Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 9, 2009

Triangulation Time Again?

The Washington Post reports:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is urging the incoming Obama administration to stick to its campaign pledge and immediately increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, a position that President-elect Barack Obama has wavered on since winning election.

Pelosi told reporters today that she “couldn’t be more clear” in opposing some Obama advisers’ wish to wait for the tax cuts on the highest income earners to expire in two years, as they are set to do under current law. “Put me down as clearly as you possibly can as one who wants to have those tax cuts for the wealthiest in America repealed,” she said.

But, alas, the voice of sanity in the person of Sen. Richard Durbin (everything in politics is relative) pipes up:

Sen. Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, put the chances for repeal at practically nil, especially given Obama’s expressed reservations. “The president-elect believes this may not be the moment,” Durbin said, referring to the economic crisis. “I agree with her in principal,” he added, “but I disagree with her on timing.”

All of this and the goings-on this week (e.g. Roland Burris, the Leon Panetta appointment, the stimulus plan discussions) leave one wondering whether the President-elect won’t have more in common with the Congressional Republicans than his own party over the next two years. Both will want to govern from the center or center-right — President Obama to create a permanent and expanding governing majority and Republicans to get back in the political game. Both have an interest in exposing and eradicating corruption — which is increasingly a Democratic phenomenon.

A Republican insider on Capitol Hill isn’t quite ready to sing President-elect Obama’s praises, but does concede the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue aren’t necessarily going to be in sync:

So for now, it’s interesting to see how congressional Democrats are undermining the ideals Obama is promoting: transparency (Pelosi’s new House rules), bipartisanship (Reid playing procedural games already and pushing Ledbetter[ Equal Pay Act legislation]), good ideas coming from both sides (Dem senators ripping on Obama tax cut plan), having good relations with Congress (Reid announcing he doesn’t work for Obama, saying he won’t let Biden attend caucus lunches, and Dems criticizing cabinet picks like Panetta and Gupta), and clean government (Rangel, Dodd, , etc).

Needless to say there’s some friction there that savvy Republicans might exploit. It wouldn’t be the first time triangulation was tried. The rub here, however, is that Republicans will be under increasing pressure from the angry and disaffected base to draw bright lines and avoid compromises with the new President. It will be a tricky balance for Congressional Republicans — making cause with the President against Democratic extremists, keeping the base happy and demonstrating they are more than the “me too” or the “no way” party.

But they have one thing in their favor: Harry Reid. If ever Republicans were in need of a ham-handed, unlikable and ineffectual opponent now is the time. And Reid is the just the man to do it.

The Washington Post reports:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is urging the incoming Obama administration to stick to its campaign pledge and immediately increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, a position that President-elect Barack Obama has wavered on since winning election.

Pelosi told reporters today that she “couldn’t be more clear” in opposing some Obama advisers’ wish to wait for the tax cuts on the highest income earners to expire in two years, as they are set to do under current law. “Put me down as clearly as you possibly can as one who wants to have those tax cuts for the wealthiest in America repealed,” she said.

But, alas, the voice of sanity in the person of Sen. Richard Durbin (everything in politics is relative) pipes up:

Sen. Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, put the chances for repeal at practically nil, especially given Obama’s expressed reservations. “The president-elect believes this may not be the moment,” Durbin said, referring to the economic crisis. “I agree with her in principal,” he added, “but I disagree with her on timing.”

All of this and the goings-on this week (e.g. Roland Burris, the Leon Panetta appointment, the stimulus plan discussions) leave one wondering whether the President-elect won’t have more in common with the Congressional Republicans than his own party over the next two years. Both will want to govern from the center or center-right — President Obama to create a permanent and expanding governing majority and Republicans to get back in the political game. Both have an interest in exposing and eradicating corruption — which is increasingly a Democratic phenomenon.

A Republican insider on Capitol Hill isn’t quite ready to sing President-elect Obama’s praises, but does concede the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue aren’t necessarily going to be in sync:

So for now, it’s interesting to see how congressional Democrats are undermining the ideals Obama is promoting: transparency (Pelosi’s new House rules), bipartisanship (Reid playing procedural games already and pushing Ledbetter[ Equal Pay Act legislation]), good ideas coming from both sides (Dem senators ripping on Obama tax cut plan), having good relations with Congress (Reid announcing he doesn’t work for Obama, saying he won’t let Biden attend caucus lunches, and Dems criticizing cabinet picks like Panetta and Gupta), and clean government (Rangel, Dodd, , etc).

Needless to say there’s some friction there that savvy Republicans might exploit. It wouldn’t be the first time triangulation was tried. The rub here, however, is that Republicans will be under increasing pressure from the angry and disaffected base to draw bright lines and avoid compromises with the new President. It will be a tricky balance for Congressional Republicans — making cause with the President against Democratic extremists, keeping the base happy and demonstrating they are more than the “me too” or the “no way” party.

