Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 10, 2009

Re: Would You Like To Know?

Well, John, I look forward to learning how the sinister Jews conned the eighty-seven Chinese dissidents into joining the plot.

From the start, the critics of Chas Freeman contended that he was controlled by bias and plauged by venom, that he lacked analytical skills needed for a national security post, and that he did not offer intellectual “balance” but quackery. Could there be any better proof than Freeman’s rant?

But there is something even more troubling here. While blowing up his own reputation, Freeman has also shattered the reputation of those who hired him. How could they not have perceived his character and intellectual bent? The lapse of judgment in placing him in a key intelligence role is simply appalling. What say you, National Intelligence Director Blair?

Well, John, I look forward to learning how the sinister Jews conned the eighty-seven Chinese dissidents into joining the plot.

From the start, the critics of Chas Freeman contended that he was controlled by bias and plauged by venom, that he lacked analytical skills needed for a national security post, and that he did not offer intellectual “balance” but quackery. Could there be any better proof than Freeman’s rant?

But there is something even more troubling here. While blowing up his own reputation, Freeman has also shattered the reputation of those who hired him. How could they not have perceived his character and intellectual bent? The lapse of judgment in placing him in a key intelligence role is simply appalling. What say you, National Intelligence Director Blair?

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Would You Like to Know What It Means to Be an Anti-Israel Anti-Semite?

Here it is:

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful  lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East.  The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.  The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.  I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel.  It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so.  This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.

The man who just released this gobsmacking statement was very nearly the head of the president’s National Intelligence Council. I await the defense of those who claim he is just a contrarian.

Here it is:

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful  lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East.  The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.  The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.  I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel.  It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so.  This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.

The man who just released this gobsmacking statement was very nearly the head of the president’s National Intelligence Council. I await the defense of those who claim he is just a contrarian.

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Re:Re: Freeman Withdraws

Chuck Schumer is taking “credit” for the withdrawal of the Freeman nomination. It is an interesting tactic to consult with the White House, have the White House deny knowledge of the controversy, and then send Admiral Blair to the Hill to defend Freeman,  and then pull the nomination. Perhaps Schumer can share in greater detail. Moreover, I look forward to hearing his opinion of Blair, who after all, picked and defended a nominee whose statements were “way out of step with the administration.”

Chuck Schumer is taking “credit” for the withdrawal of the Freeman nomination. It is an interesting tactic to consult with the White House, have the White House deny knowledge of the controversy, and then send Admiral Blair to the Hill to defend Freeman,  and then pull the nomination. Perhaps Schumer can share in greater detail. Moreover, I look forward to hearing his opinion of Blair, who after all, picked and defended a nominee whose statements were “way out of step with the administration.”

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Commentary of the Day

Ian, on James Kirchick:

Freeman is not qualified for what is a very important job on innumerable levels. That the administration appointed him indicates either at best extraordinary incompetence or worse a basic ideological ugliness. People have commented on the general media indifference. In part this is likely the tendency for a pro-Democratic media to cover for a Democratic administration. But it is likely also a reflection of the not so veiled anti-Israel attitudes that have permeated into the mainstream media from the political left’s outer fringes. How many in our media are conditioned to use glib terms like “neo-conservative” with all its connotations without so much as a passing thought? A media that traffics in terms like Likudnik or neo-con, that so willingly entertains cabalistic notions of neo-conservative conspiracies, cannot be too bothered by McCarthyite terms such as “Israel Lobby”, and the response to such canards is typically a studied agnosticism that masks sympathy for the viewpoint. Its not a coincidence that the same pundits and commentators who complacently speculate about “neo-cons” find nothing particularly offensive about other cabalistic accusations and are prone to share them. Of course in that case human rights or more general considerations mean less than fidelity to their dominant ideological belief. Their support for Freeman is not in spite of his extreme anti-Israel views, but precisely because of them, whatever else may be claimed.

Ian, on James Kirchick:

Freeman is not qualified for what is a very important job on innumerable levels. That the administration appointed him indicates either at best extraordinary incompetence or worse a basic ideological ugliness. People have commented on the general media indifference. In part this is likely the tendency for a pro-Democratic media to cover for a Democratic administration. But it is likely also a reflection of the not so veiled anti-Israel attitudes that have permeated into the mainstream media from the political left’s outer fringes. How many in our media are conditioned to use glib terms like “neo-conservative” with all its connotations without so much as a passing thought? A media that traffics in terms like Likudnik or neo-con, that so willingly entertains cabalistic notions of neo-conservative conspiracies, cannot be too bothered by McCarthyite terms such as “Israel Lobby”, and the response to such canards is typically a studied agnosticism that masks sympathy for the viewpoint. Its not a coincidence that the same pundits and commentators who complacently speculate about “neo-cons” find nothing particularly offensive about other cabalistic accusations and are prone to share them. Of course in that case human rights or more general considerations mean less than fidelity to their dominant ideological belief. Their support for Freeman is not in spite of his extreme anti-Israel views, but precisely because of them, whatever else may be claimed.

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Straw Men on the March

David Brooks seems unaware of what actual Republicans — as opposed to the caricatures portrayed in the “news” section of his newspaper — are talking about these days. He offers up this:

Republicans could argue that it’s Nero-esque for Democrats to be plotting extensive renovations when the house is on fire. They could point out that history will judge this president harshly if he’s off chasing distant visions while the markets see a void where his banking policy should be.

Hmm… No Republicans are talking about that? Seems the entire right blogosphere, dozens of conservative TV commentators and economists, most of the fiscal-oriented conservative think tanks, and plenty of Congressional leaders are talking about that very thing.

He also declares:

Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It’s a bloomin’ emergency. Robert Barro of Harvard estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a depression. Warren Buffett says economic activity “has fallen off a cliff” and is not coming back soon.

Wow, now there’s an idea. But wait. Isn’t that precisely what conservatives and Republican leaders have been talking about these days?

Perhaps Brooks would appreciate something like this:

President Obama should be focusing on the “economic crisis,” as opposed to holding four-hour meetings on healthcare, as the president did last week. The efforts may be laudable. . . but the White House should be devoting all resources to fixing the economy and not to “impose these cap-and-trade schemes.”

“At the end of the day, we are in an economic emergency. Economists are saying that there’s a 30 percent likelihood that we’re going to be in a depression. . .My goodness, we do have an emergency, and we oughta say, look, priority No. 1 is to create jobs.”

Well, that was Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

Now Brooks offers this line of argument to Republicans:

Unlike the Democrats, they’re not for making trillions of dollars in long-term spending commitments until they know where things stand. Instead, they’re going to focus obsessively on restoring equilibrium first, and they’re going to understand that there is a sharp distinction between crisis policy-making and noncrisis policy-making. In times like these, you’d do things you would never do normally.

That would sort of be like opposing pork-filled stimulus and omnibus spending bills, right? Or like taking the president to task after the healthcare summit.

