The Note: Bad Humor

Whose political purgatory will last longer -- Jesse Jackson's or Phil Gramm's?

Whose joke fell flatter -- Bernie Mac's, or that one on The New Yorker cover?

Which Monday fight has the most implications -- Sen. John McCain vs. Sen. Barack Obama on immigration (with McCain getting his turn at La Raza), or Barack Obama vs. Jesse Jackson (with Obama due to speak in front of the NAACP)?

Who will be the first candidate to find the right pitch on housing? (And who will try to make new friends named Fannie and Freddie?)

Which measurements really matter -- the ideological distance between McCain and Obama, or the distances between the candidates' primary-era images and general-election realities?

Speaking of measurements -- no more talk of outlier polls now: It's Obama 44, McCain 41 in the latest Newsweek poll -- compared to a 15-point spread in the previous survey.

"Obama's rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate," Newsweek's Jonathan Darman writes. "Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience -- an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests."

You can underline and bold-highlight this sentence: "In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage," Darman writes.

Just maybe slightly on that subject . . . Obama seeks further clarification for his Iraq position on Monday, with a New York Times op-ed.

"We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months," Obama writes. "In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected."

He wants a new focus on Afghanistan: "As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan," Obama writes.

Obama wants to reset the dial before his trip: Per the campaign, "On Tuesday, Obama will deliver a major policy address on Iraq and national security in Washington. He will focus on the global strategic interests of the United States, which includes ending our misguided effort in Iraq."

Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger is right -- that, as he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos Sunday, "flip-flopping is getting a bad rap."

(And would the governator take on a role as an energy and environmental policy czar in an Obama administration? "I'm always ready to help in any way I can," he told Stephanopoulos, as he slammed the Bush administration for inaction on global warming.)

But as both candidates line up against the images they constructed so carefully way back when, warning signs are emerging, should they choose to heed them.

Watch the concern grow: "On defining issues -- security wiretapping, gun control, campaign finance, Iran and Iraq -- he has done partial or full about-faces. Hardly a day goes by that he doesn't attack John McCain in typical partisan fashion," Michael Goodwin writes in his Sunday New York Daily News column. "And when he denies with a straight face that he's changing anything, Obama gives new meaning to chutzpah."

"It is not the small adjustments to previously-held positions -- FISA, the Second Amendment, Iraq. It's a sense that Obama's ample self-regard is lapsing into hubris," Andrew Sullivan blogs for The Atlantic. "Any one of these misjudgments would be a trivial lapse -- and we all make mistakes. It's the combination that concerns me - and the possibility that this campaign is becoming far too cocky for its own good."

"I'm not saying we're there yet, but that's the danger," David Sirota tells The New York Times' William Yardley. "He is a transformative politician, but he is still a politician."

The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza traces Obama's eager image-making back to its Chicago roots: "Although many of Obama's recent supporters have been surprised by signs of political opportunism, [Chicago Alderman Toni] Preckwinkle wasn't. 'I think he was very strategic in his choice of friends and mentors,' she told me," Lizza writes. And later: " 'Can you get where he is and maintain your personal integrity?' she said. 'Is that the question?' She stared at me and grimaced. 'I'm going to pass on that.' "

(Lizza recounts an angry, possibly physical exchange between Obama and a fellow state lawmaker, where Obama "supposedly" said: "I'm going to kick your ass!" And let's see how Republicans play with Obama's post-9/11 column, where he said the "essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers."

Chicago is the setting for The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray, who looks at the tight circle of Obama insiders -- and includes some hints of just a little loosening. "As Obama's campaign expands for the general-election campaign and the candidate has less time for his friendships, certain strains are starting to show," she writes. "At his Chicago headquarters, insecurities have flared as the circles multiply and more people crowd inside. [Valerie] Jarrett said her main focus in the coming weeks will be to help the new hires integrate smoothly: 'It's important that people feel good about this.' "

Maybe he knows what he's doing. David Broder casts him as an "intrepid aviator": "When the pilots were over a target heavily defended by antiaircraft guns, they would release a cloud of fine metal scraps, hoping to confuse the aim of the shells or missiles being fired in their direction," Broder writes in his Sunday column. "In the weeks since he effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, the Illinois senator has done a similar trick, throwing out verbal hints of altered positions on any number of issues. This is creating quandaries for the Republicans who can't figure out where to aim."

