Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 29, 2009

Commentary of the Day

SteveMG, on Peter Wehner:

It is fascinating watching “progressives” who’ve lectured everyone about the sins of America in supporting dictatorships and oppressive regimes during the Cold War now turn silent when America embraces that same amoral approach when it no longer faces nuclear annihilation.

President Obama is freely willing – in total silence – to work with oppresive regimes and dictators and respect their sovereigny if they unclench their fists against us. Meanwhile, they can use that fist ad libitum, so to speak, against their own people without one word of criticism from the US. Respect, you see, is the new game in town.

And so with this new sophisticated approach, the Arab and Muslim people will believe in the US again like they did, the President said, 20 years ago (check that history out). After all, we stopped harsh interrogation, closed Gitmo (to be seen), and will give them full (or near) rights when held by us. Meanwhile, these same new believers in the shining city on the hill will find themselves shot and tortured and arrested and oppressed by governments that the US thinks are just fine.

Forgive me if I’ve seen this plot before. It doesn’t turn out so swell.

SteveMG, on Peter Wehner:

It is fascinating watching “progressives” who’ve lectured everyone about the sins of America in supporting dictatorships and oppressive regimes during the Cold War now turn silent when America embraces that same amoral approach when it no longer faces nuclear annihilation.

President Obama is freely willing – in total silence – to work with oppresive regimes and dictators and respect their sovereigny if they unclench their fists against us. Meanwhile, they can use that fist ad libitum, so to speak, against their own people without one word of criticism from the US. Respect, you see, is the new game in town.

And so with this new sophisticated approach, the Arab and Muslim people will believe in the US again like they did, the President said, 20 years ago (check that history out). After all, we stopped harsh interrogation, closed Gitmo (to be seen), and will give them full (or near) rights when held by us. Meanwhile, these same new believers in the shining city on the hill will find themselves shot and tortured and arrested and oppressed by governments that the US thinks are just fine.

Forgive me if I’ve seen this plot before. It doesn’t turn out so swell.

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He Also Didn’t Consort with Martians

Joe Klein has to reach for the surreal in highlighting by contrast what Barack Obama didn’t do with his first week in office:

He could have planted solar panels and a wind turbine on the White House roof or blasted the Bush Administration as he signed an Executive Order banning torture or lacerated the bankers who got us into the economic mess. But that’s not his style, apparently. He has reversed the tactical, win-the-news-cycle sensibility of recent presidencies. During his first week in office, at least, he opted for strategy and substance over showbiz.

So Obama isn’t about showbiz because he refrained from stunts that would have called his mental fitness into question. By sticking to stunts that merely raise concerns about his ideological and political fitness, Barack Obama has proved himself serious.

Joe Klein has to reach for the surreal in highlighting by contrast what Barack Obama didn’t do with his first week in office:

He could have planted solar panels and a wind turbine on the White House roof or blasted the Bush Administration as he signed an Executive Order banning torture or lacerated the bankers who got us into the economic mess. But that’s not his style, apparently. He has reversed the tactical, win-the-news-cycle sensibility of recent presidencies. During his first week in office, at least, he opted for strategy and substance over showbiz.

So Obama isn’t about showbiz because he refrained from stunts that would have called his mental fitness into question. By sticking to stunts that merely raise concerns about his ideological and political fitness, Barack Obama has proved himself serious.

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It Could Get Even Worse

Some House Democrats are fessing up: the stimulus is one junky bill. The Hill reports:

“I’m concerned that bad process leads to a bad product,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who said he cast a “reluctant yes” vote.

“I’m willing to give the president and the Senate the chance to make this a better bill,” he added, reflecting a sentiment shared by both some Democrats and nearly all Republicans.

Despite what some described as “significant” Democratic trepidation, a number of Democrats said that many in the caucus were very hesitant to deliver any kind of blow to their president during his second week in office.

For the 11 Democrats, though – mainly a mix of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats and newly elected Freshmen – it was just as important to send a message to their leaders that they have more work to do.

“His bill was fine,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a veteran Blue Dog said, referring to Obama. “Congress messed it up.”

“It’s not going to be passed for two weeks,” Cooper added. “Can’t we spend a little more time crafting a better package?”

Well, it remains to be seen whether the bill gets better or worse. According to the Senate Minority Leader,  things are heading toward the latter with such additions in the Senate version as these:

•    $20 million “for the removal of small- to medium-sized fish passage barriers.”
•    $400 million for STD prevention
•    $25 million to rehabilitate off-roading (ATV) trails
•    $34 million to remodel the Department of Commerce HQ
•    $70 million to “Support Supercomputing Activities” for climate research

•    $150 million for honey bee insurance

In the end, the vast majority of Democrats won’t cross the White House, but there is no reason why the White House shouldn’t make the bill better and remove the embarrassment factor for those walking the plank on its behalf. It remains a mystery why the White House isn’t taking a stronger hand in reworking the bill to improve it. After all, that is what Rahm Emanuel, in part, is there for — to restrain the worst impulses of the Democratic Congress. So far he’s not doing a very good job.

Some House Democrats are fessing up: the stimulus is one junky bill. The Hill reports:

“I’m concerned that bad process leads to a bad product,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who said he cast a “reluctant yes” vote.

“I’m willing to give the president and the Senate the chance to make this a better bill,” he added, reflecting a sentiment shared by both some Democrats and nearly all Republicans.

Despite what some described as “significant” Democratic trepidation, a number of Democrats said that many in the caucus were very hesitant to deliver any kind of blow to their president during his second week in office.

For the 11 Democrats, though – mainly a mix of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats and newly elected Freshmen – it was just as important to send a message to their leaders that they have more work to do.

“His bill was fine,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a veteran Blue Dog said, referring to Obama. “Congress messed it up.”

“It’s not going to be passed for two weeks,” Cooper added. “Can’t we spend a little more time crafting a better package?”

Well, it remains to be seen whether the bill gets better or worse. According to the Senate Minority Leader,  things are heading toward the latter with such additions in the Senate version as these:

•    $20 million “for the removal of small- to medium-sized fish passage barriers.”
•    $400 million for STD prevention
•    $25 million to rehabilitate off-roading (ATV) trails
•    $34 million to remodel the Department of Commerce HQ
•    $70 million to “Support Supercomputing Activities” for climate research

•    $150 million for honey bee insurance

In the end, the vast majority of Democrats won’t cross the White House, but there is no reason why the White House shouldn’t make the bill better and remove the embarrassment factor for those walking the plank on its behalf. It remains a mystery why the White House isn’t taking a stronger hand in reworking the bill to improve it. After all, that is what Rahm Emanuel, in part, is there for — to restrain the worst impulses of the Democratic Congress. So far he’s not doing a very good job.

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Eyes Opened

Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “used to believe that Iran would be capable of altering its approach towards Israel in the context of a broader US-Iran accommodation.

“I no longer believe this to be the case.”

Sadjapour rightly sees Iranian hatred of Israel, not as a trumped up ploy in a strategic balancing act, but as the most enduring tenet of the Khomeini revolution.

Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “used to believe that Iran would be capable of altering its approach towards Israel in the context of a broader US-Iran accommodation.

“I no longer believe this to be the case.”