Perhaps when he was last visited by the Obamatons, they not only left him with the talking points for “Obama isn’t a radical despite his policy proposals,” but also with a field of straw-men.

Brooks does seem intent on getting Republicans to go along with Obama’s plan for “global stimulus coordination” and coming up with a bank plan in the absence of one from the Treasury. Unlike his other suggestions, those gambits certainly would be a change from Republicans’ current approach.

David Brooks seems unaware of what actual Republicans — as opposed to the caricatures portrayed in the “news” section of his newspaper — are talking about these days. He offers up this:

Republicans could argue that it’s Nero-esque for Democrats to be plotting extensive renovations when the house is on fire. They could point out that history will judge this president harshly if he’s off chasing distant visions while the markets see a void where his banking policy should be.

Hmm… No Republicans are talking about that? Seems the entire right blogosphere, dozens of conservative TV commentators and economists, most of the fiscal-oriented conservative think tanks, and plenty of Congressional leaders are talking about that very thing.

He also declares:

Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It’s a bloomin’ emergency. Robert Barro of Harvard estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a depression. Warren Buffett says economic activity “has fallen off a cliff” and is not coming back soon.

Wow, now there’s an idea. But wait. Isn’t that precisely what conservatives and Republican leaders have been talking about these days?

Perhaps Brooks would appreciate something like this:

President Obama should be focusing on the “economic crisis,” as opposed to holding four-hour meetings on healthcare, as the president did last week. The efforts may be laudable. . . but the White House should be devoting all resources to fixing the economy and not to “impose these cap-and-trade schemes.”

“At the end of the day, we are in an economic emergency. Economists are saying that there’s a 30 percent likelihood that we’re going to be in a depression. . .My goodness, we do have an emergency, and we oughta say, look, priority No. 1 is to create jobs.”

Well, that was Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

Now Brooks offers this line of argument to Republicans:

Unlike the Democrats, they’re not for making trillions of dollars in long-term spending commitments until they know where things stand. Instead, they’re going to focus obsessively on restoring equilibrium first, and they’re going to understand that there is a sharp distinction between crisis policy-making and noncrisis policy-making. In times like these, you’d do things you would never do normally.

That would sort of be like opposing pork-filled stimulus and omnibus spending bills, right? Or like taking the president to task after the healthcare summit.

Perhaps when he was last visited by the Obamatons, they not only left him with the talking points for “Obama isn’t a radical despite his policy proposals,” but also with a field of straw-men.

Brooks does seem intent on getting Republicans to go along with Obama’s plan for “global stimulus coordination” and coming up with a bank plan in the absence of one from the Treasury. Unlike his other suggestions, those gambits certainly would be a change from Republicans’ current approach.

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Learning From Freeman’s Fall

The withdrawal of Charles Freeman as nominee for Director of the National Intelligence Council is obviously welcome. The odious Freeman was not only a shill for Saudi autocrats and a vicious critic of Israel but also a defender of the worst abuses of the Chinese Communists. But we didn’t have to wait long for his defenders on the anti-Israel left to begin whining.

Over at the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman summed up his feelings about Freeman’s demise with a nice anti-Semitic touch: “Pound of flesh: extracted.” This bit of hate was actually quoted with approval on Greg Sargent’s blog on the Who Runs Gov website, which is a Washington Post Company Publication.

We can expect a lot more of this from people like Stephen Walt, M.J. Rosenberg and company who have gone all out to defend Freeman specifically because he is a foe of Israel. Walt, in particular, and those who buy into his “Israel Lobby” thesis will take Freeman’s withdrawal as evidence that Israel’s friends have once again undermined U.S. foreign policy. In reality, all that has happened is that a pro-Saudi extremist who has no place in the government of a democratic nation was belatedly weeded out from a chaotic and poorly run administration. Rather than evidence of the “Lobby’s” hegemony, Freeman’s case shows that for all the talk about Obama’s competence replacing Bush’s incompetence, the Democrats are no slouches in coming up with lemons.

But the renewed life that Freeman’s fall will give to the Israel-haters should not distract us from the real lessons of this battle.

The first is that despite their bravado in the wake of Obama’s victory, the anti-Israel left is nowhere near as close to controlling American foreign policy as they’d like us to think they are. It’s true that Freeman isn’t the only rotten apple in Obama’s barrel, but he should provide the administration with a clear picture of the limits to pushing American foreign policy away from a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

One of the keys to that alliance is its bipartisan character. Freeman’s appointment didn’t collapse just because the pro-Israel right screamed bloody murder, though without the criticism that was heard from that quarter there is little doubt that Freeman might have slipped through. Rather, he’s gone because there are still more than enough pro-Israel Democrats in Congress who want nothing to do with a policy based on hostility to Israel. It was the prospect of people like Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein jumping ship that showed Obama that Freeman had to walk the plank.

There are disturbing  signs that Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell are heading towards a policy that will put more pressure on Israel to revive a futile peace process. But those forces within the State Department and the White House in favor of such a policy have just been shown that the old pro-Israel consensus is not only not dead, but alive and well, and capable of being roused to action when necessary. And, as his willingness to jettison Freeman illustrates, Obama is reluctant to engage in combat with a bi-partisan coalition of Israel’s supporters. There are no guarantees that this will be the last troubling episode so long as Obama is president. But the J Street crowd and others who think they are in charge of Washington just got slapped around. Let’s hope it’s just the first of a series of setbacks for them.

The withdrawal of Charles Freeman as nominee for Director of the National Intelligence Council is obviously welcome. The odious Freeman was not only a shill for Saudi autocrats and a vicious critic of Israel but also a defender of the worst abuses of the Chinese Communists. But we didn’t have to wait long for his defenders on the anti-Israel left to begin whining.

Over at the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman summed up his feelings about Freeman’s demise with a nice anti-Semitic touch: “Pound of flesh: extracted.” This bit of hate was actually quoted with approval on Greg Sargent’s blog on the Who Runs Gov website, which is a Washington Post Company Publication.

We can expect a lot more of this from people like Stephen Walt, M.J. Rosenberg and company who have gone all out to defend Freeman specifically because he is a foe of Israel. Walt, in particular, and those who buy into his “Israel Lobby” thesis will take Freeman’s withdrawal as evidence that Israel’s friends have once again undermined U.S. foreign policy. In reality, all that has happened is that a pro-Saudi extremist who has no place in the government of a democratic nation was belatedly weeded out from a chaotic and poorly run administration. Rather than evidence of the “Lobby’s” hegemony, Freeman’s case shows that for all the talk about Obama’s competence replacing Bush’s incompetence, the Democrats are no slouches in coming up with lemons.

But the renewed life that Freeman’s fall will give to the Israel-haters should not distract us from the real lessons of this battle.

