Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 1, 2009

Burris Ups The Ante

Roland Burris isn’t making this any easier on the Democrats. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Roland Burris suggested he would challenge an effort to block his appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, but said he’s confident that Senate Democrats will back down and allow him to take the job.

“We think they will come around and recognize that the appointment is legal and valid and I am the junior Senator from Illinois,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal at his office here.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, facing federal corruption charges, named Mr. Burris, the 71-year-old former Illinois attorney general, as his choice for the seat on Tuesday. Senate Democrats immediately said they would refuse to seat him, citing allegations against Mr. Blagojevich, who was arrested Dec. 9.

“By what authority can (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) deny a governor carrying out his constitutional duty?” Mr. Burris said. “I am the senator. I am the junior senator from Illinois.”

And Burris has a point. Absent any evidence of criminality with regard to the Burris appointment itself, what exactly is the argument to deny him a seat? After all, if there were concern about Blago’s continued powers, the Illinois legislature could have stripped him of the appointment power. Egged on by Harry Reid, they chose against a special election.

Does it reflect poorly upon the Democrats? As David Broder succinctly put it: “The Illinois Democrats have really made a spectacle of themselves.” But since when was that grounds for denying a senator his seat? I think we can predict that, regardless of the legal arguments, the Senate will vote to deny him his seat. Burris can then head to court. By then Burris may need to face off against some other appointee (from the Lt. Governor, after Blago is impeached). Or perhaps by then a special election will be set. In any event, a tangled and protracted legal battle seems to be in the offing. This will make the Franken-Coleman contest look like a picnic.

And the Republicans? This is one of those times when it is best not to interfere with an opponent’s self-destruction.

Roland Burris isn’t making this any easier on the Democrats. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Roland Burris suggested he would challenge an effort to block his appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, but said he’s confident that Senate Democrats will back down and allow him to take the job.

“We think they will come around and recognize that the appointment is legal and valid and I am the junior Senator from Illinois,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal at his office here.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, facing federal corruption charges, named Mr. Burris, the 71-year-old former Illinois attorney general, as his choice for the seat on Tuesday. Senate Democrats immediately said they would refuse to seat him, citing allegations against Mr. Blagojevich, who was arrested Dec. 9.

“By what authority can (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) deny a governor carrying out his constitutional duty?” Mr. Burris said. “I am the senator. I am the junior senator from Illinois.”

And Burris has a point. Absent any evidence of criminality with regard to the Burris appointment itself, what exactly is the argument to deny him a seat? After all, if there were concern about Blago’s continued powers, the Illinois legislature could have stripped him of the appointment power. Egged on by Harry Reid, they chose against a special election.

Does it reflect poorly upon the Democrats? As David Broder succinctly put it: “The Illinois Democrats have really made a spectacle of themselves.” But since when was that grounds for denying a senator his seat? I think we can predict that, regardless of the legal arguments, the Senate will vote to deny him his seat. Burris can then head to court. By then Burris may need to face off against some other appointee (from the Lt. Governor, after Blago is impeached). Or perhaps by then a special election will be set. In any event, a tangled and protracted legal battle seems to be in the offing. This will make the Franken-Coleman contest look like a picnic.

And the Republicans? This is one of those times when it is best not to interfere with an opponent’s self-destruction.

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The Broken Cycle

One of the recurring memes about the Middle East – more specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts – is “the cycle of violence.” In this simplistic view, it’s a never-ending game of hit and hit back, punch and counterpunch, tit for tat and back to tit again, over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad aeternum.

If only it were that simple.

It’s actually two different cycles, two different gears that mainly serve to trigger the next stage of the process in the other.

On the Israeli side, it’s a constant cycling through processes:

Confrontation: engaging the Palestinians through direct military force. This is the current stage with Gaza.

Accomodation: Offering “good faith gestures” and compromises in hopes of inspiring similar responses.

