Salon Radio: Matthew Yglesias

What are the most glaring deficiencies in media coverage of the campaign and what can be done to combat them? Plus: Is the Obama campaign excessively minimizing foreign policy differences with the GOP?

Published September 12, 2008 3:41PM (EDT)

(updated below w/transcript)

My guest today on Salon Radio is Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress, whose blog is at CAP's Think Progress site. We discuss the various media/campaign issues about which he, Marc Ambinder and I exchanged several posts earlier in the week, and more broadly examine what are (and are not) effective tactics in combating the glaring and destructive deficiencies in the campaign coverage from the establishment media. We also discuss, in the context of the election, some of the themes from Matt's 2008 book -- Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats -- particularly whether the Obama campaign has been minimizing rather than highlighting foreign policy differences between Obama and the Republicans, and whether, in light of Sarah Palin's very hard-line view on a possible war with Russia as expressed yesterday, that is a smart or effective approach to take.

The discussion is roughly 30 minutes and can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below. As always, MP3s of every segment can be found here or can be subscribed to on ITunes using the link to the right. A transcript of today's segment will be posted shortly (it's here).

A few additional items to note: (1) Monday's guest will be Caroline Frederickson, the ACLU's Legislative Director, to discuss the virtual absence of debates relating to constitutional, civil liberties, executive power and rule of law issues in the presidential campaign, and the ACLU's new campaign to change that; (2) my guest for last Wednesday's show was Paul Kemp, the lead lawyer for accused anthrax attacker Bruce Ivins, regarding recent developments in the anthrax investigation. Some technical difficulties have prevented us from publishing the interview, though we hope to do so very soon. If you have some expertise in the Pamela Recording software or know someone who does, please email me; (3) the transcript from Monday's interview with Jeff Severns Guntzel of The Minnesota Independent, regarding the St. Paul protests and the resulting police action, is now posted here.

UPDATE: A transcript of the discussion with Yglesias is here. A highlight -- from our discussion on what can be done about atrocious campaign coverage and the responsible reporters:

YGLESIAS: It's something I'm trying to think through myself, is what really are effective tactics here? I'll say this, the evolution of my own thinking -- when I started blogging four or five, I guess six years ago now, I thought, as I think a lot of people thought, that if you just complained about the media coverage, and tried to make persuasive points about why things should be covered differently, and so on and so forth, that you might change things that way, that you might convince people that these were basically well-intentioned individuals where problems could be pointed out to them and you might get better work. A lot of people are like that in the world. I myself like to think that to some extent I'm open to criticism, and trying to do my job well.

And I've come to see that the people, the really big time reporters, aren't like that. I think that people who get into the campaign coverage business, and are well-intentioned, quickly find out that it's a rotten to the core enterprise, and wind up leaving, and the only people who make it to the top are, they're sociopaths of some kind. And I'm trying to understand what it is we can do as effective pressure points.

Is there anyone who disagrees with that?

This interview can be heard by clicking PLAY on the player at the bottom of the page.

Glenn Greenwald: My guest today is Matthew Iglesias who's with the Center for American Progress, who blogs currently at their Think Progress site, and is also the author of the book, released earlier this year, entitled Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats. Matt, thanks for joining me today.

Matthew Yglesias: Thanks for having me.

GG: My pleasure. So, I want to begin by talking about, somewhat briefly, the discussion that you and I were involved in together that concerned the coverage that a lot of campaign reporters give to the campaign and specifically to the McCain campaign. And it began when Marc Ambinder, former colleague of yours at The Atlantic, wrote a post in which he was essentially pondering why it is that the McCain campaign is able to disseminate one blatant lie after the next without any real repercussions. And you made the point, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that missing from his analysis was a discussion of the role that campaign reporters such as himself play in the McCain campaign's ability to do that.

We also had a few issues about which we had some differences of opinion, and there have been some additional contributions to that discussion from yourself, and Marc, and me. Looking back on the week of discussion on that issue, can you talk about what your views are on the role that reporters play in enabling the McCain campaign and politicians generally to tell lies and what are and are not effective tactics in trying to confront that.

