Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 29, 2009

Brilliant

It was a brilliant performance by Obama. And God bless him for not calling on Helen Thomas.

It was a brilliant performance by Obama. And God bless him for not calling on Helen Thomas.

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‘I Don’t Think We Should Micromanage’

So says the president about the car companies, after describing how he’s going to micromanage.

So says the president about the car companies, after describing how he’s going to micromanage.

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45 Minutes In…

…and we have the first question about the economy–and it’s not really about the economy but about race. This is the most blatant indication of the most profound problem in the White House press corps: Its collective economic illiteracy.

…and we have the first question about the economy–and it’s not really about the economy but about race. This is the most blatant indication of the most profound problem in the White House press corps: Its collective economic illiteracy.

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“Enchanted”

Asked a bizarre question by Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times about what has “enchanted” him during office, the president reveals his unquestioned brilliance by moving it away from “enchantment” and toward just how impressed he is by our servicemen and women. Watching him at this press conference is like watching a great athlete at the top of his game.

Asked a bizarre question by Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times about what has “enchanted” him during office, the president reveals his unquestioned brilliance by moving it away from “enchantment” and toward just how impressed he is by our servicemen and women. Watching him at this press conference is like watching a great athlete at the top of his game.

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“I Do Believe It Is Torture”

President Obama just declares waterboarding torture. Then he acknowledges information was gotten from the procedure. Then he says the information could have been gotten in a different and better way. But the enhanced techniques were only applied after other forms of interrogation failed to generate information. This is a problem in the position that cannot simply be wished away.

President Obama just declares waterboarding torture. Then he acknowledges information was gotten from the procedure. Then he says the information could have been gotten in a different and better way. But the enhanced techniques were only applied after other forms of interrogation failed to generate information. This is a problem in the position that cannot simply be wished away.

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A First

He’s right to do it, but when in history has a president told people to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough? Talk about your mommy party.

He’s right to do it, but when in history has a president told people to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough? Talk about your mommy party.

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‘We Have to Lay a New Foundation for Growth’

This is the key battleground of the next four years. These words, from President Obama just now, indicate the degree to which he is placing the country’s economic future in the hands of his government. That foundation–in health care and education in particular–is to be directed by him. He just promised to “strengthen our prosperity.” He will set “new rules of the road for Wall Street.” No president has ever promised so much in the area of economic management, where Washington has proved historically incompetent at best and horribly malign at worst.

This is the key battleground of the next four years. These words, from President Obama just now, indicate the degree to which he is placing the country’s economic future in the hands of his government. That foundation–in health care and education in particular–is to be directed by him. He just promised to “strengthen our prosperity.” He will set “new rules of the road for Wall Street.” No president has ever promised so much in the area of economic management, where Washington has proved historically incompetent at best and horribly malign at worst.

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Commentary of the Day

Sully, on Jennifer Rubin:

A large part of MoveOn’s success was rooted in the fact that it was well launched and organized long before the start and most especially the bogging down of the Iraq war provided it with its most effective issue. The Tea Party movement is most interesting because it seems well launched and ready to grow long before the ‘chickens’ inherent in Obama’s statist policies can reasonably be expected to ‘come home to roost.’

There is simply no way to pay for Obama’s initiatives with taxes only on those earning over $250,000 or even $150,000 and there is no way the economy can resume rapid long term growth anytime soon given the much larger share of output that Obama’s plans will consume. The anger at passing on the tax and slower growth burden on to the children and grandchildren will pale next to the anger that will arise once people see taxes and slower growth impact on their own household finances.

Sully, on Jennifer Rubin:

A large part of MoveOn’s success was rooted in the fact that it was well launched and organized long before the start and most especially the bogging down of the Iraq war provided it with its most effective issue. The Tea Party movement is most interesting because it seems well launched and ready to grow long before the ‘chickens’ inherent in Obama’s statist policies can reasonably be expected to ‘come home to roost.’

There is simply no way to pay for Obama’s initiatives with taxes only on those earning over $250,000 or even $150,000 and there is no way the economy can resume rapid long term growth anytime soon given the much larger share of output that Obama’s plans will consume. The anger at passing on the tax and slower growth burden on to the children and grandchildren will pale next to the anger that will arise once people see taxes and slower growth impact on their own household finances.

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Pleasing Nobody at All

It’s hardly surprising that Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic party – which will probably give the Obama administration a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate – has angered Republicans across the board.  But Democrats shouldn’t be jumping for joy either.  Check out Specter’s comments from earlier this morning:

I will not be an automatic 60th vote.  I would illustrate that with my position on employee choice, also known as card check. I think it’s a bad deal and I’m opposed to it. I will not vote to impose cloture. … If the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not vote with them.

Perhaps even more damaging to the Democrats, Specter admitted that his party-switch was driven primarily by his desire to keep his seat:

I was unwilling to subject my 29-year record in the U.S. Senate to the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. But I am pleased to run in the primary on the Democratic ticket and am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers in the general election.

Well, so much for the Democrats’ argument that the longtime Republican’s party-change was a matter of principle - i.e., a signal that the Republican Party has alienated moderates by moving far to the right.

Ultimately, it seems as though Specter’s decision to join the Democrats is best summarized by the chorus from Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party”: “But it’s all right now / I learned my lesson well / You see, ya can’t please everyone / So ya got to please yourself.”

It’s a great song, but a lousy political strategy.

It’s hardly surprising that Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic party – which will probably give the Obama administration a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate – has angered Republicans across the board.  But Democrats shouldn’t be jumping for joy either.  Check out Specter’s comments from earlier this morning:

I will not be an automatic 60th vote.  I would illustrate that with my position on employee choice, also known as card check. I think it’s a bad deal and I’m opposed to it. I will not vote to impose cloture. … If the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not vote with them.

Perhaps even more damaging to the Democrats, Specter admitted that his party-switch was driven primarily by his desire to keep his seat:

I was unwilling to subject my 29-year record in the U.S. Senate to the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. But I am pleased to run in the primary on the Democratic ticket and am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers in the general election.

Well, so much for the Democrats’ argument that the longtime Republican’s party-change was a matter of principle - i.e., a signal that the Republican Party has alienated moderates by moving far to the right.