Sadjapour rightly sees Iranian hatred of Israel, not as a trumped up ploy in a strategic balancing act, but as the most enduring tenet of the Khomeini revolution.

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A Preview of the Blago Trial

Governor Blagojevich is pleading his case before the Illinois Senate. Meanwhile, his interview with Campbell Brown contained these eye-opening tidbits:

Blagojevich: But if I am given a chance to bring evidence in an impeachment trial and have the whole story brought to bear. If I can bring his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel in to testify, who said 10 days ago that there was nothing inappropriate in his conversations with me.

If I can bring Valerie Jarrett, a top staffer to President Obama in to testify. If I can bring in Congressman [Jesse] Jackson [Jr.], Sen. [Dick] Durbin, Sen. [Harry] Reid, Sen. [Robert] Menendez and a whole series of other people — in fact, every single person I talked to about the Senate seat, then I can clear my name and we can move forward in Illinois and fairness and justice will prevail.

.    .     .

Brown: But you want to call — many key members of his staff and many of his supporters to testify on your behalf.

Blagojevich: Because they were relevant to this story. Because they were part of this story. Because they were part of discussions on who President Obama’s successor would be the United States Senate because they can tell the truth and the truth will show that what I was trying to do was do the right thing for the people of Illinois.

.   .    .

Brown: So what about these other people? Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, who aren’t coming forward for you when you really need them?

Blagojevich: No, Rahm Emanuel was on national television, on national network 10 days ago, “Face the Nation.” Can I say it on your show? And he said in the conversations with me there was nothing inappropriate. And I think all the other people I’d like to call, everyone in those conversations, I’d like to have them under sworn testimony because I believe they’d say the same thing.

He may not be able to drag the Obama advisors before the Illinois state senate, but he’s going to be able to get some or all of them in front of a jury in a criminal proceeding as direct witnesses to the alleged bribery crime.  Then it gets interesting. If Blago is right and these witnesses confirm there really wasn’t any discussion of a quid pro quo for the senate seat, what happens to this part of the case?  But conversely, if the witnesses bolster Patrick Fitzgerald’s case that Blago was trolling for a reward, then the Obama advisors are in hot water (for among other things not being candid in the White House’s internal investigation).

Whichever way it comes out it will make for riveting courtroom drama, and an embarrassing distraction for the administration.

Governor Blagojevich is pleading his case before the Illinois Senate. Meanwhile, his interview with Campbell Brown contained these eye-opening tidbits:

Blagojevich: But if I am given a chance to bring evidence in an impeachment trial and have the whole story brought to bear. If I can bring his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel in to testify, who said 10 days ago that there was nothing inappropriate in his conversations with me.

If I can bring Valerie Jarrett, a top staffer to President Obama in to testify. If I can bring in Congressman [Jesse] Jackson [Jr.], Sen. [Dick] Durbin, Sen. [Harry] Reid, Sen. [Robert] Menendez and a whole series of other people — in fact, every single person I talked to about the Senate seat, then I can clear my name and we can move forward in Illinois and fairness and justice will prevail.

.    .     .

Brown: But you want to call — many key members of his staff and many of his supporters to testify on your behalf.

Blagojevich: Because they were relevant to this story. Because they were part of this story. Because they were part of discussions on who President Obama’s successor would be the United States Senate because they can tell the truth and the truth will show that what I was trying to do was do the right thing for the people of Illinois.

.   .    .

Brown: So what about these other people? Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, who aren’t coming forward for you when you really need them?

Blagojevich: No, Rahm Emanuel was on national television, on national network 10 days ago, “Face the Nation.” Can I say it on your show? And he said in the conversations with me there was nothing inappropriate. And I think all the other people I’d like to call, everyone in those conversations, I’d like to have them under sworn testimony because I believe they’d say the same thing.

He may not be able to drag the Obama advisors before the Illinois state senate, but he’s going to be able to get some or all of them in front of a jury in a criminal proceeding as direct witnesses to the alleged bribery crime.  Then it gets interesting. If Blago is right and these witnesses confirm there really wasn’t any discussion of a quid pro quo for the senate seat, what happens to this part of the case?  But conversely, if the witnesses bolster Patrick Fitzgerald’s case that Blago was trolling for a reward, then the Obama advisors are in hot water (for among other things not being candid in the White House’s internal investigation).

Whichever way it comes out it will make for riveting courtroom drama, and an embarrassing distraction for the administration.

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America’s New Friends

Indeed, Barack Obama is making good on his campaign promise and changing foreign opinions of the U.S.:

Hamas official Ahmed Yousef said in an interview with al-Jazeera television that there had been “some positive things” in Obama’s statements, the Associated Press reported from Cairo.

In a statement posted on sympathetic Web sites yesterday, the Taliban called the Guantanamo closure a “positive step” but said it was an insufficient change in Bush’s “satanic” policies in the region and the world, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist sites.

. . . Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Monday that he is open to a dialogue with the Obama administration but that he would not accept any preconditions to talks.

Hamas, the Taliban, and Bashar al-Assad all like what they’ve seen of President Obama so far. Had this first-week hat trick been predicted by the GOP ticket during the election, John McCain would have been run out of the country for invoking the politics of fear. Had it been foretold as fact, he’d have won the election.

This is what happens when myths go unchecked. In reality, George W. Bush did not leave the White House on bad terms with a single American ally. Guantanamo Bay didn’t prevent Nicolas Sarkozy from bringing France back into NATO’s command structure or pledging more troops to the fight in Afghanistan. The waterboarding of three terrorists didn’t give Gordon Brown pause when he said, upon first meeting with President Bush, “The strength of this relationship . . . is not just built on the shared problems that we have to deal with together or on the shared history, but is built . . . on shared values.” Nor did temporary CIA prisons stop Angela Merkel from saying of her ties to President Bush, “a positive and friendly relationship has developed.” (And all three leaders’ nations share our Iran policy as much as they ever will.)

Let’s not forget that Bush’s European friends are but acquaintances compared to India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who told Barack Obama’s predecessor, during a September visit to Washington, “This may be my last visit to you during your presidency, and let me say, thank you very much. The people of India deeply love you.”

All the hyped national security “evils” of the Bush years merely gave the netroots something to do when they were done defending Bill Clinton’s right to perjury. Oh, yeah, and those evils also had the side benefit of keeping us safe for seven years and putting our sworn enemies on notice. So, as various fanatics and tyrants seem rather taken with our revamped image, I can’t help but wonder what our genuine friends will think when the former group tests out some of our changed approaches to global security.

Indeed, Barack Obama is making good on his campaign promise and changing foreign opinions of the U.S.:

Hamas official Ahmed Yousef said in an interview with al-Jazeera television that there had been “some positive things” in Obama’s statements, the Associated Press reported from Cairo.

In a statement posted on sympathetic Web sites yesterday, the Taliban called the Guantanamo closure a “positive step” but said it was an insufficient change in Bush’s “satanic” policies in the region and the world, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist sites.

. . . Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Monday that he is open to a dialogue with the Obama administration but that he would not accept any preconditions to talks.

Hamas, the Taliban, and Bashar al-Assad all like what they’ve seen of President Obama so far. Had this first-week hat trick been predicted by the GOP ticket during the election, John McCain would have been run out of the country for invoking the politics of fear. Had it been foretold as fact, he’d have won the election.

