In his article, Mr. Klein states:
There is no question that President Obama’s more prudent path is the correct one right now.
It’s simply too early to tell, and Mr. Klein’s conclusion is not warranted. Mr. Obama’s policy at this point is to “wait and see.” Given the images coming out of Iran at this time, there are plenty of reasonable questions about that policy.
Unfortunately, most of the rest of Mr. Klein’s article was predicated on the unwarranted conclusion, and appeared to be a vehicle for ad hominem attacks against Senator McCain and Mr. Wehner. That’s no substitute for reporting or analysis. It would have been much better to have responded to the substance of Mr. Wehner’s article, and in so doing to further an honest and legitimate debate.
Posts For: June 18, 2009
Ezra Klein (h/t Jonah Goldberg), activist/blogger turned Washington Post columnist, gives us a peek at liberal thinking on healthcare. If you don’t like the notion of government-run and rationed care you’ll be encouraged:
Health reform is, I think it fair to say, in danger right now. The news out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee was bad. The Congressional Budget Office had scored a partial bill and the result was a total fiasco. But the news out of the Finance Committee is much, much worse.
Put simply, the Finance Committee wanted its bill to cost $1 trillion over 10 years. The CBO returned an early estimate to the panel on Tuesday night: $1.6 trillion over 10 years. The specifics of the estimate have not been made public. But the final number changed everything. Max Baucus, the chairman of the committee, pushed markup back behind the July 4th recess. He has promised to get the bill below $1 trillion over 10 years.
[. . .]
[H]ealth reform has just gotten harder. The hope that we could expand the current system while holding costs down appears to have been just that: a hope. And CBO doesn’t score hopes. It only scores plans. The question now becomes whether we want health-care reform that achieves less of what we say the system needs, or more. Doing less would be cruel to those who have laid their hopes upon health reform. But doing more will be very, very hard.
One has to laugh: no Santa and no universal healthcare plan that “holds down costs.” Yes, to cover tens of millions of previously uninsured people requires a lot of money. Stunning, isn’t it? ( Next up: there is no money tree to repay the debt we are racking up.)
But Klein’s impatience about only spending a trillion exemplifies the dilemma in which ObamaCare proponents now find themselves. Poll after poll shows the public wants to spend less money and is concerned about the growing deficit. However, liberals like Klein are frustrated that they’re being hemmed in by a trillion dollar healthcare target.
Klein provides valuable insight into just how tied up in knots the liberals have gotten on healthcare. They seem to have bought into the notion that cost didn’t matter — or figured the mumbo-jumbo about “bending the cost-curve” was real. In the end, cost may derail the whole exercise.
Commenting on Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post story subtitled “Obama seeks way to acknowledge protesters without alienating Ayatollah,” Paul Mirengoff at Power Line says, “it’s shocking that [Obama] believes he can talk his way around the non-false choice presented by the unrest/uprising in Iran.”
If Obama is looking for a precedent, however, perhaps he could dust off Bush 41′s infamous “Chicken Kiev” speech. In 1991, as the Soviet Union was heading toward its eventual demise and the Ukrainians were considering declaring their independence, Bush warned the Ukrainian legislature against a “suicidal nationalism” and told them “freedom is not the same as independence.”
For the U.S. to choose between the leader of the Soviet Union and the “independence-minded leaders” of its Republics was, Bush said, a “false choice.” Instead, the U.S. would maintain “the strongest possible relationship with the Soviet Government” while striving for “improved relations” with the Republics.
He told the Ukrainian legislature that “You have to give [the people] hope” – a word he used six times in the speech.
Two more polls, one from Public Policy Polling and one from Pew, reflect many of the same trends we saw in yesterday’s New York Times/CBS and the Wall Street Journal/NBC polls. Moreover, mainstream political reporters are starting to figure out the nub of the issue. Veteran Beltway report Dan Balz writes:
The most serious potential problem is a thread that runs through his entire agenda and poses the fundamental question for the domestic side of his presidency. How much more government will Americans tolerate?
[. . .]
Polls show concern about the size of government and the mushrooming deficits under Obama’s policies. For some time, the polls also have shown public skepticism about the president’s efforts to use federal money to save General Motors. Obama’s effort to include a public health insurance plan as part of the overall health care reform package has become a flash point in that debate.
Those findings represent flashing yellow lights for the administration, which is why the president has moved, symbolically and rhetorically at least, to counter any suggestions that he is a big-government Democrat. His rhetoric has consistently emphasized his commitment to restoring fiscal discipline as quickly as possible. But his efforts have been minimal in comparison to what he’s done to grow government, and there is little he can do in the short run.
Obama has largely relied on two tactics in attempting to clamp down on criticism of his enormous government expansion. However, they are of limited utility. First, as Pete has ably pointed out, Obama has tried to deny what he is doing. Mainstream media reporters don’t usually directly rebut the president when he comes out with his fantastical claims (e.g. he doesn’t want to run a car company, he doesn’t like big government), so he has maintained an aura of reason and moderation. Nevertheless, people can see a reality, which belies the president’s rhetoric — a GM takeover, a huge deficit, etc. So the pretty words are no longer casting a spell over the public.
