Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 28, 2009

CBO Rains on Obama Parade

The president is “upbeat” about the economy these days, but increasingly others who can hardly be characterized as partisan critics are casting doubt on the impact of the stimulus and the outlook for recovery. This report explains:

The CBO report found that through April only about $19 billion in stimulus funds has been spent.

In addition, [Douglas] Elmendorf predicted, unemployment is expected to peak at 10.5 percent in the second half of next year. Last month’s rate was 8.9 percent, up from 8.1 percent in February, when the stimulus became law. The number of unemployed increased by 1.26 million during the past two months to 13.7 million.

The administration’s report Wednesday was nonetheless upbeat, maintaining that in the past 100 days, “We have obligated more than $112 billion, created more than 150,000 jobs and helped communities and tribes in every state and territory.”

[. . .]

Now, Elmendorf said, the economy has weakened to the point that, “If we were writing down a new forecast today, we would go off that peak and we would raise it. Currently, we expect the unemployment rate might peak around 10.5 percent in the second half of next year.”

Worse, he warned, “The recovery will falter in 2010 if private sector demand for goods and services doesn’t accelerate to offset the diminishing federal stimulus.”

If the CBO is right, does Obama declare his own stimulus plan a failure and ask for a second one? Or do the unlucky Democrats running in 2010 just have to buck up and face the voters? I suspect that Congress will find it hard to justify yet another Keynesian boondoggle after earlier attempts by both George W. Bush and Obama failed. And, after all, Obama himself has told us the already accumulated debt is “unsustainable.” Perhaps the same can be said for  Obama’s economic approach.

The president is “upbeat” about the economy these days, but increasingly others who can hardly be characterized as partisan critics are casting doubt on the impact of the stimulus and the outlook for recovery. This report explains:

The CBO report found that through April only about $19 billion in stimulus funds has been spent.

In addition, [Douglas] Elmendorf predicted, unemployment is expected to peak at 10.5 percent in the second half of next year. Last month’s rate was 8.9 percent, up from 8.1 percent in February, when the stimulus became law. The number of unemployed increased by 1.26 million during the past two months to 13.7 million.

The administration’s report Wednesday was nonetheless upbeat, maintaining that in the past 100 days, “We have obligated more than $112 billion, created more than 150,000 jobs and helped communities and tribes in every state and territory.”

[. . .]

Now, Elmendorf said, the economy has weakened to the point that, “If we were writing down a new forecast today, we would go off that peak and we would raise it. Currently, we expect the unemployment rate might peak around 10.5 percent in the second half of next year.”

Worse, he warned, “The recovery will falter in 2010 if private sector demand for goods and services doesn’t accelerate to offset the diminishing federal stimulus.”

If the CBO is right, does Obama declare his own stimulus plan a failure and ask for a second one? Or do the unlucky Democrats running in 2010 just have to buck up and face the voters? I suspect that Congress will find it hard to justify yet another Keynesian boondoggle after earlier attempts by both George W. Bush and Obama failed. And, after all, Obama himself has told us the already accumulated debt is “unsustainable.” Perhaps the same can be said for  Obama’s economic approach.

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Commentary of the Day

Epee, on Jennifer Rubin:

The views expressed by Sotomayor are basically legal realism or, as one of my law professors called it, “vulgar legal realism.” The idea is that the law is indeterminate and judges may be influenced by something as petty as what they had for breakfast. To Sotomayor, the decisions she reaches will be affected by her life experiences, which include those related to her being an Hispanic and a woman. She and other legal realists see nothing wrong with that, and believe that this is a more accurate view of how decisions are made than pretending that there’s a fixed law which all impartial judges will find.

As a result, her “32 words” are of a piece with her comments that the Court of Appeals is where policy is made. She figures out what she wants the decision to be, and then finds a basis for it, influenced by her life experiences. The same thinking underlies Obama’s call for “empathy” in decision-making, which is just another way of avoiding things like statutes and the Constitution. Or one could take the approach of Justice William Douglas in his concurring opinion in Roe v. Wade, where he couldn’t find support in the Constitution, so he claimed that it was there in the “penumbras.” The legal realist judge says that the law is whatever she says it is, the judicial version of Barack Obama’s “I won.”

Epee, on Jennifer Rubin:

The views expressed by Sotomayor are basically legal realism or, as one of my law professors called it, “vulgar legal realism.” The idea is that the law is indeterminate and judges may be influenced by something as petty as what they had for breakfast. To Sotomayor, the decisions she reaches will be affected by her life experiences, which include those related to her being an Hispanic and a woman. She and other legal realists see nothing wrong with that, and believe that this is a more accurate view of how decisions are made than pretending that there’s a fixed law which all impartial judges will find.

As a result, her “32 words” are of a piece with her comments that the Court of Appeals is where policy is made. She figures out what she wants the decision to be, and then finds a basis for it, influenced by her life experiences. The same thinking underlies Obama’s call for “empathy” in decision-making, which is just another way of avoiding things like statutes and the Constitution. Or one could take the approach of Justice William Douglas in his concurring opinion in Roe v. Wade, where he couldn’t find support in the Constitution, so he claimed that it was there in the “penumbras.” The legal realist judge says that the law is whatever she says it is, the judicial version of Barack Obama’s “I won.”

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Roxana Saberi Tells Her Story

Roxana Saberi has given an interview to NPR describing her harrowing tale of captivity in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. It should be read in its entirety. It provides a useful and rare insight into the nature of the regime. One part of the interview I thought particularly poignant:

MS. SABERI. . .So I think these experiences, they taught me a lot and I learned a lot from the other political prisoners there, too – the other women – because after several weeks, I was put into a cell with them – many of those women were there because they are standing up for human rights or the freedom of belief or expression.

Many of them are still there today; they don’t enjoy the kind of international support that I did.  And they’re not willing to give in to pressures to make false confessions or to sign off to commitments not to take part in their activities once they’re released; they would rather stay in prison and stand up for those principles that they believe in.

MS. BLOCK:  What were those conversations like?

MS. SABERI:  They gave me a lot of inspiration.  I learned a lot from those women.  I think they’re some of the most admirable women I’ve met, not only in Iran, but all over the world.  I shared a cell with Silva Harotonian, who is a researcher of health issues, and she’s been sentenced to three years in prison.  I also shared a cell with university students, Baha’is – a wide range of women.

I couldn’t help but think: why is it that we don’t hear of these women? Well, for starters, our American media which remains obsessed with Obama’s “outreach” to Iran shows no interest in describing the nature of the Iranian regime and its victims. And more important, the Obama administration has gone mute on human rights, whether in Iran or China. Addressing such issues constitutes a stumbling block to “better relations.”

Unlike Natan Sharansky and the refuseniks of the Soviet Union who gained strength and were sustained during the Cold War by Ronald Reagan’s persistent commitment to freedom there is no such voice today to offer hope or comfort to those locked up in Evin or similar hell holes around the world. “Hope” and “change” apparently don’t extend to them.

Saberi has demonstrated a type of grace and courage at which most of us can only marvel. Moreover, she has done what her own government is failing to do — shine a bright light on the face of tyranny.

Roxana Saberi has given an interview to NPR describing her harrowing tale of captivity in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. It should be read in its entirety. It provides a useful and rare insight into the nature of the regime. One part of the interview I thought particularly poignant:

MS. SABERI. . .So I think these experiences, they taught me a lot and I learned a lot from the other political prisoners there, too – the other women – because after several weeks, I was put into a cell with them – many of those women were there because they are standing up for human rights or the freedom of belief or expression.

Many of them are still there today; they don’t enjoy the kind of international support that I did.  And they’re not willing to give in to pressures to make false confessions or to sign off to commitments not to take part in their activities once they’re released; they would rather stay in prison and stand up for those principles that they believe in.