Negotiation: Discussing far-ranging, complicated “peace proposals” that take months and months to hammer out, and fall apart before the first few stages are fulfilled.

Separation: Building walls or withdrawing completely and telling the Palestinians “to hell with you; wallow in your own fetid mess.”

On the Palestinian side, it’s a bit simpler: it’s a cycle of violence. Sometimes it’s higher as they work themselves into a frenzy; sometimes it’s quieter as they howl about Israel’s audacity in hitting back (and covertly re-arm themselves). A complete cessation of violence, however, is pretty much unheard of.

The one thing that has seemed to work for Israel, if at least in the short term, has been the kind of massive (but targeted) assault that Israel applied to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas now. (Of course, in the case of Hezbollah, it kind of fell apart when Israel deferred to the international community, which made all kinds of promises to rein in Hezbollah and then did nothing while it not only rearmed to levels above the 2006 war, but consolidated its hold on the Lebanese government, but it was a good start.)

So far, in Gaza, it seems to be working. Hamas (and its apologists worldwide) have sent the rhetoric levels to near-record highs, but the actual number of rocket and mortar attacks have not been anywhere near the threatened levels once Hamas declared an end to the “truce.”

Here’s hoping that this time it will actually achieve some lasting good.

  

One of the recurring memes about the Middle East – more specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts – is “the cycle of violence.” In this simplistic view, it’s a never-ending game of hit and hit back, punch and counterpunch, tit for tat and back to tit again, over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad aeternum.

If only it were that simple.

It’s actually two different cycles, two different gears that mainly serve to trigger the next stage of the process in the other.

On the Israeli side, it’s a constant cycling through processes:

Confrontation: engaging the Palestinians through direct military force. This is the current stage with Gaza.

Accomodation: Offering “good faith gestures” and compromises in hopes of inspiring similar responses.

Negotiation: Discussing far-ranging, complicated “peace proposals” that take months and months to hammer out, and fall apart before the first few stages are fulfilled.

Separation: Building walls or withdrawing completely and telling the Palestinians “to hell with you; wallow in your own fetid mess.”

On the Palestinian side, it’s a bit simpler: it’s a cycle of violence. Sometimes it’s higher as they work themselves into a frenzy; sometimes it’s quieter as they howl about Israel’s audacity in hitting back (and covertly re-arm themselves). A complete cessation of violence, however, is pretty much unheard of.

The one thing that has seemed to work for Israel, if at least in the short term, has been the kind of massive (but targeted) assault that Israel applied to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas now. (Of course, in the case of Hezbollah, it kind of fell apart when Israel deferred to the international community, which made all kinds of promises to rein in Hezbollah and then did nothing while it not only rearmed to levels above the 2006 war, but consolidated its hold on the Lebanese government, but it was a good start.)

So far, in Gaza, it seems to be working. Hamas (and its apologists worldwide) have sent the rhetoric levels to near-record highs, but the actual number of rocket and mortar attacks have not been anywhere near the threatened levels once Hamas declared an end to the “truce.”

Here’s hoping that this time it will actually achieve some lasting good.

  

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Laboring Under A Cloud

The Los Angeles Times reminds us that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has had a mixed year at best:

The year might have ended on a purely triumphant note for Andy Stern, who heads the nation’s fastest-growing labor union and played a key supporting role in President-elect Barack Obama’s drive for the White House.

Instead, Stern has seen the Service Employees International Union jarred by a spending scandal and internecine feuding, and more recently by the favor-selling investigation that led to the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Stern has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, and many say he has moved forcefully to address the allegations of corruption in the union’s biggest California chapter and internal complaints of financial impropriety at a second Los Angeles local.

The details of Blago-gate and other scandal are yet to fully emerge:

While federal prosecutors allege that Blagojevich sought a plum job through the SEIU in exchange for filling Obama’s U.S. Senate seat with a labor ally, authorities have not accused union officials of participating in such a scheme. The union is cooperating with the investigation of Blagojevich.

