Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 26, 2009

A Telling Vote

Tim Geithner will be confirmed. But it is interesting to see how Republicans vote on this. Sen. Susan Collins, not known as a GOP hardliner, takes a principled stance in opposition, concluding:

Mr. President, throughout the State of Maine and indeed throughout the nation, millions of hard-working Americans pay their taxes on time and in full. Our taxation system is essentially an honor system that depends on self-assessment and honesty. When taxpayers make mistakes, they are expected to correct them promptly and completely. How can we tell the taxpayers that they are expected to comply fully with our tax laws, when these laws have been treated so cavalierly by the person who would lead the Treasury Department and, ultimately, the Internal Revenue Service, when he was applying them to himself?

(h/t TNR)

Sen. Orin Hatch, however, delivers a muddled statement, decrying the double standard for Republicans – and then declaring his support for Geithner.

This provides a window on the priorities and values of the Senators casting their votes. The Republicans can’t derail the confirmation. All they can do is offer their take on what the bare minimum standard for high-office holders ought to be. What level of mendacity do they tolerate? Do they really care about the public’s dismay over a double standard? We learn something about the people we have elected when they are forced to stand on pure principle.

It is not the type of vote likely to be at issue in their own elections. But it is telling.

Tim Geithner will be confirmed. But it is interesting to see how Republicans vote on this. Sen. Susan Collins, not known as a GOP hardliner, takes a principled stance in opposition, concluding:

Mr. President, throughout the State of Maine and indeed throughout the nation, millions of hard-working Americans pay their taxes on time and in full. Our taxation system is essentially an honor system that depends on self-assessment and honesty. When taxpayers make mistakes, they are expected to correct them promptly and completely. How can we tell the taxpayers that they are expected to comply fully with our tax laws, when these laws have been treated so cavalierly by the person who would lead the Treasury Department and, ultimately, the Internal Revenue Service, when he was applying them to himself?

(h/t TNR)

Sen. Orin Hatch, however, delivers a muddled statement, decrying the double standard for Republicans – and then declaring his support for Geithner.

This provides a window on the priorities and values of the Senators casting their votes. The Republicans can’t derail the confirmation. All they can do is offer their take on what the bare minimum standard for high-office holders ought to be. What level of mendacity do they tolerate? Do they really care about the public’s dismay over a double standard? We learn something about the people we have elected when they are forced to stand on pure principle.

It is not the type of vote likely to be at issue in their own elections. But it is telling.

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Attacking the Messengers

As Peter points out, E.J. Dionne is not exactly helping raise the level of discourse in Washington. Abortion is not the only issue at hand. He just seems to brook no criticism of the Obama administration whatsoever. He declares:

In a remarkably partisan op-ed in The Post last Thursday, Marc A. Thiessen, who was a speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, declared flatly: “If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible — and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.”

This is dangerous, both substantively and politically, and it suggests that some of Bush’s loyalists will continue to politicize issues related to terrorism in their efforts to vindicate the former president’s legacy.

Why is this “dangerous”? It seems a rather pedestrian statement of political reality. If the Obama team removes structures or changes policies that have kept Americans safe there will be a terrible price to pay. If FISA is amended and a terrorist communication is missed, resulting in American deaths, won’t politicians of both parties be looking for someone to blame? Should a released Guantanamo prisoner mastermind an attack on American soil there will be an outcry. Indeed, that is why many don’t expect the Obama team to really change much at all. The risks are too great.

But Dionne doesn’t stop at national security. He ignores the observations of many observers (including his own editors, who noted that the stimulus plan is filled with non-stimulative, spending junk) and attacks Rep. Jeb Hansarling (R-Tex) who makes this very same, rather obvious point. Dionne doesn’t much care that, from the Post’s editorial board to John McCain, many people are disturbed by the level of pork and the increased long-term spending commitments entailed in a bill supposedly designed to help jump-start the economy. But Dionne says Hansarling is just one of many Republicans placing “bets on the prospect that Obama’s policies will fail.” Perhaps they are raising well-founded policy objections and trying to ensure the bill actually adheres to its stated goal.

It seems odd that Dionne feels so compelled to race to the new administration’s rescue with such ferocity. Taking umbrage at the existence of criticism and attacking the critics’ motives suggest an unwillingness to engage arguments on their merits. Worse, it smacks of the same sort of intellectual contempt for political opponents of which Dionne often accused the Bush team of displaying. Perhaps we can get back to a respectful debate revolving around the merits of the proposed measures. But, then, it’s so much easier to attack the critics.

As Peter points out, E.J. Dionne is not exactly helping raise the level of discourse in Washington. Abortion is not the only issue at hand. He just seems to brook no criticism of the Obama administration whatsoever. He declares:

In a remarkably partisan op-ed in The Post last Thursday, Marc A. Thiessen, who was a speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, declared flatly: “If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible — and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.”

This is dangerous, both substantively and politically, and it suggests that some of Bush’s loyalists will continue to politicize issues related to terrorism in their efforts to vindicate the former president’s legacy.

Why is this “dangerous”? It seems a rather pedestrian statement of political reality. If the Obama team removes structures or changes policies that have kept Americans safe there will be a terrible price to pay. If FISA is amended and a terrorist communication is missed, resulting in American deaths, won’t politicians of both parties be looking for someone to blame? Should a released Guantanamo prisoner mastermind an attack on American soil there will be an outcry. Indeed, that is why many don’t expect the Obama team to really change much at all. The risks are too great.

But Dionne doesn’t stop at national security. He ignores the observations of many observers (including his own editors, who noted that the stimulus plan is filled with non-stimulative, spending junk) and attacks Rep. Jeb Hansarling (R-Tex) who makes this very same, rather obvious point. Dionne doesn’t much care that, from the Post’s editorial board to John McCain, many people are disturbed by the level of pork and the increased long-term spending commitments entailed in a bill supposedly designed to help jump-start the economy. But Dionne says Hansarling is just one of many Republicans placing “bets on the prospect that Obama’s policies will fail.” Perhaps they are raising well-founded policy objections and trying to ensure the bill actually adheres to its stated goal.

It seems odd that Dionne feels so compelled to race to the new administration’s rescue with such ferocity. Taking umbrage at the existence of criticism and attacking the critics’ motives suggest an unwillingness to engage arguments on their merits. Worse, it smacks of the same sort of intellectual contempt for political opponents of which Dionne often accused the Bush team of displaying. Perhaps we can get back to a respectful debate revolving around the merits of the proposed measures. But, then, it’s so much easier to attack the critics.

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Commentary of the Day

CaringMom 46, on Michael Totten:

Perhaps the world is more supportive of Israel this time around, although the media doesn’t show that side. Here in the USA, we could watch on CSpan in 2005 as Israel removed its own settlers from Gaza, sometimes forcibly, with great compassion and firmness. All in the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians. Then we watched as they returned the favor by electing Hamas to lead their government, effectively guaranteeing a violent assault on Israel.

When the rockets started from Gaza, the media downplayed but had to report it. I believe people “with eyes to see” understand better that Israel is in a fight for its life, and Hamas is pure evil — based on the way they hide behind children, etc.