Second, Obama has been banking on the disorganization of his opposition. As Balz explains:
Obama is lucky to have an opposition party that has so many of its own problems. But that will be of only limited comfort to him in the coming months. The public may disapprove of the Republicans, but they can easily start turning against the president if he doesn’t deliver what he’s promised. Five months after his inauguration, reality is beginning to sink in.
We saw with his ill-fated face-off with Dick Cheney that the president invests too heavily in his own popularity and the unpopularity of his foes, forgetting (or ignoring) that the substance of his opponents’ arguments are well grounded in fact and actually more closely mirror public opinion than his own.
If the president is relying on the notion that he is better liked or more charming than his political foes, he may be in for a rude awakening. Popularity is fleeting — and results and facts matter.
President Barack Obama is not likely to negotiate Iran’s nuclear weapons program and support for Hamas and Hezbollah out of existence with men like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei. It is insanely not in the regime’s interest to abrogate its status as a mini regional superpower without being forced. A democratic Iranian government would almost certainly cease and desist its toxic support for terrorist organizations and fascist political movements abroad, but it also wouldn’t likely give up its power to shape the Middle East. Powerful countries with quasi-imperial ambitions do not transform themselves into Belgium without something catastrophic happening first.
What Robert Kaplan wrote about Iran in Foreign Policy recently will most likely apply to a liberalized Iran as much as it does to a Khomeinist Iran. “Of all the shatter zones in the greater Middle East,” he wrote, “the Iranian core is unique: The instability Iran will cause will not come from its implosion, but from a strong, internally coherent Iranian nation that explodes outward from a natural geographic platform to shatter the region around it.”
I spoke to Kaplan in Washington last week before Iran’s election and its tumultuous aftermath. A moderate Iran, he said, will be “an incredibly attractive power. And then we will really see a greater Iran. Iranian influence will increase with a more moderate regime for cultural reasons. Because of the soft power of Persian culture.”
A more liberal Iran could also transform the region by kneecapping terrorist armies created and funded by the current regime.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt understands very well that his country’s Hezbollah problem can only be resolved, at least in the short term, by Iran. “The solution is not in Lebanon,” he told me. “The solution is in Tehran.”
Nothing like this will happen while Khamenei and Ahmadinejad rule, and it might not happen if Mir Hossein Mousavi ends up in the saddle. The Khomeinist regime spent years and millions of dollars to acquire its hard power assets in the Middle East, and it’s on the brink of acquiring the greatest hard power asset of all – a nuclear weapon. Offers of economic incentives and normal relations with this gang in return for their voluntary amputation of overseas instruments of power like Hezbollah is, I’m sorry to say, wishful thinking. For thirty years they have made it abundantly clear that they would rather rule a poor but powerful, confrontational, and ideological nation than a prosperous and moderate one.
President Obama has his choice of bad and worse options with the current regime, but an internal overthrow may well cut the Gordian Knot and resolve a host of problems all by itself. There may not be much he can do to hasten the process along or boost the odds of it happening, but it’s what he should hope for. It’s what we all ought to hope for right now.
Paul Berman said it best years ago in the final two sentences of his book Terror and Liberalism. “Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others.”
It’s in! It’s out! The Graham-Lieberman detainee abuse photo ban, stripped out by the Democratic House leadership from the defense supplemental spending bill is now its own piece of legislation, passed unanimously by the Senate. This report explains:
The Senate passed by unanimous consent Wednesday a bill that would prevent the release of controversial photos of alleged U.S. abuse of prisoners and detainees.
Sen. Lindsey Graham says if necessary, the White House will classify the photos to keep them out of the public eye.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, had originally been part of the war funding supplemental bill passed Tuesday by the House.
[ . . .]
Before the Senate vote, Graham told his colleagues from the Senate floor that President Barack Obama “would sign … an executive order” classifying the photographs unless Congress acted to prevent their release.
The ACLU has gone to court to argue for release of the photos under the Freedom of Information Act. The lawyers won a Circuit Court ruling agreeing they should be made public.
The Obama administration, which initially indicated a willingness to release the photos, bowed to fears of military commanders and reversed course, announcing it is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Where what will happen? As Fox reports, “The Senate bill now heads to the House, where it once again faces the likelihood of Democratic opposition.”
This seems to be a stand-off — between Nancy Pelosi and the White House. Will Pelosi and the House leadership relent and pass the measure? Or will the president have to keep his word and pass an executive order to prevent the release of the photos, which he thinks would trigger violence and the deaths of U.S. troops? It’s remarkable how hard it is to get this through. You’d think Congress and the White House would be arm-wrestling over who should get credit for rushing to the aid of our troops. Hardly.
Several recent media criticisms are worth reading, including Charles Krauthammer, Andrew Ferguson, and Noemie Emery. The three together offer witty and piercing commentaries on how enraptured vast regions of the media are with Barack Obama.
