Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 16, 2009

Another One Leaves

A couple of observations about Jill Zuckman, the latest journalist to join the Obama administration:

First, things must indeed be desperate at the Chicago Tribune for Zuckman to leave to work at — the Transportation Department! Second, Zuckman  was actually among the least hyper-partisan members of the press. And Dr. Sanjya Gupta, another Obama hire, held the distinctions of annoying Paul Krugman and debunking Michael Moore.

In other words, with these moves, a few retirements and some untimely deaths, the press corps is getting worse and worse. The number of reporters willing to suspend their personal biases to simply get out the facts is diminishing. We are left with more pseudo-journalists ( a whole network of them at MSNBC). Sure, there is Jake Tapper — but the inescapable conclusion is that he is one of the few capable national reporters. We are all the worse for it.

A couple of observations about Jill Zuckman, the latest journalist to join the Obama administration:

First, things must indeed be desperate at the Chicago Tribune for Zuckman to leave to work at — the Transportation Department! Second, Zuckman  was actually among the least hyper-partisan members of the press. And Dr. Sanjya Gupta, another Obama hire, held the distinctions of annoying Paul Krugman and debunking Michael Moore.

In other words, with these moves, a few retirements and some untimely deaths, the press corps is getting worse and worse. The number of reporters willing to suspend their personal biases to simply get out the facts is diminishing. We are left with more pseudo-journalists ( a whole network of them at MSNBC). Sure, there is Jake Tapper — but the inescapable conclusion is that he is one of the few capable national reporters. We are all the worse for it.

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Too Grande to Fail

Jonathan Last tracks the rise and fall of Starbucks with the boom and bust progress of our economy and concludes:

Today, Starbucks is laying off workers, both at the retail level and at headquarters. It has tried to find savings in unlikely places – such as changing the recipe for its banana bread. It recently made headlines by announcing that it would no longer brew drip decaf coffee in the afternoons unless a customer requested one. Expect to see the same types of gonzo attempts at savings in other industries soon.

It’s fun to root against Starbucks in the same way we root against Microsoft Corp. or the Yankees. But if Starbucks is a harbinger for the rest of our economy, we better hope that Americans go back to buying their overpriced, over-roasted coffee – soon.

But wait, we can’t let the cruel, harsh marketplace decide something as important as this, can we? Millions of Americans depend on Starbucks and it offers all that employment. What to do?  In the Democrats’ economic vision, shouldn’t we be rushing to pass a Starbucks stimulus plan.

First, we give Starbucks a few billion dollars. Second, we have the taxpayers buy up all those unused, icky — dare I say “toxic” — breakfast sandwiches no one liked.  Then we give tax incentives for people to buy more Starbucks drinks. And when they still won’t return to their previous buying habits, we give them coffee loans, or badger banks to give them coffee financing. Then we tell Starbucks that since they are now on the dole there won’t be any big salaries or bonuses for Starbucks executives. And if Starbucks still isn’t making money we call Dunkin’ Donuts in, read ‘em the riot act and tell them to merge with their upscale competitors.

But what if there were just too many Starbucks, or they weren’t priced correctly? Maybe consumers would rather not incur more debt by taking out coffee loans. Or maybe they’d rather drink Diet Coke all day. Well, that’s just too darn bad. Starbucks is now a government-subsidized operation responsible to the “taxpayers.” And they better repay all those loans. If after all that we have more Starbucks than consumers want or need, and Starbucks doesn’t take whatever steps are needed to put their  coffee houses in order, and the better executive talent has now decamped to McDonalds that’s just the natural, dismal result of  . .  well, it must be  George Bush’s fault. Right?

Jonathan Last tracks the rise and fall of Starbucks with the boom and bust progress of our economy and concludes:

Today, Starbucks is laying off workers, both at the retail level and at headquarters. It has tried to find savings in unlikely places – such as changing the recipe for its banana bread. It recently made headlines by announcing that it would no longer brew drip decaf coffee in the afternoons unless a customer requested one. Expect to see the same types of gonzo attempts at savings in other industries soon.

It’s fun to root against Starbucks in the same way we root against Microsoft Corp. or the Yankees. But if Starbucks is a harbinger for the rest of our economy, we better hope that Americans go back to buying their overpriced, over-roasted coffee – soon.

But wait, we can’t let the cruel, harsh marketplace decide something as important as this, can we? Millions of Americans depend on Starbucks and it offers all that employment. What to do?  In the Democrats’ economic vision, shouldn’t we be rushing to pass a Starbucks stimulus plan.

First, we give Starbucks a few billion dollars. Second, we have the taxpayers buy up all those unused, icky — dare I say “toxic” — breakfast sandwiches no one liked.  Then we give tax incentives for people to buy more Starbucks drinks. And when they still won’t return to their previous buying habits, we give them coffee loans, or badger banks to give them coffee financing. Then we tell Starbucks that since they are now on the dole there won’t be any big salaries or bonuses for Starbucks executives. And if Starbucks still isn’t making money we call Dunkin’ Donuts in, read ‘em the riot act and tell them to merge with their upscale competitors.

But what if there were just too many Starbucks, or they weren’t priced correctly? Maybe consumers would rather not incur more debt by taking out coffee loans. Or maybe they’d rather drink Diet Coke all day. Well, that’s just too darn bad. Starbucks is now a government-subsidized operation responsible to the “taxpayers.” And they better repay all those loans. If after all that we have more Starbucks than consumers want or need, and Starbucks doesn’t take whatever steps are needed to put their  coffee houses in order, and the better executive talent has now decamped to McDonalds that’s just the natural, dismal result of  . .  well, it must be  George Bush’s fault. Right?

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Another Jenin Hoax?

The IDF has just opened its files on the question of Palestinian civilians killed in the recent Gaza war. According to these records, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, the number of Palestinian civilians killed is far below the figures cited by Palestinian sources — roughly one third of the 895 reported by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Although right now it’s just the IDF’s word against the Palestinians’, we would do well to recall the widespread claims of mass killings following the IDF operation in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002. First the Palestinians were claiming many hundreds of deaths, but the real number ended up being somewhere in the 20-50 range — possibly even fewer than the number of IDF soldiers killed in the same operation.

Here, too, we have already seen signs of wild exaggerations of the Palestinian non-combatant death figures. There was the case of the horrible testimonies of Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who, despite his claims of being an “objective” observer, was in fact a far-left political activist who came out in support of the 9/11 attacks. In the worst case of alleged civilian casualties, the IDF bombed in or near a school at the Jabalya refugee camp on January 6. The Palestinians reported finding the bodies of over 40 civilians under the rubble; the IDF now reports that only 12 people were killed in the incident, of whom only 3 were civilians.