MY: Sure. Marc, in his post, had brought your name into it, saying, in a response to me, saying, spare me the Greenwaldian discussions about the duties and obligations of the press, and I said, a little flippantly, in response to him, I was going to spare him that because, as best I could tell, from, you know, having worked with a lot of journalists at The Atlantic, that people in the business don't really in practice see themselves as having any sort of obligations or duties other than seeking to advance their careers personally, and that, to some extent, I mean, I've gotten I don't know what, frustrated, bored, whatever it is with these efforts to hold journalists up to the high standards of the rhetoric they adopt for themselves, and think it's possibly time for people to adopt a realistic view of this, and see that, it's not really that they don't understand why it is that what they're doing can be harmful to the country and to the world; they just genuinely don't care.

GG: Well, let's talk about that a little bit, because you actually, what was most interesting about that was that you yourself actually frequently criticize reporters based on the grounds that in essence they're not doing their jobs, and...

MY: Right.

GG: ... you've had a couple of posts that I thought were quite incisive over the past couple days concerning Jonathan Weisman, who is just an illustrative example at The Washington Post, of people who have been covering campaigns in ways you find deficient. So, you must on some level think that criticisms of that type are able to affect some kind of behavioral change...

MY: Again...

GG: Let me just make this point, which is, let's assume for a minute, and as I say, I agree with you, that reporters are generally motivated by self-interest as opposed to some esoteric or noble appeals to journalistic duties. Isn't there still a benefit to voicing that critique, what Marc Ambinder called a "Greenwaldian debate" over journalistic duties, even if they're only motivated by self-interest, because by pointing out the ways in which they fail in their duties, it can bring things like embarrassment and shame and feelings of besieged criticism which, even if they're only motivated by self-interest, can nonetheless cause them to behave a little bit better.

MY: You know, that's possible, and it's something I'm trying to think through myself, is what really are effective tactics here. I'll say this, that evolution of my own thinking, when I started blogging four or five, I guess six years ago now, I thought, as I think a lot of people thought, that if you just complained about the media coverage, and tried to make persuasive points about why things should be covered differently, and so on and so forth, that you might change things that way, that you might convince people that these were basically well-intentioned individuals where problems could be pointed out to them and you might get better work. A lot of people are like that in the world. I myself like to think that to some extent I'm open to criticism, and trying to do my job well.

And I've come to see that the people, the really big time reporters, aren't like that. I think that people who get into the campaign coverage business who are well-intentioned, quickly find out that it's a rotten to the core enterprise, and wind up leaving, and the only people who make it to the top are, they're sociopaths of some kind. And I'm trying to understand what it is we can do as effective pressure points.

I was trying with Jonathan Weisman, who, he wrote an article which covered the fact the John McCain was releasing new ads that had outlandish sounding criticism of Barack Obama, and that Barack Obama said they weren't true, but Weisman himself didn't say anything. So, I wrote to him, and tried to encourage others to do the same, mock naive notes saying we were confused, we were really concerned, and didn't know who to vote for, and could Weisman explain to us what was right here. I didn't get any response from him; I think he knows the blogosphere and knows not to respond to us. I'm trying to see what kind of tactics might change people's behavior, because in this perverse way, most people in newspapers, if they see themselves being bitterly denounced by you or by me, or other people, they feel that that confirms their good judgment, that it's actually their role to infuriate people, with...

GG: Right. Especially if it comes from both sides, that's the journalistic sense of balance which is: well, if I'm being attacked by the right, which they always will be, because that's an article of faith on the right -- that the media is biased towards conservatives -- and then at the same time they're attacked by what they perceive as the left, that's the "well, I'm being attacked by both extremes, I must be doing something well" mentality, right?

MY: Well, right. And also, I've heard other things where sometimes you can level a criticism at someone's coverage, and they'll say, that's what liberals always say. Like the mere fact that something is consistently done wrong is a good enough reason to keep doing it that way. There's nothing new in the criticism. Of course, there shouldn't be.

