Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 23, 2008

Commentary of the Day

Stuart Koehl, on Gordon G. Chang:

A credible foreign policy is one where nobody has to guess what your country will do in a given circumstance. That could be very good, or very bad. For instance, under Jimmy Carter, we were pretty sure how the U.S. would respond to any provocation or challenge-cave. The Romans, on the other hand, had a very credible foreign policy: mess with us, you die. The followed this policy religiously, and as a result, soon they did not have to employ it all that often. In the 19th century, the British had a similar approach: mess with us, and soon your country joins the other pink splotches on the map. Pretty soon, they didn’t have to do it very much, either (of course, by that time, they had already taken most of the good stuff).

It’s inconsistency that leads to confusion and miscalculation which in turn leads to war. The U.S. is famous for this-making noises about defending China in the 1930s without bothering to accrue the military power needed to deter Japan, and then putting the Pacific Fleet (the main deterrent force) in an exposed position at Pearl Harbor (this is called leading with your chin). You would think that we might have learned our lesson, but only five years after World War II we are sending mixed signals regarding Korea. A decade later, and we are sending mixed signals on Cuba and Vietnam. In 1990, we sent mixed signals on Kuwait. In each instance, we said one thing, meant another, and our enemies of course chose to take us at our word. In the end, they paid for it, but so did we.

Stuart Koehl, on Gordon G. Chang:

A credible foreign policy is one where nobody has to guess what your country will do in a given circumstance. That could be very good, or very bad. For instance, under Jimmy Carter, we were pretty sure how the U.S. would respond to any provocation or challenge-cave. The Romans, on the other hand, had a very credible foreign policy: mess with us, you die. The followed this policy religiously, and as a result, soon they did not have to employ it all that often. In the 19th century, the British had a similar approach: mess with us, and soon your country joins the other pink splotches on the map. Pretty soon, they didn’t have to do it very much, either (of course, by that time, they had already taken most of the good stuff).

It’s inconsistency that leads to confusion and miscalculation which in turn leads to war. The U.S. is famous for this-making noises about defending China in the 1930s without bothering to accrue the military power needed to deter Japan, and then putting the Pacific Fleet (the main deterrent force) in an exposed position at Pearl Harbor (this is called leading with your chin). You would think that we might have learned our lesson, but only five years after World War II we are sending mixed signals regarding Korea. A decade later, and we are sending mixed signals on Cuba and Vietnam. In 1990, we sent mixed signals on Kuwait. In each instance, we said one thing, meant another, and our enemies of course chose to take us at our word. In the end, they paid for it, but so did we.

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Christmas Eve Would Be Too Obvious?

I’m not sure whether it’s the 4:30pm timing or the fact that Rahm Emanuel is in Africa that’s my favorite part of the Obama team’s Blago internal review “drop and run” scenario. Really, as others note, the MSM is so placid the Obama team probably could have gotten away with releasing it outside the holiday rush and even answering some questions. But this approach only adds to the “transparency in name only” phenomenon and will irritate a few of the more conscientious reporters. (We note that we already have gone from “no” contacts to “no inappropriate contacts with Blago” with many, many questions remaining.)

The reality is that Patrick Fitzgerald has the tapes. So they’ll get played one way or another unless Blago and all the culprits decide to plead to all the charges Fiztgerald can dream up (meaning everything gets swept under the rug). But that seems highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, this hide-the-ball from the media routine does suggest that, like so much of the Obama administration-to-be (e.g. foreign policy, tax cuts), there is much more continuity with the Bush team than many could have imagined. But in deference to the Bush administration officials, at least they had the nerve to go before the press day after day and take the pointed questions — even on non-holiday weeks.

I’m not sure whether it’s the 4:30pm timing or the fact that Rahm Emanuel is in Africa that’s my favorite part of the Obama team’s Blago internal review “drop and run” scenario. Really, as others note, the MSM is so placid the Obama team probably could have gotten away with releasing it outside the holiday rush and even answering some questions. But this approach only adds to the “transparency in name only” phenomenon and will irritate a few of the more conscientious reporters. (We note that we already have gone from “no” contacts to “no inappropriate contacts with Blago” with many, many questions remaining.)

The reality is that Patrick Fitzgerald has the tapes. So they’ll get played one way or another unless Blago and all the culprits decide to plead to all the charges Fiztgerald can dream up (meaning everything gets swept under the rug). But that seems highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, this hide-the-ball from the media routine does suggest that, like so much of the Obama administration-to-be (e.g. foreign policy, tax cuts), there is much more continuity with the Bush team than many could have imagined. But in deference to the Bush administration officials, at least they had the nerve to go before the press day after day and take the pointed questions — even on non-holiday weeks.

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Re: Here Come The Hillary Years

Well, Abe, Hillary is no shrinking violet and I don’t expect that she accepted the job with the Biden-esque ambition to make the job smaller than she found it. But I think one can overstate the real news in the press report, which is clearly the result of the Clinton hype-machine working at peak efficiency. There is nothing new in the State Department jousting with other cabinet-level departments and with power centers both within and outside the White House. The more interesting issue will be how the National Security Advisor ensures that Clinton’s is not the only voice in the administration and that the President has an assortment of viewpoints and data on which to base his decision-making.

But I rather think a larger role for the State Department on international economic issues might not be such a bad thing regarding certain topics such as trade. State is not a place where ripping up NAFTA or throwing Colombia to the wolves (rather than finding a face-saving way to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement) is likely to find traction. As for the personnel decisions, everything is relative. Would I rather have a fading star or Christopher Hill roving the globe? It’s a close call, but we should be realistic about the pool of savvy, smart, and steely-eyed young diplomats who would have a chance at a State Department post in the Obama Administration.

That’s a long way of saying that State in the second Bush term was nothing to write home about. If Clinton can hold her own, both within the administration and on the world stage, she might be a pleasant surprise. In short, I’d rather she than Labor Secretary Solis or Energy and Climate Czarina Carol Browner have the upper hand on some key issues.

Well, Abe, Hillary is no shrinking violet and I don’t expect that she accepted the job with the Biden-esque ambition to make the job smaller than she found it. But I think one can overstate the real news in the press report, which is clearly the result of the Clinton hype-machine working at peak efficiency. There is nothing new in the State Department jousting with other cabinet-level departments and with power centers both within and outside the White House. The more interesting issue will be how the National Security Advisor ensures that Clinton’s is not the only voice in the administration and that the President has an assortment of viewpoints and data on which to base his decision-making.

