Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 9, 2009

Re: No Room for the U.S.

Pete, you highlight in vivid terms the very startling phenomenon of a president who seems not very much concerned with defending the reputation and honor of the country he was elected to lead. This is of course not exactly new. During the campaign, he went to Berlin and proclaimed his citizenship of the “world” — an odd formulation for someone then seeking the presidency not of the “world” but of a particular country. How much odder now that he is president to see him speak of America as a distant observer, critiquing it as would a Harvard professor, and tut-tutting our desire to “dictate” to the world. It is all of a piece — the perfect embodiment of the academic Left which eschews nationality and even more so pro-Americanism.

You raise the possibility that there is a certain potent egotism at work here — the desire to be adored by not just the American public but by a world audience, which of course doesn’t always think very highly of America. But that should be no problem for Obama who finds his country’s behavior to be arrogant and self-centered and insufficiently concerned with others. How nice that he can bond with international audiences in their mutual disdain for America’s behavior. Left unremarked upon is the blood shed to free Muslims in multiple wars, the billions Obama’s predecessor spent in fighting AIDS in Africa, and our historic standing as the most philanthropic country on the planet. Let’s not let facts get in the way of a good gripe session against Uncle Sam.

These things are never simple and perhaps Obama’s peculiarly detached and hyper-critical view of America (which necessitates figurative and literal bowing and a fair measure of scraping) neatly fits both his intellectual bent and personal needs. Still, the cause is not so nearly important as the result. The prostration of the American president before European crowds, Iranian mullahs, and Chinese dictators leads, as we have seen  in history, not to a more united and peaceful world, but one more dangerous and violent. Nations big and small, and non-state actors, realize the U.S. is unwilling or unable to assert its moral and military weight.

Pete, you highlight in vivid terms the very startling phenomenon of a president who seems not very much concerned with defending the reputation and honor of the country he was elected to lead. This is of course not exactly new. During the campaign, he went to Berlin and proclaimed his citizenship of the “world” — an odd formulation for someone then seeking the presidency not of the “world” but of a particular country. How much odder now that he is president to see him speak of America as a distant observer, critiquing it as would a Harvard professor, and tut-tutting our desire to “dictate” to the world. It is all of a piece — the perfect embodiment of the academic Left which eschews nationality and even more so pro-Americanism.

You raise the possibility that there is a certain potent egotism at work here — the desire to be adored by not just the American public but by a world audience, which of course doesn’t always think very highly of America. But that should be no problem for Obama who finds his country’s behavior to be arrogant and self-centered and insufficiently concerned with others. How nice that he can bond with international audiences in their mutual disdain for America’s behavior. Left unremarked upon is the blood shed to free Muslims in multiple wars, the billions Obama’s predecessor spent in fighting AIDS in Africa, and our historic standing as the most philanthropic country on the planet. Let’s not let facts get in the way of a good gripe session against Uncle Sam.

These things are never simple and perhaps Obama’s peculiarly detached and hyper-critical view of America (which necessitates figurative and literal bowing and a fair measure of scraping) neatly fits both his intellectual bent and personal needs. Still, the cause is not so nearly important as the result. The prostration of the American president before European crowds, Iranian mullahs, and Chinese dictators leads, as we have seen  in history, not to a more united and peaceful world, but one more dangerous and violent. Nations big and small, and non-state actors, realize the U.S. is unwilling or unable to assert its moral and military weight.

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Commentary of the Day

J.E. Dyer, on J.G. Thayer:

Every now and then even a blind chicken like lester gets a kernel of corn. The Pirates of Somalia are not doing a “Muslim” thing here. They are indeed Muslim (there are about four people in Somalia who aren’t), but they’re just pirates, who flourish because they are richer and better armed than the provincial governments of Puntland and Somaliland. In the event of a Shari’a dictatorship being established, one that forcibly unites Somalia, the pirates will be suppressed because they constitute a separate power base within the country.

J.E. Dyer, on J.G. Thayer:

Every now and then even a blind chicken like lester gets a kernel of corn. The Pirates of Somalia are not doing a “Muslim” thing here. They are indeed Muslim (there are about four people in Somalia who aren’t), but they’re just pirates, who flourish because they are richer and better armed than the provincial governments of Puntland and Somaliland. In the event of a Shari’a dictatorship being established, one that forcibly unites Somalia, the pirates will be suppressed because they constitute a separate power base within the country.

