Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 21, 2009

Re: Presidential Popularity

In the wave of Obama’s recent bad poll numbers came this nugget in the USA Today/Gallup poll: “At six months in office, Obama’s 55% approval rating puts him 10th among the 12 post–World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked seventh.” Tenth of twelve? How could it be that a “sort of a God” is in the bottom quartile? Well, a “sort of God” turned out to be far from infallible. He overpromised and underperformed on the economy, spent more than voters dreamed, and decided to hawk a left-wing agenda.

The comparative lousiness of his poll numbers does in some way burst the bubble of wonderfulness that the White House and media concocted around Obama. He isn’t, it seems, the most beloved leader of our lifetime. He’s not the most popular president ever. Not even close.

This might not mean so much had the Obama spinners not made such a big deal of his popularity. In lieu of substantive arguments in support of his policies, they often resorted to simply quoting poll numbers, asserting how silly it was to quibble with a president as astronomically popular as he. Rather than disclaim interest in poll numbers, his team reveled in them. So now what?

Well, perhaps now that he’s come crashing back down to mediocrity (isn’t that what you’d call a tenth of 12 president whose signature economic plan has flopped?), it would be helpful to keep several things in mind.

First, political success and failure are fleeting things. Obama’s fortunes might just bounce back — provided the economy does too, and he swings to the center of the political spectrum. Ultimately, he’ll be judged by the results of his policies, at least those he can get through Congress.

Second, it may be time (mainstream media, that means you!) to start assessing him on what he accomplishes and whether his rhetoric matches his actions, just like all those other presidents. We may see a bit more critical coverage and even some outright skepticism.

And third, lawmakers will (as they have already begun to) need to think for themselves, challenge the White House on its spin, and exercise some appropriate check on the executive branch. Their political lives will depend on it. If they don’t intend to tie their fate to Obama’s and risk a meltdown in 2010, they just might have to consider why it is that the public is voicing disapproval. Less government? Fewer tax-hike schemes? All worth pondering.

But Obama and his team got one thing right. They sensed that there was a sliver of time to get through his audacious and radical agenda before the public caught on and sticker shock set in. They did, however, underestimate the speed at which that window of time would close. And the result for Democrats is an unnerving breakdown in the president’s agenda and popularity. We’ll now see whether Obama can pull himself out of a slump and his agenda out of the ditch.

In the wave of Obama’s recent bad poll numbers came this nugget in the USA Today/Gallup poll: “At six months in office, Obama’s 55% approval rating puts him 10th among the 12 post–World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked seventh.” Tenth of twelve? How could it be that a “sort of a God” is in the bottom quartile? Well, a “sort of God” turned out to be far from infallible. He overpromised and underperformed on the economy, spent more than voters dreamed, and decided to hawk a left-wing agenda.

The comparative lousiness of his poll numbers does in some way burst the bubble of wonderfulness that the White House and media concocted around Obama. He isn’t, it seems, the most beloved leader of our lifetime. He’s not the most popular president ever. Not even close.

This might not mean so much had the Obama spinners not made such a big deal of his popularity. In lieu of substantive arguments in support of his policies, they often resorted to simply quoting poll numbers, asserting how silly it was to quibble with a president as astronomically popular as he. Rather than disclaim interest in poll numbers, his team reveled in them. So now what?

Well, perhaps now that he’s come crashing back down to mediocrity (isn’t that what you’d call a tenth of 12 president whose signature economic plan has flopped?), it would be helpful to keep several things in mind.

First, political success and failure are fleeting things. Obama’s fortunes might just bounce back — provided the economy does too, and he swings to the center of the political spectrum. Ultimately, he’ll be judged by the results of his policies, at least those he can get through Congress.

Second, it may be time (mainstream media, that means you!) to start assessing him on what he accomplishes and whether his rhetoric matches his actions, just like all those other presidents. We may see a bit more critical coverage and even some outright skepticism.

And third, lawmakers will (as they have already begun to) need to think for themselves, challenge the White House on its spin, and exercise some appropriate check on the executive branch. Their political lives will depend on it. If they don’t intend to tie their fate to Obama’s and risk a meltdown in 2010, they just might have to consider why it is that the public is voicing disapproval. Less government? Fewer tax-hike schemes? All worth pondering.

But Obama and his team got one thing right. They sensed that there was a sliver of time to get through his audacious and radical agenda before the public caught on and sticker shock set in. They did, however, underestimate the speed at which that window of time would close. And the result for Democrats is an unnerving breakdown in the president’s agenda and popularity. We’ll now see whether Obama can pull himself out of a slump and his agenda out of the ditch.

Read Less

Presidential Popularity

USA Today has an astonishing interactive graph showing Gallop’s polling on presidential approval ratings since Harry Truman assumed the presidency on April 12, 1945, until today. I don’t think I have ever seen so much easily accessible information packed into so small a space. It’s huge fun to play with, as well as being immensely informative. Among the details that pop up:

At this point in his presidency, where does Barack Obama rank among the 12 post–World War II presidents? Tenth.

Who has the lowest approval rating? Harry Truman, at 22 percent in February 1952. (Richard Nixon was at 24 percent when he resigned.)

Who has the highest approval rating? George W. Bush, at 90 percent right after 9/11.

Who has the second highest? George H.W. Bush, at 89 percent after the success of the Gulf War.

What was Bill Clinton’s low point? 37 percent, in June 1993. He never fell below 50 percent after January 1996 and reached his high point (77 percent) in December 1998, just after he had been impeached.

Who had the most consistent approval ratings? Dwight Eisenhower, who only twice, and very briefly, dipped below 50 percent. His peak was right after his re-election in 1956, at 79 percent.

USA Today has an astonishing interactive graph showing Gallop’s polling on presidential approval ratings since Harry Truman assumed the presidency on April 12, 1945, until today. I don’t think I have ever seen so much easily accessible information packed into so small a space. It’s huge fun to play with, as well as being immensely informative. Among the details that pop up:

At this point in his presidency, where does Barack Obama rank among the 12 post–World War II presidents? Tenth.

Who has the lowest approval rating? Harry Truman, at 22 percent in February 1952. (Richard Nixon was at 24 percent when he resigned.)

Who has the highest approval rating? George W. Bush, at 90 percent right after 9/11.

Who has the second highest? George H.W. Bush, at 89 percent after the success of the Gulf War.

What was Bill Clinton’s low point? 37 percent, in June 1993. He never fell below 50 percent after January 1996 and reached his high point (77 percent) in December 1998, just after he had been impeached.

Who had the most consistent approval ratings? Dwight Eisenhower, who only twice, and very briefly, dipped below 50 percent. His peak was right after his re-election in 1956, at 79 percent.

Read Less

The Prime Minister of All Iraqis?

Not that it’s important enough for mainstream media to highlight, but that elusive thing known as Iraqi political reconciliation (remember when its absence was a sign of the apocalypse?) may be upon us:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki traveled to Anbar province, a visit that three years ago would have been considered a suicide mission into the cradle of the Sunni Arab resistance.

Now the Shiite Muslim leader, famously mistrustful of the sect that dominated Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign, was huddling with the head of the ruling Sunni coalition in Anbar, talking of the need to cut across sectarian lines in upcoming national elections.
Perhaps just as surprisingly, Maliki’s words were received favorably by tribesmen. “Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is patriotic and able to lead Iraq,” said provincial council member Arkan Khalaf Tarmouz, who attended the meeting two weeks ago. “It is possible to ally with him in a national coalition.”

Some think Maliki is striking a unity pose for political gain. But even the most cynical read is not that cynical: Maliki lost support among some fellow Shiites when he went after Muqtadr al-Sadr and other Iranian-backed forces. He needs Sunni support to stay alive politically. At this point, the Sunnis want unity, and all Iraqis want calm. Giving the people what they want means delivering reconciliation and security, and ultimately passing an oil law and revisions to the constitution. Where’s the problem? Saddam didn’t believe in jihad, but that didn’t make his Islamist overtures any less dangerous. If Maliki is being opportunistic about unity, it doesn’t make his attempt at reconciliation any less positive.

The usual disclaimers still apply. So do some new ones. In its hunger for full sovereignty, the Iraqi government may bite off more than it can chew on the security front. Also, as tensions subside between Sunnis and Shiites, a conflict is coming to a head between ethnicities in the oil-rich Kirkuk region. But whatever the real concerns, one line of nay-saying is edging ever closer to the trash bin of history. The great historical Shia-Sunni rift about which we’ve heard so much (and which Americans, in our bottomless ignorance, supposedly agitated) is not an insurmountable roadblock on the path to Muslim democracy. It’s a serious consideration that gains nothing from politicization.