These comments should be seen in the context of John Harwood’s interview earlier this week with Obama. Harwood told the president that “media critics would say not only has it not come, but that you have gotten such favorable press — either because of bias or because you’re good box office — that it’s hurting the country, because you’re not being sufficiently held accountable for your policies.” Obama responded by saying, “it’s very hard for me to swallow that one. First of all, I’ve got one television station entirely devoted to attacking my administration.” Harwood responded, “I assume you’re talking about Fox.” To which Obama said, “Well, that’s a pretty big megaphone. And you’d be hard-pressed, if you watched the entire day, to find a positive story about me on that front.”
This exchange is revealing on several fronts. First, it demonstrates that Obama — who is (literally) compared to God by some journalists, who sends a thrill up the leg of others, and who causes reporters and editors to weep and choke up with emotion in simply thinking about The One — apparently believes he deserves worshipful coverage across the board; when he doesn’t receive it, he views it as a grave injustice. It warrants a stronger response from him than, say, the repression of freedom in Iran.
Second, it tells us something about Fox, which is willing to “speak truth to power” even when power comes in the form of a liberal, urbane, handsome, and sophisticated figure. There are a few other reporters here and there who take their journalistic duties seriously when it comes to Obama. But for the most part the media is, as Krauthammer said, so in the tank they ought to get scuba gear.
Third, the Obama Effect has unmasked the media. In the past, MSM reporters would argue that they were objective — or, if they were not, their own political views certainly did not shape their coverage. Or so they said. Their biases of course did shape their coverage — in both the stories they chose to cover and in how they chose to cover them. But with Obama the enchantment is so deep, the emotional investment so intense, the glamorous appeal so irresistible, that the pretensions of objectivity have pretty much vanished. In that sense, what is happening is probably useful.
Many quarters of the media have become an arm of the Obama operation. He is their prince, and they remain his courtiers. It is all rather embarrassing to journalism and, one would assume, to the serious journalists who inhabit that world.
The A.P. reports on the North Koreans’ plans to fire a missile toward Hawaii next month:
The missile, believed to be a long-range Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), would be launched from North Korea’s Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, said the Yomiuri daily, Japan’s top-selling newspaper. The report cited an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
[. . .]
In Washington on Tuesday, Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it would take at least three to five years for North Korea to pose a real threat to the West Coast of the United States.
Say what? In three to five years North Korean missiles — potentially nuclear-armed ones — could threaten the U.S.? That might figure into the debate on missile defense cuts proposed by the Obama administration. Fox News reports that “Lawmakers are demanding to know why the president’s proposed 2010 defense budget cuts missile defense by $1.2 billion and does not provide any funds for the European missile defense shield as Iran and North Korea defy the international community with missile testing.” There’s puzzlement in both parties. John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Mark Begich have all expressed concern about Obama’s steep cuts. The report adds:
The European interceptors would provide an added layer of protection to the U.S. from potential Iranian missiles. But the Pentagon is now looking at basing the interceptors onboard ships, or mobile launchers at existing U.S. army bases in Europe. But that capability won’t be ready for eight years, a former missile defense official said.
A recent Congressional Budget Office report found, “None of the alternatives considered by CBO provide as much additional defense of the United States.”
The Fox News report notes that perhaps the budget could change ”if North Korea proceeds to develop its long-range missile capacity.” Well, it seems that is happening right now. So will the Obama administration restore the cuts? Stay tuned.
I do not trust Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. He is part of the Khomeinist establishment, although a crudely sidelined one at the moment. His record as former prime minister isn’t much more attractive than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s record as president.
The democracy movement is rallying around him, but the activists should be careful. Ruhollah Khomeini managed to convince Iranian liberals and leftists to forge an alliance with him to topple the Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979, but he brutally smashed them once the revolution swept the old regime out of power. Alliances between liberals and Islamists is extraordinarily dangerous – for liberals.
At the same time, though, it’s possible that Mousavi has changed. Michael Ledeen seems to think so. “He is not a revolutionary leader,” he wrote, “he is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him…Whatever plans Mousavi had for a gradual transformation of the Islamic Republic, they have been overtaken by events.”
Robert F. Worth published an interesting profile of him in the New York Times. “[Mousavi] is far from being a liberal in the Western sense,” he cautiously wrote, “and it is not yet clear how far he will be willing to go in defending the broad democratic hopes he has come to embody.”
There are some interesting anecdotes in Worth’s piece, though we should be careful before assuming all this is true:
Yet like many founding figures of the revolution, he has come to believe that the incendiary radicalism of the revolution’s early days must be tempered in an era of peace and state-building, those who know him say. Some have seen a symbolic meaning in his decision to make Monday’s vast demonstration in Tehran a march from Enghelab (revolution) Square to Azadi (freedom) Square.
“He is a hybrid child of the revolution,” said Shahram Kholdi, a lecturer at the University of Manchester who has written about Mr. Moussavi’s political evolution. “He is committed to Islamic principles but has liberal aspirations.”