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Do Money and Attack Ads Still Pack the Same Punch?

For those deprived of a “tea reading” experience in the NY-20 and looking to gauge the 2010 Congressional elections, the Virginia gubernatorial race provides some of the most interesting political action of 2009. The Democratic primary was thought to be dramatically altered once Clinton moneyman Terry McAuliffe entered the race. He raised some $4.2 million in the first quarter — an unprecedented sum. But it isn’t doing much good. Mirroring another recent poll, a new Kos poll shows him lagging behind former House Delegate Brian Moran 24-19%. It might be that the electorate is not yet paying attention (41% are undecided), but it is noteworthy that all that money hasn’t gotten McAuliffe anywhere and that his unfavorables remain remarkably high.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are getting nervous that Republican Bob McDonnell is waltzing through the spring with no primary opponent. So what to do? Well, launch  murky third party attack campaigns for one. And then launch some really odd attack — featuring Robertson. This seems to abandon what has been the winning formula for Virginia Democrats like Tim Kaine and Mark Warner who embraced socially conservative voters.

It is unclear whether Virginia has really morphed into a Blue state indistinguishable from the northeast corridor states. Democrats seem to be banking that it is — and the proof will come in November, when Barack Obama’s name is not on the ballot and the electorate is likely much smaller than the record turnout in 2008.

For those deprived of a “tea reading” experience in the NY-20 and looking to gauge the 2010 Congressional elections, the Virginia gubernatorial race provides some of the most interesting political action of 2009. The Democratic primary was thought to be dramatically altered once Clinton moneyman Terry McAuliffe entered the race. He raised some $4.2 million in the first quarter — an unprecedented sum. But it isn’t doing much good. Mirroring another recent poll, a new Kos poll shows him lagging behind former House Delegate Brian Moran 24-19%. It might be that the electorate is not yet paying attention (41% are undecided), but it is noteworthy that all that money hasn’t gotten McAuliffe anywhere and that his unfavorables remain remarkably high.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are getting nervous that Republican Bob McDonnell is waltzing through the spring with no primary opponent. So what to do? Well, launch  murky third party attack campaigns for one. And then launch some really odd attack — featuring Robertson. This seems to abandon what has been the winning formula for Virginia Democrats like Tim Kaine and Mark Warner who embraced socially conservative voters.

It is unclear whether Virginia has really morphed into a Blue state indistinguishable from the northeast corridor states. Democrats seem to be banking that it is — and the proof will come in November, when Barack Obama’s name is not on the ballot and the electorate is likely much smaller than the record turnout in 2008.

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The Price of Extremism

It sounds like a joke: President Obama has gotten so partisan that even Karl Rove is taken aback:

His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that “I won.”

[ . . . ]

Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor. For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week’s overseas trip, the new president’s jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending “the blame game,” he is personifying it.

The question remains: Why? After all, Obama had the perfect opportunity to peel off chunks of the Republican caucus, create dissention (between those wanting to join with him and those insistent on opposing him at all costs), and redefine the Democratic party as a broad-based centrist one which deprived the GOP of any real operating room. That’s the picture — or one of them — he painted in the campaign when he spoke about going line-by-line through the budget, reaching out to religious voters and promising to expand the Army. (Yeah, we’ve certainly come a long way.)

One school of thought suggests that Obama is deep down a far-left ideologue and would rather achieve his agenda than build a lasting coalition. He has to hurry to beat the clock to the 2010 election and wants to do everything he can to tick off the items on the liberal wish list. In this scenario, his moderate language and bipartisan themes, as central as they were to his campaign, were essentially deceptive. He’s not a centrist and has no interest in governing as one.

Another school of thought suggests that he hasn’t figured out how to set the agenda and put Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in their place as supporting players. They crafted the stimulus and insisted on the earmark-stuffed omnibus spending bill. He passively went along because he lacked the fortitude or skill to cut them off at the pass. The problem with that theory is that his budget — crafted by him, not Pelosi or Reid — was extreme, vastly increasing the size of government, raising taxes, embracing cap-and-trade (and with it a huge energy tax), and setting up a healthcare slush fund for which the fine print would be filled in later.