But they have one thing in their favor: Harry Reid. If ever Republicans were in need of a ham-handed, unlikable and ineffectual opponent now is the time. And Reid is the just the man to do it.

Read Less

Obama and Hamas?

The Guardian is reporting that the incoming Obama administration is “prepared to talk to Hamas.”  According to unnamed sources, these contacts will likely be low-level: Obama might use secret envoys, or engage Hamas multilaterally through “six-party talks.”  In addition, much like U.S.-P.L.O. contacts during the 1970s, these contacts will probably be secretive.

First, if true, this news is hardly surprising.  After all, Obama ran on a foreign policy platform of talking to every rogue leader under the sun, and specifically Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez.  For this reason, his campaign promise to boycott Hamas always seemed absurdly inconsistent.  Moreover, from the earliest days of his presidential run, Obama surrounded himself with advisers known for their Hamas soft spots, including Robert Malley and Zbigniew Brzezinski.  In short, if Obama’s late rollout of Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer as campaign advisers – both of whom oppose engaging Hamas – won your vote, then it probably says “gullible” on your ceiling (look up!).

Second, this is something that Israel clearly saw coming.  The timing of Israel’s current war against Hamas says it all: Israel expected a major shift in U.S. policy under Obama, and finally recognized that its bankrupt strategy of sealing Gaza was wasting valuable time for hitting Hamas directly.  Indeed, if there is any reason to believe The Guardian‘s report, this is it.

Third, there’s the small possibility that U.S.-Hamas communication will have few strategic consequences.  The key variable is how these talks are conducted.  If the incoming administration deals with Hamas secretly, the U.S. might gain leverage vis-à-vis Hamas without granting it diplomatic legitimacy.  On the other hand, if the U.S. deals with Hamas publicly – even if indirectly, as through multilateral talks – then Hamas will declare victory, and the Middle East’s Islamist current will be strengthened to the detriment of our long-time (albeit authoritarian) allies in the region.  In turn, any contacts between the incoming administration and Hamas must occur below the radar.

Make no mistake – I am extremely wary of the U.S. dealing with Hamas.  For starters, it would set a terrible precedent: whereas we have previously demanded that Palestinian groups accept a two-state solution and reject terrorism as preconditions for engagement, we would now approach Hamas solely because it has demonstrated staying power.  Moreover, U.S. engagement with Hamas would mark a deathblow to pro-democratic Arab forces, which would have little reason to persevere against their Islamist and secular authoritarian foes once the details of U.S.-Hamas meetings emerge.  Finally, it’s not remotely clear what the Obama administration hopes to gain from these talks: Obama formerly promised to reinvigorate the peace process, yet Hamas remains diametrically opposed to Israel’s existence and cannot logically hold any other position.

Still, the incoming administration might believe that it has no other choice.  After all, our longtime relationship with Fatah has been a dismal failure: Fatah is corrupt, weak, unreliable, and no less inclined towards terrorism than Hamas when the conditions are ripe for it.  Meanwhile, Hamas has emerged as the most popular and powerful Palestinian party – even despite the deprivation of its constituents, assassination of its leaders, and massive Israeli retaliation against its suicide bombers and rocket attacks.  And, most depressingly, Israeli-Palestinian peace has become so improbable that the time has probably come to construct U.S. Middle Eastern policy around some other objective, such as a long-term stalemate.  If this is how the Obama team sees the Middle East, then dealing with Hamas might make sense – that is, so long as it’s done quietly, gradually, and with realistic goals in mind.

The Guardian is reporting that the incoming Obama administration is “prepared to talk to Hamas.”  According to unnamed sources, these contacts will likely be low-level: Obama might use secret envoys, or engage Hamas multilaterally through “six-party talks.”  In addition, much like U.S.-P.L.O. contacts during the 1970s, these contacts will probably be secretive.

First, if true, this news is hardly surprising.  After all, Obama ran on a foreign policy platform of talking to every rogue leader under the sun, and specifically Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez.  For this reason, his campaign promise to boycott Hamas always seemed absurdly inconsistent.  Moreover, from the earliest days of his presidential run, Obama surrounded himself with advisers known for their Hamas soft spots, including Robert Malley and Zbigniew Brzezinski.  In short, if Obama’s late rollout of Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer as campaign advisers – both of whom oppose engaging Hamas – won your vote, then it probably says “gullible” on your ceiling (look up!).

Second, this is something that Israel clearly saw coming.  The timing of Israel’s current war against Hamas says it all: Israel expected a major shift in U.S. policy under Obama, and finally recognized that its bankrupt strategy of sealing Gaza was wasting valuable time for hitting Hamas directly.  Indeed, if there is any reason to believe The Guardian‘s report, this is it.