I’m not a Jew, I’m a Christian woman, but I’ve felt that I could willingly join the fight against those evil men of Hamas, even take up arms against them. They are not just trying to destroy Israel. They want to come after me, too, and my family and my personal freedoms. They are part of what Ronald Reagan would call the “evil empire” in the 21st century.

The names and faces of evildoers change over the decades, but their tactics do not: use bullying violence freely and often to control your own people; preach eternal hatred toward your enemies; have no regard for individual rights; believe that the ends justify the means. Murder innocents and blame it on your opponents. Always blame others for your problems, never take responsibility for your own failings. Believe in the infallibility of your religion/ideology. Be willing to take the world down with you as long as you never have to unclench your fist of hate.

The above paragraph could refer to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and now Hamas, Al Qaeda, et al. The perpetrators of evil change but the nature of evil remains the same throughout history.

CaringMom 46, on Michael Totten:

Perhaps the world is more supportive of Israel this time around, although the media doesn’t show that side. Here in the USA, we could watch on CSpan in 2005 as Israel removed its own settlers from Gaza, sometimes forcibly, with great compassion and firmness. All in the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians. Then we watched as they returned the favor by electing Hamas to lead their government, effectively guaranteeing a violent assault on Israel.

When the rockets started from Gaza, the media downplayed but had to report it. I believe people “with eyes to see” understand better that Israel is in a fight for its life, and Hamas is pure evil — based on the way they hide behind children, etc.

I’m not a Jew, I’m a Christian woman, but I’ve felt that I could willingly join the fight against those evil men of Hamas, even take up arms against them. They are not just trying to destroy Israel. They want to come after me, too, and my family and my personal freedoms. They are part of what Ronald Reagan would call the “evil empire” in the 21st century.

The names and faces of evildoers change over the decades, but their tactics do not: use bullying violence freely and often to control your own people; preach eternal hatred toward your enemies; have no regard for individual rights; believe that the ends justify the means. Murder innocents and blame it on your opponents. Always blame others for your problems, never take responsibility for your own failings. Believe in the infallibility of your religion/ideology. Be willing to take the world down with you as long as you never have to unclench your fist of hate.

The above paragraph could refer to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and now Hamas, Al Qaeda, et al. The perpetrators of evil change but the nature of evil remains the same throughout history.

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Pragmatism Still Has Its Limitations

About two months ago Peter Wehner was discussing the “limits of [Obama's] pragmatism.” He wrote that “[w]hen pragmatism — an approach to politics that is characterized by centrist, moderate, deal-cutting instincts rather than a commitment to core political principles — becomes a defining political identity, it often leads to ad hoc policies,” to which I added my two cents:

A capable government has to make decisions everyday, and these decisions all have to be derived from some ideological framework. Does Obama want a competent government that can work to better America’s image in the world? That’s great.  But deciding that America’s image is more important than other things is a decision based on ideology. Does Obama want to save the American car industry? Of course he would need a competent government to do that, but he also needs to have the desire to do that. That desire is ideological, in the final analysis.

Today, Jacob Weisberg covers the same aspect of the issue in Slate. Of course, I would subscribe few of the policies he would like Obama to pursue, but I nevertheless empathize with his concerns over the new occupant of the White House:

In 2009, looking out over the largest crowd ever assembled in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama framed the issue in terms of simple efficacy. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works-whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified,” he said. “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

This view is in keeping with Obama’s nonideological approach to politics. To most of those listening, it surely came across as an expression of our new president’s unsentimental good sense. Yet on rereading the speech in the less euphoric light of the next day, that passage seemed insufficient as a governing philosophy and, if taken for one, rather troubling. “Whatever works” is less a vision of the public sector’s proper role than a place-holder for someone who has yet to figure out what he thinks that role should be.

Back In December, I wrote of “the pragmatic means that Obama hopes to be able to use-but there also has to be an end.” What Obama is doing, writes Weisberg, is blurring “execution with intention, means with ends.”

About two months ago Peter Wehner was discussing the “limits of [Obama's] pragmatism.” He wrote that “[w]hen pragmatism — an approach to politics that is characterized by centrist, moderate, deal-cutting instincts rather than a commitment to core political principles — becomes a defining political identity, it often leads to ad hoc policies,” to which I added my two cents:

A capable government has to make decisions everyday, and these decisions all have to be derived from some ideological framework. Does Obama want a competent government that can work to better America’s image in the world? That’s great.  But deciding that America’s image is more important than other things is a decision based on ideology. Does Obama want to save the American car industry? Of course he would need a competent government to do that, but he also needs to have the desire to do that. That desire is ideological, in the final analysis.

Today, Jacob Weisberg covers the same aspect of the issue in Slate. Of course, I would subscribe few of the policies he would like Obama to pursue, but I nevertheless empathize with his concerns over the new occupant of the White House:

In 2009, looking out over the largest crowd ever assembled in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama framed the issue in terms of simple efficacy. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works-whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified,” he said. “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

This view is in keeping with Obama’s nonideological approach to politics. To most of those listening, it surely came across as an expression of our new president’s unsentimental good sense. Yet on rereading the speech in the less euphoric light of the next day, that passage seemed insufficient as a governing philosophy and, if taken for one, rather troubling. “Whatever works” is less a vision of the public sector’s proper role than a place-holder for someone who has yet to figure out what he thinks that role should be.

Back In December, I wrote of “the pragmatic means that Obama hopes to be able to use-but there also has to be an end.” What Obama is doing, writes Weisberg, is blurring “execution with intention, means with ends.”

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More Leverage with Iran

The European Union has just de-listed the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq from its terror list. The MeK is an Iranian opposition group) that claims to have renounced violence in 2001), and the Iranian government is angry — which in and of itself is a very good thing. As a matter of fact, they are so angry that — according to my source inside the EU — they pleaded with the Europeans to reconsider, citing the fact that the Americans — not Tehran’s likeliest go-to for policy precedent — are keeping the MeK on their list. To have Iran cite the State Department as an authority on terrorism speaks volumes.

MeK members are neither Mayflower pilgrims nor Salvation Army volunteers and de-listing the group might not be principled or expedient — but plain silly. However, now, alongside an expected toughening of EU sanctions, the Iranians have something else to concern them, which Europe could use as leverage against Tehran’s bid for nuclear weapons. One question lingers for Europeans: what will President Obama do with Iran? Some in Europe are using the uncertainty generated by the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration to stall progress on new sanctions. The sooner President Obama announces his new policy guidelines on the matter and makes it clear who’s in charge, the better.

The European Union has just de-listed the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq from its terror list. The MeK is an Iranian opposition group) that claims to have renounced violence in 2001), and the Iranian government is angry — which in and of itself is a very good thing. As a matter of fact, they are so angry that — according to my source inside the EU — they pleaded with the Europeans to reconsider, citing the fact that the Americans — not Tehran’s likeliest go-to for policy precedent — are keeping the MeK on their list. To have Iran cite the State Department as an authority on terrorism speaks volumes.

MeK members are neither Mayflower pilgrims nor Salvation Army volunteers and de-listing the group might not be principled or expedient — but plain silly. However, now, alongside an expected toughening of EU sanctions, the Iranians have something else to concern them, which Europe could use as leverage against Tehran’s bid for nuclear weapons. One question lingers for Europeans: what will President Obama do with Iran? Some in Europe are using the uncertainty generated by the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration to stall progress on new sanctions. The sooner President Obama announces his new policy guidelines on the matter and makes it clear who’s in charge, the better.