It is too early to tell what will emerge from the clash of numbers on the Gaza war. But the IDF did not wait so long out of laziness: These reports are based on a thorough review, name-by-name, of the victims purportedly killed in attacks, cross-referenced with Palestinian hospital and other records.

It should go without saying that every civilian killed in war is a tragedy and, in some sense, somebody’s failure. But before people toss around blithe accusations of Israeli war crimes or the deliberate targeting of civilians, we need a better sense of the facts. Hopefully we’ve moved closer to that.

The IDF has just opened its files on the question of Palestinian civilians killed in the recent Gaza war. According to these records, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, the number of Palestinian civilians killed is far below the figures cited by Palestinian sources — roughly one third of the 895 reported by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Although right now it’s just the IDF’s word against the Palestinians’, we would do well to recall the widespread claims of mass killings following the IDF operation in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002. First the Palestinians were claiming many hundreds of deaths, but the real number ended up being somewhere in the 20-50 range — possibly even fewer than the number of IDF soldiers killed in the same operation.

Here, too, we have already seen signs of wild exaggerations of the Palestinian non-combatant death figures. There was the case of the horrible testimonies of Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who, despite his claims of being an “objective” observer, was in fact a far-left political activist who came out in support of the 9/11 attacks. In the worst case of alleged civilian casualties, the IDF bombed in or near a school at the Jabalya refugee camp on January 6. The Palestinians reported finding the bodies of over 40 civilians under the rubble; the IDF now reports that only 12 people were killed in the incident, of whom only 3 were civilians.

It is too early to tell what will emerge from the clash of numbers on the Gaza war. But the IDF did not wait so long out of laziness: These reports are based on a thorough review, name-by-name, of the victims purportedly killed in attacks, cross-referenced with Palestinian hospital and other records.

It should go without saying that every civilian killed in war is a tragedy and, in some sense, somebody’s failure. But before people toss around blithe accusations of Israeli war crimes or the deliberate targeting of civilians, we need a better sense of the facts. Hopefully we’ve moved closer to that.

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Paranoids Can Have Enemies

Every now and then, my mind takes a conspiratorial turn and I’m left wondering if I’m simply being paranoid. Current events are — well, conspiring — to make it happen again.

First up, we have the Fairness Doctrine. During the campaign, conservatives accused Barack Obama of stealthily favoring the return of the measure, which would cripple the one part of the media where conservatism thrives — talk radio. (And, coincidentally, the one segment of the radio business that’s actually doing pretty well financially. ) Obama denied any such plans.

Well, since the election, more and more Democrats have been talking about bringing back the plan. Tom Harkin has called for it, as has  Representative Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who is — by an astonishing coincidence — married to a top executive at Air America, the perennially struggling liberal talk radio network. And President Obama’s spokesman has backed off the words off Candidate Obama, deferring any comment at all on the Fairness Doctrine.

This would, in all likelihood, be the death knell of talk radio. Radio stations put on conservatives because they get ratings and make money. A radio station that is compelled to carry unpopular programming in the interest of “fairness” would end up having to heavily subsidize unpopular programs, and very well might decide that it simply isn’t worth all the hassle of trying to maintain “balance.” At that point, the talk radio market would probably go the way of much of the rest of the radio business — right down the drain.

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Every now and then, my mind takes a conspiratorial turn and I’m left wondering if I’m simply being paranoid. Current events are — well, conspiring — to make it happen again.

First up, we have the Fairness Doctrine. During the campaign, conservatives accused Barack Obama of stealthily favoring the return of the measure, which would cripple the one part of the media where conservatism thrives — talk radio. (And, coincidentally, the one segment of the radio business that’s actually doing pretty well financially. ) Obama denied any such plans.

Well, since the election, more and more Democrats have been talking about bringing back the plan. Tom Harkin has called for it, as has  Representative Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who is — by an astonishing coincidence — married to a top executive at Air America, the perennially struggling liberal talk radio network. And President Obama’s spokesman has backed off the words off Candidate Obama, deferring any comment at all on the Fairness Doctrine.

This would, in all likelihood, be the death knell of talk radio. Radio stations put on conservatives because they get ratings and make money. A radio station that is compelled to carry unpopular programming in the interest of “fairness” would end up having to heavily subsidize unpopular programs, and very well might decide that it simply isn’t worth all the hassle of trying to maintain “balance.” At that point, the talk radio market would probably go the way of much of the rest of the radio business — right down the drain.

And then there’s the Census. It might seem petty to some, but it was serious enough to convince Judd Gregg to  withdraw his nomination as Commerce Secretary.

The Obama administration’s plan is to make the Director of the Census report not just to the Secretary of Commerce, but to the White House Chief of Staff as well.

This raises legal and Constitutional issues. In compliance with a Constitutional mandate, Congress has passed laws placing the Bureau of the Census within the Department of Commerce.

The primary purpose of the Census is Congressional reapportionment. After the Census is taken, the seats in the House of Representatives are redistributed among the several states to preserve roughly equal representation. States with more people get more Representatives, and those with fewer people lose seats.

In the 2010 Census, the current projections  show several “blue” states poised to lose seats, and several “red” states about to pick them up. For example, Texas could gain four seats, while Massachusetts could lose one. If the Obama administration gets its way, a career partisan and political operative will have too much involvement in this critical process.

Like I said, sometimes I wonder if I’m being paranoid.

Other times, I wonder if I’m being paranoid enough.

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So Much for That New Era of International Cooperation

Another Obama myth has bitten the dust. President Obama was supposedly going to cajole European countries into taking in former Guantanamo detainees. As Peter Finn wrote in the Washington Post this past December:

European nations have begun intensive discussions both within and among their governments on whether to resettle detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a significant overture to the incoming Obama administration, according to senior European officials and U.S. diplomats.

The willingness to consider accepting prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries, because of fears they may be tortured there, represents a major change in attitude on the part of European governments. Repeated requests from the Bush administration that European allies accept some Guantanamo Bay detainees received only refusals.

So how has that turned out, less than two months later? One by one, European countries have declined to absorb detainees. And with today’s refusal from Italy, Nancy Pelosi admitted, “I don’t think we’ll see a situation where the president will be asking countries to accept people.”

How thoughtful of him.

Another Obama myth has bitten the dust. President Obama was supposedly going to cajole European countries into taking in former Guantanamo detainees. As Peter Finn wrote in the Washington Post this past December:

European nations have begun intensive discussions both within and among their governments on whether to resettle detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a significant overture to the incoming Obama administration, according to senior European officials and U.S. diplomats.

The willingness to consider accepting prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries, because of fears they may be tortured there, represents a major change in attitude on the part of European governments. Repeated requests from the Bush administration that European allies accept some Guantanamo Bay detainees received only refusals.