We’ll do well to remember that when the articles, books, and “documentaries” about Afghanistan’s unbreakable tribal ties start to crowd the horizon. We are allowed to learn from our successes once in a while.

Not that it’s important enough for mainstream media to highlight, but that elusive thing known as Iraqi political reconciliation (remember when its absence was a sign of the apocalypse?) may be upon us:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki traveled to Anbar province, a visit that three years ago would have been considered a suicide mission into the cradle of the Sunni Arab resistance.

Now the Shiite Muslim leader, famously mistrustful of the sect that dominated Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign, was huddling with the head of the ruling Sunni coalition in Anbar, talking of the need to cut across sectarian lines in upcoming national elections.
Perhaps just as surprisingly, Maliki’s words were received favorably by tribesmen. “Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is patriotic and able to lead Iraq,” said provincial council member Arkan Khalaf Tarmouz, who attended the meeting two weeks ago. “It is possible to ally with him in a national coalition.”

Some think Maliki is striking a unity pose for political gain. But even the most cynical read is not that cynical: Maliki lost support among some fellow Shiites when he went after Muqtadr al-Sadr and other Iranian-backed forces. He needs Sunni support to stay alive politically. At this point, the Sunnis want unity, and all Iraqis want calm. Giving the people what they want means delivering reconciliation and security, and ultimately passing an oil law and revisions to the constitution. Where’s the problem? Saddam didn’t believe in jihad, but that didn’t make his Islamist overtures any less dangerous. If Maliki is being opportunistic about unity, it doesn’t make his attempt at reconciliation any less positive.

The usual disclaimers still apply. So do some new ones. In its hunger for full sovereignty, the Iraqi government may bite off more than it can chew on the security front. Also, as tensions subside between Sunnis and Shiites, a conflict is coming to a head between ethnicities in the oil-rich Kirkuk region. But whatever the real concerns, one line of nay-saying is edging ever closer to the trash bin of history. The great historical Shia-Sunni rift about which we’ve heard so much (and which Americans, in our bottomless ignorance, supposedly agitated) is not an insurmountable roadblock on the path to Muslim democracy. It’s a serious consideration that gains nothing from politicization.

We’ll do well to remember that when the articles, books, and “documentaries” about Afghanistan’s unbreakable tribal ties start to crowd the horizon. We are allowed to learn from our successes once in a while.

Read Less

Re: The Great And Mighty Oz

Pete, the White House spinners certainly won’t like David Brooks writing the obituary for their agenda:

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

He’s noticed that Nancy Pelosi is less popular than Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. But most of all, he’s miffed at the moderate presidential candidate who’s turned out to be a not-in-the-least-moderate president. Brooks thinks Obama’s problem is deferring to Congressional liberals too much. That might be right. But there may be something else going on here.

It is worth asking: Is Obama really that weak and passive? Maybe Obama likes what Congress is turning out. Goodness knows he praised the stimulus plan, cheered the passage of cap-and-trade, sent his budget up to the Hill and encouraged the House Democrats’ public option health-care plan. In what sense is this “deferring,” if the House liberals deliver precisely what he wants?

Brooks hopes the Blue Dogs will save Obama and Pelosi from themselves, but is wary: “And so here we are again. Every new majority overinterprets its mandate. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again.”

In reality, his is an argument for divided government. Just as Bill Clinton needed a Republican Congress to save his presidency, Obama may need the same. We can argue as to who is leading whom, but Brooks is right: the combination of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama has proved a disastrous one. If they can’t contain and restrain themselves, the voters will rearrange the players in 2010 and make sure that mandate can no longer be “overinterpreted.”

Pete, the White House spinners certainly won’t like David Brooks writing the obituary for their agenda:

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

He’s noticed that Nancy Pelosi is less popular than Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. But most of all, he’s miffed at the moderate presidential candidate who’s turned out to be a not-in-the-least-moderate president. Brooks thinks Obama’s problem is deferring to Congressional liberals too much. That might be right. But there may be something else going on here.

It is worth asking: Is Obama really that weak and passive? Maybe Obama likes what Congress is turning out. Goodness knows he praised the stimulus plan, cheered the passage of cap-and-trade, sent his budget up to the Hill and encouraged the House Democrats’ public option health-care plan. In what sense is this “deferring,” if the House liberals deliver precisely what he wants?

Brooks hopes the Blue Dogs will save Obama and Pelosi from themselves, but is wary: “And so here we are again. Every new majority overinterprets its mandate. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again.”

In reality, his is an argument for divided government. Just as Bill Clinton needed a Republican Congress to save his presidency, Obama may need the same. We can argue as to who is leading whom, but Brooks is right: the combination of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama has proved a disastrous one. If they can’t contain and restrain themselves, the voters will rearrange the players in 2010 and make sure that mandate can no longer be “overinterpreted.”

Read Less

On the New Use of the Word “Prejudice”

When I was a kid, there was a public-service ad on TV with an old man sitting on a pier with his grandson, fishing. The boy mentions one of his classmates as being “one of my Jewish friends.” His grandfather corrects him: “That is prejudice. He’s not one of your Jewish friends, but one of your friends.” The point was astute and sensitive: When you look at someone as being one of your “Jewish friends,” you withhold something of true, human friendship because of the label you’ve added.

Odd how the word prejudice today has shifted from noun to verb without losing any of its heavy moral connotations. Today we hear that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has called on Israel to stop building in Eastern Jerusalem, calling on Israel to refrain from “unilateral actions” that might prejudice “the outcome of negotiations.” (Crowley actually uses the word prejudge, but it basically means the same thing, and the much more common rendering of the same argument today is prejudice.)

Yet only a tiny amount of thought, really little more than a blink of the brain, reveals how mendacious the use of the word is in this context. What does it mean to refrain from any action that might prejudice the outcome? We can imagine two neighbors struggling over a bit of land, and finally they agree to stop the conflict and sit down and talk things through. It is as though everyone has agreed to put the entire struggle between Jews and Arabs on hold so that we can finally get down to negotiations.

The problem is: The struggle is not on hold. At no point have the Palestinians, be it their official Palestinian Authority leaders or their no-less-powerful Hamas overlords, declared a suspension of the “struggle.” Every day, Palestinian terrorists plan and attempt to carry out attacks on Jews for the sole purpose of “prejudicing” the outcome of negotiations. Hezbollah continues to arm, Hamas continues to smuggle weapons in through tunnels, Syria and Iran make plans for the next war.

Not only this: The Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general are constantly furthering this struggle, undertaking unilateral steps with no aim other than prejudicing the outcome of negotiations — a euphemism for pursing their struggle to maximize any outcome in their favor. Today we learn that Jordan has begun stripping its Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship in order to minimize the likelihood that they will be asked to stay in Jordan as part of the final decisions on refugees. But the prejudicing runs far deeper: Palestinian schools continue to teach their children that Israel is their enemy, that their true homes are west of the Green Line, and that only through resistance, jihad, and martyrdom can their lives really acquire meaning.

Yet on all these fronts, the American government is silent.

So, in looking at the U.S. thoughts on prejudice as a verb, we are again led to wonder about its original meaning as a noun. Maybe the administration should look back at that old ad and ask themselves: Is Israel one of America’s Jewish friends, or one of its friends?

When I was a kid, there was a public-service ad on TV with an old man sitting on a pier with his grandson, fishing. The boy mentions one of his classmates as being “one of my Jewish friends.” His grandfather corrects him: “That is prejudice. He’s not one of your Jewish friends, but one of your friends.” The point was astute and sensitive: When you look at someone as being one of your “Jewish friends,” you withhold something of true, human friendship because of the label you’ve added.

Odd how the word prejudice today has shifted from noun to verb without losing any of its heavy moral connotations. Today we hear that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has called on Israel to stop building in Eastern Jerusalem, calling on Israel to refrain from “unilateral actions” that might prejudice “the outcome of negotiations.” (Crowley actually uses the word prejudge, but it basically means the same thing, and the much more common rendering of the same argument today is prejudice.)

Yet only a tiny amount of thought, really little more than a blink of the brain, reveals how mendacious the use of the word is in this context. What does it mean to refrain from any action that might prejudice the outcome? We can imagine two neighbors struggling over a bit of land, and finally they agree to stop the conflict and sit down and talk things through. It is as though everyone has agreed to put the entire struggle between Jews and Arabs on hold so that we can finally get down to negotiations.

The problem is: The struggle is not on hold. At no point have the Palestinians, be it their official Palestinian Authority leaders or their no-less-powerful Hamas overlords, declared a suspension of the “struggle.” Every day, Palestinian terrorists plan and attempt to carry out attacks on Jews for the sole purpose of “prejudicing” the outcome of negotiations. Hezbollah continues to arm, Hamas continues to smuggle weapons in through tunnels, Syria and Iran make plans for the next war.