Ultimately, it seems as though Specter’s decision to join the Democrats is best summarized by the chorus from Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party”: “But it’s all right now / I learned my lesson well / You see, ya can’t please everyone / So ya got to please yourself.”

It’s a great song, but a lousy political strategy.

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Loyal?

Spoken to the president: “I’m a loyal Democrat. I support your agenda.” That would be the pronouncement of Arlen Specter. What happened to Mr. Independent who refused to put party above his personal beliefs? And will he now support the Obama budget (he voted against it before) and take back the cracks about Obama instigating a ”banana republic” truth commission on enhanced interrogation?

At the risk of losing any shred of credibility he might have, Specter must now convince his new party that he’s one of “them.” (Well, except on card check, I suppose.) After all, there is still a risk of one or more primary challengers. And they might bring up Specter’s embrace of George Bush or vice-versa), and those votes on Bush Supreme Court nominees. So now Specter must be what he has never been — a conventional party man.

And if that doesn’t work, he can run as an Independent. Or a Green Party candidate. Or . . .

Spoken to the president: “I’m a loyal Democrat. I support your agenda.” That would be the pronouncement of Arlen Specter. What happened to Mr. Independent who refused to put party above his personal beliefs? And will he now support the Obama budget (he voted against it before) and take back the cracks about Obama instigating a ”banana republic” truth commission on enhanced interrogation?

At the risk of losing any shred of credibility he might have, Specter must now convince his new party that he’s one of “them.” (Well, except on card check, I suppose.) After all, there is still a risk of one or more primary challengers. And they might bring up Specter’s embrace of George Bush or vice-versa), and those votes on Bush Supreme Court nominees. So now Specter must be what he has never been — a conventional party man.

And if that doesn’t work, he can run as an Independent. Or a Green Party candidate. Or . . .

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Walt and J Street: Together Again

Stephen M. Walt is a political science professor who has become something of a minor celebrity as a result of his ongoing attack on the State of Israel and its many friends in the United States. The Israel Lobby, the mendacious book that he wrote with John Mearsheimer, alleged that the mainstream consensus that supports the U.S.-Israel alliance in this country is the result of a cabal that punishes and marginalizes dissenters. If Walt’s celebrity, his book sales, and the fact that the prestigious journal Foreign Policy has given him a platform to spout further bile against the Zionists seems to contradict that part about the all-powerful Israeli conspiracy, so what?

Today in FP, Walt who poses as “a realist in an ideological age” uses the occasion of Israel’s 61st birthday to call that nation’s democratically elected prime minister a “traitor” to the Jewish state. If you don’t get the joke, well, join the club.

You see Walt thinks Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of enthusiasm for a peace process with Palestinians (who have proven time and again that they are uninterested in a two-state solution) to the conflict with Israel is treason. Thus, the man who has become famous for acting as if the majority of Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — who back Israel are something akin to traitors to the United States now has the temerity to tell Netanyahu that he’s betraying the country that Walt wants Americans to turn their backs on because he refuses to dismiss threats to that nation’s security from terrorists who want to destroy it. Got that?

Among the many amusing sidelights to this rant is that Walt recommends that Bibi ditch Evangelical supporters of Israel and instead invite J-Street front man Jeremy Ben-Ami to Jerusalem to be his advisor. That’s funny because ever since J Street was born Ben-Ami has claimed that critics of his group who drew a straight line between his “pro-Israel lobby” and the anti-Israel philosophy of Walt and Mearsheimer are wrong. Somebody needs to tell Walt that his support won’t help Ben-Ami’s futile attempt to portray himself as the true voice of American Jewry on Israel.

But the truth is, even if we take them at their word about their desire for Israel to live in peace, Walt and Ben-Ami are laboring under the same illusion about the peace process. Twenty years ago you could have made a case that Israel needed to be prodded to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to test their desire for peace. But after the Oslo fiasco, Arafat’s refusal to accept a Palestinian state at the July 2000 Camp David peace talks, and the subsequent terrorist intifada, that concept has been literally exploded by the reality of Palestinian politics. Israelis, even those on the right, would gladly accept a true peace with a Palestinian state. But the Palestinians don’t want a state next to Israel. They want a state instead of Israel. Anybody who pretends that this is not the case is either dreaming or lying. Either way, the notion that there is a peace process for Netanyahu to embrace is the real big lie of contemporary anti-Israel agitation.

Stephen M. Walt is a political science professor who has become something of a minor celebrity as a result of his ongoing attack on the State of Israel and its many friends in the United States. The Israel Lobby, the mendacious book that he wrote with John Mearsheimer, alleged that the mainstream consensus that supports the U.S.-Israel alliance in this country is the result of a cabal that punishes and marginalizes dissenters. If Walt’s celebrity, his book sales, and the fact that the prestigious journal Foreign Policy has given him a platform to spout further bile against the Zionists seems to contradict that part about the all-powerful Israeli conspiracy, so what?

Today in FP, Walt who poses as “a realist in an ideological age” uses the occasion of Israel’s 61st birthday to call that nation’s democratically elected prime minister a “traitor” to the Jewish state. If you don’t get the joke, well, join the club.

You see Walt thinks Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of enthusiasm for a peace process with Palestinians (who have proven time and again that they are uninterested in a two-state solution) to the conflict with Israel is treason. Thus, the man who has become famous for acting as if the majority of Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — who back Israel are something akin to traitors to the United States now has the temerity to tell Netanyahu that he’s betraying the country that Walt wants Americans to turn their backs on because he refuses to dismiss threats to that nation’s security from terrorists who want to destroy it. Got that?

Among the many amusing sidelights to this rant is that Walt recommends that Bibi ditch Evangelical supporters of Israel and instead invite J-Street front man Jeremy Ben-Ami to Jerusalem to be his advisor. That’s funny because ever since J Street was born Ben-Ami has claimed that critics of his group who drew a straight line between his “pro-Israel lobby” and the anti-Israel philosophy of Walt and Mearsheimer are wrong. Somebody needs to tell Walt that his support won’t help Ben-Ami’s futile attempt to portray himself as the true voice of American Jewry on Israel.