Third, there’s the small possibility that U.S.-Hamas communication will have few strategic consequences.  The key variable is how these talks are conducted.  If the incoming administration deals with Hamas secretly, the U.S. might gain leverage vis-à-vis Hamas without granting it diplomatic legitimacy.  On the other hand, if the U.S. deals with Hamas publicly – even if indirectly, as through multilateral talks – then Hamas will declare victory, and the Middle East’s Islamist current will be strengthened to the detriment of our long-time (albeit authoritarian) allies in the region.  In turn, any contacts between the incoming administration and Hamas must occur below the radar.

Make no mistake – I am extremely wary of the U.S. dealing with Hamas.  For starters, it would set a terrible precedent: whereas we have previously demanded that Palestinian groups accept a two-state solution and reject terrorism as preconditions for engagement, we would now approach Hamas solely because it has demonstrated staying power.  Moreover, U.S. engagement with Hamas would mark a deathblow to pro-democratic Arab forces, which would have little reason to persevere against their Islamist and secular authoritarian foes once the details of U.S.-Hamas meetings emerge.  Finally, it’s not remotely clear what the Obama administration hopes to gain from these talks: Obama formerly promised to reinvigorate the peace process, yet Hamas remains diametrically opposed to Israel’s existence and cannot logically hold any other position.

Still, the incoming administration might believe that it has no other choice.  After all, our longtime relationship with Fatah has been a dismal failure: Fatah is corrupt, weak, unreliable, and no less inclined towards terrorism than Hamas when the conditions are ripe for it.  Meanwhile, Hamas has emerged as the most popular and powerful Palestinian party – even despite the deprivation of its constituents, assassination of its leaders, and massive Israeli retaliation against its suicide bombers and rocket attacks.  And, most depressingly, Israeli-Palestinian peace has become so improbable that the time has probably come to construct U.S. Middle Eastern policy around some other objective, such as a long-term stalemate.  If this is how the Obama team sees the Middle East, then dealing with Hamas might make sense – that is, so long as it’s done quietly, gradually, and with realistic goals in mind.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Everyone has a different take on who’s “ahead” in the RNC race. But if this is accurate and Katon Dawson is in the pole position will Republicans have to beat a hasty retreat, just as the Democrats did on Roland Burris? Really, is it too hard to imagine a PR nightmare when the RNC rolls out a Chairman who took twelve years to resign from his whites-only club?

Can President Obama avoid blame if the economy doesn’t bounce back by 2010? Consider this take: “The larger-than-expected tax cuts, even if they are really just disguised government spending, are an effort to rejigger the plan to provide more economic oomph this year. Indeed, as the CBO said when Obama adviser Peter Orszag ran the joint, using infrastructure spending to juice the economy is ‘totally impractical.’ There just aren’t enough ‘shovel-ready projects’ to make effective use of the hundreds of billions Obama wants to throw at the recession. . . So what standard should voters hold Obama to? How about this one: The 1981-82 recession last lasted 16 months and was followed by an explosive recovery thanks largely to the Reagan tax cuts (even though they were slowly implemented). The current downturn, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, started in December 2007.” So things should be better by the spring, right?

Is Nancy Pelosi now part of the Zionist, neocon conspiracy in the eyes of the J Street crowd? “We support the state of Israel, very strongly as a national policy, because it is in our national interest to do so . . . We also defend any country’s right to defend itself. ”

And perhaps J Street can extend an honorary membership to Pat Buchanan. It is odd that the organization has more in common with Buchanan than with Barney Frank, Ron Wexler, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Charlie Rangel (oh, and the entire U.S. Senate).

Let’s hope Marty Peretz has Dennis Ross, Hillary Clinton and the President-elect pegged correctly.

From the “Did they need a survey?” department: “Bush Treated Less Fairly Than Obama, Survey Says”

At the State Department: not very changey.

And continuity at the White House kitchen as well.

Michael Crowley ponders: “So how bizarre that [Howard] Dean is not only an outsider but something of a persona non grata in the new Obama regime.” Not bizarre at all if you are trying to construct an enduring Democratic majority that doesn’t scare independents and moderate Republicans. Or maybe Rahm Emanuel just hates Dean. Or both!

Jack Kelly on the Leon Panetta nomination: “Mr. Obama is taking a big chance. If there is a successful terrorist attack on the U.S. during his watch, this is the appointment that will doom his presidency.” (And the careers of the senators who voted to confirm him?) Let’s just hope for the best.

Newsflash: we have a very progressive tax system. How’d that happen on George Bush’s watch?

Smart advice from Rich Lowry: “Politically, Republicans have to support some sort of stimulus, but they should paint in bold, easy-to-understand colors in their contrast with Obama, who wants to suck them into supporting his bill as a political cover against its perceived or actual failure.” The trick comes when the Democrats reject the Republicans’ ideas — do the Republicans then vote against the plan?