Not only this: The Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general are constantly furthering this struggle, undertaking unilateral steps with no aim other than prejudicing the outcome of negotiations — a euphemism for pursing their struggle to maximize any outcome in their favor. Today we learn that Jordan has begun stripping its Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship in order to minimize the likelihood that they will be asked to stay in Jordan as part of the final decisions on refugees. But the prejudicing runs far deeper: Palestinian schools continue to teach their children that Israel is their enemy, that their true homes are west of the Green Line, and that only through resistance, jihad, and martyrdom can their lives really acquire meaning.

Yet on all these fronts, the American government is silent.

So, in looking at the U.S. thoughts on prejudice as a verb, we are again led to wonder about its original meaning as a noun. Maybe the administration should look back at that old ad and ask themselves: Is Israel one of America’s Jewish friends, or one of its friends?

Read Less

The Great and Mighty Oz

David Brooks has an insightful column today at the New York Times. He makes a point that was floating out there for a while but has metastasized recently: namely that Barack Obama is a surprisingly weak president. That is not to say Obama isn’t ambitious; in fact, his ambition — and, I would argue, his overreach — is among his more pronounced qualities. But where Obama is weak is in his unwillingness to lead Congress; instead he is being led by it — by its most liberal committeemen in particular.

On virtually every important issue — from the stimulus package, to cap-and-trade, to health care, to taxes, and more — Obama is ceding the agenda to the barons on Capitol Hill. And they will lead him over a cliff.

Why this is taking place is hard to know. It may be that Obama and Company are over-learning the lessons of the Clinton and Carter years, when relations with Democrats on the Hill were strained. It may be that Obama doesn’t like to immerse himself in the nitty-gritty of policy and is more comfortable deferring to those who do. It may be that the liberals on the Hill actually reflect what Obama himself — whose record as a legislator was, after all, markedly liberal — favors. It may be that Obama’s lack of experience is now showing through. Or it might be a combination of all four.

Regardless of the cause, the result will be damaging, and maybe even debilitating, to the Obama administration. All the campaign’s promises — about practicing a new brand of politics, finding middle ground, embodying hope and change — seem so old, so dated, and so cynical. Obama is turning out to be Salesman-in-Chief. But what he’s trying to peddle — an unusually liberal agenda and legislation that ranges from ineffective to downright harmful and reflects the desires of leading Congressional Democrats rather than the needs of the country — ain’t selling.

The great and mighty Oz isn’t quite what his admirers said he was. The curtain is being pulled back, one week at a time, one policy at a time, one revelation at a time. It turns out that Barack Obama’s sales pitch on behalf of Nancy Pelosi’s policy agenda isn’t really all that attractive after all.

David Brooks has an insightful column today at the New York Times. He makes a point that was floating out there for a while but has metastasized recently: namely that Barack Obama is a surprisingly weak president. That is not to say Obama isn’t ambitious; in fact, his ambition — and, I would argue, his overreach — is among his more pronounced qualities. But where Obama is weak is in his unwillingness to lead Congress; instead he is being led by it — by its most liberal committeemen in particular.

On virtually every important issue — from the stimulus package, to cap-and-trade, to health care, to taxes, and more — Obama is ceding the agenda to the barons on Capitol Hill. And they will lead him over a cliff.

Why this is taking place is hard to know. It may be that Obama and Company are over-learning the lessons of the Clinton and Carter years, when relations with Democrats on the Hill were strained. It may be that Obama doesn’t like to immerse himself in the nitty-gritty of policy and is more comfortable deferring to those who do. It may be that the liberals on the Hill actually reflect what Obama himself — whose record as a legislator was, after all, markedly liberal — favors. It may be that Obama’s lack of experience is now showing through. Or it might be a combination of all four.

Regardless of the cause, the result will be damaging, and maybe even debilitating, to the Obama administration. All the campaign’s promises — about practicing a new brand of politics, finding middle ground, embodying hope and change — seem so old, so dated, and so cynical. Obama is turning out to be Salesman-in-Chief. But what he’s trying to peddle — an unusually liberal agenda and legislation that ranges from ineffective to downright harmful and reflects the desires of leading Congressional Democrats rather than the needs of the country — ain’t selling.

The great and mighty Oz isn’t quite what his admirers said he was. The curtain is being pulled back, one week at a time, one policy at a time, one revelation at a time. It turns out that Barack Obama’s sales pitch on behalf of Nancy Pelosi’s policy agenda isn’t really all that attractive after all.

Read Less

They Won’t Stop Talking!

The president is understandably frustrated that everyone wants to find out what’s in the Pelosi-Obama health-care bill. How are we going to pay for this? Why are we raising taxes on small business in a recession? Aren’t we already broke? Get moving, he keeps imploring lawmakers. But alas, Obama’s “shut up” message isn’t going over well:

In his Tuesday morning floor remarks, McConnell reiterated the Republican position that reform legislation shouldn’t be rushed and that passage of House and Senate bills should be pushed until after the August recess. McConnell also continued to target the president’s policy prescriptions for health care reform.

“We certainly don’t need to rush and spend a trillion dollars to enact this flawed proposal by the August recess,” McConnell said. “The proposals we’ve seen aren’t just incomplete, they’re indefensible at a time of spiraling debt and ever-increasing job losses. Maybe this is why the administration has started to insist on an artificial deadline for getting its reform proposals through.”

More importantly, the House Democrats are now in open revolt. This report explains:

A key House committee on Tuesday indefinitely postponed voting on health care reform legislation, after Democratic leaders were unable to line up enough votes from moderate members of their own party.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee canceled the session as it faced serious concerns about the legislation from fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who hold a large number of seats on the panel. The Energy and Commerce Committee is the only House panel with jurisdiction over health care that has not completed writing its version of the reform bill.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor says we are at a “cross-roads” on health-care reform. The bill either changes radically or it dies. The same might be said of the Obama presidency. If he can’t push back on the Congressional liberals and redesign health care, the core of his agenda will crumble and with it, his mystique as a transformative president.

The president is understandably frustrated that everyone wants to find out what’s in the Pelosi-Obama health-care bill. How are we going to pay for this? Why are we raising taxes on small business in a recession? Aren’t we already broke? Get moving, he keeps imploring lawmakers. But alas, Obama’s “shut up” message isn’t going over well:

In his Tuesday morning floor remarks, McConnell reiterated the Republican position that reform legislation shouldn’t be rushed and that passage of House and Senate bills should be pushed until after the August recess. McConnell also continued to target the president’s policy prescriptions for health care reform.

“We certainly don’t need to rush and spend a trillion dollars to enact this flawed proposal by the August recess,” McConnell said. “The proposals we’ve seen aren’t just incomplete, they’re indefensible at a time of spiraling debt and ever-increasing job losses. Maybe this is why the administration has started to insist on an artificial deadline for getting its reform proposals through.”

More importantly, the House Democrats are now in open revolt. This report explains:

A key House committee on Tuesday indefinitely postponed voting on health care reform legislation, after Democratic leaders were unable to line up enough votes from moderate members of their own party.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee canceled the session as it faced serious concerns about the legislation from fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who hold a large number of seats on the panel. The Energy and Commerce Committee is the only House panel with jurisdiction over health care that has not completed writing its version of the reform bill.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor says we are at a “cross-roads” on health-care reform. The bill either changes radically or it dies. The same might be said of the Obama presidency. If he can’t push back on the Congressional liberals and redesign health care, the core of his agenda will crumble and with it, his mystique as a transformative president.

Read Less

Barone on the Anglo-American Divergence

Michael Barone has a column today at Real Clear Politics that’s summed up by its title: “Britain and United States Go In Different Directions.” His thesis is cogent, and to an extent correct: The Obama administration is trying to drag the U.S. to the Left (he might well have said that the administration is trying to Europeanize it), whereas in Britain, the next government looks likely to be Conservative and to be more interested in shrinking the state (or at least restraining its growth) than expanding it.

This divergence is limited only by the consideration that it’s not easy to change the direction of politics: Whatever the situation, no matter what the crisis, the status quo has inertia on its side.

Arguing with Michael Barone about U.S. politics is a losing proposition. But he does miss an important piece of the British context: Labour lost the 1992 general election, an election it arguably should have won. This marked the start of a divergence of U.S. and British political cycles that is unprecedented in the postwar era. The cycles do not line up precisely, of course, but consider Ike (1952) and Churchill (1951), or Wilson (1964) and Kennedy (1960), or Thatcher (1979) and Reagan (1980).