But the truth is, even if we take them at their word about their desire for Israel to live in peace, Walt and Ben-Ami are laboring under the same illusion about the peace process. Twenty years ago you could have made a case that Israel needed to be prodded to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to test their desire for peace. But after the Oslo fiasco, Arafat’s refusal to accept a Palestinian state at the July 2000 Camp David peace talks, and the subsequent terrorist intifada, that concept has been literally exploded by the reality of Palestinian politics. Israelis, even those on the right, would gladly accept a true peace with a Palestinian state. But the Palestinians don’t want a state next to Israel. They want a state instead of Israel. Anybody who pretends that this is not the case is either dreaming or lying. Either way, the notion that there is a peace process for Netanyahu to embrace is the real big lie of contemporary anti-Israel agitation.

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Britain’s Armed Forces After the Budget

Max Boot has written about the “good and bad of [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates’s agenda.” Others are inclined to see more bad than good in it. But as Max points out, it is “basically an austerity budget.” Some of the changes are defensible, others less so, but when you add it all up, defense is the only part of the budget that Obama wants to cut. And the cuts are being concealed by claims that the core defense budget is increasing. That’s true, but as the spending previously covered in supplemental appropriations is being moved to the core defense budget, total defense spending will decrease.

If you think the U.S. forces are going down the wrong road, spare a thought for Britain’s. For 2009-10, the budget of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) will rise by 850 million pounds, an increase of about 2.2 percent. But, in an arrangement that parallels the U.S. elimination of supplemental appropriations, the MoD will in future be responsible for meeting most of the cost of urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan out of its own budget. That alone will devour most of the announced increase.

The result is that, as in the U.S., programs are going to be delayed or canceled. As in the U.S., some of these programs, like the presidential VH-71 helicopter, are no loss at all: the U.K. cannot stop buying Eurofighters, or participating in the endless European A400M program instead of buying U.S. C-130 aircraft, soon enough.

These programs illustrate a sad reality — one of many — about most “European” defense: it is about jobs, and nothing but jobs. It’s unrealistic to expect defense spending to be only about defense, but pace Rep. Murtha, it should at least be mostly about defense. When defense becomes nothing more than an expensive industrial program, that’s a sure sign that the cultural rot is running deep.

But other programs under threat — like missile defense in the U.S., another one of Gates’s targets — are not Euro-monstrosities. The British carrier program looks likely to be postponed again, and the successor to the Trident submarine fleet is being challenged by an alliance of unilateral disarmers, Labour tightwads, and pro-defense Tories who are under the illusion that dropping the missiles would mean more money for the Army.

But in 2010-11, bad turns to worse. Next year, the Treasury promises to cut the MoD’s budget by two billion pounds, from about 38.5 billion to 36.5 billion. That is a cut of over 5 percent. While Alastair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, aims to rely mostly on the smoke and mirrors of efficiency increases to bring the budget closer to balance — a plan the Economist describes as a “dishonest piece of pre-election politicking” — defense spending will actually be cut.

As in the U.S., these cuts will undoubtedly be described not as cuts, but as a “reshaping of our basic capability.” Right now, the U.S. and Britain are singing from the same defense songbook, and even giving each other lessons. The pity is that, by and large, they’re teaching, and learning, the wrong lessons.

Max Boot has written about the “good and bad of [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates’s agenda.” Others are inclined to see more bad than good in it. But as Max points out, it is “basically an austerity budget.” Some of the changes are defensible, others less so, but when you add it all up, defense is the only part of the budget that Obama wants to cut. And the cuts are being concealed by claims that the core defense budget is increasing. That’s true, but as the spending previously covered in supplemental appropriations is being moved to the core defense budget, total defense spending will decrease.

If you think the U.S. forces are going down the wrong road, spare a thought for Britain’s. For 2009-10, the budget of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) will rise by 850 million pounds, an increase of about 2.2 percent. But, in an arrangement that parallels the U.S. elimination of supplemental appropriations, the MoD will in future be responsible for meeting most of the cost of urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan out of its own budget. That alone will devour most of the announced increase.

The result is that, as in the U.S., programs are going to be delayed or canceled. As in the U.S., some of these programs, like the presidential VH-71 helicopter, are no loss at all: the U.K. cannot stop buying Eurofighters, or participating in the endless European A400M program instead of buying U.S. C-130 aircraft, soon enough.

These programs illustrate a sad reality — one of many — about most “European” defense: it is about jobs, and nothing but jobs. It’s unrealistic to expect defense spending to be only about defense, but pace Rep. Murtha, it should at least be mostly about defense. When defense becomes nothing more than an expensive industrial program, that’s a sure sign that the cultural rot is running deep.

But other programs under threat — like missile defense in the U.S., another one of Gates’s targets — are not Euro-monstrosities. The British carrier program looks likely to be postponed again, and the successor to the Trident submarine fleet is being challenged by an alliance of unilateral disarmers, Labour tightwads, and pro-defense Tories who are under the illusion that dropping the missiles would mean more money for the Army.

But in 2010-11, bad turns to worse. Next year, the Treasury promises to cut the MoD’s budget by two billion pounds, from about 38.5 billion to 36.5 billion. That is a cut of over 5 percent. While Alastair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, aims to rely mostly on the smoke and mirrors of efficiency increases to bring the budget closer to balance — a plan the Economist describes as a “dishonest piece of pre-election politicking” — defense spending will actually be cut.

As in the U.S., these cuts will undoubtedly be described not as cuts, but as a “reshaping of our basic capability.” Right now, the U.S. and Britain are singing from the same defense songbook, and even giving each other lessons. The pity is that, by and large, they’re teaching, and learning, the wrong lessons.

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But Will They Like It?

The Wall Street Journal editors observe of the president’s economic agenda and long “to-do” list (which includes everything from healthcare, to cap-and-trade, to financial re-regulation, to education):

What’s striking is that Mr. Obama betrays no sense that maybe all of this isn’t achievable, much less affordable, all at once. In contrast to Bill Clinton, he has abandoned any deficit concern, building in red ink of at least 4% of GDP for the next decade. And that’s assuming the revival of rapid economic growth, and before counting the real cost of health care.