MS. BLOCK:  What were those conversations like?

MS. SABERI:  They gave me a lot of inspiration.  I learned a lot from those women.  I think they’re some of the most admirable women I’ve met, not only in Iran, but all over the world.  I shared a cell with Silva Harotonian, who is a researcher of health issues, and she’s been sentenced to three years in prison.  I also shared a cell with university students, Baha’is – a wide range of women.

I couldn’t help but think: why is it that we don’t hear of these women? Well, for starters, our American media which remains obsessed with Obama’s “outreach” to Iran shows no interest in describing the nature of the Iranian regime and its victims. And more important, the Obama administration has gone mute on human rights, whether in Iran or China. Addressing such issues constitutes a stumbling block to “better relations.”

Unlike Natan Sharansky and the refuseniks of the Soviet Union who gained strength and were sustained during the Cold War by Ronald Reagan’s persistent commitment to freedom there is no such voice today to offer hope or comfort to those locked up in Evin or similar hell holes around the world. “Hope” and “change” apparently don’t extend to them.

Saberi has demonstrated a type of grace and courage at which most of us can only marvel. Moreover, she has done what her own government is failing to do — shine a bright light on the face of tyranny.

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Re: 32

Supporters of the Sotomayor nomination are getting nervous about those 32 words. Lanny Davis declares, “She misspoke.” But did she? And how would Davis know that?

The difficulty with implementing all the helpful suggestions (“Don’t just clarify the statement, take it back.”) is that this may really represent her deeply held views and not be an isolated utterance. It just might be that she doesn’t think much of the notion that judges can or should be impartial and instead thinks it’s a good thing to bring some distinctive Latina jurisprudence to the bench. ( Don’t get me wrong — this is nonsense in my view, but I take her words crafted for a speech at a prominent law school as representative of her thinking, not some off-the-cuff slip.)

John Eastman points to other troubling statements, and the Wall Street Journal suggests there is more of this sort of thing out there:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor receives an honorary degree at Northeastern University in 2007. In law-school lectures, she has argued that the law reflects the experiences of those applying it.

“The law that lawyers practice and judges declare is not a definitive, capital ‘L’ law that many would like to think exists,” Judge Sotomayor said in her 1996 lecture at Suffolk University Law School, summarizing Judge Frank’s work.

Confidence in the legal system falters, she said, because the public “expects the law to be static and predictable” when in fact courts and lawyers are “constantly overhauling the law and adapting it to the realities of ever-changing social, industrial and political conditions.”

The fact that the White House hasn’t swooped in with the repair crew indicates either they don’t know what she thinks or they don’t know how to fix it without upsetting the very same leftist interest groups and civil rights groups that think this sort of thing is just swell. It is hard to believe the White House didn’t see this coming and didn’t have a game plan, but then we’ve seen their vetting process before. And, of course, in a White House and Justice Department populated by those who support the cottage industry of racial grievances and preferences this simply might not have seemed all that exceptional.

Once again, we see that Supreme Court confirmations are always interesting and rarely predictable.

Supporters of the Sotomayor nomination are getting nervous about those 32 words. Lanny Davis declares, “She misspoke.” But did she? And how would Davis know that?

The difficulty with implementing all the helpful suggestions (“Don’t just clarify the statement, take it back.”) is that this may really represent her deeply held views and not be an isolated utterance. It just might be that she doesn’t think much of the notion that judges can or should be impartial and instead thinks it’s a good thing to bring some distinctive Latina jurisprudence to the bench. ( Don’t get me wrong — this is nonsense in my view, but I take her words crafted for a speech at a prominent law school as representative of her thinking, not some off-the-cuff slip.)

John Eastman points to other troubling statements, and the Wall Street Journal suggests there is more of this sort of thing out there:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor receives an honorary degree at Northeastern University in 2007. In law-school lectures, she has argued that the law reflects the experiences of those applying it.

“The law that lawyers practice and judges declare is not a definitive, capital ‘L’ law that many would like to think exists,” Judge Sotomayor said in her 1996 lecture at Suffolk University Law School, summarizing Judge Frank’s work.

Confidence in the legal system falters, she said, because the public “expects the law to be static and predictable” when in fact courts and lawyers are “constantly overhauling the law and adapting it to the realities of ever-changing social, industrial and political conditions.”

The fact that the White House hasn’t swooped in with the repair crew indicates either they don’t know what she thinks or they don’t know how to fix it without upsetting the very same leftist interest groups and civil rights groups that think this sort of thing is just swell. It is hard to believe the White House didn’t see this coming and didn’t have a game plan, but then we’ve seen their vetting process before. And, of course, in a White House and Justice Department populated by those who support the cottage industry of racial grievances and preferences this simply might not have seemed all that exceptional.

Once again, we see that Supreme Court confirmations are always interesting and rarely predictable.

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In Praise of Disgust

Nicholas Kristof gets neuro-political:

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals.

How shall I put this?

Guilty. As. Charged.

There is no end to things that are okay with liberals but disgusting to me: human rights abuses in China, human rights abuses in Myanmar, human rights abuses in Egypt, human rights abuses in Iran, human rights abuses in Syria, the neglected population of Gaza, the malnourished population of North Korea, the imprisoned population of Cuba, an al Qaeda led Iraq, a re-Talibanized Afghanistan, and so on.

What liberals these days call realism is nothing but a studied indifference to the planet’s grotesqueries. Iran is the world leader in child hangings? Let’s call it a great culture and offer our hand in friendship? The Chinese manufacturing sphere uses an army of industrial slaves? Let’s give ‘em a wink and talk about the weather. Cuba outlaws dissent? Let’s throw some business their way. Egypt jails political bloggers? Set up a presidential address.

Kristof is onto something here.

But, then, wasn’t it Harry Reid who found the odor of common Americans wafting from the tourist area of the Capitol too much to bear?

Nicholas Kristof gets neuro-political:

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals.

How shall I put this?

Guilty. As. Charged.

There is no end to things that are okay with liberals but disgusting to me: human rights abuses in China, human rights abuses in Myanmar, human rights abuses in Egypt, human rights abuses in Iran, human rights abuses in Syria, the neglected population of Gaza, the malnourished population of North Korea, the imprisoned population of Cuba, an al Qaeda led Iraq, a re-Talibanized Afghanistan, and so on.

What liberals these days call realism is nothing but a studied indifference to the planet’s grotesqueries. Iran is the world leader in child hangings? Let’s call it a great culture and offer our hand in friendship? The Chinese manufacturing sphere uses an army of industrial slaves? Let’s give ‘em a wink and talk about the weather. Cuba outlaws dissent? Let’s throw some business their way. Egypt jails political bloggers? Set up a presidential address.

Kristof is onto something here.

But, then, wasn’t it Harry Reid who found the odor of common Americans wafting from the tourist area of the Capitol too much to bear?

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Let Pat Tillman Rest in Peace

Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal’s nomination to head coalition forces in Afghanistan is once again reviving the Pat Tillman controversy.

Tillman, you will recall, was an NFL player who became an Army Ranger and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. McChrystal was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command at the time and as such he approved a Silver Star citation for Tillman which said he had died “in the line of devastating enemy fire.” Subsequently it emerged that he had been killed not by enemy fire but by “friendly fire”– that grotesque term for accidental casualties inflicted by one’s own forces.

Tillman’s parents and numerous others accused the Army of a cover-up designed to protect its own image. There may be an element of truth here, but so what? In addition to protecting the Army, Tillman’s superior officers were also protecting his own reputation. Much better to die at the hands of the enemy, after all, than at the hands of one’s own mates.

Since time immemorial soldiers have been dying by accident — sometimes because of their own stupidity, sometimes because of the stupidity of their fellow soldiers, more often because a battlefield is a terrifying and uncertain environment and mistakes get made in the heat of action. And since time immemorial commanders have been tidying up accounts of soldiers’ deaths to spare the feelings of their families.