It's not like there's not hundreds of days in the year - there are lots of newspapers published - it's not totally novel forms of crappy newspaper coverage are invented every day. The same flaws are repeated again and again and again, so the same criticism is repeated again and again and again, and they completely tune it out, and wear it as a badge of honor, that, well, people who are passionate about politics, and who really care about the issues, care about the public interest, and don't like my work, and that means I'm doing a good job.

GG: Right. I mean, it's hard to generalize in this way, and I think you're absolutely right that a lot of reporters actually get entrenched in those patterns when they're criticized and view it as almost vindication. But do you think that there, that it's sort of a human instinct I think when you have a perception that there are huge numbers of people out there who are hating what you're doing and are very angry about, and when you criticize someone or I do or other bloggers do, they don't just get criticized by us, they get besieged by readers, whether in the comments sections or by e-mails.

And you know how that is, especially if you're not accustomed to it, you get this sense that wow, the entire world is a lynch mob that's forming outside my door, and everyone's furious by what I've done and thinks I'm horrible. Do you think that has some effect on some reporters, that is beneficial? If you listen to them speak now, most of them are aware of the fact, and I think this is really different, that most of the anger towards them is no longer from the right, but from what they perceive as the left. Is there a beneficial effect to creating that perception, do you think?

MY: I think there is to some extent, at least it's good for people to know that that kind of anger is out there, and it's certainly benefited in terms of the creation of new media structures, that a lot of the people working at a new institution like Pro Publica or the Center for Independent Media, have a background in more traditional journalism, working for institutions, and so, the existence of a form of critique from a progressive perspective helps create the context in which people think about what kind of new endeavors should we start up, and sometimes it authors coverage in a positive way.

I do think what Time magazine has done, where they've put some of their traditional print people out on the Web, and actually had them engage in a much more meaningful way, in a kind of dialogue with the blogosphere, and so forth more than most organizations have, that you see in some real changes in the tone and tenor of coverage that those people do in part as a result of them learning more about what their audience thinks is valuable in what they do, and what they think is bad.

GG: Right. Either learning more or just kind of through Pavlovian conditioning, knowing that if they do certain things they're going to get punished and attacked, and if they do other things, they're going to get praised and rewarded, and I guess that, to me, is the question. On the one hand, there's this journalistic culture that encourages certain practices, on the other hand, they're still human beings with all the psychological influences that human beings generally have, and I just wonder to what extent that kind of targeting of individuals when they do bad things, can actually produce better behavior, not because they get convinced that they really have journalistic duties, but just because of the self-interest that you've described that motivates them.

MY: You know, I think it's possible, of course it has a lot to do with who people perceive their peer groups to be. Being attacked by people who you are prepared to look down on I think only makes people more entrenched in their positions.

GG: Right, right.

MY: But when people see that the people who they thought should like their work in fact don't like it, then they think twice about what they're doing, and tend to try to modify that kind of behavior.

Of course, the media business is a fairly large business, there's lots of people working in different sides of it, and people who have different ideas you know, in their own head about who they're writing for, and who it is they expect to like their coverage.

GG: Right. Now, let me ask you this. One of the frequent criticisms that is voiced regarding the campaign, and that you yourself have voiced, and it was exemplified by your critiques of Jonathan Weisman's articles, both of them, is that what reporters will often do is convey what one side says, convey what the other side says, and not resolve whether what one side is saying is true, and what the other side is saying is false. That's what balance means -- you just present both sides, saying wash your hands of it and call it a day.

Do you think that that practice is pervasive generally in journalism? That's the critique for example that was made of reporters and what they failed to do in the run-up to the Iraq War, which is the administration is saying X but not investigating or analyzing whether X is true or false, or do you think it's heightened specifically with regard to how the media covers campaigns? I mean, is the general problem with how journalists see what they ought to be doing, or is it something just specific that happens in campaigns?

MY: I think it's largely campaign specific. Obviously the coverage in the run-up to Iraq was deeply, deeply, deeply bad, but that was also a unusual time in American history and what I think that what journalists did back then was things the journalists, that violate the norms and values that journalists claim to uphold, whereas the thing with the campaign reporting, is that the key players in the business really do think that the correct way to cover campaigns, is to note accurately what charges one candidate is making, and then note accurately which counter-charges the other campaign is making, and they don't see really sorting that out as part of their role. And even when they do, they think it's a specialized task that a lot of newspapers will run, like...

