Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 11, 2009

This Is Harder Than It Looks

Congressional deal makers reached an agreement on the stimulus — or maybe not. There’s a deal in there somewhere so there’s no suspense really. (Other than how messed up the Democrats can be in rolling out a stimulus plan that they had exclusive control over. Imagine if they had a viable opposition.) With these secret deals hatched by one party it’s always hard to tell. When Tom Harkin complains about the process you know it’s bad.

Meanwhile Robert Gibbs declares it is no big deal that the markets crashed on the Geithner bank rollout plan. But really, what’s he going to say? (“We thought they’d fall for a half-baked idea”?)

Republican Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood let the cat out of the bag, explaining that the GOP House members “like to be in the room when these things are put together. And they haven’t been. And so I think they were a bit offended by that.” Imagine that.

Both these events suggest that indeed some transparency would be a good idea. Maybe posting legislation on the Internet like they promised would relieve confusion about what’s in it. A “vague” bank rollout is not a good thing, perhaps, when the markets are screaming for clarity.

I can’t help but think candidate Obama would be appalled by all this.

Congressional deal makers reached an agreement on the stimulus — or maybe not. There’s a deal in there somewhere so there’s no suspense really. (Other than how messed up the Democrats can be in rolling out a stimulus plan that they had exclusive control over. Imagine if they had a viable opposition.) With these secret deals hatched by one party it’s always hard to tell. When Tom Harkin complains about the process you know it’s bad.

Meanwhile Robert Gibbs declares it is no big deal that the markets crashed on the Geithner bank rollout plan. But really, what’s he going to say? (“We thought they’d fall for a half-baked idea”?)

Republican Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood let the cat out of the bag, explaining that the GOP House members “like to be in the room when these things are put together. And they haven’t been. And so I think they were a bit offended by that.” Imagine that.

Both these events suggest that indeed some transparency would be a good idea. Maybe posting legislation on the Internet like they promised would relieve confusion about what’s in it. A “vague” bank rollout is not a good thing, perhaps, when the markets are screaming for clarity.

I can’t help but think candidate Obama would be appalled by all this.

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Commentary of the Day

ian, on John Steele Gordon:

The bottom line is that every time a Democrat opens his/her mouth about the economic situation, they remain in full campaign mode even after the election was decided. Everything is the Republican’s fault and the Democrats had nothing to do with the mess, which is arrant nonsense. Every objection to the proposed solution is mere obstructionism in support of an alleged failed ideological philosophy that virtually no one actually advocates. The Democrats spent eight years demogoging every conceivable issue, and it continues apace. But what works when you are in opposition is not an admirable facet of leadership. If the Democrats actually want bipartisanship, maybe they can start with basic honesty and work from there. That they are merely paying lip service to the concept is evident from their own words.

ian, on John Steele Gordon:

The bottom line is that every time a Democrat opens his/her mouth about the economic situation, they remain in full campaign mode even after the election was decided. Everything is the Republican’s fault and the Democrats had nothing to do with the mess, which is arrant nonsense. Every objection to the proposed solution is mere obstructionism in support of an alleged failed ideological philosophy that virtually no one actually advocates. The Democrats spent eight years demogoging every conceivable issue, and it continues apace. But what works when you are in opposition is not an admirable facet of leadership. If the Democrats actually want bipartisanship, maybe they can start with basic honesty and work from there. That they are merely paying lip service to the concept is evident from their own words.

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Re: A Little Revisionism

In response to a posting I did on Andrew Sullivan, claiming he didn’t support more troops in the aftermath of major combat operations, I quoted from several of his blog posting in April, showing that those concerns never arose. In response, he posted a series of pieces he wrote, mostly in May (two months after the war commenced), saying we didn’t have a sufficient number of troops.

Andrew is right; I should have read beyond the limited dates I did to ascertain his position on troop levels.

On this (important) matter, Andrew was correct; and he deserves credit (along with people like William Kristol and Bob Kagan) for being right. My criticism of him was unfair.

In response to a posting I did on Andrew Sullivan, claiming he didn’t support more troops in the aftermath of major combat operations, I quoted from several of his blog posting in April, showing that those concerns never arose. In response, he posted a series of pieces he wrote, mostly in May (two months after the war commenced), saying we didn’t have a sufficient number of troops.

Andrew is right; I should have read beyond the limited dates I did to ascertain his position on troop levels.

On this (important) matter, Andrew was correct; and he deserves credit (along with people like William Kristol and Bob Kagan) for being right. My criticism of him was unfair.

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Yep, It’s a Depression

This Saturday, Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the world’s advanced economies are “already in depression.”  “The worst cannot be ruled out,” the chief of the International Monetary Fund declared.  That assessment is consistent with the increasingly dire pronouncements from President Obama, who now talks about a “profound economic emergency.”

Undoubtedly, both of them came out with their gloomy statements so they could get what they wanted — more resources for lending in the case of the IMF and passage of the stimulus bill for the American president.  Yet that does not mean they are wrong.

Many analysts shy away from categorizing the downturn in stark terms.  They say, for instance, that economic indicators are not nearly as bad as they were in the 1930s.  Of course, they’re right, but that is only because we are in the initial stages of the crisis.

The irony is that if Messrs. Strauss-Kahn and Obama are right — and they are — then the relief measures they are seeking are inadequate.  The truth is that virtually nothing multilateral institutions or governments can do at this time can fix the fundamental causes of the downturn.  Governments can — and should — relieve pain by measures such as unemployment insurance, but all their grander schemes will only make things worse.  Government measures like President Bush’s TARP have created problems, and President Obama’s schemes are no more promising than his predecessor’s.  His costly stimulus bill will not stimulate — or its positive effects will be lost as the crisis gathers momentum — and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s bank plan is a disaster, and not just because he did not provide sufficient detail yesterday.