When you look at his actions it is hard to conclude that Obama is anything but a committed ultra-liberal who sees himself as revolutionizing the relationship between citizens and government. And when you throw in his “can’t we all get along” diplomacy and his unwillingness to assert America’s unique role in the world, one gets the sense we elected a throwback to the 1970s, not a groundbreaker. (More George McGovern and less Bill Clinton than many imagined.) That’s bound to be divisive since a large majority of the electorate isn’t ultra-liberal. It remains to be seen whether it is also a losing formula, both economically and politically.

It sounds like a joke: President Obama has gotten so partisan that even Karl Rove is taken aback:

His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that “I won.”

[ . . . ]

Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor. For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week’s overseas trip, the new president’s jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending “the blame game,” he is personifying it.

The question remains: Why? After all, Obama had the perfect opportunity to peel off chunks of the Republican caucus, create dissention (between those wanting to join with him and those insistent on opposing him at all costs), and redefine the Democratic party as a broad-based centrist one which deprived the GOP of any real operating room. That’s the picture — or one of them — he painted in the campaign when he spoke about going line-by-line through the budget, reaching out to religious voters and promising to expand the Army. (Yeah, we’ve certainly come a long way.)

One school of thought suggests that Obama is deep down a far-left ideologue and would rather achieve his agenda than build a lasting coalition. He has to hurry to beat the clock to the 2010 election and wants to do everything he can to tick off the items on the liberal wish list. In this scenario, his moderate language and bipartisan themes, as central as they were to his campaign, were essentially deceptive. He’s not a centrist and has no interest in governing as one.

Another school of thought suggests that he hasn’t figured out how to set the agenda and put Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in their place as supporting players. They crafted the stimulus and insisted on the earmark-stuffed omnibus spending bill. He passively went along because he lacked the fortitude or skill to cut them off at the pass. The problem with that theory is that his budget — crafted by him, not Pelosi or Reid — was extreme, vastly increasing the size of government, raising taxes, embracing cap-and-trade (and with it a huge energy tax), and setting up a healthcare slush fund for which the fine print would be filled in later.

When you look at his actions it is hard to conclude that Obama is anything but a committed ultra-liberal who sees himself as revolutionizing the relationship between citizens and government. And when you throw in his “can’t we all get along” diplomacy and his unwillingness to assert America’s unique role in the world, one gets the sense we elected a throwback to the 1970s, not a groundbreaker. (More George McGovern and less Bill Clinton than many imagined.) That’s bound to be divisive since a large majority of the electorate isn’t ultra-liberal. It remains to be seen whether it is also a losing formula, both economically and politically.

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Vermont Does It Right

This week, Vermont became the fourth state to recognize gay marriage. More significantly, it became the first state to enact it legislatively, and not by judicial fiat.

Prior to this, every victory in the cause of advancing same-sex marriage had come about through the courts. And every attempt to bring about its legalization via some sort of democratic process had failed. Every time the American people were given a choice in the matter, either directly or through elected representatives, it was defeated.

In Massachusetts, the legislature avoided the issue and let the Supreme Judicial Court make the decision. In California, the courts did likewise — and the people responded by passing a Constitutional amendment via ballot initiative that banned gay marriage. And recently, Ohio’s courts also found a way to justify gay marriage.

Strategically speaking, Vermont’s way is the only way that gay marriage will come to pass in a lasting fashion. It will take the acceptance — or, at least, the grudging resignation — of a majority of the citizenry in each state for it to be legal, and stay that way.

When the battle is decided in the courts, by a handful of (most often unelected) judges and the will of the people is circumvented (or, as in California’s case, overruled), it tends to galvanize the opponents and redoubles their commitment.

The American people value their freedom, their right to influence the government, their ability to shape policy that affects them. They get understandably cranky when that right is infringed upon, and — if they are pushed hard enough about an issue they care about — they will rise up and demand that their voice be heard, and listened to.

In California, they chose to fight that. In Vermont, they chose to respect a legislative process.

Guess which state will still be fighting about this for years to come.

This week, Vermont became the fourth state to recognize gay marriage. More significantly, it became the first state to enact it legislatively, and not by judicial fiat.

Prior to this, every victory in the cause of advancing same-sex marriage had come about through the courts. And every attempt to bring about its legalization via some sort of democratic process had failed. Every time the American people were given a choice in the matter, either directly or through elected representatives, it was defeated.