Although he is deeply religious, Mr. Moussavi (the name is also often rendered in English as Mir Hossein Mousavi) appears to hold relatively liberal social views. His wife is a well-known professor of political science who has campaigned alongside him, often giving speeches and news conferences independently. When they were younger, he was sometimes introduced as “the husband of Zahra Rahnavard.” His wife promised that if he was elected, he would advance women’s rights and appoint “at least two or three women” to the cabinet.
His oldest daughter is a nuclear physicist. The youngest prefers not to wear the Islamic chador, and her parents do not mind, the relative said. “There has never been any compulsion in the family,” the relative added.
In recent years, Mr. Moussavi was deeply dismayed by the excesses of the morality police and by the government’s decisions to shut down newspapers, his relative said.
He decided to run for president earlier this year to save Iran from what he said were Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “destructive” policies.
Mousavi himself probably doesn’t know what his agenda will be a week or a month from today if he’s still alive and out of prison. If he wins the internal power struggle, topples “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, and becomes president, he might end up more Khrushchev than Gorbachev. History, though, is moving at light speed in Iran. And human personalities can be powerfully transformed during volcanic upheavals where the stakes are victory or destruction.
Sam Stein reports:
Senator Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday, that the White House had assured him that the president was still committed to preventing the release of photos showing detainee abuse — and that he would prefer Congress take the lead.
Speaking at a hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder, the South Carolina Republican relayed a message from Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the president was not backing down on the issue.
“I just talked with the White House a moment ago, with Rahm Emanuel,” Graham said. “And he has indicated to me that the president would not let these photos see the light of day. That he would prefer the Congress to act.
To recap, the Justice Department told the president he had no choice but to submit to a decision of the Second Circuit ordering the release of detainee abuse photos. Criticism ensued. Obama reversed his decision, saying that the Pentagon told him American troops would die from the resulting backlash if the photos were released. He then did nothing other than change his position in court. Sens. Lieberman and Graham put forth an amendment to make sure the president’s decision was carried out. The House Democrats balked. The amendment came out of the defense spending bill, but the president said he’d take care of it. Now, he wants Congress to do this.
Why does the president find it so hard to do this himself? Why not sign an executive order and be done with it? It seems like an extraordinary amount of hassle and an act of political cowardice to make Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid come up with the legislative mechanism when, with the stroke of a pen, Obama could settle the issue. It is hard to believe that the president so fears his netroot base that he is hoping to insulate himself from the ACLU’s criticism by deferring to Congress. After all, I think the ACLU has figured out that the president isn’t with them on this one.
In February 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We are going to work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom in their own country.” She requested, and was granted, $75 million dollars to be put toward the effort. What became known as the “Democracy fund” for Iran was routinely slammed as unnecessarily confrontational by critics of robust democracy promotion.
Realists, isolationists, and simple Obamatons can proceed as cautiously as they like, but there’s reason to believe that the Bush administration’s “meddling” may have played some role in the revolt we see today. Consider this June 2007 New York Times magazine article’s account of a U.S.-funded Iranian “human rights workshop” held in Dubai:
Over three sets of sessions, [Iranians] were not only given some basic human rights and health training but also a session on successful popular revolts in places like Serbia, conducted by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a Washington-based group. At least two members of Otpor – the Serbian youth movement instrumental in ousting Slobodan Milosevic – were present. Portions of “A Force More Powerful,” a three-hour documentary series featuring civil-resistance movements overcoming authoritarian rule around the world, was also screened.
Further sessions included a lesson on how to use Hushmail (an encrypted e-mail account) and a secure open-source software called Martus designed to store information about human rights abuses. With the press of a single button, you can upload information to a server and erase any trace of the file from your computer. Each participant was given the software to take back to Tehran. One participant recently told me: “We were certain that we would have trouble once we went back to Tehran. This was like a James Bond camp for revolutionaries.”
Today, organized youth movements and Internet technology are at the very core of the Iranian protests. This workshop was held in early 2005, when the State Deparment’s budget for democracy promotion in Iran was closer to $1 million than $75 million. With Condoleezza Rice’s request granted a year later, it’s not hard to see how the Dubai model could have been expanded.
The outcry from the anti-Bush crowd began to chip away slightly at the sums allocated for democracy promotion in Iran. By 2008, $60 million was “made available to promote democracy, the rule of law, and governance in Iran.” That’s $15 million less than the high point, but still tens of millions more than the amount that went into the “James Bond camp for revolutionaries.”
For the past few years we’ve spent hundreds of millions promoting democracy in Iran only to have President Barack Obama sit on his hands when Iranians take to the streets to demand it themselves. There’s something tragically familiar in this. In the early 1950s President Eisenhower encouraged Hungarians to fight back against their Soviet oppressors. As Ralph Peters puts it in today’s New York Post, “When they did, we watched from the sidelines as Russian tanks drove over them.” On February 15, 1991, about a week before the Gulf War ceasefire, President George H.W. Bush said on Voice of America radio: “There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: And that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations.” Weeks later, Iraqi Kurds and Shiites rose up. While they were crushed and executed en masse by Saddam, President Bush played down the significance of the conflict and distanced the U.S. from the revolutionaries. The anger this seeded in the Iraqi population came back at the U.S. in spades when Saddam’s regime could no longer be mollified.