So agree with President Obama when he says this is no “run-of-the-mill recession.”   In fact, it is no recession at all.  And that’s why his government cannot do much about it for the next few years, perhaps for the next half decade.  Although Alan Greenspan is now discredited, we still believe in Greenspan-like figures implementing plans, making adjustments, solving problems.  Yet because the downturn is as severe as Strauss-Kahn and Obama have just told us, only “markets” — in reality, the world’s six billion people all trying to better their lot — can get us out of this.

This Saturday, Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the world’s advanced economies are “already in depression.”  “The worst cannot be ruled out,” the chief of the International Monetary Fund declared.  That assessment is consistent with the increasingly dire pronouncements from President Obama, who now talks about a “profound economic emergency.”

Undoubtedly, both of them came out with their gloomy statements so they could get what they wanted — more resources for lending in the case of the IMF and passage of the stimulus bill for the American president.  Yet that does not mean they are wrong.

Many analysts shy away from categorizing the downturn in stark terms.  They say, for instance, that economic indicators are not nearly as bad as they were in the 1930s.  Of course, they’re right, but that is only because we are in the initial stages of the crisis.

The irony is that if Messrs. Strauss-Kahn and Obama are right — and they are — then the relief measures they are seeking are inadequate.  The truth is that virtually nothing multilateral institutions or governments can do at this time can fix the fundamental causes of the downturn.  Governments can — and should — relieve pain by measures such as unemployment insurance, but all their grander schemes will only make things worse.  Government measures like President Bush’s TARP have created problems, and President Obama’s schemes are no more promising than his predecessor’s.  His costly stimulus bill will not stimulate — or its positive effects will be lost as the crisis gathers momentum — and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s bank plan is a disaster, and not just because he did not provide sufficient detail yesterday.

So agree with President Obama when he says this is no “run-of-the-mill recession.”   In fact, it is no recession at all.  And that’s why his government cannot do much about it for the next few years, perhaps for the next half decade.  Although Alan Greenspan is now discredited, we still believe in Greenspan-like figures implementing plans, making adjustments, solving problems.  Yet because the downturn is as severe as Strauss-Kahn and Obama have just told us, only “markets” — in reality, the world’s six billion people all trying to better their lot — can get us out of this.

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This Is a Surprise?

Kathleen Parker frets. President Obama “appeared weak.”  It is “amateur hour.” He is “not fully formed.” He “wants too much to be liked.” My, what a revelation it has been.

Excuse me, but this should not exactly come as a surprise. Indeed, the pundits told us many of these qualities were actually positive attributes in a president. We were tired of “macho, cowboy-style” presidents. We wanted someone who could admit error.  We didn’t need someone with years inside the Beltway. Professional politicians got us into the mess, so we needed someone untouched — “unformed” I supposed — by the brew of D.C. politics to fix it. What was important was to be smart (which meant “degreed” not accomplished) and worldly.

The guy with the years of legislative experience, who understood the importance of projecting strength, who was going to stick to his guns and who had no tolerance for ethical missteps lost. We decided on change — an unformed premise for a presidency if ever there was one. So if we get a president who lacks executive acumen and “maturity”and appears to be a push-over, the voters have no one to blame but themselves. But they might have a bone to pick with all the pundits who thought none of this would be a problem.

Kathleen Parker frets. President Obama “appeared weak.”  It is “amateur hour.” He is “not fully formed.” He “wants too much to be liked.” My, what a revelation it has been.

Excuse me, but this should not exactly come as a surprise. Indeed, the pundits told us many of these qualities were actually positive attributes in a president. We were tired of “macho, cowboy-style” presidents. We wanted someone who could admit error.  We didn’t need someone with years inside the Beltway. Professional politicians got us into the mess, so we needed someone untouched — “unformed” I supposed — by the brew of D.C. politics to fix it. What was important was to be smart (which meant “degreed” not accomplished) and worldly.

The guy with the years of legislative experience, who understood the importance of projecting strength, who was going to stick to his guns and who had no tolerance for ethical missteps lost. We decided on change — an unformed premise for a presidency if ever there was one. So if we get a president who lacks executive acumen and “maturity”and appears to be a push-over, the voters have no one to blame but themselves. But they might have a bone to pick with all the pundits who thought none of this would be a problem.

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There’s Gambling and There’s Gambling

President Obama may still be a hit somewhere, but not in Las Vegas:

Oscar Goodman, the colorful mayor of Las Vegas, is outraged over comments President Obama made about his city, and has demanded that the president pay him an apology.

At issue are remarks about corporate responsibility Obama made at a town hall Monday in Elkhart, Ind., when responding to a question from an audience member.

“We’re going to do something to strengthen the banking system,” Mr. Obama said, “You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can’t get corporate jets. You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime. There’s got to be some accountability and some responsibility.”

Goodman responded today with outrage at Obama’s singling out his city in a negative light, dissuading — in his view — travel to Sin City.

“That’s outrageous,” Goodman, a Democrat, said to KLAS-TV today. “

Mayor Goodman may have a thing for grandstanding, but this much is true: Dropping some cash at the tables and in the nightclubs will do a lot more to stimulate the economy than having the government burn $300 million on a fleet of green golf carts. What’s spent in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas; you can’t say the same for Capitol Hill.

When an evil Wall Steet Greedster drops a chunk of his bonus at the tables and in the nightclubs, a smaller chunk of that atomizes outward in chains that feed national industries. If he buys a steak, the restaurateur gets paid, which means the restaurateur can keep his new busboy, who can pay his babysitter, who can then buy the shoes she’s been eyeing, and so on. The Wall Street Greedster can accomplish all this, amazingly, without consulting Congress about where to spend what.

But when Nancy Pelosi drops over a quarter of a billion dollars on “neighborhood electric vehicles,” and “neither Capitol Hill aides nor the Energy Department was able to say specifically what the carts would be used for,” she’s actively feeding a dead animal. The stimulus money would be better off spent on the Strip. Not only would it be more stimulative, but you’d get better odds on turning a profit.