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More (Blessedly) False Change

Thankfully, Barack Obama has officially broken one of his most dangerous campaign promises: to hold direct talks with Iran, without preconditions. The Associated Press tries hard to cast an administration statement as Obamaesque “change,” but can’t:

President Barack Obama’s administration will engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran, the newly installed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are U.S. officials believed to have conducted wide-ranging direct diplomacy with Iranian officials. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice warned that Iran must meet U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before any talks on its nuclear program.

Susan Rice is not the first American official to offer direct talks with Iran in exchange for the suspension of uranium enrichment. In fact, she’s not even the first person named Rice to make the offer. This is from a February 25, 2007 AP report:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would hold direct talks with Iran if Tehran suspended its nuclear program. Iran’s president, however, pledged to move ahead with enrichment activity that Washington contends masks weapons development.

“I am prepared to meet my counterpart or an Iranian representative at any time if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal,” Rice said in Washington.

And the Bush policy stands. No complaints from this quarter.

Thankfully, Barack Obama has officially broken one of his most dangerous campaign promises: to hold direct talks with Iran, without preconditions. The Associated Press tries hard to cast an administration statement as Obamaesque “change,” but can’t:

President Barack Obama’s administration will engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran, the newly installed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are U.S. officials believed to have conducted wide-ranging direct diplomacy with Iranian officials. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice warned that Iran must meet U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before any talks on its nuclear program.

Susan Rice is not the first American official to offer direct talks with Iran in exchange for the suspension of uranium enrichment. In fact, she’s not even the first person named Rice to make the offer. This is from a February 25, 2007 AP report:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would hold direct talks with Iran if Tehran suspended its nuclear program. Iran’s president, however, pledged to move ahead with enrichment activity that Washington contends masks weapons development.

“I am prepared to meet my counterpart or an Iranian representative at any time if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal,” Rice said in Washington.

And the Bush policy stands. No complaints from this quarter.

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Re: The Saudi Peace Plan

In covering the article penned by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, Max Boot focused on al-Faisal’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian situation:

It is hard not to laugh at a representative of one of the world’s most oppressive and intolerant regimes condemning the most democratic, liberal and tolerant government in the region as a “murderous… regime.” It is also hard to take seriously the prince’s professions of deep concern for the sufferings of Hamas, a terrorist group that is aligned with Saudi Arabia’s chief enemy, Iran, and whose destruction he would no doubt be delighted to witness.

Max is, of course, correct. And it is also worth analyzing Prince Turki’s undisguised threat:

If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia – it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

It’s not as if Saudi Arabia’s disposition toward the U.S. is born of gracefulness or international good will. The Saudis have been playing (relatively) nice with the U.S. as an absolute necessity for their own survival.

It should be noted that the Financial Times seems to have become a kind of cheerleader for al-Faisal. FT editors wrote, “Anyone with a stake in the stability of the wider Middle East should take very seriously the warning set forth,” and went on:

The Saudis have emitted a crescendo of warnings, as Arab leaders over the past decade have lost faith in American leadership and signaled they may make their own arrangements: hostile to Israel, in detente with Iran, and turning their backs on the US – unless it can restrain its Israeli ally.

Of course, no one in their right mind would risk such a scenario – least of all Israeli leaders. Arab anger and strategic interests should not be dismissed either. Working toward an Israeli-Palestinian deal is a worthy international ambition. But can Saudi Arabia now afford to threaten the U.S. administration? If you think the answer is yes, imagine for a moment what will actually happen should the Saudis turn their backs on the U.S. Would Iran settle for a “détente” with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.? Or would the mullahs seize the opportunity to de-prince the Prince?

In covering the article penned by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, Max Boot focused on al-Faisal’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian situation:

It is hard not to laugh at a representative of one of the world’s most oppressive and intolerant regimes condemning the most democratic, liberal and tolerant government in the region as a “murderous… regime.” It is also hard to take seriously the prince’s professions of deep concern for the sufferings of Hamas, a terrorist group that is aligned with Saudi Arabia’s chief enemy, Iran, and whose destruction he would no doubt be delighted to witness.

Max is, of course, correct. And it is also worth analyzing Prince Turki’s undisguised threat:

If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia – it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

It’s not as if Saudi Arabia’s disposition toward the U.S. is born of gracefulness or international good will. The Saudis have been playing (relatively) nice with the U.S. as an absolute necessity for their own survival.

It should be noted that the Financial Times seems to have become a kind of cheerleader for al-Faisal. FT editors wrote, “Anyone with a stake in the stability of the wider Middle East should take very seriously the warning set forth,” and went on:

The Saudis have emitted a crescendo of warnings, as Arab leaders over the past decade have lost faith in American leadership and signaled they may make their own arrangements: hostile to Israel, in detente with Iran, and turning their backs on the US – unless it can restrain its Israeli ally.

Of course, no one in their right mind would risk such a scenario – least of all Israeli leaders. Arab anger and strategic interests should not be dismissed either. Working toward an Israeli-Palestinian deal is a worthy international ambition. But can Saudi Arabia now afford to threaten the U.S. administration? If you think the answer is yes, imagine for a moment what will actually happen should the Saudis turn their backs on the U.S. Would Iran settle for a “détente” with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.? Or would the mullahs seize the opportunity to de-prince the Prince?

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Rebuilding Hamas

There is something both poignant and absurd about this story:

Hamas bears full responsibility for the war in Gaza, a top EU official said Monday in the Strip, calling the group “a terrorist movement.”

“At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas,” Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters.

“I intentionally say this here — Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such,” Michel said as he visited the town of Jabalya in northern Gaza.

“Public opinion is fed up to see that we are paying over and over again — be it the [European] commission, the member states or the major donors — for infrastructure that will be systematically destroyed,” he said.

On the one hand, this is a flying-pigs moment: an EU leader has shown up in Gaza and denounced Hamas as a terrorist group that bears full responsibility for starting a war. That kind of moral clarity has all but vanished from European discourse, especially when it can be construed as legitimizing the actions of the IDF.

But there is also an obtuseness to Michel’s statement. He clearly doesn’t understand the relationship between foreign aid and Palestinian violence, and the strong positive correlation between the two. Questions: If the UN and the EU (and American taxpayers) continuously foot the bill for Palestinian aid and infrastructure, including post-conflict reconstruction, are Palestinians going to be more or less likely to support groups that start wars with Israel? In other words, are there consequences to making Palestinian terrorism as consequence-free as possible?

Michel and the EU are perhaps groping toward a recognition of these realities, but they haven’t found them yet.

Michel announced €58 million ($74 million) in emergency aid Monday for Palestinians.

It is the season for bailouts, I suppose.

There is something both poignant and absurd about this story:

Hamas bears full responsibility for the war in Gaza, a top EU official said Monday in the Strip, calling the group “a terrorist movement.”

“At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas,” Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters.

“I intentionally say this here — Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such,” Michel said as he visited the town of Jabalya in northern Gaza.

“Public opinion is fed up to see that we are paying over and over again — be it the [European] commission, the member states or the major donors — for infrastructure that will be systematically destroyed,” he said.