Key point: "Obama will be in trouble only if the pattern continues to the point that undecided voters come to believe that he has a character problem -- that they really can't trust him."

Are these the right moves? "While Obama has clearly reframed his Iraq position with an eye toward November, he also has good substantive reasons for backing away from some of his past rhetoric," The New Republic writes in an editorial. "All in all, the recent flaying of Barack Obama makes for a depressing object lesson in how our press and our political discourse treat nuance. If Obama, as we've been told, suddenly has a 'problem' on Iraq, it's only because American politics has a much deeper one."

And is this the right move? "Senator Barack Obama on Sunday proposed offering tax breaks to small businesses as an incentive to provide health care to their employees, borrowing an idea from a former rival in the Democratic presidential race," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times.

"This is an adoption of a part of Sen. Hillary Clinton's health care plan -- and one that Obama gave Clinton direct credit for during his announcement," per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

It "marks the first policy-related olive branch he has offered to his vanquished rival,"the New York Sun's Russell Berman reports.

Is it just remotely possible that the Obama campaign is having second thoughts about forgoing public financing? Don't answer that until you watch David Plouffe's new fundraising video: "We have to make sure that we are matching [RNC spending}, and the only way we can do that is for you all to continue to help us," Plouffe says in the appeal. "The cavalry does not exist."

The battle for Latino voters is joined, again. "The two men face very different tasks. Obama is seeking to solidify his standing among a group that has historically leaned Democratic, whereas McCain is working to convince Latinos that he deserves their support, based on his stance on immigration and experience as a border-state lawmaker," Perry Bacon Jr. and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post.

With his gap among the critical Latino constituency dangerously wide, McCain, R-Ariz., on Monday goes before the National Council of La Raza Annual Conference in San Diego to push back at Obama on the issue of immigration reform:

"I cast a lot of hard votes, as did the other Republicans and Democrats who joined our bipartisan effort. So did Senator Kennedy. I took my lumps for it without complaint," he plans to say, per his campaign.

"My campaign was written off as a lost cause," he'll continue. "Senator Obama declined to cast some of those tough votes. He voted for and even sponsored amendments that were intended to kill the legislation, amendments that Senator Kennedy and I voted against. . . . I do ask for your trust that when I say, I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform, I mean it. I think I have earned that trust."

"Mr. McCain's campaign has tried to drive a wedge between Mr. Obama and Hispanic voters, arguing that the Democrat worked against the 2007 bill by voting to halve the number of future immigrant workers that would be allowed," per The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan.

What Obama said Sunday on the subject: "When [McCain] was running for his party's nomination, he abandoned that courageous stand and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote."

A boost for McCain from a savvy observer: "Obama on the campaign trail inflates his leadership role -- casting himself as someone who could figure out how to get something done," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. Said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "He was in the photo op, but he could not execute the hard part of the deal."

A piece of fallout from Obama's Sunday speech: "The appearance before the National Council of La Raza raised questions about whether the Democrat -- who declined a town hall appearance here with GOP rival John McCain -- is too shielded from off-the-cuff grilling from voters and the press," Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Obama takes a swipe at McCain, in advance of Obama's Iraq trip: "I'll recall the visit he made last year in which he was surrounded by helicopters and SWAT teams and came back and reported how safe everything was in Baghdad. You know, I don't think that that was indicative of what was actually happening on the ground at that time," Obama said Sunday, per Miller.

While we're ruminating about the base -- what does it say that McCain knew that he needed to say "yet" in this sentence? "I count myself as a conservative Republican, yet I view it to a large degree in the Theodore Roosevelt mold," he told The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper.

Write Nagourney and Cooper: "The views expressed by Mr. McCain in the 45-minute interview here Friday illustrated the challenge the probable Republican presidential nominee faces as he tries to navigate the sensibilities of his party's conservative base and those of the moderate and independent voters he needs to defeat Senator Barack Obama, his Democratic rival."