The first is that despite their bravado in the wake of Obama’s victory, the anti-Israel left is nowhere near as close to controlling American foreign policy as they’d like us to think they are. It’s true that Freeman isn’t the only rotten apple in Obama’s barrel, but he should provide the administration with a clear picture of the limits to pushing American foreign policy away from a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

One of the keys to that alliance is its bipartisan character. Freeman’s appointment didn’t collapse just because the pro-Israel right screamed bloody murder, though without the criticism that was heard from that quarter there is little doubt that Freeman might have slipped through. Rather, he’s gone because there are still more than enough pro-Israel Democrats in Congress who want nothing to do with a policy based on hostility to Israel. It was the prospect of people like Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein jumping ship that showed Obama that Freeman had to walk the plank.

There are disturbing  signs that Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell are heading towards a policy that will put more pressure on Israel to revive a futile peace process. But those forces within the State Department and the White House in favor of such a policy have just been shown that the old pro-Israel consensus is not only not dead, but alive and well, and capable of being roused to action when necessary. And, as his willingness to jettison Freeman illustrates, Obama is reluctant to engage in combat with a bi-partisan coalition of Israel’s supporters. There are no guarantees that this will be the last troubling episode so long as Obama is president. But the J Street crowd and others who think they are in charge of Washington just got slapped around. Let’s hope it’s just the first of a series of setbacks for them.

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Re: Freeman Withdraws

This comes as no surprise. Only the stubborn insistence on dragging this out for weeks — which merely served to embarrass the White House and discredit his supporters — is noteworthy. And now the New York Times can print the withdrawal of the  nomination — perhaps discretely in the Obit section.

But this was a telling event. We know that the Obama administration’s vetting “process” is non-functioning, if not non-existent. We know they react defensively and evade inquiry when they should instead react promply to stem the torrent of outrage that follows a boneheaded move. We know the Far Left is where the “cabal” resides and that their regard for human rights is nonexistent.

And what do we know about Admiral Blair? Did he really believe the critics had taken Freeman’s comments out of context or was he reading from some talking point while scrambling to reverse an awful personnel choice? We don’t know, nor do we know the straw that broke the camel’s back.

And if those on the Left are irate — and irate they will be — then their anger must, to some degree, be properly directed at the White House which leads them out on a limb and cuts it off behind them. How can they continue to man the ramparts for an administration which leads them into the wilderness and deprives them of any influence?

There is no cause here for celebration. Rather there is only cause for concern. How in the world was this man ever chosen and what took so long to dump him?

This comes as no surprise. Only the stubborn insistence on dragging this out for weeks — which merely served to embarrass the White House and discredit his supporters — is noteworthy. And now the New York Times can print the withdrawal of the  nomination — perhaps discretely in the Obit section.

But this was a telling event. We know that the Obama administration’s vetting “process” is non-functioning, if not non-existent. We know they react defensively and evade inquiry when they should instead react promply to stem the torrent of outrage that follows a boneheaded move. We know the Far Left is where the “cabal” resides and that their regard for human rights is nonexistent.

And what do we know about Admiral Blair? Did he really believe the critics had taken Freeman’s comments out of context or was he reading from some talking point while scrambling to reverse an awful personnel choice? We don’t know, nor do we know the straw that broke the camel’s back.

And if those on the Left are irate — and irate they will be — then their anger must, to some degree, be properly directed at the White House which leads them out on a limb and cuts it off behind them. How can they continue to man the ramparts for an administration which leads them into the wilderness and deprives them of any influence?

There is no cause here for celebration. Rather there is only cause for concern. How in the world was this man ever chosen and what took so long to dump him?

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Freeman Withdraws

Back to Riyadh?

Charles W. Freeman Jr. asked today that his name be withdrawn as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced.

The withdrawal came hours after Blair gave a spirited defense of the outspoken former ambassador to a dubious senator, and a day after all seven Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee criticized the appointment over his views on Israel and his past relationships with Saudi and Chinese interests.

Back to Riyadh?

Charles W. Freeman Jr. asked today that his name be withdrawn as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced.

The withdrawal came hours after Blair gave a spirited defense of the outspoken former ambassador to a dubious senator, and a day after all seven Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee criticized the appointment over his views on Israel and his past relationships with Saudi and Chinese interests.

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Employee Free Choice Act Fallout

The Employee Free Choice Act used to be a whole lot more popular with Democrats, back when they secretly thought it had no chance of actually passing. Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Stein tells us that “a whole host of House Democrats, primarily of the Blue Dog variety, have announced that they won’t be co-sponsoring the bill.” Then we learn a bunch of Red state Democrats are getting cold feet in the Senate too.

But it gets worse for the card check forces. This is becoming an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Yes, a state race. This issue seems to be a loser in the right-to-work state so Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell held a press-conference call today to let it be known that unlike Democrats, he opposes the bill he labeled “as much of an anti-free enterprise and job killing bill that has come down the pike in decades.” Now if a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia is running on an anti-card check stance (“We don’t want to turn Virginia into Southern Michigan”) you can imagine how powerful an issue this must be. (Of course, none of the Democratic contenders in the gubernatorial contest are saying anything about this.)

The question then remains: what do Democrats hope to attain by all this? They are obviously not scoring points with chunks of their Congressional caucus and it’s hard to believe their Big Labor patrons are going to be pleased with a campaign that so far has managed to put Warren Buffet and George McGovern on the same side, opposing this bill.

The Employee Free Choice Act used to be a whole lot more popular with Democrats, back when they secretly thought it had no chance of actually passing. Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Stein tells us that “a whole host of House Democrats, primarily of the Blue Dog variety, have announced that they won’t be co-sponsoring the bill.” Then we learn a bunch of Red state Democrats are getting cold feet in the Senate too.

But it gets worse for the card check forces. This is becoming an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Yes, a state race. This issue seems to be a loser in the right-to-work state so Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell held a press-conference call today to let it be known that unlike Democrats, he opposes the bill he labeled “as much of an anti-free enterprise and job killing bill that has come down the pike in decades.” Now if a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia is running on an anti-card check stance (“We don’t want to turn Virginia into Southern Michigan”) you can imagine how powerful an issue this must be. (Of course, none of the Democratic contenders in the gubernatorial contest are saying anything about this.)

The question then remains: what do Democrats hope to attain by all this? They are obviously not scoring points with chunks of their Congressional caucus and it’s hard to believe their Big Labor patrons are going to be pleased with a campaign that so far has managed to put Warren Buffet and George McGovern on the same side, opposing this bill.

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Don’t Blame the Message

Now that didn’t take long, did it? According to a Reuters headline, “Vaunted Obama message machine is off-key.”

When billionaire investor Warren Buffett says President Barack Obama‘s economic message is muddled and undermining public confidence, it’s worth listening. Halfway through his first 100 days in office, ace communicator Obama has struggled to find the right tone in talking about the economy, twinning bleak warnings with optimism about the future…. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said the administration has left the public confused about what will happen to the banks and may be inadvertently sending a message that “the problem may be too big for government to solve.” “I can’t figure out what they’re talking about on the banks,” he said.