On the one hand, this is a flying-pigs moment: an EU leader has shown up in Gaza and denounced Hamas as a terrorist group that bears full responsibility for starting a war. That kind of moral clarity has all but vanished from European discourse, especially when it can be construed as legitimizing the actions of the IDF.

But there is also an obtuseness to Michel’s statement. He clearly doesn’t understand the relationship between foreign aid and Palestinian violence, and the strong positive correlation between the two. Questions: If the UN and the EU (and American taxpayers) continuously foot the bill for Palestinian aid and infrastructure, including post-conflict reconstruction, are Palestinians going to be more or less likely to support groups that start wars with Israel? In other words, are there consequences to making Palestinian terrorism as consequence-free as possible?

Michel and the EU are perhaps groping toward a recognition of these realities, but they haven’t found them yet.

Michel announced €58 million ($74 million) in emergency aid Monday for Palestinians.

It is the season for bailouts, I suppose.

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Lowering the Bipartisan Bar

Two comments on the abortion debate and Barack Obama’s executive order ending the ban on federal funds for groups performing abortions abroad are worth pausing over. The first comes from Jim Wallis of the liberal evangelical group Sojourners. According to the Washington Post Wallis

praised Obama for not signing the order on the day of the [pro-life] march and instead marking the day by issuing his first presidential statement about abortion, which called on all sides to find common ground, such as working to reduce abortions. “President Obama showed respect for both sides in the historically polarized abortion debate, and called for both a new conversation and a new common ground. I hope that this important gesture signals the beginning of a new approach and a new path toward finding some real solutions to decrease the number of abortions in this country and around the world,” Wallis said.

This line was echoed by E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post this morning. According to Dionne,

The consensual tone on this divisive issue reflects intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by Obama’s religious supporters, who asked him to put off for at least a day his executive order ending the ban on federal funds for groups involved in abortions overseas. The symbolism of the delay suggested that Obama intends to continue to poach constituencies that were once reliably Republican.

So let’s get this straight: those championing abortion rights get an executive order allowing hundreds of millions of dollars to perform abortions overseas; those championing a culture of life get the announcement delayed by 24 hours. For liberals like Wallis and Dionne, this kind of empty symbolism, combined with Obama invoking words like “a new conversation” and “common ground” (which for Wallis and Dionne are like petting the belly of a cat) constitutes bipartisanship and real outreach.

This is silliness of a high order. What matters is reality, not PR gimmicks. These are serious times requiring seriousness of mind and thought and analysis. One would hope that Wallis and Dionne and their fellow “progressives” would cast aside the spin and propaganda, to say nothing of evincing baldfaced intoxication when it comes to Obama. These are, after all, childish things.

Two comments on the abortion debate and Barack Obama’s executive order ending the ban on federal funds for groups performing abortions abroad are worth pausing over. The first comes from Jim Wallis of the liberal evangelical group Sojourners. According to the Washington Post Wallis

praised Obama for not signing the order on the day of the [pro-life] march and instead marking the day by issuing his first presidential statement about abortion, which called on all sides to find common ground, such as working to reduce abortions. “President Obama showed respect for both sides in the historically polarized abortion debate, and called for both a new conversation and a new common ground. I hope that this important gesture signals the beginning of a new approach and a new path toward finding some real solutions to decrease the number of abortions in this country and around the world,” Wallis said.

This line was echoed by E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post this morning. According to Dionne,

The consensual tone on this divisive issue reflects intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by Obama’s religious supporters, who asked him to put off for at least a day his executive order ending the ban on federal funds for groups involved in abortions overseas. The symbolism of the delay suggested that Obama intends to continue to poach constituencies that were once reliably Republican.

So let’s get this straight: those championing abortion rights get an executive order allowing hundreds of millions of dollars to perform abortions overseas; those championing a culture of life get the announcement delayed by 24 hours. For liberals like Wallis and Dionne, this kind of empty symbolism, combined with Obama invoking words like “a new conversation” and “common ground” (which for Wallis and Dionne are like petting the belly of a cat) constitutes bipartisanship and real outreach.

This is silliness of a high order. What matters is reality, not PR gimmicks. These are serious times requiring seriousness of mind and thought and analysis. One would hope that Wallis and Dionne and their fellow “progressives” would cast aside the spin and propaganda, to say nothing of evincing baldfaced intoxication when it comes to Obama. These are, after all, childish things.

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The Frog’s Lament

There’s an old fable about a scorpion and a frog who meet at a stream. The scorpion wished to cross but couldn’t swim. The frog could swim, but is afraid of a stork lurking on the other side. The scorpion makes a proposal: if the frog carries him across the stream, he will scare away the stork, and both will benefit. The frog is reluctant because he fears the scorpion also, but eventually accepts the deal and starts carrying the scorpion across.

Halfway across the stream the scorpion stings the frog. Knowing they are both doomed, the frog asks him why he did it, and the scorpion replies: “It is my nature.”

This fable came to mind as I read accounts of the press becoming disenchanted by the restricted access to the new Obama administration. Does the press not recall Obama’s “nature” during the campaign?

In May, A certain female reporter caught Obama touring an auto plan in Detroit and asked him what he would do for auto workers. Obama’s answer: “Hold on a second, sweetie, we’ll hold a press avail.” He never did. It wasn’t until the “sweetie” video started getting national play that he apologized to the reporter — but still failed to deliver the “press avail.”

When, in October, some television stations gave Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden  a bit of a rough time, the Obama campaign informed those stations they would have no further access to the candidates.

As the election neared, the campaign decided that EbonyJet magazine deserved seats on Obama’s campaign-press plane. To make room, the reporters from three newspapers were tossed off. How coincidental that all three of these papers had been less than fawning in their coverage of the candidate: the New York Post, the Washington Times, and the Dallas Morning News.

That’s how Obama ran. Expecting him to change his relationship with the press once elected — and in less need of the press’s support — was delusional. It should come as no surprise that President Obama popped into the White House press-room and got irritated when asked a question, or that reporters were shut off from covering his first day in office or the re-do of his oath.

Now the media are utterly dependent on President Obama’s good will because they sacrificed so much — their independence, their objectivity — to get him elected. The only way for the media to reassert their independence would be by subjecting Obama to the same level of scrutiny that used to characterize the status quo relationship between the press and the government. I’m not sure they can muster the credibility for such a bold move: too many people’s eyes have been opened to the gross malpractice the press has committed during the campaign — the mainstream media’s love-fest around candidate Obama.

That the press is starting to grumble about the Obama administration’s shortcomings is an encouraging development. But it very well might be too late.

There’s an old fable about a scorpion and a frog who meet at a stream. The scorpion wished to cross but couldn’t swim. The frog could swim, but is afraid of a stork lurking on the other side. The scorpion makes a proposal: if the frog carries him across the stream, he will scare away the stork, and both will benefit. The frog is reluctant because he fears the scorpion also, but eventually accepts the deal and starts carrying the scorpion across.

Halfway across the stream the scorpion stings the frog. Knowing they are both doomed, the frog asks him why he did it, and the scorpion replies: “It is my nature.”

This fable came to mind as I read accounts of the press becoming disenchanted by the restricted access to the new Obama administration. Does the press not recall Obama’s “nature” during the campaign?