Traditionally, officers will tell parents that their sons died “instantly,” “without feeling any pain,” and that they were heroic defenders of their nation’s honor. Often the reality is otherwise. A soldier may have died a long agonizing death after considerable suffering, and his actions may not have affected the outcome of the battle one iota. But why inflict the ugly truth on the home front?

What purpose does it serve? The only impact of publishing the truth, as the Tillman case demonstrates, is that it leads to hurt feelings all around and somehow diminishes the fallen soldier.

In the end, unless homicide is involved, it really doesn’t matter who fired the weapon that killed a soldier. Simply by being on the battlefield and putting himself (or herself) in harm’s way, the deceased is a hero and deserves to be remembered as such. Personally I would give Tillman’s commanders a medal — not a dressing down — for trying to prettify this typically terrible incident that occurred in the fog of war.

Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal’s nomination to head coalition forces in Afghanistan is once again reviving the Pat Tillman controversy.

Tillman, you will recall, was an NFL player who became an Army Ranger and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. McChrystal was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command at the time and as such he approved a Silver Star citation for Tillman which said he had died “in the line of devastating enemy fire.” Subsequently it emerged that he had been killed not by enemy fire but by “friendly fire”– that grotesque term for accidental casualties inflicted by one’s own forces.

Tillman’s parents and numerous others accused the Army of a cover-up designed to protect its own image. There may be an element of truth here, but so what? In addition to protecting the Army, Tillman’s superior officers were also protecting his own reputation. Much better to die at the hands of the enemy, after all, than at the hands of one’s own mates.

Since time immemorial soldiers have been dying by accident — sometimes because of their own stupidity, sometimes because of the stupidity of their fellow soldiers, more often because a battlefield is a terrifying and uncertain environment and mistakes get made in the heat of action. And since time immemorial commanders have been tidying up accounts of soldiers’ deaths to spare the feelings of their families.

Traditionally, officers will tell parents that their sons died “instantly,” “without feeling any pain,” and that they were heroic defenders of their nation’s honor. Often the reality is otherwise. A soldier may have died a long agonizing death after considerable suffering, and his actions may not have affected the outcome of the battle one iota. But why inflict the ugly truth on the home front?

What purpose does it serve? The only impact of publishing the truth, as the Tillman case demonstrates, is that it leads to hurt feelings all around and somehow diminishes the fallen soldier.

In the end, unless homicide is involved, it really doesn’t matter who fired the weapon that killed a soldier. Simply by being on the battlefield and putting himself (or herself) in harm’s way, the deceased is a hero and deserves to be remembered as such. Personally I would give Tillman’s commanders a medal — not a dressing down — for trying to prettify this typically terrible incident that occurred in the fog of war.

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Obstacles to Peace

In “The Two State Solution Illusion,” the Vancouver Sun National Post has a devastating report on a meeting earlier this week with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, held while Ottawa’s political leaders were meeting at the same time with Mahmoud Abbas:

[W]hile the Conservatives condemned Israel’s settlements as an obstacle to a peaceful “two-state solution”, with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Abbas also mouthing support for the same vision for Israel and the Palestinians, Toameh couldn’t help but chuckle. “I laugh when they talk about a two-state solution,” he said. “It’s unreal. It’s not going to work. But we all have to say we support it, maybe because that’s what [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants.”

. . . [Toameh] dismisses [the idea of a two-state solution] because, as those living in the territories well know, the Palestinians cannot even co-exist with themselves, let alone with Israel. Since Yassir Arafat died-“the only good thing he ever did,” Toameh says-life for the average Palestinian has gone from miserable to worse; the territories descended into low-intensity civil war, with 2,000 Palestinians killed in the last three years amidst the political and revenge-motivated attacks of Hamas on Fatah and Fatah on Hamas, as well as the marginal mayhem of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. For the first time, more Palestinians are killed from internecine violence than in conflicts with Israel.

Toameh thinks neither Fatah nor Hamas actually govern in their respective areas, and that both have proven themselves incapable of doing so:

Neither [Fatah or Hamas] party enjoys credibility or actually governs in any real sense the anarchic territories, where unemployment exceeds 60%-though Hamas is at least closer to legitimacy, enjoying far more popular support than Abbas does (Palestinians see Western support for Fatah as Zionist meddling, he says, driving them further into the arms of Hamas and other jihadists). “Abbas doesn’t even have power in downtown Ramallah, where he works and lives,” he says.

. . . Far from demonstrating a capability to create a functioning, responsible civil society, he says, Palestinians have only proven their willingness to tolerate chaos, mob-rule and terror. They watched as, instead of building hospitals and schools and infrastructure with the billions sent to Ramallah and Gaza, Arafat lined his own pockets, Fatah fattened its cronies, and Hamas purchased weapons. . . .

. . . Palestinians have opted to make for themselves a new Afghanistan, a savage playground of corrupt warlords and Islamist fanatics. The world already has enough states like that. And any so-called solution that proposes to create another is no solution at all.

Somehow, I don’t think freezing all settlement activity is going to solve this problem, nor will any grand new plan.

In “The Two State Solution Illusion,” the Vancouver Sun National Post has a devastating report on a meeting earlier this week with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, held while Ottawa’s political leaders were meeting at the same time with Mahmoud Abbas:

[W]hile the Conservatives condemned Israel’s settlements as an obstacle to a peaceful “two-state solution”, with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Abbas also mouthing support for the same vision for Israel and the Palestinians, Toameh couldn’t help but chuckle. “I laugh when they talk about a two-state solution,” he said. “It’s unreal. It’s not going to work. But we all have to say we support it, maybe because that’s what [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants.”

. . . [Toameh] dismisses [the idea of a two-state solution] because, as those living in the territories well know, the Palestinians cannot even co-exist with themselves, let alone with Israel. Since Yassir Arafat died-“the only good thing he ever did,” Toameh says-life for the average Palestinian has gone from miserable to worse; the territories descended into low-intensity civil war, with 2,000 Palestinians killed in the last three years amidst the political and revenge-motivated attacks of Hamas on Fatah and Fatah on Hamas, as well as the marginal mayhem of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. For the first time, more Palestinians are killed from internecine violence than in conflicts with Israel.

Toameh thinks neither Fatah nor Hamas actually govern in their respective areas, and that both have proven themselves incapable of doing so:

Neither [Fatah or Hamas] party enjoys credibility or actually governs in any real sense the anarchic territories, where unemployment exceeds 60%-though Hamas is at least closer to legitimacy, enjoying far more popular support than Abbas does (Palestinians see Western support for Fatah as Zionist meddling, he says, driving them further into the arms of Hamas and other jihadists). “Abbas doesn’t even have power in downtown Ramallah, where he works and lives,” he says.

. . . Far from demonstrating a capability to create a functioning, responsible civil society, he says, Palestinians have only proven their willingness to tolerate chaos, mob-rule and terror. They watched as, instead of building hospitals and schools and infrastructure with the billions sent to Ramallah and Gaza, Arafat lined his own pockets, Fatah fattened its cronies, and Hamas purchased weapons. . . .

. . . Palestinians have opted to make for themselves a new Afghanistan, a savage playground of corrupt warlords and Islamist fanatics. The world already has enough states like that. And any so-called solution that proposes to create another is no solution at all.

Somehow, I don’t think freezing all settlement activity is going to solve this problem, nor will any grand new plan.

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Step Right Up! Get Your Governor!