The problem is not that the U.S. “meddles.” It’s that it meddles until it doesn’t. And that not only creates distrust among hopeful peoples around the world; it leaves conflicts festering until such time that their resolution is both critical and formidably difficult. If the situation in Iran passes quietly from uprising to mourning, don’t think we won’t have created a whole new army of burned former allies.
Unconfirmed reports are circulating that Iran’s former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani is in the city of Qom trying to convince the Assembly of Experts to remove “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, the man who has been Iran’s real tyrant since the death of Ruhollah Khomeini. The clerics in the Assembly have the constitutional power to remove Khamenei, though it’s impossible to say if much would change if they did. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad’s men in the Revolutionary Guards, Basij militia, and Ansar Hezbollah have most of the firepower.
Then again, there is only so much the security forces can do if most of the country is against them. “If the clergy become Khamenei’s enemy, just think about it,” Shahram Kholdi at University of Manchester said to Neil MacFarquhar at the New York Times. “The shah made Qum his enemy, and they did not cease to plot against him until he was overthrown.”
It will be far better for the people of Iran and the rest of the world if the entire system is scrapped and replaced with a properly functioning democracy. Not even a “moderate” Khomeinist like Mir Hossein Mousavi would likely win an election in Iran if every political faction in the country could nominate its own candidates.
It’s possible, though, that an Iran with Mousavi as president and without Khamenei as “Supreme Guide” will tread more lightly on its citizens and its neighbors in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq. Even founders and co-founders of ideological regimes sometimes mellow with age. Deng Xiaoping steered China out of Maoism, though not to democracy. China has not been a dangerous ideological power since.
Deng was no friend of Chinese democrats, though, and the idealistic young people in the streets of Iran rallying around Mousavi would be wise to remember that. It was Deng’s China, not Mao’s, that murdered the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.
Iran today looks like it did in 1979 for a number of reasons. Such massive demonstrations against the government haven’t erupted once since the Shah Reza Pahlavi fell. And many – it’s hard to say how many – of the demonstrators are demanding an outright overthrow of the regime.
There is a difference this time, however. The political crisis was ignited by a coup d’etat by one part of the regime against another, as if a sitting president of the United States struck a blow against Congress as well as the electorate and sent the Marines into the streets to crack heads. The current uprising, then, is supported and even led by a large part of Iran’s sidelined ruling establishment. Many of these establishment members themselves took part in the 1979 revolution.
Reza Aslan on the Rachel Maddow show elaborated yesterday.
What’s really fascinating about what’s happening right now in 2009 is that it looks a lot like what was happening in 1979. And there’s a very simple reason for that. The same people are in charge — I mean, Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Medhi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate — these were all the original revolutionaries who brought down the Shah to begin with, so they know how to do this right.
And so what you’re going to see tomorrow is something that was pulled exactly out of the playbook of 1979, which is that you have these massive mourning rallies, where you mourn the deaths of those who were martyred in the cause of freedom. And these things tend to get a little bit out of control, they often result in even more violence by the security forces and even more deaths, which then requires another mourning rally which is even larger, which then requires more violence from the government, and this just becomes an ongoing snowball that can’t be stopped.
That’s how the Shah was removed from power, was these mourning ceremonies. And so Mousavi very smartly calling for an official — not a rally — but an official day of mourning tomorrow. I think we’re going to see crowds that we haven’t even begun to see yet, and then follow that, on Friday, which is sort of the Muslim sabbath, the day of prayer, which is a traditionally a day of gathering anyway. This is just beginning, Rachel, this is just the beginning.
Only 7% consider healthcare to be the top priority. Jobs draw 19% and the economy gets 38%. On the economy, his approval ranks lower than his overall job approval (55%) as he does on health care (44%). On the auto industry — fewer approve (41%) than not (46%). On the issue of whether government should do more or is doing too much that should be left to business and individuals, 34% say it should do more and 56% say it’s already doing too much; 52% say we should not spend money but reduce the deficit; only 41% say we should do the reverse; 60% say the Obama administration has no clear plan for dealing with the deficit. By a 51-34% margin, respondents want to keep Guantanamo open.
Other polls show even worse news for Obama’s personal approval and support for his policies. From the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll we learn “His job approval rating now stands at 56%, down from 61% in April. Among independents, it dropped from nearly two-to-one approval to closely divided.” And there is more:
“The public is really moving from evaluating him as a charismatic and charming leader to his specific handling of the challenges facing the country,” says Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster who conducts the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. Going forward, he says, Mr. Obama and his allies “are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters.”
[. . .]
There’s good news for the administration, too, including tentative support for Mr. Obama’s health-care plan and approval Nearly seven in 10 survey respondents said they had concerns about federal interventions into the economy, including Mr. Obama’s decision to take an ownership stake in General Motors Corp., limits on executive compensation and the prospect of more government involvement in health care. The negative feeling toward the GM rescue was reflected elsewhere in the survey as well.