So how has that turned out, less than two months later? One by one, European countries have declined to absorb detainees. And with today’s refusal from Italy, Nancy Pelosi admitted, “I don’t think we’ll see a situation where the president will be asking countries to accept people.”

How thoughtful of him.

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Let’s Thank Hugo Chavez

By a decisive margin, Venezuelan voters removed all term limits for officeholders yesterday. And they did something else, at least according to President Hugo Chavez, who will now be allowed to run for a third consecutive term in 2012.  “Those who voted ‘yes’ today voted for socialism, for revolution,” he said.

In a sense, the pudgy revolutionary is right.  Yesterday’s referendum was a setback of enormous proportions for representative governance and capitalism in Venezuela.
Chavez evidently wants to be president for life, but in his public pronouncements he talks about leading the country until 2049, when he will be 95.  “Effectively this will become a dictatorship,” says opposition leader Omar Barboza.  Just about everyone agrees.  Now in control of the government, Boss Hugo can do what he wants.

Maybe.  The one thing Chavez cannot do is control the price of oil, which makes up 94 percent of his country’s exports and produces about half of the national government’s revenue.  His current budget assumes oil will average $60 a barrel, but it is now about $37.  Global energy markets have figured out that we’re in a severe and long downturn, so oil prices will stay low.  Even if producers can force prices up, they will be able to do so only with drastic production cuts, which will end up reducing proceeds to governments like Venezuela’s.  The problem is even worse than that for Chavez because his “21st-century socialism” has led to results that 20th century socialists would find familiar.  For instance, his state oil company, PDVSA, is laying off workers and cannot meet its payroll or pay bills.

Now that Chavez has even more power, he is bound to go overboard and bring his nation to ruin even faster.  The dominant narrative is that the global downturn is proof that capitalism must be tamed, so the world needs another lesson in the power of socialism to destroy wealth and ruin societies.  Let’s all join in thanking President Chavez, who will remind us why collectivism does not work.

By a decisive margin, Venezuelan voters removed all term limits for officeholders yesterday. And they did something else, at least according to President Hugo Chavez, who will now be allowed to run for a third consecutive term in 2012.  “Those who voted ‘yes’ today voted for socialism, for revolution,” he said.

In a sense, the pudgy revolutionary is right.  Yesterday’s referendum was a setback of enormous proportions for representative governance and capitalism in Venezuela.
Chavez evidently wants to be president for life, but in his public pronouncements he talks about leading the country until 2049, when he will be 95.  “Effectively this will become a dictatorship,” says opposition leader Omar Barboza.  Just about everyone agrees.  Now in control of the government, Boss Hugo can do what he wants.

Maybe.  The one thing Chavez cannot do is control the price of oil, which makes up 94 percent of his country’s exports and produces about half of the national government’s revenue.  His current budget assumes oil will average $60 a barrel, but it is now about $37.  Global energy markets have figured out that we’re in a severe and long downturn, so oil prices will stay low.  Even if producers can force prices up, they will be able to do so only with drastic production cuts, which will end up reducing proceeds to governments like Venezuela’s.  The problem is even worse than that for Chavez because his “21st-century socialism” has led to results that 20th century socialists would find familiar.  For instance, his state oil company, PDVSA, is laying off workers and cannot meet its payroll or pay bills.

Now that Chavez has even more power, he is bound to go overboard and bring his nation to ruin even faster.  The dominant narrative is that the global downturn is proof that capitalism must be tamed, so the world needs another lesson in the power of socialism to destroy wealth and ruin societies.  Let’s all join in thanking President Chavez, who will remind us why collectivism does not work.

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Magical Thinking About Peace

Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute provided some incisive testimony last week to a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warning against the persistent belief that “there is a magical solution to the Israel-Palestine problem – some trick, some person, some formula that will make it all right.”

We have welcomed the return of the PLO to the West Bank and Gaza, the leadership of Yasser Arafat, the leadership of Abu Mazen, the responsible stewardship of Salam Fayyad, the participation of Hamas in elections (that worked out well), various truces and agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and more. We have rushed, serially, to worship at the feet of various Palestinians who we think can “deliver” without regard to their standing in Palestinian society or their actual accomplishments. . . .

American policy goals should be simple and straightforward: An end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict built on a stable edifice that may, but should not necessarily include a state of Palestine. A relationship with Hamas will not advance those goals, as the raison d’etre of the group is the eradication of the Jewish state. . . .

On the immediate question of aid to the Palestinians, there should be little doubt that UNRWA is central to the problem of manipulation of aid, though other NGOs are culpable as well. For decades, UNRWA has been an unapologetic advocate for Palestinian extremism and an unrelenting Israel detractor. . . . UNRWA schools foment extremism, its employees are not vetted for connections to terrorist groups, its aid has been hijacked . . . . In light of its history of failure – even when graded on pure aid and development scales – it would be wise to revisit its existence. . . .

I would like to be able to say that Abu Mazen and Salaam Fayyad represent a new Palestine, but rather they are the old Palestine that looks better only when compared to Hamas. In fact, the Palestinian scene offers little by way of political hope for the future of the Palestinian people. . . .

In the short term, we must push off the question of a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem until we find a solution to the Palestine problem. We must isolate Hamas, and help the Israelis to do so more effectively. . . . We must use the political, economic and military tools available to a great power to penalize Syria, Lebanon, Iran and others who arm and finance Hamas, and we must start any peace-building exercise at the beginning – with the understanding that the only stable peace in the Middle East rests upon a Palestine that is more concerned with jobs and education and less concerned with Zionists.

In the valuable Elliott Abrams interview that Shmuel noted yesterday, Ruthie Blum Leibowitz asked why he had been skeptical of Condoleezza Rice and Ehud Olmert’s optimism that a final-status agreement was in reach, given the conventional wisdom that both sides had long understood the outline of a deal.  Abrams responded in part as follows:

[I]t seemed to me that the opposite view was right: that if everybody knows what a deal has to look like, and year after year and decade after decade, it is not possible to reach it, isn’t it obvious that it’s because neither side wants that deal? . . . . [I]f everybody knows what the options are, and the most Israel can offer is less than the least the Palestinians can accept, the solution is not close at hand. . . .

It did not seem to me then – and it does not seem to me now – that we’re on the verge of a final-status agreement.

The Obama administration seems poised (calling Abu Mazen immediately, promptly appointing George Mitchell as negotiator, increasing Gaza aid, etc.) to push a solution. Pletka’s testimony and Abrams’s interview indicate such an effort will be not only premature but counterproductive.

Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute provided some incisive testimony last week to a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warning against the persistent belief that “there is a magical solution to the Israel-Palestine problem – some trick, some person, some formula that will make it all right.”