In May, A certain female reporter caught Obama touring an auto plan in Detroit and asked him what he would do for auto workers. Obama’s answer: “Hold on a second, sweetie, we’ll hold a press avail.” He never did. It wasn’t until the “sweetie” video started getting national play that he apologized to the reporter — but still failed to deliver the “press avail.”

When, in October, some television stations gave Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden  a bit of a rough time, the Obama campaign informed those stations they would have no further access to the candidates.

As the election neared, the campaign decided that EbonyJet magazine deserved seats on Obama’s campaign-press plane. To make room, the reporters from three newspapers were tossed off. How coincidental that all three of these papers had been less than fawning in their coverage of the candidate: the New York Post, the Washington Times, and the Dallas Morning News.

That’s how Obama ran. Expecting him to change his relationship with the press once elected — and in less need of the press’s support — was delusional. It should come as no surprise that President Obama popped into the White House press-room and got irritated when asked a question, or that reporters were shut off from covering his first day in office or the re-do of his oath.

Now the media are utterly dependent on President Obama’s good will because they sacrificed so much — their independence, their objectivity — to get him elected. The only way for the media to reassert their independence would be by subjecting Obama to the same level of scrutiny that used to characterize the status quo relationship between the press and the government. I’m not sure they can muster the credibility for such a bold move: too many people’s eyes have been opened to the gross malpractice the press has committed during the campaign — the mainstream media’s love-fest around candidate Obama.

That the press is starting to grumble about the Obama administration’s shortcomings is an encouraging development. But it very well might be too late.

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Is There Any War He Can’t End?

Peter Beinart thinks Barack Obama just may end the culture wars.

For several decades now, analysts have divided American politics into three categories: economics, foreign policy, and culture. . .

When it comes to culture, Obama doesn’t have a public agenda; he has a public anti-agenda. He wants to remove culture from the political debate. He wants to cut our three-sided political game back down to two.

Beinart may have things backwards. The closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, for example, was not ultimately a foreign policy decision or an economic one. It was a sweeping nod from on high to one side in the culture wars, a gift to that portion of the Left who defines itself in opposition to George W. Bush and his policies. In fact, the practical dimension of the decision is such an afterthought that the Obama administration has not yet formulated a plan for trying or housing the detainees. Contra Beinart, President Obama — within 24 hours of taking office — made America’s system for handling enemy combatants a casualty of the culture wars.

Beinart points to President Obama’s opacity on traditional cultural issues as evidence of his wanting to remove them from political debate. But how does Beinart account for Obama’s opacity on political and economic issues, as well? After all, Barack Obama isn’t only pro-gay rights while being anti-gay marriage (Beinart somehow missing the latter point in his piece), but pro- and anti- missile defense, in favor of ending the war in Iraq while extending it, and both  pro-tax hikes and pro-tax cuts.

Muddles don’t end wars. They draw them out. Winning (or losing) ends wars – cultural or otherwise. Beinart’s piece ultimately speaks to a worrisome trend among reasonable people: the desire for President Obama to sweep challenges under the rug — unmet. There is nothing presidential about ending cultural debate, randomly pausing wars, or gratuitously closing detention facilities without plans to deal with detainees. Americans want a recess from ugliness, but that’s not how history works. The winning of wars brings clarity and direction. And the West could use heavy doses of both at the moment.

Peter Beinart thinks Barack Obama just may end the culture wars.

For several decades now, analysts have divided American politics into three categories: economics, foreign policy, and culture. . .

When it comes to culture, Obama doesn’t have a public agenda; he has a public anti-agenda. He wants to remove culture from the political debate. He wants to cut our three-sided political game back down to two.

Beinart may have things backwards. The closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, for example, was not ultimately a foreign policy decision or an economic one. It was a sweeping nod from on high to one side in the culture wars, a gift to that portion of the Left who defines itself in opposition to George W. Bush and his policies. In fact, the practical dimension of the decision is such an afterthought that the Obama administration has not yet formulated a plan for trying or housing the detainees. Contra Beinart, President Obama — within 24 hours of taking office — made America’s system for handling enemy combatants a casualty of the culture wars.

Beinart points to President Obama’s opacity on traditional cultural issues as evidence of his wanting to remove them from political debate. But how does Beinart account for Obama’s opacity on political and economic issues, as well? After all, Barack Obama isn’t only pro-gay rights while being anti-gay marriage (Beinart somehow missing the latter point in his piece), but pro- and anti- missile defense, in favor of ending the war in Iraq while extending it, and both  pro-tax hikes and pro-tax cuts.

Muddles don’t end wars. They draw them out. Winning (or losing) ends wars – cultural or otherwise. Beinart’s piece ultimately speaks to a worrisome trend among reasonable people: the desire for President Obama to sweep challenges under the rug — unmet. There is nothing presidential about ending cultural debate, randomly pausing wars, or gratuitously closing detention facilities without plans to deal with detainees. Americans want a recess from ugliness, but that’s not how history works. The winning of wars brings clarity and direction. And the West could use heavy doses of both at the moment.

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Helping The Neighborhood

President Obama told the people of Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day: “We are neighborhood people and I cut my teeth doing neighborhood work.” Such assertion will be put to the test rather quickly. His new hometown paper explains:

Early surveys of D.C. parents of children receiving federal school vouchers showed many of them liked the program because they believed their children were in safe schools. Over time, a new study shows, their satisfaction has deepened to include an appreciation for small class sizes, rich curricula and positive change in their sons and daughters. Above all, what parents most value is the freedom to choose where their children go to school

.   .    .

Whether they continue to have such a choice could be determined soon. The program that provides scholarships of up to $7,500 per year for low-income students to attend private schools is funded only through the 2009-10 school year. Unusually restrictive language being drafted for the omnibus budget bill would forbid any new funding unless Congress reauthorizes the program and the District passes legislation in agreement. Yet results of the Education Department’s scientific study of the program are not expected until June.

The editors implore him to lend a helping hand:

We hope that, despite his stated reservations about vouchers, President Obama includes money in his upcoming budget to safeguard the interests of children in this important local program and to preserve an unusually rigorous research study. Mr. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say they eschew ideology in favor of what serves the interests of children. Here’s a chance to help 1,716 of them.

There is no credible excuse to do otherwise. The D.C. schools are in shambles, the federal “stimulus” plan is to filled with far more expensive and less worthy items than this, and parents from poor and minority families like the program. This is an easy call, a small chance to flash his reformer credentials and to show he is not captive to the Teachers’ Union. After all, if he can’t help the kids in his own neighborhood get a decent education how is he going to go up against opponents of school reform in far-away places where he holds far less influence?

President Obama told the people of Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day: “We are neighborhood people and I cut my teeth doing neighborhood work.” Such assertion will be put to the test rather quickly. His new hometown paper explains:

Early surveys of D.C. parents of children receiving federal school vouchers showed many of them liked the program because they believed their children were in safe schools. Over time, a new study shows, their satisfaction has deepened to include an appreciation for small class sizes, rich curricula and positive change in their sons and daughters. Above all, what parents most value is the freedom to choose where their children go to school

.   .    .

Whether they continue to have such a choice could be determined soon. The program that provides scholarships of up to $7,500 per year for low-income students to attend private schools is funded only through the 2009-10 school year. Unusually restrictive language being drafted for the omnibus budget bill would forbid any new funding unless Congress reauthorizes the program and the District passes legislation in agreement. Yet results of the Education Department’s scientific study of the program are not expected until June.