A solid majority — 58% — said that the president and Congress should focus on keeping the budget deficit down, even if takes longer for the economy to recover.
At some point the public may discover that Obama is the one who took over GM, has racked up the biggest deficit in history, wants government to do more and more, and is trying to close Guantanamo. Then the president might have a serious problem. Despite the fondest hopes of the Left it seems there isn’t a groundswell of support for the things he is doing.
In what now amounts to one of my more tiresome public services, I will once again take a moment to respond to a Joe Klein outburst, this time criticizing something I wrote earlier this week. Klein writes:
Pete Wehner has a post at the Commentary blog comparing Iran in 2009 to the Soviet Union of the 1980′s which, of course, is completely ridiculous. I visited Russia back in the day and I’ve now visited Iran twice. There is no comparison. The Soviet Union was the most repressive place I’ve ever been; its residents lived in constant terror. I’ll never forget my first translator in Moscow telling me that his parents had trained him never to smile in public –i t could easily be misinterpreted and then he’d be off to the Gulag. There was no internet in those days, no cellphones, no facebook or twitter.
Iran, by contrast, is breezy with freedom. It is certainly freer now, despite Ahmadinejad, than it was when I first visited in 2001. There are satellites dishes all over the place, which bring accurate news via BBC Persia and the Voice of America. The place is awash in western music, movies and books. The Supreme Leader has a website; ayatollahs are blogging. You can get the New York Times and CNN online. (I was interested to find, however, that most blogs except those, like this one, that are associated with a mainstream media outlet, are filtered by the government.) There is, in fact, marginally more freedom of expression in Iran than in some notable U.S. allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia — although the danger of imprisonment always exists if a journalist or politician takes it a step too far for the Supreme Leader’s watchdogs. It is not even clear that Ahmadinejad — who has significant backing from the sort of people who support Republicans here (the elderly, the religious extremists) plus a real following among working-class Iranians — would have lost this election, if the votes had been counted fairly. (I tend to believe that they weren’t counted at all, but that’s just my opinion.)
The point is, neoconservatives like McCain and Wehner just can’t seem to quit their dangerous habit of making broad, extreme statements based on ideology rather than detailed knowledge of the situation in Iran and elsewhere. This was always the main problem with McCain’s candidacy — he would have been a trigger-happy President, just as Wehner’s old boss, George W. Bush, was. We are well out of that.
Let’s quickly untangle Joe’s arguments.
1. My reference to the Soviet Union was in the context of how Reagan’s words inspired dissidents (which they indisputably did). While writing in a related follow up post that “[r]easonable people can differ on what approach to take,” my view is that appropriate words from Obama might do the same thing in the context of Iran. And in saying, “It is a useful contrast, I think, between how Reagan approached brutal and terror-sponsoring regimes and how Obama does,” does Klein dispute that Iran is both (or either)? According to a study by Freedom House, “there is near consensus on two assessments: the Islamic Republic is one of the most despotic regimes in the world, and it represents one of the biggest challenges facing the new U.S. administration.” And according to the 2008 State Department report on terrorism, ” Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism.” What terribly inconvenient conclusions for Joe. And by the way: Do these authoritative reports make Iran sound like a nation “breezy with freedom” to you?
2. Klein constantly refers to his travels abroad, as if they provide him sapience in commenting on foreign policy matters. The problem is that Klein has been mistaken in his analysis of foreign policy issue after foreign policy issue. For example, Klein, who loves to broadcast his travels to Iraq, was a vocal opponent of the surge — which almost everyone now concedes has been a tremendous success. If President Bush had followed Klein’s counsel, the Iraq war would have been lost and the country would have become a scene of mass death and probably genocide. Iran and al Qaeda would have notched two huge victories. And America would have suffered a terrible blow. Fortunately Bush was right while Klein was as wrong as wrong can be.
In the arguments he offers, Klein is making a category error. He mistakes frequent flyer miles for wisdom, and overseas passports for insight. Joe is a man so consistently and, at times, comically wrong in his analysis, that he is becoming an advertisement for why, when it comes to commenting on foreign policy matters, it is better to stay at home than travel abroad. Why travel 7,000 miles to draw ideologically simplistic judgments? Klein is a political commentator who somewhere along the way convinced himself he was Henry Kissinger. It turns out he’s not even Warren Christopher.
3. Joe refers to George W. Bush as a “trigger-happy President.” Here’s the thing, though: Klein supported both of the wars that happened on Bush’s watch — Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Which I suppose makes Joe a “trigger-happy Pundit.” And an increasingly self-deluded one as well.
The Washington Post reports:
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to explain the administration’s thinking, said U.S. officials want to “keep faith” with the demonstrators, letting the government know “the world is watching,” to avoid a bloody denouement. But he said the odds are slim that Khamenei will somehow lose power. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that they are enriching uranium every day,” he said. “They were a threat before the election. They are a threat today, and the clock keeps ticking.”