I have some sympathy for the Obama “message machine”; often what the press and pundits like Sabato refer to as a “communication problem” is really a facts-on-the-ground problem. The Bush Administration experienced it on Iraq; we were constantly told if the President gave this speech or made that argument, he could rally public support for the Iraq war. The problem was that Iraq in 2006 was sliding toward a civil war; that reality, and not any communication problem, was what plagued us. Once the surge helped to turn things around, communication became a lot easier.

For those who believe eloquence, public speeches, and the ability to articulate a case in a compelling manner have almost magical powers, it’s worth pointing to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He ranks among the best communicators we have ever seen in politics — but with the Iraq war terribly unpopular in the UK, Blair’s approval ratings dropped below those of President Bush, and Blair was eventually forced to leave his office earlier than he had wanted.

I’m all in favor of strong communication skills and high standards in public discourse; but there are limits to their ability to alter the course of events and even the tide of public opinion.

The challenge facing the Obama Administration is much more serious than merely a communication problem; it is a banking system in crisis. That, in turn, is dragging down the American and world economy. And so far, Obama and his team don’t even have a plan in place to address the core issue.

If Team Obama doesn’t get a hold of this problem soon, it will have a lot more than a communication problem. Right now, with Obama’s popularity still fairly (if not exceptionally) strong, there is still time. Unfortunately, much of it has been squandered. Secretary Geithner looks at sea. And the excuses Obama’s apologists make may be satisfying to them, but won’t work for the public at large. Obama will learn that as President he is responsible for what happens on his watch. And right now, on his watch — and due in some measure to his policies (or lack thereof) — the economy is worsening. There’s no way they can spin or speechify their way out of this. They’ll have to rely on sound governance. As Obama is finding out, that is the hardest task.

Now that didn’t take long, did it? According to a Reuters headline, “Vaunted Obama message machine is off-key.”

When billionaire investor Warren Buffett says President Barack Obama‘s economic message is muddled and undermining public confidence, it’s worth listening. Halfway through his first 100 days in office, ace communicator Obama has struggled to find the right tone in talking about the economy, twinning bleak warnings with optimism about the future…. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said the administration has left the public confused about what will happen to the banks and may be inadvertently sending a message that “the problem may be too big for government to solve.” “I can’t figure out what they’re talking about on the banks,” he said.

I have some sympathy for the Obama “message machine”; often what the press and pundits like Sabato refer to as a “communication problem” is really a facts-on-the-ground problem. The Bush Administration experienced it on Iraq; we were constantly told if the President gave this speech or made that argument, he could rally public support for the Iraq war. The problem was that Iraq in 2006 was sliding toward a civil war; that reality, and not any communication problem, was what plagued us. Once the surge helped to turn things around, communication became a lot easier.

For those who believe eloquence, public speeches, and the ability to articulate a case in a compelling manner have almost magical powers, it’s worth pointing to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He ranks among the best communicators we have ever seen in politics — but with the Iraq war terribly unpopular in the UK, Blair’s approval ratings dropped below those of President Bush, and Blair was eventually forced to leave his office earlier than he had wanted.

I’m all in favor of strong communication skills and high standards in public discourse; but there are limits to their ability to alter the course of events and even the tide of public opinion.

The challenge facing the Obama Administration is much more serious than merely a communication problem; it is a banking system in crisis. That, in turn, is dragging down the American and world economy. And so far, Obama and his team don’t even have a plan in place to address the core issue.

If Team Obama doesn’t get a hold of this problem soon, it will have a lot more than a communication problem. Right now, with Obama’s popularity still fairly (if not exceptionally) strong, there is still time. Unfortunately, much of it has been squandered. Secretary Geithner looks at sea. And the excuses Obama’s apologists make may be satisfying to them, but won’t work for the public at large. Obama will learn that as President he is responsible for what happens on his watch. And right now, on his watch — and due in some measure to his policies (or lack thereof) — the economy is worsening. There’s no way they can spin or speechify their way out of this. They’ll have to rely on sound governance. As Obama is finding out, that is the hardest task.

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One Man’s Mystical Populist . . .

It’s one thing to have MSNBC defend Barack Obama at every turn, but to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the same treatment?

This video begins with Martin Indyk saying, “He’s not a madman,” proceeds to have Middle East “expert” Ali Ansari defend Iran’s policies on everything from its deadly menacing in Iraq to its nuclear quest, and closes with Ahmadinejad himself blaming American policies for “moving the world towards war.” Throughout, we see the “mystical populist” kicking a football and enjoying himself good-naturedly with Iranians. Ali Ansari makes repeated references to Ahmadinejad’s “utopian visions” without ever explaining that these are actually apocalyptic visions. And no mention is made of Ahmadinejad’s repeated promises to destroy Israel. I’d like to see an evangelical Christian leader receive such deferential treatment.

It’s one thing to have MSNBC defend Barack Obama at every turn, but to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the same treatment?

This video begins with Martin Indyk saying, “He’s not a madman,” proceeds to have Middle East “expert” Ali Ansari defend Iran’s policies on everything from its deadly menacing in Iraq to its nuclear quest, and closes with Ahmadinejad himself blaming American policies for “moving the world towards war.” Throughout, we see the “mystical populist” kicking a football and enjoying himself good-naturedly with Iranians. Ali Ansari makes repeated references to Ahmadinejad’s “utopian visions” without ever explaining that these are actually apocalyptic visions. And no mention is made of Ahmadinejad’s repeated promises to destroy Israel. I’d like to see an evangelical Christian leader receive such deferential treatment.

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Freeman: “To Be Continued”

Like the old joke, “Franco is still dead,” the New York Times is still mum on the Chas Freeman nomination. Aside from an automated response, Clark Hoyt, the public editor previously charged with explaining why the Times didn’t report for weeks on the Reverend Wright story, hasn’t responded to my inquiry as to why the Times remains mute.

However, the rest of the journalistic and political world is not cooperating with the Times‘ apparent desire to shove this issue under the rug. The pro-Freeman forces have taken to arguing that his egregious comments, on Tienanmen Square for example, have been taken out of context. Not so. He also assembled on odd grab bag of weird characters to “endorse” him. Probably not a sound move if you are trying to convince people you are not a questionable character yourself.

Then Ira Forman, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, weighs in, taking the pro-Freeman forces to task for playing the “patriot” card against Freeman’s critics. Forman can’t quite bring himself to call them out for perpetuating a virulent anti-Semitic canard or ignoring the legion of objections against Freeman from diverse groups including Chinese dissidents, but at least his heart is in the right place.