The editors implore him to lend a helping hand:

We hope that, despite his stated reservations about vouchers, President Obama includes money in his upcoming budget to safeguard the interests of children in this important local program and to preserve an unusually rigorous research study. Mr. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say they eschew ideology in favor of what serves the interests of children. Here’s a chance to help 1,716 of them.

There is no credible excuse to do otherwise. The D.C. schools are in shambles, the federal “stimulus” plan is to filled with far more expensive and less worthy items than this, and parents from poor and minority families like the program. This is an easy call, a small chance to flash his reformer credentials and to show he is not captive to the Teachers’ Union. After all, if he can’t help the kids in his own neighborhood get a decent education how is he going to go up against opponents of school reform in far-away places where he holds far less influence?

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The Mood in Israel Now

The mood in Israel during the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war is markedly different from the mood in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Things felt precarious and vulnerable then. Confidence in both the government and the military disintegrated. When Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared his “divine victory,” many, if not most, Israelis shuddered and thought he might be correct. This time, by contrast, I didn’t meet a single Israeli who thinks Hamas defeated the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere near finished, and the problems in Gaza will endure for a long time, but the Israeli military and government spent two and a half years intensely studying what went wrong in Lebanon in 2006 and corrected nearly all those mistakes. Most Israelis I spoke to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week feel a tremendous sense of relief and seem more at ease than they have been in years.

The results speak for themselves. The IDF wasn’t able to halt or even disrupt Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities in July and August of 2006, but Hamas’s ability to fire its own crude rockets was reduced by almost 75 percent. According to Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas fired 75 rockets per day at the beginning of the war, 35 rockets per day in the middle of the war, and only 20 rockets per day at the end. At the same time, Hamas was only able to inflict a tenth as many casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers as Hezbollah did in 2006. During the final ten days of the war, again according to Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas did not kill a single Israeli. Ismail Haniyeh’s predictable declaration of “victory” could hardly sound more empty if he delivered his boast from inside a prison cell.

I wouldn’t characterize the mood in Israel as optimistic. That would be a mistake. Few people I know in any Middle Eastern country feel optimistic about the future of their country or the region in general. But confidence in the Israeli government and military has been restored. While a final peace with the Arabs and Palestinians is as elusive as ever, most Israelis expect a period of relative quiet now that deterrence has been established on its eastern border with the West Bank, on its northern border with Lebanon, and on its southwestern border with Gaza.

The status quo balance of terror between Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah is less bad now than it was, and that’s as much as anyone should hope for in the Middle East. That may sound like a gloomy prognosis to Americans and Europeans, but it’s a relief to those who understand that no one knows how to map a way out.

The mood in Israel during the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war is markedly different from the mood in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Things felt precarious and vulnerable then. Confidence in both the government and the military disintegrated. When Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared his “divine victory,” many, if not most, Israelis shuddered and thought he might be correct. This time, by contrast, I didn’t meet a single Israeli who thinks Hamas defeated the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere near finished, and the problems in Gaza will endure for a long time, but the Israeli military and government spent two and a half years intensely studying what went wrong in Lebanon in 2006 and corrected nearly all those mistakes. Most Israelis I spoke to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week feel a tremendous sense of relief and seem more at ease than they have been in years.

The results speak for themselves. The IDF wasn’t able to halt or even disrupt Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities in July and August of 2006, but Hamas’s ability to fire its own crude rockets was reduced by almost 75 percent. According to Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas fired 75 rockets per day at the beginning of the war, 35 rockets per day in the middle of the war, and only 20 rockets per day at the end. At the same time, Hamas was only able to inflict a tenth as many casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers as Hezbollah did in 2006. During the final ten days of the war, again according to Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas did not kill a single Israeli. Ismail Haniyeh’s predictable declaration of “victory” could hardly sound more empty if he delivered his boast from inside a prison cell.

I wouldn’t characterize the mood in Israel as optimistic. That would be a mistake. Few people I know in any Middle Eastern country feel optimistic about the future of their country or the region in general. But confidence in the Israeli government and military has been restored. While a final peace with the Arabs and Palestinians is as elusive as ever, most Israelis expect a period of relative quiet now that deterrence has been established on its eastern border with the West Bank, on its northern border with Lebanon, and on its southwestern border with Gaza.

The status quo balance of terror between Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah is less bad now than it was, and that’s as much as anyone should hope for in the Middle East. That may sound like a gloomy prognosis to Americans and Europeans, but it’s a relief to those who understand that no one knows how to map a way out.

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Enough Happy Talk

The notion of a bipartisan, pro-growth stimulus plan that could pay for some much needed infrastructure was appealing to many Americans. Even Republicans skeptical of the entire Keynesian premise were willing to go along with the deal if they could get some private sector help and some needed spending on national defense. But what has emerged from the clutches of Nancy Pelosi is a grab-bag of liberal special interest group goodies, welfare disguised as “tax relief” and precious little of long term value to the country.

Charles Krauthammer aptly termed it “one of the worst bills in galactic history.” He pans not just the content but the process:

I thought he once said we are not red states or blue states. We are the United States of America. We are not Republican or Democrat. Look, he won as the man who reaches across. But here is an example in which he says ‘I won, you lost. It’s my way.’ He listens, but unless he gives something, it’s all a sham.

It is no wonder that Republicans including John McCain and Minority Leader John Boehner are making clear they want no part of it. On Fox New Sunday, McCain declared:

There should be an end point to all of this spending. Say two years. . . The plan was written by the Democratic majority in the House primarily. So yeah, I think there has to be major rewrites, if we want to stimulate the economy.

He was clear that he “would not support it,” but was cagey on whether to filibuster it: “We need serious negotiations. We’re losing sight of what the stimulus is all about and that is job creation.” (If McCain blocked the spend-a-thon he might finally earn the affection of the conservative base.)

So what happened? President Obama entirely ceded control of the process to Pelosi, who proceeded to fill the bill with junk and exclude Republicans from the process. The Wall Street Journal concludes:

The spending portion of the stimulus, in short, isn’t really about the economy. It’s about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy. The “stimulus” is merely the mother of all political excuses to pack as much of this spending agenda as possible into a single bill when Mr. Obama is at his political zenith.

Apart from the inevitable waste, the Democrats are taking a big political gamble here. Congress and Mr. Obama are promoting this stimulus as the key to economic revival. Americans who know nothing about multipliers or neo-Keynesians expect it to work. The Federal Reserve is pushing trillions of dollars of monetary stimulus into the economy, and perhaps that along with a better bank rescue strategy will make the difference. But if spring and then summer arrive, and the economy is still in recession, Americans are going to start asking what they bought for that $355 billion.

And on a political level, the Democrats have given Republicans every reason to oppose the bill and no reason to support it. As a result the “bipartisan” stimulus will be the Democrats’ bill.

Could the bill be revised to cut out the junk and corral Republican votes? The longer this goes on and the more TV appearances Democrats make extolling the virtues of their spend-a-thon, the more difficult it becomes to reverse course. Perhaps this was what President Obama had in mind all along. Maybe all the talk about focused spending and bipartisanship was just fluffy rhetoric for the easily impressed media pundits. Or maybe this is a sign that President Obama lacks the tenacity and skill to go toe-to-toe with his own party.