GG: The fact check section.

MY: Fact check sidebars, and stuff. They don't think that truth is part of the news per se, it's kind of an extra feature like the weather report or the box scores of the baseball game. And they really believe that that's correct. It's not a slip-up. They're wrong, I think, that it's not a helpful way to do it, and Republicans have gotten way too good at manipulating that set of conventions, which is probably true for any set of conventions, probably if you pick any formula and stuck with it for decades, clever and unscrupulous people would figure out how to exploit it and blow holes through it. But the general response of campaign reporters to the fact that their methods don't work is to sort of sit around and ponder the greatness of Republican strategists, who figured out how to circumvent the process, rather than to actually think for themselves about what the impact of this is on society or what the appropriate response from their side would be.

GG: Right. Now, one of the points that Marc Ambinder made in response to your complaints that not enough had been done to identify the falsehoods in the McCain campaign, which he pointed out, and I think correctly, and you acknowledged it was correct, that you can find articles even outside of that fact check, specialized fact check section, in various places that have pointed out things like Palin's claims about her stopping the bridge to nowhere are not really accurate, or the ad that the McCain campaign ran about Obama's alleged support for sex education in the kindergarten is misleading. And I think your response, at least as I understood it, was that even if there's a article here or an article there, that identifies the falsehoods or reports on the falsehoods or documents the truth, that that isn't enough, that instead - and you compared this to the 2000 campaign, where the media had concocted this narrative that Al Gore was chronically lying -that a step backwards, and a more generalized theme was something that reporters ought to be doing when it's chronic, which is creating a narrative that McCain not just made a misleading statement in this particular case, but is relying on deceitful tactics generally in order to win the campaign.

Ezra Klein wrote a post that I thought was quite interesting, and I'm not sure I agree with it, but what he said was that maybe 30 years ago, reporters' duties would be discharged by doing what Marc pointed to as a defense, which is an isolated case of simply saying, well here are the real facts, but that because of the just enormous amounts of information with which even high information voters are helplessly besieged, let alone lower information voters, that reporters now have an obligation to put this information into some coherent fashion, which is what the narrative is, to identify what's important in the behavioral trends of the campaigns and describe more generally what the campaigns are doing. Do you agree with Ezra, that there's this new obligation in light of all the different sources of information, and where does this narrative duty come from, what is that narrative duty?

MY: Yeah, I'm not sure that it's really the case that anything has changed in this regard, it's just that, part of what people expect reporters to do, is not just say what happened yesterday, but characterize the key players in the drama. Say something about them, about what kind of people they are, so that you hear all the time that Joe Biden is really interested in foreign policy topics. And that's not just like, a report on the news of yesterday, it's that people who live and work in Washington and cover politics professionally are supposed to form some kind of judgments about what people are and what they're doing. So that you hear all the time that John McCain is a maverick, obviously for years, this sort of maverick quality has been a central theme about McCain, and even things that are critical of McCain, tend to focus on the extent to which some action may undermine his maverick brand, something like that, but there's sort of this lens of maverick-iness, that everything gets discussed in. And it goes beyond any individual story.

I think it's fine to talk about a politician in those terms, but if you're going to do it, you have be accurate with what you're doing. So if your newspaper finds itself two or three times a week needing to run some kind of fact check sidebar, about how McCain's campaign is lying, then at some point, you have to reach the conclusion that John McCain is a liar. Particularly when the campaign does stuff, like doesn't back down when their claims when they're called on it. 'Cause people say lots of stuff during the course of a campaign - some of the stuff even totally well-intentioned well-informed people are going to say is going to wind up being false, but honest people when they make mistakes, and the mistakes are pointed out to them, admit their error and don't do it again. But when you have people who keep talking about they said thanks, but no thanks to a bridge to nowhere, when everyone knows that that's not what happened, then you see this is a dishonest person, who is using unscrupulous tactics and who is trying to fool the public.