Then earlier today we had a hearing of the Senate Armed Service Committee. Sen. Joe Lieberman raised the Freeman nomination and cited some of the concerns which had been raised. Again Admiral Dennis Blair played the “taken out of context” card, which Lieberman was not buying. (Curious, isn’t it, that Blair and the left-wing net-roots are operating from the same script?) Lieberman ended his questioning by advising Blair that the concern was over Freeman having “such strong policy views” that he might not be suited for an analyst role. He told Blair the controversy was not likely “to go away.” Lieberman called the controversial comments by Freeman “very decisive” and ended with the words “to be continued.”

Indeed it will — everywhere except on the pages of the New York Times.

Like the old joke, “Franco is still dead,” the New York Times is still mum on the Chas Freeman nomination. Aside from an automated response, Clark Hoyt, the public editor previously charged with explaining why the Times didn’t report for weeks on the Reverend Wright story, hasn’t responded to my inquiry as to why the Times remains mute.

However, the rest of the journalistic and political world is not cooperating with the Times‘ apparent desire to shove this issue under the rug. The pro-Freeman forces have taken to arguing that his egregious comments, on Tienanmen Square for example, have been taken out of context. Not so. He also assembled on odd grab bag of weird characters to “endorse” him. Probably not a sound move if you are trying to convince people you are not a questionable character yourself.

Then Ira Forman, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, weighs in, taking the pro-Freeman forces to task for playing the “patriot” card against Freeman’s critics. Forman can’t quite bring himself to call them out for perpetuating a virulent anti-Semitic canard or ignoring the legion of objections against Freeman from diverse groups including Chinese dissidents, but at least his heart is in the right place.

Then earlier today we had a hearing of the Senate Armed Service Committee. Sen. Joe Lieberman raised the Freeman nomination and cited some of the concerns which had been raised. Again Admiral Dennis Blair played the “taken out of context” card, which Lieberman was not buying. (Curious, isn’t it, that Blair and the left-wing net-roots are operating from the same script?) Lieberman ended his questioning by advising Blair that the concern was over Freeman having “such strong policy views” that he might not be suited for an analyst role. He told Blair the controversy was not likely “to go away.” Lieberman called the controversial comments by Freeman “very decisive” and ended with the words “to be continued.”

Indeed it will — everywhere except on the pages of the New York Times.

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A Not So “Tough” Decision

Congressman John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, makes some excellent points in this op-ed protesting the Obama defense budget. He writes:

Most media coverage announced that President Obama did not deliver anticipated cuts and actually increased spending by 4 percent over the 2009 budget. But the real story lies in what will be inserted into the budget. By moving war costs out of the supplemental and into the base budget the reported growth is in fact minimal. This is why Defense Secretary Robert Gates greeted the budget release by announcing he would have to make some “tough choices.”

The fact that the Department of Defense has to make “tough choices”– such as trading off current readiness against future procurement of weapons systems — is hard to understand given that (a) we are still fighting at least two wars and (b) non-defense spending is skyrocketing. As McHugh notes: “Through the stimulus bill, expanded Troubled Asset Relief Program funding, and the omnibus appropriations bill, the president has acted to ensure that this year’s total discretionary spending will surpass the $1 trillion mark — more than we have spent on Iraq, Afghanistan and Katrina combined.”

Unfortunately McHugh is one of the few commenting on this discrepancy. Dissenters need to make more of an issue of Obama’s schizophrenic attitude toward spending: parsimonious with our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines; profligate with the Democrats’ dubious domestic constituencies.

Congressman John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, makes some excellent points in this op-ed protesting the Obama defense budget. He writes:

Most media coverage announced that President Obama did not deliver anticipated cuts and actually increased spending by 4 percent over the 2009 budget. But the real story lies in what will be inserted into the budget. By moving war costs out of the supplemental and into the base budget the reported growth is in fact minimal. This is why Defense Secretary Robert Gates greeted the budget release by announcing he would have to make some “tough choices.”

The fact that the Department of Defense has to make “tough choices”– such as trading off current readiness against future procurement of weapons systems — is hard to understand given that (a) we are still fighting at least two wars and (b) non-defense spending is skyrocketing. As McHugh notes: “Through the stimulus bill, expanded Troubled Asset Relief Program funding, and the omnibus appropriations bill, the president has acted to ensure that this year’s total discretionary spending will surpass the $1 trillion mark — more than we have spent on Iraq, Afghanistan and Katrina combined.”

Unfortunately McHugh is one of the few commenting on this discrepancy. Dissenters need to make more of an issue of Obama’s schizophrenic attitude toward spending: parsimonious with our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines; profligate with the Democrats’ dubious domestic constituencies.

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Ready for that “Smart Diplomacy”

One of the promises Candidate Obama made was to replace the Bush administration’s foreign policy with a smarter one — one more respectful of our traditional allies with an emphasis on “smart power.” So, how’s that working out?

Well, so far we’ve been rolled by the Russians while alienating Eastern Europe and Great Britain.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first meeting with Russian officials was marked with the (intentionally?) humorous gesture of presenting a Staples “Easy” button, but with the inscription changed to read “Reset” in Russian — a manifestation of this administration’s oft-repeated wish to “press the reset button” on the relationship between the Eagle and the Bear. But someone at State’s linguistics department wasn’t on the ball, because the inscription apparently meant “overcharge.”

This came on the heels of Russia’s rejection of a private letter from President Obama, seeking Russia’s help with curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for the U.S. abandoning its missile-defense plans for eastern Europe. This could not have been reassuring for those nations that spent decades under the Soviet thumb.

Those former Warsaw Pact nations have been among our staunchest allies. They are quite possibly the nations that value their freedom most, having so recently been oppressed, and have long depended on the U.S. to keep Russian expansion at bay.

Meanwhile, relations could be a bit warmer between the U.S. and Britain. They haven’t always been our staunchest allies (things weren’t so rosy between us at various points during the 18th and 19th centuries), but for well over a century things have been significantly better.

First, President Obama returned a Winston Churchill bust that had been on indefinite loan. Then, when Prime Minister Brown came to visit, he was greeted by an unending series of slights and snubs.

A new challenge arises with China: Recently, several small Chinese boats surrounded and harassed an unarmed U.S. Navy mapping ship in international waters off China’s coast, coming within 25 feet of the USNS Impeccable and trying to snag the cable it was using to tow bottom-mapping sonar. The Impeccable, which is unarmed, responded with fire hoses.

Here’s to hoping the State Department can find someone who speaks Mandarin fluently enough to whip up a “Reset” button for Secretary Clinton to present to Beijing. 

One of the promises Candidate Obama made was to replace the Bush administration’s foreign policy with a smarter one — one more respectful of our traditional allies with an emphasis on “smart power.” So, how’s that working out?