Although Terry McAuliffe is the front-runner, the Washington Post’s editorial board endorsed Creigh Deeds in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. There’s not much difference on the issues between them or the third candidate, Brian Moran, but McAuliffe’s personality is, well, distinctive. The Post reports:

There is a certain amount of showmanship in any political race, but those who know McAuliffe best describe a man who was a barker before the political tents ever went up in Virginia. In his personal and professional life, McAuliffe has always talked louder, moved quicker and thought bigger than most of his peers. . . McAuliffe’s personality could work against him if it comes off as too loud, too big, too much. He once wrestled an alligator for a political donation. Another time, he stopped off to give a speech while taking his wife and newborn child home from the hospital.

The rest of the story leaves one exhausted and bemused, not unlike McAuliffe himself would.

But none of this may matter to Virginia primary voters, and only about 4% of them are expected to turn out anyway. Still,  one can’t underestimate how different McAuliffe is from the last two Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who were low-key, business-like and, yes, a little dull. It’s not just that McAuliffe, unlike his predecessors, is new to Virginia state politics; it is that he’s from some other political universe where brashness and boastful exaggeration are considered positive attributes.

How McAuliffe will wear on voters in a long general election is anyone’s guess. But for now he’s hoping Virginia, known for its non-partisan and cordial style of politics, is ready for a change. It’s not every day that Virginia gets, as the Post describes him, a “carnival barker” who wants to be governor.

Although Terry McAuliffe is the front-runner, the Washington Post’s editorial board endorsed Creigh Deeds in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. There’s not much difference on the issues between them or the third candidate, Brian Moran, but McAuliffe’s personality is, well, distinctive. The Post reports:

There is a certain amount of showmanship in any political race, but those who know McAuliffe best describe a man who was a barker before the political tents ever went up in Virginia. In his personal and professional life, McAuliffe has always talked louder, moved quicker and thought bigger than most of his peers. . . McAuliffe’s personality could work against him if it comes off as too loud, too big, too much. He once wrestled an alligator for a political donation. Another time, he stopped off to give a speech while taking his wife and newborn child home from the hospital.

The rest of the story leaves one exhausted and bemused, not unlike McAuliffe himself would.

But none of this may matter to Virginia primary voters, and only about 4% of them are expected to turn out anyway. Still,  one can’t underestimate how different McAuliffe is from the last two Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who were low-key, business-like and, yes, a little dull. It’s not just that McAuliffe, unlike his predecessors, is new to Virginia state politics; it is that he’s from some other political universe where brashness and boastful exaggeration are considered positive attributes.

How McAuliffe will wear on voters in a long general election is anyone’s guess. But for now he’s hoping Virginia, known for its non-partisan and cordial style of politics, is ready for a change. It’s not every day that Virginia gets, as the Post describes him, a “carnival barker” who wants to be governor.

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Sotomayor is Hispanic; Journalists are Lazy

In the aftermath of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the media has focused most centrally on one thing: that she’s Hispanic. And this fascination with Sotomayor’s cultural heritage is hardly limited to the New York Times editorial board, which referenced Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican roots as a key reason for supporting her confirmation only a day after she was nominated.

Indeed, this blatant foray into identity politics is coming just as strongly from the right. In this vein, check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal front-page headline, which blared, “Hispanic Picked for Top Court” — not “Sotomayor Picked for Top Court” (doesn’t her last name imply her heritage for those interested?); nor “Second Circuit Judge Picked for Top Court.” Or check out Karl Rove downplaying Sotomayor as a Hispanic trailblazer in the op-ed that Jen referenced:

… Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) …

(Calling Cardozo Hispanic is misleading, if not incorrect: Cardozo’s family resettled in Holland after the Spanish Inquisition — not somewhere in Latin America, which is the broad region to which most people are referring by the term “Hispanic.”)

Ultimately, the emphasis on Sotomayor’s heritage in analyzing her nomination and confirmation prospects can be traced to one common cause: journalistic laziness.  After all, Sotomayor has served as a federal judge since 1992 and has issued perhaps thousands of rulings — yet it is far easier to discuss the superficial than to attempt any comprehensive analysis of her plethora of prior decisions. Indeed, it is much easier to call her a “racist” for one misguided remark claiming that a “wise Latina woman” would make a better judge than a white male — or to cast her off as a strict “identity politics” pick — than it is to assemble a representative sample of her judicial work.

So here’s one suggestion for the next time we have a judicial nomination: force the nominee to appear in public with a convenient American Bar Association rating stamped on his or her forehead. This will simplify talking heads’ jobs considerably, allowing them to evaluate the most central question regarding new Supreme Court justices: how will they affect the court’s ideological — not its cultural or gender — balance?

In the aftermath of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the media has focused most centrally on one thing: that she’s Hispanic. And this fascination with Sotomayor’s cultural heritage is hardly limited to the New York Times editorial board, which referenced Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican roots as a key reason for supporting her confirmation only a day after she was nominated.

Indeed, this blatant foray into identity politics is coming just as strongly from the right. In this vein, check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal front-page headline, which blared, “Hispanic Picked for Top Court” — not “Sotomayor Picked for Top Court” (doesn’t her last name imply her heritage for those interested?); nor “Second Circuit Judge Picked for Top Court.” Or check out Karl Rove downplaying Sotomayor as a Hispanic trailblazer in the op-ed that Jen referenced:

… Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) …

(Calling Cardozo Hispanic is misleading, if not incorrect: Cardozo’s family resettled in Holland after the Spanish Inquisition — not somewhere in Latin America, which is the broad region to which most people are referring by the term “Hispanic.”)

Ultimately, the emphasis on Sotomayor’s heritage in analyzing her nomination and confirmation prospects can be traced to one common cause: journalistic laziness.  After all, Sotomayor has served as a federal judge since 1992 and has issued perhaps thousands of rulings — yet it is far easier to discuss the superficial than to attempt any comprehensive analysis of her plethora of prior decisions. Indeed, it is much easier to call her a “racist” for one misguided remark claiming that a “wise Latina woman” would make a better judge than a white male — or to cast her off as a strict “identity politics” pick — than it is to assemble a representative sample of her judicial work.

So here’s one suggestion for the next time we have a judicial nomination: force the nominee to appear in public with a convenient American Bar Association rating stamped on his or her forehead. This will simplify talking heads’ jobs considerably, allowing them to evaluate the most central question regarding new Supreme Court justices: how will they affect the court’s ideological — not its cultural or gender — balance?

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Reality Hits Obamanomics

When the president let it slip that our current fiscal situation — ever higher mounds of debt — was “unsustainable,” some pundits shrugged it off as a “long-term” problem. Not so long-term.

The Wall Street Journal explains that Treasury yields have shot up, reaching 3.7% on 10-year notes, the highest since November. Why are bond purchasers demanding higher rates? They are spooked:

They have cause to be worried, given Washington’s astonishing bet on fiscal and monetary reflation. The Obama Administration’s epic spending spree means the Treasury will have to float trillions of dollars in new debt in the next two or three years alone. Meanwhile, the Fed has gone beyond cutting rates to directly purchasing such financial assets as mortgage-backed securities, as well as directly monetizing federal debt by buying Treasurys for the first time in half a century. No wonder the Chinese and other dollar asset holders are nervous. They wonder — as do we — whether the unspoken Beltway strategy is to pay off this debt by inflating away its value.

This, of course, translates into higher interest rates for homebuyers and works to undo Ben Bernanke’s handiwork. Obama strong-armed the hapless AIG executives and the Chrysler bondholders,but he can’t bully all purchasers of U.S. debt. The best he can do is send Tim Geithner to China to beg them to keep buying our debt.

Obama likes to complain that this is not his doing. But, as John Taylor explains, the facts say otherwise:

Under President Barack Obama’s budget plan, the federal debt is exploding. To be precise, it is rising – and will continue to rise – much faster than gross domestic product, a measure of America’s ability to service it. The federal debt was equivalent to 41 per cent of GDP at the end of 2008; the Congressional Budget Office projects it will increase to 82 per cent of GDP in 10 years. With no change in policy, it could hit 100 per cent of GDP in just another five years.