And those kind of things don't work into the coverage. And it's not that they never work into coverage; as you said, with Al Gore, based on some very, very thin reeds of evidence, this whole story was created about how he lied all the time, he exaggerated stories, blah, blah, blah, and I think that wasn't fair to say about Al Gore, but it's the sort of thing, that it's fair to say, about someone who is lying all the time, and that's what McCain is doing. I mean, I think newspaper editors would need to acknowledge the sheer volume of fact check items they've had to run about John McCain's various ads support a narrative that he's running a campaign based on mis-portraying the situation to the public. But that's a fact that's not gotten into the news coverage.

GG: Right. Well...

MY: You don't even hear, like, yet again, John McCain released an ad that we need to fact check.

GG: Right. So, all of that leads to the question as to why. You would have a certain set of questions if it were the case that journalists never did that. That is, never created a narrative. You would ask things like, are they too lazy to do it, do they believe it's not their role, are they concerned about allegations of bias if they do it, is there something in the journalistic culture that says that they should avoid that, is it just sloth, that it's easier to just convey what each side says and not bother with the next step which is analyzing and resolving the dispute.

You can have all these questions, but the reality is that they do do that sometimes, they did it with Al Gore in 2000, they certainly did a lot of that with John Kerry in 2004, not about lying, but about his elitism and other things.

MY: Flip-flopping.

GG: Yeah. And that leads to the question, which is: what are the influences that determine how and when they do it? Why don't they do it with John McCain, but why did they do it with Al Gore? Is it ideological bias? Is it that Republican operatives are just better at manipulating them, is it some combination of all of that? Are they more afraid of right wing attacks? What do you think...

MY: I mean, I do think Republican operatives are somewhat better, and there's also just a lot of just past dependence to it, that, whatever comes first as a criticism gets very entrenched, so that, like, you will hear a lot that John McCain is such a honorable person, that it's hard to believe that he's doing all these dishonorable stuff, when in fact, you might want to say, a person who does lots of dishonest, dishonorable stuff is just a dishonest, dishonorable person. But the idea of flipping the script on that, and re-evaluating someone doesn't occur to people because it's very much a kind of pack mentality.

And so that you'll see even that with John McCain, there is one character-based criticism, that is allowed to seep into the mainstream coverage, which is the idea that he's too hot-headed and has a short temper. That seems to be something that. It doesn't dominate the coverage of McCain, but when he does things that might illustrate that point, you hear a little bit about it. And I don't know whether that's because there are a lot of Republican members of Congress who have felt in the past that they've been victims of McCain's temper, so that therefore there's a like a kind of bipartisan cover for it, or because reporters themselves have experienced it.

But there seems to be a tendency to seize on ideas about people early in their coverage of them, often times before their presidential campaigns even start, and then nothing they can do can shake that reputation. Like, John Kerry, I know I remember, because I lived in Massachusetts, had a reputation for being a flip-flopper before he started his campaign, based on, I don't know what, Massachusetts politics considerations, and that narrative, driven by conservatives, and by the right wing, but something that was already existing, just went national, in a totally thoughtless unreflexive way.

And similarly with McCain, it's quote-unquote "everybody knows that he's a straight talker", so how matter how much he lies, every single thing he says or does that's wrong is an exception to the established understanding of his character. And I don't really understand how these processes are set, although in his case, it seems to have a lot to do with that warm personal relationships. We've all seen the video now, of him having reporters over to his house for barbecue, and it looks like a really, really nice vacation ranch, and I suppose I would feel grateful to someone who invited me over for fun vacations and had helped me out in my career earlier and might be inclined to do favors for him down the road.