But Stern’s critics point out that a trio of SEIU officers who have faced varying degrees of scrutiny were his appointees. Some say that his administration ignored early reports of trouble with one or more of them, particularly Tyrone Freeman, the sacked president of the largest California local. Freeman is the target of a federal criminal probe that confidential sources say probably will stretch well into 2009.

An SEIU inquiry already has concluded that Freeman misappropriated more than $1 million in union funds for himself and his relatives, an allegation he has denied.

This presents a challenge for the incoming administration, which owes so much, politically and financially, to Big Labor. President-elect Obama has already delivered Big Labor a dutifully subservient Secretary of Labor nominee. But significant policy decisions await the new President on free trade, card check legislation, and the car bailout, to name just three. He might, in ordinary times, have no difficulty deferring to his Big Labor sponsors on many if not all of these items. But now, with Big Labor’s unseemly behavior front and center, does the new President need to put some distance between himself and his union allies?

President Obama will face numerous balancing acts in his first year. Weighing the demands of the Democratic base against the demands of good policy and his own broader-based popularity is key to maintaining his political equilibrium. And none will be trickier than making sure that repayment of whatever debts he owes to Big Labor doesn’t call attention to the unseemly co-dependence between the nation’s most lavish special interest group and the Democratic Party. President Obama may need to, like no Democratic President before him, demonstrate the ability to say “no” to Big Labor. If not, the public may begin to question why the leader of the New Politics is doing the bidding of such questionable characters.

The Los Angeles Times reminds us that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has had a mixed year at best:

The year might have ended on a purely triumphant note for Andy Stern, who heads the nation’s fastest-growing labor union and played a key supporting role in President-elect Barack Obama’s drive for the White House.

Instead, Stern has seen the Service Employees International Union jarred by a spending scandal and internecine feuding, and more recently by the favor-selling investigation that led to the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Stern has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, and many say he has moved forcefully to address the allegations of corruption in the union’s biggest California chapter and internal complaints of financial impropriety at a second Los Angeles local.

The details of Blago-gate and other scandal are yet to fully emerge:

While federal prosecutors allege that Blagojevich sought a plum job through the SEIU in exchange for filling Obama’s U.S. Senate seat with a labor ally, authorities have not accused union officials of participating in such a scheme. The union is cooperating with the investigation of Blagojevich.

But Stern’s critics point out that a trio of SEIU officers who have faced varying degrees of scrutiny were his appointees. Some say that his administration ignored early reports of trouble with one or more of them, particularly Tyrone Freeman, the sacked president of the largest California local. Freeman is the target of a federal criminal probe that confidential sources say probably will stretch well into 2009.

An SEIU inquiry already has concluded that Freeman misappropriated more than $1 million in union funds for himself and his relatives, an allegation he has denied.

This presents a challenge for the incoming administration, which owes so much, politically and financially, to Big Labor. President-elect Obama has already delivered Big Labor a dutifully subservient Secretary of Labor nominee. But significant policy decisions await the new President on free trade, card check legislation, and the car bailout, to name just three. He might, in ordinary times, have no difficulty deferring to his Big Labor sponsors on many if not all of these items. But now, with Big Labor’s unseemly behavior front and center, does the new President need to put some distance between himself and his union allies?

President Obama will face numerous balancing acts in his first year. Weighing the demands of the Democratic base against the demands of good policy and his own broader-based popularity is key to maintaining his political equilibrium. And none will be trickier than making sure that repayment of whatever debts he owes to Big Labor doesn’t call attention to the unseemly co-dependence between the nation’s most lavish special interest group and the Democratic Party. President Obama may need to, like no Democratic President before him, demonstrate the ability to say “no” to Big Labor. If not, the public may begin to question why the leader of the New Politics is doing the bidding of such questionable characters.