In Massachusetts, the legislature avoided the issue and let the Supreme Judicial Court make the decision. In California, the courts did likewise — and the people responded by passing a Constitutional amendment via ballot initiative that banned gay marriage. And recently, Ohio’s courts also found a way to justify gay marriage.

Strategically speaking, Vermont’s way is the only way that gay marriage will come to pass in a lasting fashion. It will take the acceptance — or, at least, the grudging resignation — of a majority of the citizenry in each state for it to be legal, and stay that way.

When the battle is decided in the courts, by a handful of (most often unelected) judges and the will of the people is circumvented (or, as in California’s case, overruled), it tends to galvanize the opponents and redoubles their commitment.

The American people value their freedom, their right to influence the government, their ability to shape policy that affects them. They get understandably cranky when that right is infringed upon, and — if they are pushed hard enough about an issue they care about — they will rise up and demand that their voice be heard, and listened to.

In California, they chose to fight that. In Vermont, they chose to respect a legislative process.

Guess which state will still be fighting about this for years to come.

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Why Should Cuba Be Any Different?

The Washington Post editors call out a group of the Congressional Black Caucus which went to fawn over Fidel Castro:

Half a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus spent hours huddling with Fidel and Raúl Castro in Havana this week as part of a swelling campaign to normalize relations with Cuba. “It is time to open dialogue and discussion,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told a news conference in Washington after their return. “Cubans do want dialogue. They do want talks.” Funny, then, that in five days on the island the Congress members found no time for dialogue with Afro-Cuban dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez.

And they left out some gems, as reported by Politico:

“It was almost like listening to an old friend,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il.), adding that he found Castro’s home to be modest and Castro’s wife to be particularly hospitable. “In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor,” Rush said.

The Post suggests this envoy of “useful idiots” will interfere with the Obama administration’s strategy to relax the travel ban, while driving a hard-bargain with Cuba on democratic reform. Well, it would be nice to think so. But the president’s recent jaunt overseas doesn’t bode well for those hoping he’ll be a tough bargainer when it comes to Cuba.

He lauds the “Islamic Republic of Iran” — as if he took seriously the “Republic” part. He apologizes for America’s brashness in “dictating” to the world. He explains that he goes out in the world to “listen” — ad nauseam. He seems allergic to raising human rights concerns when it comes to any country — China, North Korea, Iran, or certainly the kingdom of Abdullah the Great.

Are we to believe that Obama has an entirely different approach when it comes to Cuba? Will he suddenly rediscover the centrality of human rights (and the power of America’s moral authority) and grasp that leverage that’s needed when “dialoguing” with hostile regimes? I would like to think the Post editors’ hopes for a hard-nosed approach toward Cuba are well-founded. But after the last week or so there is scant evidence for it.

The Washington Post editors call out a group of the Congressional Black Caucus which went to fawn over Fidel Castro:

Half a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus spent hours huddling with Fidel and Raúl Castro in Havana this week as part of a swelling campaign to normalize relations with Cuba. “It is time to open dialogue and discussion,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told a news conference in Washington after their return. “Cubans do want dialogue. They do want talks.” Funny, then, that in five days on the island the Congress members found no time for dialogue with Afro-Cuban dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez.

And they left out some gems, as reported by Politico:

“It was almost like listening to an old friend,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il.), adding that he found Castro’s home to be modest and Castro’s wife to be particularly hospitable. “In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor,” Rush said.

The Post suggests this envoy of “useful idiots” will interfere with the Obama administration’s strategy to relax the travel ban, while driving a hard-bargain with Cuba on democratic reform. Well, it would be nice to think so. But the president’s recent jaunt overseas doesn’t bode well for those hoping he’ll be a tough bargainer when it comes to Cuba.

He lauds the “Islamic Republic of Iran” — as if he took seriously the “Republic” part. He apologizes for America’s brashness in “dictating” to the world. He explains that he goes out in the world to “listen” — ad nauseam. He seems allergic to raising human rights concerns when it comes to any country — China, North Korea, Iran, or certainly the kingdom of Abdullah the Great.