President Obama may still be a hit somewhere, but not in Las Vegas:

Oscar Goodman, the colorful mayor of Las Vegas, is outraged over comments President Obama made about his city, and has demanded that the president pay him an apology.

At issue are remarks about corporate responsibility Obama made at a town hall Monday in Elkhart, Ind., when responding to a question from an audience member.

“We’re going to do something to strengthen the banking system,” Mr. Obama said, “You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can’t get corporate jets. You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime. There’s got to be some accountability and some responsibility.”

Goodman responded today with outrage at Obama’s singling out his city in a negative light, dissuading — in his view — travel to Sin City.

“That’s outrageous,” Goodman, a Democrat, said to KLAS-TV today. “

Mayor Goodman may have a thing for grandstanding, but this much is true: Dropping some cash at the tables and in the nightclubs will do a lot more to stimulate the economy than having the government burn $300 million on a fleet of green golf carts. What’s spent in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas; you can’t say the same for Capitol Hill.

When an evil Wall Steet Greedster drops a chunk of his bonus at the tables and in the nightclubs, a smaller chunk of that atomizes outward in chains that feed national industries. If he buys a steak, the restaurateur gets paid, which means the restaurateur can keep his new busboy, who can pay his babysitter, who can then buy the shoes she’s been eyeing, and so on. The Wall Street Greedster can accomplish all this, amazingly, without consulting Congress about where to spend what.

But when Nancy Pelosi drops over a quarter of a billion dollars on “neighborhood electric vehicles,” and “neither Capitol Hill aides nor the Energy Department was able to say specifically what the carts would be used for,” she’s actively feeding a dead animal. The stimulus money would be better off spent on the Strip. Not only would it be more stimulative, but you’d get better odds on turning a profit.

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Pressure Lobby Doesn’t Care About Israel’s Voters

Israel’s voters have rendered their verdict on their country’s political parties and the results are somewhat muddled. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party appears to have finished first by one Knesset seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud (though that might yet change when the final results are tabulated). But the parties of the “right” have a clear majority over those of the “left,” which may leave Bibi in a stronger position to put together a government than Livni. The truth is no Israeli government, whether it is headed by Livni or Netanyahu, is going to give away more territory to the Palestinians under the current circumstances. The “moderates” of Fatah that run the Palestinian Authority are too weak to sign any peace agreement even if they wanted to. Any territory given away now would become, like Gaza, a new Hamasistan.

But these facts mean nothing to an American Jewish left that has been energized by the Obama victory. Groups like J Street, the left-wing would-be alternative to AIPAC, and its allies are still pushing hard for the new administration to pressure Israel to talk to Hamas and make more concessions in the name of a peace process that is utterly bankrupt. In today’s Los Angeles Times, M.J. Rosenberg, the spokesperson for the similarly dovish Israel Policy Forum laments the realities of an Israeli politics which has meant the destruction of parties there that he supports. His thought? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether Obama is willing to ride roughshod over the will of Israel’s voters and force it to do things that its people know are dangerous.

He writes:

This may not affect the peace process, the fate of which rests less on the makeup of Israel’s government than on Obama’s level of determination. Obama has indicated that he wants to have the United States play the role of “honest broker” between Israelis and Palestinians rather than continue to act like “Israel’s lawyer,” as former Middle East mediator Aaron David Miller described the U.S. stance under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

So far the signs are good that Obama intends to play that role. The appointment of George Mitchell, who brokered the Northern Ireland agreement, as special envoy to the Middle East is a promising indication that Obama intends to push both Israelis and Palestinians hard to get to an agreement.

While we will have to wait to see how the muddle of the Israeli election results is sorted out, the real battle in this country will be between those who support the right of Israelis to make their own decisions about their security and those, like Rosenberg, who favor American pressure on Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian side that has proven it is uninterested in peace.

Israel’s voters have rendered their verdict on their country’s political parties and the results are somewhat muddled. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party appears to have finished first by one Knesset seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud (though that might yet change when the final results are tabulated). But the parties of the “right” have a clear majority over those of the “left,” which may leave Bibi in a stronger position to put together a government than Livni. The truth is no Israeli government, whether it is headed by Livni or Netanyahu, is going to give away more territory to the Palestinians under the current circumstances. The “moderates” of Fatah that run the Palestinian Authority are too weak to sign any peace agreement even if they wanted to. Any territory given away now would become, like Gaza, a new Hamasistan.

But these facts mean nothing to an American Jewish left that has been energized by the Obama victory. Groups like J Street, the left-wing would-be alternative to AIPAC, and its allies are still pushing hard for the new administration to pressure Israel to talk to Hamas and make more concessions in the name of a peace process that is utterly bankrupt. In today’s Los Angeles Times, M.J. Rosenberg, the spokesperson for the similarly dovish Israel Policy Forum laments the realities of an Israeli politics which has meant the destruction of parties there that he supports. His thought? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether Obama is willing to ride roughshod over the will of Israel’s voters and force it to do things that its people know are dangerous.

He writes:

This may not affect the peace process, the fate of which rests less on the makeup of Israel’s government than on Obama’s level of determination. Obama has indicated that he wants to have the United States play the role of “honest broker” between Israelis and Palestinians rather than continue to act like “Israel’s lawyer,” as former Middle East mediator Aaron David Miller described the U.S. stance under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

So far the signs are good that Obama intends to play that role. The appointment of George Mitchell, who brokered the Northern Ireland agreement, as special envoy to the Middle East is a promising indication that Obama intends to push both Israelis and Palestinians hard to get to an agreement.

While we will have to wait to see how the muddle of the Israeli election results is sorted out, the real battle in this country will be between those who support the right of Israelis to make their own decisions about their security and those, like Rosenberg, who favor American pressure on Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian side that has proven it is uninterested in peace.