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One (Probably) Resolved Question

One of the great uncertainties hanging over the Gaza war has been the question of whether Hamas’ regional allies — Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran — would intervene in the conflict. Would Hezbollah commence its own rocket war to complement Hamas’, and test whether Israel was prepared to wage a two-front war?

Several days into the war, the only intervention from these players has been theatrical, not military. Nasrallah rants from Lebanon and Ahmadinejad from Tehran, but there has been no action to back up the rodomontade. In a war whose resolution is still ambiguous, this is one development that is concrete. The lesson for Hamas is clear: Tehran and Hezbollah can give you cash, send you weapons, and celebrate your resistance, but they will not protect you from the IDF.

One of the great uncertainties hanging over the Gaza war has been the question of whether Hamas’ regional allies — Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran — would intervene in the conflict. Would Hezbollah commence its own rocket war to complement Hamas’, and test whether Israel was prepared to wage a two-front war?

Several days into the war, the only intervention from these players has been theatrical, not military. Nasrallah rants from Lebanon and Ahmadinejad from Tehran, but there has been no action to back up the rodomontade. In a war whose resolution is still ambiguous, this is one development that is concrete. The lesson for Hamas is clear: Tehran and Hezbollah can give you cash, send you weapons, and celebrate your resistance, but they will not protect you from the IDF.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Thomas Frank sounds the liberal refrain that markets aren’t so smart. Aside from ignoring the very real role that government institutions played in the financial mess, he ignores the obvious:  government (that would be the place inhabited by Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and Alan Greenspan) is worse at producing wealth and employment than the collective judgment of markets. If you doubt that, wait until you see government-run car companies.

David Ignatius worries about a “bailout nation”: “If Wall Street investment banks can get away with it, why not auto companies? And if auto companies, why not the guy who bought a house he couldn’t afford, or who maxed out his credit cards without a hope of repaying the debt? What the heck? We’re all living in bailout nation. As a prominent foreign investor observes: ‘In America, loans have gone from ‘something to be repaid’ to ‘something to be refinanced.’”  But if he really believes we need to get back to taking our lumps, paying our bills, and living within our means, why favor the Obama stimulus plan?

Plan “B” for Harry Reid on the Illinois senate seat mess: stall. But that doesn’t really solve the problem — Burris has his selection in hand, and that’s his “ticket”–even if the issuer (Blago) expires.

Sen. Mitch McConnell seems rather delighted by the prospect of the Burris-Blago mess.

Tim Rutten doesn’t think much of the “blame the liberal media” defense of Chip Saltsman: “Does Saltsman really believe that Gingrich, current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and the heads of GOP state committees in places as different as Florida and North Dakota — all of whom have pronounced themselves appalled by his bad judgment — are dupes of the liberal media’s double standards?” Saltsman would no doubt respond that it’s all a grand conspiracy to use the public outrage over his conduct to defeat his candidacy. The fact that there is public outrage, or at the least contempt for Saltsman’s cluelessness, even within conservative circles, doesn’t quite factor into his explanation.

This reminds me that D.C. representation is one of those issues which the Republicans lost a chance (while they still held the White House and could count on a filibuster in the Senate) for a better deal than what they are likely to get in the era of Democratic control. Immigration reform is another.

The Daily News pleads with Governor Paterson to end this thing. (If you are a betting person, you might want to sell short on Caroline on Intrade.)

Helping to spin the Gray Lady’s defense that it didn’t explicitly accuse Vikki Iseman of having an affair with John McCain, this reporter neatly omits mention of the Times’ own mea culpa. Public Editor Clark Hoyt had no problem acknowledging: “The newspaper found itself in the uncomfortable position of being the story as much as publishing the story, in large part because, although it raised one of the most toxic subjects in politics — sex — it offered readers no proof that McCain and Iseman had a romance. . . I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.” If I were Iseman’s attorney I’d put Hoyt at the top of the deposition list.