This is what happens when myths go unchecked. In reality, George W. Bush did not leave the White House on bad terms with a single American ally. Guantanamo Bay didn’t prevent Nicolas Sarkozy from bringing France back into NATO’s command structure or pledging more troops to the fight in Afghanistan. The waterboarding of three terrorists didn’t give Gordon Brown pause when he said, upon first meeting with President Bush, “The strength of this relationship . . . is not just built on the shared problems that we have to deal with together or on the shared history, but is built . . . on shared values.” Nor did temporary CIA prisons stop Angela Merkel from saying of her ties to President Bush, “a positive and friendly relationship has developed.” (And all three leaders’ nations share our Iran policy as much as they ever will.)

Let’s not forget that Bush’s European friends are but acquaintances compared to India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who told Barack Obama’s predecessor, during a September visit to Washington, “This may be my last visit to you during your presidency, and let me say, thank you very much. The people of India deeply love you.”

All the hyped national security “evils” of the Bush years merely gave the netroots something to do when they were done defending Bill Clinton’s right to perjury. Oh, yeah, and those evils also had the side benefit of keeping us safe for seven years and putting our sworn enemies on notice. So, as various fanatics and tyrants seem rather taken with our revamped image, I can’t help but wonder what our genuine friends will think when the former group tests out some of our changed approaches to global security.

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Another Reason to Oppose the Stimulus Bill

The stimulus bill has many shortcomings — too much pork, too little real infrastructure spending,  and insufficient tax cuts. But it also might be the equivalent of the Smoot-Hawley tariff act. The Washington Post explains:

The stimulus bill passed by the House last night contains a controversial provision that would mostly bar foreign steel and iron from the infrastructure projects laid out by the $819 billion economic package.

A Senate version, yet to be acted upon, goes further, requiring, with few exceptions, that all stimulus-funded projects use only American-made equipment and goods.

Proponents of expanding the “Buy American” provisions enacted during the Great Depression, including steel and iron manufacturers and labor unions, argue that it is the only way to ensure that the stimulus creates jobs at home and not overseas.

Opponents, including some of the biggest blue-chip names in American industry, say it amounts to a declaration of war against free trade. That, they say, could spark retaliation from abroad against U.S. companies and exacerbate the global financial crisis.

For a President committed to improved international relations, it seems a poor move to pass a bill that would violate a raft of recent trade deals. And on the economics it is perhaps the single most dangerous action the new administration could take. While economists may differ over the efficacy of New Deal Keynesian spending, few question that protectionism deepened and prolonged the Great Depression.

American business leaders are rightfully fretting. Caterpillar, which was  represented at the White House PR show in support of the stimulus, is one of the companies that stands to lose the most. The Post reports:

“There is no company that is going to benefit more from the stimulus package than Caterpillar, but I am telling you that by embracing Buy American you are undermining our ability to export U.S. produced products overseas,” said Bill Lane, government affairs director for Caterpillar in Washington. More than half of Caterpillar’s sales — including big-ticket items like construction cranes and land movers — are sold overseas.
“Any student of history will tell you that one of the most significant mistakes of the 1930s is when the U.S. embraced protectionism,” Lane said. “It had a cascading effect that ground world trade almost to a halt, and turned a one-year recession into the Great Depression.”

The White House says it is “studying” this provision. But this, once again, is what comes from taking a back seat to Nancy Pelosi’s bill drafting. The White House, rather than presenting their own version of a stimulus, deferred to Pelosi. Now, among its other problems, will be the challenge to address the Buy American measure — which could spark a trade-war with allies and contradict Obama’s new charm offensive with the rest of the world.

The stimulus bill has many shortcomings — too much pork, too little real infrastructure spending,  and insufficient tax cuts. But it also might be the equivalent of the Smoot-Hawley tariff act. The Washington Post explains:

The stimulus bill passed by the House last night contains a controversial provision that would mostly bar foreign steel and iron from the infrastructure projects laid out by the $819 billion economic package.

A Senate version, yet to be acted upon, goes further, requiring, with few exceptions, that all stimulus-funded projects use only American-made equipment and goods.

Proponents of expanding the “Buy American” provisions enacted during the Great Depression, including steel and iron manufacturers and labor unions, argue that it is the only way to ensure that the stimulus creates jobs at home and not overseas.

Opponents, including some of the biggest blue-chip names in American industry, say it amounts to a declaration of war against free trade. That, they say, could spark retaliation from abroad against U.S. companies and exacerbate the global financial crisis.

For a President committed to improved international relations, it seems a poor move to pass a bill that would violate a raft of recent trade deals. And on the economics it is perhaps the single most dangerous action the new administration could take. While economists may differ over the efficacy of New Deal Keynesian spending, few question that protectionism deepened and prolonged the Great Depression.

American business leaders are rightfully fretting. Caterpillar, which was  represented at the White House PR show in support of the stimulus, is one of the companies that stands to lose the most. The Post reports:

“There is no company that is going to benefit more from the stimulus package than Caterpillar, but I am telling you that by embracing Buy American you are undermining our ability to export U.S. produced products overseas,” said Bill Lane, government affairs director for Caterpillar in Washington. More than half of Caterpillar’s sales — including big-ticket items like construction cranes and land movers — are sold overseas.
“Any student of history will tell you that one of the most significant mistakes of the 1930s is when the U.S. embraced protectionism,” Lane said. “It had a cascading effect that ground world trade almost to a halt, and turned a one-year recession into the Great Depression.”

The White House says it is “studying” this provision. But this, once again, is what comes from taking a back seat to Nancy Pelosi’s bill drafting. The White House, rather than presenting their own version of a stimulus, deferred to Pelosi. Now, among its other problems, will be the challenge to address the Buy American measure — which could spark a trade-war with allies and contradict Obama’s new charm offensive with the rest of the world.

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Bubba Takes Cash from a Fugitive

Bill Clinton received a $300,000 speaking fee from a company managed by a man fleeing authorities in China, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported today.  The fee relates to an event held on December 4, three days after President Obama nominated his wife to be secretary of state.  A spokesman for the event’s organizer, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings, confirmed that the firm’s chairman, a Benjamin Yeung, is none other than Yang Rong, the former boss of Brilliance China Automotive.  Mr. Yang is wanted in China for “economic crimes” and is one of that country’s more notorious fugitives.

There is no shame in being pursued by Beijing if your name is Tenzin Gyatso — in which case you’re also known as the Dalai Lama.  But if you’re Benjamin Yeung, also known as Yang Rong, then you have not led such a noble life, and many think you could be a bit shady.  So if you go by the name Bill Clinton, you shouldn’t be accepting large amounts of cash from fugitives from countries that can affect the future of the planet.

In late November, Bill Clinton agreed to submit future speeches for review by State Department ethics officials and, where appropriate, White House counsel.  It looks as if the system broke down just a week after being put in place.  And if you’re Mrs. Clinton and want to avoid further embarrassment, you can either resign or file for divorce because one thing’s for sure — Bubba is not going to change.