How will Club for Growth read this? Is McCain open to higher taxes as part of a Social Security deal? (Or is Carly Fiorina off the reservation again?) Bloomberg's Al Hunt: "In an interview, Carly Fiorina, a top adviser, explains that any tax increases on 'middle- and working-class' Americans are off limits. She says if a bipartisan coalition is 'creative enough' to fashion tax increases on wealthier Americans, that may prove palatable."

The base likes this one -- maybe too much: "President Bush's failed push to privatize Social Security has not deterred John McCain from putting forward the same idea -- and from risking a similar political disaster," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Democrats are gearing up to turn McCain's stand on Social Security, and his willingness to consider a privatization plan, into a key campaign issue."

The new effort, per Wallsten: "On Tuesday, a coalition of Democratic strategists, labor unions and liberal activist groups that helped defeat Bush's efforts in 2005 plans to launch a similar campaign. They intend to target McCain and dozens of GOP congressional candidates who have supported proposals to allow workers to divert some of their payroll taxes out of the Social Security system and into private investment accounts. The groups, coordinating with the Democratic National Committee and strategists for the party's presumed presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, will focus on organizing seniors -- a key voting bloc in Florida and several other battleground states and one that has been courted heavily by McCain."

Phil Gramm may have talked himself out of a formal campaign role, but he's won himself a star turn in a new DNC video.

And The New Yorker cover wins a slot as talkfest controversy of the day. Barry Blitt's cover illustration of an Oval Office fist bump -- complete with the Osama portrait, some choice headwear, a smoldering American flag, and Michelle packing heat -- drew immediate condemnation from the Obama campaign. "Tasteless and offensive," said spokesman Bill Burton.

"Knowing the liberal politics of the magazine, I believe the magazine's staff when they say the illustration is meant ironically, as a parody of the caricature some conservatives (and some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.) are painting of the Obamas," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "But it's still fairly incendiary, at least as these things go. I wonder what the reaction would be were it the Weekly Standard or the National Review putting such an illustration on their covers."

"Politicians don't like satire because it's subject to differing interpretations," blogs the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm. Says illustrator Barry Blitt: "I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is."

Says New Yorker editor David Remnick: "The fact is, it's not a satire about Obama -- it's a satire about the distortions and misconceptions and prejudices about Obama."

More Remnick: "Satire is offensive sometimes, otherwise it's not very effective."

Some Jackson fallout -- timely in light of Obama's NAACP speech Monday night. "The Rev. Jesse Jackson's offhand insult of Barack Obama last week has exposed a heated debate over whether Obama's groundbreaking presidential campaign -- and his repeated challenge to the black community to straighten out its own affairs -- is displacing and alienating some in Jackson's generation of black leadership, which held the government accountable for the plight of African-Americans," Joseph Williams writes in The Boston Globe.

Al Sharpton tells Newsweek: "There's definitely a generational divide going on in the black community, and it's been happening for a while. People who deny it aren't seeing clearly."

"The episode renewed questions about what Jackson has become in the sunset of his career and how he really feels about Obama and the kind of campaign he has run," Kevin Merida writes in The Washington Post. "Pioneers love to be acknowledged."

"On the surface, the venerable civil rights organization's 99th convention should be a love fest between the African-American attendees and the first African-American with a real chance of being elected president," McClatchy's William Douglas writes.

"But last week's crude comments by the Rev. Jesse Jackson about Obama 'talking down' to African-Americans brought to light concerns among some civil rights activists and African-American academics about Obama," Douglas continues. "Some have taken quiet umbrage at Obama's proposal to expand President Bush's faith-based initiative and his comments about the moral responsibilities of African-American fathers, saying his remarks are designed more to woo and soothe white voters than to address issues impacting the African-American community."

The Sked:

McCain speaks to the National Council of La Raza in San Diego at 3:45 pm ET, then raises money in Albuquerque Monday night.

Obama starts the day in Chicago, then heads to Cincinnati for a fundraiser and to speak at the NAACP's 99th annual convention Monday evening at 8 pm ET.

McCain is set to hit the NAACP on Wednesday. "McCain's appearance is less likely to help him among black voters -- solidly behind the first African American candidate for president -- than with some white voters, especially women," USA Today's Susan Page writes.