Those bondholders are right to be nervous. And the inevitable creep in interest rates, the resulting drag on the economy, and the ever greater share of it devoted just to servicing our debt are direct results of Obama’s economic policies. Perhaps the president should be nervous too.

When the president let it slip that our current fiscal situation — ever higher mounds of debt — was “unsustainable,” some pundits shrugged it off as a “long-term” problem. Not so long-term.

The Wall Street Journal explains that Treasury yields have shot up, reaching 3.7% on 10-year notes, the highest since November. Why are bond purchasers demanding higher rates? They are spooked:

They have cause to be worried, given Washington’s astonishing bet on fiscal and monetary reflation. The Obama Administration’s epic spending spree means the Treasury will have to float trillions of dollars in new debt in the next two or three years alone. Meanwhile, the Fed has gone beyond cutting rates to directly purchasing such financial assets as mortgage-backed securities, as well as directly monetizing federal debt by buying Treasurys for the first time in half a century. No wonder the Chinese and other dollar asset holders are nervous. They wonder — as do we — whether the unspoken Beltway strategy is to pay off this debt by inflating away its value.

This, of course, translates into higher interest rates for homebuyers and works to undo Ben Bernanke’s handiwork. Obama strong-armed the hapless AIG executives and the Chrysler bondholders,but he can’t bully all purchasers of U.S. debt. The best he can do is send Tim Geithner to China to beg them to keep buying our debt.

Obama likes to complain that this is not his doing. But, as John Taylor explains, the facts say otherwise:

Under President Barack Obama’s budget plan, the federal debt is exploding. To be precise, it is rising – and will continue to rise – much faster than gross domestic product, a measure of America’s ability to service it. The federal debt was equivalent to 41 per cent of GDP at the end of 2008; the Congressional Budget Office projects it will increase to 82 per cent of GDP in 10 years. With no change in policy, it could hit 100 per cent of GDP in just another five years.

Those bondholders are right to be nervous. And the inevitable creep in interest rates, the resulting drag on the economy, and the ever greater share of it devoted just to servicing our debt are direct results of Obama’s economic policies. Perhaps the president should be nervous too.

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The Unanswered Taken Question

At the State Department press briefing yesterday, Department Spokesman Ian Kelly declined to answer two questions, designating them as “taken questions” to be answered later. The first question related to Cuba and was answered by the end of the day with a three-paragraph response. The second, related to Israel, remained unanswered by the end of the day. It was a straightforward question:

QUESTION: Does the Obama Administration regard itself as bound by the contents of the letter that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004?

MR. KELLY: That’s an excellent question, James, and I’ll get you the information on that.

QUESTION: Taken question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, taken question.

Hillary Clinton was asked the same question yesterday and evaded answering it; when pressed, she would only say it was being “looked at.”

Let me take a stab at an answer:  Yes.

The letter in question is not a document setting forth the policy of a prior administration. It is part of an exchange of letters that, taken together, set forth the terms of the Gaza disengagement deal, negotiated between two heads of state. It contains explicit U.S. commitments to Israel regarding defensible borders and the Roadmap, and formal U.S. recognition of certain “realities” regarding settlement blocks and refugees. The letter was endorsed by a concurrent resolution of Congress.

When Israel formally approved the disengagement plan, the letter was incorporated into it. Sharon informed the Knesset that the U.S. commitments would be valid only if Israel proceeded with the disengagement, which Israel did — removing not just settlement “outposts” and not just “freezing” settlement activity, but completely dismantling every settlement, removing every soldier, and turning over the land, buildings, and a functioning greenhouse economy to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel paid twice for the commitments in the letter — first, by proceeding with the disengagement at great political and social cost and at considerable strategic risk; and second, by subsequently bearing the costs of rockets on its civilians year after year, until a new war became necessary to stop the almost daily onslaught. Israel now lives with a terrorist state on its southern border and a kidnapped soldier held for almost three years.

The letter was not simply a statement of policy, nor even simply an agreement; it was an agreement upon which Israel acted in reliance, and thus has the right to insist it be honored.

So yes, the Obama administration is bound by the contents of the letter. Words must mean something.

At the State Department press briefing yesterday, Department Spokesman Ian Kelly declined to answer two questions, designating them as “taken questions” to be answered later. The first question related to Cuba and was answered by the end of the day with a three-paragraph response. The second, related to Israel, remained unanswered by the end of the day. It was a straightforward question:

QUESTION: Does the Obama Administration regard itself as bound by the contents of the letter that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004?

MR. KELLY: That’s an excellent question, James, and I’ll get you the information on that.

QUESTION: Taken question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, taken question.

Hillary Clinton was asked the same question yesterday and evaded answering it; when pressed, she would only say it was being “looked at.”

Let me take a stab at an answer:  Yes.

The letter in question is not a document setting forth the policy of a prior administration. It is part of an exchange of letters that, taken together, set forth the terms of the Gaza disengagement deal, negotiated between two heads of state. It contains explicit U.S. commitments to Israel regarding defensible borders and the Roadmap, and formal U.S. recognition of certain “realities” regarding settlement blocks and refugees. The letter was endorsed by a concurrent resolution of Congress.

When Israel formally approved the disengagement plan, the letter was incorporated into it. Sharon informed the Knesset that the U.S. commitments would be valid only if Israel proceeded with the disengagement, which Israel did — removing not just settlement “outposts” and not just “freezing” settlement activity, but completely dismantling every settlement, removing every soldier, and turning over the land, buildings, and a functioning greenhouse economy to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel paid twice for the commitments in the letter — first, by proceeding with the disengagement at great political and social cost and at considerable strategic risk; and second, by subsequently bearing the costs of rockets on its civilians year after year, until a new war became necessary to stop the almost daily onslaught. Israel now lives with a terrorist state on its southern border and a kidnapped soldier held for almost three years.

The letter was not simply a statement of policy, nor even simply an agreement; it was an agreement upon which Israel acted in reliance, and thus has the right to insist it be honored.

So yes, the Obama administration is bound by the contents of the letter. Words must mean something.

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Obama’s Argument About Nothing

Yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu’s camp leaked a request for the Obama administration to back off on calling for a complete halt to construction over the green line. It didn’t take long for the Americans to respond.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quoted as saying of the president’s stand, “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions.” Talking to reporters after a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, she said: “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”

While she is not the first U.S. Secretary of State to make demands of Israel about settlements — Condoleezza Rice did the same thing in the last years of the Bush administration — the comments by the formerly down-the-line pro-Israel Clinton escalated the dispute brewing between the two countries. The question remains, at what point will the same words publicly pass the lips of the president himself, something that never happened during the Bush administration. If it happens during Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo next week, it will undoubtedly be interpreted as a signal of a major rift in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If so, then Obama must be convinced he will pay no significant political price for slamming Israel, something leftist Jews have been saying all year. It might also mean that he is trying to break the Netanyahu government and hopes for it to be replaced by one more to his liking.

A lot of the commentary about this possibility, both here and in Israel, seems to take it for granted that Netanyahu will have no choice but to buckle and if he doesn’t, he’s doomed. One should never try to predict what is going to happen in Israeli coalition politics but if that is Obama’s goal, I think he’s being a trifle optimistic. In the Knesset that was just elected the math doesn’t really add up for a left-wing coalition. And as much as Netanyahu knows that maintaining close ties with the United States is a paramount concern for any Israeli government, it simply isn’t true that he must swallow everything Washington sends his way. There will be a price to pay for saying no, but he can do it, especially when it is about something so unreasonable as a demand that no houses be built in places Israel has no intention of giving up.