Well, so far we’ve been rolled by the Russians while alienating Eastern Europe and Great Britain.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first meeting with Russian officials was marked with the (intentionally?) humorous gesture of presenting a Staples “Easy” button, but with the inscription changed to read “Reset” in Russian — a manifestation of this administration’s oft-repeated wish to “press the reset button” on the relationship between the Eagle and the Bear. But someone at State’s linguistics department wasn’t on the ball, because the inscription apparently meant “overcharge.”

This came on the heels of Russia’s rejection of a private letter from President Obama, seeking Russia’s help with curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for the U.S. abandoning its missile-defense plans for eastern Europe. This could not have been reassuring for those nations that spent decades under the Soviet thumb.

Those former Warsaw Pact nations have been among our staunchest allies. They are quite possibly the nations that value their freedom most, having so recently been oppressed, and have long depended on the U.S. to keep Russian expansion at bay.

Meanwhile, relations could be a bit warmer between the U.S. and Britain. They haven’t always been our staunchest allies (things weren’t so rosy between us at various points during the 18th and 19th centuries), but for well over a century things have been significantly better.

First, President Obama returned a Winston Churchill bust that had been on indefinite loan. Then, when Prime Minister Brown came to visit, he was greeted by an unending series of slights and snubs.

A new challenge arises with China: Recently, several small Chinese boats surrounded and harassed an unarmed U.S. Navy mapping ship in international waters off China’s coast, coming within 25 feet of the USNS Impeccable and trying to snag the cable it was using to tow bottom-mapping sonar. The Impeccable, which is unarmed, responded with fire hoses.

Here’s to hoping the State Department can find someone who speaks Mandarin fluently enough to whip up a “Reset” button for Secretary Clinton to present to Beijing. 

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How Now Differs

Martin Wolf, one of the deans of financial writing in the English-speaking world, has a sobering Financial Times column that begins: “Another ideological god has failed. The assumptions that ruled policy and politics over three decades suddenly look as outdated as revolutionary socialism.” He posits that the free-market philosophy post-Reagan has now gone the way of all flesh:

In the chaotic 1970s, few guessed that the next epoch would see the taming of inflation, the unleashing of capitalism and the death of communism. What will happen now depends on choices unmade and shocks unknown. Yet the combination of a financial collapse with a huge recession, if not something worse, will surely change the world. The legitimacy of the market will weaken. The credibility of the US will be damaged. The authority of China will rise. Globalisation itself may founder. This is a time of upheaval.

One vital difference between the 1970s and now, and between the 1930s and now, is that if free markets and globalization are discredited, there is no counterveiling theory of financial organization to supplant them. In the 1930s, there were several–Nazism, Fascism, Communism, even Japanese statism. In the 1970s, Keynesianism and Attlee-ism were ascendant, with free-marketry in the wings, waiting to supplant them. Now there is — what? Ron Paulism? Islamic fundamentalism? Chinese mercantilism isn’t a philosophy, it’s a haphazard approach to growth.

Wolf is surely right that we are going to enter a more regulatory phase, but the economic consequences of tightened regulation will themselves cause a counter-pressure to deregulate to produce more growth.

We’re not out of the free market yet, not by a long shot.

Martin Wolf, one of the deans of financial writing in the English-speaking world, has a sobering Financial Times column that begins: “Another ideological god has failed. The assumptions that ruled policy and politics over three decades suddenly look as outdated as revolutionary socialism.” He posits that the free-market philosophy post-Reagan has now gone the way of all flesh:

In the chaotic 1970s, few guessed that the next epoch would see the taming of inflation, the unleashing of capitalism and the death of communism. What will happen now depends on choices unmade and shocks unknown. Yet the combination of a financial collapse with a huge recession, if not something worse, will surely change the world. The legitimacy of the market will weaken. The credibility of the US will be damaged. The authority of China will rise. Globalisation itself may founder. This is a time of upheaval.

One vital difference between the 1970s and now, and between the 1930s and now, is that if free markets and globalization are discredited, there is no counterveiling theory of financial organization to supplant them. In the 1930s, there were several–Nazism, Fascism, Communism, even Japanese statism. In the 1970s, Keynesianism and Attlee-ism were ascendant, with free-marketry in the wings, waiting to supplant them. Now there is — what? Ron Paulism? Islamic fundamentalism? Chinese mercantilism isn’t a philosophy, it’s a haphazard approach to growth.

Wolf is surely right that we are going to enter a more regulatory phase, but the economic consequences of tightened regulation will themselves cause a counter-pressure to deregulate to produce more growth.

We’re not out of the free market yet, not by a long shot.

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Focus!

Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institute does not mince words:

The mantra on the left over the past eight years has focused on the lack of competence in the Bush administration. Whether criticizing the Iraq War, the response to Hurricane Katrina or the economic crisis that exploded in 2008, the liberal conceit has been that conservatives don’t know how to govern — so put us in charge instead.

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and attack, or so many Democrats are now finding out. No one is expecting immediate results from the Obama administration on the economy; that would be blatantly unfair. But is it too much to expect some consistent plan of action?

With this gang, that might be asking for too much.

And he’s got a point: the lack of Treasury staff and a viable bank plan, a revolving door of policy feints on unrelated topics, mixed messages on spending restraint and profligacy, and all the chatter about of tax hikes have sent the markets “tumbling because they have no clear idea of the path that the administration plans on taking us.” Or as Jack Welch hollered in less restrained terms:

This guy is locked in another world. And he’s throwing all these initiatives into this game in the middle of a crisis. Focus on the crisis! Focus on the economy!

But fixing the economy is the hard part and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to self-aggrandizing summits or campaign-type events. Of course, it presupposes that the private sector must be the source of recovery instead of the whipping boy for the Left. So you can see why Obama would rather focus on other things.

Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institute does not mince words:

The mantra on the left over the past eight years has focused on the lack of competence in the Bush administration. Whether criticizing the Iraq War, the response to Hurricane Katrina or the economic crisis that exploded in 2008, the liberal conceit has been that conservatives don’t know how to govern — so put us in charge instead.

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and attack, or so many Democrats are now finding out. No one is expecting immediate results from the Obama administration on the economy; that would be blatantly unfair. But is it too much to expect some consistent plan of action?

With this gang, that might be asking for too much.

And he’s got a point: the lack of Treasury staff and a viable bank plan, a revolving door of policy feints on unrelated topics, mixed messages on spending restraint and profligacy, and all the chatter about of tax hikes have sent the markets “tumbling because they have no clear idea of the path that the administration plans on taking us.” Or as Jack Welch hollered in less restrained terms:

This guy is locked in another world. And he’s throwing all these initiatives into this game in the middle of a crisis. Focus on the crisis! Focus on the economy!

But fixing the economy is the hard part and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to self-aggrandizing summits or campaign-type events. Of course, it presupposes that the private sector must be the source of recovery instead of the whipping boy for the Left. So you can see why Obama would rather focus on other things.

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Does the American Left Give a Fig About Human Rights?