We have welcomed the return of the PLO to the West Bank and Gaza, the leadership of Yasser Arafat, the leadership of Abu Mazen, the responsible stewardship of Salam Fayyad, the participation of Hamas in elections (that worked out well), various truces and agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and more. We have rushed, serially, to worship at the feet of various Palestinians who we think can “deliver” without regard to their standing in Palestinian society or their actual accomplishments. . . .

American policy goals should be simple and straightforward: An end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict built on a stable edifice that may, but should not necessarily include a state of Palestine. A relationship with Hamas will not advance those goals, as the raison d’etre of the group is the eradication of the Jewish state. . . .

On the immediate question of aid to the Palestinians, there should be little doubt that UNRWA is central to the problem of manipulation of aid, though other NGOs are culpable as well. For decades, UNRWA has been an unapologetic advocate for Palestinian extremism and an unrelenting Israel detractor. . . . UNRWA schools foment extremism, its employees are not vetted for connections to terrorist groups, its aid has been hijacked . . . . In light of its history of failure – even when graded on pure aid and development scales – it would be wise to revisit its existence. . . .

I would like to be able to say that Abu Mazen and Salaam Fayyad represent a new Palestine, but rather they are the old Palestine that looks better only when compared to Hamas. In fact, the Palestinian scene offers little by way of political hope for the future of the Palestinian people. . . .

In the short term, we must push off the question of a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem until we find a solution to the Palestine problem. We must isolate Hamas, and help the Israelis to do so more effectively. . . . We must use the political, economic and military tools available to a great power to penalize Syria, Lebanon, Iran and others who arm and finance Hamas, and we must start any peace-building exercise at the beginning – with the understanding that the only stable peace in the Middle East rests upon a Palestine that is more concerned with jobs and education and less concerned with Zionists.

In the valuable Elliott Abrams interview that Shmuel noted yesterday, Ruthie Blum Leibowitz asked why he had been skeptical of Condoleezza Rice and Ehud Olmert’s optimism that a final-status agreement was in reach, given the conventional wisdom that both sides had long understood the outline of a deal.  Abrams responded in part as follows:

[I]t seemed to me that the opposite view was right: that if everybody knows what a deal has to look like, and year after year and decade after decade, it is not possible to reach it, isn’t it obvious that it’s because neither side wants that deal? . . . . [I]f everybody knows what the options are, and the most Israel can offer is less than the least the Palestinians can accept, the solution is not close at hand. . . .

It did not seem to me then – and it does not seem to me now – that we’re on the verge of a final-status agreement.

The Obama administration seems poised (calling Abu Mazen immediately, promptly appointing George Mitchell as negotiator, increasing Gaza aid, etc.) to push a solution. Pletka’s testimony and Abrams’s interview indicate such an effort will be not only premature but counterproductive.

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He’s Baaack

Roland Burris is in hot water. The press and the Illinois GOP are all over him for his admission in a recent affidavit that he was asked by Blago’s brother to host a fundraiser for Blago. This key bit of evidence was omitted from Burris’s previous testimony under oath. On its face his latest revelation, describing three separate contacts between Burris and Blago’s brother, seems to contradict earlier testimony in which he denied contact with Blago’s associates about the senate seat. The kicker: “Burris may be on tape in the ongoing FBI probe of the former governor and sought to make the disclosure before embarrassing new details emerge.” Oh boy.

The ranking Republican in the Illinois state impeachment hearing is calling for Burris to resign. The new governor wants “a complete explanation.” Sens. Durbin and Reid are said to be “reviewing” the latest affidavit and waiting for action by the state legislature (because they are incapable of making any judgment on their own?).

Can the U.S. Senate expel him? Well, if he took office by fraud — maintaining he had no contact with Blago’s gang when in fact he did — the Senate certainly could. But that would require the senate Democrats to cease circling the wagons. Can the state legislature, as a former Illinois official suggests, declare Burris’s appointment was only temporary and then call for a special election? Perhaps. Or, criminal prosecution for perjury against Burris is always possible. We’re in a recession, but there is no shortage of legal work being generated by Blago and Burris.

The Democrats in Illinois, egged on by Harry Reid, have only themselves to blame. It all stems from the Illinois Democrats’ political piggishness in refusing to strip Blago of his power to appoint a successor to Obama’s senate seat. Had they not opposed a special election, a new duly elected senator would be heading to Washington soon. But instead, the drama goes on. And what does the White House think of all of this? First they declared Burris wouldn’t sit in the Senate, then they pressured Reid to relent. What now? Silence so far, but soon they’ll be pressed to provide a reaction.

Beyond Burris, the Democrats — the party of Blago, Burris, Reid, Moran, Murtha, Rangel and Dodd — have an endemic problem. But I suspect they haven’t figured out that they refuse to clean their own house at their own peril. If you have any doubt ask Speakers Hastert or Rostenkowski.

Roland Burris is in hot water. The press and the Illinois GOP are all over him for his admission in a recent affidavit that he was asked by Blago’s brother to host a fundraiser for Blago. This key bit of evidence was omitted from Burris’s previous testimony under oath. On its face his latest revelation, describing three separate contacts between Burris and Blago’s brother, seems to contradict earlier testimony in which he denied contact with Blago’s associates about the senate seat. The kicker: “Burris may be on tape in the ongoing FBI probe of the former governor and sought to make the disclosure before embarrassing new details emerge.” Oh boy.

The ranking Republican in the Illinois state impeachment hearing is calling for Burris to resign. The new governor wants “a complete explanation.” Sens. Durbin and Reid are said to be “reviewing” the latest affidavit and waiting for action by the state legislature (because they are incapable of making any judgment on their own?).

Can the U.S. Senate expel him? Well, if he took office by fraud — maintaining he had no contact with Blago’s gang when in fact he did — the Senate certainly could. But that would require the senate Democrats to cease circling the wagons. Can the state legislature, as a former Illinois official suggests, declare Burris’s appointment was only temporary and then call for a special election? Perhaps. Or, criminal prosecution for perjury against Burris is always possible. We’re in a recession, but there is no shortage of legal work being generated by Blago and Burris.

The Democrats in Illinois, egged on by Harry Reid, have only themselves to blame. It all stems from the Illinois Democrats’ political piggishness in refusing to strip Blago of his power to appoint a successor to Obama’s senate seat. Had they not opposed a special election, a new duly elected senator would be heading to Washington soon. But instead, the drama goes on. And what does the White House think of all of this? First they declared Burris wouldn’t sit in the Senate, then they pressured Reid to relent. What now? Silence so far, but soon they’ll be pressed to provide a reaction.

Beyond Burris, the Democrats — the party of Blago, Burris, Reid, Moran, Murtha, Rangel and Dodd — have an endemic problem. But I suspect they haven’t figured out that they refuse to clean their own house at their own peril. If you have any doubt ask Speakers Hastert or Rostenkowski.