When John Major pulled it out in 1992, he set the Conservatives up for a pretty miserable five years in power — there may be an analogy to George W. Bush’s victory in 2000 lurking here — that saw the Tories crushed by the collapse of the pound in September 1992, a deep recession, and splits over Europe. If Labour had won in 1992, that would have been their inheritance, and they likely would have responded in the same way and suffered the same unpopularity. The narrow defeat of 1992 set them up for a crushing win in 1997.

That victory was premised on any number of arguments, but central to Labour’s win was their case that the mean old Tories had systemically underfunded Britain’s public services. After a few years of restraint, Labour took advantage of the strong economy they’d inherited from the Tories to start spending. As Barone notes, the result was that they drove the size of the British state up to close to 50 percent of the entire economy, without substantial improvements in public services, at precisely the moment when a global recession was hitting in Britain with particular severity and pushing government borrowing to over 14 percent of GDP over the year to come.

So it’s not that Britain and the U.S. are diverging. They did that 17 years ago. What we’re seeing today is the result of that divergence: If you spend the kind of money Labour has over the past 10 years, there will sooner or later be a reaction against it. It’s happening in Britain now, and it’s happened on the continent, which in the past few years has moderately clamped down on the state and is now not keen on growing it again to fight the recession.

Why? Because in the short run, voters like promises of benefits more than they resent taxes, but in the long run, when the benefits do not materialize and the costs of pursuing them become obvious, they change their minds.

Obama is trying to double-time his way through the Labour experience: Skip the few years of restraint and get to the massive spending increases as fast as possible. If Britain’s experience is any guide, that may be the best way to close the Anglo-American divergence in double-time as well.

Michael Barone has a column today at Real Clear Politics that’s summed up by its title: “Britain and United States Go In Different Directions.” His thesis is cogent, and to an extent correct: The Obama administration is trying to drag the U.S. to the Left (he might well have said that the administration is trying to Europeanize it), whereas in Britain, the next government looks likely to be Conservative and to be more interested in shrinking the state (or at least restraining its growth) than expanding it.

This divergence is limited only by the consideration that it’s not easy to change the direction of politics: Whatever the situation, no matter what the crisis, the status quo has inertia on its side.

Arguing with Michael Barone about U.S. politics is a losing proposition. But he does miss an important piece of the British context: Labour lost the 1992 general election, an election it arguably should have won. This marked the start of a divergence of U.S. and British political cycles that is unprecedented in the postwar era. The cycles do not line up precisely, of course, but consider Ike (1952) and Churchill (1951), or Wilson (1964) and Kennedy (1960), or Thatcher (1979) and Reagan (1980).

When John Major pulled it out in 1992, he set the Conservatives up for a pretty miserable five years in power — there may be an analogy to George W. Bush’s victory in 2000 lurking here — that saw the Tories crushed by the collapse of the pound in September 1992, a deep recession, and splits over Europe. If Labour had won in 1992, that would have been their inheritance, and they likely would have responded in the same way and suffered the same unpopularity. The narrow defeat of 1992 set them up for a crushing win in 1997.

That victory was premised on any number of arguments, but central to Labour’s win was their case that the mean old Tories had systemically underfunded Britain’s public services. After a few years of restraint, Labour took advantage of the strong economy they’d inherited from the Tories to start spending. As Barone notes, the result was that they drove the size of the British state up to close to 50 percent of the entire economy, without substantial improvements in public services, at precisely the moment when a global recession was hitting in Britain with particular severity and pushing government borrowing to over 14 percent of GDP over the year to come.

So it’s not that Britain and the U.S. are diverging. They did that 17 years ago. What we’re seeing today is the result of that divergence: If you spend the kind of money Labour has over the past 10 years, there will sooner or later be a reaction against it. It’s happening in Britain now, and it’s happened on the continent, which in the past few years has moderately clamped down on the state and is now not keen on growing it again to fight the recession.

Why? Because in the short run, voters like promises of benefits more than they resent taxes, but in the long run, when the benefits do not materialize and the costs of pursuing them become obvious, they change their minds.

Obama is trying to double-time his way through the Labour experience: Skip the few years of restraint and get to the massive spending increases as fast as possible. If Britain’s experience is any guide, that may be the best way to close the Anglo-American divergence in double-time as well.

Read Less

Don’t Democrats Control Congress?

The president is big on straw men. “Republicans who don’t want to do anything.” Unnamed special interests. Everyone is out to foil him, who alone wants progress, reform, and, most of all, free health care for all. Unfortunately for the White House spin machine, that hackneyed litany of villains doesn’t work in the current health-care debate. As Politico reports:

President Barack Obama dove into the political street-fight threatening his signature issue Monday — taking aim at a freshman Republican senator in hopes of rallying Democrats increasingly nervous about Obama-style reform.

The White House opened an aggressive three-week push for health care legislation before the August recess with Obama attacking Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for saying health care might be Obama’s “Waterloo.” Obama’s press secretary and national party chairman picked up on the line of attack as well.

[. . .]

But for all the fire pointed their way by the White House, Republicans are hardly Obama’s biggest headache. His problems lately have come from within his own party, as divided House and Senate caucuses have shown a surprising willingness to buck Obama on his top domestic priority just six months into his presidency.

Yes, Republicans oppose his soak-the-rich, government takeover of health care, but so does the president’s own party. And last time we looked, Democrats controlled Congress and have the power to pass — or reject — the president’s health-care reform scheme. You need look no further than Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.):

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, he said he wants to delay the tax hike to pay for health care, even though the White House has said it’s open to the idea.

“Republicans I’ve spoken with are very concerned about this surcharge. I’m concerned about that, too,” Clyburn said. “We’ve had six listening sessions of our members and we have come away from those sessions believing we can do this with the savings that we get out of the system. . . . I don’t think we have to have the surcharge at all. There are a lot of Democrats on our side who believe that.”

If ObamaCare fails, Republicans will certainly claim a measure of the credit for having alerted the public to a disastrous nationalization plan. But the real kudos will go to conservative and moderate Democrats who wouldn’t let some name-calling and bullying by the Chicago Way gang in the White House force a massive tax hike, rationing, and a gargantuan expansion of government on their constituents.

The president is big on straw men. “Republicans who don’t want to do anything.” Unnamed special interests. Everyone is out to foil him, who alone wants progress, reform, and, most of all, free health care for all. Unfortunately for the White House spin machine, that hackneyed litany of villains doesn’t work in the current health-care debate. As Politico reports:

President Barack Obama dove into the political street-fight threatening his signature issue Monday — taking aim at a freshman Republican senator in hopes of rallying Democrats increasingly nervous about Obama-style reform.

The White House opened an aggressive three-week push for health care legislation before the August recess with Obama attacking Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for saying health care might be Obama’s “Waterloo.” Obama’s press secretary and national party chairman picked up on the line of attack as well.

[. . .]

But for all the fire pointed their way by the White House, Republicans are hardly Obama’s biggest headache. His problems lately have come from within his own party, as divided House and Senate caucuses have shown a surprising willingness to buck Obama on his top domestic priority just six months into his presidency.

Yes, Republicans oppose his soak-the-rich, government takeover of health care, but so does the president’s own party. And last time we looked, Democrats controlled Congress and have the power to pass — or reject — the president’s health-care reform scheme. You need look no further than Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.):

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, he said he wants to delay the tax hike to pay for health care, even though the White House has said it’s open to the idea.

“Republicans I’ve spoken with are very concerned about this surcharge. I’m concerned about that, too,” Clyburn said. “We’ve had six listening sessions of our members and we have come away from those sessions believing we can do this with the savings that we get out of the system. . . . I don’t think we have to have the surcharge at all. There are a lot of Democrats on our side who believe that.”

If ObamaCare fails, Republicans will certainly claim a measure of the credit for having alerted the public to a disastrous nationalization plan. But the real kudos will go to conservative and moderate Democrats who wouldn’t let some name-calling and bullying by the Chicago Way gang in the White House force a massive tax hike, rationing, and a gargantuan expansion of government on their constituents.

Read Less

What the West Bank Actually Looks Like

Last week, the New York Times published an article about “signs of hope” in the West Bank (and in the city of Nablus in particular) that refreshingly breaks with the standard narrative of Palestinian desperation and misery. The Israeli military recently closed down its checkpoint into the city, along with other checkpoints elsewhere in the territories. The economy is growing instead of contracting. Downtown is full of shoppers. Islamist scolds have backed off. Police make sure passengers have fastened their seat belts.

It sounds like Nablus has more or less become a normal Middle East city.