One of the most amazing things about the appointment of the Tiananmen Square Massacre enthusiast Charles “Chas” Freeman as National Intelligence Council Chairman is how liberals have completely avoided any discussion whatsoever of the man’s romanticizing the Chinese Communists and Saudi Royal Family. The debate over Freeman has become a game for these liberals, a game in which point-scoring against the dreaded “neo-cons” has subsumed matters of principle, policy, and decency. Thus it’s all a discussion over the motives of those criticizing him and they have nothing to say about the man’s truly illiberal political views.

Maybe Eli Lake’s story in the Washington Times today, detailing the latest congressional protest against Freeman, will remind liberals of what they used to stand for. Lake reports:

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, spoke with Mr. Blair on Monday to oppose the appointment. He said he would be sending Mr. Blair a pair of socks made by Tiananmen protesters in a Beijing prison that Mr. Wolf visited in 1991. He also will send Mr. Blair a videotape of two women from a Darfur refugee camp describing how they were raped by Sudanese forces.

“I elaborated a little more on why having visited Darfur and having seen what the Chinese have done, and CNOOC has done, how the oil money has helped fund [Sudanese President] Omar Bashir to kill innocent people,” Mr. Wolf said.

So the cause of human rights has fallen upon the shoulders of the Republican congressional minority, while liberals follow a script of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” There was a time when the American Left could be reliably counted upon to raise its voice in protest against the likes of Chas Freeman and his shilling for authoritarians. That day is sadly no more.

One of the most amazing things about the appointment of the Tiananmen Square Massacre enthusiast Charles “Chas” Freeman as National Intelligence Council Chairman is how liberals have completely avoided any discussion whatsoever of the man’s romanticizing the Chinese Communists and Saudi Royal Family. The debate over Freeman has become a game for these liberals, a game in which point-scoring against the dreaded “neo-cons” has subsumed matters of principle, policy, and decency. Thus it’s all a discussion over the motives of those criticizing him and they have nothing to say about the man’s truly illiberal political views.

Maybe Eli Lake’s story in the Washington Times today, detailing the latest congressional protest against Freeman, will remind liberals of what they used to stand for. Lake reports:

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, spoke with Mr. Blair on Monday to oppose the appointment. He said he would be sending Mr. Blair a pair of socks made by Tiananmen protesters in a Beijing prison that Mr. Wolf visited in 1991. He also will send Mr. Blair a videotape of two women from a Darfur refugee camp describing how they were raped by Sudanese forces.

“I elaborated a little more on why having visited Darfur and having seen what the Chinese have done, and CNOOC has done, how the oil money has helped fund [Sudanese President] Omar Bashir to kill innocent people,” Mr. Wolf said.

So the cause of human rights has fallen upon the shoulders of the Republican congressional minority, while liberals follow a script of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” There was a time when the American Left could be reliably counted upon to raise its voice in protest against the likes of Chas Freeman and his shilling for authoritarians. That day is sadly no more.

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A Break From the Past Alright

President Obama was recently quoted in a New York Times interview as saying:

Somebody noted to me that by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it.

However, it is painfully obvious that with regard to stem cell research the president couldn’t or wouldn’t make the “really hard” decision.

As both the news and op-ed pieces in the Washington Post indicate, Obama, to the surprise of even embryonic stem cell researchers, punted the tough calls on human cloning and on use of embryos created specifically for research. The news report notes:

The task of deciding what kinds of studies will be supported now falls to the National Institutes of Health, which finds itself confronting far more extensive questions than its officials were contemplating. It has 120 days to do the job.

Among other things, officials will have to decide whether to endorse studies on cells obtained from much more contentious sources, such as embryos created specifically for research or by means of cloning techniques.

“He left it wide open,” said Thomas H. Murray, director of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. “Now we are going to have to face a host of morally complicated, politically charged questions. There’s not an easy path forward for them out of here.”

And the opinion editors seem uneasy about the president fobbing off these decisions on scientists:

Aside from saying, “As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering,” the president has not given a hint as to where he stands on some thorny questions. Should Dickey-Wicker [banning bans federal money from being used to create or destroy human embryos for research, but not research on stem cells from such embryos] be repealed? He leaves it up to Congress to decide that. Where does he stand on growing human embryos for experimentation in general and using them for stem cells in particular? It’s unclear.

The White House said that Mr. Obama doesn’t want to prejudge the NIH guidelines but that this will not be the last we’ll hear from Mr. Obama on this subject. We hope not. Some of these ethical questions need to be dealt with in the political arena, and not just by scientists.

This is yet another “above my pay-grade” moment. Reasonable and thoughtful people can disagree on where to draw the line on stem cell research. But at least George W. Bush went to the trouble of considering the issues and taking on the responsibility for deciding where to draw that line. This is, as Obama says, the job of the president — to make the tough calls.

The president and his defenders operate according to the illusion that these are all “scientific” decisions and can be left up to the staffers at NIH. But these, are not decisions about science; rather, they involve the political and moral dilemmas on how we want the government to participate in research.

Obama took the opportunity, as he does at all of these signing ceremonies, to take a shot at George W. Bush. He declared himself to be breaking with the past and re-establishing the rightful place of science. Actually, the most noteworthy break from the past is that we no longer have a president willing to think through hard moral questions and take the heat for his decisions.

President Obama was recently quoted in a New York Times interview as saying:

Somebody noted to me that by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it.

However, it is painfully obvious that with regard to stem cell research the president couldn’t or wouldn’t make the “really hard” decision.

As both the news and op-ed pieces in the Washington Post indicate, Obama, to the surprise of even embryonic stem cell researchers, punted the tough calls on human cloning and on use of embryos created specifically for research. The news report notes:

The task of deciding what kinds of studies will be supported now falls to the National Institutes of Health, which finds itself confronting far more extensive questions than its officials were contemplating. It has 120 days to do the job.

Among other things, officials will have to decide whether to endorse studies on cells obtained from much more contentious sources, such as embryos created specifically for research or by means of cloning techniques.

“He left it wide open,” said Thomas H. Murray, director of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. “Now we are going to have to face a host of morally complicated, politically charged questions. There’s not an easy path forward for them out of here.”

And the opinion editors seem uneasy about the president fobbing off these decisions on scientists:

Aside from saying, “As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering,” the president has not given a hint as to where he stands on some thorny questions. Should Dickey-Wicker [banning bans federal money from being used to create or destroy human embryos for research, but not research on stem cells from such embryos] be repealed? He leaves it up to Congress to decide that. Where does he stand on growing human embryos for experimentation in general and using them for stem cells in particular? It’s unclear.

The White House said that Mr. Obama doesn’t want to prejudge the NIH guidelines but that this will not be the last we’ll hear from Mr. Obama on this subject. We hope not. Some of these ethical questions need to be dealt with in the political arena, and not just by scientists.