[.   .   .]

More troubling still is Mr. Obama’s leap into managing major U.S. industries. Even the European left got out of the nationalization business as a loser after the 1970s. But the Obama White House and Treasury are nationalizing GM and Chrysler, expanding government’s role in the mortgage markets, and widening their ownership of the U.S. banking system. The deeper they dig in, the harder they will find it politically to exit. And as economic policy, the mauling of GM bondholders, the banker-baiting on Capitol Hill, and the refusal to let even healthy banks escape the TARP won’t revive animal spirits.

Two key issues remain. First, we haven’t the money to pay for all (or a fraction) of this and our ever-increasing debt is unsustainable, nearly all responsible parties agree. The method by which the president reconciles his ambitions to our collective checkbooks will largely determine the fate of his presidency. Will he rely on Ben Bernanke to inflate our obligations away, or raise taxes on many people besides “the rich,” or curb his ambitions? We don’t know yet, but there really is a limit, if not to his ambition, then to the amount of treasury paper we can float.

And second, if the public really hasn’t dramatically and permanently shifted to the Left will they like what they are about to get? The public recoils against bailouts but is about to own GM, unless the bondholders revolt. The public doesn’t want European nationalized healthcare but may get it after private insurers are forced out with a “public option.” And Midwesterners certainly don’t want what remains of their industrial job base eroded by a new regime of energy taxes and regulation.

At the end of the day, the public will judge whether the president and Congress have successfully revived the economy and reformed healthcare, education, and energy policy or whether they have taken voters where they didn’t want and can’t afford to go. By then much damage to the private sector and our country’s creditworthiness may be difficult to reverse. Nevertheless, the public always gets the last vote. And as we learned all too well over the last eight years, no party’s grasp on power is permanent, particularly if they fail to deliver.

The Wall Street Journal editors observe of the president’s economic agenda and long “to-do” list (which includes everything from healthcare, to cap-and-trade, to financial re-regulation, to education):

What’s striking is that Mr. Obama betrays no sense that maybe all of this isn’t achievable, much less affordable, all at once. In contrast to Bill Clinton, he has abandoned any deficit concern, building in red ink of at least 4% of GDP for the next decade. And that’s assuming the revival of rapid economic growth, and before counting the real cost of health care.

[.   .   .]

More troubling still is Mr. Obama’s leap into managing major U.S. industries. Even the European left got out of the nationalization business as a loser after the 1970s. But the Obama White House and Treasury are nationalizing GM and Chrysler, expanding government’s role in the mortgage markets, and widening their ownership of the U.S. banking system. The deeper they dig in, the harder they will find it politically to exit. And as economic policy, the mauling of GM bondholders, the banker-baiting on Capitol Hill, and the refusal to let even healthy banks escape the TARP won’t revive animal spirits.

Two key issues remain. First, we haven’t the money to pay for all (or a fraction) of this and our ever-increasing debt is unsustainable, nearly all responsible parties agree. The method by which the president reconciles his ambitions to our collective checkbooks will largely determine the fate of his presidency. Will he rely on Ben Bernanke to inflate our obligations away, or raise taxes on many people besides “the rich,” or curb his ambitions? We don’t know yet, but there really is a limit, if not to his ambition, then to the amount of treasury paper we can float.

And second, if the public really hasn’t dramatically and permanently shifted to the Left will they like what they are about to get? The public recoils against bailouts but is about to own GM, unless the bondholders revolt. The public doesn’t want European nationalized healthcare but may get it after private insurers are forced out with a “public option.” And Midwesterners certainly don’t want what remains of their industrial job base eroded by a new regime of energy taxes and regulation.

At the end of the day, the public will judge whether the president and Congress have successfully revived the economy and reformed healthcare, education, and energy policy or whether they have taken voters where they didn’t want and can’t afford to go. By then much damage to the private sector and our country’s creditworthiness may be difficult to reverse. Nevertheless, the public always gets the last vote. And as we learned all too well over the last eight years, no party’s grasp on power is permanent, particularly if they fail to deliver.

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Obama’s First 100 Days

Ah, the 100 Days mark. What a hoary journalistic convention. But I’ll play along. How does President Obama look at the end of those 100 days? On domestic policy he’s as liberal as McCain’s supporters (and advisers) expected. With his trillions of dollars of spending, micromanagement of private industry, calls for tax hikes, and attempts to nationalize health care, Obama is shaping up as the most left-wing president since Lyndon Johnson. He makes Franklin Roosevelt look pretty conservative by contrast. (I actually do think FDR was pretty conservative — an argument advanced convincingly in Conrad Black’s biography.)

On foreign policy it’s a different story. Most of Obama’s changes to the Bush foreign policy have been rhetorical more than substantive. There is no more “war on terror”; it’s been replaced by “global contingency operations.” Terrorist acts are also passe — now we are supposed to speak of “man-caused disasters.” “Enemy combatants,” likewise are a thing of the past, although the new nomenclature has yet to be announced. (I liked the Weekly Standard‘s suggestion that we call them “undocumented outdoorsmen.”) But for all the hype, the U.S. is still continuing to do pretty much the same things to battle terrorists that we were doing under the Bush administration. We’re still incarcerating three times as many detainees without trial at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan as we were at Guantanamo Bay. We’ve even increased the number of Predator strikes against al Qaeda and related groups in Pakistan; their leaders are routinely being given a death sentence with no possibility of legal appeal.

The biggest substantive changes that Obama has made — announcing the eventual closing of Gitmo and the discontinuation of stress techniques (aka “torture”) — would have been made by a President McCain too. Indeed, the use of waterboarding and the like was effectively discontinued even by the Bush administration. Obama has gone further than he should to disassociate himself with those techniques; the release of the “torture memos” in particular was a mistake because it revealed important interrogation techniques to our enemies and dispirits the front-line fighters of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. But all indications are that Obama isn’t actually interested in “truth commissions” or prosecutions of Bush officials, which would be a disaster of the first chop.