Thomas Frank sounds the liberal refrain that markets aren’t so smart. Aside from ignoring the very real role that government institutions played in the financial mess, he ignores the obvious:  government (that would be the place inhabited by Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and Alan Greenspan) is worse at producing wealth and employment than the collective judgment of markets. If you doubt that, wait until you see government-run car companies.

David Ignatius worries about a “bailout nation”: “If Wall Street investment banks can get away with it, why not auto companies? And if auto companies, why not the guy who bought a house he couldn’t afford, or who maxed out his credit cards without a hope of repaying the debt? What the heck? We’re all living in bailout nation. As a prominent foreign investor observes: ‘In America, loans have gone from ‘something to be repaid’ to ‘something to be refinanced.’”  But if he really believes we need to get back to taking our lumps, paying our bills, and living within our means, why favor the Obama stimulus plan?

Plan “B” for Harry Reid on the Illinois senate seat mess: stall. But that doesn’t really solve the problem — Burris has his selection in hand, and that’s his “ticket”–even if the issuer (Blago) expires.

Sen. Mitch McConnell seems rather delighted by the prospect of the Burris-Blago mess.

Tim Rutten doesn’t think much of the “blame the liberal media” defense of Chip Saltsman: “Does Saltsman really believe that Gingrich, current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and the heads of GOP state committees in places as different as Florida and North Dakota — all of whom have pronounced themselves appalled by his bad judgment — are dupes of the liberal media’s double standards?” Saltsman would no doubt respond that it’s all a grand conspiracy to use the public outrage over his conduct to defeat his candidacy. The fact that there is public outrage, or at the least contempt for Saltsman’s cluelessness, even within conservative circles, doesn’t quite factor into his explanation.

This reminds me that D.C. representation is one of those issues which the Republicans lost a chance (while they still held the White House and could count on a filibuster in the Senate) for a better deal than what they are likely to get in the era of Democratic control. Immigration reform is another.

The Daily News pleads with Governor Paterson to end this thing. (If you are a betting person, you might want to sell short on Caroline on Intrade.)

Helping to spin the Gray Lady’s defense that it didn’t explicitly accuse Vikki Iseman of having an affair with John McCain, this reporter neatly omits mention of the Times’ own mea culpa. Public Editor Clark Hoyt had no problem acknowledging: “The newspaper found itself in the uncomfortable position of being the story as much as publishing the story, in large part because, although it raised one of the most toxic subjects in politics — sex — it offered readers no proof that McCain and Iseman had a romance. . . I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.” If I were Iseman’s attorney I’d put Hoyt at the top of the deposition list.

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Lessons To Learn–Quickly

It might not have been intended as such, but the Washington Post’s recent batch of op-eds provides a road map for the President-elect of several significant pitfalls that lie ahead.

From Amity Shlaes comes a warning to avoid excessive experimentation which roils markets and freezes economy activity:

In 1932, stunned market players and citizens wanted to know what the new rules were. They voted for a party with a platform so moderate it could have been written by today’s Concord Coalition: stability, sound money, balanced budgets. That was the Democratic Party, led by Roosevelt.

Many of FDR’s initial plans did bring stability: His first Treasury secretary worked to sort out banks with the outgoing Hoover administration in a fashion so fair that an observer noted that those present “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats.” By creating deposit insurance, FDR reduced bank runs. His Securities Act of 1933 laid the ground for a transparent national stock market. Equities shot up.

.    .   .

But other policies were more arbitrary. Using emergency powers, FDR yanked the country off the gold standard. Both American and international markets looked forward to a London conference at which a new monetary accord was to be struck among nations. Over the course of the conference, though, FDR changed orders to his emissaries multiple times. Some days he was the internationalist, sending wires about international currency coordination. Other days he was the cowboy, declaring that all that mattered was what the dollar bought in farm states. The conference foundered.