So much for the theory that the cagey Obama was simply finding the best way possible to help the protesters. Rather, as many of us suspected, Obama has placed his bets on the mullahs. It simply isn’t worth offending the regime. Because — yes, you’ve heard it before — nothing has changed and the Obama team, like a dog searching for an imaginary buried bone, has to go digging for the Grand Bargain.
It is not simply a failure of imagination (could we be witnessing a once-in-a-generation opportunity for regime change?) or morality (are we enabling a brutal crackdown?), but of common sense. There is no inkling that engaging the regime, should it survive, will be any more productive than things were pre-crackdown. There is no concern that either the American public or the world community will recoil as Obama continues to ingratiate himself with the regime, which, if it does survive by an exercise in extraordinary repression, will be universally loathed. Nor does the administration consider this an opportunity to finally galvanize world opinion for more stringent sanctions.
In the hermetically sealed vision of Obama and his “realists,” none of the real-world events are permitted to impact “Plan A” — which is engagement. Perhaps they can’t give up Plan A because there is no Plan B. And they haven’t the good sense to realize that Plan B may be millions of Iranians who have taken to the streets.
Not from the Onion…. honest:
The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants the flyswatter in chief to try taking a more humane attitude the next time he’s bedeviled by a fly in the White House.
PETA is sending President Barack Obama a Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher, a device that allows users to trap a house fly and then release it outside.
“We support compassion even for the most curious, smallest and least sympathetic animals,” PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich said Wednesday.
“We believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals.”
During an interview for CNBC at the White House on Tuesday, a fly intruded on Obama’s conversation with correspondent John Harwood.
“Get out of here,” the president told the pesky insect. When it didn’t, he waited for the fly to settle, put his hand up and then smacked it dead.
“Now, where were we?” Obama asked Harwood. Then he added: “That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it? I got the sucker.”
A Tea Party activist runs for U.S. Senate.
Israel tells Hillary Clinton to forget about a settlement freeze: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday that Israel could not accept the Obama administration’s demand to ‘completely’ halt activity in West Bank settlements. ‘We have no intention to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria,’ Lieberman said during his talks with the secretary of state in Washington. ‘Everywhere people are born, people die, and we cannot accept a vision of stopping completely the settlements. We have to keep the natural growth.’”
The Wall Street Journal editors note how little credit Netanyahu is getting for bucking his party and offering a two-state solution. “As for the Palestinians, for too long they have practiced a kind of fantasy politics, in which all right was on their side, concession was dishonor, and mistakes never had consequences. It hasn’t earned them much. Mr. Netanyahu’s speech now offers them the choice between fantasy and statehood. Judging from early reactions, they’re choosing wrongly again.”
David Shuster apologizes for making up stuff about Joe Lieberman. Hasn’t he set the land record for on-air apologies, even for MSNBC?
The public likes the president but not his policies: “A substantial majority of Americans say President Obama has not developed a strategy to deal with the budget deficit, and support for Mr. Obama’s plans to overhaul health care, rescue the auto industry and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay falls well below his job approval ratings, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.”
The F-22 isn’t dead yet: “A House committee threw a wrench in the Obama administration’s plans to end Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-22 Raptor fighter program, voting instead to add $369 million in extra funding to keep production of the Air Force’s most advanced jet alive.”
Will cap-and-trade become an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race?
Maybe not all the uninsured people out there want health insurance.
Karl Rove describes some of the Republican ideas on healthcare and concludes: “As the debate now shifts from broad generalities to the specifics of how health-care reform would work and how the government will pay for it, the GOP has an opportunity to stop the nationalization of the health-care industry. The more scrutiny it gets, the less appealing Obama-Care will become. And the more Democrats have to talk about creating a new value-added tax or junk food taxes to pay for it, the more Americans will recoil.” And, he argues, that “if the debate is whether to go with costly, unnecessary reforms or with common-sense changes, then Republicans have a chance to appeal to fiscally conservative independents and Democrats and win this one.”
I know you are shocked, just shocked to find out that Big Labor endorses Jon Corzine. Here, the two candidates mix it up. I suspect as long as both are talking about Corzine’s record Chris Christie is quite pleased.
In Virginia, Obama is helping raise money for Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell is recouping Republican business leaders who previously supported moderate Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Steven Calabresi needs to stop giving Obama ideas: “We now have Obama Cars, Obama Banks, Obama Windmills, and Obama Bailouts. We have been promised Obama Health Care and, today, Obama Mortgages. My question is when will we get Obama supermarkets, Obama gas stations, Obama schools, and neighborhood Obama lemonade stands? Is there anything that Obama and the government think they cannot do better than the private sector?” The answer is “no,” by the way.
Roger Clegg observes that “ it’s always amusing when liberals try to tell conservatives how to apply our judicial philosophy, and not just because they always get it wrong. As Andy Rooney might put it: Ever notice how liberals are always telling conservatives how to apply their judicial philosophy, but conservatives never tell liberals how to apply theirs? Why is that? Well, Andy, the reason is that liberals have no coherent, objective philosophy, so it’s impossible to accuse them of misapplying it.”
