahren, a secret service spokesman.


Several concerns had been raised, including some racist discussions on white supremacist websites, the official told the Associated Press newswire.

Dick Durbin, a Democrat senator, told reporters last night that he had received information several weeks ago, some of it connected to Mr Obama's race, that made him worried for the Democratic candidate's safety.

Mr Durbin said he approached Senate leaders from both parties several weeks ago and that they took the issue to the secret service.

"I expressed concern because of my affection for Barack and his family. I've travelled with Obama. I've witnessed enormous crowds," Mr Durbin said. "This is a relief."

Federal law allows candidates to seek protection if they meet a series of standards, including public prominence as measured by polls and fundraising. However, Mr Obama has been given a secret service detail far earlier than previous candidates, nine months before the first primary votes are cast.

What a hell of a way to apply for a job.

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