But I rather think a larger role for the State Department on international economic issues might not be such a bad thing regarding certain topics such as trade. State is not a place where ripping up NAFTA or throwing Colombia to the wolves (rather than finding a face-saving way to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement) is likely to find traction. As for the personnel decisions, everything is relative. Would I rather have a fading star or Christopher Hill roving the globe? It’s a close call, but we should be realistic about the pool of savvy, smart, and steely-eyed young diplomats who would have a chance at a State Department post in the Obama Administration.

That’s a long way of saying that State in the second Bush term was nothing to write home about. If Clinton can hold her own, both within the administration and on the world stage, she might be a pleasant surprise. In short, I’d rather she than Labor Secretary Solis or Energy and Climate Czarina Carol Browner have the upper hand on some key issues.

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The Best and Worst of Bush, 2008

“A credible foreign policy is one in which you initially establish your credibility, establish your principles by which you would govern and stand strongly by them, so that over time, the people will begin to say-in the world-say, well, we can’t change him, let’s join him and try to solve problems.”  This is George W. Bush speaking to the Wall Street Journal‘s Kimberley Strassel in an interview dated Saturday.  There’s a lot to admire in this statement.

The best moment of 2008, as far as Dubya is concerned, is a perfect reflection of this resolve to do the right thing: his refusal to bend to calls for global financial regulation last month.  He invited the G-20 to Washington in the middle of a worldwide panic, let 19 other world leaders talk for a few hours, and then ignored what they had to say about putting in place a world government for banks, investment houses, hedge funds, and assorted financial institutions.  It was a magnificent display of statecraft that the world will soon come to appreciate.  You have President Bush to thank that Nicolas Sarkozy and ten thousand European regulators are not now running your neighborhood bank.

And what was the worst Bush moment of this year?  In my book, it was when Dubya let Vladimir Putin “stand strong.”  The Russian strongman provoked the Georgians and invaded their country.  President Bush may or may not have been able to stop the Russians from grabbing Georgian territory, but he definitely let Putin humble the Atlantic Alliance.  The response of the United States and NATO was, in a word, abject.  Putin – not Bush – was the one who let it be known that he could not be changed.  And so he won, and the international community lost.  Along with the Georgians, we will bear the consequences, perhaps for years.

Bush, in a few words to Ms. Strassel, has laid out the principles by which America should engage others, especially now that autocrats are working to remake the world in their own image.  In these consequential times, the President will be judged by the sentiments he expressed so well a few days ago – as will his successors.

“A credible foreign policy is one in which you initially establish your credibility, establish your principles by which you would govern and stand strongly by them, so that over time, the people will begin to say-in the world-say, well, we can’t change him, let’s join him and try to solve problems.”  This is George W. Bush speaking to the Wall Street Journal‘s Kimberley Strassel in an interview dated Saturday.  There’s a lot to admire in this statement.

The best moment of 2008, as far as Dubya is concerned, is a perfect reflection of this resolve to do the right thing: his refusal to bend to calls for global financial regulation last month.  He invited the G-20 to Washington in the middle of a worldwide panic, let 19 other world leaders talk for a few hours, and then ignored what they had to say about putting in place a world government for banks, investment houses, hedge funds, and assorted financial institutions.  It was a magnificent display of statecraft that the world will soon come to appreciate.  You have President Bush to thank that Nicolas Sarkozy and ten thousand European regulators are not now running your neighborhood bank.

And what was the worst Bush moment of this year?  In my book, it was when Dubya let Vladimir Putin “stand strong.”  The Russian strongman provoked the Georgians and invaded their country.  President Bush may or may not have been able to stop the Russians from grabbing Georgian territory, but he definitely let Putin humble the Atlantic Alliance.  The response of the United States and NATO was, in a word, abject.  Putin – not Bush – was the one who let it be known that he could not be changed.  And so he won, and the international community lost.  Along with the Georgians, we will bear the consequences, perhaps for years.

Bush, in a few words to Ms. Strassel, has laid out the principles by which America should engage others, especially now that autocrats are working to remake the world in their own image.  In these consequential times, the President will be judged by the sentiments he expressed so well a few days ago – as will his successors.

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Hold the Salt

Seattle plunges beyond parody with its decision not to use salt on icy roads:

“If we were using salt, you’d see patches of bare road because salt is very effective,” [chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation Alex] Wiggins said. “We decided not to utilize salt because it’s not a healthy addition to Puget Sound.”

Maybe the city gets a piece of this guy on the back end.

Of course Seattle is one of the most liberal cities in the country. So over the next few months, as residents pay the price for their city’s low-salt-high-injury diet we can be sure they will ultimately blame their leaders – for not covering their medical expenses.

Seattle plunges beyond parody with its decision not to use salt on icy roads:

“If we were using salt, you’d see patches of bare road because salt is very effective,” [chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation Alex] Wiggins said. “We decided not to utilize salt because it’s not a healthy addition to Puget Sound.”

Maybe the city gets a piece of this guy on the back end.

Of course Seattle is one of the most liberal cities in the country. So over the next few months, as residents pay the price for their city’s low-salt-high-injury diet we can be sure they will ultimately blame their leaders – for not covering their medical expenses.

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Caroline Kennedy’s Depth

Regular CONTENTIONS contributor, Eric Trager has a piece in today’s Daily News about Caroline Kennedy’s bid for the Senate. Eric writes of Kennedy’s recent attempt to outline her positions,

[T]he vacuous declaration of principles only adds to mounting questions regarding Kennedy’s depth. In this vein, Kennedy’s statements on Israel suggest that she’s either unaware or glibly sidestepping the tension between supporting a unified Jerusalem and a two-state solution. Meanwhile, her statement on NAFTA suggests that the only thing that she has read on the subject is President-elect Barack Obama’s sound bites.

Read it all.