The arbitrary quality of other initiatives reinforced concerns. The New Deal centerpiece, the National Recovery Administration, helped some businesses compete and criminalized others for the same behavior. Sometimes Roosevelt goaded federal prosecutors into harassing corporate executives. Other times, he schmoozed the same execs at the White House. In 1936, FDR pushed through deficit spending. In 1937, he was Mr. Budget Hawk.Uncertain, markets froze. Businesses refused to hire or invest in equipment. Unemployment stayed stuck in the teens. The ‘deal’ part of the New Deal phrase was problematic; businesses didn’t want individual favors, they wanted clear laws for all. Industrialist Ernest Weir summed up what his community was desperate for FDR to do: “Above all to make the program clear and then stick to it.”

The message: be steady.

From Michael Gerson comes a warning to avoid the fawning of the media elite in addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and fighting the war in Iraq:

Though he ran as a peace candidate, Obama will be a war president. In these likely challenges of 2009, he deserves more than an infatuation that turns to disillusionment. He will need a broad commitment to difficult national goals involving considerable risk and sacrifice — public patience and fortitude that were not always evident during the longest days of the Iraq conflict.

The message: don’t chase the praise of fickle public opinion.

And Ruth Marcus makes the all-too obvious point that trying Bush administration officials for “war crimes” would be a disaster. The message: ignore the partisan mob.

Upon initial reflection, none of this might seem to come naturally to President Obama. After all, he won election by promising lots of change, appealing to the popular anti-war sentiment, and bonding with the netroot base in his party. So it might be a strain for him to do fewer rather than more things, ignore popular opinion, and eschew partisanship. But that’s the difference between campaigning and governing.

And  his selection of personnel, his apparent willingness to allow parts of his agenda slip to the back burner (e.g. tax hikes), and his moderate rhetoric during the transition have given reason to hope that none of this will be too much of a stretch.

But as he moves to the White House he will also lose the luxury of remoteness and inactivity. That may be the most difficult challenge of all. Keeping mum on the bailout of AIG, pondering endlessly the Russian invasion, remaining out of reach to comment on Blago-gate, and literally hiding from the press during the Gaza incursion seemed to fit his natural inclinations. He’s never been one to enjoy mixing it up with the press and he has often evidenced a thin skin for criticism.

That approach may have worked in a campaign (with the help of the compliant media rooting for his opponent’s defeat), but it’s a recipe for a rocky presidency. He will, in addition to his many policy dilemmas and management tasks, need to learn and practice the skill of prompt and definitive decision-making. After all, in just a few weeks there won’t be anywhere to hide or anyone to whom to defer.

It might not have been intended as such, but the Washington Post’s recent batch of op-eds provides a road map for the President-elect of several significant pitfalls that lie ahead.

From Amity Shlaes comes a warning to avoid excessive experimentation which roils markets and freezes economy activity:

In 1932, stunned market players and citizens wanted to know what the new rules were. They voted for a party with a platform so moderate it could have been written by today’s Concord Coalition: stability, sound money, balanced budgets. That was the Democratic Party, led by Roosevelt.

Many of FDR’s initial plans did bring stability: His first Treasury secretary worked to sort out banks with the outgoing Hoover administration in a fashion so fair that an observer noted that those present “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats.” By creating deposit insurance, FDR reduced bank runs. His Securities Act of 1933 laid the ground for a transparent national stock market. Equities shot up.

.    .   .

But other policies were more arbitrary. Using emergency powers, FDR yanked the country off the gold standard. Both American and international markets looked forward to a London conference at which a new monetary accord was to be struck among nations. Over the course of the conference, though, FDR changed orders to his emissaries multiple times. Some days he was the internationalist, sending wires about international currency coordination. Other days he was the cowboy, declaring that all that mattered was what the dollar bought in farm states. The conference foundered.