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Re: Geithner Bombs

Everyone makes mistakes, we were told. But Tim Geithner’s abysmal roll-out of the bank bailout suggests there might be a larger problem than one awful policy unveiling. Larry Kudlow writes:

Geithner would have been better off not giving a speech until he could put real meat on the bones. What he pulled Tuesday was a classic rookie move that will further erode the public’s trust in his capabilities. Following the controversy over his late payment of taxes, this bank-plan blunder could be another nail in his coffin. Apparently, Tim Geithner is not yet ready for prime time.

Uh-oh. What if Geithner’s the wrong guy for the job? Maybe he’s a technician, not a financial leader. He might lack gravitas after all. Could it be that the indispensable man needs to be dispensed with?

But, of course, it would look horrible to dump him so soon, especially after the president and all those Senators insisted he was literally the only man in the country to do this job. So he’ll have to tough it out — as will the rest of us.

But the next time the Senate insists an ethically-challenged nominee is the only person in the nation for a key role, they better make sure he’s really exemplary. Here’s the thing: maybe his tax problems were a clue. Maybe we should have been concerned that someone that sloppy and evasive about his own finances might lack the skill set  to  steer the economy out of a ditch. Ah well, live and learn.

Everyone makes mistakes, we were told. But Tim Geithner’s abysmal roll-out of the bank bailout suggests there might be a larger problem than one awful policy unveiling. Larry Kudlow writes:

Geithner would have been better off not giving a speech until he could put real meat on the bones. What he pulled Tuesday was a classic rookie move that will further erode the public’s trust in his capabilities. Following the controversy over his late payment of taxes, this bank-plan blunder could be another nail in his coffin. Apparently, Tim Geithner is not yet ready for prime time.

Uh-oh. What if Geithner’s the wrong guy for the job? Maybe he’s a technician, not a financial leader. He might lack gravitas after all. Could it be that the indispensable man needs to be dispensed with?

But, of course, it would look horrible to dump him so soon, especially after the president and all those Senators insisted he was literally the only man in the country to do this job. So he’ll have to tough it out — as will the rest of us.

But the next time the Senate insists an ethically-challenged nominee is the only person in the nation for a key role, they better make sure he’s really exemplary. Here’s the thing: maybe his tax problems were a clue. Maybe we should have been concerned that someone that sloppy and evasive about his own finances might lack the skill set  to  steer the economy out of a ditch. Ah well, live and learn.

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Where Are We Heading?

Barack Obama has been President for just over three weeks. But even this early into the Age of Obama, we can, I think, make a valuable assessment on where things stand.

On the plus side for Obama, by later this month he will have achieved, in almost record time, a huge legislative victory: passage of a trillion dollar (more or less) economic package. His approval rating remains high. And he showed at his press conference on Monday that he is an extremely skilled communicator, one of the best we have ever seen. He is unquestionably the best spokesman Democrats have, and he comes across as reasonable, intelligent, and likeable (if long-winded and sometimes lecturing). But none of that is new; those talents, after all, were on full display during the campaign.

What is surprising is how many mishaps have taken place and how many damaging developments have accrued. One of the key pillars of Obama’s campaign and his popularity was his commitment to bipartisanship. But that promise, like Jeremiah Wright, Tom Daschle, and others, has been tossed under the Obama bus. President Obama essentially admitted as much at his press conference earlier this week, when he said that bipartisanship would have to take a back-seat to passage of the economic legislation he wanted.

It’s not simply that Obama gained no Republican votes in the House for his plan, and got only three in the Senate. It is that Obama himself never made a serious play at bipartisan cooperation. What he did was allow Nancy Pelosi and liberal House Democrats to write the legislation. Republicans were shut out. And once the legislation emerged, Republicans were asked to come on board. They politely but emphatically declined. It turns out spending a few hours with the GOP caucus and hosting a Super Bowl party does not constitute authentic bipartisanship.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Barack Obama has been President for just over three weeks. But even this early into the Age of Obama, we can, I think, make a valuable assessment on where things stand.

On the plus side for Obama, by later this month he will have achieved, in almost record time, a huge legislative victory: passage of a trillion dollar (more or less) economic package. His approval rating remains high. And he showed at his press conference on Monday that he is an extremely skilled communicator, one of the best we have ever seen. He is unquestionably the best spokesman Democrats have, and he comes across as reasonable, intelligent, and likeable (if long-winded and sometimes lecturing). But none of that is new; those talents, after all, were on full display during the campaign.

What is surprising is how many mishaps have taken place and how many damaging developments have accrued. One of the key pillars of Obama’s campaign and his popularity was his commitment to bipartisanship. But that promise, like Jeremiah Wright, Tom Daschle, and others, has been tossed under the Obama bus. President Obama essentially admitted as much at his press conference earlier this week, when he said that bipartisanship would have to take a back-seat to passage of the economic legislation he wanted.

It’s not simply that Obama gained no Republican votes in the House for his plan, and got only three in the Senate. It is that Obama himself never made a serious play at bipartisan cooperation. What he did was allow Nancy Pelosi and liberal House Democrats to write the legislation. Republicans were shut out. And once the legislation emerged, Republicans were asked to come on board. They politely but emphatically declined. It turns out spending a few hours with the GOP caucus and hosting a Super Bowl party does not constitute authentic bipartisanship.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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No Shortage of Straw Men

Even liberal and mainstream reporters are growing weary of the president’s partisan rhetoric. John Dickerson from Slate complains about the president’s pretense that Republican opponents of his stimulus plan want to “do nothing”:

The attacks are still disingenuous, though. Obama suggests that the bulk of his opponents don’t want to do anything at all. This makes them look absurd. It’s true that some people hold this view. But the bulk of his opponents believe in some stimulus bill, just not the one he proposed. This is a perfectly standard political trick, but it’s hard to pull off if you’re a president promising a new kind of politics.

The Washington Post echoes the same theme:

President Obama likes to portray the battle over the economic stimulus package that passed the Senate on Tuesday as a stark choice between his approach and that of those who would “do nothing.”