Bill Clinton received a $300,000 speaking fee from a company managed by a man fleeing authorities in China, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported today.  The fee relates to an event held on December 4, three days after President Obama nominated his wife to be secretary of state.  A spokesman for the event’s organizer, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings, confirmed that the firm’s chairman, a Benjamin Yeung, is none other than Yang Rong, the former boss of Brilliance China Automotive.  Mr. Yang is wanted in China for “economic crimes” and is one of that country’s more notorious fugitives.

There is no shame in being pursued by Beijing if your name is Tenzin Gyatso — in which case you’re also known as the Dalai Lama.  But if you’re Benjamin Yeung, also known as Yang Rong, then you have not led such a noble life, and many think you could be a bit shady.  So if you go by the name Bill Clinton, you shouldn’t be accepting large amounts of cash from fugitives from countries that can affect the future of the planet.

In late November, Bill Clinton agreed to submit future speeches for review by State Department ethics officials and, where appropriate, White House counsel.  It looks as if the system broke down just a week after being put in place.  And if you’re Mrs. Clinton and want to avoid further embarrassment, you can either resign or file for divorce because one thing’s for sure — Bubba is not going to change.

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Compromise at the Pentagon

This is essentially good news:

Mr. Obama visited the Pentagon for the first time since becoming president, and he seemed to be looking for an option that would let him stay true to his campaign promise, at least in theory, without alienating the generals. The White House indicated that Mr. Obama was open to alternatives to his 16-month time frame [for leaving Iraq] and emphasized that security was an important factor in his decision.

Obama needs to compromise with his generals for two reasons. First: they were right and he was wrong – committing to an inflexible time frame for withdrawal instead of making sure that the U.S. leaves Iraq successfully was a mistaken notion, both strategically and morally. Second: Iraq is now Obama’s war – but one that he inherited in much better condition than previously thought possible. When things were going bad, Obama could promise withdrawal without risking much – but sticking to this promise now carries huge political risks.

If the U.S. leaves too early and things turn bad, Obama will be blamed for ruining the successful surge. If he demands an early withdrawal without getting the generals on board – he will have an even bigger problem. On the other hand, if Obama strikes a compromise – his flank is pretty much covered. If the situation deteriorates he will be able to say that he merely acted on the advice of his professional military advisors.

But, off course, the people least equipped to understand the fairly simple politics of Iraq withdrawal are those speaking to Obama in the name of politics:

Yet Mr. Obama faces pressure from his political base to stick to his 16-month timetable. “We voted for him because he’s going to get us out of Iraq,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, an antiwar group. “If there are some military people who feel we should stay there, they’re entitled to their opinion, but that shouldn’t be our policy.”

Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, another organization that opposes the war, said, “We have no reason to think Obama’s backed off his campaign promises on a timeline to end the war.” Representative William D. Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts and member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said that the withdrawal should happen even faster than 16 months and that military commanders knew it could. “When they say it concerns them, there’s a certain ‘cover myself’ ” at work, he said.

However, if Obama proved anything in the last three months it was this: he is much smarter than his more radical supporters, both strategically and politically. I predict another disappointment for the Left is in the making.

This is essentially good news:

Mr. Obama visited the Pentagon for the first time since becoming president, and he seemed to be looking for an option that would let him stay true to his campaign promise, at least in theory, without alienating the generals. The White House indicated that Mr. Obama was open to alternatives to his 16-month time frame [for leaving Iraq] and emphasized that security was an important factor in his decision.

Obama needs to compromise with his generals for two reasons. First: they were right and he was wrong – committing to an inflexible time frame for withdrawal instead of making sure that the U.S. leaves Iraq successfully was a mistaken notion, both strategically and morally. Second: Iraq is now Obama’s war – but one that he inherited in much better condition than previously thought possible. When things were going bad, Obama could promise withdrawal without risking much – but sticking to this promise now carries huge political risks.

If the U.S. leaves too early and things turn bad, Obama will be blamed for ruining the successful surge. If he demands an early withdrawal without getting the generals on board – he will have an even bigger problem. On the other hand, if Obama strikes a compromise – his flank is pretty much covered. If the situation deteriorates he will be able to say that he merely acted on the advice of his professional military advisors.

But, off course, the people least equipped to understand the fairly simple politics of Iraq withdrawal are those speaking to Obama in the name of politics:

Yet Mr. Obama faces pressure from his political base to stick to his 16-month timetable. “We voted for him because he’s going to get us out of Iraq,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, an antiwar group. “If there are some military people who feel we should stay there, they’re entitled to their opinion, but that shouldn’t be our policy.”

Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, another organization that opposes the war, said, “We have no reason to think Obama’s backed off his campaign promises on a timeline to end the war.” Representative William D. Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts and member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said that the withdrawal should happen even faster than 16 months and that military commanders knew it could. “When they say it concerns them, there’s a certain ‘cover myself’ ” at work, he said.

However, if Obama proved anything in the last three months it was this: he is much smarter than his more radical supporters, both strategically and politically. I predict another disappointment for the Left is in the making.

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More Isn’t Better

Karl Rove thinks there are too many cooks in the White House kitchen. (There actually are, just to highlight his point.) He writes:

Aides say Mr. Obama believes the cabinet structure is “outdated.” His appointment of czars to oversee technology, automotive and environmental policies underscores this belief because each new czar weakens cabinet and agency involvement in policy decisions. The White House has always had overlapping lines of authority, which creates a certain amount of conflict while everyone figures out who really has clout. But Mr. Obama has added to the confusion by making declarations that multiple people in his cabinet or on his staff have more authority and responsibility than their predecessors. In addition to creating a protracted power struggle within the West Wing, Mr. Obama’s management decisions may lead to more intrusive, larger government policies gaining traction. Why? Because left-leaning aides will be unimpeded by the White House’s budget director or cabinet secretaries as they push new policies.

It is rumored that as many as 160 people will be in the West Wing under Mr. Obama. Under President George W. Bush there were about 60.

His concern is  conflicting lines of authority, bigger government, endless power struggles, and confusion.

And Rove doesn’t even mention the national security realm. Not only do we have the usual line-up of Secretaries of State and Defense, UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor, but Obama has thrown in George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke. Who precisely do members of the latter trio report to — the President or the Secretary of State? Then there is the administration’s busy body Joe Biden who fancies himself as the chief foreign policy guru. One wonders how in practice this will work and if the inevitable result of all these voices won’t be endless rounds of consultation (and in-fighting leaks).

That leaves open the question as to why the President has chosen to surround himself with so many bodies. The MSM, which is short on people with actual management or government experience, laps up this sort of thing. He’s inclusive, they coo. He’s likes strong opinions, they suggest. Perhaps, but all of that overlooks the reality that the more voices you have the more conflict you have and the less swift your decision making process will be.

It may give a false sense of comfort to those still a bit nervous about the neophyte President that he has “surrounded himself with smart people.” But that is false comfort, indeed. The idea that consensus will emerge with double or triple the number of advisors or that more people make for better decisions is belied by anyone’s experience in a large organization.

And of course, no matter how many people you stuff into the West Wing, the big and important decisions still rest with the President. If he’s determined to grovel before the Arab world on TV,  he’s unlikely to be dissuaded by three or thirty advisors. If he has faith in the economic sophistication and bipartisan spirit of Nancy Pelosi, it doesn’t matter how many staff meetings he holds or how late they work.