Regular CONTENTIONS contributor, Eric Trager has a piece in today’s Daily News about Caroline Kennedy’s bid for the Senate. Eric writes of Kennedy’s recent attempt to outline her positions,

[T]he vacuous declaration of principles only adds to mounting questions regarding Kennedy’s depth. In this vein, Kennedy’s statements on Israel suggest that she’s either unaware or glibly sidestepping the tension between supporting a unified Jerusalem and a two-state solution. Meanwhile, her statement on NAFTA suggests that the only thing that she has read on the subject is President-elect Barack Obama’s sound bites.

Read it all.

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Send Bond Back in Time

I recently saw “Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd or the 24th entry (depending on whether you count 1984′s “Never Say Never Again” and the 1967 comedic version of “Casino Royale”) in filmdom’s longest-running series. I know; I’m late. But it did prompt a thought that I figured I would share.

First the background: “Quantum” wasn’t bad-but it wasn’t good. Like so many other James Bond movies in the past few decades it was little more than a travelogue, splicing together chases and shoot-outs in exotic locales with minimal connective tissue. Daniel Craig is a good, glowering Bond. You can really tell that the movie producers/writers/directors/etc. are struggling to breathe life into this creaky franchise by hiring him and by dropping the jokiness of previous outings (especially those by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan), the increasingly inane appearances by “Q” the gadget man, the innuendo-filled quips with Bond’s secretary, Miss Moneypenney, the endless parade of Bond girls, the trademark soundtrack, and other features that had been de rigueur.

Yet for all that they haven’t produced a good movie, not even by the standards of the action genre. During the movie I kept trying to figure out why Bond was in a certain place and how the people he was interacting with fitted into the plot. Usually it was a losing effort. So here, for what it is worth, is my suggestion: Take Bond back in time to his original milieu-the 1950s and early 1960s. Rather than concoct ever more farfetched plots, simply go back to the original source material-the Ian Fleming novels. You might think they have all been filmed already but you would be only partially right. While their titles were indeed taken for the movies, only elements of their plots were used. For instance, the original “Moonraker” was about the attempt by a villain named Sir Hugo Drax to build Britain a missile-defense system; it had almost nothing in common with the 1979 sci-fi movie of the same name. So there is still plenty of unmined material in the original books.

Alternatively the producers could inject Bond into actual events of the 1950s/60s. Imagine, for instance, the British secret agent racing to save the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis or to smuggle a top Russian defector out of the Soviet Union or to overthrow Iran’s government. In that case they could still be faithful to the original character while employing entirely new material that doesn’t seem as contrived as recent scripts have been.

If the filmmakers go back to the original source material, they will discover a character that is perfect for Daniel Craig to play. The original Bond, after all, was a sometimes dark hero who did not crack wise endlessly, who did not jet off from location to location, and who did not bed an endless parade of beauties.

The beauty of this idea, I think, is that it would restore a sense of fun and verisimilitude that is missing in the franchise. The TV series “Mad Men” and the new movie “Revolutionary Road” show that ‘50s nostalgia is peaking now. Bond would be the perfect vehicle to take advantage of the moment. He seems out of place in our modern world but he would be perfectly at home back in the days of martinis, cigarettes, and pretty flight stewardesses.

Of course I have scant hope of being listened to. Given that “Quantam of Solace” has already taken in more than half a billion dollars in worldwide box office the producers have every incentive to keep doing what they’re doing. Unless, that is, they care about making good movies, not simply making money.

I recently saw “Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd or the 24th entry (depending on whether you count 1984′s “Never Say Never Again” and the 1967 comedic version of “Casino Royale”) in filmdom’s longest-running series. I know; I’m late. But it did prompt a thought that I figured I would share.

First the background: “Quantum” wasn’t bad-but it wasn’t good. Like so many other James Bond movies in the past few decades it was little more than a travelogue, splicing together chases and shoot-outs in exotic locales with minimal connective tissue. Daniel Craig is a good, glowering Bond. You can really tell that the movie producers/writers/directors/etc. are struggling to breathe life into this creaky franchise by hiring him and by dropping the jokiness of previous outings (especially those by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan), the increasingly inane appearances by “Q” the gadget man, the innuendo-filled quips with Bond’s secretary, Miss Moneypenney, the endless parade of Bond girls, the trademark soundtrack, and other features that had been de rigueur.

Yet for all that they haven’t produced a good movie, not even by the standards of the action genre. During the movie I kept trying to figure out why Bond was in a certain place and how the people he was interacting with fitted into the plot. Usually it was a losing effort. So here, for what it is worth, is my suggestion: Take Bond back in time to his original milieu-the 1950s and early 1960s. Rather than concoct ever more farfetched plots, simply go back to the original source material-the Ian Fleming novels. You might think they have all been filmed already but you would be only partially right. While their titles were indeed taken for the movies, only elements of their plots were used. For instance, the original “Moonraker” was about the attempt by a villain named Sir Hugo Drax to build Britain a missile-defense system; it had almost nothing in common with the 1979 sci-fi movie of the same name. So there is still plenty of unmined material in the original books.

Alternatively the producers could inject Bond into actual events of the 1950s/60s. Imagine, for instance, the British secret agent racing to save the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis or to smuggle a top Russian defector out of the Soviet Union or to overthrow Iran’s government. In that case they could still be faithful to the original character while employing entirely new material that doesn’t seem as contrived as recent scripts have been.

If the filmmakers go back to the original source material, they will discover a character that is perfect for Daniel Craig to play. The original Bond, after all, was a sometimes dark hero who did not crack wise endlessly, who did not jet off from location to location, and who did not bed an endless parade of beauties.

The beauty of this idea, I think, is that it would restore a sense of fun and verisimilitude that is missing in the franchise. The TV series “Mad Men” and the new movie “Revolutionary Road” show that ‘50s nostalgia is peaking now. Bond would be the perfect vehicle to take advantage of the moment. He seems out of place in our modern world but he would be perfectly at home back in the days of martinis, cigarettes, and pretty flight stewardesses.

Of course I have scant hope of being listened to. Given that “Quantam of Solace” has already taken in more than half a billion dollars in worldwide box office the producers have every incentive to keep doing what they’re doing. Unless, that is, they care about making good movies, not simply making money.