Are we to believe that Obama has an entirely different approach when it comes to Cuba? Will he suddenly rediscover the centrality of human rights (and the power of America’s moral authority) and grasp that leverage that’s needed when “dialoguing” with hostile regimes? I would like to think the Post editors’ hopes for a hard-nosed approach toward Cuba are well-founded. But after the last week or so there is scant evidence for it.

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Testing, Testing…

Joe Biden was, indeed, a prophet when he predicted that President Obama would be tested — repeatedly — early in his administration. And now, off the coast of Africa, we see a test of important historical resonance.

The first major challenge of the newly-independent United States was the threat of the Barbary Pirates. These pirates — Muslims based in Northern Africa — had turned the Mediterranean into their private lake, and exacted tribute from all the world’s powers who did business there. The pirates attacked ships and enslaved crews for non-payment or out of Qur’anic justification. The U.S., like the rest of the world, paid — at first. Then, when the price grew too high (and was all too likely to keep rising), we sought to form an international coalition to defeat them once and for all. When others declined, we sent in the nascent U.S. Navy and Marines, soundly defeated the pirates, and established our reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

Now, once again, we have Muslim pirates off the coast of Africa. Now, an American-flagged ship has been attacked and her captain — an American citizen — is being held hostage by pirates.

(In an interesting historical twist, the ship nearest the scene is the USS Bainbridge — the fifth warship to be named in honor of  Admiral William Bainbridge, who played a major role in our dealings with the Barbary Pirates.)

What will be President Obama’s response? Will he issue a Teddy Roosevelt-style demand for “our citizen alive or the pirates dead?” Will he authorize the use of force to rein in the pirates? Will he seek — once again — the assistance and approval of the global community before reacting to this situation, despite existing international agreements that pirates are a threat to and the responsibility of all nations?

The crew of the Maersk Alabama is to be praised — crew members averted most of this crisis when they fought back against the pirates and retook their ship, forcing the pirates to flee in a lifeboat with a single hostage instead of their prize.

And it is doubtful that these pirates, when they first closed with the Maersk Alabama, thought that they would trigger a major international crisis. Yet they have, and the response of President Obama to this assault on American sovereignty will have repercussions for years to come.

Let us hope he acts both wisely and unapologetically.

Joe Biden was, indeed, a prophet when he predicted that President Obama would be tested — repeatedly — early in his administration. And now, off the coast of Africa, we see a test of important historical resonance.

The first major challenge of the newly-independent United States was the threat of the Barbary Pirates. These pirates — Muslims based in Northern Africa — had turned the Mediterranean into their private lake, and exacted tribute from all the world’s powers who did business there. The pirates attacked ships and enslaved crews for non-payment or out of Qur’anic justification. The U.S., like the rest of the world, paid — at first. Then, when the price grew too high (and was all too likely to keep rising), we sought to form an international coalition to defeat them once and for all. When others declined, we sent in the nascent U.S. Navy and Marines, soundly defeated the pirates, and established our reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

Now, once again, we have Muslim pirates off the coast of Africa. Now, an American-flagged ship has been attacked and her captain — an American citizen — is being held hostage by pirates.

(In an interesting historical twist, the ship nearest the scene is the USS Bainbridge — the fifth warship to be named in honor of  Admiral William Bainbridge, who played a major role in our dealings with the Barbary Pirates.)

What will be President Obama’s response? Will he issue a Teddy Roosevelt-style demand for “our citizen alive or the pirates dead?” Will he authorize the use of force to rein in the pirates? Will he seek — once again — the assistance and approval of the global community before reacting to this situation, despite existing international agreements that pirates are a threat to and the responsibility of all nations?

The crew of the Maersk Alabama is to be praised — crew members averted most of this crisis when they fought back against the pirates and retook their ship, forcing the pirates to flee in a lifeboat with a single hostage instead of their prize.

And it is doubtful that these pirates, when they first closed with the Maersk Alabama, thought that they would trigger a major international crisis. Yet they have, and the response of President Obama to this assault on American sovereignty will have repercussions for years to come.

Let us hope he acts both wisely and unapologetically.

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A Howler

In case you thought the recession was bringing everyone down to earth and eliminating frivolous expenditures, I have two words for you: dog yoga (“doga”). No, really. Forget $4 lattes. There are people shilling out $25 to take their Shih Tzu to yoga — excuse me, doga — class. But not everyone is, well, at peace with this, as the New York Times dutifuly reports:

“Doga runs the risk of trivializing yoga by turning a 2,500-year-old practice into a fad,” said Julie Lawrence, 60, a yoga instructor and studio owner in Portland, Ore. “To live in harmony with all beings, including dogs, is a truly yogic principle. But yoga class may not be the most appropriate way to express this.”