GG: Okay. I want to shift gears for just a couple minutes, with the last set of questions I have, and ask you about the topic of your book, in the context of how the campaign is unfolding, which is how each side approaches foreign policy questions. And specifically, I want to begin with the specific example from yesterday, when the first segment of Sarah Palin's ABC interview with Charlie Gibson was released. One of the things that ABC touted and that a lot of Democrats and liberals are trying to focus on, I think with the expectation that this could harm the Republicans, was Sarah Palin's advocacy of NATO membership for both Ukraine and Georgia, and then what more notably was her explicit acknowledgment that doing that might actually lead to the United States fighting a war with Russia over Georgia or over Ukraine. And, there's some suggestion that this demonstrates that the Republicans are war-mongers, I've seen liberals advocating that that the kind of ad that Lyndon Johnson ran so effectively against Barry Goldwater, be prepared against the McCain-Palin ticket to suggest then depict them as war-mongers.

The problem, it seems to me, with that, is that both Barack Obama and more so Joe Biden have been pretty ardent advocates of the same policy, that is, moving towards NATO membership for Georgia, and explicitly advocating it for the Ukraine. Given that, is that a basis that you think Democrats can effectively exploit in order to depict the McCain-Palin as too war-seeking, and what does that tell you about, are there real differences in terms of how they've ended up advocating their foreign policy views between the Democratic and Republican tickets to enable the Obama campaign to exploit those differences in the election?

MY: Yeah, there are some very real differences between the Obama campaign and the McCain campaign, but at the same time you're right, they're - the differences are not as stark as they might be, and it's a problem politically. Sarah Palin's real mistake in that Russia interview, was being sufficiently inexperienced and unsavvy to just state plainly what's become consensus American policy, which is that we should risk a nuclear war with Russia, that would kill billions of people, and possibly lead to the total end of human civilization, over boundary disputes about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Georgia. When she said it, it sounded a little bit crazy, and I think it is a little bit crazy, but Joe Biden just has a more sophisticated way of saying the same thing, and certain routine formulations about this.

I had a conversation with a progressive ally who specializes in national security issues about this, and he was talking about the desire to go after McCain-Palin on this, and I was saying, I thought it was hard because they were really wrong -- that it's Obama's position too, and he was saying to me, you know, the real problem here is that, even if your policy is that these countries should join NATO, you don't talk explicitly about the fact that that might mean you go to war.

But, I'm not really sure why we don't talk about that. That's what the North Atlantic Treaty says. That's what it's for; it's initial intention was precisely to say, to the Russians, if you pick a fight with France, we will go to war with you over this. That's what it's for. I think it was a perfectly reasonable policy for the Cold War, it has a certain role to play in the post Cold War world, but the question we really need to ask ourselves about Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO is, does it seem reasonable for us to start a war with Russia if some dispute arises between Russia and Ukraine about the large Russian-speaking community in Crimea and this Russian naval base that's there in the Black Sea?

I don't really think it does, but basically Obama and Biden have staked out a position that, it's slightly different from McCain's on this, in that they want to go more slowly, they're not as forceful, I think they're trying to indicate that probably at the end of the day, they wouldn't really add these countries to NATO, but it's not totally clear to me where they stand. And I think it gives them a less effective argument than if they had stepped back a little bit further from where the right wing is.

GG: Right. And I want to ask you about that in a minute, because I think it's the critical point, but one of the - let me ask you about this first - one of the things that I find ironic about the criticism that was made of Palin as conveyed by you -- namely that she was insufficiently experienced to know that you don't openly say that you're going to go to war with Russia over Georgia and Ukraine even if you intend to do that -- is that roughly six months ago, Obama came out and said that he would favor cross-border attacks into Pakistan if we knew where al Qaeda elements were and the Pakistani Government refused to do anything about it. And the criticism of Obama at the time was not so much...

MY: It was the exact same thing.

GG: Yeah, it was the exact same thing.

MY: His policy was right, but you're not supposed to say it.

GG: Yeah, and I remember writing at the time in defense of Obama that in a democratic society and particularly as part of an election, isn't it better to have these kind of issues explicitly stated rather than keeping everything a secret and not letting the public participate in the debates? Isn't it better if a candidate wants to do military actions over the Pakistani border to actually say that this is what I intend to do and I mean, couldn't the same defense be made of Sarah Palin? If she believes as Joe Biden seems to and Obama might, that NATO membership is something that is warranted, isn't it better to have an explicit debate about whether that means we ought to go to war with Russia than to keep that all a secret and talk in code and not let people realize the implications of these policies.