“Nothing is not an option. You didn’t send me to Washington to do nothing,” Obama told a gathering of 1,500 here on Tuesday, bringing the crowd to its feet as he campaigned for passage of the more than $800 billion package.

The president used the same language Monday in his first prime-time news conference, suggesting that lawmakers who opposed his prescription want the government to ignore the deepening economic crisis.

“There seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing,” he said.

But in truth, few of those involved in the stimulus debate are suggesting that the government should not take action to aid the cratering economy.

Many of the president’s fiercest congressional critics support a stimulus package of similar size but think it should be built around a much higher proportion of tax cuts than new spending. Others have called for a plan that is half the size of the one headed for a House-Senate conference — still massive by historical standards.

Well, the reporters say George W. Bush did the same sort of “my way or the highway” routine. But wait. The new guy was supposed to be better. He ran against the other guy’s effort to “tear down the positions of those phantom opponents as irresponsible, unworkable or downright shameful in comparison to his own.” (Sure, John McCain’s name was on the ballot, but Obama ran against Bush.) Now we hear that dishonest rhetoric is the norm, so we should simply shrug and move on?

In another context, Patrick Moynihan called the downward spiral of societal standards “defining deviancy down.” I suspect we’re about to find out exactly how far down we can go.

Even liberal and mainstream reporters are growing weary of the president’s partisan rhetoric. John Dickerson from Slate complains about the president’s pretense that Republican opponents of his stimulus plan want to “do nothing”:

The attacks are still disingenuous, though. Obama suggests that the bulk of his opponents don’t want to do anything at all. This makes them look absurd. It’s true that some people hold this view. But the bulk of his opponents believe in some stimulus bill, just not the one he proposed. This is a perfectly standard political trick, but it’s hard to pull off if you’re a president promising a new kind of politics.

The Washington Post echoes the same theme:

President Obama likes to portray the battle over the economic stimulus package that passed the Senate on Tuesday as a stark choice between his approach and that of those who would “do nothing.”

“Nothing is not an option. You didn’t send me to Washington to do nothing,” Obama told a gathering of 1,500 here on Tuesday, bringing the crowd to its feet as he campaigned for passage of the more than $800 billion package.

The president used the same language Monday in his first prime-time news conference, suggesting that lawmakers who opposed his prescription want the government to ignore the deepening economic crisis.

“There seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing,” he said.

But in truth, few of those involved in the stimulus debate are suggesting that the government should not take action to aid the cratering economy.

Many of the president’s fiercest congressional critics support a stimulus package of similar size but think it should be built around a much higher proportion of tax cuts than new spending. Others have called for a plan that is half the size of the one headed for a House-Senate conference — still massive by historical standards.

Well, the reporters say George W. Bush did the same sort of “my way or the highway” routine. But wait. The new guy was supposed to be better. He ran against the other guy’s effort to “tear down the positions of those phantom opponents as irresponsible, unworkable or downright shameful in comparison to his own.” (Sure, John McCain’s name was on the ballot, but Obama ran against Bush.) Now we hear that dishonest rhetoric is the norm, so we should simply shrug and move on?

In another context, Patrick Moynihan called the downward spiral of societal standards “defining deviancy down.” I suspect we’re about to find out exactly how far down we can go.

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A Taliban Emirate

In Pakistan, Taliban groups are no longer confined to tribal areas and unsettled scrubland:

Even the Swat Valley, one of the most beautiful green highland landscapes on earth and until recently a popular tourist destination, is now home to Taliban FM radio stations which broadcast the names of new death squad targets most evenings, and justify the latest murders of women and girls.

In Green Square in the centre of Mingora, the valley’s largest city, executions are staged and bodies dumped within walking distance of police stations, to help local people understand the Taliban’s take on Sharia law.

Police officers in Swat have abandoned their posts in fear and diplomats say they can’t blame them – the state’s writ no longer runs here and its police officers do not receive regular salaries for fighting the Taliban.

The Telegraph’s Dean Nelson describes the area as al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s own “emirate.” Which is not a bad way to look at things. If we’re going to step up aerial bombardment of these regions, questions of sovereignty will take center stage. Coming to grips with the fact that the Zardari government has lost jurisdiction over Taliban areas might help to preempt moral posturing in the West and soften the bluster out of Islamabad.

In Pakistan, Taliban groups are no longer confined to tribal areas and unsettled scrubland:

Even the Swat Valley, one of the most beautiful green highland landscapes on earth and until recently a popular tourist destination, is now home to Taliban FM radio stations which broadcast the names of new death squad targets most evenings, and justify the latest murders of women and girls.

In Green Square in the centre of Mingora, the valley’s largest city, executions are staged and bodies dumped within walking distance of police stations, to help local people understand the Taliban’s take on Sharia law.

Police officers in Swat have abandoned their posts in fear and diplomats say they can’t blame them – the state’s writ no longer runs here and its police officers do not receive regular salaries for fighting the Taliban.

The Telegraph’s Dean Nelson describes the area as al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s own “emirate.” Which is not a bad way to look at things. If we’re going to step up aerial bombardment of these regions, questions of sovereignty will take center stage. Coming to grips with the fact that the Zardari government has lost jurisdiction over Taliban areas might help to preempt moral posturing in the West and soften the bluster out of Islamabad.

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Pragmatism Beats the Alternative

Michael Gerson reviews the many Obama administration’s stumbles, and cautions:

These stumbles have had an almost theological effect among Republicans: The doctrine of Obama’s political infallibility has been challenged. But the administration’s setbacks — particularly those on personnel — are temporary, and easily reversed by a series of legislative victories that have already begun.

The initial period of the Obama administration, however, has provided hints of a long-term problem — not one of incompetence, but of emptiness.