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Israel’s Defense Business, Sound

Quietly, Israel has built an enormous defense relationship with the second-most populous country on earth. Although both sides have kept this fairly quiet — we didn’t see massive public Israeli involvement in the wake of the Mumbai bombings, for instance — the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that Israel has displaced Russia as India’s biggest defense supplier, averaging over $1 billion in new defense contracts in the last two years. Despite Israel’s sense of diplomatic isolation, we do not see a widespread cancellation of contracts, not even with Turkey, even with the growing rancor and anti-Israel rhetoric coming out of Ankara. Today Haaretz reports a $215 million radar deal agreed on with South Korea.

According to a report as of September 2007, Israel is the fourth-largest defense exporter on earth, after the U.S., Russia, and France. Just for a little perspective.

Quietly, Israel has built an enormous defense relationship with the second-most populous country on earth. Although both sides have kept this fairly quiet — we didn’t see massive public Israeli involvement in the wake of the Mumbai bombings, for instance — the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that Israel has displaced Russia as India’s biggest defense supplier, averaging over $1 billion in new defense contracts in the last two years. Despite Israel’s sense of diplomatic isolation, we do not see a widespread cancellation of contracts, not even with Turkey, even with the growing rancor and anti-Israel rhetoric coming out of Ankara. Today Haaretz reports a $215 million radar deal agreed on with South Korea.

According to a report as of September 2007, Israel is the fourth-largest defense exporter on earth, after the U.S., Russia, and France. Just for a little perspective.

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Not Without Shalit

As Israel comes under more and more pressure to re-open the border crossings into Gaza, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has found a bit of spine, and is taking a hard moral stand on the issue: the crossings will remain closed as long as Hamas holds Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit prisoner.

Shalit was taken prisoner in a Hamas cross-border invasion in the summer of 2006, and has been a hostage ever since. His captors have made numerous demands and threats, and offered diminishing evidence of his safety.

The people of Israel simply won’t forget about Shalit. In the recent elections,  many voters wrote in Shalit’s name as a reminder that they won’t let him fade away.

Olmert’s refusal — and the popularity of this stance in Israel — will not, in all likelihood, win Shalit’s freedom. But it should force the terrorist apologists to come out and say what they truly believe: that in the interests of “peace,” the lives of Israelis can be sacrificed.

It won’t be couched so bluntly, of course. Rather, Israel will be called upon to be “realistic” and “pragmatic” and to “show good faith” by bending on the issue of Gilad Shalit, in hopes that eventually he (or his remains) will be bartered for hundreds or thousands of Palestinian prisoners — the original intent of his kidnapping.

Olmert should stand firm on this point — it is a position of absolute moral authority. And so should his successor.

As Israel comes under more and more pressure to re-open the border crossings into Gaza, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has found a bit of spine, and is taking a hard moral stand on the issue: the crossings will remain closed as long as Hamas holds Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit prisoner.

Shalit was taken prisoner in a Hamas cross-border invasion in the summer of 2006, and has been a hostage ever since. His captors have made numerous demands and threats, and offered diminishing evidence of his safety.

The people of Israel simply won’t forget about Shalit. In the recent elections,  many voters wrote in Shalit’s name as a reminder that they won’t let him fade away.

Olmert’s refusal — and the popularity of this stance in Israel — will not, in all likelihood, win Shalit’s freedom. But it should force the terrorist apologists to come out and say what they truly believe: that in the interests of “peace,” the lives of Israelis can be sacrificed.

It won’t be couched so bluntly, of course. Rather, Israel will be called upon to be “realistic” and “pragmatic” and to “show good faith” by bending on the issue of Gilad Shalit, in hopes that eventually he (or his remains) will be bartered for hundreds or thousands of Palestinian prisoners — the original intent of his kidnapping.

Olmert should stand firm on this point — it is a position of absolute moral authority. And so should his successor.

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Car Crash

After much anticipation, we learn that the Obama team is not going to name a Car Czar. Instead we’re getting “an inter-agency task force” run byTim Giethner and Larry Summers and advised by a special assistant to the President of the Steelworkers Union. Let’s count the ways in which this is awful news.

First, on the heels of the administration’s failure to deliver on its promise of a detailed bank bailout, the administration now announce it isn’t making good on its stated intention, some would say obligation, to name a Car Czar. This is fast becoming the Unreliable Administration. (It’s a new management style apparently: Overpromise, Underperform.) As the New York Times reports, the decision has left everyone in the lurch: “The automakers had been expecting the appointment of a car czar to break the logjam of negotiations with the United Auto Workers over the finances of a retiree health care trust, and with bondholders about reducing the companies’ debt.”

Second, this appears to be one big punt. This suggests the Obama team is not capable or interested in putting needed pressure on the car companies, unions and bondholders to come up with their plan for a viable domestic auto industry. Or the White House simply doesn’t know what to do or what type of plan it wants. A mixed bag of representatives from a half a dozen agencies has all the making of a bureaucratic nightmare.  Third, by selecting a union official, characterized by the Times as an “in- house banker” for unions, the administration has not exactly come up with an honest broker between management and labor.The UAW would now be guilty of representational malpractice if it made any concessions. Fourth, the inter-agency task force is being co-headed by Tim Geithner, who is already and obviously overwhelmed by the bank bailout plan.

None of this is confidence-instilling. Moreover, it suggests once again that the Obama White House’s personnel management and policy development processes are seriously hobbled for reasons which are not yet clear. Whatever the reason, they better nip this in the bud or it’ll be a long four years.

After much anticipation, we learn that the Obama team is not going to name a Car Czar. Instead we’re getting “an inter-agency task force” run byTim Giethner and Larry Summers and advised by a special assistant to the President of the Steelworkers Union. Let’s count the ways in which this is awful news.

First, on the heels of the administration’s failure to deliver on its promise of a detailed bank bailout, the administration now announce it isn’t making good on its stated intention, some would say obligation, to name a Car Czar. This is fast becoming the Unreliable Administration. (It’s a new management style apparently: Overpromise, Underperform.) As the New York Times reports, the decision has left everyone in the lurch: “The automakers had been expecting the appointment of a car czar to break the logjam of negotiations with the United Auto Workers over the finances of a retiree health care trust, and with bondholders about reducing the companies’ debt.”

Second, this appears to be one big punt. This suggests the Obama team is not capable or interested in putting needed pressure on the car companies, unions and bondholders to come up with their plan for a viable domestic auto industry. Or the White House simply doesn’t know what to do or what type of plan it wants. A mixed bag of representatives from a half a dozen agencies has all the making of a bureaucratic nightmare.  Third, by selecting a union official, characterized by the Times as an “in- house banker” for unions, the administration has not exactly come up with an honest broker between management and labor.The UAW would now be guilty of representational malpractice if it made any concessions. Fourth, the inter-agency task force is being co-headed by Tim Geithner, who is already and obviously overwhelmed by the bank bailout plan.