Meanwhile, the Democrats may wreck the Obama tax cut proposals — which are pretty bad for reasons unrelated to the Democrats’ concern.

Here’s some karma for you: “Marc Rich Among Those Facing Madoff Losses.”

The outgoing Washington Post ombudsman says the readers’ number one complaint is bias: “Year after year, it’s been political bias and that is something The Post really has to watch.” Really — year after year and no one has thought to do something about it? Imagine if the government ignored complaints for years about dishonesty and bias. The Post would be all over it, right?

An excellent idea from Minnesota: next time have a run off election.

Remarkably fair coverage from the New York Times on card check legislation. It seems businesses have woken up: if the Democrats push it, it’ll be a legislative and PR war. I suspect the Republicans wouldn’t mind that a bit. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Labor nominee likes secret ballots sometimes, but not of course when the union would like to peek over employees’ shoulders.

John Fund shares my respect for Sen. Diane Feinstein. Funny how Democrats don’t appreciate “mavericks” on their own side of the aisle.

Everyone has a different take on who’s “ahead” in the RNC race. But if this is accurate and Katon Dawson is in the pole position will Republicans have to beat a hasty retreat, just as the Democrats did on Roland Burris? Really, is it too hard to imagine a PR nightmare when the RNC rolls out a Chairman who took twelve years to resign from his whites-only club?

Can President Obama avoid blame if the economy doesn’t bounce back by 2010? Consider this take: “The larger-than-expected tax cuts, even if they are really just disguised government spending, are an effort to rejigger the plan to provide more economic oomph this year. Indeed, as the CBO said when Obama adviser Peter Orszag ran the joint, using infrastructure spending to juice the economy is ‘totally impractical.’ There just aren’t enough ‘shovel-ready projects’ to make effective use of the hundreds of billions Obama wants to throw at the recession. . . So what standard should voters hold Obama to? How about this one: The 1981-82 recession last lasted 16 months and was followed by an explosive recovery thanks largely to the Reagan tax cuts (even though they were slowly implemented). The current downturn, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, started in December 2007.” So things should be better by the spring, right?

Is Nancy Pelosi now part of the Zionist, neocon conspiracy in the eyes of the J Street crowd? “We support the state of Israel, very strongly as a national policy, because it is in our national interest to do so . . . We also defend any country’s right to defend itself. ”

And perhaps J Street can extend an honorary membership to Pat Buchanan. It is odd that the organization has more in common with Buchanan than with Barney Frank, Ron Wexler, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Charlie Rangel (oh, and the entire U.S. Senate).

Let’s hope Marty Peretz has Dennis Ross, Hillary Clinton and the President-elect pegged correctly.

From the “Did they need a survey?” department: “Bush Treated Less Fairly Than Obama, Survey Says”

At the State Department: not very changey.

And continuity at the White House kitchen as well.

Michael Crowley ponders: “So how bizarre that [Howard] Dean is not only an outsider but something of a persona non grata in the new Obama regime.” Not bizarre at all if you are trying to construct an enduring Democratic majority that doesn’t scare independents and moderate Republicans. Or maybe Rahm Emanuel just hates Dean. Or both!

Jack Kelly on the Leon Panetta nomination: “Mr. Obama is taking a big chance. If there is a successful terrorist attack on the U.S. during his watch, this is the appointment that will doom his presidency.” (And the careers of the senators who voted to confirm him?) Let’s just hope for the best.

Newsflash: we have a very progressive tax system. How’d that happen on George Bush’s watch?

Smart advice from Rich Lowry: “Politically, Republicans have to support some sort of stimulus, but they should paint in bold, easy-to-understand colors in their contrast with Obama, who wants to suck them into supporting his bill as a political cover against its perceived or actual failure.” The trick comes when the Democrats reject the Republicans’ ideas — do the Republicans then vote against the plan?

Meanwhile, the Democrats may wreck the Obama tax cut proposals — which are pretty bad for reasons unrelated to the Democrats’ concern.

Here’s some karma for you: “Marc Rich Among Those Facing Madoff Losses.”

The outgoing Washington Post ombudsman says the readers’ number one complaint is bias: “Year after year, it’s been political bias and that is something The Post really has to watch.” Really — year after year and no one has thought to do something about it? Imagine if the government ignored complaints for years about dishonesty and bias. The Post would be all over it, right?

An excellent idea from Minnesota: next time have a run off election.

Remarkably fair coverage from the New York Times on card check legislation. It seems businesses have woken up: if the Democrats push it, it’ll be a legislative and PR war. I suspect the Republicans wouldn’t mind that a bit. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Labor nominee likes secret ballots sometimes, but not of course when the union would like to peek over employees’ shoulders.

John Fund shares my respect for Sen. Diane Feinstein. Funny how Democrats don’t appreciate “mavericks” on their own side of the aisle.

Read Less




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