Moreover, it must be reiterated that all of this sturm und drang over settlement growth is still an argument about nothing. Obama may say he wants peace talks re-started — a point Netanyahu has been willing to concede — but there is still absolutely no reason to hope for success in such talks. So long as Israel’s proposed peace partner is a toothless and feckless Palestinian Authority, unable to sign any sort of peace with Israel even if it wanted to, or the Islamists of Hamas, there will be no peace deal. For Obama to attempt to scuttle the U.S.-Israel alliance for such meager prospects is a curious strategic decision. But it would not be as curious as a failure on the part of the pro-Israel community — a group including Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives — to let such a thing happen without major protest.

Yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu’s camp leaked a request for the Obama administration to back off on calling for a complete halt to construction over the green line. It didn’t take long for the Americans to respond.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quoted as saying of the president’s stand, “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions.” Talking to reporters after a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, she said: “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”

While she is not the first U.S. Secretary of State to make demands of Israel about settlements — Condoleezza Rice did the same thing in the last years of the Bush administration — the comments by the formerly down-the-line pro-Israel Clinton escalated the dispute brewing between the two countries. The question remains, at what point will the same words publicly pass the lips of the president himself, something that never happened during the Bush administration. If it happens during Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo next week, it will undoubtedly be interpreted as a signal of a major rift in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If so, then Obama must be convinced he will pay no significant political price for slamming Israel, something leftist Jews have been saying all year. It might also mean that he is trying to break the Netanyahu government and hopes for it to be replaced by one more to his liking.

A lot of the commentary about this possibility, both here and in Israel, seems to take it for granted that Netanyahu will have no choice but to buckle and if he doesn’t, he’s doomed. One should never try to predict what is going to happen in Israeli coalition politics but if that is Obama’s goal, I think he’s being a trifle optimistic. In the Knesset that was just elected the math doesn’t really add up for a left-wing coalition. And as much as Netanyahu knows that maintaining close ties with the United States is a paramount concern for any Israeli government, it simply isn’t true that he must swallow everything Washington sends his way. There will be a price to pay for saying no, but he can do it, especially when it is about something so unreasonable as a demand that no houses be built in places Israel has no intention of giving up.

Moreover, it must be reiterated that all of this sturm und drang over settlement growth is still an argument about nothing. Obama may say he wants peace talks re-started — a point Netanyahu has been willing to concede — but there is still absolutely no reason to hope for success in such talks. So long as Israel’s proposed peace partner is a toothless and feckless Palestinian Authority, unable to sign any sort of peace with Israel even if it wanted to, or the Islamists of Hamas, there will be no peace deal. For Obama to attempt to scuttle the U.S.-Israel alliance for such meager prospects is a curious strategic decision. But it would not be as curious as a failure on the part of the pro-Israel community — a group including Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives — to let such a thing happen without major protest.

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32

Dana Milbank went to the trouble of counting them. There are thirty-two — words, that is, in what is already becoming a key concern in the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. They come from that Berkeley speech:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

As Milbank is famous for doing, he paints a portrait of the hapless Robert Gibbs, confronting an increasingly peeved press corp. All they want to know is what she meant by those thirty-two words. He observes, “Missing from Gibbs’s answer was any attempt to explain or defend the 32 words.” You’d think the White House would have an answer ready, wouldn’t you? You’d think they were at the ready, with a reasonable and benign explanation. “Of course she didn’t mean that judges views are dictated by ethnicity. . .” Or something.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well:

“Are you saying that there is no racial dimension and there should be no racial dimension interpreted or drawn from Judge Sotomayor’s comments?” Fox’s Major Garrett asked Gibbs.

Gibbs ducked the question, directing Garrett to “read the full article” and advising reporters: “I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record.”

April Ryan of American Urban Radio shouted back at the press secretary: “These are words that she said out of her mouth!”

Gibbs would have done well to mention Sotomayor’s line in that same speech in which she said that “we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group.” But Gibbs evidently wasn’t prepared, for all he said when pressed to explain the 32 words was “I think — I — I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement.”

It was left to Jake Tapper (who had bothered to read the speech) to ask Gibbs what he thinks she meant. Gibbs punted.

Milbank is right that the White House will need “to do better to make the 32 words go away.” But the mystery remains as to why they weren’t prepared. Did they miss it? Did they miss how off-putting it sounds? Perhaps in their infatuation with biography they paid too little attention to Sotomayor’s own words. That’s a mistake because words — thirty two and many, many more — are what the Supreme Court and the confirmation hearings are all about.

Dana Milbank went to the trouble of counting them. There are thirty-two — words, that is, in what is already becoming a key concern in the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. They come from that Berkeley speech:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

As Milbank is famous for doing, he paints a portrait of the hapless Robert Gibbs, confronting an increasingly peeved press corp. All they want to know is what she meant by those thirty-two words. He observes, “Missing from Gibbs’s answer was any attempt to explain or defend the 32 words.” You’d think the White House would have an answer ready, wouldn’t you? You’d think they were at the ready, with a reasonable and benign explanation. “Of course she didn’t mean that judges views are dictated by ethnicity. . .” Or something.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well:

“Are you saying that there is no racial dimension and there should be no racial dimension interpreted or drawn from Judge Sotomayor’s comments?” Fox’s Major Garrett asked Gibbs.

Gibbs ducked the question, directing Garrett to “read the full article” and advising reporters: “I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record.”

April Ryan of American Urban Radio shouted back at the press secretary: “These are words that she said out of her mouth!”

Gibbs would have done well to mention Sotomayor’s line in that same speech in which she said that “we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group.” But Gibbs evidently wasn’t prepared, for all he said when pressed to explain the 32 words was “I think — I — I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement.”

It was left to Jake Tapper (who had bothered to read the speech) to ask Gibbs what he thinks she meant. Gibbs punted.

Milbank is right that the White House will need “to do better to make the 32 words go away.” But the mystery remains as to why they weren’t prepared. Did they miss it? Did they miss how off-putting it sounds? Perhaps in their infatuation with biography they paid too little attention to Sotomayor’s own words. That’s a mistake because words — thirty two and many, many more — are what the Supreme Court and the confirmation hearings are all about.

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Challenge, With Civility

Tuesday night on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said this:

Unless there is something in [Judge Sotomayor’s] past explosive that nobody knows about, she is going to end up on the court. I think what Republicans ought to do is talk about judicial philosophy. It should be high-toned, not ad hominem, and not personal.

Contrast Krauthammer’s counsel with this report from ABC News:

Just a day after President Obama announced he was nominating appellate court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the battle over her confirmation has begun with former House speaker Newt Gingrich branding her a racist and saying she should withdraw. The accusations are aimed at comments Sotomayor made during a 2001 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. Referring to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s saying that “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,” Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” On Wednesday afternoon, Gingrich wrote on Twitter: “Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman’ new racism is no better than old racism.” “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” Gingrich wrote.

I’m very much in Krauthammer’s camp on this. I recognize, of course, that there is a double standard at play — one for conservatives and one for liberals. And I have real problems with Sotomayor’s views, including her statement about Latina women v. white males. It is entirely appropriate to criticize those comments and Judge Sotomayor’s decisions. But that is quite different, I think, from calling her a racist and insisting that she should withdraw. As a general matter, I think the term “racist” is thrown around far too promiscuously and carelessly.

This rhetorical approach is nothing new to Gingrich. Less than two weeks ago, in response to Speaker Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA lied to her about enhanced interrogation techniques, Gingrich said this:

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist [sic] of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

In my judgment, Pelosi deserved to be criticized, in very strong terms, for what she said. But I think the tone of Gingrich’s criticism is harmful, both to political discourse in general and to his party in particular. Strong, spirited, even passionate debate can be useful, and even important, in the life of a nation. But civility and decency are vital as well. And as Noemie Emery pointed out in her excellent Weekly Standard article, “Reagan in Opposition: The Lessons of 1977,” “his tone was unfailingly gracious and civil, and focused on issues, not men. He did not oppose for the sake of opposing. He criticized Carter’s ideas, but seldom the man, and he almost never uttered the president’s name.”