Earlier this year in Jerusalem, Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh told me how much the West Bank surprises visitors now. “The other day,” he said, “someone came for the first time ever to this part of the world, and he called me and asked me to take him to Ramallah. So I drove him to downtown Ramallah, and we stopped there. The man was shocked. He said, ‘Where are the refugee camps? Where are the mud houses? Where’s the poverty?’ I said, ‘Why are you asking me these questions?’ He said, ‘I’m shocked. Look how nice it is.’ ”

I laughed out loud because I had a similar experience myself three years ago before the recent improvements. I didn’t expect to see “mud houses.” As far as I know, no one has ever reported the existence of “mud houses” in Ramallah. The usual Palestinian narrative, though, seems to encourage some people’s vivid imaginations.

But I was still startled by what Ramallah actually looked like. I expected to see, and to write about, squalid living conditions. I had already seen the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and the awfulness of those places is hard to describe.

I figured Ramallah wouldn’t be that bad, but I didn’t expect it to look so much better than lots of cities, and not just refugee camps, that I’ve seen in the region.

It was in early 2006, shortly after Hamas won the election, when I took a taxi from the Qalandia checkpoint outside Jerusalem to Ramallah with a Palestinian man named Sufian. Here, in part, is what I wrote at the time:

I stepped out into a surprisingly pleasant urban environment.

“No offense, Sufian, but this city is a lot nicer than I expected,” I said.

“Ramallah is beautiful,” he said with pride.

I didn’t think it was beautiful, exactly, but it did not look even remotely like the Third World war zone it’s reputed to be. I noticed no visible poverty once we left the squalor around the checkpoint. I was, however, warned by Israelis that Ramallah and Bethlehem are much nicer than the rest of the West Bank and need to be judged accordingly.

[…]

Ramallah is also in much better physical condition than the parts of Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah, even though Ramallah has experienced war a lot more recently. In fact, Ramallah is in better condition than any Shia region of Lebanon whether it’s ruled by Hezbollah or not. The only Sunni part of Lebanon that looks nicer than Ramallah is West Beirut.

Ramallah didn’t have the glitz of Beirut or the French-Arab Mediterranean charm of a city like Tunis. But it beat the pants off Cairo, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole Arab world. It looked a lot like Amman — an Arab city with a pretty good reputation. It was so much nicer than Baghdad, it’s pointless to even make the comparison.

I have not visited Gaza, even though I’ve tried twice, but I have looked inside from the Israeli side of the border. What I could see didn’t look pretty. I’m inclined to take more seriously the reports of misery and deprivation in there. Still, here is a photo of Gaza. Here is another. I’m not sure when they were taken. If Gaza is indeed a gruesome place now, it wasn’t always that way. (Hamas and its wars can’t have done the place too many favors.)

According to the New York Times, though, the West Bank in general is much nicer now than it was even when I saw it. Not only Bethlehem and Ramallah but also Nablus is now said to be doing okay.

Draw whatever political conclusions you want. I’m not sure what to make of it. My colleague Max Boot was with me in Jerusalem earlier this year when Toameh told us about the reporter who was stunned by the distinct lack of misery he expected to see. Boot asked Toameh if better economic conditions meant better political conditions. Toameh said, “No.” That was six months ago. He might have been wrong, and what he said might no longer be true. The New York Times does note that Fatah is trusted more now than Hamas — for whatever that’s worth.

Either way, reports of the West Bank’s lax security measures and economic improvement are more common these days than they were. It’s refreshing to see foreign correspondents describe the place as it is instead of as the desperately impoverished Israeli-ruled prison it’s reputed to be.

Last week, the New York Times published an article about “signs of hope” in the West Bank (and in the city of Nablus in particular) that refreshingly breaks with the standard narrative of Palestinian desperation and misery. The Israeli military recently closed down its checkpoint into the city, along with other checkpoints elsewhere in the territories. The economy is growing instead of contracting. Downtown is full of shoppers. Islamist scolds have backed off. Police make sure passengers have fastened their seat belts.

It sounds like Nablus has more or less become a normal Middle East city.

Earlier this year in Jerusalem, Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh told me how much the West Bank surprises visitors now. “The other day,” he said, “someone came for the first time ever to this part of the world, and he called me and asked me to take him to Ramallah. So I drove him to downtown Ramallah, and we stopped there. The man was shocked. He said, ‘Where are the refugee camps? Where are the mud houses? Where’s the poverty?’ I said, ‘Why are you asking me these questions?’ He said, ‘I’m shocked. Look how nice it is.’ ”

I laughed out loud because I had a similar experience myself three years ago before the recent improvements. I didn’t expect to see “mud houses.” As far as I know, no one has ever reported the existence of “mud houses” in Ramallah. The usual Palestinian narrative, though, seems to encourage some people’s vivid imaginations.

But I was still startled by what Ramallah actually looked like. I expected to see, and to write about, squalid living conditions. I had already seen the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and the awfulness of those places is hard to describe.

I figured Ramallah wouldn’t be that bad, but I didn’t expect it to look so much better than lots of cities, and not just refugee camps, that I’ve seen in the region.

It was in early 2006, shortly after Hamas won the election, when I took a taxi from the Qalandia checkpoint outside Jerusalem to Ramallah with a Palestinian man named Sufian. Here, in part, is what I wrote at the time:

I stepped out into a surprisingly pleasant urban environment.

“No offense, Sufian, but this city is a lot nicer than I expected,” I said.

“Ramallah is beautiful,” he said with pride.

I didn’t think it was beautiful, exactly, but it did not look even remotely like the Third World war zone it’s reputed to be. I noticed no visible poverty once we left the squalor around the checkpoint. I was, however, warned by Israelis that Ramallah and Bethlehem are much nicer than the rest of the West Bank and need to be judged accordingly.

[…]

Ramallah is also in much better physical condition than the parts of Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah, even though Ramallah has experienced war a lot more recently. In fact, Ramallah is in better condition than any Shia region of Lebanon whether it’s ruled by Hezbollah or not. The only Sunni part of Lebanon that looks nicer than Ramallah is West Beirut.

Ramallah didn’t have the glitz of Beirut or the French-Arab Mediterranean charm of a city like Tunis. But it beat the pants off Cairo, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole Arab world. It looked a lot like Amman — an Arab city with a pretty good reputation. It was so much nicer than Baghdad, it’s pointless to even make the comparison.

I have not visited Gaza, even though I’ve tried twice, but I have looked inside from the Israeli side of the border. What I could see didn’t look pretty. I’m inclined to take more seriously the reports of misery and deprivation in there. Still, here is a photo of Gaza. Here is another. I’m not sure when they were taken. If Gaza is indeed a gruesome place now, it wasn’t always that way. (Hamas and its wars can’t have done the place too many favors.)

According to the New York Times, though, the West Bank in general is much nicer now than it was even when I saw it. Not only Bethlehem and Ramallah but also Nablus is now said to be doing okay.

Draw whatever political conclusions you want. I’m not sure what to make of it. My colleague Max Boot was with me in Jerusalem earlier this year when Toameh told us about the reporter who was stunned by the distinct lack of misery he expected to see. Boot asked Toameh if better economic conditions meant better political conditions. Toameh said, “No.” That was six months ago. He might have been wrong, and what he said might no longer be true. The New York Times does note that Fatah is trusted more now than Hamas — for whatever that’s worth.

Either way, reports of the West Bank’s lax security measures and economic improvement are more common these days than they were. It’s refreshing to see foreign correspondents describe the place as it is instead of as the desperately impoverished Israeli-ruled prison it’s reputed to be.

Read Less

Voters Are Wary

In a new survey, Politico confirms that Obama may not be the best spokesman for health care. People seem to be losing “trust” in him:

[T]he number of Americans who say they trust the president has fallen from 66 percent to 54 percent. At the same time, the percentage of those who say they do not trust the president has jumped from 31 to 42.

The president’s party has taken a similar hit since the last Public Trust Monitor poll, with only 42 percent of respondents saying that they trust the Democratic Party, compared with 52 percent who do not. The party’s numbers are nearly the inverse of March’s survey, in which 52 percent said they trusted Democrats and 42 percent did not.

And they really don’t trust his sales pitch on health care:

Asked what effect a government-managed health care coverage option would have on access to health services, 40 percent said it would make the situation worse, 38 percent said it would make it better and 22 percent said it would remain the same. Asked what its effect would be on the quality of health care, 42 percent said it would make health care worse, 33 percent said it would make it better and 25 percent said it would not have an effect.

Nearly half of respondents — 44 percent — believe government-managed coverage will increase the price of health care. Only 27 percent think a government-managed health care system would lower costs, while 29 percent said prices would remain the same.

What isn’t clear is whether we have a cause-and-effect connection here. Do people trust the president less because he is pushing things they know not to be the case (e.g., government health care is good for you! The stimulus is working!)? Or, do people distrust the items on Obama’s agenda because he is doing the sales pitch? Hard to tell.