The theme of continuity is evident in a host of other issues from NAFTA (no, Obama isn’t going to renegotiate this landmark accord) to Iraq (no, he isn’t going to pull our troops out willy-nilly at the rate of two brigades a month) and Afghanistan (no, he’s isn’t going to downsize our war effort — he’s actually expanding it). Most of his changes are at the  margin — for instance, trying to engage Iran at a slightly higher level than Bush did, or sending more aid to Pakistan, or slightly relaxing U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

It is, of course, premature to conclude that Obama’s foreign policy is essentially the third term of the Bush administration. There could be big discontinuities later on; they just haven’t appeared yet. That hasn’t been obvious because of Obama’s symbolic moves such as apologizing for alleged American misdeeds and shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. I don’t mean to suggest that symbolism isn’t important. It is. But substance is even more important, and on that score I think Obama deserves a solid passing grade on foreign policy for his first 100 Days.

Ah, the 100 Days mark. What a hoary journalistic convention. But I’ll play along. How does President Obama look at the end of those 100 days? On domestic policy he’s as liberal as McCain’s supporters (and advisers) expected. With his trillions of dollars of spending, micromanagement of private industry, calls for tax hikes, and attempts to nationalize health care, Obama is shaping up as the most left-wing president since Lyndon Johnson. He makes Franklin Roosevelt look pretty conservative by contrast. (I actually do think FDR was pretty conservative — an argument advanced convincingly in Conrad Black’s biography.)

On foreign policy it’s a different story. Most of Obama’s changes to the Bush foreign policy have been rhetorical more than substantive. There is no more “war on terror”; it’s been replaced by “global contingency operations.” Terrorist acts are also passe — now we are supposed to speak of “man-caused disasters.” “Enemy combatants,” likewise are a thing of the past, although the new nomenclature has yet to be announced. (I liked the Weekly Standard‘s suggestion that we call them “undocumented outdoorsmen.”) But for all the hype, the U.S. is still continuing to do pretty much the same things to battle terrorists that we were doing under the Bush administration. We’re still incarcerating three times as many detainees without trial at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan as we were at Guantanamo Bay. We’ve even increased the number of Predator strikes against al Qaeda and related groups in Pakistan; their leaders are routinely being given a death sentence with no possibility of legal appeal.

The biggest substantive changes that Obama has made — announcing the eventual closing of Gitmo and the discontinuation of stress techniques (aka “torture”) — would have been made by a President McCain too. Indeed, the use of waterboarding and the like was effectively discontinued even by the Bush administration. Obama has gone further than he should to disassociate himself with those techniques; the release of the “torture memos” in particular was a mistake because it revealed important interrogation techniques to our enemies and dispirits the front-line fighters of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. But all indications are that Obama isn’t actually interested in “truth commissions” or prosecutions of Bush officials, which would be a disaster of the first chop.

The theme of continuity is evident in a host of other issues from NAFTA (no, Obama isn’t going to renegotiate this landmark accord) to Iraq (no, he isn’t going to pull our troops out willy-nilly at the rate of two brigades a month) and Afghanistan (no, he’s isn’t going to downsize our war effort — he’s actually expanding it). Most of his changes are at the  margin — for instance, trying to engage Iran at a slightly higher level than Bush did, or sending more aid to Pakistan, or slightly relaxing U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

It is, of course, premature to conclude that Obama’s foreign policy is essentially the third term of the Bush administration. There could be big discontinuities later on; they just haven’t appeared yet. That hasn’t been obvious because of Obama’s symbolic moves such as apologizing for alleged American misdeeds and shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. I don’t mean to suggest that symbolism isn’t important. It is. But substance is even more important, and on that score I think Obama deserves a solid passing grade on foreign policy for his first 100 Days.

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Madame Potted Plant

Nancy Pelosi is truly in a defensive crouch these days on the interrogation memos. She pleads her case in a CNN interview, insisting that she was told waterboarding wasn’t being used (which is dubious and illogical, as she was told of the legal opinion obtained to support that practice). She then suggests she was powerless to do more:

“You’re really a hostage if you’re notified that something has happened. They’re not asking for your thoughts. They are notifying you that this is their opinion. They later may have notified, I don’t know, because I wasn’t part of any of those briefings, of what they were doing, but they notify you that they have an opinion.

If you want to take it to another place, who do you call, the chief justice of the Supreme Court? The president of the United States whose policies these are? You have no recourse or else you are breaking the law.”

Crowley then asked why she didn’t raise objections to the briefers, which riled up the Speaker.

PELOSI: To what end? To what end? No, we’re not — they didn’t say they were doing it. But you know what, I’m not getting into that. The fact is, is that I know what they told us and I know that they did not share our values.

Huh?  They didn’t share her values because they were waterboarding? But didn’t she say that. . .  Listen, a third rate prosecutor would have no problem taking apart that testimony.

But it is the feigned passivity that is breathtaking. No power of the purse, has she? No follow-up with the CIA or with members of the administration was possible? It’s rather cringe-inducing to hear the Speaker of the House admit she couldn’t figure out any procedural or rhetorical response to something she found so objectionable. Really, it’s hard to imagine a seasoned pol so lacking in guile and imagination. But, of course, she in all likelihood didn’t find anything horribly objectionable. There wasn’t any outrage at the time. She is now forced to pretend there was, to avoid the ire of her base and the accusations of rank hypocrisy. But to pull that off she must plead guilty to her own extreme incompetence.

It’s quite a display, one which the public will no doubt find enlightening if we get around to the Truth Commission. And with the aid of contemporaneous notes and additional witnesses it will make for quite a show.

Nancy Pelosi is truly in a defensive crouch these days on the interrogation memos. She pleads her case in a CNN interview, insisting that she was told waterboarding wasn’t being used (which is dubious and illogical, as she was told of the legal opinion obtained to support that practice). She then suggests she was powerless to do more:

“You’re really a hostage if you’re notified that something has happened. They’re not asking for your thoughts. They are notifying you that this is their opinion. They later may have notified, I don’t know, because I wasn’t part of any of those briefings, of what they were doing, but they notify you that they have an opinion.

If you want to take it to another place, who do you call, the chief justice of the Supreme Court? The president of the United States whose policies these are? You have no recourse or else you are breaking the law.”

Crowley then asked why she didn’t raise objections to the briefers, which riled up the Speaker.