The arbitrary quality of other initiatives reinforced concerns. The New Deal centerpiece, the National Recovery Administration, helped some businesses compete and criminalized others for the same behavior. Sometimes Roosevelt goaded federal prosecutors into harassing corporate executives. Other times, he schmoozed the same execs at the White House. In 1936, FDR pushed through deficit spending. In 1937, he was Mr. Budget Hawk.Uncertain, markets froze. Businesses refused to hire or invest in equipment. Unemployment stayed stuck in the teens. The ‘deal’ part of the New Deal phrase was problematic; businesses didn’t want individual favors, they wanted clear laws for all. Industrialist Ernest Weir summed up what his community was desperate for FDR to do: “Above all to make the program clear and then stick to it.”

The message: be steady.

From Michael Gerson comes a warning to avoid the fawning of the media elite in addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and fighting the war in Iraq:

Though he ran as a peace candidate, Obama will be a war president. In these likely challenges of 2009, he deserves more than an infatuation that turns to disillusionment. He will need a broad commitment to difficult national goals involving considerable risk and sacrifice — public patience and fortitude that were not always evident during the longest days of the Iraq conflict.

The message: don’t chase the praise of fickle public opinion.

And Ruth Marcus makes the all-too obvious point that trying Bush administration officials for “war crimes” would be a disaster. The message: ignore the partisan mob.

Upon initial reflection, none of this might seem to come naturally to President Obama. After all, he won election by promising lots of change, appealing to the popular anti-war sentiment, and bonding with the netroot base in his party. So it might be a strain for him to do fewer rather than more things, ignore popular opinion, and eschew partisanship. But that’s the difference between campaigning and governing.

And  his selection of personnel, his apparent willingness to allow parts of his agenda slip to the back burner (e.g. tax hikes), and his moderate rhetoric during the transition have given reason to hope that none of this will be too much of a stretch.

But as he moves to the White House he will also lose the luxury of remoteness and inactivity. That may be the most difficult challenge of all. Keeping mum on the bailout of AIG, pondering endlessly the Russian invasion, remaining out of reach to comment on Blago-gate, and literally hiding from the press during the Gaza incursion seemed to fit his natural inclinations. He’s never been one to enjoy mixing it up with the press and he has often evidenced a thin skin for criticism.

That approach may have worked in a campaign (with the help of the compliant media rooting for his opponent’s defeat), but it’s a recipe for a rocky presidency. He will, in addition to his many policy dilemmas and management tasks, need to learn and practice the skill of prompt and definitive decision-making. After all, in just a few weeks there won’t be anywhere to hide or anyone to whom to defer.

Read Less

Where’s The Hook?

Karen Tumulty is the latest to observe the capsizing of the HMS Caroline:

For most people, the salient biographical fact about Caroline Kennedy–let alone the reason to seriously consider her candidacy for the Senate–is her last name. Being a Kennedy has not exactly proved to be an obstacle to success over the past century of American life. You would think that someone with the Kennedy political DNA would have a better understanding of her relative head start in life, but thus far, the only thing Caroline Kennedy has established is that she hasn’t inherited the Kennedy charisma gene.
.   .   .

Acquaintances say they find it hard to picture Kennedy putting up with constant badgering by the Manhattan tabs and TV outlets, or immersing herself in the intricacies of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

On policy questions, her answers have run from cautious to vague, except for her declared support for gay marriage. She does not appear to have given much thought to the specifics of what she would try to accomplish once in office–even on education, which presumably is her area of expertise, given the six years she spent as a volunteer raising money for the New York City public school system. In a contentious interview with the New York Times, she refused to engage in one of the hottest education debates of the day, declining to say whether she supported abolishing tenure for teachers and giving them merit pay instead.

(Tumulty, for reasons she does not make clear, still thinks Caroline will prevail.) Is it Caroline’s presumptuousness or her vacuity that has shattered the Kennedy aura? Both, it seems.