There is no substitute for clear presidential judgment and vision. Swamping the White House with ambitious aides won’t do the trick. But it could make that judgment and vision much harder to refine and implement.

Karl Rove thinks there are too many cooks in the White House kitchen. (There actually are, just to highlight his point.) He writes:

Aides say Mr. Obama believes the cabinet structure is “outdated.” His appointment of czars to oversee technology, automotive and environmental policies underscores this belief because each new czar weakens cabinet and agency involvement in policy decisions. The White House has always had overlapping lines of authority, which creates a certain amount of conflict while everyone figures out who really has clout. But Mr. Obama has added to the confusion by making declarations that multiple people in his cabinet or on his staff have more authority and responsibility than their predecessors. In addition to creating a protracted power struggle within the West Wing, Mr. Obama’s management decisions may lead to more intrusive, larger government policies gaining traction. Why? Because left-leaning aides will be unimpeded by the White House’s budget director or cabinet secretaries as they push new policies.

It is rumored that as many as 160 people will be in the West Wing under Mr. Obama. Under President George W. Bush there were about 60.

His concern is  conflicting lines of authority, bigger government, endless power struggles, and confusion.

And Rove doesn’t even mention the national security realm. Not only do we have the usual line-up of Secretaries of State and Defense, UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor, but Obama has thrown in George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke. Who precisely do members of the latter trio report to — the President or the Secretary of State? Then there is the administration’s busy body Joe Biden who fancies himself as the chief foreign policy guru. One wonders how in practice this will work and if the inevitable result of all these voices won’t be endless rounds of consultation (and in-fighting leaks).

That leaves open the question as to why the President has chosen to surround himself with so many bodies. The MSM, which is short on people with actual management or government experience, laps up this sort of thing. He’s inclusive, they coo. He’s likes strong opinions, they suggest. Perhaps, but all of that overlooks the reality that the more voices you have the more conflict you have and the less swift your decision making process will be.

It may give a false sense of comfort to those still a bit nervous about the neophyte President that he has “surrounded himself with smart people.” But that is false comfort, indeed. The idea that consensus will emerge with double or triple the number of advisors or that more people make for better decisions is belied by anyone’s experience in a large organization.

And of course, no matter how many people you stuff into the West Wing, the big and important decisions still rest with the President. If he’s determined to grovel before the Arab world on TV,  he’s unlikely to be dissuaded by three or thirty advisors. If he has faith in the economic sophistication and bipartisan spirit of Nancy Pelosi, it doesn’t matter how many staff meetings he holds or how late they work.

There is no substitute for clear presidential judgment and vision. Swamping the White House with ambitious aides won’t do the trick. But it could make that judgment and vision much harder to refine and implement.

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Lawrence of Absurdia

Itinerant actor and political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell is none too pleased with New York Governor David Paterson’s appointing Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate Seat, thus passing over O’Donnell’s personal friend Caroline Kennedy. Here’s what he told The New Yorker this week, displaying a coastal contempt for rural Americans that is beyond parody:

“Paterson has no comprehension of upstate New York, absolutely none, and has chosen someone better at representing cows than people,” Lawrence O’Donnell says. “What you have is the daughter of a lobbyist, instead of the daughter of a former President or the son of a former governor. This is the hack world producing the hack result that the hacks are happy with.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this statement, including the remark that Gillibrand is “better at representing cows than people.” What exactly does that mean? That Gillirand is herself bovine in appearance, or such a rural hick that she identifies more with cows than fellow humans? More importantly, how is Gillibrand — yes, the daughter of a lobbyist — any more of the “hack world” than Caroline Kennedy, scion of the…Kennedys? Apparently if you come from a liberal political dynasty that’s the closest thing we have in this country to landed gentry you get spared criticism for being a “hack,” although that’s exactly what the Kennedy machine continues to produce. But for liberals of the Lawrence O’Donnell type, the Kennedy Mystique™ precludes this sort of language, which is then easily applied to less-romantic Reagan Democrats.

O’Donnell has launched a personal war against Paterson since he made his decision. Here he is typing away furiously at the Huffington Post, referring to his new-found nemesis as the “accidental governor.” But if this is an accurate descriptor for Paterson, what exactly would that have made “Senator” Caroline Kennedy, whose privileged station in life — the only reason why she was ever considered for the Senate appointment in the first place — is due to her select membership in the lucky egg club?

Itinerant actor and political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell is none too pleased with New York Governor David Paterson’s appointing Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate Seat, thus passing over O’Donnell’s personal friend Caroline Kennedy. Here’s what he told The New Yorker this week, displaying a coastal contempt for rural Americans that is beyond parody:

“Paterson has no comprehension of upstate New York, absolutely none, and has chosen someone better at representing cows than people,” Lawrence O’Donnell says. “What you have is the daughter of a lobbyist, instead of the daughter of a former President or the son of a former governor. This is the hack world producing the hack result that the hacks are happy with.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this statement, including the remark that Gillibrand is “better at representing cows than people.” What exactly does that mean? That Gillirand is herself bovine in appearance, or such a rural hick that she identifies more with cows than fellow humans? More importantly, how is Gillibrand — yes, the daughter of a lobbyist — any more of the “hack world” than Caroline Kennedy, scion of the…Kennedys? Apparently if you come from a liberal political dynasty that’s the closest thing we have in this country to landed gentry you get spared criticism for being a “hack,” although that’s exactly what the Kennedy machine continues to produce. But for liberals of the Lawrence O’Donnell type, the Kennedy Mystique™ precludes this sort of language, which is then easily applied to less-romantic Reagan Democrats.

O’Donnell has launched a personal war against Paterson since he made his decision. Here he is typing away furiously at the Huffington Post, referring to his new-found nemesis as the “accidental governor.” But if this is an accurate descriptor for Paterson, what exactly would that have made “Senator” Caroline Kennedy, whose privileged station in life — the only reason why she was ever considered for the Senate appointment in the first place — is due to her select membership in the lucky egg club?

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A Surprising Vote

Wednesday’s House vote on the stimulus plan was a bit of a shocker. This report explains:

The 244-188 vote was not what Mr. Obama had hoped for. A week of presidential wooing — including a visit to the Capitol, a return visit to the White House by moderate House Republicans and a bipartisan cocktail party Wednesday night — did not yield a single Republican vote. The president also lost 11 Democrats.

House Republican leadership aides said the vote should force Democrats to compromise in the Senate, but White House aides were more sanguine. They said the package in the Senate has already moved toward Republican positions on key issues, making GOP votes more likely. Mr. Obama has said he wants a final compromise version by Feb. 13.

By providing enormous sums for social programs and changing many of the rules to allow more people to take advantage of the programs, the Obama plan has prompted some Republicans to complain that the bill is becoming a back-door way to expand social-welfare programs. The long-lasting nature of some of the items, say Republicans, has as much to do with pent-up policy demands of a Democratic Congress and White House as reviving a flailing economy.

It is a measure of how atrocious the bill was — even on its own terms as a Keynesian “boost” for the economy — that it, in essence, freed Republicans to stand on principle and stand united — both rarities for the Republicans of late. Had the bill contained fewer liberal interest group giveaways or had the President actually incorporated some of the Republicans’ ideas (rather than merely humoring them), the result may have been different. Yes, the bill will move on but this is hardly the sort of start the administration hoped for. The rather remarkable rebuff leads to a few conclusions.