Reagan sought to persuade people, not annihilate them. His arguments were forceful; his restraint, admirable. And of course the model for Republicans is Lincoln, the country’s greatest President, of whom it was said at the time, “The sledge hammer effect of his speech results from the … force of the argument of the logician, not the fierce gestures and loud rantings of the demagogue.”

It is unfair to hold up Reagan, and certainly Lincoln, as standard-bearers who are within easy reach of the rest of us. None of us measure up to either man. And in the modern age, with blogs, twitter, and all the rest, it is easy to write in an unfiltered way, to send things out that one would like to have back. Still, we need to stay on the right side of the line when it comes to public discourse. Reagan and Lincoln are models we should continue to look up to, and emulate.

Tuesday night on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said this:

Unless there is something in [Judge Sotomayor’s] past explosive that nobody knows about, she is going to end up on the court. I think what Republicans ought to do is talk about judicial philosophy. It should be high-toned, not ad hominem, and not personal.

Contrast Krauthammer’s counsel with this report from ABC News:

Just a day after President Obama announced he was nominating appellate court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the battle over her confirmation has begun with former House speaker Newt Gingrich branding her a racist and saying she should withdraw. The accusations are aimed at comments Sotomayor made during a 2001 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. Referring to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s saying that “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,” Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” On Wednesday afternoon, Gingrich wrote on Twitter: “Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman’ new racism is no better than old racism.” “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” Gingrich wrote.

I’m very much in Krauthammer’s camp on this. I recognize, of course, that there is a double standard at play — one for conservatives and one for liberals. And I have real problems with Sotomayor’s views, including her statement about Latina women v. white males. It is entirely appropriate to criticize those comments and Judge Sotomayor’s decisions. But that is quite different, I think, from calling her a racist and insisting that she should withdraw. As a general matter, I think the term “racist” is thrown around far too promiscuously and carelessly.

This rhetorical approach is nothing new to Gingrich. Less than two weeks ago, in response to Speaker Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA lied to her about enhanced interrogation techniques, Gingrich said this:

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist [sic] of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

In my judgment, Pelosi deserved to be criticized, in very strong terms, for what she said. But I think the tone of Gingrich’s criticism is harmful, both to political discourse in general and to his party in particular. Strong, spirited, even passionate debate can be useful, and even important, in the life of a nation. But civility and decency are vital as well. And as Noemie Emery pointed out in her excellent Weekly Standard article, “Reagan in Opposition: The Lessons of 1977,” “his tone was unfailingly gracious and civil, and focused on issues, not men. He did not oppose for the sake of opposing. He criticized Carter’s ideas, but seldom the man, and he almost never uttered the president’s name.”

Reagan sought to persuade people, not annihilate them. His arguments were forceful; his restraint, admirable. And of course the model for Republicans is Lincoln, the country’s greatest President, of whom it was said at the time, “The sledge hammer effect of his speech results from the … force of the argument of the logician, not the fierce gestures and loud rantings of the demagogue.”

It is unfair to hold up Reagan, and certainly Lincoln, as standard-bearers who are within easy reach of the rest of us. None of us measure up to either man. And in the modern age, with blogs, twitter, and all the rest, it is easy to write in an unfiltered way, to send things out that one would like to have back. Still, we need to stay on the right side of the line when it comes to public discourse. Reagan and Lincoln are models we should continue to look up to, and emulate.

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Win What?

Karl Rove reviews the political landscape in the Sotomayor nomination, noting the president has gone for a reliable liberal and scored points with a key constituent group. He concludes:

While the next two to four months of maneuverings and hearings may provide more insights into the views of Mr. Obama’s pick, barring an unforeseen development — not unheard of in Supreme Court nominations — Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) and third woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. Democrats will win the vote, but Republicans can win the argument by making a clear case against the judicial activism she represents.

I’ve seen enough of these to steer clear of predicting the outcome. But Rove is right in his central point. Americans don’t like the liberal judicial philosophy of judges making it up as they go along. Ordinary voters tend to recoil against the results this style of judging bring about. That is why liberals tend to evade and minimize their own views, adopting the tone and some of the language of legal conservatives during these battles. It doesn’t sound “right” to come out and say that judges make the law. That’s a political loser for them. (Sotomayor will need to explain away her candor on this one.)

So in a sense the fight is about judicial activism dressed up as “empathy.” It is about whether we have judges striving to put aside their personal biases or committed to elevating them in order to obliterate the impartial administration of justice. But can conservatives “win” that fight? Aren’t we continually told Obama’s so popular, Republicans are so hated, etc. Well, if the Dick Cheney/Obama face-off showed us anything, it is that personality only gets you so far.  Just as the country got a tutorial on Guantanamo they are going to get one on judicial activism. And there I think the legal conservatives’ chances are quite strong.

After all, that’s why Sotomayor is preparing to minimize and shed her controversial statements rather than tout them. (Just kidding about that policy stuff! Didn’t really mean Latinas have greater judging ability than white males! No sirree.) That’s why the White House is out spinning her decision in the New Haven firefighter case. (If they thought her decision was right and the politics would work, they’d be sending out news releases pointing out one of her finest moments in legal craftsmanship, right?)

Liberals and conservatives alike agree on one thing: if she embraced her candor and bragged about her disdain for impartiality she’d never get through.

Karl Rove reviews the political landscape in the Sotomayor nomination, noting the president has gone for a reliable liberal and scored points with a key constituent group. He concludes:

While the next two to four months of maneuverings and hearings may provide more insights into the views of Mr. Obama’s pick, barring an unforeseen development — not unheard of in Supreme Court nominations — Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) and third woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. Democrats will win the vote, but Republicans can win the argument by making a clear case against the judicial activism she represents.

I’ve seen enough of these to steer clear of predicting the outcome. But Rove is right in his central point. Americans don’t like the liberal judicial philosophy of judges making it up as they go along. Ordinary voters tend to recoil against the results this style of judging bring about. That is why liberals tend to evade and minimize their own views, adopting the tone and some of the language of legal conservatives during these battles. It doesn’t sound “right” to come out and say that judges make the law. That’s a political loser for them. (Sotomayor will need to explain away her candor on this one.)

So in a sense the fight is about judicial activism dressed up as “empathy.” It is about whether we have judges striving to put aside their personal biases or committed to elevating them in order to obliterate the impartial administration of justice. But can conservatives “win” that fight? Aren’t we continually told Obama’s so popular, Republicans are so hated, etc. Well, if the Dick Cheney/Obama face-off showed us anything, it is that personality only gets you so far.  Just as the country got a tutorial on Guantanamo they are going to get one on judicial activism. And there I think the legal conservatives’ chances are quite strong.

After all, that’s why Sotomayor is preparing to minimize and shed her controversial statements rather than tout them. (Just kidding about that policy stuff! Didn’t really mean Latinas have greater judging ability than white males! No sirree.) That’s why the White House is out spinning her decision in the New Haven firefighter case. (If they thought her decision was right and the politics would work, they’d be sending out news releases pointing out one of her finest moments in legal craftsmanship, right?)

Liberals and conservatives alike agree on one thing: if she embraced her candor and bragged about her disdain for impartiality she’d never get through.

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Obama to Speak at Cairo University

Although the administration hasn’t announced it officially, the rumor in Egypt is that President Barack Obama will deliver his forthcoming address to the Muslim world from Cairo University. While many critics of the Mubarak regime had hoped that Obama would speak from the New Bibliotheca in Alexandria – thereby distancing himself from the regime and paying tribute to the region’s intellectual heritage – I actually think that C.U. is a good choice for a few reasons.