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Here Come the Hillary Years

The New York Times reports on the high hopes of Hillary Clinton:

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

Mrs. Clinton is recruiting Jacob J. Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, according to people close to the Obama transition team. Mr. Lew’s focus, they said, will be on increasing the share of financing that goes to the diplomatic corps. He and James B. Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Mrs. Clinton’s chief lieutenants.

Bigger stars, bigger budget – this sounds like some showbiz impresario’s blueprint to steal the spotlight from the competition. And it is. Hillary Clinton wants a dazzling State Department to rival the White House All-Star Cabinet Revue. The Obama presidency is starting out on a conspicuously unserious note. In fact, it’s starting out as a continuation of the campaign season.

The last things the State Department needs are headliners as envoys. These are people with obsolete solutions to brand new challenges, and their reputations demand that their ideas be given far too-respectful hearings. It’s not that the names being floated for envoy posts carry any particular shame (some, such as Richard Holbrooke, signal great accomplishment); it’s that the State Department runs the risk of becoming a part-time retirement facility for the mellowing DC cocktail set. Assigning envoys from the pre-9/11 universe will deliver us back into a state of complacent vulnerability.

Obviously Barack Obama is looking to pass the buck on foreign policy. He wants to entrust George W. Bush’s national security architecture to competent stewards so that he can get down to the proper business of domestic redistribution. But Hillary Clinton wants, as she did throughout her campaign, to revive the 1990s. The State Department is the perfect forum. It’s a showcase for American “effort” and “cooperation.” It’s where you put the most earnest possible face on failure. Bill Clinton gets more credit for “trying” than any American president that comes to mind. And the trying card is played most brazenly in the area of Middle East peace. Hillary knows that your diplomatic failures will wind up on the plus side of the ledger if you bring to them high-production values and an important cast of characters.

Perhaps, most worrisome is that Hillary Clinton is also seeking to expand the role of the State Department. She hopes to nudge out the Treasury on affairs relating to the world economic crisis. This is yet another area in which we can’t afford to be praised for our efforts at the expense of results. Nowhere in the Times article is there a reference to a new diplomatic approach, just a bigger one. Instead of asking tough questions about Iran’s obduracy on nuclear development, and North Korea’s deception on the same, Hillary Clinton is consulting with Bush 41- and Clinton-era advisors on how to make the State Department shine and muscle in on the Treasury. Let’s hope that George W. Bush national security architecture weathers the new Clinton years.

The New York Times reports on the high hopes of Hillary Clinton:

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

Mrs. Clinton is recruiting Jacob J. Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, according to people close to the Obama transition team. Mr. Lew’s focus, they said, will be on increasing the share of financing that goes to the diplomatic corps. He and James B. Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Mrs. Clinton’s chief lieutenants.

Bigger stars, bigger budget – this sounds like some showbiz impresario’s blueprint to steal the spotlight from the competition. And it is. Hillary Clinton wants a dazzling State Department to rival the White House All-Star Cabinet Revue. The Obama presidency is starting out on a conspicuously unserious note. In fact, it’s starting out as a continuation of the campaign season.

The last things the State Department needs are headliners as envoys. These are people with obsolete solutions to brand new challenges, and their reputations demand that their ideas be given far too-respectful hearings. It’s not that the names being floated for envoy posts carry any particular shame (some, such as Richard Holbrooke, signal great accomplishment); it’s that the State Department runs the risk of becoming a part-time retirement facility for the mellowing DC cocktail set. Assigning envoys from the pre-9/11 universe will deliver us back into a state of complacent vulnerability.

Obviously Barack Obama is looking to pass the buck on foreign policy. He wants to entrust George W. Bush’s national security architecture to competent stewards so that he can get down to the proper business of domestic redistribution. But Hillary Clinton wants, as she did throughout her campaign, to revive the 1990s. The State Department is the perfect forum. It’s a showcase for American “effort” and “cooperation.” It’s where you put the most earnest possible face on failure. Bill Clinton gets more credit for “trying” than any American president that comes to mind. And the trying card is played most brazenly in the area of Middle East peace. Hillary knows that your diplomatic failures will wind up on the plus side of the ledger if you bring to them high-production values and an important cast of characters.

Perhaps, most worrisome is that Hillary Clinton is also seeking to expand the role of the State Department. She hopes to nudge out the Treasury on affairs relating to the world economic crisis. This is yet another area in which we can’t afford to be praised for our efforts at the expense of results. Nowhere in the Times article is there a reference to a new diplomatic approach, just a bigger one. Instead of asking tough questions about Iran’s obduracy on nuclear development, and North Korea’s deception on the same, Hillary Clinton is consulting with Bush 41- and Clinton-era advisors on how to make the State Department shine and muscle in on the Treasury. Let’s hope that George W. Bush national security architecture weathers the new Clinton years.

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She’s Got Time

John O’ Sullivan wonders if Sarah Palin is — or could be — the next Margaret Thatcher. But before the skeptics from both ends of the political spectrum roll their eyes,  they should consider O’ Sullivan’s restrained conclusion. After he reviews Thatcher’s rise to power and her laborious professional development, he writes:

Mrs. Palin has a long way to go to match this. Circumstances may never give her the chance to do so. Even if she gets that chance, she may lack Mrs. Thatcher’s depths of courage, firmness and stamina — we only ever know such things in retrospect.

But she has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America’s problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them. She has obvious intelligence, drive, serious moral character, and a Reaganesque likability. Her likely Republican rivals such as Bobby Jindal and Mitt Romney, not to mention Barack Obama, have most of these same qualities too. But she shares with Mrs. Thatcher a very rare charisma. As Ronnie Millar, the latter’s speechwriter and a successful playwright, used to say in theatrical tones: She may be depressed, ill-dressed and having a bad hair day, but when the curtain rises, out onto the stage she steps looking like a billion dollars. That’s the mark of a star, dear boy. They rise to the big occasions.

In other words, the jury is out. It seems odd to discount Palin’s potential while a socialite from Manhattan, who disdains any media contact and claims no distinctive policy views, is being touted as the next New York Senator. The implication with regard to Caroline Kennedy is that political stars can be made, or developed over time if they possess some inherent ability. (Or in her case, a certain bloodline and fundraising ability.)