PELOSI: To what end? To what end? No, we’re not — they didn’t say they were doing it. But you know what, I’m not getting into that. The fact is, is that I know what they told us and I know that they did not share our values.

Huh?  They didn’t share her values because they were waterboarding? But didn’t she say that. . .  Listen, a third rate prosecutor would have no problem taking apart that testimony.

But it is the feigned passivity that is breathtaking. No power of the purse, has she? No follow-up with the CIA or with members of the administration was possible? It’s rather cringe-inducing to hear the Speaker of the House admit she couldn’t figure out any procedural or rhetorical response to something she found so objectionable. Really, it’s hard to imagine a seasoned pol so lacking in guile and imagination. But, of course, she in all likelihood didn’t find anything horribly objectionable. There wasn’t any outrage at the time. She is now forced to pretend there was, to avoid the ire of her base and the accusations of rank hypocrisy. But to pull that off she must plead guilty to her own extreme incompetence.

It’s quite a display, one which the public will no doubt find enlightening if we get around to the Truth Commission. And with the aid of contemporaneous notes and additional witnesses it will make for quite a show.

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Obama and Israel: From 61 to 68?

Today is Israel’s 61st Independence Day and President Obama issued the following statement to commemorate the occasion:

On behalf of the people of the United States, President Obama congratulates the people and government of Israel on the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence.  The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and unshakeable as ever.  The President looks forward to working with Israel to advance our common interests, including the realization of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, ensuring Israel’s security, and strengthening the bilateral relationship, over the months and years to come.

This is entirely appropriate and this is a day for Israel’s friends throughout the world to reflect on the miracle of the state’s birth and the country’s impressive accomplishments over the course of its short history. But, nice words notwithstanding, here are a few questions for Obama to answer in the coming “months and years” of his presidency:

• While a “comprehensive peace” is an intrinsic good that both countries desire, how can it be achieved while the party with which Israel is expected to make such a peace is led by two factions — Hamas and Fatah — neither of which actually support the idea of real peace with a Jewish state?

• What sort of pressure are you prepared to put on the Palestinians in order to force them to cease support for terrorism and the fomenting of hatred against Israelis and Jews (hint: they already pledged to do this in the Oslo Accords and several follow-up agreements, but never made good on the promise)?

• While the United States is open in its desire for Israel to make more territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, what assurances can you possibly give the Israelis that this land will not be used as a launching pad for further terrorist attacks — as has been the case with the Gaza Strip since Israel left in 2005?

• Most importantly, what, other than making statements that the Iranians consider a sign of weakness and irresolution, are you prepared to do in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — something that you promised to do during your campaign for the presidency — with which they can threaten both Israel’s existence and the stability of every Arab regime in the region?

After 100 days in office, it’s hard to argue that Obama and his foreign policy team have formulated any coherent answers to these questions. Other than a desire to placate the Islamic world in general (and Iran in particular), as well as an obvious distaste for Israel’s current prime minister, it isn’t clear that Obama has anything in mind that can be described as a policy. Among the chattering classes who applaud everything Obama does it is the fashion to dismiss the existential threat to Israel from Iran. But Israelis and the vast bipartisan majority of Americans who support the Jewish State don’t think the Iranians are kidding about their desire to wipe it off the map. And that includes the majority of Jews who voted for Obama last year and will expect their president to do more than talk, once the genocidal threat to Israel’s population is no longer in doubt. If Obama intends during his presidency to issue seven more such statements of congratulation on Israel’s Independence Day (I’m assuming he is counting on two terms), then sooner or later he is going to have to act on Iran — or support Israel acting on its own — whether he likes it or not.

Today is Israel’s 61st Independence Day and President Obama issued the following statement to commemorate the occasion:

On behalf of the people of the United States, President Obama congratulates the people and government of Israel on the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence.  The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and unshakeable as ever.  The President looks forward to working with Israel to advance our common interests, including the realization of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, ensuring Israel’s security, and strengthening the bilateral relationship, over the months and years to come.

This is entirely appropriate and this is a day for Israel’s friends throughout the world to reflect on the miracle of the state’s birth and the country’s impressive accomplishments over the course of its short history. But, nice words notwithstanding, here are a few questions for Obama to answer in the coming “months and years” of his presidency:

• While a “comprehensive peace” is an intrinsic good that both countries desire, how can it be achieved while the party with which Israel is expected to make such a peace is led by two factions — Hamas and Fatah — neither of which actually support the idea of real peace with a Jewish state?

• What sort of pressure are you prepared to put on the Palestinians in order to force them to cease support for terrorism and the fomenting of hatred against Israelis and Jews (hint: they already pledged to do this in the Oslo Accords and several follow-up agreements, but never made good on the promise)?

• While the United States is open in its desire for Israel to make more territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, what assurances can you possibly give the Israelis that this land will not be used as a launching pad for further terrorist attacks — as has been the case with the Gaza Strip since Israel left in 2005?

• Most importantly, what, other than making statements that the Iranians consider a sign of weakness and irresolution, are you prepared to do in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — something that you promised to do during your campaign for the presidency — with which they can threaten both Israel’s existence and the stability of every Arab regime in the region?

After 100 days in office, it’s hard to argue that Obama and his foreign policy team have formulated any coherent answers to these questions. Other than a desire to placate the Islamic world in general (and Iran in particular), as well as an obvious distaste for Israel’s current prime minister, it isn’t clear that Obama has anything in mind that can be described as a policy. Among the chattering classes who applaud everything Obama does it is the fashion to dismiss the existential threat to Israel from Iran. But Israelis and the vast bipartisan majority of Americans who support the Jewish State don’t think the Iranians are kidding about their desire to wipe it off the map. And that includes the majority of Jews who voted for Obama last year and will expect their president to do more than talk, once the genocidal threat to Israel’s population is no longer in doubt. If Obama intends during his presidency to issue seven more such statements of congratulation on Israel’s Independence Day (I’m assuming he is counting on two terms), then sooner or later he is going to have to act on Iran — or support Israel acting on its own — whether he likes it or not.