None of this is confidence-instilling. Moreover, it suggests once again that the Obama White House’s personnel management and policy development processes are seriously hobbled for reasons which are not yet clear. Whatever the reason, they better nip this in the bud or it’ll be a long four years.

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The Israeli Elections: a Breakdown

Israel’s elections have everyone’s heads spinning. Nearly a week has passed and the results (contrary to my predictions) have remained unchanged: Kadima has 28 seats, one more than Likud’s 27. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu on the right has 15, and Labor on the left has 13. The two ultra-orthodox parties (call them center-right), Shas and UTJ, have 11 and 5 seats respectively, and are likely to go as a bloc of 16. Two small right-wing parties, Jewish Home and the National Union, have 3 and 4 seats respectively. Jewish Home is likely to join a government under Netanyahu, while National Union is not. On the other hand, you have the far-left, yet Jewish-Zionist, party Meretz at 3 seats. And you have the Arab parties (Hadash, Balad, and Raam-Taal) totalling 11, but they are not considered reasonable partners for either a Likud- or a Kadima-led government.

Nor have the major calculations changed as far as overall camps are concerned: The right can put together a coalition of 61 (not including National Union) without Kadima or Labor. The center-left cannot reach the crucial mark of 61 without Lieberman or Likud.

So, what’s going to happen?

Nobody really knows, and I have given up on predictions. But here are some basic issues:

1. Three different parties won the election. Kadima got the most seats in the Knesset. Likud is almost certainly going to head the governing coalition, putting Netanyahu as prime minister, either in rotation with Livni or entirely on his own. And Yisrael Beiteinu jumped to 15 seats and is basically playing the role of right-wing kingmaker. All three parties are in a similar position: any of the two can combine to form a government.

2. Netanyahu prefers a broad coalition with both Kadima and Lieberman. The last thing he needs is to be branded around the world as the head of an extremist government.

3. Lieberman will have a hard time sitting in the same government with Shas (11 seats), the religious-right party that branded him an agent of the devil. But it will be much easier to pull that off under Netanyahu than under Livni.

4. Yesterday Tzipi Livni announced that she will not be number 2 to Netanyahu, and has cast an ultimatum: Either we share the government equally, with a rotating prime-ministership, or we’re in the opposition. (“Twenty-eight,” she correctly points out, “is greater than twenty-seven”) But there’s a real question as to whether she can survive in the opposition. Her party does not have either a tradition of loyalty or a coherent worldview, and we have already begun hearing rumblings from the camp of Shaul Mofaz, the former defense minister who lost the Kadima primary to Livni and commands the party’s hawkish side. There’s some chance that the party would split, with Mofaz taking a bunch of seats over to the Likud-led government. So she has called Bibi’s bluff, and the big question is whether Bibi will call hers.

5. Another open question is whether President Shimon Peres will offer to let Livni or Bibi try to make a government first. In theory, he’s supposed to ask all the parties what they think, and go with the leader recommended by the greatest number of Knesset seats. But every party is using this fact to jockey for bargaining position, with few of them saying who they’ll recommend. Lieberman, Shas, and UTJ have all kept quiet.

Of course, there is always the possibility of each side climbing too far up its rhetorical tree, resulting in another deadlock. Ultimately, the threat of having new elections is likely to put enough pressure on everybody to come up with something. But right now, it’s a big mess.

Israel’s elections have everyone’s heads spinning. Nearly a week has passed and the results (contrary to my predictions) have remained unchanged: Kadima has 28 seats, one more than Likud’s 27. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu on the right has 15, and Labor on the left has 13. The two ultra-orthodox parties (call them center-right), Shas and UTJ, have 11 and 5 seats respectively, and are likely to go as a bloc of 16. Two small right-wing parties, Jewish Home and the National Union, have 3 and 4 seats respectively. Jewish Home is likely to join a government under Netanyahu, while National Union is not. On the other hand, you have the far-left, yet Jewish-Zionist, party Meretz at 3 seats. And you have the Arab parties (Hadash, Balad, and Raam-Taal) totalling 11, but they are not considered reasonable partners for either a Likud- or a Kadima-led government.

Nor have the major calculations changed as far as overall camps are concerned: The right can put together a coalition of 61 (not including National Union) without Kadima or Labor. The center-left cannot reach the crucial mark of 61 without Lieberman or Likud.

So, what’s going to happen?

Nobody really knows, and I have given up on predictions. But here are some basic issues:

1. Three different parties won the election. Kadima got the most seats in the Knesset. Likud is almost certainly going to head the governing coalition, putting Netanyahu as prime minister, either in rotation with Livni or entirely on his own. And Yisrael Beiteinu jumped to 15 seats and is basically playing the role of right-wing kingmaker. All three parties are in a similar position: any of the two can combine to form a government.

2. Netanyahu prefers a broad coalition with both Kadima and Lieberman. The last thing he needs is to be branded around the world as the head of an extremist government.

3. Lieberman will have a hard time sitting in the same government with Shas (11 seats), the religious-right party that branded him an agent of the devil. But it will be much easier to pull that off under Netanyahu than under Livni.

4. Yesterday Tzipi Livni announced that she will not be number 2 to Netanyahu, and has cast an ultimatum: Either we share the government equally, with a rotating prime-ministership, or we’re in the opposition. (“Twenty-eight,” she correctly points out, “is greater than twenty-seven”) But there’s a real question as to whether she can survive in the opposition. Her party does not have either a tradition of loyalty or a coherent worldview, and we have already begun hearing rumblings from the camp of Shaul Mofaz, the former defense minister who lost the Kadima primary to Livni and commands the party’s hawkish side. There’s some chance that the party would split, with Mofaz taking a bunch of seats over to the Likud-led government. So she has called Bibi’s bluff, and the big question is whether Bibi will call hers.

5. Another open question is whether President Shimon Peres will offer to let Livni or Bibi try to make a government first. In theory, he’s supposed to ask all the parties what they think, and go with the leader recommended by the greatest number of Knesset seats. But every party is using this fact to jockey for bargaining position, with few of them saying who they’ll recommend. Lieberman, Shas, and UTJ have all kept quiet.

Of course, there is always the possibility of each side climbing too far up its rhetorical tree, resulting in another deadlock. Ultimately, the threat of having new elections is likely to put enough pressure on everybody to come up with something. But right now, it’s a big mess.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher can barely conceal his disdain for Terry McAuliffe, who is running for Governor of Virginia: “What? He has zero experience in state politics? This matters to you? . . McAuliffe seems like an interloper, a guy with impressive political oomph but not necessarily someone with the local connections and serious enough mien to beat Republican Bob McDonnell come November. . .  Is he too brash, somehow not Virginian enough for a state where candidates almost universally pay homage to the amorphous notion of ‘Virginia values’?” Yikes.