As for Palin, we simply don’t know whether she is the next Mike Huckabee (destined for a cheesy show on Fox) or a political dynamo who, bit by bit, can not only build her record, but construct a rationale for her own candidacy. Her latest interview is evidence of her ability to master tasks – like cogently answering media questions. Defining an agenda and broadening her appeal (without losing the affection of the conservative base) are more difficult undertakings. But considering the time it took from the year Ronald Reagan burst onto the national political stage (1964) until he won the presidency (1980), we should perhaps  reserve judgment for now. Truth be told, we won’t know about Sarah Palin’s viability for quite some time.

John O’ Sullivan wonders if Sarah Palin is — or could be — the next Margaret Thatcher. But before the skeptics from both ends of the political spectrum roll their eyes,  they should consider O’ Sullivan’s restrained conclusion. After he reviews Thatcher’s rise to power and her laborious professional development, he writes:

Mrs. Palin has a long way to go to match this. Circumstances may never give her the chance to do so. Even if she gets that chance, she may lack Mrs. Thatcher’s depths of courage, firmness and stamina — we only ever know such things in retrospect.

But she has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America’s problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them. She has obvious intelligence, drive, serious moral character, and a Reaganesque likability. Her likely Republican rivals such as Bobby Jindal and Mitt Romney, not to mention Barack Obama, have most of these same qualities too. But she shares with Mrs. Thatcher a very rare charisma. As Ronnie Millar, the latter’s speechwriter and a successful playwright, used to say in theatrical tones: She may be depressed, ill-dressed and having a bad hair day, but when the curtain rises, out onto the stage she steps looking like a billion dollars. That’s the mark of a star, dear boy. They rise to the big occasions.

In other words, the jury is out. It seems odd to discount Palin’s potential while a socialite from Manhattan, who disdains any media contact and claims no distinctive policy views, is being touted as the next New York Senator. The implication with regard to Caroline Kennedy is that political stars can be made, or developed over time if they possess some inherent ability. (Or in her case, a certain bloodline and fundraising ability.)

As for Palin, we simply don’t know whether she is the next Mike Huckabee (destined for a cheesy show on Fox) or a political dynamo who, bit by bit, can not only build her record, but construct a rationale for her own candidacy. Her latest interview is evidence of her ability to master tasks – like cogently answering media questions. Defining an agenda and broadening her appeal (without losing the affection of the conservative base) are more difficult undertakings. But considering the time it took from the year Ronald Reagan burst onto the national political stage (1964) until he won the presidency (1980), we should perhaps  reserve judgment for now. Truth be told, we won’t know about Sarah Palin’s viability for quite some time.

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The Political and Religious Spheres

At U.S. News and World Report’s God & Country blog, Dan Gilgoff asks Eric Cantor, the newly elected Minority Whip – and the only Jewish Republican in the House,”How does your faith influence your politics and positions?” Cantor’s response isn’t very specific:

I grew up in a kosher home, attended Hebrew schools on a regular basis growing up. I sent my kids to Hebrew day school when they were younger. Obviously, my faith is part of who I am. It would tend to color my being. I don’t feel like I necessarily apply that faith in any direct way. I’m sure it does manifest itself so far as my perceptions and my views and how I work on legislation. But I can’t come up with a way that says it dictates my position one way or the other. There isn’t a monolithic Jewish position on anything.

So Gilgoff tries again: “For many conservative Christians, their pro-life stance is a direct result of their faith. Is your pro-life stance a result of your Jewish faith?” And, again, Cantor is cautious:

You can find many rabbis that differ on the question of when life begins. I don’t think there’s a monolithic position. That’s one of the things about the Jewish faith . . . there is a multitude of opinions. Our faith has been about discourse, it’s been about interpreting the texts for thousand of years. . . . It’s my belief that dictates where I come down on certain issues.

Gilgoff would later write, “when Cantor came up empty when I asked for an example of his faith shaping a policy position, and when he said that ‘there isn’t a monolithic Jewish position on anything’ in response to a question on abortion, it struck me how starkly such views differ from those of the conservative Christian activists whom Cantor-a social conservative-comes into frequent contact with.”

Beliefnet’s Brad Hirschfield remarked after reading this interview:

Cantor, like many people, has a hard time simultaneously affirming that Judaism is both multi-faceted (two Jews, three opinions) AND capable of providing concrete guidance on specific issues. The inability to appreciate both of those facts creates people who either invoke their interpretation of Judaism as THE interpretation of it, or individuals who can make no real decisions because there are always alternatives in the offing.

Hirschfield wants cantor to “make a real contribution by helping those in his party, who are especially fond of using religion in the former way” – namely, by invoking their interpretation as the only acceptable one. But I think Hirschfield is wrong in his assessment of Cantor’s response. Cantor did not fail in his refusal to affirm that Judaism is “both multi-faceted… and capable of providing concrete guidance.” For Cantor – and he is hardly alone in this – there’s no “concrete guidance” to be derived from Judaism regarding the political agenda of the day.

And this comes from Judaism’s understanding that all political parties – Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, Democrats and Republicans – want to serve noble causes: all want people to be rich and not poor; all want the world to be peaceful and to avoid war; all want families to be happy and kids to be raised with dignity. The Judaic way is to respect that people have different opinions about which path leads to these desirable outcomes – and to give the political questions of the day their due: in the form of a political discussion, not a religious one.

At U.S. News and World Report’s God & Country blog, Dan Gilgoff asks Eric Cantor, the newly elected Minority Whip – and the only Jewish Republican in the House,”How does your faith influence your politics and positions?” Cantor’s response isn’t very specific:

I grew up in a kosher home, attended Hebrew schools on a regular basis growing up. I sent my kids to Hebrew day school when they were younger. Obviously, my faith is part of who I am. It would tend to color my being. I don’t feel like I necessarily apply that faith in any direct way. I’m sure it does manifest itself so far as my perceptions and my views and how I work on legislation. But I can’t come up with a way that says it dictates my position one way or the other. There isn’t a monolithic Jewish position on anything.

So Gilgoff tries again: “For many conservative Christians, their pro-life stance is a direct result of their faith. Is your pro-life stance a result of your Jewish faith?” And, again, Cantor is cautious:

You can find many rabbis that differ on the question of when life begins. I don’t think there’s a monolithic position. That’s one of the things about the Jewish faith . . . there is a multitude of opinions. Our faith has been about discourse, it’s been about interpreting the texts for thousand of years. . . . It’s my belief that dictates where I come down on certain issues.