The result is the same: a horrid bill and a failure to breach the partisan divide. A smartly designed bill which could garner bipartisan support seems increasingly out of reach.  It would have been nice to suspend disbelief for at least a week, but either by intention or neglect we now see that Washington may in fact be the place where good ideas go to die.

The notion of a bipartisan, pro-growth stimulus plan that could pay for some much needed infrastructure was appealing to many Americans. Even Republicans skeptical of the entire Keynesian premise were willing to go along with the deal if they could get some private sector help and some needed spending on national defense. But what has emerged from the clutches of Nancy Pelosi is a grab-bag of liberal special interest group goodies, welfare disguised as “tax relief” and precious little of long term value to the country.

Charles Krauthammer aptly termed it “one of the worst bills in galactic history.” He pans not just the content but the process:

I thought he once said we are not red states or blue states. We are the United States of America. We are not Republican or Democrat. Look, he won as the man who reaches across. But here is an example in which he says ‘I won, you lost. It’s my way.’ He listens, but unless he gives something, it’s all a sham.

It is no wonder that Republicans including John McCain and Minority Leader John Boehner are making clear they want no part of it. On Fox New Sunday, McCain declared:

There should be an end point to all of this spending. Say two years. . . The plan was written by the Democratic majority in the House primarily. So yeah, I think there has to be major rewrites, if we want to stimulate the economy.

He was clear that he “would not support it,” but was cagey on whether to filibuster it: “We need serious negotiations. We’re losing sight of what the stimulus is all about and that is job creation.” (If McCain blocked the spend-a-thon he might finally earn the affection of the conservative base.)

So what happened? President Obama entirely ceded control of the process to Pelosi, who proceeded to fill the bill with junk and exclude Republicans from the process. The Wall Street Journal concludes:

The spending portion of the stimulus, in short, isn’t really about the economy. It’s about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy. The “stimulus” is merely the mother of all political excuses to pack as much of this spending agenda as possible into a single bill when Mr. Obama is at his political zenith.

Apart from the inevitable waste, the Democrats are taking a big political gamble here. Congress and Mr. Obama are promoting this stimulus as the key to economic revival. Americans who know nothing about multipliers or neo-Keynesians expect it to work. The Federal Reserve is pushing trillions of dollars of monetary stimulus into the economy, and perhaps that along with a better bank rescue strategy will make the difference. But if spring and then summer arrive, and the economy is still in recession, Americans are going to start asking what they bought for that $355 billion.

And on a political level, the Democrats have given Republicans every reason to oppose the bill and no reason to support it. As a result the “bipartisan” stimulus will be the Democrats’ bill.

Could the bill be revised to cut out the junk and corral Republican votes? The longer this goes on and the more TV appearances Democrats make extolling the virtues of their spend-a-thon, the more difficult it becomes to reverse course. Perhaps this was what President Obama had in mind all along. Maybe all the talk about focused spending and bipartisanship was just fluffy rhetoric for the easily impressed media pundits. Or maybe this is a sign that President Obama lacks the tenacity and skill to go toe-to-toe with his own party.

The result is the same: a horrid bill and a failure to breach the partisan divide. A smartly designed bill which could garner bipartisan support seems increasingly out of reach.  It would have been nice to suspend disbelief for at least a week, but either by intention or neglect we now see that Washington may in fact be the place where good ideas go to die.

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Seeing Progress in Complaints

You want to know what progress looks like in Iraq? It’s when the front page of the New York Times features an article not about Iraq’s security situation, but about its politics. The focus of the piece, by Alissa J. Rubin, is on fears among Iraqi politicos that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki may be amassing too much power. That, too, counts as progress.

I vividly recall visiting Iraq in 2007 and early 2008 and hearing from all concerned — Iraqis as well as Americans — how weak and ineffectual Maliki was. Up until mid-2007 the security situation was dire and the prime minister seemed helpless to turn things around. There was widespread talk that the parliament would oust him — something that probably would have happened if only the political parties could have agreed on a consensus candidate to replace him.

The perception of Maliki’s weakness changed dramatically in the spring of 2008 when he made the gutsy decision to send the Iraqi security forces to clean out first Basra, then Sadr City. Those were pivotal events that, along with the surge, dealt crippling blows to Moqtada al Sadr’s thuggish militia and helped to set off a virtuous spiral of security improvements.

It’s pretty clear that stronger central government results in better security. Of course, Iraqi politicos, still understandably traumatized by the Saddam Hussein years, cannot help thinking that their government can become so strong as to repress them. That is a legitimate concern in the future but for now, with 140,000 U.S. troops still in the country, there is a powerful outside guarantee that no faction in Iraqi politics can override the constitution and oppress everyone else. That, by the way, is another argument for keeping a substantial U.S. force presence in the country for years to come. In the meantime, I’d rather have the Iraqi political class fretting that their prime minister is too strong rather than too weak.

You want to know what progress looks like in Iraq? It’s when the front page of the New York Times features an article not about Iraq’s security situation, but about its politics. The focus of the piece, by Alissa J. Rubin, is on fears among Iraqi politicos that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki may be amassing too much power. That, too, counts as progress.

I vividly recall visiting Iraq in 2007 and early 2008 and hearing from all concerned — Iraqis as well as Americans — how weak and ineffectual Maliki was. Up until mid-2007 the security situation was dire and the prime minister seemed helpless to turn things around. There was widespread talk that the parliament would oust him — something that probably would have happened if only the political parties could have agreed on a consensus candidate to replace him.

The perception of Maliki’s weakness changed dramatically in the spring of 2008 when he made the gutsy decision to send the Iraqi security forces to clean out first Basra, then Sadr City. Those were pivotal events that, along with the surge, dealt crippling blows to Moqtada al Sadr’s thuggish militia and helped to set off a virtuous spiral of security improvements.

It’s pretty clear that stronger central government results in better security. Of course, Iraqi politicos, still understandably traumatized by the Saddam Hussein years, cannot help thinking that their government can become so strong as to repress them. That is a legitimate concern in the future but for now, with 140,000 U.S. troops still in the country, there is a powerful outside guarantee that no faction in Iraqi politics can override the constitution and oppress everyone else. That, by the way, is another argument for keeping a substantial U.S. force presence in the country for years to come. In the meantime, I’d rather have the Iraqi political class fretting that their prime minister is too strong rather than too weak.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Tim Kaine has a tricky task balancing his jobs as head of the DNC and Governor of Virginia. The DNC isn’t too demanding these days, with the Democrats sailing smoothly along, but the governorship is a handful. His dual role is already causing a stir in Virginia and may complicate the state races for the Commonwealth’s Democrats this year.

The Washington Post ever so gently opposes the President’s stimulus plan in its current form: “Congress and the administration would be well advised to trim the stimulus bill’s more dubious spending, or reallocate it and focus on a definitive financial sector cleanup. Fiscal stimulus can be a part of the solution, but only if it is ‘targeted, timely and temporary.’ The efforts so far don’t quite match that description.” What, are they taking direction from Rush Limbaugh too?

Minority Leader John Boehner  said to “put me down in the ‘no’ category.” On Meet the Press, Boehner pointed to millions to be spent on National Mall renovations and contraceptives as examples of the non-stimulative spending, and tweaked his Democratic opponents with their own language: “At the end of the day, it has to be targeted. . . . It’s about preserving jobs and creating new jobs.”