What we do know is that the two assumptions underlying Obama’s agenda are now in doubt. First, the Obama team banked on the president’s overwhelming personal popularity and aura of calm to make extreme and radical measures seem perfectly reasonable. He doesn’t want to run car companies. He doesn’t like spending money. All of that was supposed to keep the critics at bay and the public lulled into a sense of calm. Now fewer people are buying his lines.

Second, Obama was convinced the economic crisis would engender greater faith in government and greater mistrust in the private sector, greasing the skids for a huge government takeover of private firms and of the health-care industry. That too is proving not to be the case:

Only 44 percent of those polled said the federal government is headed on the right track. In March, only a few months into Obama’s presidency, 54 percent said the federal government was on the right track, up 19 percentage points from the closing days of the Bush administration in December. Meanwhile, trust in the federal government has dropped from 63 percent to 58 percent since March, while trust that it will manage its finances responsibly has fallen from 40 percent to 32 percent during that time.

[. . .]

Support for further regulation of American business has also dropped off markedly. Just under half of those polled said regulation of corporations should be increased, down from 61 percent in March. In addition, a plurality of 40 percent of Americans fear the federal government will go too far in regulating financial institutions, up 9 percentage points from March, when voters were more worried that the government would not go far enough in regulating financial firms.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of those polled fear the government will provide too much financial help to ailing companies, up from just over half of those polled in March.

As support for regulation has dropped, trust in American business has increased.

While 59 percent still do not trust corporations to do the right thing, the number who do has ticked up from 37 percent to 41 percent. At the same time, despite lagging economic indicators, 53 percent of the poll’s respondents believe American business is on the right track. In March, only 40 percent said the same.

The president still has a reservoir of public support, a cheerleading media, and huge majorities in Congress. He therefore still may get his way on health care and the rest of his agenda. But the question remains: Will the voters reject the results and the politicians who pushed a massive government expansion on them? Stay tuned.

In a new survey, Politico confirms that Obama may not be the best spokesman for health care. People seem to be losing “trust” in him:

[T]he number of Americans who say they trust the president has fallen from 66 percent to 54 percent. At the same time, the percentage of those who say they do not trust the president has jumped from 31 to 42.

The president’s party has taken a similar hit since the last Public Trust Monitor poll, with only 42 percent of respondents saying that they trust the Democratic Party, compared with 52 percent who do not. The party’s numbers are nearly the inverse of March’s survey, in which 52 percent said they trusted Democrats and 42 percent did not.

And they really don’t trust his sales pitch on health care:

Asked what effect a government-managed health care coverage option would have on access to health services, 40 percent said it would make the situation worse, 38 percent said it would make it better and 22 percent said it would remain the same. Asked what its effect would be on the quality of health care, 42 percent said it would make health care worse, 33 percent said it would make it better and 25 percent said it would not have an effect.

Nearly half of respondents — 44 percent — believe government-managed coverage will increase the price of health care. Only 27 percent think a government-managed health care system would lower costs, while 29 percent said prices would remain the same.

What isn’t clear is whether we have a cause-and-effect connection here. Do people trust the president less because he is pushing things they know not to be the case (e.g., government health care is good for you! The stimulus is working!)? Or, do people distrust the items on Obama’s agenda because he is doing the sales pitch? Hard to tell.

What we do know is that the two assumptions underlying Obama’s agenda are now in doubt. First, the Obama team banked on the president’s overwhelming personal popularity and aura of calm to make extreme and radical measures seem perfectly reasonable. He doesn’t want to run car companies. He doesn’t like spending money. All of that was supposed to keep the critics at bay and the public lulled into a sense of calm. Now fewer people are buying his lines.

Second, Obama was convinced the economic crisis would engender greater faith in government and greater mistrust in the private sector, greasing the skids for a huge government takeover of private firms and of the health-care industry. That too is proving not to be the case:

Only 44 percent of those polled said the federal government is headed on the right track. In March, only a few months into Obama’s presidency, 54 percent said the federal government was on the right track, up 19 percentage points from the closing days of the Bush administration in December. Meanwhile, trust in the federal government has dropped from 63 percent to 58 percent since March, while trust that it will manage its finances responsibly has fallen from 40 percent to 32 percent during that time.

[. . .]

Support for further regulation of American business has also dropped off markedly. Just under half of those polled said regulation of corporations should be increased, down from 61 percent in March. In addition, a plurality of 40 percent of Americans fear the federal government will go too far in regulating financial institutions, up 9 percentage points from March, when voters were more worried that the government would not go far enough in regulating financial firms.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of those polled fear the government will provide too much financial help to ailing companies, up from just over half of those polled in March.

As support for regulation has dropped, trust in American business has increased.

While 59 percent still do not trust corporations to do the right thing, the number who do has ticked up from 37 percent to 41 percent. At the same time, despite lagging economic indicators, 53 percent of the poll’s respondents believe American business is on the right track. In March, only 40 percent said the same.

The president still has a reservoir of public support, a cheerleading media, and huge majorities in Congress. He therefore still may get his way on health care and the rest of his agenda. But the question remains: Will the voters reject the results and the politicians who pushed a massive government expansion on them? Stay tuned.

Read Less

Swelling up the Army’s Ranks

Good to hear that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates realizes the army is still too small. Despite a modest and belated increase in its forces’ size authorized by his predecessor, the army still has just 547,000 active-duty personnel — far below its strength of 710,000 at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Now Gates has said he will add another 22,000 troops “temporarily,” although it will take time to implement that increase. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still not enough. The army has more to do now than it did in 1991. Shouldn’t it have at least as many troops?

One of the biggest mistakes George W. Bush made was to not increase the size of the armed forces in 2001, when it would have been relatively easy to do so. Instead, he subscribed to the fantasy propagated by some “transformation” advocates that in modern warfare, troops were now of marginal importance. The last few years in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the costs of not having enough boots on the ground. But despite the troop surges in both countries, we still need more in Afghanistan beyond the current reinforcements, which will bring the total U.S. strength to 68,000.

But it’s hard to send more to Afghanistan when we still have 130,000 troops in Iraq — and they too are performing a valuable function. Then there are the requirements for having substantial troops available to deter potential adversaries like North Korea, to train friendly forces around the world, to hunt down terrorists, to prepare for major potential disasters in the United States and abroad — and a million other missions. Plus army leaders understandably want to increase “dwell time,” i.e., the length of time between deployments, so as to lessen stress on the force and to prevent an exodus of experienced soldiers (which has long been predicted but thankfully hasn’t happened yet).

Requirements for U.S. troops are not going to decrease anytime soon. Those who believe that the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq represent “aberrations,” undertaken by a trigger-happy president — mistakes that won’t be repeated anytime soon — are living a fantasy. U.S. troops have been on a punishing deployment schedule ever since the end of the Cold War. No one knows where the next battles will be fought. (Who could have predicted on September 10, 2001, that they would now be fighting in Afghanistan of all places?) The only thing we know for sure is that there will be more battles and that we need more troops to be ready.

Having a larger force at hand prepared to fight is the surest guarantee that we won’t have to. If we look overstretched — as we do today — our enemies are more likely to challenge us. Having too few troops doesn’t mean they won’t be deployed. It means they will be deployed too often and at too great a risk.

Good to hear that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates realizes the army is still too small. Despite a modest and belated increase in its forces’ size authorized by his predecessor, the army still has just 547,000 active-duty personnel — far below its strength of 710,000 at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Now Gates has said he will add another 22,000 troops “temporarily,” although it will take time to implement that increase. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still not enough. The army has more to do now than it did in 1991. Shouldn’t it have at least as many troops?

One of the biggest mistakes George W. Bush made was to not increase the size of the armed forces in 2001, when it would have been relatively easy to do so. Instead, he subscribed to the fantasy propagated by some “transformation” advocates that in modern warfare, troops were now of marginal importance. The last few years in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the costs of not having enough boots on the ground. But despite the troop surges in both countries, we still need more in Afghanistan beyond the current reinforcements, which will bring the total U.S. strength to 68,000.

But it’s hard to send more to Afghanistan when we still have 130,000 troops in Iraq — and they too are performing a valuable function. Then there are the requirements for having substantial troops available to deter potential adversaries like North Korea, to train friendly forces around the world, to hunt down terrorists, to prepare for major potential disasters in the United States and abroad — and a million other missions. Plus army leaders understandably want to increase “dwell time,” i.e., the length of time between deployments, so as to lessen stress on the force and to prevent an exodus of experienced soldiers (which has long been predicted but thankfully hasn’t happened yet).