First, as Egypt’s largest institution of higher learning, C.U. is a location with which many Egyptian citizens are intimately familiar.  Check out the enrollment figures: the University boasts over 200,000 students and over 12,000 faculty members.  If the point is to connect with the Muslim world, then speaking from a spot that so many Egyptians have called their intellectual home makes sense.

Second, C.U. is a distinctly middle class public institution of higher learning.  Indeed, it is very different from the upper-class American University in Cairo, which was the scene of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s infamous 2005 call for free elections in Egypt.  This bolsters the notion that Obama is coming to speak to the Muslim world, as opposed to a select group of Egyptian elites.

Third, the neighborhood in which C.U. is situated – Giza – is similarly working class, and is unaccustomed to visits from world leaders.  Indeed, most presidential visits to Egypt are closed-door affairs within government compounds, or conferences held in resort towns, such as Sharm el-Sheikh or Luxor.  In turn, the administration is ensuring that ordinary Egyptians will be uniquely engaged with Obama’s visit – a key precondition for the success of any attempt to win them over.

In short, the administration has done an admirable job in booking a suitable venue for getting its message across.  Now we await that message

Although the administration hasn’t announced it officially, the rumor in Egypt is that President Barack Obama will deliver his forthcoming address to the Muslim world from Cairo University. While many critics of the Mubarak regime had hoped that Obama would speak from the New Bibliotheca in Alexandria – thereby distancing himself from the regime and paying tribute to the region’s intellectual heritage – I actually think that C.U. is a good choice for a few reasons.

First, as Egypt’s largest institution of higher learning, C.U. is a location with which many Egyptian citizens are intimately familiar.  Check out the enrollment figures: the University boasts over 200,000 students and over 12,000 faculty members.  If the point is to connect with the Muslim world, then speaking from a spot that so many Egyptians have called their intellectual home makes sense.

Second, C.U. is a distinctly middle class public institution of higher learning.  Indeed, it is very different from the upper-class American University in Cairo, which was the scene of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s infamous 2005 call for free elections in Egypt.  This bolsters the notion that Obama is coming to speak to the Muslim world, as opposed to a select group of Egyptian elites.

Third, the neighborhood in which C.U. is situated – Giza – is similarly working class, and is unaccustomed to visits from world leaders.  Indeed, most presidential visits to Egypt are closed-door affairs within government compounds, or conferences held in resort towns, such as Sharm el-Sheikh or Luxor.  In turn, the administration is ensuring that ordinary Egyptians will be uniquely engaged with Obama’s visit – a key precondition for the success of any attempt to win them over.

In short, the administration has done an admirable job in booking a suitable venue for getting its message across.  Now we await that message

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Card check becomes an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The Democrats bob and weave.

Lost in the Supreme Court shuffle: “A Pentagon report released today confirms that 14 percent of the 540 detainees — or one in seven — who were released from the detainee center Guantanamo Bay have been known or suspected of returning to terrorist activities.”

Stephen Hayes isn’t satisfied: “Now he can affirm his commitment to transparency by releasing two additional batches of information that his administration has fought to keep from public view: 1) CIA reports requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney that detail the results of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, and, 2) documents surrounding the briefings the CIA provided to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on those techniques.”

Newt Gingrich thinks Latina racism is no better than white racism. Go figure.

Ilya Shapiro is blunt: “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the short list if she were not Hispanic. She is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary, and far less qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court than Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland or Solicitor General Elena Kagan.”

Brit Hume explains that Dick Cheney’s offensive against the Obama anti-terror policies shows you can attack a popular president successfully if his policies are not so popular. The same may be true, he says, of Sotomayor.

Without citing a single opinion or relating a single word of Sotomayor’s speeches E.J. Dionne pronounces her a “moderate.” Even for Dionne this is one lazy column. Well, if he doesn’t want to delve into her cases or speeches he could at least read a very interesting comparison of lawyers’ evaluations of Sotomayor and Alito. Those who’ve practiced before her seem to have a very clear view of her predilections.

Mike Allen thinks there’s not going to be a battle on Sotomayor. (Does he really think so or is this part of Politico’s attention-grabbing, devil-may-care journalism?) Meanwhile, the two sides gear up for battle. (Tip for Allen: not a single Republican rushed for the microphone to praise the nomination. This is unique, if not unprecedented, with regard to a Democratic president’s nominee and suggests a greater degree of discipline than we’ve seen before.)

Commenting on Sotomayor’s yearbook quote from Norman Thomas, Ben Smith cracks: “A quick note to rising college seniors: Stick with the Kennedy quotes.”

Joe Biden makes a teleprompter crack. TOTUS responds.

The Washington Post editors in advance of Obama’s trip to Egypt say that if his administration “chooses to uncritically embrace autocrats such as Mr. Mubarak — as it has so far — the administration will merely repeat the failures of earlier U.S. administrations, which for decades propped up Arab dictators and ignored their human rights abuses, only to reap the harvest represented by al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It will accomplish the opposite of what Mr. Obama intends, by alienating a young generation of Arabs and Muslims that despises the old order and demands the freedoms that have spread everywhere else in the world.” More George W. Bush and less Chas Freeman, eh?

Card check becomes an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The Democrats bob and weave.

Lost in the Supreme Court shuffle: “A Pentagon report released today confirms that 14 percent of the 540 detainees — or one in seven — who were released from the detainee center Guantanamo Bay have been known or suspected of returning to terrorist activities.”

Stephen Hayes isn’t satisfied: “Now he can affirm his commitment to transparency by releasing two additional batches of information that his administration has fought to keep from public view: 1) CIA reports requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney that detail the results of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, and, 2) documents surrounding the briefings the CIA provided to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on those techniques.”

Newt Gingrich thinks Latina racism is no better than white racism. Go figure.

Ilya Shapiro is blunt: “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the short list if she were not Hispanic. She is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary, and far less qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court than Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland or Solicitor General Elena Kagan.”

Brit Hume explains that Dick Cheney’s offensive against the Obama anti-terror policies shows you can attack a popular president successfully if his policies are not so popular. The same may be true, he says, of Sotomayor.

Without citing a single opinion or relating a single word of Sotomayor’s speeches E.J. Dionne pronounces her a “moderate.” Even for Dionne this is one lazy column. Well, if he doesn’t want to delve into her cases or speeches he could at least read a very interesting comparison of lawyers’ evaluations of Sotomayor and Alito. Those who’ve practiced before her seem to have a very clear view of her predilections.

Mike Allen thinks there’s not going to be a battle on Sotomayor. (Does he really think so or is this part of Politico’s attention-grabbing, devil-may-care journalism?) Meanwhile, the two sides gear up for battle. (Tip for Allen: not a single Republican rushed for the microphone to praise the nomination. This is unique, if not unprecedented, with regard to a Democratic president’s nominee and suggests a greater degree of discipline than we’ve seen before.)

Commenting on Sotomayor’s yearbook quote from Norman Thomas, Ben Smith cracks: “A quick note to rising college seniors: Stick with the Kennedy quotes.”

Joe Biden makes a teleprompter crack. TOTUS responds.

The Washington Post editors in advance of Obama’s trip to Egypt say that if his administration “chooses to uncritically embrace autocrats such as Mr. Mubarak — as it has so far — the administration will merely repeat the failures of earlier U.S. administrations, which for decades propped up Arab dictators and ignored their human rights abuses, only to reap the harvest represented by al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It will accomplish the opposite of what Mr. Obama intends, by alienating a young generation of Arabs and Muslims that despises the old order and demands the freedoms that have spread everywhere else in the world.” More George W. Bush and less Chas Freeman, eh?

Read Less




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