Gerson finds that “emptiness” is really unmoored “pragmatism.” But the examples which he provides — a sell out on education reform and deferral to liberal Democrat stimulus drafters suggests not pragmatism, but trite liberalism. There is nothing new, nothing innovative or daring in any policy initiative yet undertaken. All those smart people in the administration — and we wind up with something John Kerry finds entirely satisfying. It is the deadening hand of liberal convention and intellectual conformity.

Pragmatism would at least offer some excitement, as he tacked right and then left. Bill Clinton at least tried to put into practice “The Third Way” — albeit under considerable Republican pressure. Nevertheless, he did depart from the dreary sameness of New Deal liberalism. Not this president — questioning FDR is verboten.

So unlike Gerson, I’d settle for some policy pragmatism right about now. It’s better than a revival of every bad liberal idea from the last seventy years.

Michael Gerson reviews the many Obama administration’s stumbles, and cautions:

These stumbles have had an almost theological effect among Republicans: The doctrine of Obama’s political infallibility has been challenged. But the administration’s setbacks — particularly those on personnel — are temporary, and easily reversed by a series of legislative victories that have already begun.

The initial period of the Obama administration, however, has provided hints of a long-term problem — not one of incompetence, but of emptiness.

Gerson finds that “emptiness” is really unmoored “pragmatism.” But the examples which he provides — a sell out on education reform and deferral to liberal Democrat stimulus drafters suggests not pragmatism, but trite liberalism. There is nothing new, nothing innovative or daring in any policy initiative yet undertaken. All those smart people in the administration — and we wind up with something John Kerry finds entirely satisfying. It is the deadening hand of liberal convention and intellectual conformity.

Pragmatism would at least offer some excitement, as he tacked right and then left. Bill Clinton at least tried to put into practice “The Third Way” — albeit under considerable Republican pressure. Nevertheless, he did depart from the dreary sameness of New Deal liberalism. Not this president — questioning FDR is verboten.

So unlike Gerson, I’d settle for some policy pragmatism right about now. It’s better than a revival of every bad liberal idea from the last seventy years.

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A Misattribution of Blame

President Obama during Monday night’s press conference  put the blame for the current economic malaise on “tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans.” “We have tried that strategy time and time again,” he said during his opening statement. “And it’s only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.”

This, of course, is both historically and economically ludicrous. The marginal rates on the federal income tax have been substantially lowered four times in American history, in the 1920’s, the 1960’s, the 1980’s, and the 2000’s.   Each time the American economy immediately responded with increased growth, lower unemployment, and increased government revenues.

To be sure, each of these prosperous periods were then followed by periods of economic distress (although the recession of 1990-91 was very shallow). But to argue that the tax cuts caused the economic distress is a classic example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  The Great Depression came out of agricultural distress as food prices declined in the 1920’s. Government mistakes then converted an ordinary recession into a calamity. The 1970’s stagflation was touched off by the Johnson Administration trying to have both guns (the Vietnam War) and butter (the Great Society) while the Federal Reserve accomodated federal deficits by keeping interest rates low. The current mess was not caused by the Bush tax cuts, it was caused by the Fed keeping interest rates too low for too long aftere 9/11, Fannie and Freddie facilitating a housing bubble, and banks drastically lowering credit standards, which pumped up the housing bubble still further.

Logical fallacies are a dime a dozen in political rhetoric, of course, and politicians seldom allow historical truth to get in the way of promoting an agenda. Still, it is not encouraging to see a new president– a self-declared apostle of postpartisanship yet–use such hyper-partisan twaddle in his very first press conference. If this is how Obama intends to govern, it’s going to be a long four years.

President Obama during Monday night’s press conference  put the blame for the current economic malaise on “tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans.” “We have tried that strategy time and time again,” he said during his opening statement. “And it’s only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.”

This, of course, is both historically and economically ludicrous. The marginal rates on the federal income tax have been substantially lowered four times in American history, in the 1920’s, the 1960’s, the 1980’s, and the 2000’s.   Each time the American economy immediately responded with increased growth, lower unemployment, and increased government revenues.

To be sure, each of these prosperous periods were then followed by periods of economic distress (although the recession of 1990-91 was very shallow). But to argue that the tax cuts caused the economic distress is a classic example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  The Great Depression came out of agricultural distress as food prices declined in the 1920’s. Government mistakes then converted an ordinary recession into a calamity. The 1970’s stagflation was touched off by the Johnson Administration trying to have both guns (the Vietnam War) and butter (the Great Society) while the Federal Reserve accomodated federal deficits by keeping interest rates low. The current mess was not caused by the Bush tax cuts, it was caused by the Fed keeping interest rates too low for too long aftere 9/11, Fannie and Freddie facilitating a housing bubble, and banks drastically lowering credit standards, which pumped up the housing bubble still further.

Logical fallacies are a dime a dozen in political rhetoric, of course, and politicians seldom allow historical truth to get in the way of promoting an agenda. Still, it is not encouraging to see a new president– a self-declared apostle of postpartisanship yet–use such hyper-partisan twaddle in his very first press conference. If this is how Obama intends to govern, it’s going to be a long four years.

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Geithner Bombs

We were told we had to, just had to have Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary despite his tax cheating problems because he was such a genius. Then he unveils a half-baked bank bailout plan. Megan McArdle observes:

Plan?  That’s not a plan, it’s a fervent wish.  No details at all on the foreclosure program, and precious few beyond platitudes about the mechanisms for dealing with toxic assets.   The only real new information is the amount:  $1 trillion total, $500 billion to start. I don’t envy Geithner his position.  But he’s known this was coming for months.  I expected a little more than telling us that he wanted to spend a lot of money to help banks clean up their balance sheets.  We knew that much already.

Certainly there were honest taxpayers who could have done at least this well, right? The reports and reviews are devastating.