The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have two articles in today’s papers that tell essentially the same story. The headline from the Times is “Poll Finds Unease With Obama on Key Issues.” It’s followed by this:
A substantial majority of Americans say President Obama has not developed a strategy to deal with the budget deficit, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, which also found that support for his plans to overhaul health care, rescue the auto industry and close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, falls well below his job approval ratings.
The poll found a distinct gulf between Mr. Obama’s overall standing and how some of his key initiatives are viewed, with fewer than half of Americans saying they approve of how he has handled health care and the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler. A majority of people said his policies have had either no effect yet on improving the economy or had made it worse, underscoring how his political strength still rests on faith in his leadership rather than concrete results.
The headline in the Journal, “Public Wary of Deficit, Economic Intervention,” is followed by this:
After a fairly smooth opening, President Barack Obama faces new concerns among the American public about the budget deficit and government intervention in the economy as he works to enact ambitious health and energy legislation, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.
These rising doubts threaten to overshadow the president’s personal popularity and his agenda, in what may be a new phase of the Obama presidency.
“The public is really moving from evaluating him as a charismatic and charming leader to his specific handling of the challenges facing the country,” says Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster who conducts the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. Going forward, he says, Mr. Obama and his allies “are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters.”
This reinforces what I wrote earlier in the week. The waters are, as Hart says, getting pretty choppy. And what ought to alarm Team Obama is that the winds are almost surely going to get worse, and maybe far worse, rather than better. Right now the deficit and debt, while monstrous, are fairly abstract concerns to most voters. What will rock the Obama boat most of all, I think, is when the real-world effects of these things – in the form of higher interest rates, higher inflation, a sputtering economy and, soon, large tax increases – are felt in everyday lives. Then words like “unease” and “wary” will give way to words like “deep concern” and “angry.” Obama’s personal popularity, while still impressive, will not escape unscathed; and neither will his party.
Barack Obama, who to be fair came to office confronting huge fiscal challenges, decided to exacerbate them rather than ameliorate them. He decided to use the financial crisis to push through a 30-year-old liberal wish list, from the so-called stimulus package, to the omnibus spending bill, to the budget, to (they hope) nationalizing health care. He is committed to a course of action, and there is no turning back at this point. I suspect it’s a decision Mr. Obama will come to rue.
As was commented upon here at CONTENTIONS, and widely reported and remarked upon elsewhere, the Obama Justice Department took the unusual action last month of dismissing a default judgment against the New Black Panther Party in connection with a case of voter intimidation on Election Day on November 4, 2008. Members of the NBPP were caught on film blocking access to the polls and physically and verbally intimidating voters, even going so far as to wield a nightstick in front of voters and poll watchers. The Justice Department’s lawyers gathered evidence, obtained the affidavit of former civil rights advocate Bartle Bull, and filed a complaint. When the defendants did not respond and the court invited the Justice Department to file a default judgment, the case was inexplicably withdrawn.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has now taken up the issue and sent a letter to Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, demanding an explanation. By a vote of 4-0 (with one member abstaining for reasons not yet clear), the Commission members voted to send the letter seeking to get to the bottom of this. After setting out the facts which gave rise to the original Justice Department complaint, the Commissioners explain:
Though it had basically won the case and could have submitted a motion for default judgment against the Party and its members for failing to respond to the Division’s complaint, the Division took the unusual move of voluntarily dismissing the charges against all but the defendant who waived [sic] the nightstick. Yet even as to that remaining defendant, the only relief the Division requested was weak – an injunction prohibiting him from displaying the weapon within 100 feet of any polling place in Philadelphia. It has since been revealed that one of the defendants had been carrying credentials as a member of, and poll watcher for, the local Democratic committee.
The Commissioners write that the previously announced efforts by the Justice Department to play an aggressive role in enforcing voting rights “ring hollow if they are not accompanied by swift, decisive action to prosecute obvious violators.” The Commissioners ask that the Civil Rights Division advise the Commission of the rationale for dismissing the charges against defendants and of its evidentiary and legal standards for dismissing certain charges in cases of alleged voter intimidation.” They further ask for information on “any similar cases in which CRD has dismissed charges against a defendant.”
It should be noted that Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has already sent a similar letter to the Justice Department demanding an explanation for the dismissal. It should also be noted that if the Justice Department stonewalls, the Commission does have the right to issue subpoenas and to investigate the matter further. Perhaps the Commission will get to the bottom of this issue and determine who in the Justice Department overrode the decisions of career lawyers and why the Justice Department chose to abandon a successful prosecution of the most egregious case of voter intimidation in recent memory.
What is even more remarkable in this already eye-popping story is that an independent commission has been forced to take this matter up because the relevant oversight committees in Congress have failed to hold a single hearing concerning the matter. One would think those in Congress who squawked so loudly about alleged failure in the Bush administration to enforce civil rights laws and who objected so strenuously to “politcization” of justice by appointees meddling with the work of career attorneys would have shown more interest in the matter.