Gilgoff would later write, “when Cantor came up empty when I asked for an example of his faith shaping a policy position, and when he said that ‘there isn’t a monolithic Jewish position on anything’ in response to a question on abortion, it struck me how starkly such views differ from those of the conservative Christian activists whom Cantor-a social conservative-comes into frequent contact with.”

Beliefnet’s Brad Hirschfield remarked after reading this interview:

Cantor, like many people, has a hard time simultaneously affirming that Judaism is both multi-faceted (two Jews, three opinions) AND capable of providing concrete guidance on specific issues. The inability to appreciate both of those facts creates people who either invoke their interpretation of Judaism as THE interpretation of it, or individuals who can make no real decisions because there are always alternatives in the offing.

Hirschfield wants cantor to “make a real contribution by helping those in his party, who are especially fond of using religion in the former way” – namely, by invoking their interpretation as the only acceptable one. But I think Hirschfield is wrong in his assessment of Cantor’s response. Cantor did not fail in his refusal to affirm that Judaism is “both multi-faceted… and capable of providing concrete guidance.” For Cantor – and he is hardly alone in this – there’s no “concrete guidance” to be derived from Judaism regarding the political agenda of the day.

And this comes from Judaism’s understanding that all political parties – Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, Democrats and Republicans – want to serve noble causes: all want people to be rich and not poor; all want the world to be peaceful and to avoid war; all want families to be happy and kids to be raised with dignity. The Judaic way is to respect that people have different opinions about which path leads to these desirable outcomes – and to give the political questions of the day their due: in the form of a political discussion, not a religious one.

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Is There a Core?

Richard Cohen, like many on the Left, is quite disturbed about the President-elect’s decision to invite Rick Warren to perform the invocation at the inauguration. He goes so far as to call the President-elect, in essence, a moral coward:

The conventional thing to say is that Obama has a preacher problem — first the volcanic Jeremiah Wright and now the transparently anti-gay Warren. But the real problem has nothing to do with ministers and everything to do with Obama’s inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader. Sooner or later, he just might have to stand for something.

This was apparent to me almost a year ago when I reported that Obama’s church, the Trinity United Church of Christ, had given a major award to Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. The award was presented in Wright’s name and featured in a cover story in the church’s magazine, Trumpet. When I asked the Obama campaign about this, I was told that Obama himself did not agree with Farrakhan. What a relief!

And what a joke. I never for a moment thought Obama viewed Farrakhan any differently from the way I do. But I also thought that as a U.S. senator, as a presidential candidate or even as a mere citizen, he had an obligation to denounce the award — maybe quit the church. Do something! He did nothing.

Well all those conservatives who were beside themselves because of then-candidate Barack Obama’s refusal for twenty years to walk out of Wright’s church or to denounce the domestic terrorist duo of Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers can feel Cohen’s pain. Whether you agree with Cohen’s perspective on gay marriage and his indictment of Warren or not, he is indisputably right on this: President-elect Obama doesn’t draw moral distinctions on much of anything and he doesn’t operate from principle.

If that wasn’t clear after the myriad campaign flip-flops, the elevation of Hillary Clinton and many of her clique (after running against the Clinton “establishment”), the repudiation of his netroot foreign policy, the abandonment of his plans for a windfall profit tax (and likely his income tax hike), the inconsistent application of his “no lobbyist” rules, and his refusal to insist on an election to fill his former senate seat I’m not sure what it will take for the stars to fall from the eyes of his devoted fans. The gap between high flying rhetoric (e.g. reform, bottom-up democracy, change we can believe in) and his banal political motives isn’t narrowing with time.

Does this matter? On one level it doesn’t much matter now, with elections so far away, if the idealists are crushed. The Left isn’t going anywhere and his popularity with the public at large is sky-high. But, generally, principle is a good thing in a President. It keeps him from being continually blown off course, disappointing allies, confounding friends and foes and projecting, frankly, a fickleness that eventually paralyzes an administration. Perhaps there is in all the political zig-zagging a defined political philosophy and world view that will steady the ship of state when things get rough. We just haven’t seen it yet.

But the Warren episode does offer a lesson, quite apart from the particulars of gay marriage. It’s better to make clear early on in an administration what a President stands for — and it better be something more than getting along with everyone. That’s simply not going to happen. But a creeping sense that there is no there there –no moral core – might set in, unless the President proves his critics wrong. So far, all he has done is given ammunition to the critics who claim he lacks political and moral ballast.

Richard Cohen, like many on the Left, is quite disturbed about the President-elect’s decision to invite Rick Warren to perform the invocation at the inauguration. He goes so far as to call the President-elect, in essence, a moral coward:

The conventional thing to say is that Obama has a preacher problem — first the volcanic Jeremiah Wright and now the transparently anti-gay Warren. But the real problem has nothing to do with ministers and everything to do with Obama’s inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader. Sooner or later, he just might have to stand for something.

This was apparent to me almost a year ago when I reported that Obama’s church, the Trinity United Church of Christ, had given a major award to Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. The award was presented in Wright’s name and featured in a cover story in the church’s magazine, Trumpet. When I asked the Obama campaign about this, I was told that Obama himself did not agree with Farrakhan. What a relief!

And what a joke. I never for a moment thought Obama viewed Farrakhan any differently from the way I do. But I also thought that as a U.S. senator, as a presidential candidate or even as a mere citizen, he had an obligation to denounce the award — maybe quit the church. Do something! He did nothing.

Well all those conservatives who were beside themselves because of then-candidate Barack Obama’s refusal for twenty years to walk out of Wright’s church or to denounce the domestic terrorist duo of Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers can feel Cohen’s pain. Whether you agree with Cohen’s perspective on gay marriage and his indictment of Warren or not, he is indisputably right on this: President-elect Obama doesn’t draw moral distinctions on much of anything and he doesn’t operate from principle.

If that wasn’t clear after the myriad campaign flip-flops, the elevation of Hillary Clinton and many of her clique (after running against the Clinton “establishment”), the repudiation of his netroot foreign policy, the abandonment of his plans for a windfall profit tax (and likely his income tax hike), the inconsistent application of his “no lobbyist” rules, and his refusal to insist on an election to fill his former senate seat I’m not sure what it will take for the stars to fall from the eyes of his devoted fans. The gap between high flying rhetoric (e.g. reform, bottom-up democracy, change we can believe in) and his banal political motives isn’t narrowing with time.