For starters, it’s never good when they laugh at you (“Administration officials were greeted with sarcasm and laughter Monday night when they briefed lawmakers and congressional staff on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s new financial-sector bailout project, according to people who were in the room.”) (h/t Glenn Reynolds) Investors really hated the Geithner plan. And The Wall Street Journal set the tone for the chorus of howls: “Judging by the hissing in financial markets, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s opening act as Rescuer in Chief yesterday was a bomb.” Ouch.

But we should have suspected this was coming. Geithner was at Hank Paulson’s side and was involved intimately, we were told, in each of the Bush administration bailout machinations. So we should hardly be surprised when we get something lacking “freshness and clarity.” After all, he’s just carrying out business as usual.

Larry Kudlow on CNBC last night also observed that the president, in effect, set up Geithner. To deflect further press inquiry during his primetime presser the president promised Geithner would have all the details on the bank bailout the following day. Naturally, the markets expected Geithner would have all the details. When he didn’t, they were mighty disappointed.

The Obama  administration is teetering on the brink of a precipice. After such an impressive campaign the public may start to worry just how incompetent this crew is. Botched nominees, a less-than stellar stimulus plan, and now a bank bailout that landed like a thud. The Obama team has a very short window in which to get its act together. The markets, voters and Congress are watching — nervously.

We were told we had to, just had to have Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary despite his tax cheating problems because he was such a genius. Then he unveils a half-baked bank bailout plan. Megan McArdle observes:

Plan?  That’s not a plan, it’s a fervent wish.  No details at all on the foreclosure program, and precious few beyond platitudes about the mechanisms for dealing with toxic assets.   The only real new information is the amount:  $1 trillion total, $500 billion to start. I don’t envy Geithner his position.  But he’s known this was coming for months.  I expected a little more than telling us that he wanted to spend a lot of money to help banks clean up their balance sheets.  We knew that much already.

Certainly there were honest taxpayers who could have done at least this well, right? The reports and reviews are devastating.

For starters, it’s never good when they laugh at you (“Administration officials were greeted with sarcasm and laughter Monday night when they briefed lawmakers and congressional staff on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s new financial-sector bailout project, according to people who were in the room.”) (h/t Glenn Reynolds) Investors really hated the Geithner plan. And The Wall Street Journal set the tone for the chorus of howls: “Judging by the hissing in financial markets, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s opening act as Rescuer in Chief yesterday was a bomb.” Ouch.

But we should have suspected this was coming. Geithner was at Hank Paulson’s side and was involved intimately, we were told, in each of the Bush administration bailout machinations. So we should hardly be surprised when we get something lacking “freshness and clarity.” After all, he’s just carrying out business as usual.

Larry Kudlow on CNBC last night also observed that the president, in effect, set up Geithner. To deflect further press inquiry during his primetime presser the president promised Geithner would have all the details on the bank bailout the following day. Naturally, the markets expected Geithner would have all the details. When he didn’t, they were mighty disappointed.

The Obama  administration is teetering on the brink of a precipice. After such an impressive campaign the public may start to worry just how incompetent this crew is. Botched nominees, a less-than stellar stimulus plan, and now a bank bailout that landed like a thud. The Obama team has a very short window in which to get its act together. The markets, voters and Congress are watching — nervously.

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The IDF Will Decide Israel’s Election

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kadima maintains a slim, one-seat lead over Likud, 28 Knesset seats to 27. As usual in Israel, the real vote is a little to the right of the exit polls. However, as one of my commenters noted, this does not take into account the votes of IDF soldiers, who count for about 6 Knesset seats total. My bet is that this will shift things a bit more towards Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu — especially after the Gaza war. For all its tactical successes, the soldiers went in hoping to bring down Hamas and bring back Gilad Shalit, and neither of these happened.

The current tally also doesn’t count the surplus vote agreements: In Israel’s system, each party can cut a deal with another party in advance, such that all the votes beyond their last Knesset seat which were not enough for an additional seat go to another, like-minded party. Likud’s deal is with Yisrael Beitenu: Which means that whichever party is closer to an additional seat will get the surplus votes of the other. Kadima, on the other hand, cut its deal with one of the obscure environmental parties, which didn’t make the threshold of getting into the Knesset — all of those votes are lost.

My prediction is for a tie, with a possible slight edge to Likud.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kadima maintains a slim, one-seat lead over Likud, 28 Knesset seats to 27. As usual in Israel, the real vote is a little to the right of the exit polls. However, as one of my commenters noted, this does not take into account the votes of IDF soldiers, who count for about 6 Knesset seats total. My bet is that this will shift things a bit more towards Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu — especially after the Gaza war. For all its tactical successes, the soldiers went in hoping to bring down Hamas and bring back Gilad Shalit, and neither of these happened.

The current tally also doesn’t count the surplus vote agreements: In Israel’s system, each party can cut a deal with another party in advance, such that all the votes beyond their last Knesset seat which were not enough for an additional seat go to another, like-minded party. Likud’s deal is with Yisrael Beitenu: Which means that whichever party is closer to an additional seat will get the surplus votes of the other. Kadima, on the other hand, cut its deal with one of the obscure environmental parties, which didn’t make the threshold of getting into the Knesset — all of those votes are lost.

My prediction is for a tie, with a possible slight edge to Likud.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Kirsten Gillibrand changes her tune on gun rights. The New York Daily News sneers: “A cynical newspaper guy might say Gillibrand was never so much pro-gun as pro-Kirsten, and the change only reflects a broader constituency than the rural hunters she represented as an upstate congresswoman.”

If she keeps this up, Maureen Dowd is going be writing GOP campaign ads: “It wasn’t only that Geithner’s own tax history — and his time as head of the New York Fed when all the bad stuff was happening on Wall Street, and when he left with nearly a half-million in severance — makes him a dubious messenger for the president’s pledge to keep the haves from further betraying the have-nots. It wasn’t only that Hank Paulson’s mumbo-jumbo and the Democrats’ bad judgment in accessorizing the stimulus bill with Grammy-level ‘bling, bling,’ as the R.N.C. chairman, Michael Steele, called it, have ripped Americans’ already threadbare trust.” Oh, maybe she just did.

