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Does John McCain need talking points?

Marc Ambinder, writing about today's fascinating Elizabeth Bumiller story on the Obama foreign-policy team, observes:

The McCain response to all this -- John doesn't need daily talking points -- is a reflection on Obama's learning curve, although McCain is also very clearly learning as he is going, too.

Matt Yglesias complains:

It's true that, in some sense, McCain doesn't need daily talking points. But the reason he doesn't need daily talking points isn't that he can talk about national security issues with fluency and skill without them. Lacking daily talking points, he's repeatedly confused Sunni and Shiite, repeatedly forgotten that Czechoslovakia doesn't exist, changed his position on Afghanistan twice in 24 hours, etc. In short, he's made a ton of gaffes just as you would expect from an underprepared candidate. But he's allowed to get away with a lack of adequate preparation because, in the mind of the press, his years in captivity decades ago are adequate demonstration that he understands national security issues even though there's no real basis for that view.

Please. McCain doesn't need an advisor to inform him that the Czech Republic and Slovakia are separate nations. He knows this; he just misspoke (twice). Ditto for the Sunni/Shiite stuff. It happens when you age. And "the press," of course, isn't letting McCain get away with anything -- just how did we find out about all this? Maybe CzechoslovakiaGate and these other gaffes have failed to light up the cable networks simply because they aren't really a big deal.

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Obama trots out ye olde Marshall Plan

Barack Obama's foreign policy speech on Tuesday made liberal use of one of our worst foreign policy clichés: the Marshall Plan. Here he is talking about development aid:

I know development assistance is not the most popular program, but as President, I will make the case to the American people that it can be our best investment in increasing the common security of the entire world. That was true with the Marshall Plan, and that must be true today.

That's why I'll double our foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012, and use it to support a stable future in failing states, and sustainable growth in Africa; to halve global poverty and to roll back disease. To send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.

On his blog, Yale's Chris Blattman asked leading aid skeptic Bill Easterly for his response:

All aid proposals since the 60s follow the same script:

  1. announce an ambitious goal ('halving poverty')
  2. invoke Marshall Plan as a very promising precedent
  3. say you will double foreign aid (its always exactly double)
  4. ignore the historical record on previous aid programs that also did (1) through (3)

I was disappointed that Obama's advisors didn't come up with something a tad more fresh and different. Since the press mostly ignored Obama's aid proposals, I guess the political incentive to do something more than the same old pro forma proposal is not very strong.

There's also not much pressure for Obama to say anything substantive about aid since John McCain isn't exactly offering much fresh thinking on the subject. Still, a candidate who's running on "change" and who's known for his genuinely brilliant rhetoric ought to be able to come up with something more original than "a new Marshall plan."