While it is true this is a prime moment for celebrity politicians (goodness knows we just elected the Oprah-endorsed new age icon), Caroline seems to be missing the “hook” — the element that allows her to both connect with the ordinary voter and simultaneously to provide rationalization for Governor Paterson to select her from the pack of lesser known, but more able competitors. She has none of the self-created narrative of Barack Obama, the populist charm of Sarah Palin, the brainy wonkish-ness of Bobby Jindal or the hard-bitten political tenacity of Hillary Clinton. She is the ultimate derivative — a packaged, ancillary product of unknown worth.

Caroline has said she’s not interested in running, simply in being selected. So David Paterson may escape by finding a diligent placeholder to block the ascension of the undeserving and unmotivated Caroline. It would not exactly be an act of political courage or a source of pride. But sometimes all we can do is muddle through.

Karen Tumulty is the latest to observe the capsizing of the HMS Caroline:

For most people, the salient biographical fact about Caroline Kennedy–let alone the reason to seriously consider her candidacy for the Senate–is her last name. Being a Kennedy has not exactly proved to be an obstacle to success over the past century of American life. You would think that someone with the Kennedy political DNA would have a better understanding of her relative head start in life, but thus far, the only thing Caroline Kennedy has established is that she hasn’t inherited the Kennedy charisma gene.
.   .   .

Acquaintances say they find it hard to picture Kennedy putting up with constant badgering by the Manhattan tabs and TV outlets, or immersing herself in the intricacies of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact.

On policy questions, her answers have run from cautious to vague, except for her declared support for gay marriage. She does not appear to have given much thought to the specifics of what she would try to accomplish once in office–even on education, which presumably is her area of expertise, given the six years she spent as a volunteer raising money for the New York City public school system. In a contentious interview with the New York Times, she refused to engage in one of the hottest education debates of the day, declining to say whether she supported abolishing tenure for teachers and giving them merit pay instead.

(Tumulty, for reasons she does not make clear, still thinks Caroline will prevail.) Is it Caroline’s presumptuousness or her vacuity that has shattered the Kennedy aura? Both, it seems.

While it is true this is a prime moment for celebrity politicians (goodness knows we just elected the Oprah-endorsed new age icon), Caroline seems to be missing the “hook” — the element that allows her to both connect with the ordinary voter and simultaneously to provide rationalization for Governor Paterson to select her from the pack of lesser known, but more able competitors. She has none of the self-created narrative of Barack Obama, the populist charm of Sarah Palin, the brainy wonkish-ness of Bobby Jindal or the hard-bitten political tenacity of Hillary Clinton. She is the ultimate derivative — a packaged, ancillary product of unknown worth.

Caroline has said she’s not interested in running, simply in being selected. So David Paterson may escape by finding a diligent placeholder to block the ascension of the undeserving and unmotivated Caroline. It would not exactly be an act of political courage or a source of pride. But sometimes all we can do is muddle through.

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Careful What You Believe

The Gaza story is about to take the standard turn, with the accusation that Israel is fostering a different kind of disaster by blockading food supplies to suffering Gazans. Indeed, the U.N. refugee bureau, whose management of the Gaza refugee camps has been one of the world’s foremost scandals for the past three decades, is claiming it has no wheat grain its coffers. Only it’s not true, according to another UN agency, the Jerusalem Post reports:

The UN’s World Food Program contacted the IDF on Wednesday and said that it would not need to transfer more food into Gaza, since its stockpiles were full and would last for another two weeks.

The Gaza story is about to take the standard turn, with the accusation that Israel is fostering a different kind of disaster by blockading food supplies to suffering Gazans. Indeed, the U.N. refugee bureau, whose management of the Gaza refugee camps has been one of the world’s foremost scandals for the past three decades, is claiming it has no wheat grain its coffers. Only it’s not true, according to another UN agency, the Jerusalem Post reports:

The UN’s World Food Program contacted the IDF on Wednesday and said that it would not need to transfer more food into Gaza, since its stockpiles were full and would last for another two weeks.

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