This is yet another “above my pay-grade” moment. Reasonable and thoughtful people can disagree on where to draw the line on stem cell research. But at least George W. Bush went to the trouble of considering the issues and taking on the responsibility for deciding where to draw that line. This is, as Obama says, the job of the president — to make the tough calls.

The president and his defenders operate according to the illusion that these are all “scientific” decisions and can be left up to the staffers at NIH. But these, are not decisions about science; rather, they involve the political and moral dilemmas on how we want the government to participate in research.

Obama took the opportunity, as he does at all of these signing ceremonies, to take a shot at George W. Bush. He declared himself to be breaking with the past and re-establishing the rightful place of science. Actually, the most noteworthy break from the past is that we no longer have a president willing to think through hard moral questions and take the heat for his decisions.

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Either-Or

The mystifying aspect of the conservative war over Rush Limbaugh is its either-or aspect. My dear friend David Frum has taken to the cover of Newsweek to announce to liberals that the Right should cut off Limbaugh on the grounds that he is unpopular with people who are not on the Right, and because Limbaugh supposedly vulgarizes the Right. In response, my friend Andy McCarthy takes out after David Frum with a hatchet this morning on National Review, effectively writing David out of the Right for going on Chris Matthews’s show and failing to defend Limbaugh on the subject of race.

There is, in all this, a profound sense that the Right has been reduced to fighting over a few crumbs on the ground, having been judged wanting in two successive elections.

That has suggested to David and others a trend line in which more educated Americans and young people are being given no reason whatever to align themselves with the Right, and that the loss of such people represents a profound problem. This is true and it is false. It is true because that is what the data tell us about the 2006 and 2008 elections. It is false because such data are not static. They respond to events, and there is no telling what impact the events of 2009 and 2010 are going to have on these and other voters.

Andy McCarthy’s anger is a different sort of crumb-on-the-ground feeling — a sense of embattlement, of being surrounded on all sides, with one-time shipmates jumping port and leaving the remnant outnumbered, undefended, and under siege. This too is true and false. It’s true because the voices of cultural suasion in the United States — in the mainstream media, the education system, and the popular culture– have never before been quite as aligned in this sort of lockstep with the prevailing liberal power in Washington. It’s false because the Right is also more capable of reaching more people and rallying its forces more effectively than at any time in the past.

The sense of scarcity is what leads to arguments like this. But where both men are wrong is that all ideological tendencies need multiple points of entry into the common discussion —  from Rush Limbaugh to National Review Online to David Frum’s writings to COMMENTARY.  Arguments are valuable. The desire to write people or ideas out of a movement is an understandable human craving — it’s the train of thought that says, “I can’t stand listening to that, and I shouldn’t have to in my own house.” But it’s — what’s that word so beloved of the new White House? –a “distraction.”

The mystifying aspect of the conservative war over Rush Limbaugh is its either-or aspect. My dear friend David Frum has taken to the cover of Newsweek to announce to liberals that the Right should cut off Limbaugh on the grounds that he is unpopular with people who are not on the Right, and because Limbaugh supposedly vulgarizes the Right. In response, my friend Andy McCarthy takes out after David Frum with a hatchet this morning on National Review, effectively writing David out of the Right for going on Chris Matthews’s show and failing to defend Limbaugh on the subject of race.

There is, in all this, a profound sense that the Right has been reduced to fighting over a few crumbs on the ground, having been judged wanting in two successive elections.

That has suggested to David and others a trend line in which more educated Americans and young people are being given no reason whatever to align themselves with the Right, and that the loss of such people represents a profound problem. This is true and it is false. It is true because that is what the data tell us about the 2006 and 2008 elections. It is false because such data are not static. They respond to events, and there is no telling what impact the events of 2009 and 2010 are going to have on these and other voters.

Andy McCarthy’s anger is a different sort of crumb-on-the-ground feeling — a sense of embattlement, of being surrounded on all sides, with one-time shipmates jumping port and leaving the remnant outnumbered, undefended, and under siege. This too is true and false. It’s true because the voices of cultural suasion in the United States — in the mainstream media, the education system, and the popular culture– have never before been quite as aligned in this sort of lockstep with the prevailing liberal power in Washington. It’s false because the Right is also more capable of reaching more people and rallying its forces more effectively than at any time in the past.

The sense of scarcity is what leads to arguments like this. But where both men are wrong is that all ideological tendencies need multiple points of entry into the common discussion —  from Rush Limbaugh to National Review Online to David Frum’s writings to COMMENTARY.  Arguments are valuable. The desire to write people or ideas out of a movement is an understandable human craving — it’s the train of thought that says, “I can’t stand listening to that, and I shouldn’t have to in my own house.” But it’s — what’s that word so beloved of the new White House? –a “distraction.”

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Livni in “Kindergarten”

In the print edition of Haaretz  Moshe Arens, former Defense Minister, elder statesman, patriot, and, yes, a member of the Likud Party, tries to get his priorities right — country first, party second.

Curiously, the English version of the article does not include the opening paragraph, harshly critical of Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which is featured in the Hebrew version, translated below:

Tzipi Livni claims that she represents a “different kind of politics,” but since election results have been publicized the politics she engages is the one of the kindergarten.

And the explanation can be found in the English version:

After celebrating an imaginary victory, she now tells the Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu “repeat after me – two states for two peoples.” If he won’t repeat this slogan, she is not prepared to play. And she has another slogan – the system must be reformed to provide the elected government a full four-year term to execute its plans. By that she means a four-year term for a government that would be headed by her. As for a Netanyahu-led government, she believes it should be brought down as quickly as possible. So now she is headed for the opposition.

In short:

When Livni speaks now of bringing down the elected government in a matter of months, she has simply lost sight of the best interests of the country at this critical time.

It’s an article full of common sense, but unlikely to bring Livni to her senses.

In the print edition of Haaretz  Moshe Arens, former Defense Minister, elder statesman, patriot, and, yes, a member of the Likud Party, tries to get his priorities right — country first, party second.

Curiously, the English version of the article does not include the opening paragraph, harshly critical of Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which is featured in the Hebrew version, translated below:

Tzipi Livni claims that she represents a “different kind of politics,” but since election results have been publicized the politics she engages is the one of the kindergarten.

And the explanation can be found in the English version:

After celebrating an imaginary victory, she now tells the Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu “repeat after me – two states for two peoples.” If he won’t repeat this slogan, she is not prepared to play. And she has another slogan – the system must be reformed to provide the elected government a full four-year term to execute its plans. By that she means a four-year term for a government that would be headed by her. As for a Netanyahu-led government, she believes it should be brought down as quickly as possible. So now she is headed for the opposition.

In short:

When Livni speaks now of bringing down the elected government in a matter of months, she has simply lost sight of the best interests of the country at this critical time.

It’s an article full of common sense, but unlikely to bring Livni to her senses.

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