Robert J. Samuelson explains: “Parts of the House package look like a giant political slush fund, with money sprinkled to dozens of programs. There’s $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund and $15.6 billion for increased Pell Grants to college students. Some of these proposals, whatever their other merits, won’t produce many new jobs. Another problem: Construction spending — for schools, clinics, roads — may start so slowly that there will be little immediate economic boost. The Congressional Budget Office examined $356 billion in spending proposals and concluded that only 7 percent would be spent in 2009 and 31 percent in 2010.”

Nor is Fred Barnes optimistic that the President can get the 80 votes in the Senate he wanted: “But you can’t do that if you stuff Republicans, if you dis them, if you ignore them, if you vote down any proposals that they want to add to the bills.”

Jacob Weisberg’s vision of the proper role of government differs substantially from that of most conservatives. But he shares their puzzlement and frustration about what President Obama is up to: “Obama must decide what government’s goals are before considering the subordinate questions of what works and how much we can afford. Obama’s vagueness about the federal role comes at a moment when clarity is especially needed. Our government is about to become bigger, more powerful and more expensive in order to deal with a sprawling economic crisis. Washington will take on responsibilities it hasn’t shouldered in 75 years, such as directly alleviating unemployment and perhaps nationalizing banks. . . A president facing this situation needs to know what’s temporary and what’s permanent, if only because of the tendency for the one to become the other.” It is hard to quibble with his conclusion: “[A]s he navigates the crisis, Obama would do well to figure out what he thinks about the fundamental question of government’s responsibilities.”

Howard Kurtz says MSNBC is in the tank for Obama. Next week Kurtz will confirm that the earth is round.

Mickey Kaus is right: it is fine if the UAW doesn’t want to make anymore concessions. But then the taxpayers don’t have to give their employer any more money, right? We should be so lucky.

But it gets worse. The Obama administration is going to reverse the Bush administration policy and allow California and thirteen other states to impose stricter fuel emissions and air quality standards on car manufacturers. What does this mean for the nearly bankrupt auto companies? “Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.” That in turn will increase the demand for still more bailouts, because the auto companies can’t make cars profitably under the existing CAFE standards.

I finally found something on which I agree with Russ Feingold: we should require special elections to fill empty senate seats.

John McCain chides the President on his pick for Deputy Defense Secretary: “I think it’s a bit disingenuous to announce strict rules and then nominate someone with a waiver from the rules that you just announced in one of the most important jobs in Washington.” But then why don’t McCain and his colleague Lindsay Graham actually try to block the confirmation? Seems sort of disingenuous for them to shrug their shoulders and move the nomination along.

Chris Wallace: “You know, there was a famous — I guess it was a movie called ‘Garbo Speaks,’ and the idea that this famously silent person actually talks and people are underwhelmed is the lesson here for Caroline Kennedy. Better to be America’s silent princess?” Ouch.

Bill Kristol pens his last column for the New York Times. (In appropriately ego-centric style, the Gray Lady says it is “his last column.” Period. No, Pinch, just for you.) The Times will now be relieved of the obligation to account for facts revealed only in his columns.

Tim Kaine has a tricky task balancing his jobs as head of the DNC and Governor of Virginia. The DNC isn’t too demanding these days, with the Democrats sailing smoothly along, but the governorship is a handful. His dual role is already causing a stir in Virginia and may complicate the state races for the Commonwealth’s Democrats this year.

The Washington Post ever so gently opposes the President’s stimulus plan in its current form: “Congress and the administration would be well advised to trim the stimulus bill’s more dubious spending, or reallocate it and focus on a definitive financial sector cleanup. Fiscal stimulus can be a part of the solution, but only if it is ‘targeted, timely and temporary.’ The efforts so far don’t quite match that description.” What, are they taking direction from Rush Limbaugh too?

Minority Leader John Boehner  said to “put me down in the ‘no’ category.” On Meet the Press, Boehner pointed to millions to be spent on National Mall renovations and contraceptives as examples of the non-stimulative spending, and tweaked his Democratic opponents with their own language: “At the end of the day, it has to be targeted. . . . It’s about preserving jobs and creating new jobs.”

Robert J. Samuelson explains: “Parts of the House package look like a giant political slush fund, with money sprinkled to dozens of programs. There’s $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund and $15.6 billion for increased Pell Grants to college students. Some of these proposals, whatever their other merits, won’t produce many new jobs. Another problem: Construction spending — for schools, clinics, roads — may start so slowly that there will be little immediate economic boost. The Congressional Budget Office examined $356 billion in spending proposals and concluded that only 7 percent would be spent in 2009 and 31 percent in 2010.”

Nor is Fred Barnes optimistic that the President can get the 80 votes in the Senate he wanted: “But you can’t do that if you stuff Republicans, if you dis them, if you ignore them, if you vote down any proposals that they want to add to the bills.”

Jacob Weisberg’s vision of the proper role of government differs substantially from that of most conservatives. But he shares their puzzlement and frustration about what President Obama is up to: “Obama must decide what government’s goals are before considering the subordinate questions of what works and how much we can afford. Obama’s vagueness about the federal role comes at a moment when clarity is especially needed. Our government is about to become bigger, more powerful and more expensive in order to deal with a sprawling economic crisis. Washington will take on responsibilities it hasn’t shouldered in 75 years, such as directly alleviating unemployment and perhaps nationalizing banks. . . A president facing this situation needs to know what’s temporary and what’s permanent, if only because of the tendency for the one to become the other.” It is hard to quibble with his conclusion: “[A]s he navigates the crisis, Obama would do well to figure out what he thinks about the fundamental question of government’s responsibilities.”

Howard Kurtz says MSNBC is in the tank for Obama. Next week Kurtz will confirm that the earth is round.

Mickey Kaus is right: it is fine if the UAW doesn’t want to make anymore concessions. But then the taxpayers don’t have to give their employer any more money, right? We should be so lucky.

But it gets worse. The Obama administration is going to reverse the Bush administration policy and allow California and thirteen other states to impose stricter fuel emissions and air quality standards on car manufacturers. What does this mean for the nearly bankrupt auto companies? “Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.” That in turn will increase the demand for still more bailouts, because the auto companies can’t make cars profitably under the existing CAFE standards.

I finally found something on which I agree with Russ Feingold: we should require special elections to fill empty senate seats.

John McCain chides the President on his pick for Deputy Defense Secretary: “I think it’s a bit disingenuous to announce strict rules and then nominate someone with a waiver from the rules that you just announced in one of the most important jobs in Washington.” But then why don’t McCain and his colleague Lindsay Graham actually try to block the confirmation? Seems sort of disingenuous for them to shrug their shoulders and move the nomination along.

Chris Wallace: “You know, there was a famous — I guess it was a movie called ‘Garbo Speaks,’ and the idea that this famously silent person actually talks and people are underwhelmed is the lesson here for Caroline Kennedy. Better to be America’s silent princess?” Ouch.

Bill Kristol pens his last column for the New York Times. (In appropriately ego-centric style, the Gray Lady says it is “his last column.” Period. No, Pinch, just for you.) The Times will now be relieved of the obligation to account for facts revealed only in his columns.

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