MY: Yeah, that's how it seems to me, and of course what you're seeing is the difference in Obama's case between an underdog presidential primary campaign, and once you win the primary, you get to avail yourself of the services of the entire Democratic mandarin class, and there are a certain number of advantages to that, but I think also some disadvantages. I mean, you take on the pathologies of the establishment, so to speak, and similarly, with Sarah Palin, I think her lack of experience and lack of qualifications for the presidency is a little terrifying in a lot of respects, but one virtue of it is she does seem to at least talk about these questions in a little bit more the way a normal being would rather than in this kind of crazy, we should start wars but not say we're going to start wars, or we should sign treaties but not talk about what the treaty obligations are.

You've written about this in the past, and in fact, Barack Obama has complained about it in the past. Foreign policy seriousness in the United States is defined in part by a sort of ability to master and mindlessly repeat a certain number of empty verbal formulations about key issues, and when you see people who don't know how to do that, as Sarah Palin showed she doesn't, you wind up in trouble.

GG: Right. Last question. One of the arguments that you make in your book which I think is absolutely true and not just true but important, is that it's the Democrats' unwillingness to defend their different foreign policy approach that basically causes foreign policy to be such a weakness for them, and I remember in the context of Obama's changing his position on FISA and voting for the FISA bill after he said originally that he would filibuster it, that Greg Sargent made this point, I thought it was a great point, that what was so disappointing about that was originally the true virtue of the Obama campaign, the thing that at least I thought was most exciting about it, was that he seemed very, not just willing, but eager to aggressively challenge the Republicans on these foreign policy and national security premises rather than just trying to mold to them in order to remove those issues from the table -- which is a lot more of an effective tactic politically I think, because you would see that here, he would be able to come out, having staked out a different position on Russia, and really aggressively depict the McCain-Palin ticket as pursuing wars that we can't fight and shouldn't fight and can't afford to fight, as opposed to now, when you really have to struggle to even identify a difference.

Do you see the Obama campaign having retreated from that tactic, that in the primaries at least...

MY: Yeah, I think it's hugely disappointing. I voted for Barack Obama in the primary and that's why I voted for him in the primary. And, when Joe Biden was announced as his vice presidential pick, I thought that, I've had some disagreements with Joe Biden on various issues, but at the same time I thought that that was a further signal that they really wanted to have an argument about national security issues, because that's what you're best know for as a politician.

But instead in the weeks since then, we've seen this kind of same old kind of change the subject campaigning. And of course, it's important to talk about the economy - there's very serious economic crises here, but it's also important to talk about national security, and of course these issues are related. The economic problems the country is facing are not totally separable from these vast amounts of resources that we're squandering in a very misguided foreign policy, and a foreign policy which people believe that this kind of effort to imperially dominate the Middle East is crucial to American prosperity. I'm not sure it will be a moral or ethical thing to do, even if that were true, but in fact it's not true. We're squandering a lot of the country's talent, resources, money, human lives, etc. on very foolish endeavors. If we didn't do that, we could have better services, more growth, more productivity, more investment here at home. I think that's something that needs to be on the table in effective politics.

GG: Yeah. Hopefully there's still time left and I think the debates will enable that, but I wonder whether they've committed themselves, with the selection of Biden as well as other things to an approach where they say, well, rather than try and make the differences as stark as possible with the Republicans on foreign policy, we want to make the differences as minimal as possible in order to protect ourselves from accusations against Obama that he's too weak on national security or the standard Democratic fear that they can't win national security debates -- rather that what seemed to be the Obama resolve to seek out those debates and highlight the differences on the premise that Americans have grown weary of Republican approaches to foreign policy. So I think that that's one of the most important issues that remains to be seen is how Democrats approach that between now and the election.

Matt, thanks very much for taking the time today, it was very interesting, and I appreciate your speaking to me.

MY: Thank you.

[Transcript courtesy of Thames Valley Transcribe]

By Glenn Greenwald

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