Requirements for U.S. troops are not going to decrease anytime soon. Those who believe that the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq represent “aberrations,” undertaken by a trigger-happy president — mistakes that won’t be repeated anytime soon — are living a fantasy. U.S. troops have been on a punishing deployment schedule ever since the end of the Cold War. No one knows where the next battles will be fought. (Who could have predicted on September 10, 2001, that they would now be fighting in Afghanistan of all places?) The only thing we know for sure is that there will be more battles and that we need more troops to be ready.

Having a larger force at hand prepared to fight is the surest guarantee that we won’t have to. If we look overstretched — as we do today — our enemies are more likely to challenge us. Having too few troops doesn’t mean they won’t be deployed. It means they will be deployed too often and at too great a risk.

Read Less

Settlement Mania — to What End?

As Rick, Jonathan, and David aptly analyzed yesterday, we unfortunately see once again how the Obama administration seems determined to flunk Diplomacy 101 when it comes to the Middle East. While Iran proceeds apace with its nuclear program, the Obama administration remains obsessed with the settlements. I can only add a couple of points emphasizing how terribly misplaced and counterproductive this fixation is.

First, under any circumstances, this would be yet another ill-advised and unwarranted bit of “meddling” by the U.S. government. What other country do we lecture on where its citizens might live — in its own capital, no less? But consider the property in question. The site, which an American businessman  acquired in the 1980s, originally belonged to Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. It afterward was used as a hotel from 1945 until the 1967 Six Day War. Most recently, the Jerusalem border police rented it as a base.

So the property was originally occupied by the notorious Nazi collaborator and has never been occupied or used as Arab housing since. Nevertheless, the U.S. government once again makes this the focus of its ire and attention.

Furthermore, as Elliott Abrams pointed out, the efforts by George Mitchell to leave his mark by coming up with a compromise on the settlement issue before he departs has not merely incurred the wrath of the Israelis; a “compromise” on settlements by its very nature will undermine the Palestinian Authority:

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiator Saeb Erekat are on record demanding a total freeze — including in Jerusalem, without a time limit, all over the West Bank, every settlement, all sorts of buildings. No exceptions for construction now under way, for kindergartens, not even (or, perhaps, especially?) for synagogues. Where do they stand when the United States government announces its deal — allowing several thousand units to be completed and remaining silent on Jerusalem? Compared with the current situation — daily denunciations of settlements by Washington, while Palestinians are asked to do nothing — all of a sudden the U.S. will seem to have switched sides. All of a sudden the actual construction work you see before you is okay, Washington blesses it; and as to Jerusalem there will be no stated limits at all. “There are no middle-ground solutions for the settlement issue: Either settlement activity stops or it doesn’t stop,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio last week. Under all the possible compromises, it doesn’t stop — or so it will seem to Erekat and his boss Abbas, and to any Palestinian listening to Hamas’s radio and TV denunciations of such a deal.

As Abrams concludes, “So, this Obama settlement mania will end up damaging not only Netanyahu but Abbas as well.” So why do this? One might conclude that Obama is determined to cause a rift with Israel. After all, he told American Jewish leaders it was important to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. Well, picking a fight over a comparatively insignificant settlement on which the Israeli prime minister could not possibly relent is certainly one way to do that.

This, of course, should be a concern for American Jewish “leaders.” This sort of disproportionate, unhelpful, and destructive action by the Obama team is what American Jewish “leaders” should be discussing both in private and in public, pointing out the counterproductive message it conveys to the recalcitrant Palestinians:

According to assessments in Jerusalem, the Palestinians — concerned that Jerusalem and Washington might find a compromise solution on construction in the settlements — are looking for other issues they can raise with the Americans, in the hope that the Obama administration would continue to turn the diplomatic heat up on Israel.

“The Palestinians are riding the wave,” one official said, adding that the Palestinians generally raise these matters with the US and British consulates in Jerusalem, with the hope that they will pass the messages on to Washington and London, which will then pressure Jerusalem.

But what are they saying? Well the J Street crowd, ever helpful to the Palestinian propaganda machine, decries the notion that Jews should build and occupy property in East Jerusalem. Plainly, if the Obama administration is hassling Israel and determining where Jews can and cannot live, J Street is delighted. (Their call to adhere to past agreements on the “settlement freeze” would be helpful if the Obama administration in fact were abiding by past agreements it made.) J Street has already declared East Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital, so no Jews should be living there, you see. (Hmm, I thought the status of Jerusalem was to be decided . . .   No, the answer to any issue for J Street is “Israel is in breach of its agreements.”) At the other end of the spectrum, the Orthodox Union applauds Netanyahu’s brush-back pitch and declares:

The Orthodox Union disagrees with the position of the United States that, like Jewish settlement activities in other areas of Judea and Samaria, Israel must not permit new Jewish residency or construction is eastern sections of Jerusalem.

We remain partners with you . . . for the continued preservation of Jerusalem’s unity as the Jewish people’s holy and eternal capital.

And what about the rest of the American Jewish “leaders”? Their muteness will no doubt be taken by the Obama team as a sign of agreement with J Street’s “No Jews in East Jerusalem” position. After all, they didn’t make much, or really any, fuss when Obama told them just how important it was to separate the U.S. from Israel. Silence implies consent on this one.

So here we find ourselves. Obama picking a fight with Israel. The vast majority of the U.S. Jewish community’s “leaders” continue to excuse or remain mute in the face of the Obama administration’s counterproductive actions. Aggravate our friends, renege on our own obligations, and encourage rejectionism. Quite a formula for peace. Someone should take issue with that next time he is schmoozing in the White House.

As Rick, Jonathan, and David aptly analyzed yesterday, we unfortunately see once again how the Obama administration seems determined to flunk Diplomacy 101 when it comes to the Middle East. While Iran proceeds apace with its nuclear program, the Obama administration remains obsessed with the settlements. I can only add a couple of points emphasizing how terribly misplaced and counterproductive this fixation is.

First, under any circumstances, this would be yet another ill-advised and unwarranted bit of “meddling” by the U.S. government. What other country do we lecture on where its citizens might live — in its own capital, no less? But consider the property in question. The site, which an American businessman  acquired in the 1980s, originally belonged to Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. It afterward was used as a hotel from 1945 until the 1967 Six Day War. Most recently, the Jerusalem border police rented it as a base.

So the property was originally occupied by the notorious Nazi collaborator and has never been occupied or used as Arab housing since. Nevertheless, the U.S. government once again makes this the focus of its ire and attention.

Furthermore, as Elliott Abrams pointed out, the efforts by George Mitchell to leave his mark by coming up with a compromise on the settlement issue before he departs has not merely incurred the wrath of the Israelis; a “compromise” on settlements by its very nature will undermine the Palestinian Authority:

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiator Saeb Erekat are on record demanding a total freeze — including in Jerusalem, without a time limit, all over the West Bank, every settlement, all sorts of buildings. No exceptions for construction now under way, for kindergartens, not even (or, perhaps, especially?) for synagogues. Where do they stand when the United States government announces its deal — allowing several thousand units to be completed and remaining silent on Jerusalem? Compared with the current situation — daily denunciations of settlements by Washington, while Palestinians are asked to do nothing — all of a sudden the U.S. will seem to have switched sides. All of a sudden the actual construction work you see before you is okay, Washington blesses it; and as to Jerusalem there will be no stated limits at all. “There are no middle-ground solutions for the settlement issue: Either settlement activity stops or it doesn’t stop,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio last week. Under all the possible compromises, it doesn’t stop — or so it will seem to Erekat and his boss Abbas, and to any Palestinian listening to Hamas’s radio and TV denunciations of such a deal.

As Abrams concludes, “So, this Obama settlement mania will end up damaging not only Netanyahu but Abbas as well.” So why do this? One might conclude that Obama is determined to cause a rift with Israel. After all, he told American Jewish leaders it was important to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. Well, picking a fight over a comparatively insignificant settlement on which the Israeli prime minister could not possibly relent is certainly one way to do that.

This, of course, should be a concern for American Jewish “leaders.” This sort of disproportionate, unhelpful, and destructive action by the Obama team is what American Jewish “leaders” should be discussing both in private and in public, pointing out the counterproductive message it conveys to the recalcitrant Palestinians:

According to assessments in Jerusalem, the Palestinians — concerned that Jerusalem and Washington might find a compromise solution on construction in the settlements — are looking for other issues they can raise with the Americans, in the hope that the Obama administration would continue to turn the diplomatic heat up on Israel.

“The Palestinians are riding the wave,” one official said, adding that the Palestinians generally raise these matters with the US and British consulates in Jerusalem, with the hope that they will pass the messages on to Washington and London, which will then pressure Jerusalem.