How judgmental! (Who’s she to say what’s appropriate? Sheesh) Let’s hope these classes really aren’t “increasing in number or popularity” (or, if so, only from eight to nine) and that this is just the Gray Lady’s effort to assure its Upper West Side readers that they, who wouldn’t dream of taking their pooch to yoga (a pedicure is a totally different thing, of course), are grounded in the “real” world.

In case you thought the recession was bringing everyone down to earth and eliminating frivolous expenditures, I have two words for you: dog yoga (“doga”). No, really. Forget $4 lattes. There are people shilling out $25 to take their Shih Tzu to yoga — excuse me, doga — class. But not everyone is, well, at peace with this, as the New York Times dutifuly reports:

“Doga runs the risk of trivializing yoga by turning a 2,500-year-old practice into a fad,” said Julie Lawrence, 60, a yoga instructor and studio owner in Portland, Ore. “To live in harmony with all beings, including dogs, is a truly yogic principle. But yoga class may not be the most appropriate way to express this.”

How judgmental! (Who’s she to say what’s appropriate? Sheesh) Let’s hope these classes really aren’t “increasing in number or popularity” (or, if so, only from eight to nine) and that this is just the Gray Lady’s effort to assure its Upper West Side readers that they, who wouldn’t dream of taking their pooch to yoga (a pedicure is a totally different thing, of course), are grounded in the “real” world.

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No Room for the U.S. Under That Bus

During his maiden trip overseas, we learned many things about President Obama. Among the most troublesome, I think, was the ease and eagerness with which he criticized the country he represents. In the words of the Daily Telegraph, “[Obama's] speech in Strasbourg went further than any United States president in history in criticising his own country’s action while standing on foreign soil.”

To be sure, Obama did it in the fashion we have come to expect: he both praised and criticized the United States and chastised America and Europe, hoping to portray himself as a detached, disinterested commentator on world affairs. As a matter of practice, he aims his barbs at his predecessors — never by name, always by implication; mostly President Bush but, when necessary, even President Truman. His aides would have us believe that this is simply a tactical matter: Obama is engaging in “balanced” criticism of the United States in order to make us more popular in Europe and the rest of the world. And, we are to believe, this will eventually translate into concrete progress in areas that matter.

That remains to be seen — and there was certainly no evidence of it on this trip. The Europeans greeted the Obamas like they were a combination of royalty and rock stars — and then they stiffed the President on Afghanistan. The North Koreans showed how impressed they are with his million-watt smile and charisma by firing a Taepodong-2 rocket.

What leaves me with a queasy feeling, though, is the growing sense that Obama is willing to denigrate America in order to boost his own personal popularity in other countries. As President, Obama has a responsibility to explain and interpret America to the rest of the world — in a way that is truthful and corresponds to reality for sure, but in a way that explains his country and its history and actions. So it would have been nice for him to point out just once that (as Charles Krauthammer has reminded us) during the last two decades Americans have shed their blood and spent their treasure in order to defend innocent Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It would have been impressive if Obama had just once offered an accurate account of the lead up to the Iraq war — when the United States repeatedly sought and often won the approval of UN resolutions against Saddam Hussein, who was in violation of agreements he was party to — instead of promoting the caricature that it was a “unilateral” war promoted by an “arrogant” nation. In the World According to Obama, it was Bush and presumably Tony Blair, and not Saddam Hussein, who are to blame for the Iraq war. (To his credit, Obama has finally spoken out favorably about American achievements in Iraq.)
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During his maiden trip overseas, we learned many things about President Obama. Among the most troublesome, I think, was the ease and eagerness with which he criticized the country he represents. In the words of the Daily Telegraph, “[Obama's] speech in Strasbourg went further than any United States president in history in criticising his own country’s action while standing on foreign soil.”