It’s not just Rep. Jack Murtha — two other congressmen are under investigation, but you have to guess the party affiliation since the New York Times doesn’t tell you.

Ruth Marcus defends President Obama’s start on the grounds he’s been doing no worse than Presidents Clinton and Bush. Yikes, that’s a come down, isn’t it?

Does President Obama feel about Joe Biden the way President Eisenhower felt about Richard Nixon? I never thought it made much sense to denigrate your own VP. Doesn’t that only highlight what a bad choice you made?

You mean we’re going to have to raise taxes to pay off all this debt?

Jeb Bush seems to have some well thought out reasons for opposing the stimulus plan. Nah, just peddling “failed theories” and hoping the country tanks. At least that’s what the president keeps telling us.

Is the “thrill” of Obama on TV gone already? “In the end, maybe the worst result of him not being on the top of his rhetorical game is that he was never able to redeem his malaise-drenched message of what a crisis he inherited with any vision of better days ahead — no matter how far down the road they might be. Near the end of the session, he called himself an ‘eternal optimist’ and expressed his faith that we will ‘solve these problems.’ But he didn’t have his TV game together enough to make us believe.”

Good advice for the gloom-and-doom president: “Markets are not always rational, and, as reflections of human nature, they can be lectured into psychological depression.” But after telling us we’re in the worst economy since the Great Depression what’s he say now –“Never mind”? Ah, he “threads the needle.”

Camille Paglia sums up: “The administration’s coercive rush toward instant action, accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent catastrophe, has put its own credibility on the line.”

Hillary Clinton has a “suggestion box.” Oh my, where to start? My top two: deliver his speech to the Muslim world in Baghdad and tell the president to stop apologizing to the Iranians. Okay one more: give an address about the rights of women in the Middle East.

An impressive interview by Mitt Romney: “Unfortunately, by letting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid put this bill together, they’ve come up with something which is not going to work as effectively as if they would have done what, frankly, what John McCain proposed.” And Romney’s gotten funnier: “Well, I learned that there’s a very great rhetorical benefit in being able to set up straw men. . . and then knock them down. Dealing with the real problems associated with Barack Obama’s stimulus plan was not something which he was prepared to do, and you know, you understand why he’s doing what he is doing. He’s had a pretty tough couple of weeks here.”

The Republicans nearly eliminate the generic poll gap in Congress. (Well, when Nancy Pelosi is your opponent, really how hard could it be?)

Another Republican is onto the Census power grab by the White House.

Kirsten Gillibrand changes her tune on gun rights. The New York Daily News sneers: “A cynical newspaper guy might say Gillibrand was never so much pro-gun as pro-Kirsten, and the change only reflects a broader constituency than the rural hunters she represented as an upstate congresswoman.”

If she keeps this up, Maureen Dowd is going be writing GOP campaign ads: “It wasn’t only that Geithner’s own tax history — and his time as head of the New York Fed when all the bad stuff was happening on Wall Street, and when he left with nearly a half-million in severance — makes him a dubious messenger for the president’s pledge to keep the haves from further betraying the have-nots. It wasn’t only that Hank Paulson’s mumbo-jumbo and the Democrats’ bad judgment in accessorizing the stimulus bill with Grammy-level ‘bling, bling,’ as the R.N.C. chairman, Michael Steele, called it, have ripped Americans’ already threadbare trust.” Oh, maybe she just did.

It’s not just Rep. Jack Murtha — two other congressmen are under investigation, but you have to guess the party affiliation since the New York Times doesn’t tell you.

Ruth Marcus defends President Obama’s start on the grounds he’s been doing no worse than Presidents Clinton and Bush. Yikes, that’s a come down, isn’t it?

Does President Obama feel about Joe Biden the way President Eisenhower felt about Richard Nixon? I never thought it made much sense to denigrate your own VP. Doesn’t that only highlight what a bad choice you made?

You mean we’re going to have to raise taxes to pay off all this debt?

Jeb Bush seems to have some well thought out reasons for opposing the stimulus plan. Nah, just peddling “failed theories” and hoping the country tanks. At least that’s what the president keeps telling us.

Is the “thrill” of Obama on TV gone already? “In the end, maybe the worst result of him not being on the top of his rhetorical game is that he was never able to redeem his malaise-drenched message of what a crisis he inherited with any vision of better days ahead — no matter how far down the road they might be. Near the end of the session, he called himself an ‘eternal optimist’ and expressed his faith that we will ‘solve these problems.’ But he didn’t have his TV game together enough to make us believe.”

Good advice for the gloom-and-doom president: “Markets are not always rational, and, as reflections of human nature, they can be lectured into psychological depression.” But after telling us we’re in the worst economy since the Great Depression what’s he say now –“Never mind”? Ah, he “threads the needle.”

Camille Paglia sums up: “The administration’s coercive rush toward instant action, accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent catastrophe, has put its own credibility on the line.”

Hillary Clinton has a “suggestion box.” Oh my, where to start? My top two: deliver his speech to the Muslim world in Baghdad and tell the president to stop apologizing to the Iranians. Okay one more: give an address about the rights of women in the Middle East.

An impressive interview by Mitt Romney: “Unfortunately, by letting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid put this bill together, they’ve come up with something which is not going to work as effectively as if they would have done what, frankly, what John McCain proposed.” And Romney’s gotten funnier: “Well, I learned that there’s a very great rhetorical benefit in being able to set up straw men. . . and then knock them down. Dealing with the real problems associated with Barack Obama’s stimulus plan was not something which he was prepared to do, and you know, you understand why he’s doing what he is doing. He’s had a pretty tough couple of weeks here.”

The Republicans nearly eliminate the generic poll gap in Congress. (Well, when Nancy Pelosi is your opponent, really how hard could it be?)

Another Republican is onto the Census power grab by the White House.

Read Less




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