Remembering Tony Snow:

"He was the most prominent journalist ever to take the job, and he used his talk-show skills to the fullest, becoming the administration's most visible pitchman at a time when the Iraq war was turning from bad to worse and the president's popularity was sinking. Still, Snow had that selling-ice-to-the-Eskimos quality, a relentless cheerfulness," Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post.

"He made mistakes, went too far in challenging reporters' motives and probably crossed a line by moonlighting as a Republican fundraiser. But he also did something more lasting than any momentary political fight, and that was talking openly, honestly and emotionally about his cancer."

"He was always positive and upbeat and optimistic, and people resonated -- that resonated with people," Ed Gillespie said.

"You could make each other angry. But when you walked out of there it was over. He was a really genuine guy," says ABC's Martha Raddatz.

The Clinton Files:

Here's a dream: "She may have given up, but a few of Hillary Rodham Clinton's people haven't," CQ's Shawn Zeller writes. "But there are Clinton supporters clinging to the hope that if her name is placed in nomination and the roll call of the states is conducted, she might -- might -- still win."

No dream here: "It could take Hillary Clinton years to obliterate the mountainous campaign debt she's racked up, which would be tough on her concerned creditors - but it certainly won't be the first time it's happened in a presidential campaign," Celeste Katz writes in the New York Daily News.

And surely no dream here: Per the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas: "Barack Obama told a potential donor to his campaign that Hillary Rodham Clinton is on his list of possible vice presidential running mates, but that her husband's status as a former president makes matters 'complicated.' "

Veepstakes Sweep:

A boost (of sorts) for Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "Biden is the Palm candidate. You go to lunch at The Palm . . . " James Carville said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Monday.

Could former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., be too busy looking at 2012 for anything in 2008 to make sense? "It's pretty clearly obvious that what I'm doing -- I'm not sitting around waiting on the phone to ring and right now it would really mess up a lot of things I have going," Huckabee tells Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on NBC's "Meet the Press," makes us wonder who "us" is when asked if she's been interviewed or asked to provide documents to the Obama campaign: "I'm not going to discuss about the process, because the campaign, frankly, has asked us not to. I think that Barack Obama is going to -- I trust his judgment. He's got -- he's a very wise man and he has great judgment. He will find the right partner to change America, and that's what he's got to focus on."

Same question, on documents, to Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., gets a more direct answer, on CNN's "Late Edition": "No, sir. No, sir."

Would Carly Fiorina accept the job if offered? "I don't deal in hypotheticals," Fiorina said. "I think there are many, many people who would be honored to serve the country and John McCain. I am certainly among them. But he will have a long list of qualified people that he can call upon."

Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah, tells ABC's Tahman Bradley that he hasn't had any contact with the McCain campaign about turning over documents or other vetting activities. "None whatsoever. I've not had a single conversation. There are many who probably are in this particular category and will enter that particular phase of vetting and review, I don't necessarily think that I would be one of them," Huntsman told Bradley at the National Governors Association meeting in Philadelphia.

"Anyone today with a pulse is in the running," Huntsman continued. "But you know when it gets down to serious consideration, there are going to be some important states that are going to be considered as part regional strategies. . . . You know, the background against which all of this is working is a Republican Party that is in flux. A Republican Party that is kind of being prepared for the next generation. . . . Whoever is chosen as a running mate will likely be representative of where those new ideas will likely come from."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan., gets profiled by The Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness -- starting with her less-than-stellar debut, responding to the State of the Union address. "Sebelius has never been good at giving The Big Speech," Wangsness writes. "But lately, as a top-tier potential running mate for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, she has been getting a lot of practice in stumping for the senator, making appearances that may help his campaign decide whether she is prepared for the national stage. . . . Sebelius is among the vice presidential prospects mentioned most often by Obama's key supporters, including many who say that if Obama bypasses Hillary Clinton then he would do well to choose another woman."