First, President Obama has spent much of his politically career voting Left and talking moderately. That doesn’t necessarily win over adherents when it comes to actual legislation. Congressmen and Senators really do care what is in the bills they are voting for. So if the President expects that his personal popularity and a welcomed degree of civility alone are going to win over Republicans he is mistaken. (It isn’t even enough to keep all the Democrats in line at the moment when his presidential authority and popularity are at the highest they will ever be.)

Second, Republicans are betting that by articulating an alternative approach to governance rather than merely mimicking the Democrats they can stage a political comeback. For now they have a clear message: a spending bonanza is bad for the country and won’t help with the recovery. Much will depend on how the economy actually fares and whether Republicans continue to offer not just forceful opposition, but credible alternatives (e.g. a package of tax cuts and scaled back spending in the case of the stimulus). Nevertheless, it is the first sign of decent political judgment and coherence that Congressional have demonstrated in some time. (For Republican Whip Eric Cantor, it is a feather in his cap to keep the entire caucus in line.)

Third, this raises real questions about what the Obama team has in mind. Are they simply going to defer to the most extreme and least disciplined elements in the Democratic party, and attempt to govern on a series of party-line votes? That doesn’t sound like the transformational sort of presidency to which Obama aspired. Or, will this serve as a wake up call, a reminder that bipartisanship requires not merely a shift in tone but a willingness to move politically for the sake of gaining a broader consensus?

It remains to be seen what the Senate does with the bill. This is, of course, not the end but the beginning of the political maneuvering. And if this is any indication we are in for a very wild ride. But clearly, the President is learning that charm alone only works on his own party.

Wednesday’s House vote on the stimulus plan was a bit of a shocker. This report explains:

The 244-188 vote was not what Mr. Obama had hoped for. A week of presidential wooing — including a visit to the Capitol, a return visit to the White House by moderate House Republicans and a bipartisan cocktail party Wednesday night — did not yield a single Republican vote. The president also lost 11 Democrats.

House Republican leadership aides said the vote should force Democrats to compromise in the Senate, but White House aides were more sanguine. They said the package in the Senate has already moved toward Republican positions on key issues, making GOP votes more likely. Mr. Obama has said he wants a final compromise version by Feb. 13.

By providing enormous sums for social programs and changing many of the rules to allow more people to take advantage of the programs, the Obama plan has prompted some Republicans to complain that the bill is becoming a back-door way to expand social-welfare programs. The long-lasting nature of some of the items, say Republicans, has as much to do with pent-up policy demands of a Democratic Congress and White House as reviving a flailing economy.

It is a measure of how atrocious the bill was — even on its own terms as a Keynesian “boost” for the economy — that it, in essence, freed Republicans to stand on principle and stand united — both rarities for the Republicans of late. Had the bill contained fewer liberal interest group giveaways or had the President actually incorporated some of the Republicans’ ideas (rather than merely humoring them), the result may have been different. Yes, the bill will move on but this is hardly the sort of start the administration hoped for. The rather remarkable rebuff leads to a few conclusions.

First, President Obama has spent much of his politically career voting Left and talking moderately. That doesn’t necessarily win over adherents when it comes to actual legislation. Congressmen and Senators really do care what is in the bills they are voting for. So if the President expects that his personal popularity and a welcomed degree of civility alone are going to win over Republicans he is mistaken. (It isn’t even enough to keep all the Democrats in line at the moment when his presidential authority and popularity are at the highest they will ever be.)

Second, Republicans are betting that by articulating an alternative approach to governance rather than merely mimicking the Democrats they can stage a political comeback. For now they have a clear message: a spending bonanza is bad for the country and won’t help with the recovery. Much will depend on how the economy actually fares and whether Republicans continue to offer not just forceful opposition, but credible alternatives (e.g. a package of tax cuts and scaled back spending in the case of the stimulus). Nevertheless, it is the first sign of decent political judgment and coherence that Congressional have demonstrated in some time. (For Republican Whip Eric Cantor, it is a feather in his cap to keep the entire caucus in line.)

Third, this raises real questions about what the Obama team has in mind. Are they simply going to defer to the most extreme and least disciplined elements in the Democratic party, and attempt to govern on a series of party-line votes? That doesn’t sound like the transformational sort of presidency to which Obama aspired. Or, will this serve as a wake up call, a reminder that bipartisanship requires not merely a shift in tone but a willingness to move politically for the sake of gaining a broader consensus?

It remains to be seen what the Senate does with the bill. This is, of course, not the end but the beginning of the political maneuvering. And if this is any indication we are in for a very wild ride. But clearly, the President is learning that charm alone only works on his own party.

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America the Emancipator

The gifted scholar and writer Fouad Ajami has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

According to Ajami, Barack Obama’s “new way forward” is actually a “return to realpolitik and business as usual in America’s encounter with that Greater Middle East.” Professor Ajami then adds:

Say what you will about the style — and practice — of the Bush years, the autocracies were on notice for the first five or six years of George. W. Bush’s presidency. America had toppled Taliban rule and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein; it had frightened the Libyan ruler that a similar fate lay in store for him. It was not sweet persuasion that drove Syria out of Lebanon in 2005. That dominion of plunder and terror was given up under duress…. the assertive diplomacy of George W. Bush had given heart to Muslims long in the grip of tyrannies…. The irony now is obvious: George W. Bush as a force for emancipation in Muslim lands, and Barack Hussein Obama as a messenger of the old, settled ways… Where Mr. Bush had seen the connection between the autocratic ways in Muslim lands and the culture of terror that infected the young foot soldiers of radicalism, Mr. Obama seems ready to split the difference with their rulers.

Ajami then moves to an important substantive point:

The argument that liberty springs from within and can’t be given to distant peoples is more flawed than meets the eye. In the sweep of modern history, the fortunes of liberty have been dependent on the will of the dominant power — or powers — in the order of states. The late Samuel P. Huntington made this point with telling detail. In 15 of the 29 democratic countries in 1970, democratic regimes were midwifed by foreign rule or had come into being right after independence from foreign occupation.

And then, an ominous warning:

I know it is a cliché, but sooner or later, we shall be hearing from them [foreign challengers and rogue regimes]. They will strip us of our illusions and our (new) parochialism. A dispatch from the Arabian Peninsula bears this out. It was learned, right in the midst of the news cycle announcing that Mr. Obama has ordered that Guantanamo be shut down in a year’s time, that a Saudi by the name of Said Ali al-Shihri — who had been released from that prison in 2007 to his homeland — had made his way to Yemen and had risen in the terror world of that anarchic country. It had been a brief stop in Saudi Arabia for Guantanamo detainee No. 372: He had gone through a “rehabilitation” program there, then slipped across the border to Yemen, where he may have been involved in a terror attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital in September of last year. This war was never a unilateral American war to be called off by an American calendar. The enemy, too, has a vote in how this struggle between American power and radical Islamism plays out in the years to come.