Does this matter? On one level it doesn’t much matter now, with elections so far away, if the idealists are crushed. The Left isn’t going anywhere and his popularity with the public at large is sky-high. But, generally, principle is a good thing in a President. It keeps him from being continually blown off course, disappointing allies, confounding friends and foes and projecting, frankly, a fickleness that eventually paralyzes an administration. Perhaps there is in all the political zig-zagging a defined political philosophy and world view that will steady the ship of state when things get rough. We just haven’t seen it yet.

But the Warren episode does offer a lesson, quite apart from the particulars of gay marriage. It’s better to make clear early on in an administration what a President stands for — and it better be something more than getting along with everyone. That’s simply not going to happen. But a creeping sense that there is no there there –no moral core – might set in, unless the President proves his critics wrong. So far, all he has done is given ammunition to the critics who claim he lacks political and moral ballast.

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The Newest Vice

So there’s this joke going around about a pious hassid looking for a parking spot. After twenty minutes of driving around the lot, he starts praying, promising God that if only he gives him a parking spot, the hassid will take upon himself more stringencies, more prayers, more money given to charity. This goes on for another full fifteen minutes, and finally someone pulls out of a spot. “Never mind,” the hassid says to God. “I found one.”

I like this joke. It has many uses. Unfortunately, some of the top rabbis in Jerusalem have conspired to make it unusable. Accoring to a report in YNet, driving a car is no longer considered appropriate for the truly pious student of Torah. This week, the heads of one of the main Jerusalem yeshivas expelled four students because they got driver’s licenses. Nor are they alone. According to YNet, “Most ultra-Orthodox rabbis oppose the notion of a haredi person getting a license. “‘It’s inappropriate for a person who defines himself learned in the Torah to have a driver’s license,’ a prominent rabbi told the yeshiva director when the latter came to consult him on the issue.”

For the life of me I do not know what sorts of evils the rabbis believe result from driving, or what this has to do with Judaism. True, Moses and King David did not drive cars. But neither did they take the bus. We do know that, according to Genesis, Rebecca rode a camel. Abraham rode a donkey. So did talmudic rabbis like Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Elazar. So will the messiah one day. And I suspect that the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva’s donors do drive cars — those who cannot afford to hire a driver. Is it an environmentalist thing? Fear of exposure to immodest billboard ads?

So there’s this joke going around about a pious hassid looking for a parking spot. After twenty minutes of driving around the lot, he starts praying, promising God that if only he gives him a parking spot, the hassid will take upon himself more stringencies, more prayers, more money given to charity. This goes on for another full fifteen minutes, and finally someone pulls out of a spot. “Never mind,” the hassid says to God. “I found one.”

I like this joke. It has many uses. Unfortunately, some of the top rabbis in Jerusalem have conspired to make it unusable. Accoring to a report in YNet, driving a car is no longer considered appropriate for the truly pious student of Torah. This week, the heads of one of the main Jerusalem yeshivas expelled four students because they got driver’s licenses. Nor are they alone. According to YNet, “Most ultra-Orthodox rabbis oppose the notion of a haredi person getting a license. “‘It’s inappropriate for a person who defines himself learned in the Torah to have a driver’s license,’ a prominent rabbi told the yeshiva director when the latter came to consult him on the issue.”

For the life of me I do not know what sorts of evils the rabbis believe result from driving, or what this has to do with Judaism. True, Moses and King David did not drive cars. But neither did they take the bus. We do know that, according to Genesis, Rebecca rode a camel. Abraham rode a donkey. So did talmudic rabbis like Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Elazar. So will the messiah one day. And I suspect that the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva’s donors do drive cars — those who cannot afford to hire a driver. Is it an environmentalist thing? Fear of exposure to immodest billboard ads?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Victor Davis Hanson has a point: “Much is recently made of Barack Obama’s evocation of the ‘Best and Brightest’ Kennedy coterie, as he draws heavily on so-called ‘smart’ people from the Ivy League. But the media’s current heavies in the financial meltdown–President George Bush, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, SEC head Chris Cox, former director of Fannie Mae Franklin Rains, and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank all have in common only Harvard degrees, which apparently are requisites to have overseen financial disaster rather than tools to have prevented it.”

Approaching “leg tingling” excess, Andrea Mitchell jumps to the aid of Caroline Kennedy. (Is there a sign-up sheet at MSNBC for reporters angling to be the chief defender of their favorite needy Democrat?)

Not everyone feels so warm and fuzzy toward Kennedy or so enamored of hereditary senate seats (h/t Hot Air). Kind of like Murray Rembrandt, says Rep. Gary Ackerman. Murray Rembrandt? (No one ever said New York politicians weren’t funny.)

Kennedy is supposed to be an education maven? “The problem is, she hardly left a vapor trail. Kennedy, who sent her three children to one of Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools, sat out the epic legal battle to secure billions in state funding for low-income students, and played an ambiguous role during her 22 months as the only city educational bureaucrat routinely harassed by the paparazzi.” But she did work three hours a day for the city schools, which sounds about right for the Senate.

And of course princesses don’t need to disclose anything: “But Ms. Kennedy. . .is declining to provide a variety of basic data, including companies she has a stake in and whether she has ever been charged with a crime. Ms. Kennedy declined on Monday to reply to those and other questions posed by The New York Times about any potential ethical, legal and financial entanglements. Through a spokesman, she said she would not disclose that kind of information unless and until she becomes a senator.” And they only speak when they please and to whom they please: “So far, on her tour, Ms. Kennedy has taken just 11 questions from reporters, has granted no interviews, and responded only in writing to inquiries about her positions on significant issues.”

The New York Times reports: “A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules.” Someone should tell the the car companies and the UAW.

When Barney Frank is the realist in the Democratic party you know the landscape is changing: “I believe that he (Obama) overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” Well if he can’t get gays and Rick Warren on the same page I suppose that’s right. Reality is such a drag.

 Andy McCarthy socks it to the White House. I think it’s just time for everyone to move on — like any bad relationship, the conservative-George W. Bush dynamic isn’t helping either one at this point.