The New York Times' Mark Leibovich spends some time with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. (who does seem to be enjoying the attention). "Clearly, Mr. Lieberman's already precarious marriage with the Democrats has reached a new level of discord and could be approaching divorce, if not necessarily a remarriage into the Republican Party," Leibovich writes. "He has not ruled out switching parties but has stopped short of saying he has moved so far from the Democratic Party -- or, in his view, the other way around -- that he is at a point of no return. 'I don't have any line that I have in my mind,' Mr. Lieberman said in an interview. 'If it happened, I'd know it when I saw it.' "

More fun than a barbecue in Arizona? Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., are joining Obama on his trip to Iraq. "They're both experts on foreign policy, they reflect I think a traditional bipartisan wisdom when it comes to foreign policy, neither of them are ideologues but they try to get the facts right and make a determination about what's best for U.S. interests and they're good guys," Obama said.

The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein: "Senator Obama is billing the lawmakers who will join him on an upcoming, high-profile trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, senators Hagel of Nebraska and Reed of Rhode Island, as purveyors of bipartisan agreement on foreign policy, even though Mr. Hagel has often been a rare voice bucking broad congressional consensus on the Middle East."

Newly engaged Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., is in London Monday to start a nine-day European trip, meeting with world leaders and promoting Florida abroad.

Also in the news:

Obama talks faith with Newsweek: "The story of Obama's religious journey is a uniquely American tale. It's one of a seeker, an intellectually curious young man trying to cobble together a religious identity out of myriad influences. Always drawn to life's Big Questions, Obama embarked on a spiritual quest in which he tried to reconcile his rational side with his yearning for transcendence. He found Christ -- but that hasn't stopped him from asking questions. 'I'm on my own faith journey and I'm searching,' he says. 'I leave open the possibility that I'm entirely wrong.' "

This is some big spending: "Peter G. Peterson wants people to focus on what he considers real news: the nation is going broke," John Harwood writes in The New York Times. "Because he wasn't born yesterday, Mr. Peterson, co-founder of the Blackstone Group and a secretary of commerce under President Richard M. Nixon, will spend $1 billion in an effort to get the public's attention. The money, which comes from the windfall Mr. Peterson received when Blackstone went public last year, will finance a media blitz, starting with a documentary, 'I.O.U.S.A.' "

Cracks in GOP unity? "After 18 months of holding together on issues big and small, Senate Republican leaders last week found the first major crack in their foundation as some of their most loyal colleagues defected in the face of political headwinds," Roll Call's Erin P. Billings and John Stanton report. "Democrats brought back an ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) to get them to the 60 ayes they needed to overcome GOP objections and pass [last week's Medicare bill]. Kennedy's return -- and subsequent vote -- also pushed nine of the previously opposed Republicans to buck their top leaders and side with the Democrats."

"Afterward, many Senators were left wondering whether the Republicans' difficult odds this fall, and the challenges for GOP incumbents in 2010, had taken over. And some Senators questioned whether the 18 turncoats represent a weakening of influence of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his No. 2, Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.)."

Cracks in Democratic unity? "Barack Obama could have long coattails this fall. That doesn't mean that every Democrat is going to want to grab on to them," June Kronholz writes in The Wall Street Journal. "A few of those Democrats facing tough races already have signaled their ambivalence toward Sen. Obama, the Democratic candidate."

If he didn't have enough on his plate: "Sen. Barack Obama will have to compete against space aliens for some of the media attention during the Democratic National Convention next month," Daniel J. Chacon writes in the Rocky Mountain News. "Jeff Peckman, who is proposing the creation of an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission in the Mile High City, is planning a news conference during the DNC to talk about space aliens and the 'technologies that they appear willing to offer,' Peckman said."

(Think they have any fundraising hints they can share?)

The Kicker:

"Yeah. I mean, for instance, take you know -- take, for instance, the issue of -- of -- I'm drawing a blank, and I hate it when I do that, particularly on television." -- Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer to identify areas where McCain has different views on the economy than President Bush. (He eventually identified earmarks as a difference.)

"I'd like to make a joke, but I can't." -- John McCain, asked by The New York Times whether it's harder to run against Obama because of the sensitivities of race.

"Nice guy. Too bad he won't last." -- Craig Robinson, recalling his first thoughts about his sister's new boyfriend, Barack Obama, per the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Interns for the ABC News Political Unit:

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The internship begins Monday, Aug. 4 and runs through Friday, Dec. 12.

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