On the matter of democracy: To assume it cannot be exported to other countries is no less foolish than to think it can be easily exported to all other countries. The pendulum swung widely during the Bush years, from those who believed (like George Will in 2002) that “there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy” and that Iraq would usher in a “happy domino effect, if you will, of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies” to those (like George Will in 2005) who later believed that spreading liberty to the Arab world was a fool’s errand. Read More

The gifted scholar and writer Fouad Ajami has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

According to Ajami, Barack Obama’s “new way forward” is actually a “return to realpolitik and business as usual in America’s encounter with that Greater Middle East.” Professor Ajami then adds:

Say what you will about the style — and practice — of the Bush years, the autocracies were on notice for the first five or six years of George. W. Bush’s presidency. America had toppled Taliban rule and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein; it had frightened the Libyan ruler that a similar fate lay in store for him. It was not sweet persuasion that drove Syria out of Lebanon in 2005. That dominion of plunder and terror was given up under duress…. the assertive diplomacy of George W. Bush had given heart to Muslims long in the grip of tyrannies…. The irony now is obvious: George W. Bush as a force for emancipation in Muslim lands, and Barack Hussein Obama as a messenger of the old, settled ways… Where Mr. Bush had seen the connection between the autocratic ways in Muslim lands and the culture of terror that infected the young foot soldiers of radicalism, Mr. Obama seems ready to split the difference with their rulers.

Ajami then moves to an important substantive point:

The argument that liberty springs from within and can’t be given to distant peoples is more flawed than meets the eye. In the sweep of modern history, the fortunes of liberty have been dependent on the will of the dominant power — or powers — in the order of states. The late Samuel P. Huntington made this point with telling detail. In 15 of the 29 democratic countries in 1970, democratic regimes were midwifed by foreign rule or had come into being right after independence from foreign occupation.

And then, an ominous warning:

I know it is a cliché, but sooner or later, we shall be hearing from them [foreign challengers and rogue regimes]. They will strip us of our illusions and our (new) parochialism. A dispatch from the Arabian Peninsula bears this out. It was learned, right in the midst of the news cycle announcing that Mr. Obama has ordered that Guantanamo be shut down in a year’s time, that a Saudi by the name of Said Ali al-Shihri — who had been released from that prison in 2007 to his homeland — had made his way to Yemen and had risen in the terror world of that anarchic country. It had been a brief stop in Saudi Arabia for Guantanamo detainee No. 372: He had gone through a “rehabilitation” program there, then slipped across the border to Yemen, where he may have been involved in a terror attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital in September of last year. This war was never a unilateral American war to be called off by an American calendar. The enemy, too, has a vote in how this struggle between American power and radical Islamism plays out in the years to come.

On the matter of democracy: To assume it cannot be exported to other countries is no less foolish than to think it can be easily exported to all other countries. The pendulum swung widely during the Bush years, from those who believed (like George Will in 2002) that “there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy” and that Iraq would usher in a “happy domino effect, if you will, of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies” to those (like George Will in 2005) who later believed that spreading liberty to the Arab world was a fool’s errand.

The reality is that such undertakings can be enormously complicated and don’t work in a linear fashion. They can move in fits and starts, and it’s unwise and still too early to draw sweeping conclusions about the freedom agenda. But here is what we know: Freedom is taking root in Iraq – and it may, over time, transform the political culture of the Middle East. If so, the war may be looked back upon as a historically important, and positive, hinge point. At this moment, though, the outcome, though encouraging, is still uncertain; and the effort has been more difficult than people hoped when the war began in 2003 and during the “Arab Spring” of only four years ago.

Sometimes wars go easier than one anticipates (like the invasion of Grenada and the first Gulf War), and sometimes they go much harder (like the Phase IV phase of the Iraq war and the Civil War). Sometimes democratic regimes are midwifed by foreign rule and military action; other times, they are not. Sometimes liberty swiftly takes root; other times, the soil is rocky and unwelcoming.

It may be useful, then, to point out a couple of things that are often lost in this era, when advocating freedom in foreign lands is considered uncouth.

The first is that for 60 years, we tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability” in the Middle East. While much of the rest of the world moved toward freedom, the Arab Middle East did not. It suffered from what Arab scholars call a “freedom deficit” that froze social and material progress. Resentments built up, economies went down, and violent ideologies took hold. They can infect an entire region. Unfortunately, that infection does not always stay contained. We witnessed the brutal manifestation of jihadism on 9/11.

President Obama may be eager to return us to the days of Jimmy Carter, when we spoke about human rights on the one hand and bowed before autocrats and despots on the other; or the days of Bill Clinton, with Madeleine Albright frantically chasing after Yasir Arafat. Such an approach may appear to be less burdensome than advocating freedom, but it comes at a high cost – to the Arab world and, eventually, to our own.

The other reality is that democracy has an astonishing historical track record. It hasn’t worked everywhere, but it has worked in most places it’s been tried. That’s not terribly surprising, since democracy and republican government speak to the human desire for freedom, and so (for teleological reasons) lead to human flourishing.

There are important caveats: Human freedom is not the only human desire, and the others (like tribal and ethnic loyalties) can pull in different directions. Elections are not the same as democracy; security needs to be in place before freedom can take root; and the habits and institutions of democracy need to be carefully cultivated. That can be a labor, and it can’t be done everywhere and all at once.

On the other hand, over the course of our history, our efforts to promote liberty in other lands has been an enormously wise investment, to say nothing of a deeply humane one.

No noble endeavor, including spreading freedom, is easy or without costs. In his inaugural address, President Obama quoted from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “American Crisis.” But in the same pamphlet, Paine writes this:

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

We have made missteps along the way, certainly including in the Administration in which I served. But being a force for emancipation in foreign lands (to say nothing of our own) has been central to the American enterprise for much of our history. It should be, and it will be, again.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You wonder how White House spokespeople keep a straight face: “A USA TODAY review of Obama hires shows that 21 have registered as federal lobbyists, although most have not done so within the past two years. They include White House aide Cecilia Muñoz, who lobbied last year for the National Council of La Raza, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who lobbied in 2007 for a national teachers union. White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Obama is following through on his commitment to operate under strict ethical standards.”

Marc Ambinder  argued that the Republicans should have supported the stimulus, and ever-so helpfully supplies the Democratic spin: “Obama has done everything reasonable, and more, to move toward non-P-partisanship.  The overwhelming impression he’s leaving for voters is one of reasonableness and accommodation.” Actually, he didn’t address any of the Republican concerns, although he was pleasant enough in some meetings. And those comparative popularity numbers (Obama’s 70% [actually it is in the mid-60s but Ambinder rounds up generously] vs. Congress’ 20%) would mean something — if the Republicans were each running against Barack Obama. But they will be running against Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats whose collective favorability rating is, well, 20% or so. But maybe if the bill hadn’t been so dreadful Ambinder’s analysis might have been compelling.

On to the Senate now where Mitch McConnell’s press office makes the point: for all that bipartisan talk out of the White House, Nancy Pelosi stiffed the Republicans and wound up with zero support.

Sen. Bob Corker isn’t buying the stimulus bill. “A total waste of money,” he calls it.

George Will argues that although the new President is entitled to a measure of deference, “congressional Democrats have turned the 647-page stimulus legislation into an excuse for something that never needs an excuse — an exercise in wretched excess. They have forfeited some of the president’s claim to deference.” To be clear, the White House has been content to hide behind Nancy Pelosi’s skirts so they have, properly speaking, forfeited their own claim to deference.