The New Republic asks “Is Biden’s star fading?” What do you think was the first clue — when he insisted he was downsizing his own job or when he had no public appearances for three weeks?

Others have noticed that Biden has disappeared as well — beginning on Election Day. We can only hope, despite all the talk of how valued his counsel would be, that this is a sign of things to come: “Then again, it’s also possible that Obama will just listen to Biden politely, nod his head and then do whatever he was planning to do all along. And the specific tasks Biden has been assigned don’t really amount to much. As [George]Stephanopoulos noted, the middle class commission he’ll be running won’t have any formal powers, and his ‘baseline’ study essentially overlaps with the work of the National Security Advisor – who will be working in the West Wing and meeting with Obama daily. And, as we’ve seen these past six weeks, life in the Obama administration probably means that Biden’s days of pontificating on Sunday morning shows will be sharply curtailed.” You wonder whether the Obama team didn’t realize Biden was an embarrassing gasbag when they selected him, or whether they did and took him anyway. In any event, they deserve credit for figuring it out soon enough.

Lots of reasons why 2010 might be a good year for Republicans, but “political malpractice” has been their defining characteristic lately so I wouldn’t be counting victories quite yet.

Mayor Bloomberg tells Governor Paterson to get the lead out: “I think the governor should make a decision reasonably quickly because this is just getting out of control and everybody’s focusing on the wrong things.” What wrong things might those be — how unqualified Kennedy is? How dynasty politics has gotten out of hand? Seems like the right concerns are getting some ink.

Funny how Politico’s “top ten media blunders” didn’t include their own breathless misreporting of John Edwards’s decision to drop out of the race because of the recurrence of his wife’s cancer. But it did include ABC’s tough moderating of the Democratic primary debate in Philadelphia – perhaps the only time then-candidate Barack Obama was questioned sharply in the campaign. “Blunder” must mean “mess up the reporter’s chances of getting a spot in the Obama administration.”

Victor Davis Hanson has a point: “Much is recently made of Barack Obama’s evocation of the ‘Best and Brightest’ Kennedy coterie, as he draws heavily on so-called ‘smart’ people from the Ivy League. But the media’s current heavies in the financial meltdown–President George Bush, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, SEC head Chris Cox, former director of Fannie Mae Franklin Rains, and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank all have in common only Harvard degrees, which apparently are requisites to have overseen financial disaster rather than tools to have prevented it.”

Approaching “leg tingling” excess, Andrea Mitchell jumps to the aid of Caroline Kennedy. (Is there a sign-up sheet at MSNBC for reporters angling to be the chief defender of their favorite needy Democrat?)

Not everyone feels so warm and fuzzy toward Kennedy or so enamored of hereditary senate seats (h/t Hot Air). Kind of like Murray Rembrandt, says Rep. Gary Ackerman. Murray Rembrandt? (No one ever said New York politicians weren’t funny.)

Kennedy is supposed to be an education maven? “The problem is, she hardly left a vapor trail. Kennedy, who sent her three children to one of Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools, sat out the epic legal battle to secure billions in state funding for low-income students, and played an ambiguous role during her 22 months as the only city educational bureaucrat routinely harassed by the paparazzi.” But she did work three hours a day for the city schools, which sounds about right for the Senate.

And of course princesses don’t need to disclose anything: “But Ms. Kennedy. . .is declining to provide a variety of basic data, including companies she has a stake in and whether she has ever been charged with a crime. Ms. Kennedy declined on Monday to reply to those and other questions posed by The New York Times about any potential ethical, legal and financial entanglements. Through a spokesman, she said she would not disclose that kind of information unless and until she becomes a senator.” And they only speak when they please and to whom they please: “So far, on her tour, Ms. Kennedy has taken just 11 questions from reporters, has granted no interviews, and responded only in writing to inquiries about her positions on significant issues.”

The New York Times reports: “A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules.” Someone should tell the the car companies and the UAW.

When Barney Frank is the realist in the Democratic party you know the landscape is changing: “I believe that he (Obama) overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” Well if he can’t get gays and Rick Warren on the same page I suppose that’s right. Reality is such a drag.

 Andy McCarthy socks it to the White House. I think it’s just time for everyone to move on — like any bad relationship, the conservative-George W. Bush dynamic isn’t helping either one at this point.

The New Republic asks “Is Biden’s star fading?” What do you think was the first clue — when he insisted he was downsizing his own job or when he had no public appearances for three weeks?

Others have noticed that Biden has disappeared as well — beginning on Election Day. We can only hope, despite all the talk of how valued his counsel would be, that this is a sign of things to come: “Then again, it’s also possible that Obama will just listen to Biden politely, nod his head and then do whatever he was planning to do all along. And the specific tasks Biden has been assigned don’t really amount to much. As [George]Stephanopoulos noted, the middle class commission he’ll be running won’t have any formal powers, and his ‘baseline’ study essentially overlaps with the work of the National Security Advisor – who will be working in the West Wing and meeting with Obama daily. And, as we’ve seen these past six weeks, life in the Obama administration probably means that Biden’s days of pontificating on Sunday morning shows will be sharply curtailed.” You wonder whether the Obama team didn’t realize Biden was an embarrassing gasbag when they selected him, or whether they did and took him anyway. In any event, they deserve credit for figuring it out soon enough.

Lots of reasons why 2010 might be a good year for Republicans, but “political malpractice” has been their defining characteristic lately so I wouldn’t be counting victories quite yet.

Mayor Bloomberg tells Governor Paterson to get the lead out: “I think the governor should make a decision reasonably quickly because this is just getting out of control and everybody’s focusing on the wrong things.” What wrong things might those be — how unqualified Kennedy is? How dynasty politics has gotten out of hand? Seems like the right concerns are getting some ink.

Funny how Politico’s “top ten media blunders” didn’t include their own breathless misreporting of John Edwards’s decision to drop out of the race because of the recurrence of his wife’s cancer. But it did include ABC’s tough moderating of the Democratic primary debate in Philadelphia – perhaps the only time then-candidate Barack Obama was questioned sharply in the campaign. “Blunder” must mean “mess up the reporter’s chances of getting a spot in the Obama administration.”

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