Bill Sammon on the stimulus bill: “People look at this thing and see, you know, some mouses being protected in Pelosi’s district, some rail lines being built in Harry Reid ’s state. They look at the welfare reform that Bill Clinton had enacted as — basically had been undone. I think as we get deeper into the details of this bill, it’s going to get uglier and uglier. So yes, Obama won, but he won ugly. He wanted bipartisan support. He got virtually none. He wanted 80 votes in the Senate. He got 60. And he had to send a plane to get that 60th vote and sort of limp across the finish line.”

He adds that Tim Geithner “bombed” on his bank bailout plan, a sentiment with which Mara Liasson agrees: “It was an inauspicious start, and one of the problems was that the White House did inexplicably raise expectations for it.”

The New York Times agrees that Geithner was “panned,” explaining, “Mr. Geithner was not especially articulate, his critics said, and he provided only an outline of an outline, not the detailed blueprint people anticipated and wanted. To a degree, one of Mr. Geithner’s biggest problems was not of his own making. His boss, President Obama, had fanned expectations for his debut as Mr. Fix-It, leaving the impression that it would be boffo. It wasn’t.”

Sen. Lindsay Graham was on fire on This Week: “I know bipartisanship when I see it. I’ve participated in it. I’ve gone back home and gotten primary opponents because I wanted to be bipartisan. There’s nothing about this process that’s been bipartisan. This is not ‘change we can believe in.’ You rammed it through the House. You started out with the idea of, ‘we won, we write the bill.’ The mark-up, Chuck [Schumer], in the Senate took an hour and 40 minutes. What the AMT got to do with creating jobs?”

Cokie Roberts, unlike Politico, notes the generic polls showing the Republicans pulling even with the Democrats. Oh, so their adherence to principle is actually helping them politically? Wow, you’d think that might be front page news somewhere.

A pyromaniac in a field of strawmen,” George Will calls one of his colleagues, who insists it was the Obama stimulus or nothing.

And what of Meet The Press? Duller than dishwater — and David Gregory still can’t manage to ask a decent follow up. The newest verbal tic is “All right.” Did he hammer David Axelrod on the Census? (“You won’t politicize the Census?” is the sort of softball question NBC now comes up with.) Puleez — it’s Sunday and it’s Meet the Very Accommodating Press.

Let me get this straight: Obama is signing the stimulus bill with statutory restrictions on executive pay for banks that have accepted bailout money, but he doesn’t consider them binding, according to Axelrod. Do we get a signing statement or any legal opinion as to why this part of the law isn’t binding? I’m sure the top law professors will get right on it.

Mickey Kaus has been following the stimulus bill’s subsidy to entice states to fill up the welfare rolls. He  observes: “A reemerging ‘welfare’ issue is a potential killer, in other words, for Obama’s big remaining plans, especially health care. If Dems seem determined to reinstate dependency–or at the least blind to the dangers of dependency–voters aren’t going to trust them to spend trillions on universal health insurance  and fortified pensions. It’s hard to believe Obama doesn’t realize this.” Well it was hard to believe Obama let Pelosi draft the stimulus bill, but he did it. Maybe he likes the far left agenda — or simply doesn’t have the nerve to block it.

Here’s a neat bit of doubletalk: “‘There will be signs of activity very quickly’ David Axelrod, the White House senior adviser, said on ‘Fox News Sunday. ‘But it’s going to take time for that to show up in the statistics. The president has said it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.’” Got that?

Michael Goodwin joins the ranks of the disappointed: “Obama deserves most of the blame. . . But Obama isn’t keeping his word [to change Washington]. He is shutting out views that don’t match his own, and is back on the campaign trail, as though giving a speech to adoring crowds liberates him from the burdens of the White House. After more than two years of campaigning to get there, one would think he would be ready to govern. The evidence that he is instead choosing a partisan path and a permanent campaign lies most recently in Sen. Judd Gregg’s abrupt withdrawal to be commerce secretary.”

The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher can barely conceal his disdain for Terry McAuliffe, who is running for Governor of Virginia: “What? He has zero experience in state politics? This matters to you? . . McAuliffe seems like an interloper, a guy with impressive political oomph but not necessarily someone with the local connections and serious enough mien to beat Republican Bob McDonnell come November. . .  Is he too brash, somehow not Virginian enough for a state where candidates almost universally pay homage to the amorphous notion of ‘Virginia values’?” Yikes.

Bill Sammon on the stimulus bill: “People look at this thing and see, you know, some mouses being protected in Pelosi’s district, some rail lines being built in Harry Reid ’s state. They look at the welfare reform that Bill Clinton had enacted as — basically had been undone. I think as we get deeper into the details of this bill, it’s going to get uglier and uglier. So yes, Obama won, but he won ugly. He wanted bipartisan support. He got virtually none. He wanted 80 votes in the Senate. He got 60. And he had to send a plane to get that 60th vote and sort of limp across the finish line.”

He adds that Tim Geithner “bombed” on his bank bailout plan, a sentiment with which Mara Liasson agrees: “It was an inauspicious start, and one of the problems was that the White House did inexplicably raise expectations for it.”

The New York Times agrees that Geithner was “panned,” explaining, “Mr. Geithner was not especially articulate, his critics said, and he provided only an outline of an outline, not the detailed blueprint people anticipated and wanted. To a degree, one of Mr. Geithner’s biggest problems was not of his own making. His boss, President Obama, had fanned expectations for his debut as Mr. Fix-It, leaving the impression that it would be boffo. It wasn’t.”

Sen. Lindsay Graham was on fire on This Week: “I know bipartisanship when I see it. I’ve participated in it. I’ve gone back home and gotten primary opponents because I wanted to be bipartisan. There’s nothing about this process that’s been bipartisan. This is not ‘change we can believe in.’ You rammed it through the House. You started out with the idea of, ‘we won, we write the bill.’ The mark-up, Chuck [Schumer], in the Senate took an hour and 40 minutes. What the AMT got to do with creating jobs?”

Cokie Roberts, unlike Politico, notes the generic polls showing the Republicans pulling even with the Democrats. Oh, so their adherence to principle is actually helping them politically? Wow, you’d think that might be front page news somewhere.

A pyromaniac in a field of strawmen,” George Will calls one of his colleagues, who insists it was the Obama stimulus or nothing.

And what of Meet The Press? Duller than dishwater — and David Gregory still can’t manage to ask a decent follow up. The newest verbal tic is “All right.” Did he hammer David Axelrod on the Census? (“You won’t politicize the Census?” is the sort of softball question NBC now comes up with.) Puleez — it’s Sunday and it’s Meet the Very Accommodating Press.