To be sure, Obama did it in the fashion we have come to expect: he both praised and criticized the United States and chastised America and Europe, hoping to portray himself as a detached, disinterested commentator on world affairs. As a matter of practice, he aims his barbs at his predecessors — never by name, always by implication; mostly President Bush but, when necessary, even President Truman. His aides would have us believe that this is simply a tactical matter: Obama is engaging in “balanced” criticism of the United States in order to make us more popular in Europe and the rest of the world. And, we are to believe, this will eventually translate into concrete progress in areas that matter.

That remains to be seen — and there was certainly no evidence of it on this trip. The Europeans greeted the Obamas like they were a combination of royalty and rock stars — and then they stiffed the President on Afghanistan. The North Koreans showed how impressed they are with his million-watt smile and charisma by firing a Taepodong-2 rocket.

What leaves me with a queasy feeling, though, is the growing sense that Obama is willing to denigrate America in order to boost his own personal popularity in other countries. As President, Obama has a responsibility to explain and interpret America to the rest of the world — in a way that is truthful and corresponds to reality for sure, but in a way that explains his country and its history and actions. So it would have been nice for him to point out just once that (as Charles Krauthammer has reminded us) during the last two decades Americans have shed their blood and spent their treasure in order to defend innocent Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It would have been impressive if Obama had just once offered an accurate account of the lead up to the Iraq war — when the United States repeatedly sought and often won the approval of UN resolutions against Saddam Hussein, who was in violation of agreements he was party to — instead of promoting the caricature that it was a “unilateral” war promoted by an “arrogant” nation. In the World According to Obama, it was Bush and presumably Tony Blair, and not Saddam Hussein, who are to blame for the Iraq war. (To his credit, Obama has finally spoken out favorably about American achievements in Iraq.)

At convenient points on his overseas trip President Obama purposefully disfigured reality in a way that reflected poorly on America. That is to say, an American president played up cartoon images of the United States in order to get foreign audiences to applaud him. It is rare for the leader of a nation to revise history in order to make his nation look worse. But for Obama, the upside — making himself look good — is an easy trade-off. One senses that when it comes to Obama, it is all, and always, about him.

In thinking about Obama’s trip, I was reminded of the words of another Democrat, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who said this:

Am I embarrassed to speak for a less than perfect democracy? Not one bit. Find me a better one. Do I suppose there are societies which are free of sin? No, I don’t. Do I think ours is, on balance, incomparably the most hopeful set of human relations the world has? Yes, I do.

It is almost inconceivable to think of former Democrat, Ronald Reagan, going overseas and criticizing America in the manner Obama did, especially for baseless reasons. (Reagan wouldn’t criticize the United States for the Vietnam War, calling it a “noble cause” in the 1980 campaign and driving his liberal critics into a lather.) One may disagree with the Iraq war on the merits, but it was not a war waged because of arrogance. It was, in fact, a war of liberation (though that was certainly not the sole justification for the war). And Iraq today is, in fact, liberated.

As one might expect, President Obama is executing his game with panache and skill; he is far too smooth and politically smart to lacerate America in a manner that would come across as clumsy and obviously offensive. He would rather speak in an elliptical manner, with a wink and a nod to a knowing audience, to communicate in sub-text as well as through text. But the goal is the same: to elevate himself at the expense of his country, to say (in so many words) that he is better than it. This isn’t the worst thing a President can do, but it is bad enough.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Steve Kornacki argues that Andrew Cuomo has to give David Paterson a “dignified” way out to preserve his chances in the general election and analogizes to the Mitt Romney/Jane Swift tussle in Massachusetts. But wait, Romney won. So isn’t the lesson that it doesn’t matter how gently the loser/incumbent is treated so long as the more electable candidate becomes the nominee?

In Pennsylvania: “Arlen is Snarlin’ again. Facing what looks to be the most difficult reelection bid of his 30-year Senate career, Sen. Arlen Specter has left little doubt as to how serious he’s taking the campaign. And things are getting muddy very quickly.” I don’t see how that helps Specter reconnect with conservative primary voters.

Another critic of Tim Geithner’s “private-public” toxic asset purchase plan weighs in: “But there is actually very little private skin in this game: It gives a handful of wealthy financiers huge nonrecourse loans to enable them to purchase toxic assets that the market supposedly won’t buy at a ‘fair’  price. As the housing crisis has shown, providing subsidized nonrecourse loans creates asset bubbles, not true price discovery. And bribing buyers to ramp up prices smacks of market manipulation.” And all that makes it a rotten deal for the taxpayers. So why is the party of  “the little guy” peddling this?