But what are they saying? Well the J Street crowd, ever helpful to the Palestinian propaganda machine, decries the notion that Jews should build and occupy property in East Jerusalem. Plainly, if the Obama administration is hassling Israel and determining where Jews can and cannot live, J Street is delighted. (Their call to adhere to past agreements on the “settlement freeze” would be helpful if the Obama administration in fact were abiding by past agreements it made.) J Street has already declared East Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital, so no Jews should be living there, you see. (Hmm, I thought the status of Jerusalem was to be decided . . .   No, the answer to any issue for J Street is “Israel is in breach of its agreements.”) At the other end of the spectrum, the Orthodox Union applauds Netanyahu’s brush-back pitch and declares:

The Orthodox Union disagrees with the position of the United States that, like Jewish settlement activities in other areas of Judea and Samaria, Israel must not permit new Jewish residency or construction is eastern sections of Jerusalem.

We remain partners with you . . . for the continued preservation of Jerusalem’s unity as the Jewish people’s holy and eternal capital.

And what about the rest of the American Jewish “leaders”? Their muteness will no doubt be taken by the Obama team as a sign of agreement with J Street’s “No Jews in East Jerusalem” position. After all, they didn’t make much, or really any, fuss when Obama told them just how important it was to separate the U.S. from Israel. Silence implies consent on this one.

So here we find ourselves. Obama picking a fight with Israel. The vast majority of the U.S. Jewish community’s “leaders” continue to excuse or remain mute in the face of the Obama administration’s counterproductive actions. Aggravate our friends, renege on our own obligations, and encourage rejectionism. Quite a formula for peace. Someone should take issue with that next time he is schmoozing in the White House.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

A bipartisan group of senators seems to think the president needs a nudge on Iran: “U.S. Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) introduced a measure today that urges President Obama to impose tough new sanctions on the Iranian government if it fails to take tangible steps to abandon its nuclear ambitions by this fall.”

You almost get the idea business people think Democrats aren’t business-friendly: “The co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, Sheila Crump Johnson, endorsed Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell on Monday.” And this, of course, makes Democratic insiders, who already had doubts about Creigh Deeds’s “ability to rally black voters,” nervous.

In New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, Chris Christie picks an attractive, female prosecutor as his running mate. Jon Corzine’s front-runner is the winner of The Apprentice TV show.

Deadlines are slipping everywhere. On health care: “With prospects slipping for Senate action on health care this month, House Democrats are lowering expectations that they will move their own version of a sweeping overhaul before taking off for a month long August recess.”

And on Guantanamo: “Senior administration officials said Monday that the report on detention will be delayed six months and the report on interrogation and transfer policy will be delayed two months.”

Greg Sargent gives Rep. Eric Cantor “credit” for baiting Obama into taking ownership of the economy.

Roger Clegg on Sotomayor’s questioning during the Second Circuit argument in Ricci: “The most instructive snippet is, ‘Counsel, we’re not suggesting that unqualified people be hired.’ . . . “We’re not suggesting . . . ? Who is that ‘we’? Has Judge Sotomayor climbed down from the bench and joined the defendants here . . . or has she joined them while staying on the bench?”

I couldn’t figure out why Obama would come up with such an unimpressive Supreme Court nominee. Neither can Richard Cohen: “From all we know, Sotomayor is no Scalia. She is no Thurgood Marshall, either, or even a John Roberts, who is leading the court in his own direction. She will be confirmed. But if she is not, liberalism will not have lost much of a champion or a thinker. A million lawyers in America and something Jimmy Carter used to say comes to mind: Why not the best?”

Bill McGurn gets it right: “Six months into the president’s term, you don’t read much about this post-partisan future anymore. It may be because on almost every big-ticket legislative item (the stimulus, climate change, and now health care), Mr. Obama has been pushing a highly ideological agenda with little (and in some cases zero) support from across the aisle. Yet far from stating the obvious — that sitting in the Oval Office is a very partisan president — the press corps is allowing Mr. Obama to evade the issue by coming up with novel redefinitions.”

From Brookings’s William Gale: “Choosing to finance health care reform by taxing the rich is bad economic policy, bad health policy, bad budget policy and poor leadership.” (h/t Greg Mankiw) Actually, one need look no farther than California and New Jersey to see what happens when a slim strata of taxpayers are tasked with paying for huge government programs. To quote Margaret Thatcher, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

As some suspected, doctors around the country aren’t pleased with the AMA’s endorsement of ObamaCare: “[A] coalition of state medical associations and specialty organizations is breaking from the country’s largest physicians’ group to mount its own push against the inclusion of a public insurance option in any overhaul bill . . . The draft letter, written by members of the Medical Association of Georgia, says flatly that the physicians’ groups unequivocally oppose a government-administered insurance plan, as well as use of government-funded effectiveness tests, or ‘comparative effectiveness research,’ to dictate which medical procedures should be eligible for coverage.”

Did Pelosi put her members at risk over a cap-and-trade bill that may never see the light of day in the Senate? “Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia is a test case for whether President Barack Obama’s energy agenda will help or hurt vulnerable Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. The Democrat’s June 26 vote for the sweeping climate bill that aims to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases put him in the cross hairs of an aggressive Republican advertising campaign also targeting 13 other House Democrats. The GOP accuses these Democrats of exposing their constituents to higher energy costs and putting jobs at risk.”

A bipartisan group of senators seems to think the president needs a nudge on Iran: “U.S. Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) introduced a measure today that urges President Obama to impose tough new sanctions on the Iranian government if it fails to take tangible steps to abandon its nuclear ambitions by this fall.”

You almost get the idea business people think Democrats aren’t business-friendly: “The co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, Sheila Crump Johnson, endorsed Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell on Monday.” And this, of course, makes Democratic insiders, who already had doubts about Creigh Deeds’s “ability to rally black voters,” nervous.

In New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, Chris Christie picks an attractive, female prosecutor as his running mate. Jon Corzine’s front-runner is the winner of The Apprentice TV show.

Deadlines are slipping everywhere. On health care: “With prospects slipping for Senate action on health care this month, House Democrats are lowering expectations that they will move their own version of a sweeping overhaul before taking off for a month long August recess.”

And on Guantanamo: “Senior administration officials said Monday that the report on detention will be delayed six months and the report on interrogation and transfer policy will be delayed two months.”

Greg Sargent gives Rep. Eric Cantor “credit” for baiting Obama into taking ownership of the economy.

Roger Clegg on Sotomayor’s questioning during the Second Circuit argument in Ricci: “The most instructive snippet is, ‘Counsel, we’re not suggesting that unqualified people be hired.’ . . . “We’re not suggesting . . . ? Who is that ‘we’? Has Judge Sotomayor climbed down from the bench and joined the defendants here . . . or has she joined them while staying on the bench?”

I couldn’t figure out why Obama would come up with such an unimpressive Supreme Court nominee. Neither can Richard Cohen: “From all we know, Sotomayor is no Scalia. She is no Thurgood Marshall, either, or even a John Roberts, who is leading the court in his own direction. She will be confirmed. But if she is not, liberalism will not have lost much of a champion or a thinker. A million lawyers in America and something Jimmy Carter used to say comes to mind: Why not the best?”

Bill McGurn gets it right: “Six months into the president’s term, you don’t read much about this post-partisan future anymore. It may be because on almost every big-ticket legislative item (the stimulus, climate change, and now health care), Mr. Obama has been pushing a highly ideological agenda with little (and in some cases zero) support from across the aisle. Yet far from stating the obvious — that sitting in the Oval Office is a very partisan president — the press corps is allowing Mr. Obama to evade the issue by coming up with novel redefinitions.”

From Brookings’s William Gale: “Choosing to finance health care reform by taxing the rich is bad economic policy, bad health policy, bad budget policy and poor leadership.” (h/t Greg Mankiw) Actually, one need look no farther than California and New Jersey to see what happens when a slim strata of taxpayers are tasked with paying for huge government programs. To quote Margaret Thatcher, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

As some suspected, doctors around the country aren’t pleased with the AMA’s endorsement of ObamaCare: “[A] coalition of state medical associations and specialty organizations is breaking from the country’s largest physicians’ group to mount its own push against the inclusion of a public insurance option in any overhaul bill . . . The draft letter, written by members of the Medical Association of Georgia, says flatly that the physicians’ groups unequivocally oppose a government-administered insurance plan, as well as use of government-funded effectiveness tests, or ‘comparative effectiveness research,’ to dictate which medical procedures should be eligible for coverage.”

Did Pelosi put her members at risk over a cap-and-trade bill that may never see the light of day in the Senate? “Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia is a test case for whether President Barack Obama’s energy agenda will help or hurt vulnerable Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. The Democrat’s June 26 vote for the sweeping climate bill that aims to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases put him in the cross hairs of an aggressive Republican advertising campaign also targeting 13 other House Democrats. The GOP accuses these Democrats of exposing their constituents to higher energy costs and putting jobs at risk.”

Read Less