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Harold Koh’s Terminological Inexactitude

Yale Law School Dean – and nominee for Legal Adviser to the State Department – Harold Koh’s answers to pre-hearing questions provide rich fodder for connoisseurs of bland and unrevealing statements.  Here, for instance, is the entirety of Koh’s answer to a question about his “theory of transnational legal process”:

U.S. policymakers frequently use transnational legal process as a tool to urge other nations to obey international law. As I explain in the 2004 article, “transnational legal process” is a shorthand description for how state and nonstate actors interact in a variety of domestic and international fora to encourage nations to obey international norms as a matter of domestic law. For example, U.S. policymakers encouraged China to join the World Trade Organization and then to modify Chinese domestic law to conform with international rules on intellectual property, an objective that is important to U.S. economic and other interests. When designing legal rules, U.S. policymakers may take into account all available enforcement mechanisms, with an eye toward furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives.

I have written a good deal about Koh’s views on enforcement, both in theory and in practice.  Suffice it to say that he focuses primarily on the problem of enforcement not in China, but in (or against) the United States.

“Transnationalism” is a convenient approach for the Left precisely because the U.S. is a law-abiding country.  If Koh and his followers can establish that their favorite policies are inherent in an international norm, and that norms are as obligatory on the U.S. as treaties it has actually signed and ratified, then the U.S. is likely to come along, without the Left needing to face the bother of winning elections.

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Yale Law School Dean – and nominee for Legal Adviser to the State Department – Harold Koh’s answers to pre-hearing questions provide rich fodder for connoisseurs of bland and unrevealing statements.  Here, for instance, is the entirety of Koh’s answer to a question about his “theory of transnational legal process”:

U.S. policymakers frequently use transnational legal process as a tool to urge other nations to obey international law. As I explain in the 2004 article, “transnational legal process” is a shorthand description for how state and nonstate actors interact in a variety of domestic and international fora to encourage nations to obey international norms as a matter of domestic law. For example, U.S. policymakers encouraged China to join the World Trade Organization and then to modify Chinese domestic law to conform with international rules on intellectual property, an objective that is important to U.S. economic and other interests. When designing legal rules, U.S. policymakers may take into account all available enforcement mechanisms, with an eye toward furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives.

I have written a good deal about Koh’s views on enforcement, both in theory and in practice.  Suffice it to say that he focuses primarily on the problem of enforcement not in China, but in (or against) the United States.

“Transnationalism” is a convenient approach for the Left precisely because the U.S. is a law-abiding country.  If Koh and his followers can establish that their favorite policies are inherent in an international norm, and that norms are as obligatory on the U.S. as treaties it has actually signed and ratified, then the U.S. is likely to come along, without the Left needing to face the bother of winning elections.

Koh would have been better off not bringing up China in his answer: his own record on China, when he was Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from 1998 to 2001, is one of consistent, credulous, support for ‘engagement.’  In May 2000, for instance, he urged Congress not to link improved human rights in China with trading privileges in the U.S., telling the Washington Post on May 2 that “We profoundly believe that conditionality will not advance the cause of religious freedom in China and will not improve the circumstances of any of the religious adherents about whom we are all deeply concerned.”

At the end of 1998, Koh was even attacked by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Human Rights in China for restarting an official dialogue on human rights just after China cracked down on the fledgling opposition China Democracy Party: according to a report in the South China Morning Post, the NGOs “believe[d] recent conduct by the Chinese Government makes a dialogue inappropriate and unlikely to be productive.”

The problem is not, as Koh puts it in his answer, that China has not passed the right laws: it is that the laws are not enforced because China is not a democracy.  And when confronted with that fundamental reality, Koh’s answer in practice was not to use “all available enforcement mechanisms”: it was to punt.

Koh’s answer is faulty because it runs together two entirely separate matters: treaties and what Churchill described as a “terminological inexactitude.”  The giveaway is how Koh slips from writing about “international law” in his first sentence to “international norms” in his second. Koh views “transnational legal process” as “a blueprint for policy makers” only in the sense that it is a way for activists like himself to achieve their aims by redefining “norms” as “law.”  As Koh wrote in 2004, transnationalism is “an academic theory . . . an activist strategy . . . . [and] a blueprint for policy makers.”

Koh’s honesty on that point is commendable.  But if he is unwilling to separate his work as an academic and a policy maker from his political advocacy, it is only fair for observers to treat the confirmation battle as an up or down vote not on his resume, but on the broader merits of his views.

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Rebranded Mr. Specter

If one didn’t know better, one would think the Washington Post editors have a fair measure of contempt for Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection decision. With backhanded praise (“From the standpoint of personal ambition, it seems a brilliant move”), they obeserve:

Yet it’s troubling that Pennsylvanians voted for one thing — a Republican senator — but now find themselves with something else: a Democrat who, if and when Minnesotan Al Franken is seated, will represent the 60th vote in the caucus.

In this case, though, Pennsylvanians will get a chance reasonably soon to embrace or reject the rebranded Mr. Specter.

Ouch. But that is the bottom line: Voters can decide if  he was motivated by some newly discovered affinity for the beliefs of the Democratic Party or by sheer opportunism, or if they even care.

However, one part of the story doesn’t quite hang together. His “there’s no place for me” mantra sounds like it was borrowed from an old Sen. Jeffords speech. In Specter’s case, no Republican was lavished with more support from Republicans (e.g. Rick Santorum, John Cornyn) who held their noses and supported him despite flak from their conservative base. And who can forget the forbearance which Republicans exercised when they refrained from kicking him out of the Senate Judiciary Chairmanship after he suggested that Bush-appointed judges who did not support abortion wouldn’t be confirmed? (In those long ago days, dear readers, Republicans controlled the White House and Senate.) Really, he was more than “tolerated”; he was indulged.

When Olympia Snowe bemoans that “it didn’t have to come to this,” she implies that there was some Washington cabal forcing Specter out. In fact his approval rating is in the dumpster, so if she has a bone to pick it is with the people of Pennsylvania. And if her formulation for Republicanism is taken to heart — “our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty” — Specter hardly passes the test. He incurred the ire of the Pennsylvania electorate not for voting for abortion but for voting for the pork-laden, entirely irresponsible stimulus plan. (But wait. So did Snowe.) Even by her definition Republicans at home had a right to be furious.

