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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Biden Goes Epic: A Level 25 Gaffe

Apparently conservatives are unhappy, because news of Palin's $250K shopping spree has displaced coverage of Biden's "gaffe" (he recently suggested that early on, Obama's administration would have to confront "an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy"). Ross Douthat, in his typically moderate tone, suggests:

Biden's bizarrely honest remarks are an almost too-perfect exemplar of the Kinsleyan definition of a "gaffe" as an accidental statement of the truth - and in a different, closer election, one untouched by a global economic crisis (and, yes, the ongoing Sarah Palin story), they might have been the game-changing flub that conservatives keep looking for. (At the very least, I think they summon up a much more compelling argument against the Democratic ticket than Obama's comments to Joe the Plumber.)

The problem with what Biden said, and with Douthat's take, is that it's not "an accidental statement of the truth" -- it's an accidental statement of G.O.P. delusion. Conservatives (especially neocons) have long argued that we need tough-talking hawks in the White House because it will cow the Muslims -- even Thomas Friedman advanced this argument in his infamous "suck on this" rant.

In reality, it's pretty clear that Muslim extremists see Republicans as more likely to play along with their attacks by over-reacting and overreaching. As Yglesias reminds us, not only was this Bin Laden's aim with the 9/11 attacks, there was pretty much a consensus that he mailed that tape to Al-Jazeera on the eve of the 2004 elections because he wanted to swing the elections toward Bush, who kept playing along. Hence, what makes Douthat's argument so "compelling" is the same thing that helped Bush in 2004 -- a mass national delusion rooted in our basic ignorance about what serves our objectives in the Middle East (and Al Qaeda's clear understanding of what our ignorance leads us to do).

The key point: these terrorists see conservatives and the G.O.P. as their defacto American allies. What does this mean? It means terrorists believe they get more out of attacking someone erratic and bellicose like Bush/McCain, rather than a more moderate Democrat. And this risk/payoff analysis, in turn, suggests Al Qaeda is more likely to attack a president McCain, whose response it can count on, than Obama.

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