Minnesotan Scott Johnson explains that Al Franken didn’t steal the election, Norm Coleman’s lawyers fumbled it away.

In the NY-20, don’t expect a fast count.

Congressional Quarterly asks: “Can Paterson Rebound Before 2010?” I’ll take a stab at that: No.

Where’s a fraud watchdog when you need one? “The federal government will soon send more than $300 million in stimulus funds to 61 housing agencies that have been repeatedly faulted by auditors for mishandling government aid, a USA TODAY review has found.”

Another one for the “uh-oh” file: “Fed staff economists shaved their estimates for gross domestic product for the second half of this year and 2010, the minutes said, ‘with real GDP expected to flatten out gradually over the second half of this year and then to expand slowly next year.’ The unemployment rate should rise ‘more steeply’ into the early part of 2010, according to Fed staff, and then flatten out ‘at a high level over the rest of the year.’” (h/t Megan McArdle) Flatten out at a high level? Yikes.

In a must-read column, Daniel Henninger observes the abysmal condition of religious minorities in Islamic countries. He writes: ” In short, the ‘respect’ Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that. Candidate Obama last fall sent a letter to Condoleezza Rice expressing ‘my concern about the safety and well-being of Iraq’s Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities.’ He asked what steps the U.S. was taking to protect ‘these communities of religious freedom.’ Candidate Obama said he wanted these groups represented in Iraq’s governing institutions. Does President Obama believe these things?” He might believe in them, but not in doing anything about them that might put a crimp in his diplomacy by apology.

Steve Kornacki argues that Andrew Cuomo has to give David Paterson a “dignified” way out to preserve his chances in the general election and analogizes to the Mitt Romney/Jane Swift tussle in Massachusetts. But wait, Romney won. So isn’t the lesson that it doesn’t matter how gently the loser/incumbent is treated so long as the more electable candidate becomes the nominee?

In Pennsylvania: “Arlen is Snarlin’ again. Facing what looks to be the most difficult reelection bid of his 30-year Senate career, Sen. Arlen Specter has left little doubt as to how serious he’s taking the campaign. And things are getting muddy very quickly.” I don’t see how that helps Specter reconnect with conservative primary voters.

Another critic of Tim Geithner’s “private-public” toxic asset purchase plan weighs in: “But there is actually very little private skin in this game: It gives a handful of wealthy financiers huge nonrecourse loans to enable them to purchase toxic assets that the market supposedly won’t buy at a ‘fair’  price. As the housing crisis has shown, providing subsidized nonrecourse loans creates asset bubbles, not true price discovery. And bribing buyers to ramp up prices smacks of market manipulation.” And all that makes it a rotten deal for the taxpayers. So why is the party of  “the little guy” peddling this?

Minnesotan Scott Johnson explains that Al Franken didn’t steal the election, Norm Coleman’s lawyers fumbled it away.

In the NY-20, don’t expect a fast count.

Congressional Quarterly asks: “Can Paterson Rebound Before 2010?” I’ll take a stab at that: No.

Where’s a fraud watchdog when you need one? “The federal government will soon send more than $300 million in stimulus funds to 61 housing agencies that have been repeatedly faulted by auditors for mishandling government aid, a USA TODAY review has found.”

Another one for the “uh-oh” file: “Fed staff economists shaved their estimates for gross domestic product for the second half of this year and 2010, the minutes said, ‘with real GDP expected to flatten out gradually over the second half of this year and then to expand slowly next year.’ The unemployment rate should rise ‘more steeply’ into the early part of 2010, according to Fed staff, and then flatten out ‘at a high level over the rest of the year.’” (h/t Megan McArdle) Flatten out at a high level? Yikes.

In a must-read column, Daniel Henninger observes the abysmal condition of religious minorities in Islamic countries. He writes: ” In short, the ‘respect’ Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that. Candidate Obama last fall sent a letter to Condoleezza Rice expressing ‘my concern about the safety and well-being of Iraq’s Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities.’ He asked what steps the U.S. was taking to protect ‘these communities of religious freedom.’ Candidate Obama said he wanted these groups represented in Iraq’s governing institutions. Does President Obama believe these things?” He might believe in them, but not in doing anything about them that might put a crimp in his diplomacy by apology.

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