Let me get this straight: Obama is signing the stimulus bill with statutory restrictions on executive pay for banks that have accepted bailout money, but he doesn’t consider them binding, according to Axelrod. Do we get a signing statement or any legal opinion as to why this part of the law isn’t binding? I’m sure the top law professors will get right on it.

Mickey Kaus has been following the stimulus bill’s subsidy to entice states to fill up the welfare rolls. He  observes: “A reemerging ‘welfare’ issue is a potential killer, in other words, for Obama’s big remaining plans, especially health care. If Dems seem determined to reinstate dependency–or at the least blind to the dangers of dependency–voters aren’t going to trust them to spend trillions on universal health insurance  and fortified pensions. It’s hard to believe Obama doesn’t realize this.” Well it was hard to believe Obama let Pelosi draft the stimulus bill, but he did it. Maybe he likes the far left agenda — or simply doesn’t have the nerve to block it.

Here’s a neat bit of doubletalk: “‘There will be signs of activity very quickly’ David Axelrod, the White House senior adviser, said on ‘Fox News Sunday. ‘But it’s going to take time for that to show up in the statistics. The president has said it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.’” Got that?

Michael Goodwin joins the ranks of the disappointed: “Obama deserves most of the blame. . . But Obama isn’t keeping his word [to change Washington]. He is shutting out views that don’t match his own, and is back on the campaign trail, as though giving a speech to adoring crowds liberates him from the burdens of the White House. After more than two years of campaigning to get there, one would think he would be ready to govern. The evidence that he is instead choosing a partisan path and a permanent campaign lies most recently in Sen. Judd Gregg’s abrupt withdrawal to be commerce secretary.”

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David Axelrod, Man of the People

In his column on Sunday, Frank Rich quotes Obama aide David Axelrod who ridicules Washington: “This town talks to itself and whips itself into a frenzy with its own theories that are completely at odds with what the rest of America is thinking.” The moral, we learn, is “not just that Washington is too insular but that the American people are a lot smarter than people in Washington think.”

A few thoughts in response. The first is that Axelrod is playing a familiar and childish game: denigrating Washington (“this town”) even though he spent an astonishing amount of his time and energy in order to arrive here. And while he’s here Axelrod will, I imagine, participate in, and thoroughly enjoy, all the insular things he pretends to detest — from the black tie dinners to the cocktail parties to the unnamed leaks to repeating administration talking points on Sunday morning television programs to adding his voice to the echo chamber.

Second, Obama and Axelrod are coming to us courtesy of Chicago, where politics is more corrupt than in Washington. And the notion that living in Hyde Park puts one profoundly in touch with the everyday life of a Christian school teacher and his stay-at-home wife and mother of five living in Omaha, Nebraska is not terribly convincing. The only thing more laughable is that a former New York Times drama critic pretends he has the pulse of the people.

Third, the way Axelrod will understand what is on the mind of the public is by poring over elaborate public opinion surveys and focus groups which will be conducted by any number of Obama allies. That, more than Potemkin Town Hall visits, will be what Team Obama will rely on.
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In his column on Sunday, Frank Rich quotes Obama aide David Axelrod who ridicules Washington: “This town talks to itself and whips itself into a frenzy with its own theories that are completely at odds with what the rest of America is thinking.” The moral, we learn, is “not just that Washington is too insular but that the American people are a lot smarter than people in Washington think.”

A few thoughts in response. The first is that Axelrod is playing a familiar and childish game: denigrating Washington (“this town”) even though he spent an astonishing amount of his time and energy in order to arrive here. And while he’s here Axelrod will, I imagine, participate in, and thoroughly enjoy, all the insular things he pretends to detest — from the black tie dinners to the cocktail parties to the unnamed leaks to repeating administration talking points on Sunday morning television programs to adding his voice to the echo chamber.

Second, Obama and Axelrod are coming to us courtesy of Chicago, where politics is more corrupt than in Washington. And the notion that living in Hyde Park puts one profoundly in touch with the everyday life of a Christian school teacher and his stay-at-home wife and mother of five living in Omaha, Nebraska is not terribly convincing. The only thing more laughable is that a former New York Times drama critic pretends he has the pulse of the people.

Third, the way Axelrod will understand what is on the mind of the public is by poring over elaborate public opinion surveys and focus groups which will be conducted by any number of Obama allies. That, more than Potemkin Town Hall visits, will be what Team Obama will rely on.

Fourth, Axelrod is playing up a theme almost as old as politics itself: Washington, D.C. is somehow out of touch with “what the rest of America is thinking.” I have news for Axelrod: America is comprised of residents of the upper West Side of Manhattan and Salt Lake City, Utah; Cambridge and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; San Francisco and Oklahoma City; Portland, Oregon and Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. The “rest of America” is in fact enormously diverse, politically and culturally.

Beyond that, arguably Washington is too much in touch with what the rest of America is thinking. Politicians in Washington are like seismographs; they monitor the shifting moods and opinions of the public to a degree that borders on the obsessive and that is often harmful. Members of Congress reflect the views of their constituents to an astonishing degree. Political figures (like Obama) often fail to take difficult but necessary acts precisely because they realize that they might encounter strong resistance from the public. That’s why profiles in courage are rare rather than commonplace.

It’s also worth pointing out that vox populi is not vox Dei. The public, for example, strongly opposed the so-called surge; it turned out to be the right thing to do. Strong public opposition to even minor changes in entitlement programs have kept necessary reforms from being made. When Ronald Reagan was doing the hard work of wringing “stagflation” out of the economy, his approval ratings sunk to the mid-30s and Republicans suffered significant mid-term losses in 1982. When Truman left the presidency, he was widely despised. And of course Abraham Lincoln reached political prominence by his opposition to the doctrine of “popular sovereignty” championed by Stephen Douglas. The founders themselves, especially Madison, argued against direct democracy precisely because they did not want public officials to be swayed by the momentary passions of the public. The Senate was designed to insulate its Members from the fleeting opinions of the polity.

Having said all that, the public does, by in large, get things right. Our system of government — “of the people, by the people, for the people” — assumes a level of good judgment in the citizenry that has been vindicated time and again. Democracy remains the best system of government ever devised, and liberty speaks to a deep human longing.

What is tiresome is the game Axelrod is engaging in. He ridicules a city he longs to be a part of. He pretends to stand outside of a political culture he and others like him have helped to shape. He speaks about the public not in the mature way of the founders — men are not angels, public passions can be dangerous and need to have time to cool, self-government is a hard but noble enterprise, public service is admirable work and comprised of many admirable (as well as less than admirable) people — but in the way a political operative does: programmed, unoriginal, superficially complimentary but ultimately condescending.

I guess I’m betting the “rest of America” is smarter than David Axelrod thinks they are, and will soon see through this wearing act.

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