Of all the things to take umbrage at, the Washington Post goes after the President on his snow closing criticism: “But something, well, rankled, just a bit when this newcomer thumped his chest about ‘flinty Chicago toughness’ and proclaimed that ‘when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don’t seem to be able to handle things.’ In fact, Tuesday’s ice produced a particularly slippery day yesterday. Mr. Obama can make pronouncements from inside his well-shoveled bubble, but we can report that it was pretty treacherous out there in the real world. School administrators who opted for closure made the right call — this time. To the Obamas, we say: Welcome to Washington, and, hey, you have it easy. At least one parent has the flexibility to work from home.” On this one he’s right, although I’m sure the local schools could do without the President micro-managing their cold weather policies.

Why do Democrats insist on dressing down in the White House?

George Mitchell has Jimmy Carter’s hearty endorsement. Swell. And you can’t miss the icy condescension directed toward Hillary Clinton: “I think she’ll comply with the policies established by the president.” Hey, if Carter hates her that might be another reason to have faith in Clinton. (But realistically it has more to do with years of grudge-holding by Carter for real and imagined slights by Bill.)

John McCormack observes: “Of 11 Democrats who voted against the stimulus, most are considered vulnerable next cycle.” So when the MSM calls this a “party line vote,” that’s not quite right. It was the “no” vote that attracted the other side of the aisle– and specifically those worried that the bill is a dud and the that President’s popularity won’t help them in 2010.

Jonathan Martin (the lone Politico reporter who covers Republicans as more than a mere distraction  in the Age of Obama) hits the nail on the head: “A day after Barack Obama spent over an hour on House Republican turf, he couldn’t pry loose a single vote among the GOP for the centerpiece of his economic recovery plan Wednesday. For all Obama’s efforts to wield the personal and political power of the presidency, the vote signaled that despite their weakened political state and the popularity of the new president Republicans won’t be won over by charm alone.”

Okay, this is amusing. Rush Limbaugh writes: “Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let’s say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion — $486 billion — will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% — $414 billion — will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.” Aside from the merits (why not have both tax cuts and pork if Democrats insist on the latter?), it does highlight how unwilling the President has been to reach out to Republicans. Which was Limbaugh’s point, of course.

Martin Feldstein who actually favors a stimulus plan thinks the current one isn’t the right one: “The problem with the current stimulus plan is not that it is too big but that it delivers too little extra employment and income for such a large fiscal deficit. It is worth taking the time to get it right.”

The evidence against Blago doesn’t seem all that compelling — or complete. But that doesn’t slow down David Broder, who is infuriated by his Washington Post colleagues who question just how guilty Blago is. But Broder doesn’t need evidence because someone told him at a dinner two years ago that Blago was “the worst ever.” Well that seals it, I guess.

You wonder how White House spokespeople keep a straight face: “A USA TODAY review of Obama hires shows that 21 have registered as federal lobbyists, although most have not done so within the past two years. They include White House aide Cecilia Muñoz, who lobbied last year for the National Council of La Raza, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who lobbied in 2007 for a national teachers union. White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Obama is following through on his commitment to operate under strict ethical standards.”

Marc Ambinder  argued that the Republicans should have supported the stimulus, and ever-so helpfully supplies the Democratic spin: “Obama has done everything reasonable, and more, to move toward non-P-partisanship.  The overwhelming impression he’s leaving for voters is one of reasonableness and accommodation.” Actually, he didn’t address any of the Republican concerns, although he was pleasant enough in some meetings. And those comparative popularity numbers (Obama’s 70% [actually it is in the mid-60s but Ambinder rounds up generously] vs. Congress’ 20%) would mean something — if the Republicans were each running against Barack Obama. But they will be running against Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats whose collective favorability rating is, well, 20% or so. But maybe if the bill hadn’t been so dreadful Ambinder’s analysis might have been compelling.

On to the Senate now where Mitch McConnell’s press office makes the point: for all that bipartisan talk out of the White House, Nancy Pelosi stiffed the Republicans and wound up with zero support.

Sen. Bob Corker isn’t buying the stimulus bill. “A total waste of money,” he calls it.

George Will argues that although the new President is entitled to a measure of deference, “congressional Democrats have turned the 647-page stimulus legislation into an excuse for something that never needs an excuse — an exercise in wretched excess. They have forfeited some of the president’s claim to deference.” To be clear, the White House has been content to hide behind Nancy Pelosi’s skirts so they have, properly speaking, forfeited their own claim to deference.

Of all the things to take umbrage at, the Washington Post goes after the President on his snow closing criticism: “But something, well, rankled, just a bit when this newcomer thumped his chest about ‘flinty Chicago toughness’ and proclaimed that ‘when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don’t seem to be able to handle things.’ In fact, Tuesday’s ice produced a particularly slippery day yesterday. Mr. Obama can make pronouncements from inside his well-shoveled bubble, but we can report that it was pretty treacherous out there in the real world. School administrators who opted for closure made the right call — this time. To the Obamas, we say: Welcome to Washington, and, hey, you have it easy. At least one parent has the flexibility to work from home.” On this one he’s right, although I’m sure the local schools could do without the President micro-managing their cold weather policies.

Why do Democrats insist on dressing down in the White House?

George Mitchell has Jimmy Carter’s hearty endorsement. Swell. And you can’t miss the icy condescension directed toward Hillary Clinton: “I think she’ll comply with the policies established by the president.” Hey, if Carter hates her that might be another reason to have faith in Clinton. (But realistically it has more to do with years of grudge-holding by Carter for real and imagined slights by Bill.)

John McCormack observes: “Of 11 Democrats who voted against the stimulus, most are considered vulnerable next cycle.” So when the MSM calls this a “party line vote,” that’s not quite right. It was the “no” vote that attracted the other side of the aisle– and specifically those worried that the bill is a dud and the that President’s popularity won’t help them in 2010.

Jonathan Martin (the lone Politico reporter who covers Republicans as more than a mere distraction  in the Age of Obama) hits the nail on the head: “A day after Barack Obama spent over an hour on House Republican turf, he couldn’t pry loose a single vote among the GOP for the centerpiece of his economic recovery plan Wednesday. For all Obama’s efforts to wield the personal and political power of the presidency, the vote signaled that despite their weakened political state and the popularity of the new president Republicans won’t be won over by charm alone.”

Okay, this is amusing. Rush Limbaugh writes: “Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let’s say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion — $486 billion — will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% — $414 billion — will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.” Aside from the merits (why not have both tax cuts and pork if Democrats insist on the latter?), it does highlight how unwilling the President has been to reach out to Republicans. Which was Limbaugh’s point, of course.

Martin Feldstein who actually favors a stimulus plan thinks the current one isn’t the right one: “The problem with the current stimulus plan is not that it is too big but that it delivers too little extra employment and income for such a large fiscal deficit. It is worth taking the time to get it right.”

The evidence against Blago doesn’t seem all that compelling — or complete. But that doesn’t slow down David Broder, who is infuriated by his Washington Post colleagues who question just how guilty Blago is. But Broder doesn’t need evidence because someone told him at a dinner two years ago that Blago was “the worst ever.” Well that seals it, I guess.

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