But that’s all behind us now. Voters will decide if Specter is who they want, whatever party label he chooses to affix to his name. But he might not want to use that Post op-ed in his ads.

If one didn’t know better, one would think the Washington Post editors have a fair measure of contempt for Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection decision. With backhanded praise (“From the standpoint of personal ambition, it seems a brilliant move”), they obeserve:

Yet it’s troubling that Pennsylvanians voted for one thing — a Republican senator — but now find themselves with something else: a Democrat who, if and when Minnesotan Al Franken is seated, will represent the 60th vote in the caucus.

In this case, though, Pennsylvanians will get a chance reasonably soon to embrace or reject the rebranded Mr. Specter.

Ouch. But that is the bottom line: Voters can decide if  he was motivated by some newly discovered affinity for the beliefs of the Democratic Party or by sheer opportunism, or if they even care.

However, one part of the story doesn’t quite hang together. His “there’s no place for me” mantra sounds like it was borrowed from an old Sen. Jeffords speech. In Specter’s case, no Republican was lavished with more support from Republicans (e.g. Rick Santorum, John Cornyn) who held their noses and supported him despite flak from their conservative base. And who can forget the forbearance which Republicans exercised when they refrained from kicking him out of the Senate Judiciary Chairmanship after he suggested that Bush-appointed judges who did not support abortion wouldn’t be confirmed? (In those long ago days, dear readers, Republicans controlled the White House and Senate.) Really, he was more than “tolerated”; he was indulged.

When Olympia Snowe bemoans that “it didn’t have to come to this,” she implies that there was some Washington cabal forcing Specter out. In fact his approval rating is in the dumpster, so if she has a bone to pick it is with the people of Pennsylvania. And if her formulation for Republicanism is taken to heart — “our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty” — Specter hardly passes the test. He incurred the ire of the Pennsylvania electorate not for voting for abortion but for voting for the pork-laden, entirely irresponsible stimulus plan. (But wait. So did Snowe.) Even by her definition Republicans at home had a right to be furious.

But that’s all behind us now. Voters will decide if Specter is who they want, whatever party label he chooses to affix to his name. But he might not want to use that Post op-ed in his ads.

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This Is What I Call Precaution

The AP reports: “Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said.”

The AP reports: “Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said.”

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MoveOn.Right

Here’s No. 3 on Rick Klein’s list of “Top 11 Republican Moments“:

Technically, the massive anti-tax, anti-spending Tax Day protests had nothing to do with the Republican Party. But the grassroots fervor behind by the “tea party” protests showed the potential of conservative online organizing, with anger at President Obama and Democrats in Congress bubbling over at sites nationwide. It’s not yet clear whether the outrage can be channeled in something more than protests, or even whether the turnout can be replicated. And it’s a force that Republicans are eyeing warily, with its anti-incumbent tones potentially dangerous to members of both parties. Still, for a party that would love to have an answer to the left’s MoveOn.org, the protests were heartening.

It’s an interesting analogy and raises a key question: is the emotional center and political energy on the Right now firmly fixed on economic issues? If so — and if the mantra is “less spending and debt, no bailouts, and no crony capitalism” — then the success of the newly invigorated populist Right depends on the public’s dissatisfaction with Obama’s big government, pro-bailout and hyper-regulatory scheme, and more importantly the failure of that approach to restore prosperity, growth and jobs. The rest is a sideshow.

Current polling already shows the weak spots of the Obama agenda coincide with at least some of the Tea Party protestor’s gripes (e.g. bailouts, increasing debt, “doing too much”). And if all of that government activity doesn’t bring recovery there may be more disaffected voters willing to hear the Tea Party message. Just as MoveOn.org fed off of, and contributed to, dissatisfaction over a mismanaged Iraq war so too do the Tea Parties depend on proving that the Obama economic policies are not simply philosophically misguided (if one believes in personal liberty and Constitutionally limited government), but counterproductive.

All this may be a relief for Republicans looking for a unifying theme, especially one which is rather easily explained. But it certainly makes clear that the Obama opposition rests on the premise that support for his policies will continue to erode as the economic results come in. And it may be that in recently predicting a very long recovery period Larry Summers signaled that the Obama team understands that possibility all too well.

Here’s No. 3 on Rick Klein’s list of “Top 11 Republican Moments“:

Technically, the massive anti-tax, anti-spending Tax Day protests had nothing to do with the Republican Party. But the grassroots fervor behind by the “tea party” protests showed the potential of conservative online organizing, with anger at President Obama and Democrats in Congress bubbling over at sites nationwide. It’s not yet clear whether the outrage can be channeled in something more than protests, or even whether the turnout can be replicated. And it’s a force that Republicans are eyeing warily, with its anti-incumbent tones potentially dangerous to members of both parties. Still, for a party that would love to have an answer to the left’s MoveOn.org, the protests were heartening.

It’s an interesting analogy and raises a key question: is the emotional center and political energy on the Right now firmly fixed on economic issues? If so — and if the mantra is “less spending and debt, no bailouts, and no crony capitalism” — then the success of the newly invigorated populist Right depends on the public’s dissatisfaction with Obama’s big government, pro-bailout and hyper-regulatory scheme, and more importantly the failure of that approach to restore prosperity, growth and jobs. The rest is a sideshow.

Current polling already shows the weak spots of the Obama agenda coincide with at least some of the Tea Party protestor’s gripes (e.g. bailouts, increasing debt, “doing too much”). And if all of that government activity doesn’t bring recovery there may be more disaffected voters willing to hear the Tea Party message. Just as MoveOn.org fed off of, and contributed to, dissatisfaction over a mismanaged Iraq war so too do the Tea Parties depend on proving that the Obama economic policies are not simply philosophically misguided (if one believes in personal liberty and Constitutionally limited government), but counterproductive.

All this may be a relief for Republicans looking for a unifying theme, especially one which is rather easily explained. But it certainly makes clear that the Obama opposition rests on the premise that support for his policies will continue to erode as the economic results come in. And it may be that in recently predicting a very long recovery period Larry Summers signaled that the Obama team understands that possibility all too well.

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